Friday, July 15, 2022

Friday Questions

Thanks to everyone at the Cape May Stage for a great opening night of my play, AMERICA’S SEXIEST COUPLE.  Now through mid-August.  I’ll be there all weekend.  Come by and say hi.  

Here are this week’s Friday Questions.

Ed leads off:

You’ve shared your thoughts on many female TV stars from the 50s (Lucy, Eve Arden, Audrey Meadows, et al). But what’s your opinion of Vivian Vance, commonly cited as one of the greatest second bananas and “reactors” in all of showbiz?

Quite simply, Vivian Vance was a goddess.  Not only a great straight person for Lucy but so funny in her own right.  And so adept at physical comedy.  People forget that Ethel was part of that candy factory scene.  

I’ve mentioned this before but I got the rare opportunity to see Vivian perform in person.  She was a guest on an episode of RHODA and I happened to be in the audience that night.  
It was like watching a masterclass in comedy.   Knew every line and hit every joke out of the park.   I can’t say enough wonderful things about Vivian Vance.  

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) asks:

Can you do a future blog post about movies you couldn't get through? I once tried to watch 1941 but I gave up after ten minutes.

That was pretty bad, I grant you.  

I suppose I should restrict this to movies in a theater I couldn’t get through.  It’s so easy when watching at home.   I’m sometimes gone in ten or fifteen minutes.  

But in the theater — pretty much any Nancy Meyers movie.  CALIGULA was not the sex romp I was led to believe it was.  And I lasted maybe 45 minutes in SWEPT AWAY.  

From Jeff:

Not that you would have first-hand experience, but when the cast of a mediocre sitcom does their table read, do they actually acknowledge the jokes are lame or do they just barrel through it for the paycheck?

It depends on many factors.  Who’s the most powerful person in the room?  If it’s the show runner like Chuck Lorre the cast will generally just power through and collect their paycheck.  (Also, if the show is a hit they may just go along to continue riding the gravy train.)

If the star has the most power then you can bet Cosby or Roseanne will complain or even throw scripts out.  And some stars are never happy no matter what script you put in front of them.  

And finally, from Justin:

Ken, you often speak of your favorite Classic Hollywood stars (and first crushes). Could you list your top-5 actors and top-5 actresses of the era?

Cary Grant
Humphrey Bogart
Gene Hackman
Robert Duvall
Marlon Brando

Natalie Wood
Barbara Stanwyck
Rosalind Russell
Lauren Bacall
Eva Marie Saint

What’s your Friday Question? 


Anonymous said...

Vivian Vance was the godmother to John Sebastian, creative force behind the Lovin' Spoonful and writer/performer of the Welcome Back, Kotter theme

Brian Phillips said...

For me, I remember watching "Endless Love" muttering to myself, "This movie is DRAINING me!" and I left.

In this case, the film walked out on my Brother! He went to see "Octopussy" and the film broke. The theater management apologized and gave everyone a rain check to see it again. He disliked it so much that he didn't go back (this would have been a FREE MOVIE) and he has never seen the end of this film. Sadly, I made it through all of it.

Justin Russo said...

Thank you very much, Ken for answering my question! I KNEW I admired your taste (Bacall is my #2 and Stanwyck #3)...but no one will ever match GARBO!

15-Seconds said...

Friday Question:

You being a radio guy (among other things) did you ever have any dealings with Stan Freberg?

I loved his "who listens to radio" spots back in the day. "Cue the Canadian Air Force."

VincentP said...

My top five classic-era stars for each gender:

William Powell
James Cagney
Cary Grant
James Stewart
Clark Gable

Carole Lombard
Myrna Loy
Barbara Stanwyck
Shirley MacLaine
Goldie Hawn

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken. I'm surprised you didn't comment on my username! For anyone interested, I took it from the "Saturdays of Thunder" episode of The Simpsons written by Ken and David.

