Danny Kaye

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Thumbnails 12/4/14

Olivia de Havilland on "Gone With the Wind"; R.I.P. Bob Baker; Chatting with Ethan Hawke; Kieran Fitzgerald on "The Homesman"; David Blaine interviews Madonna.

Roger Ebert

What was my Aunt Martha trying to ask me?

After she had the heart attack out in Michigan on Thanksgiving 1988, I stood by her bedside in the recovery room and she tried so hard to tell me something, but it just didn't work. I loved her so much. Did she know how much? I never told her. There are always questions you wish you'd asked after it's too late to get an answer. Sometimes years can pass before you realize they're questions.

Everyone said I "took after her," and I did. My features are more rounded than anyone else on either side of my family. Martha R. Stumm was the youngest of six surviving children of a Dutch-Irish-German couple who raised their family on a farm outside Tayorville, Illinois. Years after after her father died and her mother opened a boarding house in Urbana, enough oil was found beneath the land to make it worth drilling.

TV/Streaming

This isn't your Disney Little Mermaid

"The Little Mermaid from San Francisco Ballet" airs Friday, Dec. 16, at 9 p.m. (check local listings) on PBS's "Great Performances." It is currently available on DVD, and will also appear on PBS On Demand.

by Jana Monji

Whenever I say, "Hans Christian Andersen," in my mind I can hear the voice of Danny Kaye singing out the name of the famous Dane. Kaye played the title role in 1952 musical film, "Hans Christian Andersen. " For another generation, the Little Mermaid is part of a Disney franchise beginning with the 1989 animated feature "The Little Mermaid. " Now comes a ballet, recorded for PBS.

Hamburg Ballet director John Neumeier's "The Little Mermaid" is a visually rich, emotionally complex ballet that takes the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale from its Hollywood interpretations back to its origins. This is a "don't miss" production.

In the original story, the Little Mermaid saves and falls in love with a prince. She makes a bargain with a witch, giving up her beautiful voice in order to have legs. The prince likes her, but doesn't love her and marries another. Given the choice of killing the prince or dying herself, the Little Mermaid dies, but is resurrected in another dimension.

How can you have a franchise if the Little Mermaid dies? You can't, of course. In the Disney feature, "The Little Mermaid," Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), doesn't die, and instead, does find love with her prince, Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes). Roger Ebert gave the movie four stars, and called it "a jolly and inventive animated fantasy" that restored the magic associated with animated Disney features from an earlier era. The Academy voters gave the film two Oscars--one to Alan Menken for Best Music, Original Score and another to Menken and Howard Ashman (lyrics) for Best Music, Original Song ("Under the Sea")

Scanners

On actors who are too gay to be in the Musicals

Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:

1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.

2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.

Roger Ebert

My old man

Until the day he died, I always called him "Daddy." He was Walter Harry Ebert, born in Urbana in 1902 of parents who had emmigrated from Germany. His father, Joseph, was a machinist working for the Peoria & Eastern Railway, known as the Big Four. Daddy would take me out to the Roundhouse on the north side of town to watch the big turntables turning steam engines around. In our kitchen, he always used a knife "your grandfather made from a single piece of steel."