Although it is their male counterparts who get title billing, it was the women of "Mad Men" who took center stage at the Women in Film 2013 Crystal + Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills on June 12, which also marked the landmark occasion of WIF’s 40th anniversary.
Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Jessica Paré and Kiernan Shipka were honored with the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television, which since 1994 has been awarded to those whose creative works follow in the legendary footsteps of Lucille Ball. If Miss Blankenship had lived past Season 4, she might've been there too.
Moss, who has been nominated four times for a Primetime Emmy Award for her role as Peggy Olson (and earlier in the week won the Critics’ Choice for her part in The Sundance Channel’s “Top of the Lake”), said she was elected spokesperson of the group.
“The women are fully fleshed-out characters in stories filled with intrigue and romance," said Moss. "The show takes an unintentionally political stance by simply treating women like human beings.”
Hendricks was apparently off getting more clients for Sterling Cooper & Partners -- actually, she was shooting another project and couldn't be in attendance -- but her castmates took turns reading the names from a voluminous list of female department heads, writers and producers whom creator Mathew Weiner has installed. They also gave a shout-out to AMC’s head honcho Charlie Collier and Lionsgate Television’s Kevin Beggs and Sandra Stern, all of whom were beaming with pride from their table in the packed International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.
Hosted by actress Jenna Elfman, the gala event honored Laura Linney with the prestigious Crystal Award for Excellence in Film and "The Bling Ring" director Sofia Coppola with the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award, presented to her by Nancy Meyers.
They shared the spotlight with young actress Hailee Steinfeld, who received the MaxMara Face of the Future Award, and cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who took home the Kodak Vision Award.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the organization a procession of past honorees came to the stage, including Diahann Carroll, Cloris Leachman, Gale Anne Hurd, Debra Messing, Diane Warren, Holly Hunter and Martha Coolidge and a giant, multicolored cake was wheeled out at the end.
George Lucas was bestowed with Women in Film's Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award, presented to him by Kathleen Kennedy, who has worked with Lucas since Steven Spielberg directed "Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), for which Lucas is credited with the story.
"He's never seen women as sidekicks," she said. "George Lucas gave us a fast-talking, blaster-toting spitfire by the name of Princess Leia, who was as nuanced as any man. She was an inspiration, as was Marion Ravenwood. While his female characters are iconic, he has always advocated for women behind the camera. When he asked me to run Lucasfilm, it was exhilarating and terrifying."
Even as the night was one of celebration, the theme throughout was how women have yet to gain anything near employment equality in the entertainment industry. Stats like the fact that of the top 100 grossing films of the 2011-12 season, only 20% of them had a female producer and only 15% were directed by women were projected on large screens.
"There certainly is a wider diversity of roles available to women and careers don't instantly end at 29 anymore," said Linney. “But the progress in every other area has been very slow. So there's a long way to go, and not just in this industry, but in every industry."
"Women should control 50% of the world," Lucas said, after telling the crowd that he was schooled throughout his life about the power of women, first by his sisters and then by his daughters.
“We are the keepers of the planet's storytelling," said WIF president Cathy Schulman. "It's up to all of us to spin accurate pictures of our lives, our histories and our imaginations. Women need to hold gatekeeping positions on films and television because only gender equality can bring out nonbiased decision-making and thus nonbiased storytelling."
Critics are a notoriously picky lot, and members of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association are certainly no exception. That's why it was such a surprise -- and a testament to the quality of television programming over the past season -- that there were not one, not two, but three ties in highly contested categories whose winners were revealed at the 3rd annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards held June 10 at the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom.
One thing most everyone would agree on is that the trophy for best drama series is a prestigious one, as it will be for the upcoming Primetime Emmy Awards, and a very difficult decision for voters.
Vying for the crown were "Breaking Bad" (AMC), "Game of Thrones (HBO), "Homeland" (Showtime), "The Americans" (FX), “Downton Abbey” (PBS) and “The Good Wife” (CBS). (Notably missing from the list: "Mad Men.")
Voters in equal measure felt that the Meth King of Albuquerque and the royalty warring to rule Westeros were both deserving of the drama prize, declaring a tie and awarding trophies to both “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones.”
The awards gala was hosted by Retta, known for her role on "Parks and Recreation" and also for humorously live tweeting some of her favorite shows, including "Scandal" and "The Walking Dead.”
The ceremony was not televised -- although we understand it is being shopped to various networks going forward, but it was streamed live on Ustream. Given all the unpredictable wins unveiled during two and a half hours -- and the number of comedians who either were honored or were presenters, it's surprising that there wasn't more bleep-worthy material emanating from the stage.
For the second year running, it was Bryan Cranston who was awarded best actor in a drama. Unable to attend the ceremony last year, Cranston gave a heartfelt speech explaining the origins of his starring role on “Breaking Bad.”
“Ten years ago, I won a part on ‘The X-Files.’ Vince Gilligan was one of the producers, and he remembered me from that episode,” Cranston said, and noted that Gilligan was tied up on a post-production deadline and could not break away to attend the gala. “He has been my champion, but you [the critics] were the conduit from us to the viewing public.”
For best actress in a drama, the name that was read when the envelope was opened came as a shocker. Tatiana Maslany, the star of BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” took the trophy for playing multiple clones of her character in the supernatural thriller, besting the much better-known nominees Claire Danes, Vera Farmiga, Elisabeth Moss, Julianna Margulies and Keri Russell.
Although HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” scored the trophy for best movie or miniseries, and its star Michael Douglas won for lead actor, “American Horror Story: Asylum” nabbed trophies for its two supporting actors, Zachary Quinto and Sarah Paulson.
“We go to very dark places, but I’ve loved this more than any part I’ve had,” Paulson said.
Elisabeth Moss was the winner for best actress in a movie or miniseries for Sundance Channel’s “Top of the Lake.” “I’ve never won an award for acting before,” she noted, despite numerous nods for her role in “Mad Men.”
On the comedy side, “The Big Bang Theory” scored key wins as best comedy series, for supporting actor Simon Helberg and for supporting actress Kaley Cuoco, who tied for the trophy with Eden Sher of ABC’s “The Middle.”
“I’m used to laughing at Steve Levitan,” said “TBBT’s” co-creator Chuck Lorre, referring to “Modern Family’s” recent string of awards wins. “We feel so lucky -- truly blessed -- to be doing this show for six years.”
