Peter Fonda (1940-2019): Born into Hollywood royalty, actor preferred bad-boy rebels


Peter Fonda, best known for the iconic anti-establishment hit “Easy Rider” and, more recently, the quietly reflective “Ulee’s Gold, died Thursday from lung cancer. He was 79. We talked numerous times, including when he was guest of honor at San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival.

by Glenn Lovell

Peter Fonda remembered his first screen kiss. He didn’t know it at the time, but the liplock would presage much to come in a career noted for its quirky rebelliouFonda2sness.

“I was in ‘Tammy and the Doctor’ (1963) with Sandra Dee,” recalled the star of “Easy Rider” and “The Limey,” who received Cinequest’s Maverick Spirit Award in 2000. “I think it was Sandy’s first on-screen kiss, too, and she was plenty nervous.’”

The lanky Fonda and the chirpy Dee embraced for their close-up.

And the director yelled, ”Cut!”

‘”The director walked up to me and said, ‘Peter, please close your mouth when you kiss Sandy.’”

They kissed again, and again the director shouted, “Cut!”

“It was auto-reflex — the way most people kiss,” said Fonda, who at the time was enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity thanks to back-to-back Golden Globes for “Ulee’s Gold” and ‘”The Passion of Ayn Rand.”

“But, remember, this was the time when you had two actors in bed, one had to have a foot on the floor. And there was absolutely no open-mouthed kissing. It fell under this weird, abstract studio morality.”

Fonda told this story to illustrate Hollywood’s basic hypocrisy. Something of a movie brat, born into Hollywood royalty (as son of Henry, brother to Jane), Peter was always stirring things up. It came naturally.

“It’s just me,” he said. “I will battle these things no matter how tough it gets. That’s how I became part of the 1970s counterculture and made the first biker pictures. I just enjoy rolling the dice.’”

Faced with the choice of a Universal contract and steady work as a light romantic lead (“the next Deaeasy rider postern Jones”) or a hand-to-mouth existence on the fringe, Fonda chose the latter.

“I love the idea that I’m getting Cinequest’s Maverick Award,” he said.

Fonda did “The Wild Angels” for Roger Corman. This anarchic motorcycle flick kick-started a whole new genre: the motorcycle Western. Then came “The Trip,” wherein Fonda drops acid and wigs out. Jack Nicholson wrote the script.

“The audience for these films sensed I was an angry young man. And once they found out I also did illegal things, they accepted me as a voice of the counterculture.”

In 1968, Fonda teamed with Dennis Hopper on “Easy Rider.” The cross-country biker odyssey, produced for $600,000 and set to the period’s blaring rock anthems, changed the way Hollywood did business. Fonda, who played the laid-back Captain America opposite Hopper’s Billy, shared in an Oscar nomination for co-writing the script. He would go on to direct a counterculture western (”The Hired Hand”), a post-holocaust allegory (“Idaho Transfer'”), and a good-natured modern-day Western (“Wanda Nevada”) with father Henry as an old prospector.

Now that sister Jane appears to be calling it quits with husband Ted Turner, did he think she would return to movies?

”I would love to see it,” he replied. ”When Jane told me she was quitting acting, the look on her face was one of total calm. That came from knowing the farcical race to stay younger and younger was over.

”My daughter (actress Bridget Fonda) and I want her to come back. I want to direct all three of us. I don’t think it would take more than half an hour to find a project.” (Jane Fonda (Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie”) returned to the screen five years later in “Monster-in-Law.”)

Peter Fonda’s 1997 comeback vehicle, ”Ulee’s Gold,” found him playing a Florida beekeeper who’s good at work but lousy at relationships. Fonda based his characterization on his father, who had trouble relating to Peter and Jane.

”I had to catch my breath when I got that script,” he recalls. ”I was emotionally blown away.”

Though Fonda enjoys playing the maverick, he wouldn’t say no to more mainstream gigs.

”I am a maverick, but that isn’t to say if a studio sends me a script, I’m going to turn it down. I know how to write, direct, edit. With all these awards I’m getting, I’m happy to be brought back into the fold.”

And all those Captain Geritol and Easy Chair Rider jokes?

”Remember that naked geezer on the motorcycle in ‘Waking Ned Devine’? I thought, ‘This is so cool. I can still work and still be in a biker film.’ I called Jack (Nicholson) and said, ‘We can still do that ‘Easy Rider’ sequel in our 60s — as an old-timers biker film.’ ”



Blowing Smoke: Netflix promises to douse smoking lamp


by Glenn Lovell

Today’s non-story concerns some do-gooder consumer group and our very own Netflix, based in Los Gatos.

Seems the streaming behemoth has too many movies and series featuring chain smokers and/or vapers. And this according to the DC-based Truth Initiative is bad for impressionable teens who binge on “Stranger Things,” “Orange Is the New Black” and other home entertainment cash cows.

