Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Linda Ronstadt

A shared love of music was one of the things that brought Tim and me together almost thirty years ago: certainly the rock ‘n roll of our youth, but also Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Linda Ronstadt, who in the mid-1980s discovered the Great American Songbook. Ronstadt’s music—especially her heart-wrenching albums Hasten Down the Wind and Prisoner in Disguise—had gotten me through many sad interludes as a young adult. Then Tim came along and suddenly we were slow-dancing to Linda’s rendition of the 1930s song “What’s New?—one of the most romantic memories of our early courtship. Ronstadt’s music has always been there, in good times and bad.

In August, she shocked her fans by announcing that she's had Parkinson’s disease for several years and, as a result, can no longer sing. I was, therefore, very worried that last night’s Writer’s Bloc event with Ronstadt and interviewer Patt Morrison might be maudlin and filled with regret. But, happily, I was completely wrong. Linda was cheerful, intelligent and full of life as she reminisced about her bilingual childhood in Arizona (“I thought people sang in Spanish and spoke in English”) as well as her successful career as one of rock’s leading female singers. She shared how her back-up band—which went on to become the Eagles—was haphazardly pulled together and told a funny story illustrating how cheap her famous former boyfriend, California governor Jerry Brown, was. She also spoke in favor of immigrant reform and art education in schools. 

If anyone had any doubt when they walked into the theater, they now know Linda Ronstadt is a liberal Democrat, a banner she has always been proud to wave. But this is one smart woman who won’t let any single political ideology, musical style or disease define her. It was wonderful hearing her speak.

For an excellent review of the evening, I highly recommend today’s entry in Kevin Roderick’s blog L.A. Observed. And, yes, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were there last night, seated two rows away from us. Tom literally sat on the edge of his seat for most of the event, while Rita tweeted much of what Ronstadt said.

Linda’s book Simple Dreams is now available at a bookstore or library near you. 

Linda Ronstadt's recent interview with Diane Sawyer

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Emmys Red Carpet

It's been a couple of years since we secretly watched stars arriving at the Emmys show from Tim's workplace conference room. Here are just a few of the red carpet celebrities we saw earlier today (click on the images to enlarge):

Nathan Fillion (Castle) and date

Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper on Mad Men)

Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family
and husband

Zooey Deschanel (The New Girl)

Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project)

A very pregnant—and beautiful—
nominee Morena Baccarin (Homeland)

Kunal Nayyar and Melissa Rauch (both from Big Bang Theory)

Nominee Laura Dern (Enlightened)

Modern Family patriarch and 
nominee Ed O'Neill

Emmy winner Ellen Burstyn
(Political Animals)

Previous West Wing winner
Allison Janney 

Comedienne Sarah Silverman

Nominee Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men)

Tina Fey (30 Rock)

Nominee Christine Baranski (The Good 
Wife), wearing my favorite dress of
the evening

Nominee Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) and daughter

Winner Michael Douglas and nominee
Matt Damon, both of Behind the Candelabra

Judd Apatow and wife Leslie Mann

Nominee Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Nominees Don Cheadle (House of Lies) and Aaron Paul
(Breaking Bad)

Winner Claire Danes (Homeland)
and husband Hugh Dancy

Nominee Lena Dunham (Girls)

Nominee Al Pacino (Phil Spector)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Billy Crystal & David Steinberg

The Writer’s Bloc is our favorite non-profit literary organization. Although the venues regularly change, the format is always the same: a well-known author (often a celebrity) is interviewed by an equally well-known person (often another celebrity) much to the enjoyment of an eager audience willing to pay for the privilege of listening in. We’ve gone to countless Writer’s Bloc events, including, most recently, Judy Collins interviewed by Stephen Stills. On Thursday, one of our long-time favorite comics, David Steinberg, interviewed comedy legend Billy Crystal, whose new book, Still Foolin’ ‘Em, was released last week. The event took place at the Directors Guild theater in West Hollywood.

We arrived in time, despite the usual horrific rush-hour traffic. Still, the theater was pretty full by the time we got there, so we had to sit to the side. An older woman trolling for four seats asked us to save the one next to me, while she claimed the three empty seats in front of us. Her husband, who I soon learned was a lawyer named Herb, sat to my right. She and two friends sat one row up.

“He’s going to fall asleep immediately and snore,” she warned me. “Just give him a nudge!”

Herb laughed and said that nodding off during plays, movies, and even the opera was a hazard of turning 80 last March. Indeed, even though Tim and I weren’t exactly the youngest people in the audience, there were certainly few people younger than us there. I wondered if folks had actually come to see Steinberg, who is several years older than Crystal.

