Attracting An Oscar Audience

I broke into laughter today when I read (in the Los Angeles Times) that star caliber Oscar presenters would be asked to by-pass the red carpet so that their (eventual, surprise) appearance on camera would help attract more viewers. Having m.c'd the arrivals on the red carpet for 50 years (I retired my mike  three years ago) I can only say you'd need an escape-proof contraption to keep arriving celebrities away from the camera or mike-carrying pre-show interrogators on the red carpet--with a few bashful exceptions, of course.

For five decades publicists like Jerry Pam and Julian Meyers have generously donated their services to escort endless troops --nominees, eventual presenters and simply invitees, up to my station-- as well as to others-- to get space throughout the international outlets. . Julian, for one, believes the at-home- global-audiences are more interested in learning the winning outcome of the product on Oscar night, rather than the exhibit of  "gowns or jewelry" which the participants  are wearing. Pam reminds me "it's a three-and-a-half hour show--and as a result, it's boring because there's so much the audiences care nothing about." But there have always been attempts by the Oscar shows' creators to lure viewers  to stay on the Oscars  tv screen with every single magnet.   Remember producer Allan Carr's 1989- Jeff Margolis-directed Oscar show opening with "Snow White" arriving into the Shrine after I introduced her on the red carpet? Poor producer Allan Carr--he never recovered from the brickbats tossed at him. Should Snow White have arrived by a side entrance?  

Bowl-ing Over

On Super Bowl Sunday, in Hollywood's halcyon days, Dave Chasen threw open the doors to the kitchen of his celeb-saturated eatery and Pierre Cossette hosted the feed. Everyone carted his own dish to the steaming tables and loaded up on Chasen's famous chili, hot dogs and all the food fixings and best of the bar.

When Pierre moved east, the event shifted to Sardi's only to return with Pierre and the original Spago, then on to Wolfgang's Beverly Hills h.q, where Sunday night it was revived by Phoenix Books' president Michael Viner, with Phoenix Books' chairman Dwight D. Opperman and exec V.P. Juilie Chrystyn hosting.

Meanwhile, out in the Valley, Chasen's alumnus and now catering cuisine-master Arl was serving up the Chasen's chili and remembering menu-to-match for the Bowl doings at the estate of Dr. Gary Gitnick and wife Cherna. Ironically, in the "goodie" bag of Phoenix Books given to the Spago-ites was " Getting Well -- Staying Well" by Dr. Gitnick. Viner believes Gitnick is the one to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Norman Cousins.

"Catastrophe: The Story of Bernard L. Madoff, The Man Who Swindled the World" was another Phoenix book given out at the Spago Super Bowl. Authors Deborah and Gerald Strober were not there but I spoke to them (on the phone) in New York as they await a March 10 print date. In the meanwhile, they post developments regularly on their web site and tell me Madoff has a court date Feb. 11. They says they've spoken to Madoff victims: noted in the book are Steven Spielberg, Kevin Bacon, and Kyra Sedgwick.

Other guests included Robert Evans, whose next Phoenix book, "The Fat Lady Sang," is "The Kid Stays In The Picture, Part II." Also at the Phoenix Books' bash was Robert Blake in a rare pubic appearance. Phoenix doesn't have him set for a book -- yet.

KO'd Carl OK

Carl Reiner, whose record of 21 hosting at the DGA, was broken Saturday night by food poisoning was OK today. When I spoke to him, Carl said the culprit was a Chile Rilleno he'd eaten in a usually reliable, small neighborhood restaurant in Culver City where he's an enthusiastic regular. Reiner explained, "I just didn't have the energy (after farewell'ing the dinner)," 87 years young Reiner admitted for the full performance he always exerts. He's unbeatable. (Jon Cryer generously subbed for Reiner).