Without contesting the yawn-inducing findings, a contrite Netflix promises to do better in the future and start monitoring material rated TV-14 or PG-13. Unless ofsmoking course we’re talking about shows like “Stranger Things” and Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that take place in some bygone era and depend on cigs for period authenticity.

C’mon, guys, the argument seems to go. Would anybody buy “Mad Men” or Tarantino’s upcoming “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” without that tell-tale blue haze.

With that barn-size caveat, which falls under directorial discretion, the streaming service, in essence, promises to comply. “We … recognize that smoking is harmful and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people,” the company hedged in a statement to Variety.

Before we rush to congratulate Netflix for its benevolence, its fair’s fair civic-mindedness, remember this: the old school studios and networks have been regularly promising to clean up their butt-festooned back lots for years. It makes good copy. And better publicity.

Stanley Donen (1924 – 2019): Dancer, director proved a nimble pragmatist


by Glenn Lovell

“I can’t change the world,” said a typically stoic Stanley Donen, recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1995.Donen

Movie buffs begged to disagree. As proof they pointed to the director- choreographer’s “On the Town,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain” (co-directed with Gene Kelly), and reminded Donen his name had been affixed to some of the most stylish and scintillating entertainment of all time.

It was this body of work, which ranged from trend-bucking musicals to sparkling comedy capers, that brought Donen to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. The then-71-year-old film maker received SFIFF’s coveted Akira Kurosawa Award. A Q&A followed a screening of his never-more-entrancing “Funny Face” (1957), a May-December romance with Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and some of George and Ira Gershwin’s best love songs.

Donen, a dyed-in-the-woof New Yorker, died last Thursday in Manhattan. He was 94.

Donen’s “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “Charade” (1963) and “Bedazzled” (1968) were slated for later in the festival. “Singin’ in the Rain,” a musical-comedy about Hollywood’s reluctant transition to “talkies,” has long topped fan-mag polls. Its only competition: “Casablanca.”

“Who knew it was going to be revered all these years later?” Donen shrugged. “When it opened, it was just another movie. The reviews referred to it as ‘this very nice MGM musical.’ Bosley Crowther of the New York Times half dismissed it. He thought it was fair.”

To what, then, did the dancer-turned-choreographer-turned-director attribute its growing appeal?

”It’s full of energy — everybody was young and lively and at the peak of their powers,” replied Donen, who when the cameras started rolling was a 27-year-old veteran with 10 years’ experience and 50 movie-musical sequences behind him. “Also, it’s unusually earthy for a musical. . . . It tells it like it is, or was, with a funny attitude.”

The donen2sequence everyone recalls has Kelly splashing happily through the rain to the title tune. Donen recalled the number with a shrug and a smile.

”We always knew what we had to do. We said, ‘Gene’s going to dance in the rain, and the place for him to do that is when he’s happiest, when he’s in love.’ No great inspiration. It took 2 1/2 days to shoot.”

While awaiting his next movie — which turned out to be A.R. Gurney’s two-character “Love Letters,” released in 1999 — Donen spent a lot of time in the dark, watching movies. He saw Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” four times and continued to search retrospectives for the names Ingmar Bergman, Kurosawa and Orson Welles. He loved Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”: “It’s fresh, inventive . . . constantly surprising.”

Donen stayed in the game by “constantly reinventing myself.” He made his Broadway directorial debut in late ’93, with the calamitous “The Red Shoes.” (It closed in three days.) When we talked he was considering other stage projects.

”But between talking about it and getting it on is a large hiccup,” he allowed. “We need to get the score, the cast, the money. Doing a movie or a show is like moving a snowball up a mountain.”

Ironically, the man who refused to bow to protestations of “… but it’s never been done!— remember the Jerry Mouse – Gene Kelley routine in “Anchors Aweigh” and Astaire as human fly in the “Royal Wedding”? — was, at heart, a bottom-line pragmatist. It didn’t bother him that movies cost more (as much as $175 million, if the rumors surrounding Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld” were to be believed). “Show business is two words — partly show, partly business. If they (the producers) think they can satisfy the business side, God speed. I hope every movie is a hit. The more hits, the better for everybody.”

Donen’s last crowd-pleaser was 1963’s “Charade,” a sleek, Paris-set murder mystery with an unforgettable Henry Mancini score. He still winces when critics refer to it as “an homage to Hitchcock.”

”He isn’t the sole owner of the mystery-romance genre any more than I’m the sole owner of the musical film,” Donen said.

Donen considered “Two for the Road,” with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, his last great picture. The critics agree, pointing to its Antonioni- like time shifts and brittle dissection of what at first looks like a fairy-tale romance. ”Many people have said, ‘I got married or I got divorced after seeing that movie.’ But I don’t believe it.”

