Thursday, January 18, 2018

connections: eddie hodges → ronny howard ronny howard ← paul ford → eddie hodges

As difficult as it is to believe, the brain-tease game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, is nearly 25 years old, its source dating back to a Premiere magazine article published about Bacon in 1994. But the game is actually much older than that. Movie buffs have been playing variations of it for decades, the only difference is that it originally had nothing to do with Kevin Bacon. The challenge could utilize the name of any movie star.

Personally, I've always referred to the game as Connections and, at one point in time, invented my own (rather demented) contortion of it, in which the thread connects two actors who have never performed together in a film. Case in point: Eddie Hodges and Ron (formerly Ronny) Howard.

Their only relation is that both are redheads and both played the role of Winthrop Paroo in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" - Hodges, at age ten, in the original 1957 Broadway production and Howard, at age eight, in the 1962 Warner Bros. film, both versions directed by Morton Da Costa.

And I'm also throwing the wonderful Paul Ford into my bizarre mix. Here goes...

~"The Music Man," starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, opened on Broadway on December 19th, 1957 at the Majestic Theater. Meredith Willson had been working on the show for years and discovered Eddie Hodges when he was watching the "Name That Tune" TV show in 1953.

~Ronny Howard made his film debut at age five in 1959 in Anatol Litvak's "The Journey," which was also the film debut of Jason Robards, Jr., who decades later Howard - now Ron - would directed in two films, "Parenthood" (1989) and "The Paper" (1994). Oddly enough, Howard never directed Andy Griffith with whom he appeared on the TV series, "The Andy Griffith Show" (aka, "Mayberry RFD), from 1960 to 1966, or Shirley Jones, with whom he appeared in two back-to-back films -"The Music Man" and Vincente Minnelli's "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963). Curious.

~Hodges was the darling of Broadway when "The Music Man" opened and, in no time flat, he made his movie debut in 1959 as Frank Sinatra's son in Frank Capra's "A Hole in the Head," where he sang "High Hopes" - live on screen - with Sinatra.

A year later, in 1960, Hodges had the title role in Michael Curtiz's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," with a supporting cast of some terrific character actors, headed by Tony Randall and with Archie Moore as Jim. It was an MGM release and, decades earlier, Hodges would have fit quite comfortably into the Metro family as a contract player.

~During the Broadway season of that same year, Hodges appeared as Henry Fonda's son in Ira Levin's 1960 comedy, "Critic's Choice," directed by Otto Preminger. It opened December 14th of that year at the Ethel Barrymore Theater and, although it was not a critical success and played for only 189 performances, Warner Bros. purchased the screen rights and filmed it in 1963 with Bob Hope (in the Fonda role) and Lucille Ball. Another child actor, Ricky Kelman, played the role originated by Hodges.

 ~Another play opened during the 1960 Broadway season, "Advise and Consent," based on the 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury. Loring Mandel did the adaptation, which was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed the films "The Best Man" and "Patton," among others). The cast of largely character actors included Chester Morris, Ed Begley, Kevin McCarthy, Henry Jones, Barnard Hughes and Richard Kiley. It opened November 17th, 1960 at the Cort Theater, where it played for 212 performances. Again, not a runaway hit, but Otto Preminger in New York at the time (as noted above) saw it and snapped up the film rights.

In 1962, "Advise and Consent" was one of two aforementioned Broadway productions that were released as films. (It opened in New York on June 6th at the Criterion Theater.) Preminger produced his version of "Advise and Consent," but Wendell Mayes' adaptation is based on the Drury book, not the play. (The rights to the two were irrevocably intertwined.) Henry Fonda, Preminger's star of "Critic's Choice" in New York, was cast as the liberal Robert Leffingwell, the President's nominee for Secretary of State  - a character in the book who is only referenced in the Mandel play - and Hodges plays his son. The film's terrific cast also includes Charles Laughton (in the role played on stage by Henry Jones), Don Murray (Richard Kiley on stage), George Grizzard (Kevin McCarthy), Walter Pidgeon (Chester Morris), Edward Andrews (Ed Begley) and Malcolm Atterbury (Barnard Hughes). Pater Lawford and Burgess Meredith (excellent) also starred in the film version, and Betty White made her movie debut here at a Senator named Bessie Adams.

