a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘television’

Sensational, New Agatha Christie Bio by Laura Thompson, Pt.2


But I digress…Nobody EVAH writes about the wonderfully witty Ariadne Oliver character in Agatha Christie’s  oeuvre, so I thought I’d just fill you all in on how I felt. I loved that character. And Poirot and Miss Marple, too! And we’ve never seen a picture of an apple-munching Dame Agatha.

No. By no means is Laura Thompson’s meticulously researched and thoughtful book about  dotty, apple-munching Ariadne Oliver. It is securely focused on the elusive Dame Agatha Christie herself.

No one can explain how she was THAT prolific. She just seemed to never stop writing. And as she got older, she used to DICTATE her books into  a Dictaphone. Writing mysteries was essential to her as breathing. And as seemingly effortless.

Though as a single Mom after her divorce, she was forced to support herself. J. K. Rowling another prolific female British author, she, of the Harry Potter books comes to mind. Though Christie always had servants and was never on welfare as Rowling famously was.

Laura Thompson was allowed access by the Christie family to many notebooks and papers that have never before seen the light of day. It’s a treat for Christie lovers, and a triumph of a biography for Thompson. I can’t imagine anything being more thorough. “Agatha Christie: A mysterious Life” is exhaustively complete. And thoroughly researched, with end notes and footnotes galore.

Thompson interweaves episodes from the very secretive Christie’s life, as they appear, quite baldly in her prose. She never got over the break-up of her first marriage to the very handsome fighter pilot Archie Christie before WWI broke out.

Needing a Crying Wall, Christie seems to have poured her heart out in her Mary Westmacott books. Under a pseudonym, she could tell the truth. But actually I find the Westmacott books inferior reads to her bounty of mysteries. She needed the focus of a murder. She had a mind like a serial killer. And she just couldn’t stop writing. All her books Thompson reveals, are one way or another thinly disguised re-tellings of her break-up with the dashing rogue, Archie. Thompson posits that he is the barely cloaked villain in many, many of the stories. And all the violence she felt towards him, she took out on the page. Much to the delight of millions of readers.

Her difficult relationship with her only daughter Rosalind is gone into in great detail. Christie was an atrocious, absentee mother, and her daughter looked and sounded like her father. She didn’t take after her mother at all. Hard-headed, she became the businesswoman her flighty mother never was. And was in large part,  the  reluctant caretaker of her literary empire.

But it is Thompson’s tendresse and insight that spell-binds. She especially excels by slipping into the first person as Agatha herself recounts her doings during her infamous ten-day disappearance, which ended her first marriage, even though she didn’t want it to.

Hiding out under the guise of a “Mrs. Neale” at a Harrowgate Spa in 1926, the entire U.K. was out searching for the lost, “poor Mrs. Christie,” sure that Archie had done her in. Thompson reveals a never-before mentioned letter that Agatha wrote to Archie’s brother Campbell, telling them all where she was, but the letter seems to have gone astray and caused the ten-day ruckus that made her famous and made every book she subsequently wrote a best-seller.

It also ended her private life. Now forever a controversial public figure, by many who considered it a publicity stunt, Rosalind said “She ruined my father’s life.” The family all the while covered it as amnesia. 

And Thompson feels that this lingering bad taste of her “mysterious” disappearance may account for her lack of respect by many critics, while Thompson considers it a result of “Christie’s simple writing style.”

And a fan looking for a new Poirot or a new Miss Marple (her other great detective, an old lady who knits, no less) are more than going to find them popping up like real life figures as Christie goes through her trials and tribulations. For in Thompson’s skilled tellings, they WERE like real figures to her. And to us, her devoted, beguiled readers. “Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life” is a treasure to be bought and savored.

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“Downton Abbey” Ends With Everyone in Tears

Maggie Smith“Downton Abbey”s over. It’s official. It ended in Grand Style tonight with everyone in tears. In the audience I mean. The larger than life cast of characters all had miraculously and ridiculously happy endings. Not the least of  them the lovelorn Lady Edith(Laura Carmichael) FINALLY heading down the grand Downton staircase as a bride, with a super-long silken train. Lovely. And of course, it reminds you of when she did this same thing a few seasons back and got jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony Stralen.(Boo! Hiss!)

Presided over by the great legend herself Dame Maggie Smith, as Violet, the peppery Dowager Countess of Grantham, “Downton Abbey” is simply one of the greatest TV series of all time.

Rob James-Collier1

And of course, you ask what was my favorite moment? Well, when Thomas Barrow, the perpetually lonely gay under-butler, was finally made butler! Well, I was just wiped out! Last episode, he tried to slash his wrists in a bathtub, and nearly died.

