Saturday, July 28, 2012

Remembering Sherman Hemsley

Sherman Hemsley who died last week aged 74 was in that strange TV category known as "one hit wonders".
He enjoyed huge success as George Jefferson on the decade long hit The Jeffersons (1975-1985) --it ran for 253 episodes but before and after he struggled for recognition.
Back in those days a mediocre show like The Jeffersons could go on and on provided the network liked it.
One of several spinoffs from All In The Family The Jeffersons kept chugging along --it originally anchored CBS's Saturday night block of comedies that included Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart.
The Jeffersons started off as recurring characters on All In The Family which spawned a number of spinoffs including Maude and Good Times.
CBS was vastly dependent at that time on the sitcoms of Lear and his closest competition --the MTM comedies which included Mary Tyler Moore and her spinoffs: Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.
Because The Jefferson's creator Norman Lear was one of CBS's most prolific producers the network wanted to keep him happy --in turn The Jeffersons ran season after season without ever cracking TV's coveted Top Ten shows.
In later years it was part of CBS's Monday night comedy block running hammocked between Alice and Trapper John M.D.
All in all The Jeffersons had 13 different time period changes --it was one of those shows CBS could toss in anywhere and see it perform to expected satisfactory ratings.
I remember one afternoon  in 1978 a bunch of TV critics were invited on set to watch a rehearsal but the intensely private Hemsley would only answer a few questions before he left. By contrast his co-star Isabel Sanford was extremely gracious and winning as she offered a tour of the set.
He made a good team with Stanford as his wife and few people noticed she was a good 20 years his senior. Fans adored his slow burn comedic technique, his cock of the walk and that constant attempt to get some recognition from his family.
The Jeffersons moved from being Archie Bunker's neighbors and moved "on up to the East Side/to a deluxe apartment in the sky."
After The Jeffersons was cancelled Hemsley tried a new sitcom, NBC's Amen which had five shaky seasons --he was a church deacon. So desperate was he to make good he even consented to appear before the assembled TV critics and answer personal questions.
Then came UPN's Goode Behavior where he played a paroled con man living with his son. He later provided his voice on the ABC puppet series Dinosaurs.
No matter he would always be George Jefferson --he even returned to the character in commercials he made with Sanford. Before TV he'd been a Broadway staple.
Late nights I'm still watching Golden Girls and enjoying its superb ensemble playing and the crackling wit of the creator Susan Harris.
The Jeffersons just hasn't stood the test of time sad to say.
In fact The Jeffersons doesn't seem to be around much anymore. Black sitcoms have come and gone and TV's diversity is all the weaker for that absence..

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Canadian TV's Downton Abbey

People keep asking me why Canadian TV has never attempted a similar historical tale to rival the wonderful British TV serial Downton Abbey?
And I have to remind them that we certainly tried, oh how we tried.
I was the kid TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator way back in 1971 when CBC-TV began filming Mazo de la Roche's The Whiteoaks Of Jalna.
CBC made a big mistake in keeping it all secret --no reporters were allowed near the set although from time to time publicity photos dribbled out --like the day a Great War bombing campaign was filmed at brickyards 40 miles northwest of Toronto.
I still can't figure out why CBC botched the opportunity for such great publicity. I blame the producer, brilliant, mercurial Fletcher Markle for letting all the glory go to his head.
CBC first had to buy rights to the 1935 movie Jalna and suppress it.
Markle then hired Timothy Findley no less to adapt the book --also contributing were writers Claude Harz and Graeme Woods.
At some point the fatal decision was made to add a contemporary story and flashback to the story generations had grown up with.
The same actors would play the characters in both sequences which was completely confusing.
After several false starts William Hutt who had been cast as Rennie  suddenly left the production. I later asked him if he had contracted a "diplomatic illness" and he roared with laughter and nodded his head.
He was replaced by Paul Harding.