Hey, I like Octopussy! Give me that over the dreary Skyfall, Spectre, Quantum of Solace and No Time to Die any day.

Jonathan Weiss said...

GM Ken,

I did a little reading up on Lorenzo Music - in addition to voicing Carlton the Doorman and Garfield, he was quite the writer/producer/creator (especially at MTM). Did you work with/alongside him at any point?

Mighty Hal said...

I've always enjoyed Natalie Wood as a performer. She's certainly beautiful. But I wouldn't consider her a top-5 talent as an actress. I think you're being swayed by more than talent.

This makes me wonder: What qualities are most prized in the industry when it comes to casting a role? Does beauty trump talent? Will the right look (huge evil-looking guy, for example) win out over a more gifted performer who isn't physically right? And how often do personal connections land the job, regardless of looks or talent?

Although I'm certain you, personally, only picked the best actors or actresses for your shows.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I remember seeing AVATAR in theaters. Longest. Movie. I. Ever. Saw. I thought it would never end! And James Cameron still wants to franchise that thing! The only thing I even found remotely interesting about that movie was that one of the good guys was played by one of the actors from DODGEBALL, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. How random.

Craig Gustafson said...

Friday Question:

Has you ever underestimated an actor and then found a performance that upgraded your opinion?

Before "Spinal Tap" or "Clue" came out, I was pretty snobbish about "Laverne and Shirley," especially David Lander and Michael McKean. I watched it, but thought, "Lowbrow, and not even very well done lowbrow." Then came the episode where Laverne thought she was pregnant. Lenny goes to her and proposes, to give the baby a father. He reveals that Squiggy and he flipped a coin to see who would propose. After the laugh, Laverne says, "And you lost, right?"
Lenny: No. I *won*.

And in that "Why would you say that?" pause, Michael McKean's face expressed bewilderment at her making a joke, hesitation at a left field response and vague hurt - was she making fun of him for proposing?

Ho. Ly. Shit. From that point on, any movie he did, I saw. Saw him onstage in Chicago in "Superior Donuts." He's a really wonderful actor.

And congratulations on "America's Sexiest Couple." Karen Ziemba... *siiiiiiiiigh*. I look forward to any links to reviews that you post.

VincentP said...

Note all 10 of my selections could excel at comedy (even if they weren't ordinarily associated with the genre, such as Cagney, Stewart and Stanwyck). If you can't do comedy, you don't appeal to me.

Chuck (MostAmuzed) said...

The only movie that I have ever walked out of, along with my wife, was Silver Linings Playbook. (Yes, I know.) I thought Deniro was below his usual and found his character unreal. His performance wasn't our only problem with the film. We left around the 35 minute mark and were able to get in to see Mama, which we thought was passable.

The one movie I should have walked out of was U. S. Marshals. The worst movie I've ever sat through in it's entirety. (Worse than Phantom Menace.)

I'll mention here that we also walked out at intermission, a theatrical performance of Cats. We didn't know it was all singing. Not being familiar with any of the songs (other than the best known) we couldn't understand any of the words, so were completely puzzled as to what was happening. Also, my wife was a bit freaked out when one of the Cats suddenly appeared in the aisle near us and began cleaning itself.

kent said...

I went to an advance screening of V.I. Warshawski with Kathleen Turner. I walked out after 25 minutes and the monitor offered me $20 to go back in, finish the movie and stay for the discussion but I just couldn't take it and left anyway

Pat Reeder said...

I don't recall ever walking out of a movie, but there's one I wish I'd walked out of. I had to kill a couple of hours while my wife was in a rehearsal for a show. It was a blistering hot and humid Texas night, so I went to the nearby dollar theater. The only movie that fit my time window was "Gone in 60 Seconds" with Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. I had no interest but figured it would be worth a dollar just for the two hours of air conditioning. I left wishing I had asked for my dollar back and just sweltered in the car for two hours.

