Friday, May 6, 2011

Jackie Cooper, Arthur Laurents, Marian Mercer, Sada Thompson

"Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but for only one second without hope."

We have lost several great artists this week! Years ago, I read PLEASE DON'T SHOOT MY DOG by Jackie Cooper. I remember that Jack Cooper's autobiography was enjoyable to read, with some insights into the inner workings of Hollywood.

Well, this week proved that old adage true. We lost incredible artists whose rich legacies will live on long after we're all gone. I'm also happy that they each lived rich artistic productive lives. A child star from the 30s who survived a tumultuous childhood as an Oscar-nominated star (at 9 years old!) to enjoy a varied career as a TV executive, director and Superman sidekick, the best Perry White ever!
Cooper succumbed to complications of old age at a convalescent home in the coastal city of Santa Monica, Calif. on Tuesday, his attorney Roger Licht told Reuters.
Jackie Cooper is a part of my whole life. (A teenaged Jackie with Henry Fonda in The Return of Frank James (1940).)

I used to rush home from school and watch The Little Rascals every afternoon and watch his movies on Sunday afternoons and sometimes on late night television when I would sneak out of bed.
One time, he spoke back to the imperious Fritz Lang on The Return of Frank James and wound up with no closeups in the finished film

We lost a Tony-winning actress , Marian Mercer's comic gift also brought her steady work on TV variety shows and series, including 'It's a Living.'

A Tony Award-winning actress for Promises, Promises, actress Marian Mercer, whose five-decade career also included dozens of television appearances, has died in California at age 75.
Her husband, Patrick Hogan, tells the Los Angeles Times that Mercer died April 27 of Alzheimer's disease complications in the Newbury Park area of Thousand Oaks, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

A great actress who had a TV series that truly was quality TV and a part of my 70s' television viewing.(Sada Thompson. Photo credit: Martha Swope). Sada Thompson, a Tony- and Emmy-winning actress known for her portrayals of archetypal mothers, from the loving family caretaker and the world-weary, had-it-with-the-kids older woman to the brutalizing harridan and mythical adulteress and murderess, died Wednesday in Danbury, Conn. She was 83. The cause was lung disease, said her daughter, Liza Sguaglia.
Ms. Thompson had an unusual stage career in that she became a star in New York but was not often on Broadway. She made her name in the 1950s as Off Broadway came to prominence, in plays like “The Misanthrope” and Chekhov’s “Ivanov,” and throughout her career she performed in regional theater productions.
But when she was on Broadway, she made an impression. She won a Tony in 1972 for playing four separate parts — three daughters and their aged mother — in the four vignettes that constitute George Furth’s “Twigs,” directed by Michael Bennett. Her tour de force performance was widely praised, but Ms. Thompson returned to Broadway only twice more, in short-lived shows.
By then she had established herself as “one of the American theater’s finest actresses,” as Walter Kerr described her in The New York Times. She had distinguished herself on Broadway in Edward Albee’s sardonic “American Dream,” in which she played Mommy, the cartoonishly overwhelming wife of a spineless husband, and in Samuel Beckett’s bitterly comic “Happy Days.” Here she played Winnie, a woman facing inevitable doom — she spends the first act buried up to her waist and the second act up to her neck — with determined good cheer.
“Yet beneath these bright superficials,” Clive Barnes wrote in The Times, “Miss Thompson was able to suggest something a good deal deeper, every so often permitting the enamel to crack, the brightness to darken, and letting us glimpse the piteous fears of mortality in Winnie’s heart.”
Away from Broadway, her repertory expanded and her reputation grew. In 1970, in what was probably her star-making performance, she opened Off Broadway in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” Paul Zindel’s melodrama about a slatternly, self-deluding and tormenting mother of two troubled daughters and the elderly boarder she cares for to pay the rent. (Source: Bruce Weber, The New York Times)