Carl assures he'll be on hand back at the Century Plaza hotel Feb.7 when he'll receive the Valentine Davies Award from the SWG. Also receiving the award is Victoria Riskin, longtime friend and fellow guild worker. "She and I went on a Chinese-American friendship trek in 1973," Reiner recalls. "It was an extraordinary experience." Reiner viewed the finale of the Soer-Bowl game at son Rob Reiner's home having been "shepherded" earlier to his literary publisher Michael Viner's Spago bowling.

The critics' love-hate relationship with 'Slumdog'

Boyle_danny In my first interview with "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle back on Nov. 19, when the awards nominations started to pile up, he modestly admitted, "So many people are saying they need this kind of story at this time."

And he thanked, of all people, the critics and the general press for the positive reception they were unloading on his film. Then on Jan. 13, when he was then looking forward to the film's premiere in India, he told me "They (India) are so proud the film was getting a boost from Hollywood." We talked of the youngsters in "Slumdog" and his warm association with the duo during the film's production.

Boyle volunteered to me that "their education will benefit from the film's success." He shares the spotlight with them as the awards mount and his pride in them is obvious.

Now, the same ones who had been heaping praises on Boyle are targeting him on both theatrical and humanitarian fronts. He's a father of two and has spoken to me about them with love and concern -- and he has also talked to me about his youngsters in the movie.

And, as for "Slumdog" -- critics or not -- it's still my favorite movie of the year.

To Party -- Or Not?

 Of course there'll be some celebrating somewhere -- before, during and after the Oscars -- but it ain't the same. Graydon Carter tells me, "It's hard for this sort of  economic devastation not to affect almost any public get-together. And the Vanity Fair Oscar party is no different. We've moved it to the  Sunset Towers Hotel and it will be a smaller, more intimate affair than in previous years. And regulars will notice decorations from Oscar Parties past. Everything's being recycled -- even the guests!"

Also, William Morris's Ed Limato again cancels his annual lavish -- yet warm -- party (his mom greets guests in the kitchen and Ed is always barefoot). Last year he called off his tented party when the strike cast its pall over the awards season. He now tells me he has decided not to hold a pre-Oscar bash again  this year. The reason is two-fold: the state of the community's emotions because of the international economy - -including the entertertainment community "and the threat of a strike again," he told me. "I hope to do it next year," he said positively, "when hopefully things will be better."

Meanwhile, a positive party note for the March 4 17th annual "A Night At Sardi's" fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Benefit at the BevHilton. Laurie Burrows Grad and husband Peter Grad created the event honoring her late father,  Abe Burrows, an Alzheimer victim. And all of Hollywood has contributed talents in reprising B'way musical hits -- this is the second time for "Damn Yankees" which was the third BevHills-B'way mini-transformation. Each year is a smash! And I mean with funds as well. And this year Laurie is positive about a sellout again.

The show will include the cast of "The Big Bang Theory," Victor Garber and Sean Hayes reprising "There Goes The Good Old Days" with Lee Martino directing and choregraphing, Georgia Stitt, musical director. Imagine/NBC's "Friday Night Lights" will be honored for its shows on Alzheimer's and Fox Sports' Jason Kamins, David Hioll and Ed Goren honored for their Alzheimer's attention-getting on screen appearances. While Grad is confident her event will be a financial success, it's no secret many other fund-raising groups in the showbiz community will be having a touchier time.  

Expresses Himself In Print And --

Curtis I never know when to expect a call from him--but that Bronx twang is immediately recognizable. "Armelah," he exclaims, "how are you boychick?" He then segues into pure Tony Curtis, an East Bronx boy talking to one from the Grand Concourse (me). We've been friends since he was "The Prince Who Was A Thief" at Universal. I'd visited the sets or talked to him abut the making of "Spartacus," "The Boston Strangler,' "Some Like It Hot," "Defiant Ones," "The Vikings," and "Sweet Smell Of Success," among many others. He survived a close health call a year ago when departure from a hospital stay was iffy. He wrote his memoirs. And last week, he was enjoying yet another trek around the country selling his book..

