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#384 July 7, 2020

Matt writes: Carl Reiner, the towering comedic genius responsible for creating "The Dick Van Dyke Show," died last week at the age of 98. He remained uproarious and brilliant to the very end, and there's no question that his work will keep us entertained for the next 2000 years. Two days before his passing, he tweeted, “Nothing pleases me more than knowing that I have lived the best life possible by having met & marrying the gifted Estelle (Stella) Lebost—who partnered with me in bringing Rob, Annie & Lucas Reiner into this needy & evolving world.” Be sure to read Nell Minow's tribute to Reiner as well as Donald Liebenson's recent interview with the television icon.

Roger Ebert

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done

Those who opened their eyes when I did are closing them now. Word reached me on New Year's Eve of two friends, one who has died, another who has returned home from hospital for palliative care. The first memories that come into my mind is of them laughing. I believe anyone who knew them would say the same thing. In my exploring years, when I was young and healthy and life was still ahead, they were stars in my sky, who had always been alive and would always be alive, because that is how we must act if we are to live at all.


Bob Hope: Thanks for the memories

• Roger Ebert / Oct. 15, 1978

Los Angeles, California - For a lot of people, doing a comedy sketch with Charo would be enough for one day. For almost anybody, doing a comedy sketch with Charo and doing a comedy sketch in bed with Cheryl Tiegs would be more than enough for one day.

But it wasn't enough for Bob Hope. He got up early in the morning one day last week to fly in a Lear jet to San Francisco. He let me fly along. He wanted to surprise a ballroom full of Budweiser distributors with an unscheduled walk-on during a sales convention. After a standing ovation and a few quick one-liners ("President Carter didn't invite me to Camp David, maybe because Begin doesn't like hams..."), Hope was back on the jet and flying down to L.A. to tape his comedy special. (Budweiser, not surprisingly, is one of the sponsors for the show.)

"It's got a great title," Hope said. "They're calling it Bob Hope's All-Star Comedy Salute to the 75th Anniversary of the World Series. I'm not sure, but I think it sets a record for the longest name of a TV show."

Hope looked tanned and relaxed and nowhere near his 75 years; he'd worked on his material - for the walk-on and the TV special - while flying up to San Francisco, and now he'd scheduled the return flight for an interview for the World Book Year Book. His schedule accounts for every hour in the day, and he's working somewhere almost every day of the year.

"The man continues to amaze me," says Ward Grant, who handles Hope's public relations. "Here he is 75 years old, and he's working harder than he ever has. We keep statistics. Last year he did 250 personal appearances. Played 39 rounds of golf for charity. Was on more than 40 talk shows. Taped a season of TV specials. Flew tens of thousands of miles..."

Hope's schedule is simplicity itself, for Hope. "It's a great life," he said. "Say I'm going somewhere to do a show. I get there, I sleep late, I have breakfast, maybe I play a round of golf somewhere, or see the sights. Then I'm on at 8 p.m., I do an hour and a quarter, an hour and a half of material, and I'm finished.

"It's a great feeling, working in front of an audience. Keeps you fresh. I love it. But when I'm finished, I'm finished. I want to unwind. That's why I've never played Vegas. They want you to do two shows a night. After the first show, I want to call it a day. I've never liked doing a lot of shows in one day although I've done it, of course, during the overseas trips to entertain GIs. And once when I wanted to set the house record at the Palace in New York, so we opened early and squeezed in a couple of extra shows. I seem to remember they had a 75-minute sea epic on the screen, and to sneak in another show we cut out 15 minutes of waves..."

It's been a good and a bad year for Hope. It started tragically with the death of his longtime friend and sparring partner, Bing Crosby. It had its high point when Hope's 75th birthday celebration made him the toast of Washington; he was honored by a special session of Congress, during which, he recalls with a smile, no less than three congressional house rules were broken: "The rules say members can't recognize anyone in the gallery, or tell jokes, or sing. They did all three, if you call that singing..."

Was the congressional tribute the proudest moment of his life?

"One of the proudest, yes. There was a great moment in 1963 when President Kennedy gave me the Presidential Medal. I was standing all alone in a little room opening onto the Rose Garden, waiting to be introduced, and I had the strangest memory. Maybe it was being all alone that inspired it; I remembered standing by myself in front of the Woods Theater on Randolph Street in Chicago, and looking across the street at Henrici's restaurant, and thinking 'They're eating. I'm not.'

"I was trying to break into vaudeville at the time, and not doing a very good job of it. It was just about then I decided to change my first name from Leslie to Bob."