And a man, who as a writer and director has brought us some of the greatest Broadway shows and movies ever. Arthur Laurents, the director, playwright and screenwriter who wrote such enduring stage musicals as "West Side Story" and "Gypsy," as well as the movie classics "Rope" and "The Way We Were," died Thursday. He was 93. (The original!)Laurents died at his home in Manhattan from complications of pneumonia, said his agent, Jonathan Lomma. Laurents, born as Arthur Levine,the son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher who gave up her career when she married, was born and raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the elder of two children, and attended Erasmus Hall High School.His sister Edith suffered from chorea as a child.His paternal grandparents were Orthodox Jews and his mother's parents, although born Jewish, were atheists. His mother kept a Kosher home for her husband's sake, but was lax about attending synagogue and observing the Jewish holidays. His Bar Mitzvah marked the end of Laurents' religious education and the beginning of his rejection of all fundamentalist religions,although he continued to identify himself as Jewish.However, late in life he admitted to having changed his last name from Levine to the less Jewish-sounding Laurents, "to get a job."After graduating from Cornell University, Laurents took an evening class in radio writing at New York University. His instructor, a CBS Radio director/producer, submitted his script Now Playing Tomorrow, a comedic fantasy about clairvoyance, to the network, and it was produced with Shirley Booth in the lead role. It was Laurents' first professional credit. The show's success led to him being hired to write scripts for various radio shows, among them Lux Radio Theater.Laurents' career came to a halt when he was drafted into the United States Army in the middle of World War II. Through a series of clerical errors, he never saw battle, but instead was assigned to the US Army Pictorial Service located in a film studio in Astoria, Queens, where he wrote training films and met, among others, George Cukor and William Holden. He later was reassigned to write plays for Armed Service Force Presents, a radio show that dramatized the contributions of all branches of the armed forces.Soon after being discharged from the Army, Laurents met ballerina Nora Kaye, and the two became involved in an on-again, off-again romantic relationship. While Kaye was on tour with Fancy Free, Laurents continued to write for the radio but was becoming discontented with the medium. At the urging of Martin Gabel, he spent nine consecutive nights writing a play inspired by a photograph of GIs in a South Pacific jungle.The result was Home of the Brave, a drama about anti-semitism in the military, which opened on Broadway on December 27, 1945 and ran for 69 performances. Stanley Kramer filmed the Home of the Brave in 1949 changing the character from Jewish to black. Five years later, his second Broadway production, The Bird Cage, was even less successful, running for only 21 performances. In 1952, The Time of the Cuckoo reunited him with Shirley Booth and ran for 263 performances. (Laurents later would adapt it for the 1965 musical Do I Hear a Waltz?) Other successes in the 1950s included the books for West Side Story and Gypsy.

In 1962, Laurents directed I Can Get It for You Wholesale, which helped to turn then-unknown Barbra Streisand into a star. His next project was Anyone Can Whistle, which he directed and for which he wrote the book, but it proved to be an infamous flop. He later had success with the musicals Hallelujah, Baby! (written for Lena Horne but ultimately starring Leslie Uggams) and La Cage Aux Folles, but Nick & Nora was another flop.In 2008, Laurents directed a Broadway revival of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone, and in 2009, he tackled a bilingual revival of West Side Story, with Spanish translations to some dialogue and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. While preparing the show, he noted, "The musical theatre and cultural conventions of 1957 made it next to impossible for the characters to have authenticity."Following the production's March 19 opening at the Palace Theatre, Ben Brantley of the New York Times called the translations "an only partly successful experiment" and added, "Mr. Laurents has exchanged insolence for innocence and, as with most such bargains, there are dividends and losses."Upon hearing 20th Century Fox executives were pleased with Laurents' work on The Snake Pit, Alfred Hitchcock hired him to Americanize the British play Rope for the screen. With his then-lover Farley Granger set to star, Laurents was happy to accept the assignment. His dilemma was how to make the audience aware of the fact the three main characters were homosexual without blatantly saying so. The Hays Office kept close tabs on his work, and the final script was so discreet that Laurents was unsure whether co-star James Stewart ever realized that his character was gay.In later years, Hitchcock asked him to script both Torn Curtain and Topaz but, unenthused by the material, Laurents declined the offers.Laurents also scripted Anastasia and Bonjour Tristesse. The Way We Were, in which he incorporated many of his own experiences, particularly those with the HUAC, reunited him with Barbra Streisand, and The Turning Point, inspired in part by his love for Nora Kaye, was directed by her husband Herbert Ross.
Because of a casual remark made by Russel Crouse, Laurents was called to Washington, DC to account for his political views. He explained himself to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his appearance had no obvious impact on his career, which at the time was primarily in the theatre.When the McCarran Internal Security Act, which prohibited individuals suspected of engaging in subversive activities from obtaining a passport, was passed in 1950, Laurents and Granger immediately applied for and received passports and departed for Paris with Harold Clurman and his wife Stella Adler. Laurents and Granger remained abroad, traveling throughout Europe and northern Africa, for about 18 months. (Arthur Laurents info came from Wikipedia:

I LOVE Jackie Cooper. He was Skippy! A lot of my friends call me Skippy. He starred in scores of films.

I'm going to let their work speak for themselves. Enjoy! Thank you all for the gifts you have given us! May you all rest in peace!
(Buy PLEASE DON'T SHOOT MY DOG by Jackie Cooper

Tomorrow's blog will be YOU TELL ME...the first three suggestions I receive!



Richard Skipper,