“[Helberg] is one of the funniest people I know,” said co-star Johnny Galecki, who accepted the award on his behalf with the show’s Kunal Nayyar, even as it appeared they might keep the trophy to themselves for awhile.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the critics’ choice as best actress in a comedy for HBO’s “Veep,” topping a field that included Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, Laura Dern, Zooey Deschanel and Sutton Foster. “I’ve changed my strategy,” she said in accepting the prize. “I used to ignore what the critics said. Now I find them charming.”
Louie C.K. extended his awards run by winning the statue for best actor in a comedy for his eponymous FX show, beating fellow funny men Jim Parsons, Don Cheadle, Jake Johnson, Adam Scott and Jeremy Sisto.
Another hotly contested category was best talk show, and perennial favorite “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” added another trophy to its case. Senior black correspondent Larry Wilmore accepted. “I can’t say ‘screw the critics’ anymore. They’re actual professionals recognizing a show with fake journalists,” he said.
In the reality categories, another tie was announced when both “Push Girls” and “Duck Dynasty” were announced as the critics’ choices for best reality series. In the reality series competition category, it was “The Voice” that got the most votes in the competition.
“It’s been a great ride,” said host Carson Daly, who raced over to the Beverly Hilton from a live show of “The Voice” shooting at Universal. “I’m a radio guy. I worked at MTV. I’m a music nut, and to be here with all of you celebrated people, I feel like I should say, ‘I’ll bring your car around.’”
“Archer” took the animated series prize. “I just want to thank Lorne Michaels,” said one of its voices, Chris Parnell (formerly of “SNL”), even as one of his castmates tried to use the trophy in a lewd and lascivious manner.
But the comedic king of the night crown belonged to Bob Newhart, who was feted with the Critics’ Choice Television Icon Award, presented by another television legend, Henry Winkler, who introduced a montage of Newhart’s comedic situations over the decades.
In a moving speech, which he first announced was the wrong one, Newhart paid tribute to his wife of 50 years, Ginny. “When we got married, she was an extra on ‘Ozzie and Harriet.’ She was the one who said ‘yeah’ when asked if they wanted to have Ricky sing another song,” he said, as a camera cutaway showed her wiping away tears.
And may there be many more songs for you to sing, Mr. Newhart.
Please click here to see the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2013 Critics’ Choice Awards.
For Many Attending This Week's NCTA Cable Show, It's a Good Time to Try and Spend Some Time With Cable's Most Charismatic Icon, a Genuinely Modest Person Who Is Retiring at the End of the Year. A Tribute
Having covered the cable TV industry for almost three decades, I’ve known most of the industry’s heavy hitters, from John Malone, Michael Fuchs and Kay Koplovitz to Abby Raven, Italia Commisso Weinand and Glenn Britt. I’ve known some much better than others.
Over the years I’ve probably interviewed John Malone more than any other reporter, save Mark Robichaux, the talented editor in chief of Multichannel News, who also wrote an excellent book about Malone that has the wonderfully just-right title, “Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business.”
Malone is the smartest person I’ve ever interviewed. I can -- and have -- spoken to him for hours at a time and have been mesmerized by his analytical abilities. One of the great pleasures of talking with John, who once ran TCI, then the biggest cable operator in the U.S., was listening to him expound about the future of cable TV.
For example, I recall one afternoon when he talked at length about why AMC -- then strictly a service showing old movies, and co-owned by TCI -- would always remain commercial-free. Several years later AMC was sold, and of course today its main claim to fame is its original programming, shown in an ad-supported framework.
Still, overall, John was about 50% right about what would happen in cable three or four years down the road, which I think is not bad for looking into a crystal-ball to predict the future.
But as smart and powerful as John is, I don't think he's particularly charismatic. I've seen him be charming, but that's not charismatic.
For the last two-plus decades, the most charismatic , iconic person I’ve known in cable is set to retire at year’s end. That person is Char Beales, who has been the president and CEO of CTAM -- cable’s primary marketing trade organization, since 1992. Before that, as I wrote in a column several months ago, Char was one of three people most responsible for original cable programming finally getting its initial recognition.
After a conversation with Malone, most likely you would be struck by the thought that you had just been talking to one of the most clever thinkers about the business of cable, ever.
But after a conversation with Char, she would have most likely made you feel that YOU had made the most astute observations about the cable TV business, ever.
That’s the power of Char’s intelligence and charisma. (By the way, I wish I were clever enough to have thought of this distinction myself. In fact, I read about a similar analogy years ago. It was originally said by a woman who, the story goes, once sat at a dinner between two famous rival English politicians, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone was the clever one, the woman said, and Disraeli was the charismatic one who had made her feel so clever.)
Char has always been about encouraging and empowering others. She has been a singular force within the industry, a tireless booster for more than two decades at CTAM -- and at NCTA before that. Char is one of the most insightful, quick-witted people I’ve ever met, and, with warmth and dignity she has had a diligent passion to help all of us succeed in ways we haven’t always believed that we could.
For many years the signature event of CTAM was its Summit, which has been discontinued. I’m on the record that the CTAM Summit was the best event in the TV industry. One of the reasons the Summit was such a refreshing event to attend was because of the relationship Char forged over the years with the Harvard Business School. That allowed her to connect with the Harvard faculty. A number of Harvard professors spoke at the CTAM Summit, bringing innovative thinking and unique perspectives to the conference.
Char and CTAM have been about cable TV’s relationship with the consumer. That’s been a tough proposition over the years, with many consumers complaining about their local cable operator. But the successes have been astounding as well, as cable experienced unprecedented growth over the past two decades. Cable’s triple play, for example, was wildly successful.
In a real sense Char and her fellow cable pioneers set out to change TV, and succeeded.
For all her success and accomplishments, Char is basically a genuinely modest person and shuns the spotlight. I know this personally because we’ve tried to honor her singular achievements. Twice.
The first time, in 2005, we wanted to name her our Cable TV Executive of the Year. Char objected. I tried to insist. She insisted that the only way she’d let us honor her at all was if we honored the entire CTAM Board. I tried to explain that the idea was to highlight the accomplishments of a single “Executive of the Year,” not a group of people. I lost the argument.