Re: Vivian Vance. I've always thought of her as one of the greats, too. But I was just reading Woody Allen's book "Apropos of Nothing," and he mentions that David Merrick made him cast her in the original production of "Don't Drink the Water." Woody writes: "She was a fine comic actress but dead wrong for the role, and she proved to be a huge pain the neck. The show came to life when she was replaced with Kay Medford, who, like Betty Walker (his original choice) could make the dialogue sing." That's all he said. I wish he'd provided more details about what her problems were.

BTW, I heard a while back that Vivian wrote an autobiography that her husband tried to get published after she died, but no publisher was interested, so it just sat in their closet. I can't imagine that no publisher had enough sense to put that out. Seems like it would sell boatloads of copies to Lucy fans.

Roseann said...

I've never heard of the Candy Factory and I hope you can elaborate. I googled it and got local candy stores... I have a feeling it really is something west coast Andy Warhol might have been involved with.

D. McEwan said...

I've tried on three separate occasions to watch the critically-acclaimed My Dinner With Andre, and I have fallen fast asleep by 15 minutes in each time. Literally fell asleep.

I walked out on Mel Brooks's The History of the World: Part One. And once, when I was seeing My Fair Lady live onstage, with Rex Harrison, around age 80, as Higgins, and an 18 year old Liza Doolittle, and I and my two friends left at intermission. Along with the 60-year age difference between the romantic leads making your skin crawl, Harrison could not remember his lines. I should not know Higgins's lines better in the audience than Rex Harrison does on the stage.

In 1982, my then-writing partner and I attended a pre-release screening of I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can with Jill Clayburg and the often-unbearable Nicol Williamson at Paramount Studios. I HATED it! On the drive home I discovered that my partner hated it also and had wanted to leave about 20 minutes in but stayed because he thought I wanted to see the whole thing. I'd wanted to leave but had stayed because I thought he wanted to see the whole thing. It's so hard to whisper "I hate this shit; let's go," when you're seated in front of the director.

Not only did I not walk out on Caligula when I saw its original release, but nowadays I have it on DVD. (I remember being shocked that it cost $7 to see the movie. Nowadays, $7 barely buys you popcorn at a movie.) I'm not defending Caligula. It's a TERRIBLE movie! But for me, it's like a train wreck you can not look away from. The subject is a fascinating one (I've read numerous books about the First Century Emperors of Rome, a fascinating batch of perverts and monsters, with Caligula the most-depraved; it really was more depraved than the movie shows), and there's something fascinating about seeing GREAT actors in porn trash. Sir John Guilgud has to deliver boring dialogue to Peter O'Toole, while a couple butt-fucks behind him! The sodomy is real; the acting is not. And you actually see Malcolm MacDowell perform cunnilingus, on camera, on Dame Helen Mirrin!!! If they get AFI Tributes, that clip should be played!

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...
Hey, I like Octopussy! Give me that over the dreary Skyfall, Spectre, Quantum of Solace and No Time to Die any day."

So you're the guy who liked Octopussy. Sorry, but the only reason that Octopussy is not "The Worst Bond Movie in the Official Franchise" (Thus ignoring non-canonical crap like the Peter Sellers Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) is because they went on to make A View to a Kill, which IS The Worst Bond Movie Ever in the Franchise. I remember laughing my head off in the Octopussy finale. You have two armies of young, fit people battling, and then Bond and Q arrive --- BY BALLOON --- And we're supposed to believe that the arrival of these two senior citizens will be the deciding factor in the battle between armies of young, healthy people. The suspense is "Will Q's heart last through the battle?" OR "Will someone just shoot the balloon, causing it to crash and kill both of the elderly men riding in it?"

