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Archive for June, 2012

I already had a vaguely positive impression of Nora Ephron’s work, albeit somewhat muddled by the profusion of fellow screenwriters bearing her surname. She was the daughter of playwrights and scenarists Henry and Phoebe Ephron–whose extensive joint filmography includes such standbys as There’s No Business Like Show Business (1955), Daddy Long Legs (1956), and Desk Set (1957)–and the sister of Amy and frequent collaborator Delia Ephron. She also had an interesting assortment of spouses: author and sometime Playboy contributor Dan Greenburg, whose novel The Nanny was the basis for William Friedkin’s notorious The Guardian (1990); Carl Bernstein of All the President’s Men fame, whose exploits inspired Nora’s autobiographical novel and 1986 film Heartburn; and Nicholas Pileggi, who adapted his own work into Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995).

Then, when I heard the news this morning of her death yesterday at 71, and was reminded of some of her credits, I went “Whoa!” I associate her most readily with rom-com stuff like Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… (1989) and such auteur efforts as Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998); in fact, from This Is My Life (1992) on, she directed her own work in everything except the 2000 films Lucky Numbers, which she did not write, and Diane Keaton’s Hanging Up, which she and Delia adapted from the latter’s novel. But she also co-scripted the super-serious Silkwood (1983), which was directed by one of my favorites, Mike Nichols, and proved to me that Cher could act, with all three rightly nominated for Oscars, as was leading lady Meryl Streep.

I liked Mail more than Seattle, primarily because I thought it was a rare example of a justifiable remake, with Internet anonymity proving a perfect modern-day analog for the pseudonymous letters unwittingly exchanged by coworkers in Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop around the Corner (1940). I remember admiring her first Steve Martin vehicle, Herbert Ross’s My Blue Heaven (1990), and not minding her second, Mixed Nuts (1994); typically, as a slobbering Nicole Kid-fan, I even enjoyed one of their most widely panned efforts, Bewitched (2005). And I loved Julie & Julia (2009), with its brilliant rendition of Julia Child by Streep (who had played the fictionalized Ephron opposite Jack Nicholson in Nichols’s Heartburn), which as far as I’m concerned ended Nora’s career on a high note.

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A household name?  Not in too many households other than mine, I’d wager, and even Madame BOF might not be able to put a name to the face.  A definite asset to the films he was in?  Damn straight.  I’m speaking of Victor Spinetti, who was born and (on June 18, at the age of 82) died in Wales, leaving a legacy of almost half a century in front of the camera.  I’m only familiar with the tip of the iceberg, but he left an indelible mark on that handful of films.

Exasperation seemed to be his stock in trade, as demonstrated by the way in which he was driven to delightful distraction by the antics of the Beatles as the television director in Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), his first of three roles opposite the Fab Four.  He also played an army sergeant in their TV-movie Magical Mystery Tour (1967), and outside of the Liverpool set, he was the hotel concierge in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) who thought Peter Sellers’s strangely accented Inspector Clouseau was asking if he had a rhume (French for a cold), rather than a room.

But I’ll always remember him best for his meatier role in Help! (1965), which reunited him with Lester and the Beatles; hell, his character even had a name in that one.  He played Foot, the more intelligent–which isn’t saying much–of the two bonkers boffins who are trying to get that sacrifical ring off Ringo’s finger.  “With a ring like that I could, dare I say it, rule the world,” asserts Foot, but Spinetti also gets to deliver one of my favorite lines, once again displaying that enviable exasperation as he refers to his colleague, Algernon:  “He’s an idiot.  Degree in woodwork.  I ask you!”  Algernon, by the way, was brilliantly played by Lester’s mascot, Roy Kinnear, whose eight films with the director included How I Won the War (1967), which co-starred some guy named Lennon; Kinnear tragically died while shooting Lester’s The Return of the Musketeers (1989).

If Spinetti’s very appearance, with his sharp nose and shifty eyes, could be counted on to provoke laughter in an audience, then Richard Lynch, who died a day later and a decade younger, achieved the opposite effect, inciting chills.  As with Reggie Nalder, who gave viewers the creeps in everything from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Salem’s Lot (1979) to Mark of the Devil (1970) and Dracula’s Dog (1978), Lynch’s unsettling appearance was caused by facial burns.  But in Nalder’s case, we’ll hope it wasn’t for the same, equally unsettling reason:  Lynch set himself on fire after taking LSD!

Again, I’m only familiar with a handful of Lynch’s credits, and perhaps the first thing I saw him in was one of the least distinguished, in the title role of the TV-movie Vampire (1979), whose inelegantly named director, E.W. Swackhamer, had done the 1977 pilot for The Amazing Spider-Man.  Yet I now see that he also directed the underappreciated 1978 miniseries based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse, while Vampire was written by an obscure pair of hacks named Bochco and Kozoll…but I digress.  Lynch also appeared in films as diverse as The Seven-Ups (1973), God Told Me To (1976), The Ninth Configuration (1980) and, as Turafish will remind us, The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982).

In closing, I’ll just mention that I am officially an old geezer today, having just gotten my first pair of bifocals (or, in my case, “progressives”).

Bradley out.