Though it now has a cult following, “Two for the Road” also flopped.

”We’d all like our movies to gross $325 million, like ‘Forrest Gump,’ ” Donen acknowledged. “It’s like Samuel Goldwyn said, ‘If people don’t want to go to your movie, nothing can stop them.’ “

This article was originally published in April, 1995.

Contact Glenn Lovell at

Short-form Fright by Two Masters


by Glenn Lovell

CinemaDope is rewatching two horror anthologies this afternoon — Masaki Kobayashi’s “Kwaidan” and the Franco-Italian homage to Poe, “Spirits of the Dead” — well, the Fellini-directed episode of the latter “Toby Dammit.” My kind of ghostly anthologies. Smart, scary, wickedly sardonic. Eat your hearts out Miike & Tim Burton!

The only thing that comes close is Fellini’s “Toby Dammit,” kicker to “Spirits of the Dead,” a 1968 Poe-inspired trilogy. Terence Stamp plays a happily out-of-it star who agrees to appear at a debauched awards show (think Oscars hosted by Caligula) for the ultimate swag, a gold Ferrari sports car. Maybe the most audacious of the maestro’s life-as-cavalcade satires, this one comes with blackbird nuns, Sgt Peppers era Beatles, sycophantic studio types, and a coquettish Death in party smock. Here’s a taste of Ennio Morricone’s puckish piano score.

Hard to believe “Kwaidan’s” distributor, concerned about the 2 hr-plus running length, lopped off the haunting “Woman of the Snow” segment for the US premiere. Shot entirely on two studio soundstages, thereby ensuring total stylization, this tale of a young woodcutter who enters into a pact with a snow witch has always been my favorite exercise in the supernatural —

Scott ‘Hershel’ Wilson (1942-2018): Anonymous character actor stayed course & found second-time-around cult status


By nature soft-spoken and introverted, some called him temperamental, Scott Wilson had, ironically, one of Hollywood’s splashier sendoffs. He made his big screen debut as the Mississippi drifter falsely accused of murder in 1967’s powerful “In the Heat of the Night,” starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. Wilson’s character is introduced running across a long bridge. Director Norman Jewison wanted to try something new. He filmed bridge and fugitive in extreme long shot, as Sheriff Gillespie (Steiger) in squad car methodically closes in on the panicked suspect. The scene is imaginatively backed by Quincy Jones’ scat music, which slows to raspy crawl as Wilson’s fugitive tires and surrenders.

Wilson didn’t know it at the time but that extreme long shot would become a metaphor of sorts for a career that began in closeup — with a decade of leads in such cult favorites as “In Cold Blood,” “The Grissom Gang” and, opposite Burt Lancaster and Gene Hackman, “The Gypsy Moths” — but was for the most part taken for granted, viewed from the wrong end of a telescope by producers and casting agents.

I met Wilson, who died last week at age 76, when I was on sabbatical at USC and freelancing for the LA Times. I had just seen Tim Robbins’ powerful anti-capital punishment docudrama “Dead Man Walking” with Sean Penn as a killer on death row, Susan Sarandon as activist Sister Helen Prejean … and, in a role so brief if you blinked you missed it, a rheumy Scott Wilson as the cynical prison chaplain. I remember thinking, ‘I know that guy — he’s good, he’s always been good. Why isn’t he getting better roles.’ I decided to find out why.

After the story (below) ran, Wilson called to say thanks. “It got me an agent,” he said, appreciatively. We stayed in touch by phone. I used him as a grounded Hollywood source on more than one occasion. He often talked about his work as a SAG activist. He read for but lost the beekeeper lead to Peter Fonda in Victor Nunez’s “Ulee’s Gold.” That one hurt; Fonda’s Oscar nomination should have been his. And he continued to operate just under the radar, picking up the occasional studio gig but mostly roles in small independent releases like “Monster” and “Junebug.” He played the apoplectic father in a remake of “The Heartbreak Kid,” a window-dressing general in Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor,” and, of course, the bearded Hershel, Rick & Co’s patriarch-conscience, in three seasons of “The Walking Dead.”

By Glenn Lovell

Special to The Times

Scott Wilson made the cover of Life Magazine in 1967. To prove it, as much to himself as visitors, he has a framed copy of the May 12 issue hanging in his study. It depicts Wilson, then 24, Robert Blake and Truman Capote–stars and author of “In Cold Blood”–posing on a lonely stretch of Kansas highway.

UnWilsonCoverder the words “Nightmare Revisited” is a caption that would portend much to come in Wilson’s 30 frustrating years as one of Hollywood’s most respected but least utilized character actors: “Truman Capote stands between actors playing killers in movie of his book.”

Who are these anonymous actors? You have to look inside. No cover ID. Director-screenwriter Richard Brooks wanted it that way. He wanted to further his film’s documentary-like realism by making the public think Wilson and Blake were Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the young drifters executed in 1965 for murdering a Kansas farm family.

