Monday, June 10, 2013

Random Acts of Tony.

"Climb Ev'ry Tony!"
There is not one new musical up for an award this season I am even remotely interested in seeing. Between the blah new shows, and the avalanche of 1970s and ‘80s revivals, I was just too bored to write a full recap/review of The Tony Awards Show. Here are just some random thoughts that crossed my alleged mind over the course of watching the telecast.

You know what the fake Tonys on Smash never did? It never trotted out rapist and professional beater-up-of-people Mike Tyson to befoul a Broadway stage.

I figured out what the divine Audra McDonald’s presenter outfit was supposed to be. Someone told her it was a "Fancy Dress" event, and she took the English meaning, "Costume Party," and came dressed as the poster for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. All she needed were the words "We Are Not Alone" tattooed across her forehead.

Her boobs make the glow over the horizon.

It worked because she was presenting with Zack Quinto, who was dressed as "Mr. Spock in 1955."

You barely need a color TV anymore.
Star Trek: Into Dimness.

I’d rather be waterboarded than see one more second of Matilda after enduring that fake classroom full of screeching children. Oh dear, there’s also going to be something from Annie. Shoot me now, please.

Judith Light’s speech could make me nostalgic for award shows where the band plays people off.

Having fictional characters as presenters pretty much strips away the last layer of illusion that these awards are meaningful and real. It no longer qualifies as "Reality TV." Next the characters from Smash will be handing out Tonys: "Since we won the Tony for Best Musical two weeks ago, we now get to announce the newer, realer winner of "Best musical."

And then, when we got to the presenters from Once, the characters were "Guy" and "Girl." We've now gone from real people to fictional characters, and then from fictional characters to Generic Character Tropes.

Hold on! "Guy" isn't a guy, it's Rory Pond nee Williams, from Doctor Who. A fellow who takes his wife's name and drops his own isn't a "guy" in my book, or at least in my blog, which this is, so he isn't.

"Guy" oustside his enormous Pandorica.

Cinderella is not much of a show, but it was nice to hear some actual Richard Rogers melodies. By the way, about "Prince Charming": Cindi can do better. "Prince Meh" is more like it.

Good Grief, one of The Smith Brothers just won Best Sound Design. That seems an awfully big award just to give someone for finding a way to silence audience coughing.

If I yank on his beard, will it reveal Kevin Spacey?

If you had a cute eight year old who could dance, would you want him playing Michael Jackson? Well, I suppose it’s better, and safer, than having him meet the real one.

Cindi Lauper said she’d practiced her speech in front of the shower curtain for a few days. Her hair looked like she’d slept on a shower curtain for a few days. I think this may have been the very first time I ever found myself watching Cindi Lauper and thinking: "Get off the stage."

Okay, an army of Spider-Men introduced the inhuman torture that is a chorus of little Girls belting out that shrill horror of the American Theater, It’s A Hard Knock Life. Oh, if only the little girls had seen the Spider-Men, shrieked "Ew! Spiders! Run!" and they all then fled the stage without singing that hideous number.

So neither Derek nor Tom won Best Director of a Musical after all? Well, that was much-plot-ado-about-nothing, which, come to think of it, describes the entire run of Smash. Turns out it went to a woman for directing a circus. I was hoping Susan Strohman would get it for Imitation of Life. Anyone who could make that slushy, dated soap opera almost interesting for two hours deserves every award out there.

(In the hilarious 1959 movie of Imitation of Life, there’s an emotional moment when John Gavin snaps at Lana Turner: "Stop acting!" I’ve never seen it without thinking: "STOP acting? What are you talking about? I’m still waiting for her to START acting!")

And that's just what she does. John & Lana Imitate Life unconvincingly.

They’re giving Tonys to straight plays again? When did that restart? They sure weren’t doing that two weeks ago. (On Broadway, the term "Straight Play," means something entirely different from what civilians mean by "Straight Play." What non-theater folk mean by a "Straight Play" does not exist on Broadway. On Broadway, it just means "A musical with all the songs cut.")

Are they sure they want to bring out Cuba Gooding Junior? The Oscars made the error of giving him an award many years ago now in a rush of as-it-turned-out-baseless enthusiasm for his - ah - talent, and they’ve regretted it ever since. He’s doing a play on Broadway, is he? What’s the Broadway equivalent of straight-to-video? No "Original Cast" CD?

"Hey, pretty white boy, I so dazzled and distracted them with these abs that they lost track of what they were doing and accidentally gave me an Oscar. I was hoping for a Tony too, but my abs are 16 years older, and people keep looking at Cecily Tyson like she's all hot or something."

Oh, Andrea Martin can run on all she likes. I love her so much, I’m okay with just hearing her babble. (And she won that Tony for singing a song while hanging UPSIDE DOWN, performing a trapeze act as she warbles, in her mid-60s! She should get a Pulitzer!)

"Good Lovin’." What is this? Shindig in 1968? When did the Tonys become about fat, elderly rockers? It’s supposed to be about fat elderly Broadway divas. Where’s Liza?

I think I can skip the touring company of The Testament of Mary.

Now I saw the movie of The Lion King, and thought: "Eh? I’ve seen Hamlet done better." However, Simba in the movie was just a cartoon lion. He lacked the spectacular mantits on the guy playing Simba on the Tonys last night. "Hello, Kitty! Can I Feel Your Love Tonight?"

"Simba, darling, Rowr! (Lose the other pussies.)"

Given what an Amazon Sigourney Weaver is and what a hobbit Michael Bloomberg is, her kissing his ass without actually stooping over was more acrobatic than anything in Pippin.

Every time someone from Annie came out, I found myself tempted to switch over to the Game of Thrones finale, and I’ve never even seen any of its other episodes. (On The Tonys, they'd have "The Gay Red Wedding.")

Harold Prince came out to celebrate the 25-years-and-still-running show Phantom of the Opera, which exists to prove that, on Broadway, you don’t have to be any good to be a smashing success, nor be rotton to be a crashing failure. (People who saw Cats have also learned this weird fact.) The audience at Radio City Music Hall were very polite and patient about having to sit through the lengthy Phantom excerpt on top of all the Annie crap.

