a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘La Mama E. T. C.’

Helen Hanft (1934-2013) A Great Actress Passes. She was my Muse.

It is with great grief and shock that I am saddened to report the passing of one of America’s great actresses, Helen Hanft. She was 79 and it was very sudden.

I had the great good fortune to have had known and worked with Helen for nearly 40 years. She was the greatest of inspirations to me as a playwright and actor and director, too.

I wrote nearly a dozen plays for Helen including “Reety in Hell”(1973) at the WPA , “The Kitty Glitter Story” (1974) at La Mama E.T. C., “Stoop” and “London Loo” two one-woman one-acts which she performed together as a one woman show (1977) at the Van Dam Theater, “The Blonde Leading the Blonde” at the Theater for the New City(1982) and “Bambi Levine, Please Shut Up!” in 1996 also at La Mama. Among others.

Renowned for her great comedic sense, I was always trying challenge her as a dramatic actress as well. She had the chops.

She was always acting from an early age, having attended the Performing Arts High School where classmates included Dom DeLuise, Rita Gam, and the artist Shelley Estrin, whom she remained friends with through the years.

Helen always remembered Sidney Lumet spending more time on Dom De Luise. Although both clearly future comedians, Lumet called Helen “too happy-go-lucky.”

She and I met in early 1973 when we appeared together as actors at the WPA Theater in a production of Sardou’s original play of “Tosca” on which the Opera was based. The play differs from the Opera in that there is an entire Second Act that Pucinni deleted when he musicalized it. And Helen and I played characters that do not appear in the opera. She was Marie, Queen of Naples. And I was the Marquis D’attavanti.

A little nervous upon meeting her I said, “Are you the legend Helen Hanft?” and she rolled her eyes delightedly and said “Yes….” drawing out the word for dramatic emphasis as only Helen could.

Many people are surprised to find that Helen and I were married by the Rev. Al Carmines at the Judson Church, where he also lived. It was circa 1975 and Sweet William Edgar, with whom she was appearing Off Broadway at the time in “Women Behind Bars” was one of the two witnesses.

Al Carmines, a legend himself, said to us, at the time, ” This is a religious service. I am a clergyman but you have to go down to City Hall and get the license and the blood tests.” Helen and I never did.

And Al said, “But this a spiritual marriage. In the eyes of God, you are forever united.” And it was true.

She was my Muse.

The Globe Globs.*wretches*

I just couldn’t bring myself to write anything about the Golden Glob(e)s with Ellen Stewart’s passing so much on my mind yesterday.

I attended her closed casket wake yesterday afternoon in Greenwich Village.

And then I had the Golden Globes to cheer me up last night. NOT. It made me feel like running back to the funeral home to cheer me up.

I was just devastated that though they nominated my fave “The King’s Speech” SEVEN TIMES, the most of any other film, it only won ONE Award! And that, of course, was the great Colin Firth’s being acclaimed the Best Actor that he certainly is this year, for his unforgettable portrait of the stuttering King George VI.

Every one seemed drunker than ever before at the Globes. I’ve never seen so many celebrities so drunk. They serve the jam-packed room endlessly flowing champagne and virtually no food, except Godiva chocolates, according to Paul Giamatti,  who described the scene, when I interviewed him for his new film “Barney’s Version” last week for my TV show. www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow

Hold on. He’s Coming Soooon. As well as the beauteous Rosamund Pike and Minnie Driver and the super studly Scott Speedman. LOVED that movie, and I’m sooo glad that Paul won Best Actor/Comedy or Musical. Colin won for Best Actor, Drama, of course. The Globes in their infinite wisdom have always divided the main three categories, Picture, Actor and Actress into Drama(five or more) and Musical or Comedy(also five or more).Doubling the number of the top nominees who they can sell table to at this big drunken bash.

So Paul won, and so did Colin. Congratulations.

And as Paul was saying to me “Everybody is pretty much hammered.”

How does this affect the Oscars? Virtually not at all in terms of getting nominations because the Academy Members had to get their nominee votes into the accountants, Price, Waterhouse, Coopers’ hot little hands by Friday, this PAST Friday afternoon. So no, the deed as far as the Academy’s nominating process is concerned, is done.