He succeeded only too well in Wilson’s case.

“Every actor in the English-speaking world wanted those two roles, including Newman and McQueen,” recalls Wilson, who plays the prison chaplain in the current “Dead Man Walking,” another Oscar-nominated film about capital punishment. “Brooks hired two ‘unknowns’ and he wanted to keep it that way. We were treated like two killers he had somehow run across.”

Verisimilitude was pushed to absurd lengths in promoting the crime thriller. It wasn’t enough to have the young stars’ eyes glowering down from a Sunset Boulevard billboard: “Brooks had the poster with our eyes taken down and replaced with one of the real killers’ eyes.

Wilson, cautiously mounting a comeback at 53, says he never saw himself as “star material.” He was always introverted, temperamental, distrustful of authority.

“It was the late ’60s,” he explains, drawing on a cigarette. “I was anti-establishment, anti-Vietnam.”

Never trust anyone over 30, right?

“Yeah, I took the sound bite and went with it.”

Wilson applied his generation’s motto to the Hollywood bureaucracy, which insisted upon typecasting him as Dick Hickock’s evil twin.

“I didn’t handle things well,” he acknowledges during an interview at the West Hollwood apartment he shares with his artist wife, Heavenly. “There were some dark holes in my–I don’t know if you want to call it ‘a career’–in my time out here.”

After “In Cold Blood” and two offbeat but unsuccessful follow-ups (Sydney Pollack’s “Castle Keep,” John Frankenheimer’s “The Gypsy Moths”), Wilson couldn’t find work–at least not on his terms. It was a calamitous turn of events for someone now recalled by a director friend as “the Sean Penn of his day.” Penn and co-star Susan Sarandon are nominated for Oscars for “Dead Man Walking”; he plays a silver-tongued death-row inmate, a role that might have been modeled on Wilson’s Hickock.

Wilson is flattered and made uneasy by the comparison. “I do see some of myself in Sean. He doesn’t play the game,” observes the Georgia-born actor, who will next be seen in “The Grass Harp” (another Capote adaptation) and “Shiloh” (from the award-winning children’s book).

When the conversation turns to his best qualities, Wilson looks away, kneads the back of his neck.

“I think you always get a credibility out of me,” he finally offers. “I think you always get a believability out of me.”

Wilson’s directors–including Walter Hill, Steve Kloves and Richard Fleischer (who cast Wilson as the disillusioned rookie in 1972’s “The New Centurions”)–agree with this self-assessment. They also think Wilson is scandalously under-employed.

Says Kloves, who used Wilson as a penny-ante thief in “Flesh and Bone”: “Scott is one of those guys who’s powerful, perversely, because he doesn’t call attention to himself. . . . I’d love to find something just for him, to write a movie where he’s the guy.”

Action director Hill relied on Wilson for key moments in “Johnny Handsome” and “Geronimo.” “Scott brings a quality of both anxiety and pain to his parts,” Hill observes. “I don’t know where he gets it from, but there’s a kind of melancholy he brings to things.”

In the upcoming “Shiloh,” directed by Dale Rosenbloom and featuring Michael Moriarty and Rod Steiger, Wilson handles villain chores. He plays Judd, the West Virginia hunter who mistreats the hound dog of the title.

Rosenbloom didn’t want a stereotypical bad guy. Wilson delivered a villain with a past. “It’s the eyes,” he says. “There are stories in those eyes.”

Charlie Matthau cast Wilson as a grieving father in “The Grass Harp.” “You instantly see the grief in Scott’s face,” he says. “He conveyed everything in a look.”

The “look” to which many allude could come from years of rejection and disappointment. Or it may just be, as Robert Blake would have it, “your basic dark side, man.”

This article first appeared in the LA Times on March 17, 1996.

Burt Reynolds (1936-2018): More Gator than Gable


Though he appeared in a handful of action classics, including “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard,” Reynolds will be remembered by fans for his crass crash comedies. He turned down leads in “Star Wars” and “Die Hard” and admitted to being a “lousy” judge of his own talent.

by Glenn Lovell

Burt “Buddy” Reynolds — the good ol’ boy hero in a slew of demo-derby epics, including the roisterous “Smokey and the Bandit” — gave arguably three great performances in a wildly uneven film and TV career that spanned six decades. Make that four performances if you count his popular guest-hosting stints for the vacationing Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” I do.

Reynolds died Thursday (9/6/18) in Jupiter, FL, of what’s being reported as cardiac arrest. He was 82 and for years had looked alarmingly gaunt.

As Entertainment Editor at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, I crossed paths with the sometimes defensive and prickly leading man several times, starting with the Atlanta premiere of “Smokey and the Bandit” and including the New Orleans press sendoff for “Semi-Tough” and the gala opening of the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter. (Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Martin Sheen and others taught at the theater’s drama school, where student actors earned Equity cards.)