So Billy Porter, the fast-reading drag queen who won for Kinky Boots, didn’t just get a job, acclaim and a Tony for work in this show; he was also, he said, "Healed." Is it a musical show or a Christian Science Reading room?

Is Matthew Broderick still doing that show he got fat for on Broadway last year? Because he’s still fat.

So Tony show designers, what did eliminating podiums do for the show? It forced winner after winner to set their award on the floor (where it was quickly scooped up by a person whose sole function seemed to be "Tony Scooper"), while they fished out and read their speech notes. Please remember, designers, that form FOLLOWS function. Award shows have podiums for a reason.

Hey! They left Ray Harryhausen out of the Dead Folks Montage! You try using stop-motion animation in a live show some time, I dare you.

"You think Liza Minnelli is real? I animated her, frame by frame."

Andy Griffith is still dead? It seems like he’s been in every dead folks montage for the last three years now.

Why wasn’t Smash included in the "In Memorium" segment?

R.I.P. Smash.
("Psst, Debra, you were only nominated for a pretend Tony. These are the real ones.")

Did they bring on "Velma Kelly" twice because no one has any idea who is playing her now, 17 years into the run? In any event, "Velma," if you don’t know your lines, then know where your teleprompter is.

You could take an entire trip to Bountiful, and back again, in the time it took Cecily Tyson to get to the stage. Fortunately, since she isn't a man, she stopped and asked for directions enroute - twice! She was wearing a lovely purple wad of clothing. Please tell me that she’s not related to Mike Tyson. (Well, someone beat up her frock, and it didn't look like Chris Brown's type.)

"I'm terribly sorry, but I seem to have slept in my frock. Are there beets? I was promised beets. The last time I was promised beets, it just turned out to be okra. This wig is heavy."

(Cecily, when they’ve been playing you off for 30 seconds or more, one "Thank you" is sufficient. You needn’t do five.")

Patina Mitchell won Best Actress in a Musical primarily for acting near and under a 66 year-old Andrea Martin, flailing about on a trapeze in mid-air above her. Think how distracted you'd be trying to sing with your grandmother doing mid-air somersaults through flaming hoops five inches above your hair!

How gay is Broadway? Well, Bombshell lost out to a show about footware. The producer of Kinky Boots told us that it was a show about accepting "Other people who might be a bit different than we are," in other words, about accepting those people who watched the Game of Thrones season finale last night instead of The Tonys, and even people who like sports. No, seriously. (However, I draw the line at people who like Mike Tyson.)

Still they have not learned that when a show has already run five minutes overtime, no one wants a funny "Finale." Say, "Thank you," and then shut up and go to the bar. The line forms behind me.

Cheers, darlings.

The creative team of Kinky Boots celebrates their triumph.
[And then stop watching all this theater crap and buy and read a copy of my new book, Tallyho, Tallulah!, which is all about doing a play in live theater. But did I win a Tony? No? Well, excuuuuuse meeeee!]

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Struttin' For Hutton.

I should have written this column a week ago, but I was weak and backsliding. (Who was sliding me about on my back? Never you mind. Besides, if he didn't say his name to me, how could I tell it to you? Be logical!) Little Dougie took me to the theater in North Hollywood last week, Broadway being too far from the L.A. MTA Orange Line for him to get to. The show was Diane Vincent's mini-musical, Nuttin' But Hutton: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Betty Hutton, and it was great fun. Live humans singing and dancing to live music provided by live musicians. It's like a 3-D movie you don't need special glasses to watch. (Well, Dougie did.)

Diane Vincent sings, Nathan Holland grins, and my darling Vincent Price observes from the Diversions and Delights poster in the background. If they come in to do the show and that poster is missing, they'll know Dougie has broken into the theater and stolen it because he covets the poster. Dougie's weird.
The show is a nearly plotless excuse for Diane to sing a number (26) of songs Betty performed in movies 60 years and more back. Okay, there's not much book, but look at the songwriters whose work is included: Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Frank Loesser, Jimmy McHugh, Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Van Heusen, Hoagy Carmichael, Vic Mizzy, Victor Young, Ned Washington, Rogers & Hammerstein, George & Ira Gershwin, Gus Kahn, and Irving Berlin. And that's not even all of them!

Diane Vincent in red and green.
So who is Diane Vincent, some of you ask? Well, she's a singer, an actress and a comic dynamo. She spends her days playing "Lucy Ricardo" at Universal Studios Hollywood, which is not in Hollywood but in Universal City, over the hill (like so many of us) from Hollywood. These days, her evenings are spent singing Betty Hutton songs and clowning onstage. (There's no way to do most of these songs without clowning. They were written for a superb muscal clown, and are now being performed again by another superb musical clown.)

But Little Dougie is prejudiced in her favor, which is why imparital little old me is writing this review instead of Dougie. Because Diane Vincent is one of the children of Larry  "Seymour" Vincent, Little Dougie's friend, mentor and employer, who passed away far, far too young, way the heck back in 1975. Larry was a pretty damn funny guy, especially with a song, himself. How funny was Larry? Well let me put it this way: he could take a script Dougie had written and even make that funny. Here, hear for yourself. Here is Larry Vincent singing The Freckle Song, and if it doesn't make you smile and laugh, then there's something seriously wrong with you.

So Dougie takes an interest, on behalf of his old friend, as it were, in Diane's career. Fortunately, that involves seeing fun shows. Thank heaven Larry didn't have untalented kids.

Larry Vincent and Little Dougie a mere 40 years ago. These days, Larry looks better than Dougie does, and Larry's been dead for 38 years.
So what is this show? Well, it's a celebration of the special material songs written for and performed by Miss Betty Hutton during her movie career back in the 1940s and '50s.

Betty Hutton as Judy Garland as Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley.
For a while, Betty was Paramount's number one box office star. She was a knockabout slapstick comedienne with a flare for music. She was high energy, with an aggressive comedy style. At her best, she could be riotously funny, but she could also caress a ballad with real warmth. She was NOT subtle. She was a forceful figure who could barge into scenes and run riot. And the comedy songs written for her tended to be wild and wacky.