What have you got against Skyfall (Which, among other things, is The Highest-Grossing Bond Movie Ever)? Not only is it very entertaining, with a great, compelling villain, but it bursts so many Bond movie conventions. Since M is the Leading Lady, Bond never has sex with the heroine. (This was not a first, Bond having never slept with the heroine of the admittedly-weak Quantum of Solace.) The villain is not out to conquer the world, just to humiliate one old lady. And the BIG One: Bond fails at his mission! It's the only film where Bond totally fails and the villain wins! Sure, Silva dies, but he was OK with that as long as M died, and she did! Bond's mission was to protect M from Silva, and Silva succeeds in killing her.

I have problems with SPECTRE, but it was far more entertaining than Octopussy. No Time to Die is way too long, has a second-rate villain, the horrible cliche of "Bond's Child" (Remember Superman's son in that now-forgotten Superman movie where Kevin Spacey was Luthor? Bad idea,) and that awful ending, but at least it doesn't have Roger Moore in it.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Actress crushes - not the worst topic - but (for me) none really compare to school-girl crushes.

Let's see:

Barbara Eden
Dawn Wells
Tina Louise
Barbara Feldon

all attractive but not like

Stephanie Powers as The Girl from UNCLE

Later -

Marlo Thomas
the lovely Miss Streisand (on a Funny Girl rerun - almost uniquely fascinating - and later in a tub with Kristofferson)

Jessica Lange (in King Kong)
Carrie Fisher......

Jahn Ghalt said...

Went to Something About Mary with the wife on first release. Stiller (the Younger) gamely tried, but couldn't overcome the material - that is, at first. I know nothing about "the last" - the scene came up with the female lead at the door, when she rubbed "mousse" through her hair (that "material") the wife walked out and I followed.

Jahn Ghalt said...

a theatrical performance of Cats... couldn't understand any of the words

More than 30 years ago I treated Mom to a road-show Cats. I too, couldn't make out the words - I thought:

Mike Bloodworth said...

I'm glad to hear that your play is doing well.
When can I be in one?

The only movie I ever walked out of, except for an emergency, was "Poor White Trash Part 2." I know. I should've seen "Part One" first, but...
We were 16 and trying to sneak into an R-rated movie. We wanted to see "The Exorcist," but couldn't get in. So we settled for "PWT2." It was so bad we were out of the theater in less than 20 minutes.

I have always heard the story that V.V. was contractually obligated to stay heavier than Lucy. I guess that was to make Lucy appear younger and more attractive in relative terms. Even though they were about the same age.

I have also heard that the stars of "Caligula" claim they were duped. They thought they were going to work in a legit, historical drama and not a PENTHOUSE/Bob Guccione produced porno. They may just be trying to save face, yet I understand that most of the sex scenes were shot separately and cut in later.

Off topic: Ken, while you were away they opened the new 6th Street viaduct in downtown L.A. The second I heard that all I could think of was the Marx Brothers', "Why a duck?" routine. It still makes me laugh.


VincentP said...

At least "Octopussy" had my favorite James Bond theme, "All-Time High" by Rita Coolidge.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Has you ever underestimated an actor and then found a performance that upgraded your opinion?

Sarah Chalke was awful and wooden when she play Becky #2 on Roseanne. She was great on Scrubs

Before "Spinal Tap" or "Clue" came out, I was pretty snobbish about "Laverne and Shirley," especially David Lander and Michael McKean. I watched it, but thought, "Lowbrow, and not even very well done lowbrow." Then came the episode where Laverne thought she was pregnant.

Wait, what? LaVerne vodyo-do-doed?

I thought Michael McKean deserved at least an Emmy nomination for playing Chuck Magill, but given the way they treated Rhea Seahorn for so long, maybe none of the Emmy voters watch BCS

Bob K said...

Lighten up, Francis.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

following some old school comedians down a YouTube rabbit-hole a couple weeks ago, I found Vivian Vance at Lucille Ball's roast

DwWashburn said...

When I was 7, I cut a big gash in my foot on a Saturday that required numerous stitches. My folks took me to the drive in that night. Our local rural drive in always had a triple feature which was labeled "(Movie star)-a-rama". This night it was Tarzan-a-rama. I've been told (I dont recall it myself) that halfway through the second movie I asked my Dad "Can we change the channel?"