Reynolds grew up nearby, in Riviera Beach and attended Palm Beach High School. An All-State fullback, he earned an athletic scholarship to Florida State, where his dreams of a pro career were soon dashed by a knee injury. He changed his major to drama and, after paying dues in summer stock, made his Broadway debut in 1961. A revival of “Mister Roberts” starring Charlton Heston led to TV offers and recurring roles on “Riverboat” and “Gunsmoke.” Often compared to Brando (not favorably), the swarthy Reynolds did a dead-on caricature of the mumbling Method icon on “The Twilight Zone.”

Universal signed him to a six-year contract but cut him after a year. “They fired Clint Eastwood, David Janssen and me at the same time,” he recalled in Atlanta. “They said Clint’s Adam’s Apple was to big and he had to have it operated on. They said Janssen’s ears were too big and he sounded too much like another Gable. And they told me I was incorrigible, which was their way of saying I was untalented.”

After a handful of low-budget actioners, including Sam Fuller’s “Shark,” Reynolds got his big break in “Deliverance,” based on the James Dickey bestseller about four Atlanta friends on a weekend canoeing trip that turns deadly. Reynolds was paid $50,000 for the plum part of Lewis, the poseur survivalist. Next came the coveted title role in “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing,” a big-budget adaptation that costarred Sarah Miles and drew attention in the tabloids for the stars’ steamy behind-the-scenes romance and the suicide of Miles’ personal assistant.

Along with “Deliverance,” Reynolds best performances came in Robert Aldrich’s “The Longest Yard” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” For the former he didn’t have to reach far to play a fallen gridiron star who lands in prison where he’s forced to don helmet and pads for a high-stakes scrimmage. In “Boogie Nights” (1997), he appeared as a San Fernando Valley porn director who’s surrogate father to cast and crew. He was ballyhooed as a shoo-in for Oscar nominations for “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard.” Almost a quarter century later, he received one for “Boogie Nights,” an adult “family movie” he didn’t pretend to like or understand.

Peter Bogdanovich saw Reynolds as the modern-day incarnation of the ah-shucks hayseed often played by Gary Cooper and Joel McCrea. He cast him first as a hammy matinee idol in “Nickelodeon,” his Valentine to the early days of picture-making, and then as a tux-and-tails sophisticate in “At Long Last Love,” a tone-deaf musical costarring Cybill Shepherd. The stars sang and danced to Cole Porter. Badly.

Reynolds also costarred with Gene Hackman in “Lucky Lady” and Clint Eastwood in “City Heat.” Both period buddy pictures tanked.

When the mainstream studio films didn’t pan out, Reynolds returned to his southern rural base, which couldn’t get enough of the unapologetically crass interplay between Jackie Gleason’s sputtering sheriff and Reynolds’ legendary bad boy in the first two “Smokey and the Bandit” movies. Much in the same vein were “White Lightning,” “Gator,” “Hooper,” “Stroker Ace” and “The Cannonball Run,” a mostly improvised cross-country race for which the star was paid a then-record $5 million. The even less organized “Cannonball Run 2,” likened at the time to “a Texas barbecue with a hundred of your closest friends,” co-starred Reynolds’ pals Dom DeLuise, Marilu Henner and Mel Tillis. Aging Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Silva and Shirley MacLaine dropped by for cameos.

Reynolds knew the slapstick comedies hurt his reputation, but they paid the rent. When we sat down, he was in a been-there-done-that mood and more than ready to segue into something more challenging. His next films: the underrated “Semi-Tough,” based on the Dan Jenkins’ outrageous novel about the NFL, and “The End,” a leaden attempt at a Woody Allen dark comedy. Reynolds, prone to dizziness and anxiety attacks, identified with the latter’s hapless hypochondriac.

” ‘Smokey’ will probably be the last of the chase films,” said Reynolds, who ruled the box office with “Smokey II” and its ilk from 1978 to 1982. “I don’t think anybody will be able to top it. I think we said it all.”

On five feature films and a ton of TV episodes Reynolds called the shots behind the camera. While hardly a great director, he was a decent one, especially on “Sharky’s Machine” (1981), a grim, surprisingly cynical cop thriller.

Reynolds, who lived a stone’s throw from the National Enquirer, was perfect tabloid fodder. His always seemed in the midst of relationship and money woes. Though he played the womanizer in Blake Edwards “The Man Who Loved Women” and other films, he was in fact an old-fashioned romantic who tended to carry a torch for his true loves — singer-TV host Dinah Shore, 20 years his senior, and Sally Field, who rode shotgun in “Smokey and the Bandit I & II.” (Reynolds admitted jealousy over her Oscar win for “Norma Rae” led to their breakup.)