Betty makes the cover of Time about a month before Dougie was born.
Her best-remembered films include Annie Get Your Gun (Unavailable for decades because Irving Berlin loathed it, these days it is easily seen on DVD), DeMille's gigantic and grotesque The Greatest Show on Earth, which won the Oscar for Best Picture though it's actually laughably awful (The Academy seems to have taken its title at face value without seeing the silly circus melodrama that follows the title), with a spectacular train wreck scene that looks like it was shot on a really expensive home electric train set (But Betty is not among what's wrong with this movie), and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, an amazingly risque comic masterpiece from the genius Preston Sturges.

Annie Get Your Gun, which was released 12 days before Little Dougie was born, was a rare MGM film for Betty, as she was a last-minute replacement for Judy Garland in a role written for Ethel Merman on Broadway. Though three songs from its familiar score are in Nuttin' But Hutton, unlike the other material in the show, those songs were not written for, nor tailered to, Betty. They were written for Ethel Merman, though they fit Betty like a glove. Both women were, after all, known for broad comedy and LOUD singing. (My chum Dame Edna likes to say: "That dress fits you like a glove; it sticks out in five places.")

DeMille has Betty throw over gorgeous, charming Cornel Wilde for that untalented block of granite, Charlton Heston. Completely insane. And that's not the nuttiest plotline in the film. It has Jimmy Stewart as a murderer (a NICE murderer) hiding out from the police in the circus as a clown by NEVER TAKING HIS CLOWN MAKE UP OFF, 24 HOURS A DAY! Yeah, that wouldn't make anyone suspicious. Stewart has one of the most bone-headed lines of dialogue ever written. Accounting for his weird behavior (Like never taking off his clown make up) to Betty, he says, sans any trace of comic irony: "Well, you know, clowns are funny people."

The best film she was ever in, ironically enough, is not represented in Nuttin' But Hutton, but The Miracle of Morgan's Creek was not a musical. It is an incredible knockabout comedy about a woman who can't remember who knocked her up. That might be a common theme in films now, but in 1944, it was shocking, and Sturges ladeled on the innuendo by naming Betty's character "Trudy Kockenlocker." The dirty joke winking inside that name was wholly intentional. (The closest to the name of the man who impregnated her with quintuplets that Trudy can recall was "Ratskiwatski." Apparently, she was knocked up by the recently-deposed Pope, back when he was Private Ratskiwatski in Hitler's army.)

Note the joke "Who kissed the boys goodbye, regiment by regiment." In my own memoir, My Lush Life, I mention that during the war, I raised the doughboys' morale "unit by unit." Writing almost 60 years later, I was able to use the more-clearly dirty joke. Also, it says "The True Story of Trudy Kockenlocker." She's a fictional character; it's not a true story. That's just a flat-out lie.

Nuttin' But Hutton tells you something of Betty's life, like mentioning the four husbands (A piker. Dougie has established that I've had a MINIMUM of 10 husbands, possibly several more. He chronicles a newly rediscovered husband of mine in our new book, Tallyho, Tallulah!), and Betty's life's bizarre third act, where she spent years scrubbing floors and serving food and whatnot at a rectory, as a desciple of a Catholic priest. She'd always allowed men to control her, as did many women of her generation (though far from all of them), but at least studio heads employed her as a movie star and paid her handsomely. "Father Maguire" felt floor scrubbing and cooking was the best way to employ her talents. She had hard times, rehabs (A close friend of mine saw her onstage at Melodyland Theater in the 1960s in Annie Get Your Gun and said she had massive problems remembering her lines), and politcally she was a big ole Republican who worshipped at the alter of Ronald Reagan. But the show isn't really that much about her. It's an excuse for Diane Vincent to tear into Betty's comedy songs and knock them out of the park.

No, these are not the Village People. The chorus guys ranged across this photo are the "Doctor, Lawyer, and Indian Chief." I was amused when seeing the show to note that the "Doctor" is wearing rubber dishwashing gloves, not latex surgical gloves.
Wisely, Diane makes no attempt whatever to impersonate Betty Hutton. There's really more Lucy Ricardo in her renditions than Betty Hutton, though a Lucy who can sing, which all survivors of Mame screenings know was not among Miss Ball's many, many talents. Diane is the real deal. She's not imitating comedy up there, she is a genuine comedy talent. And the energy! She sings more than 20 numbers, not little excerpts or medlies, full out, full-length, singing, dancing, clowning renditions of legendary brassy comedy songs like Rumble, Rumble, Rumble and Hamlet. The choreography is excellent, and on the nose right for the songs' periods. The chorus guys are not likely to draw much attention away from her, but they execute the choreography perfectly, and in the rare song without Diane, while she's off changing her outfits (Which she does at least once onstage) or just, I would think, collapsing with exhaustion, their vocal blend is delicious to hear. And little Justin Jones (The "Indian" above) does a cute ventriloquist bit that is very funny. The vocal work, dancing, and music playing in the show is all top-notch professional work. The pit band (actually they're on a balcony above the stage) is led by the show's co-writer, Diane's husband, Sam Kriger, and he's done a first-rate job of whipping this show into shape musically, and seeing that all its techncial i's are dotted and t's are crossed.

But we waited until halfway through the run to see it, and then I was too lazy to get this review up sooner. There's only two weeks left. It closes on April 28. So off your butts. Go see Diane's take on Betty's songs. You'll have a grand time. You can get tickets here.

Oh hell, here's another Larry Vincent comedy song, just because we love and miss him:

Cheers, darlings. (Buy my new book!)

I barge up onstage to "help out" only to find the liquor onstage was only cold tea. I detest show busness sham!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Miserable Moments With Mr. Lincoln Eating Humble Pi.

Well, at least he's not Jimmy Kimmel.

There’s no way around this fact: the 2013 Oscars were weird.

Seth McFarland said he honestly could not believe that he was there. No could, Seth, no one.

The Oscars have a "Theme" this year? What is this? The Rose Parade? This year’s theme was "Music in Film." What will next year’s be? "Progress Through Advancement"? "Vegetables: the Entré’s Poor Relations"? "Semi-Universal Brotherhood"? "Victory Through Airpower"?