What this effects is PERCEPTION. And just how good or bad the winners’ acceptance speeches were. Colin and Paul and Natalie Portman and Annette Bening all passed with flying colors.

Christian Bale’s extended, VERY extended speech kept going even as they tried to play him off the stage and they actually had to go to a commercial to end him. NOT GOOD.

Michael Douglas’ entrance as a presenter at the end of the show got a GRAND Standing Ovation. He looked thin. Totally silver-haired, and the LOVE for that man in that room was palpable. Now THAT’s the kind of moment the Academy may very well want to duplicate in its’ Oscar ceremonies next month.

Ah! But first Michael Douglas has to get nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “Wall St.2:Money Never Sleeps” in which he is reprising his most famous role as Gorden Gekko for which YES, he won his first Best Actor Oscar for the original “Wall St.”

I think the not-really-liked and too-young-to-for-the-Academy Bale may have really hurt himself by acting so out of control last night.

Colin Firth and Natalie Portman both duplicating their BFCA wins on Friday night, bascially gave their same speeches but just a little tipsier that they gave before.

That’s what makes all these pile-ups of Awards shows…if they keep giving the same four people the same four awards, it’s BORING! So watch out Christian Bale and you, too, Melissa Leo.

The Supporting Cateogies are where there is always the most movement. And one hopes, that there will be SOME signs of life at the Oscars this year. I’d rather have another triumphing-over-cancer moment with Michael Douglas than listening to one of Christian Bale’s rambling rants…

Ricky Gervais was the runaway, absolute star of the evening, being actually OUT-Rageous in his comments. As has been recorded endlessly elsewhere. Will they have him back next year?

Well, if the ratings went up. Yes.

Ellen Stewart, the legendary “La Mama” passes.

I’m a bit bewildered by the events of yesterday. I attended the wake of the late Ellen Stewart, LaMama herself, who started my career, and who was a major figure in my life.  The wake was an incredibly uplifting experience. Paradoxically. Wakes are always kind of frightening, in and off themselves, but this was not. There was soooo much love and joy and peace. Ellen’s great spirit was THERE.

She was one of the legends of our time. An African-American woman who broke through barriers, social and artistic, every day of her waking life.

A more fulfilled, influential, far-reaching, and yes, global life I really can’t imagine. That one woman did all these extraordinary things is just mind-boggling.

Her influence in MY life was extraordinary. She was the first person to say “Yes” to my hopes and dreams of breaking into Show Business. She allowed me in to her “home” of “La Mama” and I was one of her “babies.” I first stepped in the door of the red-rimmed building on 74A East 4th St. on October 1970. She passed at 91.

The first day I got to LaMama and the first things I remember are people were saying that (a) “Ellen is in St. Vincent’s(the West Village hospital)again.” Followed not long after by people saying(b) “Ellen is in Europe.”

The two statements seemed absolutely contradictory and yet those two sentences really summed up the dicotomy of  her life.

It seemed once I got to know her that every time she got out of the hospital (it was always unspecified “heart problems”) she got on a plane and went to some AMAZING theatrical event somewhere unexpected in the world, seemingly founding La Mama companies wherever she would go.

She had La Mamas all over the universe and she truly defined the words “multi-cultural” before there even was such a word.

At her wake, there was a closed coffin, white  flowers ( where they lilies?) everywhere and a (marvelous slide show was playing in the West Village funeral parlors two rooms that were PACKED with Ellen’s “babies.”

She HAD to play the mother role and it was one she excelled at, obviously, and you were always the “baby” no matter how old you got to be.

She started as an elevator operator at Sak’s Fifth Avenue, probably the only job opened to her in that esteemed store. Still an epitome of style. And boy, did Ellen have style! She designed her own dresses, totally self-taught, and wore them in her elevator, and they were sooo strikingly orignal, that the stores’ owners took note and before you knew it, she was DESIGNING clothes at Sak’s! The first black woman to do that. And this was in the ’50s! There were many early black and white photos of Ellen from those days, and before. She certainly seemed model-beautiful. Breathtakingly so. It was wonderful to see fashion shots of her from a time before we knew her as La Mama.

