Monday, July 21, 2014

TOM WEATHERLY R.I.P.

People are always raving and bragging and expounding on how the Internet and World Wide Web and other names for the interconnectivity so many seem to have through their computers and smart phones and I'm always the curmudgeon who points out that most of the information I have in my head and on my bookshelves isn't anywhere on the web and if it is it is usually at least partially incorrect (including a lot of stuff about me). Tom Weatherly's passing is just one example.

Nowhere on Google or other sites I tried could I find a photograph of any of Tom's books I used to have but have disappeared over the years like too many (loaned to people who never brought them back, or in some cases stolen by people while at a party at my many apartments over the years) nor could I find any photos of Tom himself back when I knew him in the 1970s. We weren't close friends, merely acquaintances (we read our poetry together a few times, and in fact I think he was the other reader the first time I read at the St. Mark's Poetry Project in NYC) but I liked him and admired his unique contributions to "American" poetry and poetry in general and his commitment to that.

Here's a sweet remembrance and obit of Tom by his close friend (and now mine) poet Burt Kimmelman. My heart goes out to the family, friends and fans he left behind.

[PS: And here's a photo of what he looked like after he moved back down South and I lost touch with him:]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

JAMES GARNER R.I.P.

I never met or worked with James Garner, unfortunately, but I've had a deep connection with him through the film THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY since I was a young man. That film came out when I was in the military. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller and starred Garner and Julie Andrews, who would later that year become a household name after MARY POPPINS came out. Also in a small role in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY was James Coburn, which first made me notice him and began his trajectory toward stardom.

I knew and loved Garner from his days as MAVERICK on that TV Western, but the character he played in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY is the one that not only impressed and engaged me but enlightened me because he was the first lead in an "American" war movie, especially a WWII movie, who wasn't a gung ho hero, or a stalwart hero, or a flawed but deeply and righteously courageous hero etc. etc. but in fact was a man who wanted to avoid being in combat and getting killed more than anything else, like pretty much everyone I ever encountered in real life.

Twenty-five years after that movie had a profound impact on me and the way I saw the world and war and bravery and so much more, I was recovering from a brain operation and unable to watch TV without feeling like my head was going to explode. It was too stimulating in my early recovery and made me so anxious it felt like I might die from it. But slowly, over the course of weeks and eventually months, I was able to slowly expose myself to watching movies only in black-and-white with a small cast, set in confined spaces (i.e. small sets mostly, like a room or a garden etc. so limited amount of detail and usually with only two or three characters in each scene), and with a simple easy-to-follow storyline.

So most of the time I'd turn on TV and go right to TCM, but if the movie was in color or too busy I'd have to turn it off. I was afraid it might always be like that and one of my greatest pleasure in life, movies, would be gone from me. And then one day I turned TCM on and there was THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY and it didn't make me anxious or feel like I wanted to explode or die or etc. and I watched it all the way through and was reminded of that first time I'd seen it back in 1964 and how much it had impacted me then and still did, in fact it still seems like a boldly unique, or uniquely bold movie.

The thing that always struck me about James Garner was his seeming lack of ego, so rare for a movie star, let alone a big, handsome leading man movie star. I suspect it kept him from getting or doing a wider range of roles more traditionally heroic, a la John Wayne. But that didn't seem to bother him either. He seemed as comfortable on TV as he did on the big screen, and never behaved like he had anything to prove or had to prove anything. I am grateful he's been a presence in my life for so much of it, and will continue to be as I rewatch old movies and TV shows where his easy charm and amazing (for a leading man) comic timing are always entertaining, and often a lot more.


MUCH NEEDED REALITY CHECK

Here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

LAST OF MY HOLLYWOOD DAYS

Just before I left L.A. for Jersey, back in 1999, I played a second character on NYPD BLUE. I had  played an artist, Walter Hoyt, in previous years on the show, the most memorable character in my acting career (I still have people stop me and comment on that role), a career that I never really owned as I always saw myself as a poet who happened to act for his day job, despite the fact I was in my first school play at 13, my first professional play at 22, my first short film at 22 and my first feature at 26, and I made my living at it for over thirty years from my late thirties to my mid-sixties, enough so that I now live on a SAG pension, and yet, up until writing this post actually, I never thought of myself as an "actor" the way I think of friends who also have made their living at acting, sometimes sporadically, and are better known for it.