The reason almost no one laughed at the idea of Ron Jeremy being offered the Oscar Host gig (which is a pretty funny idea) wasn’t that no one there knew who he is; it’s that no one there would admit they know who he is.

Could Jean Dujardin be any more gorgeous? I don’t see how.

You know, many of Seth’s jokes were funny and yet failed to land. It’s the smugness. His smirky smugness makes you want to punch him, not laugh with him. "I’m told it’s okay for Quentin Tarantino to use [the n-word] because he thinks he’s black" is a terrific joke. It fell with a thud, and provoked not even a single mild titter in the entire audience. Seth is so amused by his own jokes before he even tells them that no one feels like laughing afterwards. On SNL and again here, he’s proved to be a disaster as a host.

Captain Kirk asking "Why can’t Tina and Amy host every show?" was supposed to be a joke, but frankly, it’s no joke. They should.

Why does Captain Kirk look 20 years older than he did when he died in Star Trek: Generations?

The Gay Men’s Chorus singing about lady’s boobs? What’s next? Mel Gibson judging on RuPaul’s Drag Race? Did they know what the song was about, or were they singing it the way they would sing a song written in Latin? Did the Superbowl halftime show include a "Guess Which Player’s Package This Is" quiz where they projected close-ups of the player’s crotches in wet jockstraps while gay football fans (all 3 of them) try to guess whose junk is whom?

Seth, you are not Steve Martin, you’re not Fred Astaire, and you’re not Lenny Bruce, but you may be turning into the American Ricky Gervais. (Three years ago, that was a compliment. This is not three years ago.)

Best Supporting Actor was a hell of a category. All five nominees already have Oscars. Was Tommy Lee Jones up for Best Supporting Toupee?

With his now-second Oscar, do you think Christophe Waltz could afford to buy an "r" for his first name?

Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy joking about how their phones are not ringing with job offers, when they are both working non-stop, and her movie is in its second week at #1, must have played as downright hilarious to the thousands of actually-unemployed actors watching at home.

Not one of the nominees for Best Animated Feature were traditional hand-drawn animation. Am I the last person in the world who loves hand-drawn animation? The award went to Brave. Yawn. I’d have preferred Frankenweenie, but I’m just that type of person.

So Mark Andrews, who directed Brave, "just happened" to be wearing a dress? He didn’t know he was going to the Oscars? Did he dress in the dark and accidentally put on his wife’s clothes? (Look, Little Dougie is Scottish, and is mildly unembarrassed to be descended from a proud race of transvestites.) Mark mentioned his wife and four kids, which is understandable when accepting an award on international TV in drag.

So why wasn’t the tiger in Life of Poi nominated for Best Performance by a Big Pussy? They nominated that little Wallis girl. (Who is also CGI.)

How does Claudio Miranda, winner of Best Cinematographer for The Life of Cake, see well enough to light and photograph a movie with his blanket of hair in his face? If he took off 50 pounds I’d have thought he was Ann Coulter. (Claudio, it turns out, is not into completing his sentences. His speech consisted of a rambling stack of half-sentences, all abandoned mid-clause.)

Someone tell me, because I’m too lazy to Google it: is Claudio Miranda the first person to win a Cinematography Oscar for photographing a 3-D movie?

Life of Pudding won Best Special Effects over The Hobbit? They stuck Siegfried & Roy’s act adrift (good idea) and stirred in a lot of religious faith bullshit and psychedelic imagery that would have gone over great in front of a 1968 LSD-besotted audience of hippies, and that trumps bringing Tolkien’s gigantic fantasy world to life in 48 fps 3-D so well you felt you could touch it? Not to me. They made a fake tiger. I’m impressed. Where’s their army of goblins? Where’s their Smaug the Dragon? Where are the mines of Moria or Rivendell? Where are the armies of Mordor?

At least they admitted that most of what you saw in Life of Equals Sign (Assuming you were one of the ten or twenty folks who saw it) was "fake" That sort of nullifies its Cinematography award. "Gee, he really transferred those images directly off the computer onto film well." Shouldn’t Life of Infinity have been Nominated for Best Animated Feature? Or was it afraid of taking on Frankenweeie?

Wow! The effects team for Life of Cherry Tarts received the strictest "play-off" I’ve ever seen. When Bill Westenhofer simply would not stop talking, but just got louder and louder, they sent the shark from Jaws to eat his voice! They cut his mike off just as soon as he mentioned co-workers in "Financial Difficulties." Can’t have any reminders that not everyone in Hollywood is rich and successful spoiling the evening. Eat his tongue!


Channing Tatum presenting Best Costumes? That’s ironic. The man should not be allowed to wear costumes, or anything at all.

Just once I’d like to see a contemporary-set film nominated for Best Costumes. It went to Anna Karanina. Well, I must admit, Garbo did look stunning in that movie, but what took them 78 years to get their award out?

Les Misérables won Best Make Up over The Hobbit? Hello? All they did was make everyone look filthy, and give a few of them horrific haircuts. Let me tell you, I know Barry Humphries, and he looks nothing like a giant goblin. And many of those dwarves, in real life, are not repulsive! Well, the guy who played Kili anyway.

Barry Humphires in character make up.

Barry Humphries au natural.

So far, Spielberg’s Lincoln sweep has been riveting!

Hallie Berry introducing the Bond tribute? How about a real Bond girl, like my friend, the divine Martine Beswick?

The Divine Martine Beswick, Bond Girl Extrodinaire, with
Dougie, Little Dougie.

Hey! What happened to the reunion of all the James Bonds we were promised?

Sir Sean, George, Rog, Tim, Pierce, and Danny. Give me the bookends; you can have the others.

Even though Dame Shirley Bassey was severely out of voice, and did not sing Goldfinger anywhere near as well as her classic soundtrack recording of it from almost 50 years ago, nonetheless, I got chills when she came on and began to sing. And she found some of the old magic for her last big note.

"Bond, James Bond." Sir Sean creates the icon.

The presenters for Best Short Subjects tried to tell us Spielberg started in short subjects. Spielberg started in TV. His 8mm juvenilia doesn’t count.