Why Bob?

He smiled. "It sounded chummier."

Crosby's death brought an end to plans for them to team up once again with Dorothy Lamour for another Road movie. But now, Hope says, he's thinking of doing a Road movie with George Burns. "It's terrific, the success George has had recently," he said. "And I like to stick around him because he's the only guy out here that's older than I am."

Hope's early motion-picture days were spent at Paramount, the home studio for W. C. Fields. What was Fields like? "Absolutely unique. He had this little gag he'd pull on Paramount. They'd give him a script and he'd take it home, supposedly to study it, and then he'd call up and announce that it needed work but he thought he could fix it. Then he'd just work in one of his old vaudeville routines, and charge them $50,000. On 'The Big Broadcast of 1933,' for example, he stuck in a golf game that had nothing to do with the movie. What Fields didn't know was that Paramount expected him to charge them $50,000, and he was worth it, so they budgeted for it before they ever gave him the script."

The jet landed not far from beautiful downtown Burbank, and two hours later, Hope and Charo, he in a baseball uniform, she in an astonishing variation on a jogger's outfit, were taping their sketch before a live audience in the NBC studios.

The audience was made up of people who just happened to be taking the studio tour when Hope needed an audience, and they looked pleased with themselves for getting to see Hope in person: Their applause and laughter seemed a couple of notches more enthusiastic than they might have been for anyone else, and I remembered a short exchange on the plane.

"I don't want to embarrass you." I'd said, "by referring to you as an institution..."
 "Go right ahead," Hope said with a grin.

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Jack Benny, 1894-1974: The man who was funny just by standing there

In October 1974, Benny canceled a performance in Dallas after suffering a dizzy spell, coupled with a feeling of numbness in his arms. Despite a battery of tests, Benny's ailment could not be determined. When he complained of stomach pains in early December, a first test showed nothing, but a subsequent one showed he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. Choosing to spend his final days at home, he was visited by close friends including George Burns, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson and New Zealand crooner John Rowles. He died from the disease on December 26, 1974. Bob Hope delivered the eulogy at his funeral. Mr. Benny's will arranged for a single long-stemmed red rose to be delivered to his widowed wife, Mary Livingstone, every day for the rest of her life.--Wikipedia

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Movie Answer Man

Absurdity at 30,000 feet

Q. Have they started serving alcohol at press screenings in your neck of the woods? I ask because I'm a reviewer in Canada, and perhaps we could ask for the same courtesy here; it would help with movies like "Flightplan." This is one of the most ridiculous movies I've seen this year. It doesn't even make sense before the drop into Steven Seagal territory in the last act. No one has seen the daughter, or anyone leading her away? As "Mad TV's" Marvin Tikvah would say: Come on! More importantly, how could anyone be sure she would be on that plane at that time? Nicolas Lacroix, Quebec City


Walter Matthau: A laugh-filled life

Walter Matthau, who claimed that "Foghorn" was his middle name, is dead at 79. The beloved actor, whose face was mapped with laugh lines, died of a heart attack early Saturday morning. He was brought into a Santa Monica hospital in cardiac arrest, and pronounced dead at 1:41 a.m. PDT.