More recently, upon hearing that Char was retiring from CTAM at the end of this year, we wanted to give her a Lifetime Achievement Award to coincide with this week’s national Cable Show. We’ve only given out our Lifetime Achievement accolade a few times in our history -- honoring Oprah, Roger King, Roger Ebert and a few others. The idea, as we’ve done in the past, was to do it typical trade pub style, with tribute ads.
Knowing that Char was not keen on these kind of acknowledgements, we tried to do it as a surprise -- we had done that once before with Barbara York at NCTA, and that surprise had come off beautifully.
Unfortunately, quicker than ice cream melting in a microwave -- to borrow a Dan Ratherism -- Char caught wind of what we planned, and respectfully asked us not to move forward with our plans. So we didn’t.
But I don’t think Char will object too much to a fan singing her praises in his blog.
Over the years, I feel that Char is the best marketer I’ve ever met, because her most natural quality is empathy. She knows how to connect with people instinctively and in a heartfelt manner.
Years ago, one of my writer heroes, William Faulkner, said that what poets and writers should aspire to do is to write about the best of what people are about. To thus write about people’s spirit, Faulkner said, which is “capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
One doesn't have to be a writer or a poet to aim for this higher road.
By spending a career inspiring those in the cable industry to bring out the best in themselves, Char has served Faulkner’s calling well.
Marketing can easily descend into the trickery of a flim-flam man or woman. But the best of marketing, as people such as Steve Jobs or Saul Bass knew, is an honorable pursuit that can be smart and fresh and invigorating and uplifting.
That’s the kind of marketing Char has always asked the members of CTAM to aspire to.
And we’re all richer for it.
Thank you, Char.
When you have Norman Lear and Carl Reiner in the house -- two of television’s most brilliant, legendary creators who go back to the original golden age of the medium -- it's assuredly going to be a night to remember.
Hearing from those two giants was the shot across the bow as the Writers Guild of America revealed its 101 Best Written TV Series in a two-hour event at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills on June 2, sponsored by TV Guide magazine.
Emceed by the witty and talented Merrill Markoe, the night was billed as a special tribute honoring seven decades of outstanding television writing and the writers who created some of the most memorable TV series of all time.
Writers get all the respect in television that they don't in film, but as Markoe noted in her opening remarks, after working long hours they're the ones you spot in the corner at wrap parties. There are also the ones with the driest senses of humor.
Before the countdown of the top shows began, Lear and Reiner regaled the sold-out crowd with anecdotes about Sid Caesar, Dick Van Dyke, Sheldon Leonard, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin and Larry Gelbart, among others.
"When the Television Academy called me to tell me that I would be inducted into their Hall of Fame along with Edward R. Murrow, Lucille Ball, David Sarnoff and Milton Berle, I called my mother, who said, ‘Well, if that's what they want to do,’” Lear recalled, in one of several stories throughout the evening involving what could diplomatically be called non-supportive parents.
Reiner flashed back to the genesis of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," which began as a program based on his life in New Rochelle, New York, called "Head of the Family," in which he starred -- until Leonard told him, "We'll get a better actor to play you." The rest is television history.
Reiner's comedy creation came in at No. 14 on the list, which was voted on by WGA East and West members, while Lear's groundbreaking "All in the Family" came in at No. 4.
In addition to Reiner and Lear, James L. Brooks (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi"), Gail Parent ("The Carol Burnett Show"), Steven Bochco ("Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law"), Matthew Weiner ("Mad Men"), Winnie Holzman ("My So-Called Life"), Vince Gilligan ("Breaking Bad "), Ronald D. Moore ("Star Trek," "Battlestar Galactica") and Steven Levitan ("Modern Family") took the stage to speak about their shows, answer questions posed by Markoe and kibitz with each other.
Bochco reminisced about going to war with NBC on "Hill Street Blues," which began its run in 1981 and went on to win four Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding drama series, a record held by only three other shows: “Mad Men,” “L.A. Law” and “The West Wing.”
“The 1970s were like getting out of the 1950s," he said. "The success of ‘Hill Street’ opened the floodgates for drama, language, adult situations, ethnicity and urban landscapes. It was an opportunity to make a show that humanized cops and showed them as complicated people. Because it worked, everyone started doing it.”
Brooks had the crowd in stitches when he said that he was told early in his career by people who went unnamed that three things didn't work on television -- divorce, men with mustaches and Jews. He lauded CBS President Bob Wood, who ran the Eye from 1969-1976, as a game-changing executive who canceled popular shows of the corn-fed variety to put on programs including "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and “All in the Family.”
“Before that, on shows like ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘Green Acres,’ the biggest problems families faced were a burnt pot roast with the boss coming to dinner or a dented fender," said Lear.
Parent recalled that she was warned that writers’ rooms were filthy, in terms of the language. "I thought that was a perk," she said. Of the 10 writers on Carol Burnett’s show, she was the only woman. Looking back, she called herself and Burnett rather meek, saying they didn't push feminism at the time.
Moving into the 1980s, Bochco said the decade was defined by empowered writers and the emerging trend of compelling television involving a story arc over time, which continues to this day.
Both Gilligan and Weiner discussed their journeys in getting their respective programs made, both of which deal with "difficult" subject matter, yet have garnered huge success on basic cable’s AMC.
No one was interested in Weiner’s script, he said, but he was determined to get it to David Chase, who then offered him a writer's job on “The Sopranos.” "It took six months to get it to David," Weiner said. "Four and a half years later, AMC made the pilot."
Gilligan spent seven years on "The X-Files” and said he didn't censor himself when coming up with the idea for "Breaking Bad,” even though he knew there would be only a few players who would possibly be interested, which he identified as HBO, Showtime, FX and TNT.
“TNT wanted me to change meth to counterfeiting," he said. "They were very respectful when they said no, but that's the second best thing you hope for from a pitch. If you don't get a yes -- a quick, respectful, no."
These shows earned enough “yes” votes to make the top 10: "The Sopranos," "Seinfeld," "The Twilight Zone," "All in the Family," "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Mad Men," "Cheers," "The Wire" and "The West Wing," of which “Mad Men” is the only one still unspooling original content.
The complete list can be found on the WGA website.
The TV Academy Gets Real, With a Night of Honors That Don't Get Nearly as Much Attention as the Emmys -- but May Be Even More Important
Some called the recent White House Correspondents' Dinner a “nerd prom,’ and that term also came to mind -- in a completely endearing way -- at the 6th Annual Television Academy Honors, held May 9 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Known for presenting the Primetime Emmy Awards, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided in 2007 to move forward with a different sort of accolade that honors programs that inform, illuminate, enlighten and educate about social issues.