Great Kate Reid was Old Adeline, Don Scardino Ernest and others included Blair Brown (Pheasant). Amelia Hall (Meg),  Toby Tarnow (Ruth), Linda Goranson (Victoria).
Decades later I bumped into Blair on the set of a 1985 U.S. miniseries titled Space  and reminded her we'd met on Jalna and she frowned and walked away.
Although a CBC production CBC ordered the miniseries be blacked out on Windsor's CKLW-TV (partially owned by CBC) as CBC was hoping all along for an American sale which never happened.
Jalna was supposed to mark CBC's first big foray into PBS Masterpiece Theater company.
In fact CBC even tried to sell it to PBS. MP executive producer Joan Wilson later recalled the "horrible day" she was forced to sit in a darkened screening room and watch the first two episodes with Markle beside her.
She politely refused to buy the miniseries at all.
CBC spent over $2 million on its effort --a big sum for 1971. The Whiteoaks house actually existed right outside Whitby.
For the vaudeville sequences the long closed Winter Garden theatre atop Loew's downtown cinema was re-opened and refurbished at great cost.
I attended the lavish premiere held at the St. Lawrence Center and noticed the audience was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
When the lights went on Reid and Hall bolted for the bar and began belting back malt whiskies. Markle's legendary cool demeanor had disappeared. And days later when the critical reviews appeared it was apparent: Jalna was a bomb.
It premiered in January 1972 but the repeat in 1974 was significantly altered with many of the modern day scenes completely cut out. And CBC's Jalna has never been seen since --no VHS or DVD boxed sets, nothing.
But I submit the experience was worthwhile and out of that debacle sprang such historical series as Pierre Berton's The Last Spike and later on Road To Avonlea.
CBC's Jalna disappeared but Jalna did not.
In 1994 French TV presented its own miniseries adaptation of Jalna headed by veteran star Danielle Darrieux --it was filmed in Quebec--and Global TV later presented a version dubbed in English that I thought adequate.
So perhaps based on the Downton Abbey success Jalna will rise again --maybe Sullivan Films which presented Road To Avonlea is up to the challenge?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Remembrance Of TV Critics Tours Past

I remember, I remember.
I was but a shallow, young, impressionable TV critic for the Hamilton Spectator when I went on my first TV critics' tour in Los Angeles in June 1971.
The first year, 1970, I had to do everything on my own because Canadians were not allowed on the tour.
And then I realized that by pleading with the three Buffalo affiliates I actually get invited--in those glorious years before simulcasting ruined TV for all of us the Buffalo stations regarded Hamilton as part of their turf.
And what a tour it was!
The tour started in 1954 as a one-day event to the studio where I Married Joan was filmed --critics bunked two to a room at the Hollywood Roosevelt, then the essence of 1950s chic.
By 1970 it had ballooned into a nine-day event with over 100 daily TV critics in attendance--three days per network with PBS scheduling lunch events. There was no cable and it wasn't until 1977 that syndication added another day to the schedule.
In those glory days Chicago had five dailies --hence five competing critics. My pal was Mary Anne Lauricella from Buffalo and she had to compete with the portly chap from the Courier Express for scoops.
My first shock was to discover most of the papers were on the network tit. That's right, papers as big as the Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer had all expenses paid by the network.
Not me! Not lowly Hamilton! Mornings were reserved for mass press conferences by the executives. One morning Virginias Holden, NBC PR extraordinaire, phoned my room to say I was missing an awfully great press conference. "After all we're paying for it!"
And I simply told her, no, I was paying my own way.
Things certainly had gotten out of hand --one of the guys from Pittsburgh allegedly brought his living room drapes to be dry cleaned by the hotel and had NBC cover the bill.
Others staged lavish wine and cheese parties in their suits --all covered by the network tab. This was the pre-computer age so every three days another network would take over and begin replacing the typewriters in every room with their particular brand.
And we had to FAX columns back to our papers --up in the press room the PR types would read every column and with a black magic marker take out uncomplimentary comments. And why not? To quote Virginia: "We're paying for it!"