Michael Caine on the trail of Holmes

LONDON, England -- Down here on the banks of these forgotten underground canals running beneath crumbling old Victorian warehouses, it is cold and damp, and they have a rope strung along the walls so if the lights go out, you can feel your way to safety before the rats gnaw your bones. Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley are blowing on their hands and sipping hot tea, and looking uneasily at the water in the canal, which is the color of green mud. "If you fell in and went under," Caine observes, "you'd have to have about 30 injections."They are filming a movie named "Sherlock and Me" [released as "Without a Clue"], and although there have been countless film and TV versions of Sherlock Holmes, from the age of Basil Rathbone to the era of Jeremy Brett, there has never before been one with quite this premise. If we are to believe the screenplay, Sherlock Holmes never existed. All of his cases were investigated and solved by Dr. Watson, who then, to amuse himself, wrote them up for the Strand magazine, disguising his own identity by creating a fictional writer named Arthur Conan Doyle, and a fiction detective named Sherlock Holmes and solved by Dr. Watson.As the story opens, Watson, played by Kingsley, is trapped in the horns of a dilemma. He needs to produce a "real" Holmes. So he hires an actor, a very bad actor, to portray the detective. The actor (played by Michael Caine) enjoys playing Holmes all too much, until he confuses the role with reality, and begins to think he is Sherlock Holmes. And that gets to be a problem for him when the evil Dr. Moriarity arrives on the scene."It's all a lot of derring-do today, and not a lot of dialog," Caine was explaining during a pause in the shooting. "We hide behind those boxes over there, and shoot our guns, and duck bullets. Then Dr. Moriarity tries to set off his bomb before we all burn up in the fires that have started."He and Kingsley hid behind the boxes, and waited for the director to call "Action!," and then they leaped up, shot, and dove for cover."They're two very different kinds of actors," the movie's producer, Mark Sturdivant, was musing over in the shadows of a slime-covered archway. "Michael is very instinctive, Ben is very intellectual, They work marvelously well together. During the read-through of the script, we'd call out "scene 90" or something, and Ben would instantly be checking to see what had happened to his character before, and what would happen after, so he could fashion the correct frame of mind. Meanwhile, Michael would be slumped on the couch, picking balls of fluff off of his sweater."Thom Eberhardt, the genial American who is directing the film, asked everyone to retreat down a gloomy corridor for safety's sake, while the special effects men prepared to set off a bomb. Then it appeared that the explosives would take some time to rig, and so lunch was declared. I followed Ben Kingsley to his mobile dressing room, which was parked upstairs not far from Camden Lock, in an area of London that was once filled with warehouses for the canal boats from the north, and will soon be filled with condos for the yuppies from the south, but is currently an industrial wasteland.Kingsley is indeed an intellectual actor, polite and precise, not given to personal revelations. The dignity and reserve that he brought to his Oscar-winning performance in "Gandhi" seems to be innate. So is the twinkle in his eye. "We are, I suppose, making a comedy," he explained to me, "but we are playing it very seriously. Michael is portraying a bad actor, not a funny bad actor. I am playing a detective, a doctor, and a writer. That gives me my limits. Watson is a serious man. We will play these characters as if we believed in them--not lampoon them like the Three Stooges.""I'm somehow surprised that you know the Three Stooges," I said."Oh, I know them, all right. The lowest form of comedy."We talked briefly about the age of Sherolock Holmes, which is Kingsley's favorite historical period: "They had a covenant of honor then, that disappeared after the war.They had a clear concept of good and evil, which is why is was the perfect period for Sherlock Holmes. I like the style of the period, the dress, the paintings, and the photographs. And I am calling on all of that affection in my performance. This may be a comedy, but I am not making fun of Watson or Holmes."He thought for a moment."You have to believe in God,: he said, "to be able to blaspheme."Outside his trailer, it had started to rain, one of those grim January drizzles that seems to be good until March. I walked across a windy brick parking lot to Michael Caine's trailer, where the instinctive actor was reading the morning papers. After ten years in Beverly Hills, Caine moved back to England last year, and lives in an ancient cottage on the banks of the Thames in Oxfordshire. I told him I had enjoyed a clip on the TV news showing him officially opening the village fete."Actors are called upon all the time to open one thing or another," he said. "It's who they call if they can't get royalty. But the difference between opening my village fete and opening something in California is that my village is 1,000 years old! The name of the place is Wallingford, which I think refers to a walled-in fording place from the Roman times. Walled-in-Ford becomes Wallingford, don't you imagine? You can walk across the Thames when the tide is low enough.""When you moved to California," I said, " you said it was because American producers never called you with job offers in England, because it never occurred to them they could telephone long-distance.""Right. But they're willing to do that now, because I went to American and did quite well. I'm well-known in the U.S., which I wasn't when I moved there. And now that I'm back home, I don't bad-mouth Hollywood. I had a marvelous time. They were all wonderful to me. They gave me lots of work, and I had a nice house, as nice as everyone else in Beverly Hills, and the sun shone on me just like everybody else, but the hard thing to explain is, I wound up missing the rain."He looked out the window of his trailer at the lowering skies."And now that