After a nice introduction, Steinberg and Crystal casually sauntered onto the stage and quickly started chatting. Obviously they’ve been friends for a long time. Crystal talked about his early career and about working on Saturday Night Live. He also did impressions of Howard Cosell (very funny), Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis, Jr., and even George W. Bush. At Steinberg’s request, Crystal thrilled us with his “simply mahhhlevous” Fernando Lamas imitation. He also told hilarious stories about the Oscars show, which he has hosted nine times. Both Steinberg and Crystal then reminisced about appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, whom they mentioned with great reverence. Getting a “thumbs-up” from Johnny was considered a major accomplishment in every young comedian’s career.

Through it all, Tim, Herb and I howled with laughter—no way was any of us going to fall asleep! If the book is even half as funny as Billy Crystal is in person, then it’s going to be an hysterical read.

Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas with a bunch
of famous rock musician friends (1985)

Monday, September 16, 2013

China Beach

Tim served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, while I went to school and college. Vietnam was a horrible and divisive war that did not end well. My family hated it. I spent a big part of my senior year in high school worried that my male classmates would be drafted and killed in Vietnam.

Although the Korean-War-based sit-com M*A*S*H was supposedly an allegory of Vietnam, dramatic series about the war didn’t appear on TV until the late 1980s. Our favorite was China Beach. Set in an evacuation hospital in Vietnam, the show was unique in that it observed war through the eyes of the women who served as nurses, entertainers, volunteers and even prostitutes. The series was a revelation, realistically depicting the emotional as well as physical scars resulting from battle. The Paley Center for Media celebrated the show’s 25th anniversary by holding a cast reunion, Friday night, in Beverly Hills.

As is typical for Paley events, an episode of China Beach was screened, followed by an hour-long Q&A with the cast and creator. All the major players were there: writer/producer John Sacret Young; Dana Delaney, nurse Colleen McMurphy, who quickly becomes the show's main character and conscience; Marj Helgenberger, the modern-day (and highly entrepreneurial) “courtesan,” KC; Concetta Tomei, Lila Garreau, the Army “lifer” who is eventually put in charge of the base; Brian Wimmer, China Beach’s life guard Boonie, who has PTSD; Robert Picardo, the notorious womanizer and aptly named Dr. “Dick” Richards, who falls in love with McMurphy; Michael Boatman, the reluctant camp undertaker Sam Beckett; Troy Evans, motor-pool sergeant Bob Pepper, who marries major Garreau; Nancy Giles, private Frankie Bunsen, who starts her Vietnam tour in the motor pool; Ricki Lake, Red Cross volunteer Holly; Jeff Kober, the war-damaged 19-year-old soldier Dodger; and Chloe Webb, the outgoing entertainer. The actors obviously all still have great affection for each other and loved working on the show. No reunion movie is planned, but John Sacret Young did announce that he’s currently writing a novel that follows McMurphy’s life 25 years after Vietnam.

The episode they screened was the heartbreaking “Vets,” a clip-show that incorporates interviews with the real-life women on which the series was based. I vividly remembered every scene, but didn’t start crying until I heard the theme song: a bittersweet melody that perfectly captures the deep underlying sorrow of the show. At the end of the evening, harmonica player Tommy Morgan was called to the stage to play, once again, the plaintive China Beach theme. By the time he finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Monday, September 09, 2013

From the Beatles to the Queen

I hope you’ll forgive me if I breakout into a British accent while I’m writing! 

On Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon at UCLA watching a special screening of The Audience, a play about Elizabeth II, starring Helen Mirren as (once again) the queen. Unlike the movie The Queen, for which Mirren won an Oscar for remarkably capturing the essence of the older Elizabeth, The Audience spans the queen’s entire reign, dramatically (and humorously) recreating weekly meetings with her various prime ministers. The plot moves back and forth through time, testing not only Mirren’s acting ability, but also her talent as a quick-change artist as she, via several costumes and wigs, transforms from seasoned old monarch into youthful novice and back again. It was an amazing performance and truly fascinating play. Let’s hope it comes to the U.S.
Then, yesterday, Tim and I schlepped up to the Sundance Cinemas on Sunset to see Good Ol’ Freda, a documentary about Freda Kelly, the Beatles’ former secretary. Despite being the envy of every Beatles fan in the world during the 1960s, Kelly has led a rather normal life since leaving “the lads” and, in fact, has never told her story before now. And what a wonderful story it is, too. Only 17 years old and a huge fan herself, Freda was plucked from a local typing pool, by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, to become the band’s fan-club secretary. Over the next 11 years, she became almost like a member of their families and, to this day, is fiercely loyal to their memory. Hers is a sweet and completely fresh perspective on a story I thought I knew these past 50 years. I dare you not to cry when, at the end (spoiler alert!), she looks back on all the Beatles people who are now gone. Every Beatles fan needs to see this film.
They should also, of course, see Produced By George Martin, which aired on local station KCET last week. As everyone knows, the now Sir George Martin was just as responsible for creating the Beatles’ sound as the Beatles were themselves. Although less emotional than Freda, the Martin documentary is no less fascinating and filled with stories I had never heard. I bought the DVD immediately.