The upside was we did interviews in tiny groups compared to today's mob meetings.
One day with the New York Daily News' Kay Gardella I got to chat up Mae West.
Another time three of us were in Doris Day's "dressing room" --a huge complex as big as a penthouse suit.
I was warned not to look directly at Doris --"or she'll think you are counting her freckles".
One night in 1974 I went to Lucy Ball's for dinner --I was the only one who had signed on. Lucy was about to retire from CBS and her big movie comeback, Mame, had just bombed.
We had dinner in her huge backyard in a gazebo bigger than my Hamilton apartment.
I remember surprising her by saying "I don't want you to be  Lucy. I want you to be Lucille, the first female head of a major studio." And for the next few hours she gave me her take on the TV industry. And she was brilliant.
I must have been on the set of M*A*S*H 10 times in the Seventies --always to lunch with my pals Harry Morgan and Loretta Swit.
I started one day on the set of Mission: Impossible with Peter Graves, then visited with Mannix at the L.A. Aquarium and had dinner with Glenn Ford at his home. Just me!
Bob Young was very kind to me on the Marcus Welby set. So was Ann Sothern at her home --she was promoting a TV movie opposite her daughter Tish Sterling. After interviewing Jimmy Stewart on the set of Hawkins he invited me home --the rest of the family was away and he needed somebody to talk to.
Everybody wanted to get on the Charlie's Angels set --I waited until Barbara Stanwyck was the guest star and got her. She liked what I wrote and let me visit her on the otherwise closed set of The Thorn Birds in 1979.
In 1973 CBS decided to abolish the tour and bring down seven critics every week throughout the summer.
It didn't work because many cities still had two papers --one critic would get all the dirt the first week and the other one be left in the lurch for months.
And the stars got tired of having to "perform" all summer especially when their series had returned from hiatus.
For CBS that year I interviewed Nancy Marchand (Beacon Hill), Eric Sevareid, Elizabeth Wilson (Doc) all in New York, then we flew on a CBS plane to L.A. and had dinner that night with Bob Wagner and Natalie Wood.
I know I'm name dropping. I  just can't help it.
Also in 1973 I got the first interview with the new star of Welcome Back Kotter, John Travolta. And after interfacing with John Ritter on Three's Company we hit it off and a decade later when he was making a TV movie in Toronto he phoned me up and we met again.
The set up started to crumble when Buffalo critic Gary Deeb wrote a scathing critique of the tour titled "The Hack Pack" forVariety in 1972. It listed all the bizarre incidents and then some.
In 1977 on an ABC junket to San Diego the critics got a bit rowdy. After one session a critic accused  veteran producer Jimmy Komack of giving the late star of Chico And The Man Freddie Prinze drugs and he lept from the stage right onto her and they rolled out of the interview room.
Later several critics went missing after a night of carousing in Tijuana.
The days of the network controlled tour was over. The Television Critics Association was formed, freebie trips abolished and nothing seemed the same anymore.
By the time I jumped to the Toronto Star in 1980 it was all so nicely controlled, staid and rather dull. There was one mass interview per new series.
And these days? There are few TV critics. Not a hundred more like a handful, the rest weblet  reporters. But the networks keep it going for now because of the publicity value.
I'm so lucky I got to experience the Golden Age of the TV Critics Tour.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Political Animals: Funny And Frightening

Sigourney Weaver's TV miniseries debut is reason enough to watch the first episode of Political Animals, a smart, sassy take on U.S. politics that is both frightening and funny.
Weaver effortlessly channels Hillary Clinton as she plays Elaine Barrish Hammond, a former First Lady who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination only to wind up as a commanding Secretary of State.
And make no mistake about it Weaver at 63 remains a tigress of an actress.
She dominates every frame she's in as the ranting, relentlessly driven secretary able to vanquish practically everyone who stands before her.