By the early ’60’s she had started her coffee-house theatre and called it La Mama, since “Mama” was what everybody was calling her then. And it was in an East Village basement. And it was the beginning of the Off Off Broadway movement that was to change the American theatre.

La Mama was totally color-blind and so was her theater. It was one of the first places that African-Americans could find a home. One of her brothers wanted to do a play he had written but according to Ellen “He broke his soul” trying to find a place to do it. And so she started her coffee house theater.

I would say single-handedly she started the Off Off Broadway movement but actually there were two other theatrical spaces that were burgeoning simultaneously with La Mama. The Cafe Cino, run by the late Joe Cino. And the Judson Poets’ Theater which was housed in the famous Greenwich Village Church right on Washington Square. And the late Rev. Al Carmines was its’ resident composer, turning out new musicals every single week, it seemed, that the congregation appeared in. EVERY single member who wanted to sing, could sing. The chorus was enormous and filled the church was years with celestial music.

Ellen meanwhile watched her coffee house basement theater grow to the point that it had to move into a four story building, 74A East Fourth Street, which is where I met her, and which is where it is still functioning today.

I started as an assitant stage manager there. The PROP boy, in essence, for the resident GPA Nucleus which was at the time Ellen’s Black company and the all black cast were doing Ed Bullin’s “Street Sounds.” Future Tony Winner Mary Alice (“Fences”) was in the cast of a play that was nothing but monologues.

It was something I never DREAMED I would do and it started me in one improbable(to my VERY young mind) job after another at La Mama.

I worked the box-office guarded by two VERY vicious German Shepherd dogs, one white and one black, called Slick and Sooner. And I was deathly afraid of dogs! AND I was allergic! But Ellen made me do it and I got over both those fears.

I think she thought it was GOOD for me. Or anyone in her orbit, to do things they were afraid of and thought they CAN’T possibly do.

Over my protestations over Slick and Sooner and I being enclosed in such a confined space, I remember her saying “You’re going to be glad they’re there.”

And eventually, I was. The East Village was a VERY dangerous place then, and NOBODY bothered Slick, Sooner or me.  Ellen was of course, right, as she always was.

Eventually I started my career as an actor there in Sam Shepherd’s “Melodrama Play” as a stoned hippie who couldn’t stopped laughing.

And Ellen started doing my plays there, too. “Audition!” in 1972 and later “The Kitty Glitter Story” which starred Agosto Machado and later she showed my first film there “Two Saints” which also starred Agosto, the magnificent Oriental transvestite, who I had met around the corner at the original WPA when I was cast as Candy Darling’s mother in Jackie Curtis’ Warholian musical extravaganza “Vain Victory.”

I met Andy Warhol there while I was working on the box-office one night and Tennessee Williams, too. What did they have in common? Both were gay and both were nervous wrecks. Andy had just been shot and Tennessee was so worried about the opening of his new play “Small Craft Warnings” across the street at the Truck and Warehouse OFF Broadway theater, he was fleeing town.

I met most of the people who were to form my life there, and many who are still my friends today. My composer Donald Arrington and Susan Haskins and filmmaker Nancy Heiken main among many.

I could go on and on. And maybe I will, someday, with the title “I Remember La Mama” firmly placed in my mind.

R.I.P. Mama

The Year’s 10 Best – Analysis of “I Love You, Phillip Morris” & the Enduring Influence of Paul Corrigan

Phew! Now I have the time to go into a little bit more deeply the whys and the wherefores and the WTF element(to some, perhaps) of my selection of the Year’s Ten Best Films.

As someone who sees films ALL THE TIME, Day in and Day Out, nearly every day of my waking life…Films that really last and really stay with you, films that are a total, immersive cinematic experience that affects one so deeply that it becomes part of your life as well as part of the year’s discussion of Best Films…well, that’s why they are all here…And why we are all here…Because we love film…

Yes, I do have a propensity for foreign films and independent films. I stay away from the big studio blockbusters and franchises, if I can help it. Unless I CAN’T help it. Like as you all know, I reluctantly found myself at “Harry Pooter 7 1/2” and I’m glad that I did~ ONLY to see Helena Bonham-Carter’s THIRD terrific performance of the year, as a witch with the name that I just can’t stop saying “Bellatrix La Strange”. A scary ten-minute turn that could help her get her long overdue Oscar…The other two films are “Alice in Wonderland” and of course, “The King’s Speech.”

