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"Hollywood High!" With Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz : The "Professors" of Classic Film

Kim Novak...in the mud and loving it!

I have been a die-hard TCM fan since it was a seedling-as Atlanta’s CH 17-WTBS.

1973~Sitting cross legged in front of my parents 19 inch- black and white TV-at zero-dark-thirty in the morning. A thirteen year old girl-uprooted from her home in Santa Monica, California to the the deep south-Atlanta,Georgia. My fathers company had transferred him to Atlanta…AND in no less than- a month long hurricane named Agnes!

There I sat, alone in the dark watching the people I wanted to be-the parts I wanted to play, wearing fabulous clothes and living the lives I wanted to live. Beautiful lives. Happy, bittersweet or tragic---they were safe places. Controllable “snow-globes”. Places where I found love, comfort, joy, sadness, despair…and the bittersweet connection that classic films promises. My Mom Betty!

In talking to Robert Osborne over the last couple of years at the TCM Festival- I have shared my Mothers joy and absolute devotion to TCM. My Father and Mother –sharing a film over the phone. Beat by beat-Nelson Eddie and Jeanette McDonald musicals. Anything with Gary Cooper. "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".

My Mother sharing film with me-and telling me stories about how in her hometown of Altoona, PA,she would get dropped off at the “pictures” as soon as they opened-with a bag of sandwiches-staying until the last play of the last feature. Her obsession with film would become-my obsession with film.

My Mother was in a nursing home until her death in October 2012. She and many of her “house” mates-watched TCM from dawn to dusk. They found commonality, community and memories of a better time and better world. They were all so pouring out stories while watching “Since You Went Away”-reminiscing about their efforts during WWII. Where war time conflicts made us stronger and closer as a people. Sharing stories of living through the depression. How watching a movie like “ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”-would cause a shock-wave of conversation in bodies that had long since lost the freedom of movement and independence. But-they still had thought and conversation. I’d bring food that did not taste like wall-paper paste. A very simple thing-like fried chicken and a movie-made them all so happy. And through classic film-they could feel free from pain and strife and made joyous- wandering through memories that were as clean and even more clear than yesterdays tasteless dinner. Remembering days when their bodies did not ache and their family was still around them. The glow-the warmth would shine through their eyes-reflecting lives lived well-full of purpose.

I shared my Mother and I’s love for a good old –fashioned “weeper” with Mr. Osborne. The love of Douglas Sirk-the master of the “Hollywood weeper” (And one of Oscar Winner Kathryn Bigelow’s favorite Directors). Mom asked at lunch one day with a few of her “cronies”--“Hey-how about a “weeper fest!” I told Mom I would ask Robert when I got to my interview with him and his response brought every one to tears…

“I love that TCM gives people who are in pain-either through illness or injury-or sadness and depression—or people that are just having a rough time in their life…a place to go…to find comfort…to find peace…rendering them back to a time when they were happy-not in pain. when life was good….that is my favorite thing about this job…and I am grateful.”

~Robert Osbourne 2012 TCM Film Festival

Robert is dapper (always)-yet down to earth and easy to talk to. Almost like a giddy playmate-he works the festival like a very elegant and well dressed playmate. This is His party and he is the consummate host. Never saying no to a photo or a chat. On occasion he took my arm-and would escort me to the next room or event-absolutely impeccable in every way.

I asked about his mentor-Lucille Ball and how that all happened. As we all sat and listened-chin on palm-eager and delighted-he went on tell us his story. He was a young actor and she pulled him into her sphere and showed him his proper place. And he, in turn, took note and advice. He referred to his time Lucy like a really great FREE University for the business of Hollywood. He made Lucy sound so real- a menche and mentor of the highest order.

While Lucy’s husband, Desi, was out being a “cad”. She was showing him and a small stable of young people who were under contract with Desilu- the business-of show business. Lucy was a pioneer. She represented so much for women in the industry. Not only in Film, Television and Comedy-but as a maverick of the business end of the business. Lucy helped Robert realize that maybe he wasn’t an actor but-a writer.

Under a two-year contract with Desilu Productions- Lucy took a select group under her wing. He talked about her money sense and the thought that he knew instinctively-that he was where he was suppose to be. But in his usual humble almost child-like manner-he giggled about knowing he was lucky and that he still feels lucky.

Lucy was drawn to Robert’s knowledge of nostalgia-classic actors-character actors-legends. Robert was not that into TV-film was his thing. He had had the good fortune to work with and live with Jane Darwell-the Oscar winning actress from “The Grapes of Wrath”. Lucy was impressed by his desire to preserve the knowledge of great classic film. While Robert had finished college –Lucy would later share she had never finished high school. Clearly she saw potential-and Robert clearly had a natural instinct and knew how to follow his gut. He quickly learned to value the mentorship that Lucy offered. She would show movies and episodes of the Lucy show at her home-where this “stable” of young talent would listen as she explained how a scene worked or did not work from her shows. She gave them all savings accounts and “suggested” they put money away-every week. And though their salaries were meager-she inspired them by saying. It will add up and then-when you get to a place where you have to choose work-simply for the money-you will have the choice. (Where was Lucy when I needed a mentor!)