Let's see there's her former husband, the ex-Prez Bud Hammond, a boozy, chattering fool played to near perfection by Irish actor Ciaran Hinds.
And certainly the lines he gets are often cartoonish: "I'm the most popular Democrat since Kennedy had his brains spattered across the Dallas concrete."
Now I ask you would anybody in or near power sputter such a sitcomy line?
Then there's the sour faced younger president of Italian descent who eventually won the nomination and the race, Paul Garcetti, played with lethal antagonistic charm by Adrian Pasdar as he hatches plots to bring down his still formidable rival.
Turns out Elaine's biggest problem at the moment is the Washington columnist Susan Berg who continually excoriates her and her family in blistering columns.
Susan likes to pretend she runs with the journalistic big boys but she's not above digging up even more dirt on Elaine's family and threatening to run with it unless she gets that all important exclusive interview for a proposed upcoming profile.
Greg Berlanti (Everwood, Brothers And Sisters) created it and he directed the first episode which is fast paced and filled with priceless lines.
Who knew political types could be so witty? The politicians I've known were all dull and steady and scarcely deserving of such lines as:
"I don't eat shit. I send it."
Or: "All people ever talk about is your ambition."
Or: "Never call a bitch a bitch."
What Elaine needs are stronger opponents. Berg actually seems nice most of the time --she's living with her editor (Dan Futterman) and beginning to wonder if he is faithful.
Susan's two grown sons are both weaklings.  There's bitter younger son T.J. (Sebastian Stan) who has drug issues unrelated to his gayness. Older son Douglas (James Wolk), who functions as her chief of staff,  thinks he's about to escape all this with marriage to a beautiful Japanese American girl Anne Ogami (Brittany Ishibashi) who tiptoes out of the engagement lunch to retch in the bathroom (she has bulimia).
And what to make of Elaine's mother, played with relish by a white haired Ellen Burstyn that owes much to Barbara Bush.
For a series about politics there's very little sense of politics going on save for an Iranian hostage situation which Elaine must solve without the President's help.
What we wind up with is a small helping of The West Wing and a larger dose of Dallas.
This becomes mostly the frolic of Bud and Elaine --particularly when they hitch up at a seedy motel for a little love making while security agents keep watch.
Weaver is such a powerhouse she lets one revel in the cliches. My favorite scene finds Elaine at midnight commiserating with the female elephants at the Washington zoo. She really relates to their sense of empowerment in a matriarchal society.
Weaver single handedly turns Political Animals into juicy, bawdy and totally compelling soap opera.
And by the way when asked why Canadian TC can't cover Canadian politics with such verve here's my reply:
CBC did with the miniseries H20 which ran for several seasons but a third season was cancelled by CBC because of money problems. Go figure.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Remembering Ernest Borgnine

I only interviewed Ernest Borgnine once --in a CBS press room in L.A. in 1979 as he promoted his star turn in the TV movie remake of All Quiet On The Western Front.
He was 62 at the time, already diminished in size from his From Here To Eternity days, very kind and unassuming about the strange business that had made him a star.
The TV remake was OK, too, hardly up to the status of the 1930 movie but Borgnine defended it just the same saying "A lot of kids watch Richard Thomas as Jon Boy in The Waltons and they'll watch and be educated about the Great War."
As Borgnine told me "I've always been a realist about my crazy profession."
Borgnine died Sunday in an L.A. hospital of renal failure. He was 95,
Borgnine spent 11 years in the U.S. navy before jumping to acting in 1951.
He'd soared to recognition as "Fatso" Judson, the gigantic brute in From Here To Eternity (1953) and he repeated the characterization in such flicks as Johnny Guitar (1954) with Joan Crawford, Demetrius And The Gladiators (1954) and Vera Cruz (1954) and Bad Day At Black Rock  (1955) with Spencer Tracy.
When United Artists decided to make a movie out of Marty (1955) it was assumed that Rod Steiger who'd created the part in a live TV special would get the part.