Academy Governor John Shaffner gets credit for creating the concept with former ATAS chair Dick Askin and Honors co-chair Lynn Roth. Shaffner and Roth started off the evening by chronicling the process and announcing that after six fulfilling years, they were passing the baton to new committee members.
This year’s honorees: “Hallmark Hall of Fame: A Smile as Big as the Moon,” “D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List,” “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” “Hunger Hits Home,” “The Newsroom,” “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee,” “One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss & Betrayal” and “Parenthood,” feted in a gala sponsored by Audi, Grey Goose and BV Vineyards.
Actress Dana Delany hosted for the fifth time, lightening things up right away by telling the duo to "get a room" as they left the stage.
"I've noticed some trends here. Almost all of the shows are fact-based. I guess you could call them good reality shows," she said.
Whether "The Newsroom" is fact-based could make for an interesting Aaron Sorkin-written soliloquy delivered by Jeff Daniels, as fictional cable news anchor Will McAvoy.
A real newsman with a four decade-long career, Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes,” presented Sorkin with the night’s first statuette. Kroft noted that the traditional journalistic values of fairness, accuracy and integrity are pitted against corporate bosses, the demands of a 24-hour news cycle and fickle audiences, even as the characters try to hold on to their jobs.
"The actors are much more attractive and have more interesting personal lives [than] people who work in the real newsroom,” he said, introducing a clip that showcased one of McAvoy's on-air soliloquies about the shifting ethics of the TV news business.
"Brevity is a challenge for me," Sorkin acknowledged, an admission that was met with laughter from the ballroom audience.
Producer Brian Grazer lauded "Parenthood,” and its showrunner Jason Katims for his kindness and generosity, and recalled how Katims previously had successfully made a TV series out of another of Grazer's films, “Friday Night Lights."
As that highly acclaimed show was nearing the end of its run, Katims wanted to try his hand at "Parenthood" -- although Grazer said it had already been tried with Joss Whedon and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Now, "Parenthood" is in its fifth season. In his speech, Katims talked about the pressures he felt about living up to the bouncy house poster that NBC had designed, even as he went in to pitch network executives an entire season that revolved around cancer. The show also deals with teenage alcoholism, unemployment, panic attacks, abortion and autism, among other topics.
Despite the difficult subject matter, he said the network was his biggest supporter.
"When you feel love in the Braverman family, it makes it sort of like a bouncy house,” he said.
The Food Network had never done a documentary before "Hunger Hits Home," which illustrates the serious problem of childhood hunger by focusing on three families that are having a hard time putting food on the table in this economic downturn.
"It's unconscionable that this should happen now. Part of it is due to the shame people feel about asking for help. The problems are solvable. The [anti-hunger] programs are there,” said producer Dan Cutforth.
Showing racism in a humorous way was the goal of D.L. Hughley's Comedy Central program. The actor said his motivation went back to the 1991 Los Angeles murder of a young black girl, Latasha Harlins, who was shot for allegedly shoplifting a bottle of orange juice. The shopkeeper was sentenced to five years' probation, while soon thereafter, he heard about a woman going to jail for kicking a horse.
Recalling the shocking dichotomy in punishments, Hughley broke down, after he had managed to crack a joke about three Jews and a black man, acknowledging the other producers of “The Endangered List” who joined him to accept the honor.
With all this heaviness, the evening’s program ended on a brighter note with kudos for “Hallmark Hall of Fame: A Smile as Big as the Moon,” a dramatization of the real-life story of special ed kids going to NASA space camp in Huntsville, Ala. It features actor John Corbett as football coach and special education teacher Mike Kersjes, who took them there after months of preparation.
With Corbett by his side, Kersjes said, "This is really about the triumph of the human spirit -- by kids who are underdogs and who were bullied.”
Today Is the 15th Anniversary of the Death of the Most Famous Person in American Popular Culture. Here's the Movie or Miniseries About Him Someone in Hollywood Should Have the Guts to Make
My parents hated each other. They fought constantly. I don’t remember seeing a single loving moment between them. By the time I was 12, it was over. Splitsville. They divorced.
They both went on to have loving, fulfilling second marriages, and, fortunately, both my brother and myself were crazy about both of our parents’ second spouses.
Looking back on why my parents had ever gotten together in the first place, the expression ‘What were they thinking?” comes to mind. They were 15 years apart in age and didn’t seem to have any interests in common. They didn’t have similar senses of humor nor senses of life. Mom was a Democrat and dad was a Republican, with all the clichés that each of those labels imply.
The only thing I can remember them agreeing about was that Frank Sinatra was their favorite singer. My dad was a year older than Sinatra, and my mom had been one of Sinatra’s diehard bobby-soxer fans in the 1940s.
Today, May 14, 2013, is the 15th anniversary of Sinatra's death.
Given the fact that seemingly the only time in our house when my parents weren’t having monumental fights was when they were playing great Sinatra records from his Capitol years, he has always interested me. I loved his voice and found it very soothing.
As I got older I began to read more and more about Sinatra. Back in April 1966, when I was 14, Esquire published an article about Sinatra that I quickly devoured. It had the funny title of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” and was a very long piece.
It was about Sinatra, the man. It turns out that this singer, who seemed to me to be the most sensitive of vocal interpreters, wasn’t such a nice guy. Yet he was clearly an iconic figure in American pop culture, for generations of both men and women. As a kid I found the contradictions of Sinatra very puzzling.
Here’s a short excerpt from near the beginning of the article:
“For Frank Sinatra was now involved with many things involving many people -- his own film company, his record company, his private airline, his missile-parts firm, his real-estate holdings across the nation, his personal staff of seventy-five -- which are only a portion of the power he is and has come to represent. He seemed now to be also the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in America, the man who can do anything he wants, anything, can do it because he has money, the energy, and no apparent guilt. In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Frank Sinatra survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few prewar products to withstand the test of time. He is the champ who made the big comeback, the man who had everything, lost it, then got it back, letting nothing stand in his way, doing what few men can do: he uprooted his life, left his family, broke with everything that was familiar, learning in the process that one way to hold a woman is not to hold her. Now he has the affection of Nancy [Sinatra] and Ava [Gardner] and Mia [Farrow], the fine female produce of three generations, and still has the adoration of his children, the freedom of a bachelor, he does not feel old, he makes old men feel young, makes them think that if Frank Sinatra can do it, it can be done; not that they could do it, but it is still nice for other men to know, at fifty, that it can be done.”