“I’d be lying if I said (the tabloid gossip) didn’t bother me,
he said in the spring of 1977. “If I were married and running around, I would deserve to be called a womanizer. But I’m a bachelor and that means I should be able to go out with whomever I choose — a different lady every night if I want.

“But all the press puts a lot of pressure on my relationships; it scares the ladies off. Where can we go so we won’t get that kind of pressure? The public library?”

Reynolds again became tabloid fodder during his acrimonious split from second wife Loni Anderson. He wrote about the divorce and protracted custody battle in his 1994 memoir, “My Life.” On the book tour Reynolds sat with KGO radio’s Ronn Owens for an interview that quickly went from uncomfortable to hostile when a caller asked the star, “What species of wig do you have on? Chipmunk?”

The top box office draw for five consecutive years always seemed one residual check from bankruptcy. In recent years he sold movie memorabilia to settle debts. Which explains why he worked right up until the end. He’s in two upcoming releases, including Quentin Tarantino’s Charles Manson movie, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Who Benefits from New Oscar Category? You or Disney?


AMPAS announced Thursday (9/7/18) that because of negative response to last month’s announcement of changes to the Academy Awards, it would huddle longer and might not implement the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category after all.

by Glenn Lovell

If the Academy Awards were telecast tomorrow instead of March 4, the five “nominees” for the newly minted Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film would be, in descending order: “Black Panther” (Disney), “Avengers: Infinity War” (Disney), “Incredibles 2” (Disney), “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (Universal), and “Deadpool 2” (Fox). (Of course one or two of these titles could be muscled out of contention with “Creed II” and DC’s “Aquaman” around the corner.)

So much for suspense. So much for variety. So much for a healthy mix of studio and indie releases. So much for avoiding perceived conflicts of interest.

The hydra-like Disney Company owns ABC, which as the network that televises the Academy Awards recommended the change, which will most benefit … you got it, Disney!

By adding this new category, Oscar has inched closer to the dumbest of dumb awards shows, the People’s Choice Awards, where besPanthert is synonymous with most popular. Past Favorite Movie winners: “Pretty Woman,” “Rocky II,” “Top Gun,” “Liar Liar,” “Twilight.”

Two questions about the new category loom:

Can a movie like “Black Panther” be nominated in both Best Picture and Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film? The Academy says yes. Doesn’t this, as others have opined, dilute or cheapen a best picture nomination?

Also, what happens when one of the years most popular films also happens to be really bad or politically embarrassing, like, say, Mike Todd’s moribund “Around the World in 80 Days” or John Wayne’s rightwing “The Green Berets” or Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic “The Passion of the Christ,” which at least one critic (myself) likened to “a religious snuff film”?

ABC suggested the new category because, in the network’s opinion, Oscar was in danger of becoming irrelevant. Top grossers like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” coincidentally all Disney releases, were being all but overlooked when it came time to divvy up the gold-plated hardware. (“Last Jedi” was nominated for f/x, music, and the two sound awards – losing in all four categories. “Guardians” was nominated for f/x, makeup and hairstyling.)

The argument went something like: Year in and year out, members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences favor offbeat, relatively low-budget film like “There Will be Blood,” “American Hustle,” “Birdman,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards,” “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “I, Tanya,” and so on.

Unquestionably audacious, these films are usually dark, depressing … unpopular. Mainstream audiences prefer upbeat, exhilarating, action-packed, i.e. the latest Marvel or DC superhero mashup.

And because their type of film isn’t rewarded come Oscar time, Hollywood’s target audience (male and somewhere between 14 and 35 year olds) could care less about who wins. Hence, the precipitous drop in viewership. According to the folks at Nielsen, the 90th Oscars attracted 26.5 million viewers worldwide, a drop of almost 20 percent from 2017 and, according to the trades, the worse turnout in the show’s history.

As a journalist who over the years deadlined backstage at either the Music Center or Shrine Auditorium, the Oscars, which could take almost four hours, seemed like a feat of stamina. So I applaud the Academy’s decision to hold the show to a strict three-hour format during which some of the less popular technical awards will be presented during commercial breaks and announced later. I’ve never cared much about the documentary short or sound mixing categories.

In 2020, the Oscar telecast will move to early February, further closing the gap between the Academy Awards and the Foreign Press’s more raucous and freewheeling Golden Globes (Jan. 6) and avoiding the dreaded awards-season burnout.

Bradbury torched (well, kinda) early draft of HBO’s dystopian “F-451”


by Glenn Lovell

CinemaDope scored one of the last interviews with Ray Bradbury. We talked to the author about HBO’s proposed adaptation of his never-more-prescient “Fahrenheit 451,” published in 1953, when the stench of Nazi book burnings was still in the air.