But Steiger refused to sign a long term contract and bowed out and after negotiations Borgnine was in.
 Playing the lonely, homely man desperately seeking a soul mate he was outstanding and copped an Oscar as best actor. He was paid a grand total of $5,000.
"It cost $360,000 to make and took in millions. For a brief period small movies were in."
But when Borgnine tried to repeat the formula in small movies like The Rabbitt Trap (1960) and Summer Of The Seventeeth Doll (1961)  "the public couldn't have cared less. So I went back to being a brute."
TV offered salvation in the wacky comedy classic McHale's Navy which ran from 1962 through 1966 for 138 episodes.
After which Borgnine split his time between big budgeters like The Dirty Dozen (1967), Ice Station Zebra (1968) and The Wild Bunch (1969). and TV movie parts.
"They always treated me fine on Wagon Trail. I think I played five different characters over the years on that one."
He offered forth funny anecdotes about working with the big stars. "I did two with Bette Davis who yelled at me all the time. In Bunny O'Hare (1971)  we were two seniors riding around on a motorcycle and she's clinging to me fearful I'll hit something but she's still yelling her head off."
He returned to series TV with Airwolf (1984-86) and The Single Guy (1995-97).
But he said he hated stardom.
"It wrecked my life. When I was anonymous I had a happy life. After fame strange things happened."
In 1958 he divorced wife Rhoda of 11 years because she craved the quiet life. Marriage to actress Katy Jurado was tempestuous and ended in 1963. He was married a month to Ethel Merman in 1964 --in her book she left a blank page to cover the marriage.  Only his fifth marriage to cosmetician Tova Borgnine was peaceful and lasted.
Borgnine was just as proud to have been the very first "center square" on Hollywood Squares in 1965 as to have starred in Marty.
The day we chatted who would have thought he had another 33 years of acting in him?

A 600-Year Old Mystery Gets Solved

There is reality TV and then there's super reality TV.
The new Canadian made documentary Curse Of The Axe takes us way, way back in time to the early 1500s when Canada did not even exist.
Instead, in what is now Southern Ontario the Huron tribes dominated and this two-hour documentary begins with the discovery of a vast Huron village near present day Stouffeville.
The village is carbon dated back to 1500-1530 but its sheer size confounds the experts. Most Huron villages were composed of long houses that accommodated around 300 inhabitants.
This one by contrast is a Huron megalopolis with 90 longhouses, room for over 1,500 plus vast fields all around where the Hurons could cultivate their staple of corn.
An archeological dig headed by Dr. Ron Williamson unearths an amazing treasure trove of pottery plus one important piece of iron which is exceptional.
Because the Hurons were not yet in contact with Europeans the discovery confounds everyone --they simply had not acquired the expertise to make iron implements.
And how could they have felled the 60,000 trees needed to construct the longhouses?
And so begins our journey back in time as director Robin Bicknell recreates the life and times of an Indian people who would soon face near extinction from contact with the European invaders.
Williamson takes his treasure to the country's most powerful digital microscope where it's considered to be wrought iron. If it had been caste iron then most probably it was dropped there by a nineteenth century farmer.
The search expands to the current Huron reserve near Quebec city and a leading Huron spokesman Luc Laine who has been searching to piece together the history of his people.
And it expands again as Dr. Jennifer Birch shows us how the longhouses in this village followed an intricate pattern--the iron object was buried in the middle of these houses. Was it thus considered an object of evil?
Next stop is South Africa where an anthropologist can examine teeth that suggest the staple diet of the Hurons was corn --if so the fields would have to be vast to feed all the inhabitants.
And on it goes to Spain's Basque territory where Basques expert Dr. Michael Barkham and forensic anthropologist Andrea Carnevale may be close to tracking down its origin.
And if that's the case how could have arrived in the Huron village long before any explorers  showed up?