What I didn’t know when I originally read “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” is that it would later be thought of as one of the best pieces of magazine journalism ever published, a benchmark of what came to be known as the New Journalism. It was written by Gay Talese. I recently re-read the piece, and it’s still terrific. You can read it if you click here.
Over the years I’ve kept reading about Sinatra. Most recently I read James Kaplan’s excellent 2010 biography “Frank: The Voice.” What made me want to read it was Michiko Kakutani’s review of it in The New York Times.
Kakutani wrote that Sinatra “provided the soundtrack for several generations of Americans trying to navigate the rocky shoals of romance and grapple with love and heartbreak. And he became one of 20th-century pop culture’s quintessential men of contradictions: the bullying tough guy whose singing could radiate a remarkable tenderness and vulnerability; the ring-a-ding-ding Vegas sophisticate with an existential outlook on life; the jaunty urbanite who could deliver a torch song like no one else. Fans could recognize his voice from two or three perfectly phrased syllables, and they knew him instantly from his style: the rakishly tilted hat, the coat slung over one shoulder, the Camels and Jack Daniel’s.”
Kakutani went on to note that Kaplan, in his book, did a “nimble, brightly evocative job of tracing the development of Sinatra’s craft, showing how he assimilated early influences and gradually discovered a voice of his own.“
And Kaplan did exactly that. Kaplan's a wonderful writer to boot, and I recommend his book to anyone interested in Sinatra.
But the facets of Sinatra that have really interested me over the years are the contradictions of the man, as so eloquently stated above by Talese and Times reviewer Kakutani.
And to read about those you have to read a firsthand account of what Sinatra was like. And there’s only one of those that’s any good: “Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra.”
Published in 2003 by HarperCollins, it’s a first-person account told by George Jacobs, an African-American who served as Sinatra’s valet, sometimes cook and right-hand man from 1953 to 1968. The book is written by Jacobs and William Stadiem.
What’s so great about the book is that it’s a no-holds-barred account of Sinatra and his inner circle for those 15 years. How candid? Check out this excerpt. Jacobs writes:
“As much as I disliked his father, that’s how much I was crazy about John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was handsome and funny and naughty and as irreverent as Dean Martin. ‘What do colored people want, George?’ he asked me the first time he visited [Frank Sinatra’s home in] Palm Springs, not long after Mr. S and Peter Lawford [JFK’s brother-in-law] became bosom buddies.
“I don’t know, Mr. Senator.”
“Jack, George, Jack.”
“What do you want, Jack?”
“I want to fuck every woman in Hollywood,” he said with a big leering grin.
“With a campaign promise like that you can’t lose, sir.”
“You’re my man. Jack.”
“No, it’s George.”
“Who’s on third?”
“Pardon me, sir?
“Jack, goddamn it. Call me Jack. Or I’ll send you back to Mississippi.”
“Louisiana, Jack. They eat Catholics in Mississippi. They hate you worse than me.”
“And that was the way we’d go on, giving each other shit all the time, no master-servant games. He and Mr. S got along great. They had everything in common, charisma, talent, power.”
Then there’s this, the details of the final break between JFK, then president, and Sinatra. It was early 1962:
Sinatra had redone his Palm Springs compound in honor or JFK, including the installation of a number of new phone lines.
Writes Jacobs, “This was going to be Jack’s West Coast crash pad, for all the world to see.” But it didn’t turn out that way. Peter Lawford had to tell Sinatra that JFK was not going to be staying with Sinatra anymore.
“Lawford first tried to blame the Secret Service, saying it was a security issue. Then he finally admitted that it was a Frank issue and that Bobby [Kennedy] was the mastermind behind it. Mr. S. smashed the phone he was talking on against the wall. He went into another room and was able to get Bobby on the line in Washington. … Bobby basically told him we can’t have the president sleeping in the same house where [mobster] Sam Giancana had slept. And Mr. S. said JFK’s already slept here, so what’s the fucking deal. Bobby played hardball. He said it’s my deal now, and Jack ain’t sleeping there and hung up. There went another phone, smashed to smithereens. We were lucky to have had all those extra phone lines installed. I felt sorry for Mr. S. He was like the girl who got stood up for the prom, all dressed up with no place to go. He had spent a fortune redoing the house, just for JFK, and now the house was off-limits. … How could they treat their friend this way, he wailed to me, like a little kid nearly in tears.”
Jacobs continues that later that day “Mr S. went on the most violent rampage I had seen. Lawford’s clothes were ripped out of closets, ripped personally to shreds. His golf clubs were bent in half. Pat Lawford’s (JFK’s sister) makeup and perfume kit was crushed under foot. I followed Mr. S. around the house on his search-and-destroy mission, just to make sure he didn’t die of a cerebral hemorrhage, his blood pressure was so off the charts. I didn’t dare try and stop him, or even say ‘Cool it, boss. This ain’t worth it.’ He probably would have killed me.”
And then there were the women: Ava, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Natalie Wood, Juliet Prowse, Lauren Bacall and the two Judys, Campbell and Garland, to name just some of them.
Jacobs even writes about a tryst between Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo that he was witness to at Sinatra’s compound when Mr. S. was out of town.
Though I’m always telling people to read Jacobs’ book, I hadn’t seen anything about it in the press lately until I saw this item in the New York Post’s gossip column Page Six about a month ago, on April 3, 2013: “A modern-day Rat Pack comprising Brett Ratner, Brian Grazer and Graydon Carter is in talks to team up on an HBO doc based on “Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra” by Ol’ Blue Eyes’ longtime valet George Jacobs, sources tell us. The project was once slated as a feature for Ratner to direct, starring Chris Tucker, but has now been reimagined as a TV doc, insiders said. However, others and an HBO rep said no deal is done with the cable network.”
I was disappointed to read the item, because it seemed to me the way to adapt the book is turning it into a movie (feature or cable) or a miniseries. I don’t know how one would do it justice as a documentary. Docu-drama, yes, documentary, no.