Seth apparently thought we would be surprised to learn that other actors had played Lincoln before, like we’ve never been to Disneyland. I remember having lunch in the Polo Lounge once, back in 1975, and seeing Raymond Massey walk in, slowly and majestically. He looked so much like the real Abe Lincoln had arrived for lunch, I found myself looking about for his Secret Service detail. (You’d think they’d learn.) Part of the effect came from the fact that Massey looked old enough to be the real Lincoln.

The orchestra is a mile away? Hello? Why? Were they bad? Boy, they must be playing LOUD!

Maybe that’s why Catherine Zita-Jones Douglas sang her song from Chicago flat. The number had nothing to do with handing out awards and only added to the running time, but it’s hard to complain about three minutes of actual entertainment, even if it was flat.

I could have done without Jennifer "I’m Sorry My Gay Fans Are All Going to Hell; It’s Not My Fault; I Don’t Make The Rules; God Does" Hudson shrieking that painfully overdone American Idol audition number at me. I could do without her on Smash also.

After Catherine’s slightly-off-key song and Jennifer Hudson screaming banalities at us, what a relief and joy it was to have Hugh Jackman walk out on stage (Okay, Hugh Jackman walking out on stage any where, any time, is a joy), singing a good song simply and beautifully. That it grew into Les Miz’s wonderful Act I finale only added to what was turning into a momentary evening highlight.

Well, it took balls for Russell Crowe to "sing" live on The Oscars. If only he could sing. They "compressed" the number a bit for time constraints (They needed more time for Seth’s jokes to bomb), which necessitated having Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter-Burton-LeStrange sing at the same time as Crowe rather than after, as in the full arrangement of the song. This helped to disguise the fact that none of that trio has any business singing anywhere but their own shower, and ONLY when showering alone.

Admittedly, live-mixing the sound on a complex number like that is tricky, which is why we heard way too much Russell Crowe (That would be any Russell Crowe) in the song’s final build. The wisest thing the sound mixer could have done would have been never to turn on Russell’s mike in the first place.

It was now clear that by "A Tribute to Film Music," they actually meant "A Tribute to John Williams’s Screen Music," as it was one John Williams cue after another. Hey Academy, ever hear of Max Steiner or Franz Waxman or Bernard Herrmann?

Gee, they had both Captain Kirks, the new one and the old, old one, on the show.

The teddy bear from Ted is just Seth McFarland’s voice over a bit of animation. Hardly seemed worth the effort. He’s standing right there, and his jokes still aren’t getting laughs.

Mark Whalberg looked crestfallen to announce a tie. Yes, Mark, how awful that more people get Oscars rather than fewer.

Why is it that every time I see Christophe (What’s good for the Nazi, is good for the guy who escaped the Nazis with his dreary singing moppets) Plummer, it seems like an ever-bigger pleasure? Is it the rising awareness of how few great performances we have left coming from him? Love you, Chris.

In Sally Fields’s "comedy" bit with Seth at the beginning of the show, about a year ago, she did a couple jokes that acknowledged that Anne Hathaway was going to beat her for their Oscar. If only she’d said: "Because they like her, they really, really like her." Anne was, needless to say, the least-surprising winner of the evening, save one.

Anne was trying to be classy, but an unfortunate accident of staging and angle as she expressed respect for the women she’d just trounced, caused her to say "I look up to you all so much," as she looked DOWN at them in the audience below her. I confess I giggled.

They seated some of the nominees this year in the stage boxes, but not Daniel Day-Lewis. They didn’t want to risk putting Abe Lincoln in a stage box again with so many actors on the premises. There was an ugly incident about 148 years ago.

Okay, there were three measures of Bernard Herrmann music when the wife of that American Idol judge came out.

What the hell is wrong with Kristen Stewart, apart from her taste in movie roles and men? She limped out like she’d been shot in the foot, her hair was a rat’s nest (Really, it looked as bad as Mitzi Shore’s hair), she had apparently been made up by a blind raccoon in the dark, and she stood in an awkward posture, and grunted loudly while Harry Potter read nominees. I thought they were setting up some lame comedy banter "bit," but no; it turned out she was trying to hide crutches behind her back. Apparently she injured herself when she fell out of public favor when it came out that she was a huge slut, even for Hollywood, and I speak as a huge slut myself. (And I've always had sense enough to use liquor as a crutch.) So it wasn't just her being graceless and sullen while upstaging the only actor of her generation whose movies have made more money than hers. She did not have to go to the bathroom, nor were the drugs wearing off early. What is the appeal of this ratbag? Admirable young Mr. Radcliffe deserved better than to have to present an award with Cedric Diggory’s hand-me-downs.

They gave the Production Design Award to Lincoln? Hello? I’m sure it recreated the Civil War nicely, and didn’t just use leftovers from Gone With The Wind, Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, and Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter, but in The Hobbit an entire world had to be created from scratch. It’s a vastly larger achievement. No wonder the winner was unprepared to speak. He never expected to win. (The cutaway shot during his speech to William Shatner asleep in his seat broke me up.)

Why was Life of Lemon Meringue even nominated for Production Design? All there was to design was a small boat, a large kitty and the ocean. That must have taken the better part of an hour.

Selma Hayek’s outfit was trying to strangle her. Don’t blame it a bit. She was announcing the "Not-Important-Enough-To-Be-Awarded-On-TV" awards. Since when is the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award swept off the TV awards? Has even Hollywood been so infected by the Ayn Rand craze among the Teabaggers that they’ve become embarrassed by philanthropy? Will it become "The Ayn Rand Sucker Award for Entitling The Largest Number of ‘Parasites’"?

It was nice that they included Herbert Lom and Ray Bradbury in the Dead Folks montage. Then they brought out Babs, to remind us that Death has an upside. (One can’t help wondering if Babs agreed to sing on the show just to show Dame Shirley Bassey that she, Babs, still has all her chops intact.) I’m no fan of Babs, but her singing Marvin’s song, and doing it so simply and so well, was a sweet moment, even if it made Marvin’s death look like the Academy considered him a greater loss than, well, Ray Bradbury, or Richard Zanuck, or Charles Durning, or even Robert B. Sherman and Hal David, both of whom made a fair penny with their ditties also.