And Paul Ford played Senator Stanley Donata, a role performed on stage by Clarence Kavanaugh.

~And Ford appeared in the other 1962 adaptation, playing Mayor George Shinn in Da Costa's film of "The Music Man" (which opened in New York on June 19th at the Radio City Music Hall). But Eddie Hodges, Ford's co-star in "Advise and Consent," wasn't cast as Winthrop, the role he had played on Broadway. Hodges was 15 now and decidedly too old for the role.

Ronny Howard was cast.

Paul Ford is the slender thread, the connection, between Eddie Hodges and Ronny Howard, between "Advise and Consent" and "The Music Man."

~Howard, as we all know by now, would go on to become an Oscar-winning filmmaker, and Hodges, after starring in a pair of Disney musicals ("Summer Magic" and "The Happiest Millionaire"), left show business to become a mental health counselor, according IMDb.

Paul Ford, still adored for his role on "The Phil Silvers Show" (aka, "Sergeant Bilko"), was one of film's most reliable character actors for more than 30 years, with 55 credits, including Stanley Kramer's 1963 Cinerama comedy extravaganze, "It's a Mad, Mad Mad, Mad World," but he finally - at long last - got to play his first lead in Sumner Arthur Long's stage comedy, "Never Too Late," opposite Maureen O'Sullivan, in 1962. Yes, 1962, the same year as the films of "Advise and Consent" and "The Music Man." something of a banner year for Paul Ford.

~"Never Too Late" opened at the Playhouse Theater on November 27th, 1962. The play was directed by no less than George Abbott and ran for a total of 1,007 performances, a decided hit. After it closed on April 24th, 1965, Ford immediately went into film the Bud Yorkin movie version which Warner Bros. released in November of that year. A year later, Ford appeared in Norman Jewison's "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" and Fielder Cook's "A Big Hand for the Little Lady," his last major films. He died six years later in 1972 of heart failure. He was 74.

I still miss him. 

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

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~Eddie Hodges, circa 1957

~Ronny Howard in a scene from the film of "The Music Man"
~Photography: Warner Bros. 1962©

~Poster art for the original Broadway production of "The Music Man"
 ~Sid Perkes 1957©

 ~The Playbill for the Broadway staging of "Advise and Consent"
~pictured from left: Ed Begley, Richard Kiley, Chester Morris, Henry Jones and Kevin McCarthy 
~photography: Friedman-Ables 1960©
~Poster art for the Columbia film of "Advise and Consent"
~Saul Bass 1962©

~Poster art for the Warner Bros. film of "The Music Man"
~Warner Bros.  1962©

~Publicity still of Paul Ford in "The Music Man"
~Photography: Warner Bros. 1962©

Sunday, January 14, 2018

cinema obscura: Fritz Lang's "Der Müde Tod" (1921)

Fritz Lang thrusts the viewer into an intense emotional whirlpool in his 1921 silent film, "Der Müde Tod," for a while one of the lesser known titles in his canon of work but, with a recent restoration and release on DVD and Blu-ray (via Kino Lorber), now recognized as the resource and foundation utilized by other filmmakers, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel.

Personally, it's an achievement that I've always found utterly fascinating  and compulsively watchable - but almost impossible to see in recent years.

Its long inaccessibility had much to do with the fact that the rep houses and campus film programs which would regularly screen the film (sadly) went out of business, one by one, during the past couple decades.

"Der Müde Tod," which translates, tellingly, as "The Tired Death," was released as "Destiny" when it premiered in the United States in 1924 - on July 6th in New York - and is largely known by that title.

"Destiny" is the kind of film that, on paper, can sound positively purple. Initially a dream-like tale of two lovers, the film is dimmed when their future together is threatened by Death (Bernhard Goetzke) who materializes to snatch the nameless Young Man (Walter Janssen).