But I digress…

Number Ten ALMOST was “Fish Tank” a film I loved tremendously. A British Indie. Gritty, grimy, grinding poverty depicted in a council flat setting in London’s East End where I, as you all know, lived for quite a number of years in the ’70s& ’80s. Andrea Arnold, the writer/director, and Michael Fassbender, the rising star of stars, acting alongside a completely inexperienced non-actress, Katie Jarvis, was really a wild, unexpected ride. I couldn’t believe Jarvis was NOT a pro, so profoundly compelling was her portrayal of teenage Cockney torment, when her mom brings a new boyfriend (Fassbender) home. You’ll remember Fassbender from “Inglorious Basterds” as the British officer in that wacky, unforgettable card game.

I guess that would be my number 11, if I was going to extend this arbitrary listing slightly, but I just wanted to give the stunning “Fish Tank” an honorable mention.

I made “I Love You, Phillip Morris” my number  ten, because I found myself laughing out loud and also crying inside and totally immersed in the preposterous, gay yarn, that is evidently ALL TRUE, about a homosexual con man extraordinaire(Jim Carrey is his best EVAH) and his finding true love, in jail, natch, with a sweet blond gay guy, Phillip Morris. Yes, that’s his real name…played to a touching fare-thee-well by the unrecognizable Ewan McGregor. I was told not to review it at the time, but I guess I’m raving about it now. It’s in theaters and playing very robustly AND it was raved about by my critical colleagues! Good! Great!

And I do have to mention that as much as I was enjoying the film, when the end credits rolled, I was blown away all over again, by the film’s dedication to my late friend Paul Corrigan, who evidently was the impactful teacher of these young filmmakers, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, both straight. At Pratt. In Brooklyn. Paul died tragically of AIDS a number of years ago.

And I thought the book was closed forever on his life. But no! His great gay spirit keeps jumping up from beyond to assert Paul’s powerful, playful personality once again. It was uncanny how much I thought the Jim Carrey character did, and still does remind me of Paul.

I wrote an Obit for him at the time that I wrote for “Lesbian and Gay New York.” It was all too brief, and didn’t give at all a taste of what Paul was really like. There was very little space. He went to Sarah Lawrence where he was a classmate of Bob Plunket, Susan Haskins(of “Theater Talk”) and Amy Robinson, producer-extraordinaire and also Harvey Keitel’s girl-friend in “Mean Streets.”

I remember Paul first play, his first New York production of two one-acts called “Tan My Hide” and “Nancy’s Tragic Period.” At La Mama E.T.C. and they starred if memory serves Bob and Amy as Santa’s Elves, who were having to make leather gear for Santa, or something like that.

I remember Bob had the immortal(to my mind) lines, “Have you ever seen a dwarf come?”

“Little drizzle droplets.” 

 And I think Susan was Nancy in “Nancy’s Tragic Period” where she was a girl whose record player(yes, her RECORD PLAYER. That’s how long ago this was.) whose record player keeps telling her how to live her life and acting like a Greek Chorus…I could go on and on.

But I remember to this day the freshness of the writing and the humor and the direction, which I think Paul essayed himself.

But he did not continue with his playwriting.  I wish he had.

Years later I encountered him on a Manhattan street and he told me he was teaching Film at Pratt University, a school in Brooklyn that at the time was not known as a cinema studies center, by any means…

And I thought he was being disingenuous.

Then I met Susan Haskins, who was also a fellow teacher at Pratt. And she assured me that yes, Paul was teaching a very special cinema class.

And all these years later, “I Love You, Phillip Morris” bares testimony to the enduring quality of his teaching and his impact on his pupils.

More on numbers 9 to 1 of my Top Ten later…

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