When you've got a movie that pushes that most pernicious of human follies, Faith, you expect to hear blather like "A movie which transcends religion." Give me a movie that refutes religion, thank you. So I was unsurprised when that very blather came from Michael Danna as he accepted Best Score for Life of Pa. Consequently, when he pointed upward as he thanked "My mom, who’s ..." I was waiting for "with God" as one earlier winner had said of his dad (No, dear, he’s dead), or "In Heaven" or some other sort of magic thinking malarkey, so when he finally finished his phrase with "...who’s ... in the balcony here watching," I was surprised into laughing. His Mom isn’t with God, she’s with the paupers. Good for her.

It was starting to look like more of a Life of Pooh sweep than I - or Spielberg - ever expected. His smile was becoming more and more forced.

Two Oscars for Skyfall. It’s been 47 years since a Bond movie won Oscars. That’s a real tribute to Bond.

The reigning 007 reaches for his weapon.

Adele darling, we adore you and all, so I say this with love, just one word: salads. (Where does that thick, unintelligible, working class accent of hers go when she sings?)

Was Charlize Theron on stilts or is Dustin Hoffman a hobbit?

Quentin Tarantino won the Original Screen-Writing award. I may vomit. I have no jokes to make about his speech because I fast-forwarded through it. I really can not stand that skin-crawly creep and his vastly-overpraised violence-porn trash films.

Tim Burton is doing commercials now? Tim darling, I know that neither Frankenweenie nor Dark Shadows did terribly well at the box office but come on, you can’t have spent all of that Alice in Wonderland money yet. For the record, I enjoyed both Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie. Not loved (Like I loved the original Frankenweenie live-action short subject), but liked. I didn’t want my money back either time, which is more than I can say for Spielberg’s Hook. (Two decades have passed, and I still want my money and the 150 minutes of my life spent on Hook back!) I’d take Burton’s worst over Tarantino’s best any day. (Though Tim still has penance to serve for what he did to Sweeney Todd.)

Jane Fonda, who is 300, looked stunning. As she walked out, you could hear Teabaggers and right-wingers changing channels all across America.

Well, between the way the evening had been going and the fact that neither Tom Hooper nor Ben Affleck were even nominated (A fact that grew more and more embarrassing as the evening went along and Les Misérables and Argo piled up awards while Silver Linings Playbook won only one, and Beasts of the Southern Wild was conspicuous by its not winning anything at all, in a year when a James Bond movie won two!), Ang Lee’s win for Life of Pu surprised no one but Spielberg, who may have spent more on his Lincoln Oscar campaigns than he did on the film itself, and the movie was pricey. Thank Hollywood Tarantino wasn’t nominated.

Someone tell me, as I’m too lazy to Google it (or write a truly fresh sentence about it), but is Ang Lee the first person to win an Oscar for directing a 3-D movie?

Did they give Ang Lee this Oscar because, after winning for Brokeback Mountain, at least this movie was about a boy learning to like and get along with a pussy?

You know, there’s something very cruel about dangling an Oscar before a 9 year-old child that she hasn't a chance in Hell of winning. Yes, we all need to learn to deal with disappointment and failure as we grow up, but having to deal with losing an Oscar at 9 is a bit more harsh than losing a little league game.

Seth introduces the overwhelmingly-charming, astronomically-gorgeous Jean Dujardin (The way the evening had been going, I caught myself almost saying "Jean Valjean"), he strolls out, my legs go all rubbery, and they cut to Kristen Stewart, who looked bored to the point of rudeness, and impatient to get back to whatever crackhouse she appears to have just crawled out of. I’ve woken up in gutters from a three-month-long drunken binge looking better than she did last night.

Kristen Stewart finally cheers up a bit at last night's Oscars.

I wonder how Jean Dujardin, a genuine Frenchman, felt all evening long as several honors were given to a movie in which France is shown to be entirely populated by Australians and Britons.

If he got any more gorgeous,I'd explode.

I’ve watched a number of Jean Dujardin films over the last year, since falling in love with him in The Artist: the hilarious spy spoofs OSS-117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS-117: Lost in Rio (These are really funny movies. Trust me. See them. You’ll thank me), his oddball western comedy, Lucky Luke, and especially his bizarre, goofy and unique non-surfer surf comedy Brice de Nice (A very odd movie, but very, very funny), and even after all that Dujardin worship, his Best Actress presentation speech was still the most English I’ve ever heard out of him. I hope he’s learning English fast, because I want to start seeing him in movies without subtitles. He is terrific.

This movie is highly peculiar, but funny.

Let me get this straight, Jennifer Lawrence starred in The Hunger Games, which was, among other things, a grueling physical ordeal involving lots of dangerous stunt work, but she can’t walk up on stage without falling on her face? There goes her image. The first actress in history to need a stunt double to collect her Oscar. (To be fair, she might just have fainted, which is understandable, given she was getting closer to Jean Dujardin, and also to the lesser experience of winning an Oscar. Dujardin could make me faint easily. In fact, on viewing the replay, I think she fell on her face deliberately just so Jean Dujardin would run over and rescue her, as he did. Smart girl.)

Jennifer Lawrence goes down for Jean Dujardin. Who can blame her?
At least Best Actress didn’t go to Jessica Chastain (whom I thought would win it) for the "Torture Works" movie.

Daniel Day-Lewis won for playing Abe Lincoln, something a robot could do, in the process becoming the first actor with three Best Actor Oscars. That was the first sentence I wrote for this piece, hours and hours ago, so I’ve come full-circle. That’ll show Raymond Massey. He was merely nominated for playing Abe Lincoln. (Not that Fredric March won anything for his Jean Valjean, even a nomination. But then, he didn’t sing.) Meanwhile, Tom Hanks, with his paltry two Best Actor Oscars, is understudying the role of John Wilkes Booth. Meryl Streep merely said: "Men! Aren't they silly?"

Spielberg's Lincoln, Gore Vidal's Lincoln, or Disney's Lincoln?

So Daniel Day-Lewis ended up being the funniest speaker all evening. How embarrassing for Seth. (And for me. I had to go back and remove a "Spielberg doing Lincoln as a musical" joke I had already put in earlier in this review. DOH! Thanks a lot, Danny boy!)