"I'm getting stronger all the time -- by walking," he said happily. This time, he was back in Hollywood at the Magic Castle. He was not only here with his bio, but he brought along a group of his paintings. They sell for up to $30,000 and for as low as $2,500 for prints. "I love going out with my paintings," he said. "Just think, if I sell five, it's four more than Van Gogh sold in his whole life."

Curtis is planning another revealing book, this one about the studios where he'd worked. He says he's made 150 movies. And as we enumerated on some of the choice ones he talked about Oscar recognition -- some day. Who more deserving of movie recognition than movie star Tony Curtis?

Let The Show Now Begin

Oscar_statue You -- and I -- have had a day to digest the Oscar nominees, and so have Laurence Mark and Bill Condon, producer and exec producer respectively of the Feb.22 show. So I phoned them to see if they are sticking to their guns of last Friday when they said they are inspired by the example of the Gower Champion-produced Oscar show of 1969. But now, how will today's nominees fit in with those of 40 years ago?

Speaking for both, Mark told me, "We would have been thrilled with any selection-" but I interrupted by enumerating the heavy, serious tenor of the Best Pictures and their respective nominees with the music and animated nominees lightening up things.

He immediately reminded me that the central character who will be up there on the Kodak stage ringmastering the event will be Hugh Jackman -- an award-winning actor who can do anything: act, sing, dance, and entertain an audience. I agreed, having seen Jackman in action "live" as well as and on screen. "He can handle a world of surprises," Mark continued enthusiastically.

As for the drama accent of the nominees, Mark reminded, "The Oscars will be a celebration of ALL the movies of the year." Yeah, but everyone wants to know who the winners are, not the also-ran. This past year will also illustrate a more-than-usual remembrance of departed movie creators. "In Memoriam" is always an important feature of the Oscar show.

I also asked for some revelation of their new look of the Kodak theater but Mark insisted on keeping it secret -- "all the way up until you see it on the TV screen that night." I was caught up in the producers' enthusiasm, particularly since the five Best Picture Nominees are also my favorites -- of course one in particular. And if you've been reading my blogs over the months, you can guess which one it is...

Remembering Washington

As she watched the inauguration ceremonies-on television,--along with the rest of us millions--Shirley Temple recalled (on the phone) her days in D.C. She had been  Chief of Protocol at the White House following her stand as  U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and before her appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and her return to the U.S. as Delegate to the United Nations where she once even gave me a tour!
Shirley Temple has been a lifelong Republican-- even ran on the ticket for a California Congressional seat (unsuccessful, however).  But when we spoke today following the swearing in ceremony for Barack Obama, Shirley said to me, "I think it will be good."  "Are you still a Republican?" I asked, "Of course," she laughed. But continued to talk positively on the hopes for the Obama regime to help return this country to a healthy state. She had known this list of Republican presidents: Eisenhower, Ford, Bush and Nixon "Very well."  And she said she worked for President Bill Clinton in the ("very small") protocol office briefly during the period of Presidential transition.
Shirley Temple said she's completed her third book--but has not yet submitted it to publishers nor is she anxious about it as she approaches her 81st birthday (April 23). She is expecting the arrival of her second great-grandchild. She ended our warm conversation with (mutual) wishes for Senator Ted Kennedy who had warmly greeted her in the State Department Dinner preceding her receiving a Kennedy Center Honor when we also had the honor and pleasure of sitting with her afterwards at the celebratory ball. This is a treasured friendship for us with a remarkable American. 

Guess Who's Not Coming To D.C.

SidneySidney Poitier's powerful performance in Stanley Kramer's 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" has become a part of the lore leading to the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the highest office in the United States of America. So I phoned Sidney today to see if he'd gone to D.C. No, he hasn't. And he has no plans to attend the inauguration or any of its functions or Washington at all.

On the phone, Poitier was, as usual, warm and expressive. I asked if he knew Obama -- and yes, he has met him and further, Poitier was happy to let me know, "I supported him totally and voted for him." No, he has not been asked to be any part of the Obama team. He is no longer involved in politics and departed his post as an Ambassador from the Bahamas several years ago, he said.