At any rate, the artist I played on NYPD BLUE was a unique creation and collaboration between me and the writers, and I am grateful for having the opportunity to have done that. But the character above came later on NYPD BLUE and was created as Dennis Franz's character's AA sponsor, just before I made the decision to move back East. The shots above were posted by Louis Perez, a good L.A. buddy originally from NYC and in the hat in the first photo above (his latest role was as the fight announcer on the most recent episode of RAY DONOVAN). They are of a scene in NYPD BLUE of an AA meeting. (I don't know the identity of the actress in the second shot.)

In the episode that followed, Franz's character Sipowitz (if I'm remembering the names correctly) calls his sponsor and says something like "Whattaya mean you moved to New Jersey?" and that was the end of that plot line. It was a nice note to leave L.A. on, and as frustrating and disappointing as it was to leave that role as well as my L.A. friends, it seemed like the right move for me and my family at the time. And anyway, it's all history now, as it all always is as soon as it happens.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A QUOTE [POEM] FOR THIS DAY AND THESE TIMES

"Ayman just came back from his family
Home in the West Bank. How's the spirit there?
I asked. "Good. Nobody's giving up."
Ayman paused, wiping down the spotless glass top
Of the pastry case one more careful time
Without looking up. Thinking to himself.
"After all, all they want's a little justice."
On the map of the West Bank, that blank space
Just to the left of the town of Bhiddu
Is the village where Ayman's father, one
Of twenty children, was born and raised.
The name of the village means House of Stones
"Because there's a quarry there," but still
It's too small to rate a spot on the map in
The Economist, alongside this story
On the fresh welling up of blood and anger
In my friend's home land, that blank space
Filled with blood and stones. Ayman loves
His trade; in six years he's built from nothing
The coolest little coffee shop on the street;
People like him, he likes them; he makes
Great coffee, his sandwiches are famed, justly;
It's the old American Horatio
Alger Dream, and America's his country.
Every day he gets hundreds of calls
On his cell phone. "But know how many
Calls from people here I take when I'm back
Home?" he smiles. "None. I talk to people
There." And when he goes back home to Beit
Duqqu, America feels far away.
That's the way it feels to me too, but I have
No other home. The photo of the olive tree,
Its roots exposed from the bulldozer cut,
That was up on Ayman's wall last autumn --
Is that a photo of a broken home
Or is it that one's home's always intact
In one's mind as long as one's heart is
Full? I wouldn't begin to know. Tacked
On a phone pole out front of Fertile Grounds
In drifting night mist, a tattered poster
With a picture of a cat's face on it, lost
Near Delaware and Shattuck. It's Momo.
And what's become of poor Momo, now a week
Gone? Tonight, caning into the fog,
I hallucinated a Momo
Sighting downtown. No, just another feral.
Over ferals few sentimental
Tears are shed. A shelter's not a home.
A sanctuary's what everybody needs
These days -- the ferals, the street and doorway
People, the drifters in the mist, the bums.
On my way back, as I passed, I saw that
A young Arab girl in headscarf sat weeping
At a table outside Fertile Grounds. Ayman
In his counterman's apron, spick and span,
And Mohamed stood huddled in conference,
Mo holding a cell phone. "She's just lost
Her family, everything," Mo said softly.
"She doesn't have people here. I am
Going to help her." Ayman was talking
To the girl in Arabic, serious, hushed.
Then too Mo, in Arabic, reassuring.
"Don't worry, it will be okay," said Mo --
Switching back to Shattuck Avenue English
For me, the infidel. God is great. May
God bring Momo home if it is His will,
And everybody else along with him,
Whomever that may include -- we, living --
And we'll abide in that, and till then hope
That Momo too, pilfering out of the trash
Bins behind the Shattuck eateries,
Will abide likewise. He'll not lack competition."

—Tom Clark (his poem "A Meditation Outside the Fertile Grounds Cafe" from The New World, and posted on his blog BEYOND THE PALE Monday)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

BRANDO VS. COPPOLA


This article comes too late (thanks to my old friend Wright Harris for hipping me to it) to save Brando's (acting) reputation while he was still alive, but it confirms my own suspicions and arguments when this topic was actually important to many of us who hold Brando up as the greatest screen actor ever (including his failures, which were based on choices always braver than most film actors' successes). (And at the end it includes a responsible summary of Brando's faults in his personal life, so it's not a hype job, it's a scholarly correction to the historical record.)

(I remember making my brother the ex-cop and brother-in-law the ex-cop watch the interview Larry King did with Brando with them scratching their heads but me being overwhelmed by seeing this icon treat that interview like no one ever had before on TV, talking to the cameraman and actually asking him his opinion, kissing King on the lips (!), etc.  Brando was a genius, flawed, inconsistent, but nonetheless at his art he was a genius.)