Seth felt Meryl Streep required no introduction (True), but Jack Nicholson needed a long list of his credits? Well then, why did Seth omit The Raven, with Jack Nicholson, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre? Now those are stars! In fact, I was married to at least one of them, maybe more.

Jack could be learning acting from Peter Lorre and Vincent Price, but there's a woman in the room, so he's a bit distracted.

Boy, the White House Oscar Party looks like a bunch of overdressed stiffs. Who were those Gilbert & Sullivan Lesbian Major-Generals standing behind Mrs. Obama? I thought we’d stumbled onto a Fire Island production of H.M.S. Pinafore. Well, at that point, the show had only run overtime by 24 minutes, so they needed more pointless filler before everyone could hit the bar.

They did not trust the First Lady of the United States of America with The Envelope until the last second? The woman knows state secrets. I’ve seen them give those envelopes to Andy Dick and Robert Blake.

Argo. So the Best Picture was directed in such a lousy manner that its director wasn’t even nominated. Weird year, to put it mildly.

The crappy director of the Best Picture.

On The Emmys as hosted by Neal Patrick Harris (to inexplicable overpraise), they’ve instituted a monumentally bad idea, finales. For some reason they've stuck in a funny song after the last award two years running, unseen by millions of viewers in the bathroom, the kitchen and the bar, and The Emmys only tend to run four or five minutes over. This year The Oscars picked up on this monumentally terrible idea and upped the "Bad Idea" anté by tacking on a finale to a show that had already run over by a full half hour, and then including in it that odious Chenowith creature, whom I guess got out of her evil church early enough to get to the theater.

Pay attention, Award show producers. After three and a half hours of bloated blather and butt-kissing, all ANYONE wants is to hit the bar, the winners to celebrate, the losers to drown their sorrows (Quvenzhane Wallis had finished every last drop in her hip flask and needed some more vodka NOW!), and the neutral parties to start having some fun. NO ONE wants another 5 minutes in their seats while Seth and The Chenowith Creature indulge themselves. Just say "Thank you and good night," and then shut up and go away!

So what did we learn from this year’s Oscars? Well, after looking at Hugh Jackman, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Abe Lincoln, beards are back! It used to be that the beards at the Oscars all wore dresses and wedding rings. No wonder Little Dougie has stopped shaving.

Cheers, darlings.

Want some more Tallulah to read? Buy a copy of her new book, Tallyho, Tallulah! You’ll laugh a lot more than you did at Seth!

Monday, February 18, 2013

79 Reasons For Joy.

February 17 (Which I realize ended even as I dictated this to Little Dougie. Well, I was out celebrating) is my favorite holiday, as it is Barry Humphries's birthday. Barry is the funniest man alive, and we hope he stays alive for many more years to come. Today he hit age 79, the age I was way back in 1976.

Dame Edna, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone in Barry's final stage tour show.
Barry is an artist, a writer, a memoirist, a novelist, a Dadaist, an actor, and a genius, but he's best known as a comedian who works in characters, his best known trio being Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and his own favorite character, Sandy Stone. How much sadder a world this would have been without Dame Edna.

Barry as "Envy" in Bedazzled. "Look at the table HE'S got."

One medium Barry is not as well known in as his stage and TV work is the motion picture, my specialty. But he has done films. He made his film debut in Bedazzled, with Dudley Moore and Barry's great friend and mentor, Peter Cook. Barry played "Envy," and his role, though small, was hilarious.

He's made many a movie since, sometimes doing small cameos as Dame Edna, sometimes playing small straight roles, like his role as the stage director in The Leading Man, a fine Hitchcockesque thriller set in the world of London's West End theatre starring Jon Bon Jovi, or his role as Maeterlinck in Immortal Beloved. And sometimes his roles can be bizarre indeed, such as his very large and important role as the blind - or is he? - TV presenter in Shock Treatment, the miserable sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. More recently, Barry was the voice of Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo, which has resulted in Barry now being a voice on a Disneyland ride.

Little Dougie has this same great poster on his living room wall.

But from time to time he's tried really doing his characters in a film built by him for them. There were his two Barry MacKenzie films, based on a 1960s British comic strip that Barry used to write, and then there was the ambitious, funny and disastrous Les Patterson Saves the World, in which Sir Les accidentally farts near a cigarette lighter as he addresses the UN General Assembly, and inadvertently sets fire to an Arab ambassador and causes an international incident. Barry plays both Sir Les and Dame Edna in this film, though the "Madge Allsop" in it is not the wonderful Madge we remember being played by the delightful Emily Perry. Barry only met Emily for the first time a few months after shooting the film.

Little Dougie with Emily Perry, 20 years ago, in her dressing room, which had been Gracie Allen's dressing room back in the 1950s. Comedy Holy Ground.

Les Patterson Saves the World was a huge box office and critical disaster (It was never even released in the USA, and barely ran a week in England), but that was forgotten when, mere months later, he debuted his TV show, The Dame Edna Experience, a talk show so great and hilarious that the DVDs of episodes from 1987 still sell, even though most of the guests on it are all now dead.

The lower portion of Dougie's poster is, as you can see, signed to him by Edna, Les and Barry,

Some of his roles are still more bizarre, like the weird idea to cast "Dame Edna" as Mrs. Crummles in a screen version of Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby. He wasn't billed as himself but as Dame Edna, although his Mrs. Crummles neither looked nor sounded nor behaved anything like Dame Edna at all. Nathan Lane was utterly miscast as Vincent Crummles (Nathan comes across as about as British as Jean Dujardin), but how can you not love a movie that presents Barry Humphries and Nathan Lane as a married couple, tells Dickens's great story faithfully if - ah - speedily, and features a magnificent performance from Christopher Plummer? (Christopher Plummer giving a magnificent performance? How often does that happen? Oh right, Every time he acts in anything.)

Anyone want to see the Nathan Lane-Barry Humphries sex tape? Me neither.
  And for bizarre, it will be hard even for Barry to top his performance as The Great Goblin in Peter Jackson's delightful The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Barry as The Great Goblin. He sure looks different in 3-D and 48 fps than he does when you're just in a room talking with him.
 The amazing part of Barry's performance as the CGI character The Great Goblin is that it is so clearly Barry. Look at that picture above. You can SEE that it's Barry, his eyes, his facial expressions, his acting. And he gets to sing a song, a charming little ditty titled "The Torture Song."