The Young Woman (Lil Dagover) contemplates suicide when Death challenges her with a deal that she can hardly refuse: There's a boy and there are also these three candles, each representing a human life.

As each candle is extinguished, someone dies. But if one candle stays lighted, the boy will be spared and survive.

This main storyline gives way to three subplots - set in ancient Persia, Renaissance Venice and China - that are both wildly methaphorical and metaphysical as the woman frantically searches for someone to give up their life once the boy's is spared. The elderly, who are already too uncomfortably close to death, run from her. Of course they do.

There is some alert, unexpected humor in this death-drenched fable as the heroine confronts some carefully-designed stumbling blocks - until she and her lover are reunited in a way that can be described only as supremely Lang-ian. Relax. No spoiler here.

I've always been struck by the methodical pace and overriding sense of calm of this very dark, moody fairy tale. Lang kept things in check here, via both his creative direction of the material and the performances of his game cast.

The result is an impressively muted work, in which a master filmmaker brilliantly deconstructs the notion of "romantic cinema."

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
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~Bernhard Goetzke as Death and Lil Dagover as The Young Woman in a scene from "Destiny"/"Der Müde Tod"

~Dagover and Goetzke (as death in disguise) in another scene

~photography: Decla-Bioscop AG 1921 © & Kino Lorder 2016©

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

the attack of the late-night hosts

Since it hasn't been addressed by anyone in the entertainment media to date, I suppose that I'll be the messenger and announce the bad news - namely, the latest annoying trend of the in-progress awards season.

It appears that the major awards shows have been co-opted by the networks that air them and are now obliged to use in-house talent as hosts.  Jimmy Fallon, who oversees NBC's "The Tonight Show," hosted NBC's Golden Globes telecast in 2017 and, this year, NBC enlisted Seth Meyers, star of NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers," to do the job.

Did I remember to mention NBC?

Meanwhile, over at ABC, seemingly the permanent home of the annual Oscarcast, Jimmy Kimmel - star of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" - hosted the ABC telecast last year and will do the honors again this year for ABC.

That's ABC, like the alphabet.

Not to be outdone, CBS, with The Grammys on its schedule, has invited James Corden, the star of CBS's "The Late Late Show with James Corden," for a repeat performance. Corden hosted the CBS telecast last year.

CBS, got that?

It seems that a dubious precedent has been set and that this is now a permanent arrangement between the awards shows and the networks. The problem is, these late-night hosts can been seen on television every night.

There's nothing special about them. Nothing.

Who can we expect to host future awards show, specifically those devoted to TV and film? An evening news anchor? David Muir? Is Michael Strahan next? George Stephanopoulos perhaps? At least the umpteen country music awards shows are always hosted by country music talent. Same with The Tonys (but, then, no one seems to care about the poor Tonys).

Gone are the days of an actual, bona-fide movie star hosting the Oscars - Steve Martin, Jack Lemmon, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Frank Sinatra, Chris Rock, David Niven. David who? And of course, the pro, Bob Hope.

Heck, as disappointing as Seth McFarlane and Ann Hathaway & James Franco were on the Oscarcasts, at least they represented risky, original thinking. Seth Meyers? He was barely competent, boring actually. Yawn.

Someone at NBC must really, really love him.
As for the Golden Globes, frankly, I enjoyed the show more during the Ken Shapiro era when there was no host, just an unseen announcer. It was lean and clean. There was really no point to bringing on Ricky Gervais to host, other than to mimic the Oscars. (It should be the other way around: The hopeless Oscarcast should be actively working to be more like the lively Golden Globes.) But, admittedly, Gervais was huge fun, as always - and so were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who followed him.

And so, I anticipate, with some dread, exactly what network golden boy will be foisted on us and the next unsuspecting awards show.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
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~Bob Hope and Oscar
~photography: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1971©

~Amy Poehler and Tina Fey with a couple of Golden Globes
~photography: The Hollywood Foreign Press 2015©