"I have lots of living -- not politics -- to do," said Sidney. "I am personally interested in seeing the world as a single community. We have to be involved in the family of man, and there are ways to better it to be interested in the health of its elements and not to plunder or damage it."

He philosophized as only he can on the welfare of the world and as I suspected, he is at work on another book in which we will, no doubt, learn more about this (former) actor-philosopher's hopes for a better world: through deeds, not words. But when I asked if he would be interested in seeing a new department -- or secretary -- of/for the arts, he declined political activities at all. But I'm sure he'd accept an invitation from the someone whose program he thoroughly endorsed to reach the Presidency.

Who'da Thunk It?

Leachman_cloris "In my lifetime -- cigarettes are gone -- and Barack Obama is President of the United States of America!" Cloris Leachman is beyond exuberant on the phone today. "It's amazing to believe," says the amazing Cloris of the Obama oath-taking Tuesday. She will be 83 on April 30 and the past year has been (another) landmark for her -- winding Dec. 31 as she boarded the Rose Parade float to lead the New Year's parade. Reflecting on the past year and "Dancing wth te Stars," she admits everyone on the show” was so great. It was the most fun, it was so well organized" -- but she admits she even surprised herself! The  return to favor  couldn't have come at a better moment-she had been assured to costar in "Young Frankenstein" on B'way but after her tryout, Mel Brooks decided against her. He reminded, "I don't want her dropping dead on stage -- eight shows a week!" he allowed to me.  "I was very sick,” she admits but didn’t want to say so. But I guess he (Mel) knew it."
After her outing (literally) on the Rose Parade, Cloris was stricken with a lung infection went on oxygen. She's now AOK and reeled off the list of her upcoming appearances: next week she records (in Palm Springs) the audio version of her autobio, "Cloris," under the direction of ex-husband George Englund, Jr. Later, on theatrical film at Cannes, her two films will be shown: "American Cowslip" with Val Kilmer, Peter Falk, Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, and Diane Ladd. Also at Cannes, the feature "Inglorious Basterds," as spelled by Quentin Tarantino, who directs her and Brad Pitt. Cloris also proudly told of her upcoming appearance at the Berlin Fest in  "N.Y. Why I Love You" with Eli Wallace, Orlando Bloom, James Caan, Kevin Bacon, Shia LeBeouf and Natalie Portman.  She'll be seen on the Hallmark Channel in "Love Takes Wing" with Lou Diamond Phillips. And she'll appear in her one-woman show in Des Moines, May 10 with all proceeds going to her Roosevelt high school. "Work is play" says Cloris, mother of five (one deceased), six grandchildren and one great, grandson. She's the winner of nine Emmys, one Oscar and will receive the Women's Image Network's award as "Living Legend." She certainly is.   


The Hegira Begins

Warwick Showbiz friends, past and present, of President-elect Barack Obama have started to converge on D.C. For instance, I spoke on the phone with Dionne Warwick as she was arriving in D.C. today to host Sunday's all-star American Music Ball event.

She will cohost the Urban Ball with Ludacris with the acts aimed at younger America: it features the Cheetah Girls, Fantasia Barrino, Big Boi and Cedric the Entertainer. And the second is Dionne's Legends Ball with co-host Chaka Kahn, Nancy Wilson, The Temptations, Peter, Paul and Mary, George Clinton and Aretha Franklin. "Music is a universal language that brings people of all colors, of all faiths, of all ethnicities from all over the globe together in unity, like today Barack's campaign proved can be done in America and worldwide," said Dionne. "So why not a ball that represents this, or rather two balls that collectively know how American music can unify us?"

Warwick has met Obama several times during the past two years: once in L.A., a second, she says, "when he spoke at my high school in East Orange, New Jersey." They also met when she was in D.C. campaigning for a stamp honoring Barbara Jordan. "Yes, he'll support it," Dionne noted.