For these answers you'll simply have to watch as I did. One problem: the cliffhangers to every commercial break are irritating but in true reality TV style. Enough already!
Elliott Halpern executive produced for yap films and Robbie Robertson is the narrator. Director Bicknell also wrote and produced it.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Canadian TV Finds Its New Haven

An old and respected Canadian TV producer was going on and on about the state of our TV recently.
And he stopped and said "But what Canadian TV really needs is a New Haven."
And I instantly knew what he meant.
Here, let me explain.
New Haven is the small city where Broadway plays get tried out before hitting the Great White Way.
Nothing like that happens on TV. On American TV it's all in the pilot.
But Canadian networks say they can't afford to make pilots. So what would pass as a pilot in the U.S. becomes the first episode on a new Canadian series.
And most pilots are pretty terrible, it's the place where mistakes are made and corrections can be made.
What my friend was saying is there isn't any place to try out new Canadian TV material.
It's especially clear on Canadian TV comedy where such vaulted bombs as Mosquito Lake or Material World might have succeeded if only there had been an initial pilot where everything could get tinkered and reset.
So what fledgling Canadian series need is really a "New Haven" where material can get tested, modified and honed into shape before actually jumping to a safe TV berth.
Which is my long winded way of asking you to take a look Friday June 6 at 9 p.m. on a new "series" called Comedy Bar on Bite TV.
Actually it's the start of  the second season but it only ran on so far.
Friday's sneak preview on Bite TV looks at comedy club owner Gary (Gary Rideout Jr.) and the crazies who frequent his bar.
Let's see --one buddy (Tal Zimerman) is directing a documentary about comic Pat (Pat Thornton) and his desperate search for love.
And I saw cameos from such Canadian comedians as Peter Kelleghan , Colin Mochrie and Scott Thompson.
Only Comedy Bar is not really on tv yet as a series.
It already had a full first season run on and the second season is up and running on Friday. It could certainly wind up full blown on TV if continued progress is made.
There are also contributions from Natalie Brown, Norm Sousa and the executive producer is RCAF veteran Don Ferguson.
Some of the bits I watched were funny, other places a certain meandering was evident.
But it struck me that Ferguson should know all about providing a "New Haven" for up and coming comedy talents --if the series had jumped directly to Bite TV then it probably wouldn't be back for a second round.
Ferguson needed such a route when he created and starred in two episodes of a proposed CBC comedy series Ex-PM all about a fumbling ex-prime minister.
But it needed careful nurturing and CBC ran the two episodes to disappointing and then forgot about it.
Technical aspects of Comedy Bar are polished. Let's see how it does on and if it gets better and better it just might be ready for prime time Canadian TV.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Remembering Andy Griffith

The story goes that a few years back Warner Brothers decided to remake the great 1957 movie A Face In The Crowd.
Screenwriter Budd Schulberg told me various stars were invited to a special screening on the lot to see if they wanted to tackle the part of Lonesome Rhodes who goes from aimless drifter to the most popular TV personality in America.
And all watched Andy Griffith's performance in sheer amazement.
"Nobody would touch that one," Schulberg told me. "It remains one of the great Fifties movies although on first release it didn't make a dime of profit because it told harsh truths about American culture.
"The movie is perfect, Griffith is perfect. And it was all done decades before reality TV."
Griffith passed away. aged 86, on Tuesday after a long history of heart problems.
See, Griffith was more than Andy Taylor, the amiable sheriff of fictitious Mayberry on the long running (1960-68) CBS sitcom hit The Andy Griffith Show.
"The show was based on my childhood in and around Mount Airy, North Carolina," he told me. "Those characters I knew them all as a boy. In the stories we tell I'm often in the background playing the straight character and letting them shine."
I first met Griffith when he was promoting his turn as General Barney Slater in the 1979 TV miniseries From Here To Eternity.
I found him warm and friendly but hardly the unsophisticated hick he'd been as Sheriff Taylor.
