Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A New Suzuki Shines On The Nature Of Things



Here's where I admit my age as I remember the time not too long ago when two fine CBC-TV series were battling for ascendancy. In one corner there was the great This Land and in the other long running Nature Of Things.
And as NOT's executive producer Jim Murray explained to me with upcoming budget cuts only one could survive.
"So I've decided to personalize the series with David Suzuki as host and he'll bring in his followers every week."
This Land elected to stay host-less and was the one CBC-TV eventually dropped because of slightly weaker ratings.
And then only a few years ago the new CBC programming chief told me he intended to drop TNOT on its 50th year on CBC-TV.
I broke the story in The Toronto Star,  all hell broke loose and The Nature Of Things still survives and the programmer in question is long gone.
All of which serves as a reminder that the more things change the more they remain the same.
Now I'm promoting the latest Nature Of Things hour and welcoming a new face to the perennial favourite.
She's Sarika Cullis-Suzuki and, yes, she's the daughter of guess what world famous environmentalist turned CBC-TV host.
Her first hour long program Kingdom Of The Tides is pretty terrific in its own right.
"It started out with my fascination as a little girl in the summers I spent in B.C. by the ocean. Looking at the many creatures who lived at the edge of the sea or in the tides. So this was a sort of reunion for me to help better understand how these original creatures could actually adapt and thrive there."
The hour is actually two stories in one.
"We also go to the Bay of Fundy which has an entirely different set of creatures and mud flats that stretch forever. This I wasn't used to --we have to slide along the mud flats or we'll wind up getting stuck out there."
There are some great shots --like the hermit crabs who exist living in the discarded shells of other creatures.
"And the sea stars making meals of the mussels."
One theme is the fragility of these two very different but similar ecosystems, how climate change or pollution could spoil these sites irrevocably.
"We try to show how they all exist on each other. but these creatures are all masters of adaptation. They depend on each other. I felt a sense of wonder when there."
Cullis-Suzuki says she asked her father for advice in her first hosting role --she's a marine biologist by profession-- and he simply told her to be herself.
She has a fine, instinctive way of appearing before the camera and her enthusiasm for the subject really comes across.
She does give us some facts but is not at all pedantic.
And Cullis-Suzuki has already made a second TOT documentary on orca whales to run pn Feb, 2!1.
Kingdom Of The Tiide was expertly written directed by veteran  Christine Nielsen----- and photographed beautifully by Stefan Randstrom for Infield Fly Productions.
And yes, its virtually a must see.
KINGDOM OF THE TIDE PREMIERES ON THE NATURE OF THINGS FRIDAY FEBRUARY 7 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.