Bob B. said...

Crushes, I've had a few and from very diverse eras --

Clara Bow
Sally Field
Bess Armstrong
Kristen Bell

DBenson said...

Varient on star crushes questions, open to the house: Was there a star you wanted to BE, and/or made a conscious effort to emulate.

As a teen in amateur theater I tried very hard to channel Dick Van Dyke's flustered delivery and gangliness. Being short and fat, the gangly just didn't happen and nobody had any idea what I was going for.

Roger Owen Green said...

I've never walked out on a movie. But I HATED Mel Brooks's The History of the World: Part One. Except for the coming attractions of Hitler On Ice, or some such. The rest were pissing jokes, the best I can remember.

YEKIMI said...

Oh, the movies I WISH I could have walked out on. Stepped in a manage a theater for a friend and the movie playing was The English Patient......for two weeks. 2 hours and 42 minutes long. Seemed more like 2 eternities Every night, twice a night. After the first night I thought "OK, I've died and ended up in hell". Hoping like heck no one would show up and I could shut the place down and go home. But least each night at each showing at least ONE person showed up. I was hoping they'd find it so horrendous they'd get up and leave and kill me on the way out so I wouldn't have to come back the next night. But, again, NOOOOOOO.....they stayed through that incredibly boring shitfest of a show till the very end. Now, since I'm managing a couple of theaters, I have to "quality check" the shows before opening night. For some of them after about 10 minutes [sometimes less] if it's a piece of crap off it goes and I never have to deal with it again unless there's a projector malfunction or customers start rioting over how bad it is. Probably the worst that customers objected to was "The Forever Purge". 10 minutes into it, cars started leaving. by the time 30 minutes rolled around it was a steady stream of people pretending they were Mario Andretti that couldn't get out fast enough. Shortly after the first hour, the place was empty. And it was that way every night except for 2 nights and that waqs because the people fell asleep in their car.

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...

D. McEwan

A View to a Kill was the worst Bond until they made Die Another Day. But I'll take Christopher Walken cackling maniacally while machine gunning his own men over Rami Malek's pretentious monologuing.

The leading lady in Skyfall was Sévérine, whom Bond has sex with in the shower.

I didn't like Skyfall because the action was anodyne and the film had a ridiculous faux darkness, repeated in Spectre and No Time, which was supposed to make it serious and gritty but ended up making it gloomy and joyless. Bond should be colorful and fun escapism. It's the same problem with the godawful Zack Snyder Superman films.

Two other egregious flaws. The first was something you see in a lot of franchise films now, which is to have a character make a joke that's self-referential and is meant to say to the audience 'Hey, we're aware of our conventions and clichés. Silly aren't they?!" In this case it was Q telling Bond "What did you expect, an exploding pen? We don't really go for that anymore." Though it's not as cringe inducing as the horribly overwritten and unfunny line in Goldeneye when Moneypenny says "I don't sit at home every night praying for some international incident so I can run down here all dressed up to impress James Bond." The way the Bonds since the 90s have been written, I swear the next one will have a character say something like "Why do you identify yourself by saying your last name first and then your whole name second? Isn't that kinda weird?! No one talks like that!"

The second was the sequence where Bond and the Albert Finney character use Home Alone as their inspiration by laying a bunch of traps for the bad guys.

Pat Reeder said...

To Mike Bloodworth:

I've heard that the story about Vivian Vance having to be at least 10 pounds heavier than Lucy was misinterpreted. Supposedly, Lucy made out a fake contract for Vivian with various ridiculous terms as a joke, and everyone had a laugh over it. But then, it became part of "Lucy" lore that it was real, when her actual contract had no such requirement.

VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...