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Ray is gone. Even though the news was hardly unexpected (after all, he was 91, and hadn’t been in the best of health for some time, and lost his beloved wife, Marguerite, several years ago, which has put many a man over the edge, as it certainly would me), and I had long been bracing myself for it, it’s hit me harder than I expected. Maybe because I’m a little gloomy anyway these days, and definitely because I not only admired but also knew him, not in a drinking-buddy kind of way, yet in the way of one who has interviewed a person at great length–more on that later–and corresponded sporadically with him after that.

The one time I met Ray face to face was quite by chance and makes for a rather nice anecdote. It had to be 1990, because I was publicizing Behind the Mask, the memoir by gay former MLB umpire Dave Pallone, and for once I was actually in the big time, sitting in the Green Room at CNN while waiting for Dave to be interviewed by Larry King, when lo and behold, there he was, The GREAT Ray Bradbury, over whom I’m sure I shamelessly fawned the entire time. Normally, of course, when an author is interviewed, the publicist sits in rapt attention, drinking in every word, but when Dave returned to the Green Room after his segment, asked me how it went, and heard my lame reply, he looked at me accusingly–but, it must be said, affectionately–and intoned, “You were talking to Ray Bradbury!,” which I could not in good conscience deny.

I had much more contact with Ray by long distance when I conducted a telephone interview for Filmfax‘s late, lamented sister magazine, Outre, that covered pretty much the entirety of the film and television oeuvre written by Ray and/or based on his work. The logistics surrounding that interview, eventually published in 1995, summon up Ray as a man better than anything else I could come up with, because after it turned out that a technical glitch had rendered my entire audiotape blank, he agreed to reschedule and then did the entire goddamn interview all over again. Yes, you read that right. And believe you me, it was not a brief one.

As is widely known, Ray was not only an inspiration but also a kind of mentor/role model/elder statesman for many of the younger writers among what became known as the California Sorcerers, or simply The Group, such as George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan (all of whom I interviewed for Filmfax and proudly consider friends as well), and Charles Beaumont. It was typical of The Group that they not only were friends, contemporaries, and colleagues, but also wrote for many of the same TV shows, movie studios, and magazines, collaborated on various projects and/or adapted one another’s work for the screen. Ray’s efforts in that last capacity accounted for a goodly hunk of our interview, because by then I was already in the grip of my Matheson obsession, although not yet planning to write Richard Matheson on Screen, and Richard had written the teleplay for the ill-fated 1980 NBC miniseries based on one of Ray’s most famous books, The Martian Chronicles.

Despite his justifiable and quite public disappointment with the miniseries, Ray had the good grace to acknowledge that on paper, Richard’s script did an excellent job of turning a largely unconnected series of stories into a single narrative; like me, he fingered the soporific work of director Michael Anderson as the primary culprit. When it came time for me to write my magnum opus, I drew heavily on our interview for quotes concerning both The Martian Chronicles and their shared experiences writing for The Twilight Zone, which were considerably less happy for Ray than for Richard. And although they weren’t applicable to the book, he had also regaled me with stories of his boyhood pal Ray Harryhausen (another Filmfax interviewee), It Came from Outer Space, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (both 1953), Moby Dick (1956), King of Kings (1961), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Picasso Summer, The Illustrated Man (both 1969), the 35-year saga of getting Something Wicked This Way Comes onto the screen in 1983, The Ray Bradbury Theater, The Halloween Tree (1993), his wonderful book Green Shadows, White Whale, and others too numerous to recall.

If all had gone according to the original plan, I would have met Ray face to face one more time in 2005, when he was one of several genre legends who attended a party in L.A. to celebrate the publication of Matheson’s novel Woman, as I was also scheduled to do. But Richard, realizing that I would get completely lost in the shuffle, wisely suggested that I defer my visit for a few weeks until the HWA’s Stoker Awards weekend, when he would be doing a Twilight Zone panel with George (whom I finally got to meet years after our phoner). I’d exchanged Christmas cards with Ray for several years after our own interview, and kept him abreast of my progress on the Matheson book, but was less willing to bother him after Marguerite died in 2003, and it’s been years now since we’d had any contact.

A giant talent, a great soul, a 12-year-old Midwestern boy-poet trapped in an infirm 91-year-old body, but now liberated–and reunited with Maggie–forever, hoisting a few with a delighted God. What more can I say?

I’ll let the author of Fahrenheit 451 have the last word, in a quote that my mother-in-law shared with me when she called a few minutes ago to offer her condolences:  “I don’t try to describe the future.  I try to prevent it.”

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

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Richard Dawson–who shared Madame BOF’s birthday–is dead of cancer at 79. Of course, I knew him first for his role as Corporal Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes and his hosting duties on Family Fued (brilliantly parodied with the Coneheads, and Bill Murray as Dawson, on Saturday Night Live back in my day), but I will always remember him for his guest appearance on The Odd Couple (“Richard Dawson? Richard Dawson feh!”) and his supporting role in The Devil’s Brigade (1968). He was also in episodes of The Outer Limits (“The Invisibles“) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Anyone for Murder?,” which we just saw), but I’d forgotten he had an uncredited bit in The Longest Day (1962). And of course Stephen King-fan Turafish will remind us that he parodied himself as an evil game-show host in The Running Man (1987). Seems his first wife was Brit bombshell Diana Dors, whose credits include Robert Bloch‘s notorious Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the genre films Berserk (1967), Nothing but the NightTheatre of Blood (both 1973), From Beyond the Grave, and Craze (both 1974). Who knew? A shame.  Give ’em a kiss for us, Richard.

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