About Andy Taylor Griffith grinned and said "It's like I never did anything else in my career."
Griffith played Sheriff Andy for 249 episodes then tired of the character and wanted to move on. Mayberry was reconstituted as a separate series and Griffith went on to star in the bomb sitcom titled Headmaster (1970) that lasted but a season--he was Andy Thompson.
"I'd been the sheriff for so long people would simply not accept me as a teacher."
Then he tried again the very next year with the New Andy Griffith Show (1971)  as Andy Sawyer and bombed again.
After that, he admitted, "There were some plenty lean years" as he made do with TV movies like The Strangers In 7A, Go Ask Alec.
"Heck I even did guest bits on Doris Day and Lucy Ball to keep going. It was rough."
He bombed again in the 1979 TV series Salvage 1 before having a great late career success in Matlock which ran from 1986 through 1995 for 181 episodes.
When I was on the set to interview  co-star Julie Sommars he ran into me and was bemused I hadn't ask to interview him.  I told him the PR had said he was unavailable so he invited me back and we had a great talk.
"I based the character on Senator Sam Ervin." he admitted.
As executive producer Griffith had wise authority that extended to rewriting the scripts in his dressing room when he felt his character was being under represented in a scene.
By this time he was white haired and shaky and had to have weeks off written into the schedule but he clearly enjoyed his late success.
"Angela Lansbury is just next door (in Murder She Wrote)," he grinned. "And she's even older than I am."
"They're calling me a TV icon these days," he snorted. "Well, for years I had little work. Now I'm working every day and then some."
Originally a Broadway star in No Time For Sergeants, Griffith became a tv staple telling anecdotes on Steve Allen and Jack Paar.
He made the hit  1958 movies No Time For Sergeants and Onionhead before TV beckoned.
Not everything in his life was sweetness and light. He was married three times. In 1983 suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome and was unable to walk for seven months.
Son Andy Griffith Jr. died of alcoholism in 1996.
In 2000 Griffith underwent quadruple bypass surgery and worked infrequently thereafter.
Known as one of the most loyal of TV stars Griffith made room for his old partner Don Knotts on the show. And to me he praised his TV son Ron Howard who had gone on to a big career as a movie director.
When Matlock finally ended in 1995 Griffith retired back to a Mayberry-like town in North Carolina clearly relishing his TV fame as two very different iconic characters.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Salute To Ann Rutherford

Finally! Turner Classic Movies is getting all set to salute one of my best Hollywood friends, the late, great Canadian born star Ann Rutherford.
It all happens on Tuesday June June 3 with an all 18-hour marathon revving up at 6 a.m. and going through the morning and afternoon.
And then at 8 p.m. there's Ann in her best ever movie Gone With The Wind which also happens to be part of a package of films saluting another GWTW alumnus, Leslie Howard.
At 6 a.m. it's Ann in a tiny bit in Of Human Hearts (1938) opposite Jimmy Stewart. At 7:45 Anne can be seen in one of 13 Andy Hardy movies she made as Polly Benedict, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938). At 9:30 Rutherford is in Four Girls In White (1939). And at 10:45 there's her favorite film Pride And Prejudice (1940) with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.
At 12:45 Ann is in Rosalind Russell territory in Washington Melodrama (1941). And then she's a dewey bride in This Time For Keeps (1942).
Whistling In Dixie (1942) was one of three comedies she made with Red Skelton. At 4:45 there's the little seen Two O'Clock Courage and at 6 comes a late entry opposite Errol Flynn The Adventures Of Don Juan (1948).
I had several lunches with Annat her gorgeous Beverly Hills mansion and there was also a lunch at the Universal Hilton.
Sometimes she'd tell me she was born in Toronto, other times she claimed Vancouver. But the lack of Canadian recognition hurt.
"Tell your readers there was a Canadian girl living at Tara along with Scarlett and Rhett," she laughed.
I think she'd be tickled by this TCM salute. But why no similar salute from CBC?