Then, on April 30, I read this item at Deadline.com: “Alcon Television Group, the television division of Alcon Entertainment, and Frank Sinatra Enterprises are teaming to produce an as yet untitled documentary about the life and music of Frank Sinatra to premiere on HBO. Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney will direct the four-hour miniseries docu described as an up close and personal examination of Sinatra, his life, his music and his legendary career.”
Was HBO going to do two Sinatra documentaries? Furthermore, the more I thought about it, was HBO, a division of Warner Bros., the company that owns Sinatra’s former record label, Reprise, really going to be able to produce, faithfully, any video or film version of so candid a book as “Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra”?
So I decided to try to contact William Stadiem, the professional writer who co-wrote Jacobs’ book. I don't know Stadiem, but he is a very talented scribe who holds two graduate degrees from Harvard, in law and business. He has also written “Marilyn Monroe Confidential” and “Moneywood: Hollywood in Its Last Age of Excess.”
I was fortunate to reach him by phone in the Los Angeles area. First, I asked him whether Jacobs was still with us, and he told me yes, that Jacobs, now in his 80s, still lives in the Palm Springs area.
Stadiem also told me he wasn’t exactly sure where any current negotiations were for the TV movie or documentary rights of “Mr. S.” He also wondered whether HBO would move ahead with two different documentaries about Sinatra.
Stadiem said he’d love to see the book made into a movie, “or perhaps, even better, a play.”
I hadn’t thought of that, but it could be adapted into a marvelous play for one or two
characters, or a full-blown cast. And then perhaps that work could be filmed.
Today, on the 15th anniversary of Sinatra’s death, the life and legacy of the man and his many contradictions -- let alone his music -- still resonates for millions of us.
It’s clear that for all his success, he spent most of his life like many of us. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, ever since he was born, Sinatra was desperately seeking shelter from the storm.
More than three decades after its debut created a seismic shift in the pop culture landscape, it can be very easy to forget that MTV still stands for music television.
That also makes it surprising to learn that 1,200 hours of music videos are aired each week across the Viacom family of networks, including MTV, CMT, and VH1, that reach 100 million homes in TV-land and 60 million online via digital and social screens. It's a universe that encompasses MTV Hits, MTV Jams, MTV Buzzworthy, MTV Hive, VH1 Soul, VH1 Tuner, CMT Pure, CMT Edge and Palladia.
That is the framework upon which the network is trying something new -- by going back to its roots and focusing on musical artists across a broad spectrum of genres and levels of experience.
It's a concept called the artist opportunity hub that has been percolating in soft launch/beta mode since the VMAs last fall. Basically, artists could come in and create platform pages for themselves on artists.mtv.com, artists.vh1.com or artists.cmt.com -- an “inside” network that has already received significant traffic and engagement with videos without any real marketing -- to the tune of 2.3 million visitors in April, according to comScore.
Now the model is kicking into a new phase and includes access to many other large-scale opportunities to reach a broad audience and to generate revenue.
First and foremost, there is the opportunity for artists to get their videos aired on the networks, which has always been a tricky process in the past involving record labels, managers, publicists or other music industry connections who have traditionally operated the star-making machinery.
MTV, VH1 and CMT’s music teams will evaluate videos based on the number of eyeballs and fan interaction on each artist’s page. Selected artists will receive an email that their video has been viewed and then will be notified when and where it will go into video rotation.
Much like the blind auditions on NBC's "The Voice,” where it's all about unfiltered talent, the process is more egalitarian than “who you know.” It means that music fans, especially tastemaker fans who rally around emerging artists, will play a critical role in helping to identify artists that are strongly resonating within different fan and genre pockets.
In a digital sense, it still is about who you know, as Shannon Connolly, the SVP of Digital Music Strategy for Viacom Music and Logo Group, explained to us.
“The more you drive people to your content, the more we listen to you, and that's how you get into our programs," she says. "If you can mobilize your fan base, that’s how we notice you.”
And it's not just about playing music videos. It's about having songs chosen that go into popular shows like "Awkward," thus providing another platform from which emergent talent can grow.
If that sounds like what happened with some unknown bands whose music was featured in commercials and elevated their careers, yes, there is also an advertising element that will come into play as the concept evolves.
"With the launch of this hub, we have the potential to work with brands to help find the artist that best suits their needs and goals and then create custom campaigns with tremendous scale that could play out across all of our platforms and screens," Connolly says.
Although the hub launched without a sponsor, she says having the “right” brands connect -- and you can imagine there are a slew of them -- is a huge part of the strategy.
“We believe it will be a primary part of the revenue stream for artists in the next 5-10 years. We have the platforms and scale to integrate artists into campaigns, and it becomes a really powerful opportunity,” says Connolly.
At the same time, she says that Viacom wants to stay focused on the artists, wanting them to feel there’s someone behind the curtain, that they’re not submitted into a black hole.
The corporate philosophy, Connolly explains, is that artists should get paid and participate in the revenue.
"The rev share model percentage of Spotify, YouTube and some of the others doesn't really yield payouts to artists that are meaningful. The industry purposefully is taking a rev share approach that isn’t sufficient," she says. "Because we’re advertising-based, we have other ways of making money. We will have a tip jar that allows fans to leave tips to artists. As for commerce, they'll be able to sell merchandise on our page. For us, it's about creating success stories.”
As for the fans, they will have several participatory opportunities coming up shortly that will demonstrate the digitally democratic nature of the new venture.
They will get to determine two musical acts who get a slot to play at the three-day Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, which runs May 17-19.
The festival’s lineup includes Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, the Black Crowes, the Shins, Public Enemy, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kings of Leon.
“Working with Artists.MTV/VH1/CMT, we’re giving music fans an unmatched voice in giving two emerging artists this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play the festival,” said Shaul Zislin, founder of the Hangout Music Fest, in announcing the two winners as Americana group Banditos and folk/blues/pop duo Johnnyswim.
Reps for both bands say they’re incredibly grateful to the artist opportunity hub for providing the support, and the opportunity. Banditos came in through CMT and Johnnyswim through the VH1 platform.
Similarly, the opening act for country music artist Hunter Hayes at his New York City show in June will also be crowd-sourced. The list of potential opening acts will be narrowed down to ten, with the Grammy-nominated Hayes then personally selecting the opening act.
"The vetting process may change, but the intent is to be very valuable to the artists," Connolly says. “We’re going to learn as we go.”