Now, I'm not saying Ivana Trump's death is suspicious and that the blunt force injuries to her torso were the result of her ex-husband ordering her murder to silence her and serve as a warning to others who intend to testify against him, as well as to delay his children's deposition, which has happened, and enable him to fundraise off it, which he's doing, or that I can prove any of this just as much as Republicans can prove their Clinton "body count" or Pizzagate theories. I'm not saying that at all.

What I'm saying is... I forget the point I was going to make.

Mike said...

Laverne didn’t vodyo-do-do as far as we knew. She woke up after a drunken night wearing some guy’s boxer shorts. But it was explained away somehow at the end.

Vivian Vance was a very polished and capable performer. There’s an early Lucy Show where her character is threatening to sue Lucy after tripping over something in her house. Viv takes to her bed, forcing Lucy to wait on her. Very funny. But I’ve also read she had a bit of an attitude. Gale Gordon later told of a time where Vance said to him, “When you’re a big star like Lucy and me…” I wonder if she would have done anything else of note if she hadn’t spent the 1960s and early 70s continuing to rehash her past glory on Ball’s later sitcoms.

Andidante said...

I love Vivian Vance! Her facial expressions alone can make me laugh.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Michael McKean was terrific as Gibby, Brian Benben's hardass Aussie boss on Dream On (a great HBO series that seems to have mysteriously evaporated).

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Ken, thanks for this insight about Vivian Vance: "Not only a great straight person for Lucy but so funny in her own right." Referring to Viv as a "second banana" seems to demote her as just a foil to Lucy, and she was so much more on I Love Lucy and the first two seasons of The Lucy Show. She wasn't there just to feed Lucy setups for jokes or serve her character any more than the other two members of the Fab Foursome, Bill and Desi.

Vivian was also a partner in crime, one-person brain trust, cheerleader of Lucy's schemes, foil, competitor, and best galpal. She was very inventive with physical comedy and line readings and enhanced every scene.

The Other Side of Ethel Mertz is a good bio with lots of info about Vance's early life, mental health challenges, marriages, and friendship with Lucy. I read online that much of the book is sourced from her unpublished biography referenced above.

She had a breakdown while touring as a performer during WW2 and later became a supporter of mental health issues. She would visit patients in hospitals and talk to them about their concerns and a
was noted as having a beneficial and healing presence. One anecdote recounts that she engaged with a very despondent woman who said all her family treated her like an outcast and failure and said she would never get better. Viv responded, "Tell them all to go f*** themselves!" and the whole ward erupted in laughter.

Bill O said...

1941's great. Even Kubrick said "It's great. But not funny." The jitterbug sequence alone....

D. McEwan said...

"VHS Village (Formerly The Beta Barn) said...
D. McEwan
A View to a Kill was the worst Bond until they made Die Another Day."

That is a hard point to argue against. Die Another Day was truly a piece of idiotic crapola.

"The leading lady in Skyfall was Sévérine, whom Bond has sex with in the shower."

Sévérine was NOT the "Leading Lady" in Skyfall. She was the traditional First Act Sacrificial Lamb, the person Bond likes whom the villain kills early on. Usually, but not always, it's someone Bond has boned. The model is Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger. It was my friend Martine Beswick in Thunderball, but Bond didn't sleep with her first. (Or after, for that matter.) Ali Kirim Bey is the Sacrificial Lamb in From Russia With Love, so they're not always women. Every Bond movie has one.

Judy Dench was unquestionably the Leading Lady of Skyfall.

JS said...

My Friday Question - People are asking why did Netflix go downhill? My opinion, they used to do these big expensive shows with a big expensive cast and expensive writers (Bloodline is my favorite). And then they just stopped and went with whatever cheap thing stuck to the wall. If you don't like "Stranger Things", what is left?

Kendall Rivers said...

FQ: Could you talk about writing for the character Carla Tortelli on Cheers? How did you guys go about writing a character that had to say the most brutally honest and nastiest things yet still be so funny and lovable?