In the telefilm, scheduled for this weekend, Michael B. JordRayan (“Creed”) plays protagonist Montag, a fallen-away fireman in a near future society that has outlawed the printed word as seditious. Near future? Sounds more like the here-and-now.

If the scripts Bradbury sampled were any indication, the new version would be less successful than Francois Truffaut’s sadly neglected 1966 adaptation, starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie (as both member of the book underground and Montag’s horny wife), and one of Bernard Herrmann’s most evocative scores.

A bookseller friend in Atlanta had somehow come into possession of draft No. 6 of the script, commissioned by Mel Gibson’s Icon Films. He sent it to Bradbury, who — curmudgeonly under the best of circumstances — let out a loud Yeeech!

“I was afraid to open it. Finally I turned to page 42, very gingerly. It’s where Fire Chief Beatty comes to Montag’s house and Mildred asks, ‘Would you like some coffee?’ Beatty replies, ‘Dfahrenoes a bear s— in the woods?’ I closed the script and didn’t read the rest. I couldn’t believe it.”

He then, fittingly, fed it to his backyard barbecue. (Not really, but he thought about it.)

Bradbury remained dumbfounded that Hollywood kept screwing up his dystopian classic. “It’s stupid,” he said, all they have to do is shoot the pages.”

Back then, Tom Hanks and Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) were connected to the project, as well as a proposed $70-million HBO serialization of Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles.”  Bradbury thought Darabont a good choice. “He’s does beautiful work. When I saw ‘The Green Mile,’ I called him and said, ‘Is the ending a Bradbury ending?’ He said, ‘Yes, I read you in high school.’ ”

Darabont and Hanks eventually left the project.

When ‘No’ Meant ‘Maybe’


What Movies Taught Us About Sexual Misconduct

By Glenn Lovell

As new allegations of sexual misconduct arrive daily — from the high-tech sector, academia, state and national politics — it’s time to circle back and ask: What role have the movies played in conditioning a generation of men to believe, no matter the resistance, that they are entitled to sexual favors from interns, colleagues and fans.

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, a variation on their show tune about prejudice keeps playing in my head:

Men have to be taught from year to year /

That sexual harassment is nothing to cheer /

They’ve got to be carefully taught.

Examples of men physically abusing women in the movies abound. We can trace them to D.W. Griffith’s silent “Broken Blossoms” and, later, “Public Enemy” (Cagney using Mae Clarke’s face as a grapefruit juicer) and “The Philadelphia Story” (Cary Grant shoving Katherine Hepburn backward through her front door).

Since many of the alleged abusers now in the news — from fallen studio exec Harvey Weinstein to TV host Charlie Rose to actors Kevin Spacey and Richard Dreyfuss — are roughly Boomer age, they most likely were reared on movies from the 1950s and ’60s, when limits were less well-defined and “no” sometimes meant “maybe.”

This, of course, can  never be taken as justification for sexual harassment or assault. Hollywood has always been a lousy source of advice on how to conduct yourself in real-world relationships, where “no” means just that.
The movies of Weinstein’s and Spacey’s youths trafficked in a troubling double-standard: When an alpha male demanded affection screen, it was exhilarating and romantic, perfectly normal. When an aggressive female demanding attention, alarm bells  sounded. “Alert! Alert! Aberrant personality!”

In “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman’s Ben Braddock follows Elaine Robinson to UC Berkeley. In 1966, we applauded his determination. He was a die-hard romantic who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. When Jessica Walter pursues Clint Eastwood’s Carmel disc jockey with a bit more fervor in “Play Misty for Me,” she’s an out-and-out loony, every red-blooded male’s worst nightmare.

When Charles Grodin in “The Heartbreak Kid” abandons his new wife on their Miami Beach honeymoon to pursue a spoiled sun goddess (Cybill Shepherd), he’s an incorrigible cad, yes, but one who’s living the American Dream.

And so it goes …

I saw Hitchcock’s “Marnie” when it opened in 1964. I was 15. Sean Connery, working the sang froid that had served him as agent 007, hires a private eye to find Tippi Hedren’s troubled title character, anConneryd when he runs her to ground, he sounds much like a big game hunter who has bagged a trophy antelope: “I’ve tracked you and caught you and, by God, I’m going to keep you!”

I can still remember the rush I got from Connery’s snarled pronouncement. It reinforced the sense of entitlement that we Boomer males learned from the movies, where persistence that at times amounted to societal-sanctioned rape was rewarded. Indeed, later in the same film, Connery, claiming his matrimonial prerogative, rapes Marnie on their cruise-ship honeymoon.

A decade earlier, in “On the Waterfront,” Eva Marie Saint’s Edie attempts to fend off Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy. He breaks down her door and pins her to the wall; her pounding fists and cries of “Stay away from me!” soon give way to an embrace. This forced compliance was considered so exciting at the time the scene made it into the trailer.

