Aretha Franklin

August 16th, 2018 7 Comments

Aretha Franklin died today.

I am married to the greatest singer I will ever know or even meet, and Darleen summed up Aretha Franklin by saying simply, “She was the greatest voice ever.”

Not “a great voice,” or “one of the greatest;” just the greatest.

On the news they showed her singing “Think;” not the version from The Blues Brothers, but in concert somewhere, and if you can watch that without grinning and your body moving, you might want to inquire about your local undertaker’s schedule.

And then Darleen found the YouTube video of Ms. Franklin filling in at the last moment for an ailing Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards ceremony. Think about it for a moment: filling in for Pavarotti with only a few hours to prepare, singing an aria from Puccini’s Turandot, arguably one of the most difficult of all arias, singing it in both Italian and English, in front of an auditorium of professional singers and musicians every one of whom was probably, rightly, just as sensitive to and critical of their art form as my bride is, and Ms. Franklin blew them out of their seats. If you can watch that performance and not weep, you have no soul within you.

She did it all and she did it all better than anyone else.

James Woods

July 8th, 2018 12 Comments


What with one thing and another, I missed the details about James Woods being dropped by his agent, one Ken Kaplan, of the Gersh Agency. Apparently, Mr. Woods’ outspoken conservative political views did not sit well with Mr. Kaplan and were the cause of the agent dropping his immensely talented (three Emmys and two Academy Award nominations) client.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t follow any of the doings of the business I once was part of, and this, in particular, is not the sort of thing to which I would normally pay any attention. Agents drop actors and actors drop agents with such monotonous frequency and regularity—albeit not normally for political differences—that the more interesting take, along the lines of “man-bites-dog,” would be a story about an actor/agent partnership that endures.

But this morning, I happened to catch a news item about the event that included Mr. Kaplan’s tweet to James Woods informing Mr. Woods of the end of their relationship.

My first thought was that tweeting was an exceptionally tacky and unnecessarily public way of breaking the news, but hey, maybe that’s how things are done in the business these days. But what really caught my eye was the text of Mr. Kaplan’s tweet, which read: “It’s the 4th of July and I’m feeling patriotic. I don’t want to represent you anymore. I mean I could go on a rant but you know what I’d say.” (The absence of commas must be a stylistic device of Mr. Kaplan’s.)

Mr. Woods’ response was very elegant and gracious: “Dear Ken, I don’t actually. I was thinking if you’re feeling patriotic, you would appreciate free speech and one’s right to think as an individual. Be that as it may, I want to thank you for all your hard work and devotion on my behalf. Be well.”

At first, I was appalled by Mr. Kaplan’s not even having the grace or courage to break the news to his client face to face, but I was especially struck by his reference to “patriotic feelings,” which I found rather odd. I actually feel patriotic all the time, not just on the Fourth of July.

Mr. Kaplan may only feel patriotic on the Fourth of July, but clearly, like so many well-educated progressives, his annual patriotism is expressed by aping some of the worst tried and true techniques the Nazis used to demonize the Jews: harassment, boycotting, denying opportunities for employment, denouncing those who hold opposing political views, and isolating them as “other.” It might have been nicer if Mr. Kaplan had studied and learned techniques employed by a far greater and more enduring teacher—inclusiveness, tolerance, a willingness to try and understand the other fellow’s point of view, loving one’s neighbor as oneself, following the Golden Rule—but that Book has apparently fallen out of favor in progressive liberal circles these days.

This incident, coming as it does on the heels of Kirstjen Nielson being screamed at in a Mexican restaurant, and Sarah Sanders being told to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia by progressive liberal owner Stephanie Wilkinson, or that paragon of compassionate deeper thinking, Maxine Waters, encouraging people to go after members of the Trump administration, made the comparison to the early days of the Nazi holocaust inevitable. And it begs the question of what conservatives should expect next. Will Maxine Waters introduce a bill demanding conservatives be made to wear an identifying badge, like the yellow star the Jews were compelled to wear? (Possibly a red MAGA hat, something easily stolen from frightened teenagers by violent thugs following an assault.) Should we look forward to an updated version of Kristllnacht, with homes and business looted and destroyed?