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Sunday, February 2, 2020

I Remember Daniel Taradash

In August 1983 I was again on the Television Critics tour at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles and I had a day off. A friend had given me the telephone number of famed screen writer Daniel Taradash and I phoned him early that morning. Not only did he pick up the call he said he'd be over at about 3 p,m. for an hour long interview.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
JB: I was surprised you agreed so quickly to my request for an interview.
DT: Had to. Two days from now I'll be at a film festival in Barcelona where a newly minted print of From Here To Eternity is being shown.
JB: Let's start at the beginning with your upbringing in New York city.
DT: Well, I grew up in New York city, went to Harvard and law school was something my father insisted on. I was always writing short stories for myself but I didn't think during the Depression I could make a living at it. I won a contest for a new play and parlayed that into a trip to Hollywood.
JB: And then you wrote the screenplay for Golden Boy(1939)?
DFT: Something like that. Rouben Mamloulian was going to direct Golden Boy from the Clifford Odets play but Odets was in Europe with his wife Luise Rainer and unavailable. Several seasoned writers had taken cracks at it but Rouben said they were missing the point.So he hired me and Louis Meltzer from the contest and told us to try rewriting the first scene and he liked both our works and hired us at $200 a week which was a lot of money to this mostly unemployed writer.
Finally we all went to a desert retreat for two weeks along with Rouben and every day we'd tackle a different scene.We had to stick to the play as much as possible and not loose its foundations. Then Columbia had me write a biography of the warden of Sing Sing but never used it and I was dropped. So I got a job writing for Joe Pasternak at Universal in a movie titled A Little Bit Of Heaven designed to make Gloria Jean into another Deanna Durbin.
Then I was drafted and went into the army unit making the Why We Fight shorts, After the war I joined Allan Scott who was then a producer at David Selznick's lot but nothing came of the projects we worked on. Then producer Robert Lord hired me to juice up the dialogue on Knock On Any Door (1949) at Columbia where I got to know the star Humphrey Bogart who was quite a della.
JB: You also wrote the play Red Gloves for producer Jed Harris in 1949.
DT: A really nasty character. He started off very sweet but turned into this raging egomaniac. I think he just liked to be noticed. A true sadist.Charles Boyer was our star and at a certain point he told Jed not to speak to him any more.
JB: Then you wrote a western Rancho Notorious (1952) for Fritz Lang?
DT: When we met I discovered he was a real scholar of the American West.As I wrote a page he'd add the camera angles, the pauses, the direction right into the script. When we went on the floor he was suddenly challenged by our leading lead the great Marlene Dietrich. Both loved a good fight and they fought every day. The cut he delivered to Howard Hughes was so tightly edited it could not be changed much at all. This was for me a  great lesson in film making --don't give producers anything extra because they'll just cut it anyway.
JB: How did you get the assignment for From Here To Eternity (1953)?
DT: Well, James Jones had tried to adapt his own novel and failed. I had a chat with Buddy Adler who was running Columbia and he thought I was onto something and took me in to see Harry Cohn and Harry ordered me to be hired. Harry said he was stuck with a lemon because with all the bad language gone what was left? I  started off deepening the  Maggio character--he just peters out in the novel but I argued he has to die at the end. I finally went home to Florida because I couldn't deal with Harry's constant interference and I worked from there.  I doubt Harry ever read much of the book anyway.
And I was the one who suggested Fred Zinneman as director --he was close to finishing Member Of The wedding and Harry thought he was a prestige name.
JB: Were you in on the casting?
DT: I made myself available., Fred insisted on Monty Clift as Prew but Harry said "I got Aldo Ray" and insisted on a test. It was OK but Fred said he'd walk without Monty. You know Donna Reed ran lines with Aldo for his test and Fred then signed her as the prostitute although Harry wanted Audrey Totter.
Harry had just signed Joan Crawford to a multi-picture contract but she came in and selected a very expensive wardrobe that wasn't right and insisted on her own choreographer so Fred just let her go. He hired Deborah Kerr as the wayward wife which which certainly was offbeat casting. Frankie Sinatra campaigned for Maggio and took a tiny salary to get it. Lancaster was always going to be the biggest star. But you know Monty Clift was a Method man and he took lessons in boxing but was so un-muscular we used a double in some long shots. Another thing --I didn't want the couples to ever meet. The two women do but only at the end.
JB: Did winning the Oscar for best screenplay help you at all?
DT: Well, I told Harry Cohn he owned me one. And I deliberately selected the powerful story Storm Center about the censoring of books and I told Harry I was going to entice Mary Pickford out of a 20-year retirement to play the leading librarian. We were still at the height of McCarthyism,remember.
JB: Then what happened? Well, you know gossip hen Hedda Hopper was a terrible right winger and she kept pounding Mary in her column day after day for being un-American and it finally got to Mary and she just left. So I got Bette Davis and made it and it has yet to make a penny of profit which I prophesied from the beginning.
JN: Then came Desiree (1955)?
DT: Oh, please. A  terrible mess. We wrote it for Marlon Brando because he owed Fox a picture after walking off  The Egptian but he was boredas Napoleon  and didn't try and we had Jean Simmons and Merle Oberon who at least worked on their parts.
JB: Then came Picnic (1956).
DT: At the first preview an older woman comes up to me and says "There's no picnic, is there?"I talked to Bill Inge about it and he said he hated the play because a happy ending was superimposed. I tried to capture the feeling of that small Then Harry Cohn started cutting it up and Roz Russell's partas  cut sharply.  Harry wanted her nominated as best supporting actress but she refused. I thought Bill Holden too old for it and Kim Novak a blank stare. But it did make a lot of money.
JB: What about Bell Book And Candle (1958).
DT: Miscast. Jimmy Stewart was too old for it. Kim Novak wasn't comedically aware if you get my drift.I still say we should have used Cary Grant and Grace Kelly but Grace retired to become a princess and Cary lost interest.
JB: You say Harry Cohn's death in 1958 affected your career.
DT: I was going to do Andersonville for Harry but the new front office vetoed it as not box office. And I wrote some very bad pictures like Hawaii (1966) and Morituri (1965), Alvarez Kelly (1966) was another stinker and my Golden Boy Bill Holden was drunk through much of the shooting. There was turmoil on the set of The Other Side Of The Mountain(1969) and when I finished the first draft they tried to fire me.
So you see I really do miss the Hollywood of Harry Cohn. He was lucky he died before the independents took overbite business. You look shocked --I'm just being realistic. -- it was much easier  when I knew who I was working for. But whenever FHTE is on TV I'll watch a bit --I'm always interested what the local stations chose to cut for commercials.
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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jayne Eastwood Gets A TV Series Lead