It’s no coincidence that Toback, Dreyfuss, Steven Segal and others who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault are in the late 60s or early 7s. Producer Harvey Weinstein, in a statement following the New York Times’s publication of allegations by Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, used this as his defense. “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” he wrote. “That was the culture then.”

Dustin Hoffman was recently accused of inappropriate sexual overtures toward a 17-year-old production assistant during the filming of a 1985 TV adaptation of “Death of a Salesman.” Ironic, no? His Braddock character in “The Graduate” was once embraced as a counterculture icon for turning his back on his parents’ materialism and hypocrisy. Now, as we wince through Ben’s public shaming of Elaine (at a strip club, no less) and his dogged pursuit of her in Berkeley, the character seems more alienating than alienated. Once condoned as funny and irreverent his behavior today would qualify as stalking and warrant a restraining order or jail time.

Glenn Lovell has written about film for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Variety. He teaches film studies at De Anza College.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle (11-20-17)

Mickey Malice — The Trump Years


Emboldened by Trump’s “Fake News” Campaign, Disney Blacklists L.A. Times. Media Fight Back with United Front. It Wasn’t Always Thus. A Backstory.

By Glenn Lovell

Hollywood’s most vengeful and manipulative studio?

Fanfare, please. Dun-daah-DUNN! Winner and still champion: Disney. Tweak the Mouse’s nose with negative reviews and/or news stories and you’ll likely regret it.

That’s what I found when I conducted a national film critics survey. Everyone from TKael2ime magazine’s Richard Schickel to Chicago Sun-Times’s Roger Ebert to The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael and Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern participated. A questionnaire went out from USC’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism, where I was on sabbatical from my job as film critic for the San Jose Mercury News.

The results — published in an arts journal in 1996 as “Caught in the Machinery: How Hollywood Subverts the Media” – caused what then passed for a media storm. CNN, Ebert and Columbia Journalism Review reported on the findings. Matt Drudge predicted the author “would not only never eat lunch in (Hollywood) again … if he’s not careful, he may find himself turning into the main course for some very hungry Dalmatians.”

More than 50 critics, entertainment editors and film writers weighed in. And when the numbers were crunched Disney outranked the competition as, in the eyes of critics and editors, the “most manipulative” studio, followed closely by Warner Bros., Miramax (then a subsidiary of Disney), and Universal. MGM and 20th Century Fox were adjudged the least manipulative.

The survey grew out of my personal experience. I was blacklisted by Disney in the spring of 1993, cut from screenings, junkets and interviews. Why? The studio had found the “tone” oSiskelf my coverage (reviews, columns, features) not to its liking. Asked for something more concrete, like factual errors or a star who had been misquoted, nothing was forthcoming. My boss, Robin Doussard, told Disney’s front office, “Lovell’s our critic. Want coverage? Deal with him.” (Note: When this happened, the Merc was a paper to be reckoned with, one of the 10 best papers in the country, according to Time magazine.)

In less than two weeks, Disney reversed itself. All’s forgiven, if not forgotten, I was told through an intermediary. Let’s move on.

Why this unpleasant amble down memory lane?  Because Disney recently went after the L.A. Times for what it called a “biased and inaccurate” investigative piece on the studio’s one-sided business dealings with the city of Anaheim, home to Disneyland. The ban from screenings and interviews lasted four days.

The big difference between what I and others (like Jami Bernard of the Daily News had experienced at the hands of Disney? Back then, when the Internet was in its infancy and print was still paramount, individual papers and their critics were left to turn in the wind. Colleagues were just pleased it wasn’t them. If a studio came down on a critic, there was probably good reason. “Lovell’s notoriously ‘difficult,’ always demanding the sun and moon. He probably got what he deserved, etc., etc.” (Then, as now, I wore the “Scarlet D” with pride.)

Twenty years later, the L.A. Times’s East Coast competition jumped to, lined up behind one of their number under fire. Deny our brethren access to “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi” screenings, the New York Film Critics Circle and the other critics groups threatened, we’ll hit you where it hurts; we’ll stamp your films “ineligible” for year-end honors.

Little wonder Fantasyland hoisted a white flag.

Can we chalk up this once-unheard-of show of solidarity to Trump and the current administration’s war on the First Amendment? Has Disney, controlling under the best of circumstances, been emboldened to follow the president’s lead and dismiss coverage it dislikes as “fake news.” Sounds reasonable.

And has the media, likewise, been emboldened to join arms and present a united front? Those writing about entertainment certainly feel a new sense of urgency. Under assault politically, we are, across the board, more sensitive to outside manipulation. And whether the bully sports orange comb-over or mouse ears, he must be faced down. What was once tolerated as all part of the game, collateral damage, if you will, is now seen as intolerable.

Critic-author Glenn Lovell teaches film studies at De Anza College and other Bay Area schools.