A mobile app for the artists’ platforms is planned to launch this summer. Sounds like sweet music to the ears of artists -- and their as yet untold audiences.
'SNL' Guru Lorne Michaels Steps Out From Behind the Scenes -- and Spills Secrets From the Other Side of the Curtain
With the exception of his brief but fairly regular cameos on “Saturday Night Live,” executive producer Lorne Michaels is a man who prefers to work behind the scenes, someone who doesn’t normally seek the spotlight.
But as one of the most powerful producers in the business, he was the laser focus of attention at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, in the hot seat alongside one of the many comedic actors whose careers he has nurtured over nearly four decades, moderator Martin Short.
There were no laser cat videos being pitched by eager young comedians. The occasion was the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s Newsmaker Luncheon, “Comedy on TV,” held April 16. Normally a confab where the wealth is spread among networks and producers, this was a one-man show, and deservedly so.
Michaels’ entire career, going back to his days as a young writer on NBC's “Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In” and projecting forward next year to his stewardship of “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” has been all about getting laughs.
Funny enough, the last time Michaels had been in the room was when two others on his multitudinous list of proteges -- Tina Fey and Amy Poehler -- killed it as hosts of this year's Golden Globe Awards.
The capacity crowd -- several of whom were heard remarking on the way in that this was the most highly anticipated HRTS luncheon conversation of the year -- was treated to an opening clip reel that featured classic “SNL” moments and characters and bits from Michaels-produced films, including "Wayne's World," "Mean Girls" and "Tommy Boy."
The clips led into more than an hour of the Michaels brand of candor and wit, along with some zingers from Short, obviously an expert himself in the comedy department.
Both men have their humor roots in Canada. Michaels first worked as a writer and producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, while Short plied his trade on Canada’s SCTV Comedy Network, which initially brought him to the attention of "SNL" producers in the early 1980s.
Michaels moved to Los Angeles from Toronto in 1968 and worked on “Laugh-In,” but left the West Coast for New York in 1975 to start “SNL” and founded his production company, Broadway Video, in 1979. He's been closely identified with the Big Apple ever since. But those hoping for any inside scoop about the new East Coast-based “Tonight Show” didn't get much, as most of the discussion focused on Michaels’ helming of NBC's long-running Saturday night comedy sketch series.
"I'm proud to call him my friend. Even if he is successful and rich," Short started in, before engaging Michaels in a discussion about how “SNL” handled tragic real-life events like Newtown and 9/11. (Left unspoken was how the Boston Marathon explosions will be handled in the next new edition, which won’t be for several weeks.)
Michaels recalled having then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani on after 9/11 and asking him, “Can we be funny?” Giuliani’s well-known retort: “Why start now?”
“It was an icebreaker, but he had started grinning in rehearsals, knowing he was going to do the joke. He couldn’t stop smiling,” Michaels said. “I had to glare at him so he wouldn’t.”
“We deal with things that are much bigger than comedy and showbiz. Gilda [Radner] used to say if you just watched cable, you wouldn’t know if World War III started, but we’re broadcast, and you have to deal with it.”
Then Short asked what seemed like a basic question: Why does the show have to be live?
“We go on not because we’re ready, but because it’s 11:30,” Michaels answered. “Everyone falls into line in service of the show. If you were doing takes, it would be endless and would spiral out of control.”
Reflecting back on “SNL’s” beginnings, he said it was about not having a pilot and all that involved. “Overthinking was eliminated,” he said, a strategy that holds to his philosophy today. “Dress rehearsal is the great leveler. We don’t sweeten anything,” he said proudly about vetoing any use of canned laugh tracks.
Short and Michaels also took a walk down memory lane with some of the great talent the show has spawned -- Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Will Ferrell, Fey, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Poehler, Conan O’Brien, David Spade, Steve Martin, Jim Belushi, Jimmy Fallon -- the list is seemingly endless. And it was during that discussion that Michaels revealed one of his greatest regrets.
Missing out on Jim Carrey.
It seems that after giving up total control, meaning, hiring a rank of producers beneath him, said producers passed on Carrey’s audition, with Michaels being none the wiser at the time. Oops. Big oops.
Even as cast members have moved on to huge comedy careers, there is great job security for the crew -- and no age discrimination. Announcer Don Pardo is 95, Michaels said, and lighting director Phil Hyms is 90.
Although claiming that “we don’t attack our own [cast], normally,” he admitted an incident in which Eddie Murphy was criticized by David Spade during the show for one of his movies that bombed -- and how Murphy called and railed about it for half an hour. “You’re standing on my shoulders,” he told Spade. “I regret it,” Michaels said about the Murphy diss. “But there were a lot of things we didn’t do,” he admitted.
“Let’s list them,” Short interjected, to the appreciative laughter of the crowd. But no go.
As for keeping up with cultural and industry changes, Michaels said it’s hardest for him with music, a big change from the early days of the program in the late 1970s and 80s when he knew every cut off every album of each featured artist -- and noted that it was different talent than would have been booked on the “Tonight Show” of the time.
He also noted that no one had publicists then.
One thing that’s remained the same: Sketches that have been worked on all week -- or longer -- get cut at the last minute and the people in them get upset. “You’ve invited your friends and family, and then you’re not even on, until the hugs and schmoozing under the final credits.”
“It isn’t fair,” Michaels said, summing up “SNL,” showbiz -- and life. “People’s feelings get hurt.”
Short asked the question on everyone’s mind in Burbank and Hollywood, about why “The Tonight Show” is moving to New York when Fallon takes it over from Jay Leno next year.
“Now with air travel, stars come to New York,” Michaels said, drolly -- and Short retorted, “But it’s included.”
“People’s opinions of the city are different now,” Michaels said, before reflecting on how he came to Gotham as a teenager and was in the studio audience when Jack Paar hosted “Tonight” in the City That Never Sleeps.
“It was magic -- and Hugh Downs and the band did a warmup and the audience was in a frenzy.”
Looks like Michaels plans to re-create that magic, from his comfortable home of many decades at Rockefeller Center. No laugh tracks required.
Just when you thought movie awards season ended with the Oscars and kudo-attention shifted to the Emmys, along come the MTV Movie Awards to shower last year's films with golden popcorn trophies.
The awards show, which aired live from Sony Pictures Studios Sunday, April 14 -- and will be repeated numerous times on MTV -- also acts as a great promotional opportunity for upcoming blockbusters to reach their target audience.