It's certainly no surprise to me that the incredibly talented Jayne Eastwood is busy these days making a very funny comedy series titled Hey Lady! for CBC Gem available on February 14.
You see, I was the very first TV writer to interview her for her first splash in 1970 in the groundbreaking Canadian film Goin' Down The Road.
And here we are fifty years later still talking up a storm.
Here are highlights of my new telephone conversation with the divine Miss E:
JB: Jayne do you remember that day in July 1970 when I motored out to your home with a Globe and Mail  photographer to conduct your very first print interview?
JE: Actually, I think it was Cabbagetown. But I was a bit nervous, yes. I'm not sure how you got to me first.
JB: Your agent was the brother of Globe entertainment editor Donn Downey --that's how I scored that coup. I remember you were bit nervous at first. But neither of us thought this would be the beginning of a long and busy career.
JE: I've never stopped working --that's for sure.
JB: People thought Goin' Down The Road marked the beginning of a huge boom in Canadian film making. But it never really happened. Can you explain why?
JE: Financing. The big chains weren't that interested in Canadian movies, I guess.So a lot of talent drifted to TV. I know I did.
JB: You also did the long anticipated reunion TV movie Down The Road Again.
JE: Of course it did not have the impact of the first. But I thought it was important because it wrapped everything up. Director Don Shebib had exactly18 shooting days so the fact it turned out as well as possible is something to cheer about. The original was 16 mm so the second in 35 mm seems smoother.
JB: And today the two movies ares being sold in a boxed set.  I remember another early interview with you when you were at CBC rehearsing for a live TV drama.
JE: With Allyn Ann McLerie, the legendary Canadian actress who had stardom in the U.S. CBC took an old TV play first done in the Fifties and we redid it live. But ratings were poor and CBC never tried another live one.
JB: You were just telling me when Show Boat ran for several years on the Toronto stage you were in it but also as understudy for Cloris Leachman as Party Ann.
J: I was introduced to her as her understudy and she hands me her dog's leash and says to take it for walk. And I got to sub for her for a total of 12 performances. Now that was fun.
JB: I remember interviewing you again on the CBC comedy series Material World which I thought had a lot of potential.
JE: It started slowly but we were up against American shows that ran all season and I think that meant we could never catch up. They began changing the cast --the wonderful character star Lou Jacobi was out after the first season, then Chris POtter  went --he now stars in Heartland but it just never caught on.
JB: Another one I remember you in --Joely Fisher's drama show filmed here --again with Potter.
JE: And I lasted just at the beginning because the show changed  and changed. And I don't think it laster much longer.
JB: I have better memories with you on the set of Riverdale, a CBC attempt to make a long running soap series. Some of the sets were refashioned from Paradise Falls, I think.
JE: Loved that one. So did the fans. But it needed to run a half hour every night right after coronation Street to build up popularity. We had a great cast too:
JB: Ever consider moving to the U.S. like many other Canadian actors. were doing that time.
JE: Well once Lorne Michaels said he wanted me to audition for SNL but the pay wasn't so high and I would have to take my kids to live in New York city andI couldn't do that to them.
JB: I mean your credits run pages. You've done everything in TV and movies.
JE: Even commercials which keep on passing. How to establish a character in one minute! It's a real challenge I can tell you.
JB: Ever missed an important Canadian series as a character star?
JB: I'll  have to think about that.
JB: You moved from Dundas to Hamilton.
JE: After my husband Dave Flaherty passed . And in Hamilton I can tell you houses are still for sale at respectable p[rices. There's a strong artistic  community growing up here.
JB: Let's not forget you have a separate stage career.
JE: With Women Fully Clothed --we're still going.
JB: I watched your new project for CBC Gem right through and there area lot of laughs there.
JE: Great. It was made as a series of bits. You can watch a few or right through. I just thought the scripts by Morris Panych were wonderful, there are eight separate pieces and Jackie Richardson as my comic sidekick Rosie is very funny.
We got some choice talent--Don McKellar as the psychiatrist, Scott Thompson as the judge, Peter Keleghan, Zach Bennett and we all had a ball.But it is funny --my character is battling old age. She says what she's feeling, the words just pop out. And we break through the glass --I sometimes talk directly to the audience at home. I hope it catches on. I'm beginning to think of stories for the next batch.
JB: Jayne is now off to the Sundance Festival where her new show is being previewed.p
So Jayne Eastwood is doing what she always does --dancing as fast as she  can.
