Actually, I don’t think we need to worry. Liberal progressives may be ill-mannered, intolerant, and ignorant of the lessons of history, but I think they’re at least smart enough to realize most conservatives are not as cowed and obsequious as the Jews were after fourteen-hundred-years of pogroms and persecution. It’s a shame progressive liberals have only learned the worst techniques from the worst people in history. Almost as great a shame as only feeling patriotic once a year.

Gerald McRaney

September 11th, 2017 15 Comments

He did it! I sent Mackie the following message:

“Congratulations! Kudos! Bravo! Well done! Felicitations! And richly deserved, my talented friend!”

It’s only the first one; there’ll be more to come!

(I got so excited, I forgot to mention that what he did was win an Emmy!)

America’s Daughter

August 2nd, 2017 13 Comments


Darleen and I were watching an old movie with Fred MacMurray awhile back when she happened to say something that jogged my memory, and I asked her if she had ever worked with MacMurray. To cut to the chase, by the time the conversation was over, I realized I am married to the girl who has had, probably, more fathers than any actress in Hollywood today.

The fact that this hadn’t dawned on me before tells you how much we discuss The Business, but counting Fred MacMurray, Darleen has had seven famous on-screen fathers, most of whom she charmingly and lovingly drove nuts on-screen, much as she does her husband today off-screen.

Fred MacMurray was her dad in a two-hour movie of the week, intended as a pilot for a series, called The Chadwick Family, and she caused him plenty of stress and distress in that movie.

Henry Fonda was her father in a television series called The Smith Family, that ran for thirty-nine episodes, where he had to deal with challenges from a girl who was growing up faster than he could cope with.

David Niven played her extremely harried father (I know exactly how he felt) in The Impossible Years, where the poor man had to deal with both Darleen and an equally troublesome Cristina Ferrare.

Robert Young was her father in two movies of the week called All My Darling Daughters and All My Darling Daughters Anniversary, Darleen giving that poor man fits in both movies.

Karl Malden had it slightly easier in The Streets of San Francisco because she had grown up considerably, but she kept getting kidnapped or threatened or in jeopardy somehow, so poor Karl Malden had his hands full.

Glenn Ford was her father in Once an Eagle, where Sam Elliot had taken on much of the responsibility for her as her husband. He and I should commiserate sometime.

And in an excellent but short-lived (it was ahead of its time) series called Miss Winslow and Son, the son being out-of-wedlock, Elliot Reid played her somewhat shocked father, but the situation unfortunately shocked viewers of that day too much for the series to continue.

All of these men had a taste of how much trouble she can be, but having lasted twenty-five years with her, I feel I am the one who really deserves an award. Or possibly canonization. Or maybe both.

Hollywood Nobody

February 22nd, 2017 4 Comments


“I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.”

Well, that is perhaps a slight exaggeration. Think rather of the tag line in any one of a dozen films (Lord of the Rings, Kindergarten Cop, Independence Day, The Color of Money…): “I’m baaaaack!”

Only in this case, it’s, “Dan’s baaaaaaack!” Possibly to be preceded by a warning shout of, “Look out! Duck! Run for cover!”

Dan being, of course, my friend Dan Bronson of Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody, and the website Hollywood Nobody, in my links. After a hiatus of two years, a hiatus devoted to refining the high art of procrastination and coming up with more inventive ways to avoid work than any dozen normal men could devise, Dan is back blogging again and—knowing Dan—almost certainly using blogging as an excuse not to do any other writing. Dan is, as he himself admits—admits? hell, boasts—an all-time-card-carrying-world-champion procrastinator, a man who has raised procrastination to new and dizzying heights of excellence. When the universe conspires to force him into sitting at his desk and putting words down, those words are inspired. Save for when he disagrees with me, of course, as he does on the directing of Fences, but with the exception of those lapses in taste and judgement, he is a brilliant, insightful (I almost wrote “inciteful,” which would have been pretty accurate also) observer of all things Hollywood and literary.

Check out his link on my website.