Rob James-Collier was the superb young actor who took us on Thomas’ long journey from a wine thief in Episode One, to WWI, where he shot himself in the hand to get out of military service, to kissing another valet and getting himself in trouble with the police for it.

Yes. You could just kiss a man in those days and it could have been the end of your career. Whatever career it was, it was ruined by something so innocent. Chilling. Frightening.

So when Thomas finally triumphed, it felt like a personal triumph, too.

As all the heterosexuals were pairing off at a dizzying pace, it was almost ridiculous. Lady Edith and the Earl of Hexham. Daisy and the new(ish)valet, who can’t read, Andy. Even Mrs. Patmore and Daisy’s benefactor/farmer Mr. Mason, and Cousin Isobel and Lord Merton. You could also see Moseley and Baxter eyeing each other as did Tom Branson and the new editor of Edith’s now successful magazine.

Lady Mary, of course had been married in the last episode  to her dashing racing car driver beau Henry Talbot, played to perfection by Matthew Goode, who has had quite a vigorous career in British films, and will go on to many more I predict.

Lady Mary 1That’s a lot of loose ends to tie up, but tie them up author Julian Fellowes did. It’s his great achievement in the end. He wrote every word and conceived all these great characters so vividly, so memorably, it’s hard to think that any of these talented actors are ever going to be able to top “Downton Abbey.”

Oh, and Anna and Bates had a baby. Her water broke in Lady Mary’s bedroom no less, so that’s where she had her little baby son.

The symbolism is getting a little heavy around here.

I’m so upset that it’s over. But there’s still more “Downton” to come. I think a movie is in the offing. Wouldn’t that be grand?

Lady Edith 1

In any case, “Downton Abbey” will simply never end. Not in our minds and hearts, anyway. It’s sooooo rare that television can touch us this way, and we’re so happy it did. And Bravos and Bravas to all concerned! May their futures be as bright and happy as this last episode!

Joe Franklin Passes & Yes, I Was a Guest on his Show

One of the greats of New York talk shows just passed. Joe Franklin. He was ONLY 88, but he’s been around for so long, I thought he was in his 90s. or older.

As  a kid growing up in the Bronx, ever-glued to my television set., I Joe Franklinalways watched him whenever he came on. Which seemed to be always. He was omnipresent and I kept trying to figure out just why he had so, er, undistinguished guests.

Until years later, I became one. He was shooting his show in, I think, a TV Studio in New Jersey.I don’t know how I ever got on his Show. He was very finicky and he did all the booking himself. He was a real one man band, like I am. And you had to really pursue him, and call back a million times, it seemed. I was in the early regional theater days of my show, and we had just all traveled to Boston. To cover ART, the American Repertory Theater, run in those days by Robert Brustein.

And FINALLY Joe booked me. I couldn’t believe it! ANOTHER childhood dream come true! And then, there I was sitting on the sofa opposite him, with, I think, at least two others guests, a male to my left and a female to my right.

And I noticed something I hadn’t expected to find. He was just as nervous as I was! He put very unusual people together and then would mix it up, rapid firing questions like they were torpedo pellets. And I made the incredible, stupid mistake of saying that ART was doing something like “tap-dancing Ibsen”(which they really were) and I had said the bad word “Ibsen.” I don’t think Joe knew who that was. And then he switched the rest of the questions to the other two panelists, and didn’t come back to me again.

But at least I had made it on to his show.

Then he came back to me again, for some reason, I guess it was meeting him on Broadway for the Drama Desk. I think we got sat next to each other, for some forgotten show. And we were talking and he said, “Are you a critic? Do you want to be on my show?”

By this time he was on in the middle of the night on RADIO! You had to be there, like at 3 AM! And I don’t know if I did one or more shows this time. I remember him coming out and exclaiming with gusto”You did great, kid!” I thought I was talking to Florenz Ziegfeld.

Oh, Joe, we’ll miss you! He was the essence of New York Show Business.

Pioneering Film Critic Judith Crist, 90, Passes, Always a Gracious, Gracious Lady

Judith Crist, who without my realizing it until perhaps today, the day of her passing at age 90, had more of an influence on my life than I ever imagined.

I only met her once, when I interviewed her, back when I was in college, for the school newspaper. I don’t have a copy of it, I don’t think. I had interviewed Estelle Parsons, famously, the night before she won the Oscar for “Bonnie and Clyde.” BUT THATS ANOTHER STORY! Suffice it to say, it was a success and made the headlines of the University of Rhode Island’s “Beacon.”

I know how I got backstage to interview Estelle. I just asked. At the stage door. And they let me in!