I'm back home, I don't have to miss the rain. I got homesick for life in the country. Also, my daughter is 14, and I wanted her to spend some time in British schools before she was completely mature. She was in a very laid-back school in Los Angeles, and oh, my, are the British schools tougher! I'm 55. I don't want to move again. Here we're a 45-minute flight from strange and alien cultures. In America, you can fly for five hours and still be in the same place. I want to show my daughter a little of Europe. We popped over to Greece, we visited Paris, she's spending her school holidays in Rome...""Did you ever imagine you'd be playing Sherlock Holmes?" I asked.His gaze fell on his deerstalker cap. "I'm an actor, you see. I should be able to play almost anybody. It's part of our British actor thing. I grew up in repertory theater. Our training is to play any suitable role. If you're a movie star in America, you have to worry about what your fan club will think. I'm a leading actor rather than a film star, so I have to give a performance every time, and not rely simply on personality or looks. One of the ways this is fun is that you get to play all sorts of different roles, like the bad chap in "Mona Lisa,' for example, that a film star would not have played. Or my role in "Hannah and Her Sisters,' which was not a leading role, but it was a chance to work with Woody Allen, who is an important filmmaker."That was the role that won Michael Caine an Academy Award as best supporting actor, further advancing the theory that no single actor in the last decade has appeared in more good, or bad, movies than Caine--who somehow manages to emerge looking good even in the bad ones."I enjoy the television shows where they select the year's best and worst films," he said. "I'm always on both lists." "Speaking of protecting your image," I said, "you do have a certain willingness to play roles that 'movie stars' wouldn't touch. 'Blame It on Rio,' for example." That was the movie in which Caine played a married man who went on holiday to Rio with his child, his best friend, and the friend's teenage daughter--and had an affair with the daughter."That was at a point in my career when I would do literally anything to appear in a comedy. I made 'Sweet Liberty' at about the same time. I should have known it was the wrong decision, looking at the screenplay and seeing how many tits were in the movie. I don't like tits in movies 'caue I know nobody's looking at me. Another strike against the movie--it cam out just at the same time as a massive amount of publicity about incest, and I think people got the idea I was having the affair with my daughter, rather than my friend's daughter.""You said when you left for America," I said, "that you were paying 92 percent of your British income in taxes.""Quite right. Now Mrs. Thatcher has it down to around 55 percent. Still about 25 percent more than in America, but I am willing to pay a 25 percent penalty for the privilege of living in England. It's worth it.""And where else could you play Sherlock Holmes?" He shrugged. The fact was, Caine someone negotiated the minefield of "Blame It on Rio" and escaped untouched. His inborn good humor seems to carry him past the impossible scenes in terrible movies (although he had some very close calls in "Jaws the Revenge'). Caine has made five films in the last year alone, including good performances in "The Whistle Blower" and the Fredrick Forsyth thriller "The Fourth Protocol.""The problem with that one," he said, " was that Forsyth slowed things down too much by having all those Russians standing around calling each other by their full names. They all have three names, each one longer than the last.""What's next?" I asked."Jack the Ripper," he said. "I'll practically be able to keep the same wardrobe. It's a min-series for TV. For 25 years, I've said I would never do a mini-series, but this was too good to pass up. This is the 100th anniversary of the first Ripper murders, and we have the private papers of the Inspector who caught him, arrested him, and sealed the evidence for a century.""That's the story?""No, that's the fact. At the end of the last episode, on live worldwide TV, we will open the file and reveal the real name of Jack the Ripper. There's tremendous interest all over the world. The Japanese even have professional Ripperologists. After that, there won't be much point in doing any more Ripper films. Our director has had a pre-look at the file, but he is going to make us film three or four different endings, so even the actors won't know who the real Ripper is. The Duke of Clarence? Who can say for sure? Book-makers are taking odds over here."He smiled at the prospect. He began to think back over some of his earlier roles, and came up with the observation that he has been in movies 25 years, since the days of "Zulu," "The Ipcress File" and "Alfie.""I'm up for another 25," he said. "Why not? George Burns is 92, and he signed a contract to play the Palladium when he's 100."


Interview with Ann-Margret (1983)

The walls of Roger Smith's office are covered with pictures of Ann-Margret. Here she is as a sex kitten, on the cover of Life. There's a cover from Entertainment World, a forgotten show business magazine. All in a row are three recent covers of People. And here are an oil painting of Ann-Margret, and a lot of cartoonist's caricatures, and some framed ads and telegrams and the usual backstage memorabilia. In one corner, almost hidden behind a file cabinet, is Roger Smith's only souvenir of his own career: A framed ad for his stage appearance as a folk singer at the "hungry i" nightclub in San Francisco, in 1964.


Interview with George Burns

HOLLYWOOD - It could be any office in a bungalow on a Hollywood back lot, but three things say it belongs to George Burns. There is a photograph of Gracie Allen on the wall, a large cigar humidor on the desk and a coffee mug that says "God."


Interview with Milton Berle

Milton Berle made his acting debut in 1914, at the age of 6, as the little newsboy in Charles Chaplin's "Tillie's Punctured Romance." Since then, he has been in vaudeville, radio and the movies and in 1948 became television's first big star.