James Garner

July 24th, 2014 19 Comments

james garner


James Garner was one of the most underrated actors ever and I think the reason had much to do with his acting. He made it all look so easy, so effortless, his personal brand of charm and humor always showing through, so that it was hard to believe he was really doing anything. His first acting job was apparently a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, starring Henry Fonda, and if you have any interest at all in acting, and if your IQ is bigger than your hat size, it would be impossible to watch Henry Fonda night after night without learning a lot. No one ever accused Jim Garner of being stupid, and you could say he had some interest in acting.

Darleen and I fell in love in part because of James Garner. This is one of those tricky series of coincidences, so follow me closely here.

Around 1978 (I don’t remember the exact year; dates and I have never gotten along too well) I quit the soap opera One Life to Live and got cast in a movie that started filming literally the day after my last day as OLTL’s Brad the Cad. The movie was an ambitious project, an unsuccessful film version of Sylvia Plath’s famous autobiography, The Bell Jar. In keeping with my bad boy persona back then, I was cast as the narcissistic, preppy, predatory college Lothario, Buddy Willard. The star of that movie, the lady playing Sylvia Plath, was Marilyn Hassett.

In 1980 (give or take a year or so; damn dates), James Garner filmed a pilot for a new series called Bret Maverick, based on his highly successful late-fifties series, Maverick. The lady who co-starred opposite him in that pilot was Marilyn Hassett. Garner got injured doing a stunt, took some time off, looked at the footage for his pilot, and decided he didn’t like Marilyn’s work, or that they didn’t work well together, and decided to re-cast her and re-shoot the pilot. One of the girls who auditioned for the replacement role was an exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead by the name of Darleen Carr.

The problem was the “little” part. Darleen claims five-two, but I think five feet is closer to actual fact. Garner, on the other hand, was six-one or two and taller still in cowboy boots. Garner liked what he saw in the filmed audition scenes, but everyone kept telling him it would never work because of the height difference.

In the meantime, also in 1980 (again, that date is more or less) Simon & Simon was filming its first season, showing in a disastrous time slot, and earning ratings somewhat lower than the test pattern. We were filming an episode that had something to do with a zoo, and the lady chosen to play the head zoo keeper was an exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead by the name of Darleen Carr. She had already filmed two auditions for Bret Maverick, and they asked her to film a third one with Garner. She refused, saying it would interrupt her shooting schedule on Simon & Simon.

We were filming at the zoo in Griffith Park, and Darleen was sitting in a car, going over her lines, when out of nowhere a limo pulled up, James Garner got out, took her hand and helped her out the car, spun her around once, and said “You’re not too little,” got back in his limo and drove off. That was her third and final audition, and as soon as she finished filming with me and Mackie, she went to work playing photographer M. L. Springer on Bret Maverick.

Darleen and Garner

(Above: Darleen as M.L. with James Garner. I know that look well and my heart goes out to poor Bret Maverick.)

The show was an instant hit and got excellent ratings. Simon & Simon, on the other hand, sank down lower than the local Chamber of Commerce airings and was cancelled. Over on Bret Maverick, the writers had decided to add a love interest for M. L. Springer, and I was cast as that potential love interest in the very last episode of that season. It turned out to be the very last season, period, the only season. A lot of varying reasons for the show’s demise were trotted out, none of which made a lick of sense, given that it was the highest-rated new show of the year. The truth, which was hushed up for obscure reasons, was that Garner—nobody’s fool, as I said—had discovered that one of the producers had been stealing from his production company (an incident I later incorporated into Return to Laughter) and in disgust he pulled the plug. That turned out to be fortunate for me, because the creator and producer of Simon & Simon had been waging a very successful PR campaign to have us aired at a better time during summer re-runs, our ratings had suddenly sky-rocketed, and CBS decided to give Simon & Simon another chance. In the meantime, I had gotten to know the exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead and decided I liked her. Nothing more than that: we were both married to other people, but I thought she was definitely okay. Quite alright. Fun. Intelligent. Talented. A lot of fun. Not to mention exceptionally pretty and very sexy.

While I knew none of this until many years later, after Darleen and I had gotten married, Garner won my loyalty by his treatment of Darleen. Her son was dying slowly of an undiagnosed illness and she had notified Garner and the producers that her three year old was in the hospital and that things were not looking good. She would check in multiple times every day, calling the hospital from the stage, and it just so happened she had just finished rehearsing a final scene with Garner, her last of the day, when she made one of her calls and was notified that her boy wouldn’t last the night. She turned around, intending to film the scene and rush to the hospital, but Garner took one look at her face and pulled the plug on that day’s shooting. She protested, saying they had to finish and then she could go. He replied, “We’ll get it when we get it,” and steered her to the door.