   

Friday, January 3, 2020

CBC's Future Is Murky

CBC-TV got a lot of deserved flack for mounting a ''new'' game show titled Family Feud Canada.
Remember please --here is a pubically funded network that you the tax payers fork out almost $1 billion annually and yet the choices on CBC are becoming ever narrower.
Gone from CBC are TV movies , miniseries, any sort of arts programs, Straford plays, culture; offerings..
This means no more thrilling dramatical  historical lessons like The Last Spike, no TV movies Alice Munro's  Of Girls And Women.
The last time I spoke to Emmy winning director Norman Campbell he was in cubby-hole of an office at CBC doing absolutely nothing.
True, he could look across the hall at the huge Norman Campbell Concert hall where he had never staged single production because of budgetary concerns.
When Emmy winning documentarian Harry Rasky looked for one of his "Raskymentaries" in the video store he actually found one in a boxed set of BBC titles
CBC had sold the rights to the BBC  for Rasky's masterful study of George Bernard Shaw and somehow forgot to tell Rasky about it.
Rasly's incredibly rich studies of the lives of Chris Plummer, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams lie moldering in the CBC TV archives in Mississauga.
CBC says it hasn't the money to produce boxed sets --which would sell like hot cakes --but a prominent CBC-TV veteran says "nuts" to that idea.
"CBC is afraid of opening the vaults because it would show what wonderful network it used to be," Mr. X recent;y told me.
Indeed, there was a time in the 1970s when CBC-TV hit a similar budgeting impasse and devised a series of pure reruns titled "Rearview Mirror" which ran on Sunday afternoons garnering a very respectable audience.
One of the lost and found treasures was a 1962 taped version of Macbeth done in the old Front Page Challenge setup Yonge st. and starring Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell.
Dennys Arcand directed it and when I contacted him at his Malibu home he said "I'm so very glad it still exists. After that Sean said he was going to the Caribbean to start filming his first James Bond opus."
Let's face it the future of the CBC is not altogether clear.
I'm suggesting g the main network should abandon all commercials and become a PBS of the North.
CBC still has hits like Heartland and Murdoch Mysteries but these shows are aging fasten and newer series just haven't made it,
The revamped The National is a ratings disaster and none of the several hosts boasts the gravitas of a Peter Mansbridge or a Knowlton Nash.
CBC needs a drastic shake up or there are fears it may no longer be able to justify its swollen budget.
One last point--CBC is running its game show against perennially popular Jeopardy.
If you are a game show addict Jeopardy remains must viewing.
Go watch Family Feud Canada if you like but this weird import is not going to save Canada's struggling public network.