"The Hunger Games." "Fast and Furious." "Iron Man." "Star Trek.” The sequels to those tentpoles all got prime play during the telecast with talent from each film introducing teaser trailers, nearly overshadowing the awards themselves.
The show was also an opportunity for host Rebel Wilson to become known to a wider audience. Wilson, who starred in last year’s “Pitch Perfect,” used her weight and her nationality -- some consider her the Australian Melissa McCarthy -- for a brand of Down Under humor of the below-the-belt variety.
It all got off to a fun start with a wink and a nod to the pitfalls and precipices of hosting an awards show, personified by none other than Oscar host with the least James Franco.
In a raunchy taped bit, Franco, currently starring in “Oz the Great and Powerful,” confronted Wilson in the real Oz, the Australian outback, with the offer to emcee MTV, and put her in an Iron Man suit to fly halfway across the world to Culver City.
And kaboom. She landed in a plume of smoke on a soundstage dressed and creatively set-designed for the occasion, as the cable network always does so well for its kudocasts.
Wilson herself walked away with several awards, including Breakthrough Performance, one of a series of unique categories like Best WTF Moment, Best Shirtless Performance, Best Fight and the always popular Best Kiss.
That went to Bradley Cooper and Katniss Everdeen -- oops, wrong movie -- Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Cooper also took Best Male perf for his role and during his acceptance speech, made a plea for taking better care of war veterans returning with emotional and psychological problems.
When it comes to MTV Movie’s honorary awards, things can also get pretty serious -- and even a little teary.
Emma Watson took the Trailblazer Award, reflecting on how bad her hair looked in the first “Harry Potter” movie and how she was always the girl in school to first raise her hand and was teased mercilessly. "You've allowed me to grow,” she told the crowd and advised them that anything can happen if you put your heart into something.
Jamie Foxx, anointed with the Generation Award by "Django Unchained" co-star Kerry Washington, wore a Justice for Trayvon Martin T-shirt that alluded to the recent firing of a Florida police training officer who put drawings of the slain black teenager on targets.
Foxx gave a special shout-out to director Oliver Stone, who was the first to hire him for a feature film ("Any Given Sunday") when the actor only had experience in television. “I feel like I'm just starting," Foxx said and mentioned that he was directing a new Syfy series to add to his acting and musical repertoire.
With Will Ferrell, presented with the Comedic Genius award by “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage, there was nothing serious said, and perhaps some feathers ruffled when, clad in a suit apparently fashioned of dollar bills, he called his family up to the stage and brought out an Asian woman and multiple children he said were theirs.
Unless this relates to the new “Anchorman” movie, which it very well may, it completely bombed -- and Ferrell should've stuck to his jokes like he always wanted to wake up in the morning and dress himself like Dennis Rodman. There was also a bit he did with actress Aubrey Plaza that didn't hit its mark.
It was left to Wilson to re-inject some comedy with her portrayals of an unwanted character, Head Whore, trying to upstage Anne Hathaway in "Les Miserables” and as fierce tiger Richard Parker in “Life of Pi,” battling on the boat with Pi.
The grand finale -- MTV’s version of best movie -- was presented by Brad Pitt, with the opportunity to promote his “World War Z.” The award went to another film whose sequel is also heading down the pike, "The Avengers," whose Tom Hiddleston also took the Best Villain trophy for his role as Loki.
And it was as Iron Mangina that Wilson blasted off to end the show, cementing her status as best female Australian awards show host, sometimes confused with British chanteuse Adele -- or Melissa McCarthy.
Walking Back to the Future
The resemblance was uncanny.
She looked remarkably like Payton,
A girl whom I had had a crush on
Like Forrest had on Jenny.
Back then we were both seventeen
Studying romantic poets in the spring.
She paid me no mind, of course,
Which made my uncomfortable longing even worse.
I was reminded of this last week,
While taking my son on college tours back East,
Discovering student docents walking backwards dangerously fast.
Not a job for the weak or those with the wrong technique.
How odd this backwards walking
As these undergraduate guides do their non-stop talking,
Avoiding obstacles and precipices
While explaining freshman meal choices.
It was sunny and cool in Just-spring again,
As we were in Amherst on this particular tour,
Home of not cummings but Frost and his poetic vigour
On a campus marked by hills and more than one glen.
The guide who reminded me so much of Payton
Showed us the Robert Frost Library, so-named because he had taught at the college so often,
And she told us that President Kennedy had given a moving speech in which the poet was feted
During a dedication ceremony that took place a month before JFK was assassinated.
I remembered a poem by Frost I had known in my youth, called “Wind and the Window Flower”:
Lovers, forget your love,
And list to the love of these,
She a window flower,
And he a winter breeze.
When the frosty window veil
Was melted down at noon,
And the caged yellow bird
Hung over her in tune,
He marked her through the pane,
He could not help but mark,
And only passed her by,
To come again at dark.
He was a winter wind,
Concerned with ice and snow,
Dead weeds and unmated birds,
And little of love could know.
But he sighed upon the sill,
He gave the sash a shake,
As witness all within
Who lay that night awake.
Perchance he half prevailed
To win her for the flight
From the firelit looking glass
And warm stove-window light.
But the flowers leaned aside
And thought of naught to say,
And morning found the breeze
A hundred miles away.
While I was looking up this poem again on the Internet, to get all of its words right, I found the following comment about it posted by someone in the Philippines. It’s not exactly how I had interpreted the poem:
"I think the poem talks about a man or a boy who was attracted to a very pretty woman (when we say flower, it means beauty ).. so the girl must really be beautiful. Problem was, the girl must be some kind of heavily guarded and watched.. must be a daughter of a rich couple.. never allowed to talk to anyone not of her kind.. so the boy just watched her from afar.. and the girl also just watched the boy from through her window.. eventually, they managed to talk to each other but they were caught by the guards.. thus the line: and the breeze was found the next morning a hundred miles away..The boy must have been arrested and put in prison.. A SAD ENDING to a great love story."
Payton, as I recall, hadn’t really liked the poem at all, and blew me off as well.
Now the campus tour was over and we were asked if we thought our comely guide was swell,
Including if her walking backward prowess was OK or just pell-mell.
Later my son, who, unlike me, is not a wordsmith impostor,
Confessed that yes, he had a small crush on our tour guide, the girl who walked back to the future.#