Darleen as M.L.

(Above: Darleen as M.L. You can see why I fell in love.)

Garner was nominated for an Academy Award and countless Emmys, Golden Globes, and a slew of other awards over the years, many of which he won, and he deserved them all. He had a reputation for being extremely loyal to his friends and all the people who worked for him, and while some of his friends were household names, just as many—perhaps more—were just anybody he happened to like.

Garner had, by all accounts, an appalling childhood, and he could have taken any one of the myriad doors for good or ill that open to us all. He chose to became a gifted actor, a great star, a good and loyal friend, and from what I read, a devoted husband and father. He was an easy-going affable man, but not one who would tolerate anyone trying to take advantage of him. His multiple lawsuits against multiple entities in Hollywood are famous. Less famous, because he didn’t make a big deal about it or gloat publicly, was the fact that he won every single one. Also less well known is the story of his cornering the president of MCA, Sid Sheinberg, at that time the most powerful man in Hollywood and one of the defendants in Garner’s lawsuit against that company. Mr. Sheinberg had very publicly said some very uncomplimentary things about Garner, and when Garner trapped him in a hallway at Universal Studios, Sheinberg had a pretty good idea of what going to happen and called out to a security guard:

“Stop him! Stop him! He’s going to hit me!”

Garner turned around and looked at the guard. “Are you watching?” Then he slowly and deliberately raised one fist and decked Sheinberg. Easily. Effortlessly. With his own brand of charm and humor.

Hollywood Nobody

June 24th, 2014 11 Comments

P1020549 (Small)

Oh, are you going to have fun!

My friend Dan Bronson (that’s him up above, pressing down hard on the old mental accelerator) is a semi-retired screenwriter. That’s a little bit like saying, “Spike is a semi-retired pit-bull.” Spike may not be actively engaged in killing anything and everything on four legs just at the moment, but it doesn’t mean the bloodthirsty impulse, the longing for the taste of blood, the murderous instincts, the essential desire for violence and mayhem (all of which are traits writers share with pit-bulls) have all been retired; it just means Spike isn’t killing anyone as I write this.

Dan, who—to be honest—perhaps isn’t quite as bloodthirsty as a pit-bull named Spike, has written a memoir of his time cringing under the lash in the salt mines of Hollywood. It is entitled Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody (available on Amazon), and it qualifies as a wild, irreverent, raucous, and howlingly funny account of the ups and downs, the hits and misses, the mendacity and arrogance, the back-stabbing and phony friendships, the eccentricity and frequently self-destructive behavior, and the occasional true friendship and loyalty that epitomize the golden glamour of the show biz racket in the city of angels and dreams and demons. I recommend it wholeheartedly. It is as refreshing a memoir as I have read in a long time. Perhaps only David Niven’s great autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon comes close to the same delicate balance between honesty and humor, but Dan’s writing is a wild and unique style worth reading for itself alone.

So I recommend the book, but you will notice that I have added a link to his website (Hollywood Nobody) in my “Links” column. (Duh. Where else would you add it, Jameson?) He has started a website in part to publicize the book, but primarily because he is starting an online screen-writing class. Since I have known Dan for a longish while now, and have had a small taste of his abilities as teacher, I can wholeheartedly recommend his class to anyone with any interest in learning how to write screenplays professionally. (Actually, if anyone really wants to learn how to write screenplays, I would recommend taking his class in conjunction with psychotherapy, but perhaps I’m a trifle cynical.) But even if you have absolutely zero interest in ever having anything to do with Hollywood beyond reading the headlines of the National Intruder while unloading your grocery cart, I also strongly suggest you visit his site for sheer entertainment value. Dan has the kind of loopy sense of humor that really appeals to me, but more than that, the site itself is fun, full of pages and tabs and links and connections that amuse and delight, including a tab where you can listen to him read chapters from his book. To quote a famous old character actor I worked with once long ago: If you don’t like this, you don’t like chocolate cake!

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