But how I ever got to Judith Crist, I absolutely don’t know. I knew, I, a budding celebrity journalist, even then, I had to do something to top the Estelle Parsons interview. It made the headline of my paper, and I don’t know how I made the jump from her to Judith Crist, but it seemed logical at the time.

Judith Crist was at the height of her fame then. I had grown up avidly reading her every word every day in the New York Herald Tribune, which is the long-gone and much-missed newspaper that my parents bought every day. She was their film critic, and she was also on TV too on the Today Show. Where she did stick out like a sore thumb amongst the ditto-heads and the polished types. Polished, she wasn’t.

But she spoke her mind clearly, succinctly, and you remembered what she said. She loved foreign films, I remember that. I think I asked her about that when I finally did get to meet my (unacknowledged) idol. I wish I could remember more of exactly what she said, but alas I don’t. And not being a really trained journalist I don’t think I even took notes.

But I remember her very, very well. I couldn’t believe I was really in her house. The one she lived in all her life on Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson river. It was one of those very old, grand apartments that went on it seemed forever, rooms upon rooms. High ceilings, too. Not like the shoeboxes of today. And it was very dimly lit, I remember. Just some lamps here or there. And there was no doorman. I think her name “Crist” was on a list outside the door, and you just pushed a button, and she let you in. Or maybe you just went right in. Very heavy, ornate iron door, I remember. Typical New York wrought iron decoration over glass. The door was as open as she turned out to be. You just went right in.

She was dressed in earth tones, too. Nothing showy. Like the apartment. She wasn’t ever trying to impress with her sense of style or her looks, god knows. On TV she looked like anomaly, because she looked like A REAL PERSON.

And every morning, before I went off to school, I had grown up watching her review movies on the Today show. My mother always said, “I like what she says. I think she’s right.” Didn’t matter that my mother hadn’t seen the movie. You just trusted Judith Crist’s taste.

And she didn’t much like Hollywood movies. Yes, they were still churning out the same amount of dreck that they do today, believe it or not. Read her Obit in the NYTimes. You can she how she never minced words. I guess I was a little afraid she was going to be that way with me. But she wasn’t at all. She was surprisingly friendly.

And I asked Mrs. Crist about her seeming championing of small, foreign films all the time, films not even in English, with god help us, SUB-TITLES. Why did she like foreign films more than American movies?

“Well, they’re just better! ” she snapped. I don’t remember her really snapping at me, like she seemed to be doing all the time on TV, except in that brief moment of fire.

She was incredibly nice to me, as was Estelle Parsons. I think Judith Crist might even have been in the phone book. And I just called her up and asked for an interview for my school paper, and unbelievably, she said “Yes” Immediately.

She liked the brashness I must’ve exhibited, I guess. Cold-calling her like that. She identified with it. I was a critic, too, for my school newspaper and was minoring in Journalism, and I think she felt a kindred spirit. And of course, we both loved movies.

I told her I wasn’t majoring in journalism. I was majoring in Acting. “I want to be an actor, a writer and a director, ” I declared. I can’t believe I told her that.

And she said, “You’re a real Renaissance man. You’re like Robert Shaw. I just interviewed him. He does everything, too.”

And she totally accepted that I was going to do and be all the things I said I was going to do. She didn’t belittle or demean my aspirations. She accepted them. She respected me. I remember being shocked actually by that. And well, she was right! I did go on to do all that. And I think she knew I would. She was the first person in her position in the industry to accept me as what I was and what I wanted to be. She was encouraging.

I guess she felt anyone who began their career interviewing  a future Academy Award winner the night before she won the Oscar had something on the ball. I was the Oscar Messenger even then. I told Estelle Parsons she was going to win. Then the next night, she did!

I’ll always have a very warm spot in my heart for Judith Crist. She was a gracious and accepting lady. No pretense about her whatsoever. She was real. She was who she was. And she knew what she knew. No nonsense.

I never saw her again, but always followed her reviews and her career with interest. When she was dropped from the Today show, my mother said “She was too good for them.” And she was right.

And I couldn’t believe that as a fledgling cub reporter, my second great interview was with TV star  Judith Crist! And she had been incredibly kind and supportive to me. I think she saw my burning ambition to be an actor was going to over-ride my instincts as a journalist. But she saw I had them.

I remember opening with her, your opening line with a celebrity is everything, I instinctively knew that, by telling her my father had put himself through Columbia School of Engineering during the Depression, at night. And she was very impressed by that.

And I knew she’d gone to Columbia, too. Maybe she thought I’d wake up from my Acting Reverie and go to Columbia School of Journalism. She probably would’ve helped me. But the thought never entered my mind. Until now.

I remember asking her about being famous and she said, “I guess the Today Show put me on the map. If the Map is what I’m on.” And she left it at that.

Judith Crist, you re-wrote the Map!

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