Through the TCM Film Festival I see films I have never or rarely seen on a big screen. And VERY often it is the BIG screen that makes these films-new and rich and sometimes explosive in their message and meaning. A Films directorial choices are made more real on the big screen. And while every household in America is demanding larger, flatter and more articulate home-screening devices-nothing beats sitting in a packed theatre-the smell of popcorn and sweets in the air and the glimmer of faces-reacting-laughing, crying and even shouting. It is a connection like no other. Where every film has audience participation-audible ooos and ahhhhs. It’s like “Rocky Horror” without the rice, squirt bottles and newspaper. Just the credits for “The Thomas Crown Affair” tell you-you are in for the eyeball ride of your life. A montage of split screens and the song, ”The Windmills of Your Mind”-describe a tight construct-tension-passion-suspense and SEX! Steve McQueen knew how to pack an absolutely dizzing sexual punch-and Ms. Dunaway was his rival-ally-and equal….in every move…along the chess- board-paneled screen that is…”The Thomas Crown Affair.”

With Kim Novak taking her place on the walk of fame-her handprint/footprint drew an impressive crowd. Debbie Renoylds rather spicey and spirited introduction drew and audible gasp from the audience and the press. When the "firecracker in red"-Debbie basically stated that Kim got tired of Hollywood and the code and said F* it. Yep! Debbie in a bright red-swing skirt dress-like the little doll that she is delivered it-sweet-simple and sincere…with a dash of what I imagine is usually only Carrie Fishers experience of her mother. I have to say Debbie “whooped up” in every room she entered-or peaked into…even the bathroom at the Roosevelt got hooted up by Debbie a few times. She is truly a force. Unapologetic and always smiling. I don’t know her secret-but she should bottle it! She is Miss Firecracker.

We all have ideas about film stars. We read things and hear things and so when someone like me gets to meet someone who has actually had to weather a storm of media over some horrific event…over and over again. I had to wonder. Robert Wagner was a delightful surprise on the red carpet opening night and in interviews with Robert Osborne later that week. On the Red Carpet-he mostly talked about his children and grand children in a medium low almost whispered voice. He is sweet and homey. I found him rather gentle-soft spoken. Intimate in interviews-taking you into his confidence and share something a lot of people do not-him self and the love of family and the simple joys of being alive. He seems to be a man deeply in gratitude.

I had a moment at Kim Novaks Walk of Fame hand print ceremony-- where I got to talk to Lainie Kazan. Kazan’s genius continues-not only is she a brilliant actress,she is also an amazing vocalist.She was Barbara Streisand’s understudy for “Funny Girl” on Broadway. She has a bluesy-belter voice that is like butter on toast! Velvet-pure velvet! Lainie gives off a vibe of total confidence and a darling air of sweetness. With a wink and a nod-she moved through the crowd-her light was present and with quite assurance she radiated strength and beauty…a model for those of us who are considered "character actors"-she is the best...and the proof is in pudding---what a career. http://www.lainiekazan.com/

Kim Novak was such a treat. I went to Musso and Franks after the ceremony-and there she was with Lainie et al..I waved from the bar and someone blew me a kiss. Some times you just have to take the picture with your mind. I had my camera poised and ready and then I just shut it off and smiled and waved. Kim seemed a little nervous at the beginning of the day but by the time we got back to the TCM birthday celebration...she was having a blast!

Eva Marie Saint with her husband Jeffrey Hayden

Eva is a cinematic hero for me-for women as humans and as actors. In only 21 films-all her choices had meaning for her.One of the most thoughtful and thought provoking actors ever. And more over for us-the viewer and for me as a woman...she gives us real women that we need to see. I love her!

The festival had new meaning for me this year because I have been in college-for the first time-for the last couple of years. I am dyslexic and have struggled with insecurities about my abilities as an academic and as an actor. I am studying Film-creating it and studying it. The richness of backing up the festival with a very well packed “tool-kit” –that I gleaned from school– has in many ways…been life changing. I jangle about miz en scene’ all day long. About lighting-camera angles…the color..the palet. The 180 curve. Shooting 360 (Silver Linings Play Book) with a full mag (David O. Russell)Or bring light to the dark-Katheryn Bigelow’s “Zero-Dark-Thirty”.

I can't wait to talk to Ben about the amazing programming this year. The bar was raised this year. Seeing Ben more often with thought provoking guests and films that tell the human story-struggles with disabilities and challenges that create new take. Giving us all new perspective.Fresh, fun and thought provoking. We love Ben! (..and the Boss!)

As Martin Scorcese has often said…”We have to look back—to move forward”…”in classic film we learn how it can be done and how it has been done in order to keep creating.” For 5 days I get to be in the epi-center of classic film and every day I wake up so excited and so crazed…I am transported into a child like state of enthusiasm-heaven on Hollywood Blvd!

The Turner Classic Movie Festival April 25-28 2018 http://filmfestival.tcm.com/

lizzyspitbath@gmail.com

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April 15, 2013 at 4:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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