Warwick will also be Entertainment Tonight's on-camera correspondent covering stars and events of this inauguration, as she did for Clinton's inauguration. Then on Jan.27 she will be a part of the Apollo Theater's 75th birthday celebration. She first appeared on that stage when she was 17. She wil be honored by the Broward Black Elected Officials in March and the Links of New Jersey honor her in November in her hometown of South Orange, New Jersey. And she is readying her one-woman show, "My Music And Me," for Broadway. It sold out in the UK.

Another music star-studded event, The Inaugural Peace Ball, will be held in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. It will be led by Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez. Who will sing "Happy Days Are Here Again"?

Adios, Amigo

 Ricardo Montalban was the most popular guy at Fairfax High school when he moved to Hollywood from Mexico. He was the most popular guy on the MGM lot in Culver City when he was signed as a contract player there. He was the most popular guy with super stars on -- and off -- the lot. While his accent was always charming, it often made for some laughable misquotes. He and his beautiful wife Georgiana were a most-photographed pair at every function. His sister-in-law Loretta Young spoke flatteringly of him when she knew how much he was suffering year after year with non-stop pains. He told me they were caused by a horseback riding accident in a Metro film -- but he said he'd never sue.

Although limited to a wheelchair for years, he never let it stop his desire to work to the fulfillment of the decresing opportunities. The last two motion pictures Ricardo did were Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids 2" and "Spy Kids 3," playing the grandfather. "I'm old and I'm in a wheelchair," Ricardo said, "and I have a Mexican accent. Three strikes and you're out." But Rodriguez went to Ricardo's  Hollywood home to convince him to do the role even though he was in excruciating pain. ("I feel like molten lava and broken glass is going down from my back to my legs," said Ricardo). But Rodriguez sent a plane to take Ricardo to the Austin location.

He was always on time on the set and as soon as Rodriguez called "action," Montalban's publicist David Brokaw says, "it seemed like the pain would completely disappear time and time again. Ricardo would smile and say, 'It's impossible for my mind to do 2 things at once.'" He always carried a photo of departed wife Georgiana with him on the set. Ricardo Montalban will be missed by all those whose life touched his. Mine was one . 

Well, Did You See It?

Boyle_danny "Pardon Me -- But You Must See It" was the headline on my Nov. 19 story after seeing "Slumdog Millionaire" the night before on the bigscreen at the Landmark complex in Westwood. The next morning I spoke with director Danny Boyle, who was en route to limited openings in Detroit, Philadelphia and N.Y. Since then, everyone has been taking my advice and Boyle and his "Slumdog" cast and crew have been happily collecting dozens of awards and nominations for others. Monday night, they added a couple more from the the L.A. Film Crix. On Tuesday, I spoke with Boyle (on the phone) from New York. He was there to receive the National Board of Review's award on Wednesday. "It was the first one," the ever-modest Boyle said of the honor. Tonight, he's dining with another congratulatory group which includes Jane Fonda. "I've never met her," he said, "and I am looking forward to meeting her, having admired her -- and I directed her son, Troy (Garrity) in 'Sunshine.' I didn't even know he was Jane Fonda's son until halfway through the film," admitted Boyle before complimenting the young thesp (who is currently filming in Europe).

Boyle says the reaction to the Fox Searchlight film "has been extraordinary. I have received so many messages from so many people saying they need this kind of story at this time. It is remarkable how this film was presented to the public -- by the critics. Without them, there wouldn't have been the public reaction that has followed. It was the critics who started it!"

Travels are non-stop for Boyle, who next heads to Germany. He's anxiously awaiting the Jan. 22nd opening in India. "It will be a big moment. They are so excited that this India-made film has been getting such reception and they're very proud to be getting this kind of of boost from Hollywood. And it is particularly important now after last month's horror." Boyle will visit with the youngsters (seven and eight years-old) who starred in the early scenes of the film -- "their educations will benefit from the film's success," said Boyle. I apologized for asking the obvious -- "What's his next movie?" He allowed the question was de rigeur but confessed, "I really don't know. My head is so full now, there's no space for anything else." We can always see "Slumdog Millionaire" -- again!

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