Barry and his wife of 22 years, Lizzie Spender, at the world premiere of The Hobbit.
No, Barry's gorgeous wife, whose father was Sir Stephen Spender, the former Poet Laureate of England, is not wearing one of Edna's hand-me-downs, but Edna might be able to squeeze into it. Barry recently took off a bit over 2 stone. Lizzie once told me that one nice thing about being married to Barry is having a husband who really knows just how uncomfortable wearing pantyhose is.

Barry proves that he's literally a bigger star even than Sir Ian McKellan.
Sadly, Barry's character died in the first film, but I'll probably go see the other two Hobbit movies when they come out anyway. I rather liked it.

This picture was a present from Barry to Dougie. it lives in a frame on the wall above his TV.

In the years I've known Little Dougie, I have, of course, introduced him to my many celebrity friends, but it was Dougie who introduced me to Barry. The photo below was taken the night they first met, at NBC in Burbank back in 1992. Barry, for reasons that defy understanding, actually likes Dougie, and has even been known to laugh at Dougie's jokes, which is more than I do.

Little Dougie and his friend Christy Kanen with Dame Edna in Burbank on Ash Wednesday, 1992. Christy is wearing Chevy Chase's name tag. (Chevy's real name is "Cornelius.")

That night was a great one. Imagine you're in a room with Chevy Chase, Robin Williams, George Hamilton, Ringo Starr, Rue McClanahan, Burgess Meredith, Kevin McCarthy, and Kim Basinger, and the only persons who really excite you are Dame Edna and Madge Allsop!

This is the first page of the book Dougie is holding in the photo above, Edna's autobiography.

Dougie and I are both heavily addicted to seeing Barry work live. This is the scariest thing about Barry nearing his 80s. He's great on TV, wonderful in books, but only at his very best live onstage. The tickets below are but a few of the many, many Edna tickets we've bought and enjoyed over the years.

The nicest gift Barry ever gave Little Dougie and I appears on the back cover of every copy of both of my books. In fact, you could show your respect for Barry's opinions by buying a copy of my new book, Tallyho, Tallulah! (Hey, a girl's gotta drink, and liquor may be quicker but it's still not free.)

Edna seems to think Dougie wrote my book instead of me, but then, she thinks she wrote her book and not Barry.

In America, over 23 years, Barry has gone from unknown to a household name. When you're a question on Jeopardy, you've arrived!

"I'll take 'Towering Comic Geniuses' for $1000, Alex."

In December, 2011, Barry appeared in an elaborate Christmas Panto in London. Little Dougie's first important show business mentor (and the co-dedicatee of Tallyho, Tallulah!) is named Dick Whittington, but this show was not about him.


The most-searing drama Tennessee Williams ever wrote.

But this amazing theatrical career is ending. Barry has just ended his final Australian tour. He is booked to bring his final stage show to London's West End, and plans also to play Broadway, and then, that's it. If you have never seen him live onstage, sell the house if you have to, sell your kids, anything needed to get the money to go to New York or London to see the last-ever Barry Humphries stage show.

But while we will shortly lose Barry as a live stage performer, he's ONLY retiring from the stage. He will continue to do TV, radio, write books, make recordings, and do pretty much everything else he does except tour in stage shows. And much as I wish he would do them forever, the fact is, I don't know how he's done it for so long. He just spent a year as a 78 year old man, touring Australia in a show where he played three or four different characters in the course of a night, singing, dancing, and mind you, solo shows, onstage the whole evening working at peak energy, eight shows a week. I get exhausted just watching him.

He has been busy writing. Just 3 years ago he published Handling Edna, Barry's rip-the-lid-off expose of the "truth" about Dame Edna. It included the resolution of a mystery he set up in My Gorgeous Life, 20 years before. It's not available in America, so you'll need to order it from an English or Australian bookseller, but do so. It's hilarious.

Edna's blurb on Handling Edna is less flattering than the one she wrote for my book.
It just says: "I'm suing!"

Last year he revised and substantially enlarged his 1985 book The Traveller's Tool by Sir Les Patterson. It's obscene, disgusting, sexist and vile. Yup, it's unflaggingly hilarious from cover to cover. The blurbs on the original edition say: "Hundreds of pages of pure filth." Rex Ingrams, The Spectator, "A truly coarse series of observations," Sunday Telegraph, "Painfully funny but very filthy," Northern Echo.

This book is hysterically funny, but I wouldn't recommend giving it to your sweet elderly granny.

Sadly for America, the print edition is not available in America. You'd have to order it from Australia. However, the audio book edition is easily and cheaply available from Amazon, and features not only Barry performing the entire book (The audio book is uncut, unabridged), but also includes some of his recordings of Sir Les's songs which are hard to come by elsewhere. The song Give Her One For Christmas is worth the purchase price alone.

This is the audio book edition. "In Portugal, it's Cockburn's Port, pronounced 'Co-burn's' I'm told by some plummy-voiced Pom who probably asks his wife each night for a "Fu..'."
- Sir Les Patterson in "The Traveller's Tool Enlarged," Chapter 11, "National Beverages or 'Bevvies'."
Read the copy on the back cover of the audio book. (If it's too small to read, click on it.)

"[One of the young women involved] was actually giving Brend the Kiss Of Life when he jumped the twig. I guess he even might have made it too if she'd been giving it to him on his mouth."
- Sir Les Patterson discussing a fellow Austrtalian polico's demise "on the job" (in a brothel) in "The Traveller's Tool Enlarged."

Here's Dougie elderly copy of the original, unenlarged edition.

Of course, Little Dougie's copy is signed by Sir Les himself.

I assume Sir Les was trying to write "All The Best," or "All My Best," but it sure looks to me like "All All Best." What do you think?

Anyway, belated happy birthday, Barry, and thanks for 6 decades of big, big laughs. How about 6 more decades? Cheers, darlings.

Dougie, Dame Edna and myself, all wearing "The Scream," outside the late Shubert Theater in 2001. This photo was taken by Lizzie Spender.