Friday, August 12, 2011
It's Better To Give...
-Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly!"
A few days ago, I wrote about Rhonda Fleming. I mentioned in my blog that in retirement, Fleming has worked for several charities, especially in the field of cancer care, and has served on the committees of many related organizations.
In 1991, she and her late husband, Ted Mann, set up the Rhonda Fleming Mann Clinic For Women's Comprehensive Care at the UCLA Medical Center.
A friend of mine, David Vernon, wrote that it always impresses him when these stars give back to the world and I thought what a great idea for a blog.
As far as the people I've written about this week, aside from a few red cross shows, there were no charities that leap to mind when thinking of Lucille Ball.
But Lee Tannen, who wrote I LOVED LUCY says Lucy was "incredibly loyal, giving and generous."
I have heard that in spite of his reputation, Jack Benny was indeed a very charitable man.
Jack Benny was known as one of the most generous men in Hollywood, regularly making charitable contributions to a variety of funds. At one time, he gave $1 million to an actor's retirement home. He commented once that being cheap had cost him a bundle, as he found that he always had to over tip waiters to compensate for his stingy image.
As far as how his character came to be cheap, he had a variety of jokes in vaudeville. His first cheap joke was, "I took my girl to dinner, and she laughed so hard at one of my jokes that she dropped her tray." These jokes played well with the audience, and he continued to expand on them as his character became known for being close with the dollar (and every other monetary denomination).
You should check out the website for The International Jack Benny Fan club. The International Jack Benny Fan Club® is the Official organization devoted to the sharing of the timeless humor of Jack Benny. Through vaudeville, radio, movies, television, and stage performances, Jack's gentle humor delighted generations of people. They are also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity.
Click on the link above. You will also find a wide variety of additional information, photos, and other goodies that couldn't be packed into this blog.
To those who are just discovering Jack Benny, The International Jack Benny Fan Club provides you with all you need to make Jack, Mary Livingstone, Rochester, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, and Don Wilson as familiar to you today as they were to everyone in America fifty years ago.
Arlene Dahl, who I wrote about yesterday, is a member of numerous charitable organizations, including serving on the board of directors of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Dahl also has been the recipient of several major industry and fashion awards, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Searching the internet today, I found this article regarding Elizabeth Taylor after her passing. I don't think ANYONE was as giving as Elizabeth Taylor. Harlan, I hope you don't mind my reprinting it here!
Dame Elizabeth Taylor Remembered
Exclusive: Once described by Esther Williams as a trusted voice for her generation, B. Harlan Boll speaks out regarding Elizabeth Taylor.
By B. Harlan Boll
About the author: Esther Williams once defined B. Harlan Böll as the voice of her generation.
A unique twist of fate ushered him through an unusual back-door to the industry and into the heart or hearts of Hollywood. His love for an era and its pioneers, that is all too often forgotten by younger generations, has garnered him a reputation as it's trusted guardian.
From the silver screens of tinsel town to the boards of the Great White Way as well as the Smithsonian Institute and even The White House, Harlan has become an outspoken advocate for a peer group of entertainers that brought America through some of its darkest hours.
I hate these days! I am the first to admit that I have been richly blessed with the opportunity to enjoy the unique warmth that comes from standing in a very specific kind of shadow. I've heard all of the jokes that I work with the geriatric set of Hollywood, but the reality of being able to refer to these truly remarkable icons, pioneers, legends and trailblazers as colleagues and often friends is something I thank God for everyday. Sadly, it comes with a rude reality that I will be outliving many of these remarkable individuals whose support and encouragement have contributed so greatly to the foundation called me.
Today, we lost Dame Elizabeth Taylor. I wouldn't dare call myself a close friend, but can claim without any hesitation, that her influence both in person and from a far have greatly influenced my life. Having recently lost dear friends like Betty Garrett and Jane Russell, I find myself feeling a little bitter having lost yet another at, in my opinion, such an early age. In my world, where Carol (Channing) is 90, Phyllis (Diller) is 94, and even Dolores (Hope) is almost 102, 79 seems incredibly young to be taken from us.
I've heard so many people share their memories of Dame Taylor (the respect I hold for her, would never allow me to personally call her Elizabeth), that when asked to share my own, they seem so insignificant next to the influence she has had on others. However, they are uniquely mine and I treasure them. I will always be extremely grateful for her support over the years and especially for her part in the book I did with a brilliant photographer named Joan Lauren, entitled Portraits of Life: With Love.
It would never have been as successful as it was without Ms Taylor's participation.
I remember being so very excited when I received the call saying that she would be honored to help our, then, little project to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. We planned to meet at the UCLA Medical Center, where the image (Above: with an infant also named Elizabeth) was to be taken for the book, which benefited children and their families living with HIV/AIDS. It had been arranged that I would meet them outside the hospital, but as the moment arrived a crowd, unrelated to her arrival, had gathered and I decided to walk to the end of the drive, in order to circumvent the possibility of an admiring audience delaying her already hectic schedule. Knowing that she hadn't actually seen me is a couple of years I had told them I would be wearing my Stetson and boots, in order for them to recognize me quickly. It wasn't long before I saw her assistant's car approach, with that highly recognizable face in the passengers seat. The car slowed to the curb, her window rolled down and she asked tentatively … “Harlan?” I nodded yes, and she said, “Well, get in.” As I hopped in the back seat, I over heard her say “I can see the rag headlines tomorrow - “Liz Taylor picks up cowboy on corner.” I don't know what I had been expecting or hoping for, with regard to the photo shoot. However, I do remember thinking that her casual slacks and plain white T-shirt style top wasn't as glamorous as I had envision this fashion icon to be wearing, but OMG! The camera LOVED her! Every shot was a winner. She simply couldn't take a bad photo.
Some time later, a good friend, Sydney Guilaroff (Senior hairdresser at MGM for years), reintroduced me to her at a party. He had only told me that he was expecting a few friends (among them, Angela Lansbury, Esther Williams, Shirley MacLaine, Ann-Margret and Roddy McDowall - A few friends!?). This re-introduction sealed a lifetime of charitable support with auction items and appearances for years to come. I remember once in, what was supposed to be an express elevator, the doors opened and a young man stepped inside. He took one look at Ms. Taylor and visually started to tremble, while backing out before the doors closed. Ms. Taylor took in the stunned look on my face and remarked, “Oh, it happens all the time.”
As with many of my colleagues, autograph collectors were always on the prowl for her. I recall an incident, when a young man, who clearly had been tipped off that she was in the building, was waiting for her in the parking structure. The mere thought that just one person could be actively stocking you would play havoc with ones mind, but the idea of having literally thousands tracking you moves would drive someone nuts. However, Ms. Taylor simply grinned, looked at the stack of photos and politely greeted him saying, "not too many please?"
I've been speaking to mutual friends all day today, while getting quotes for the purpose of servicing to the media, but sharing so much more. Rip (Taylor) remarked, “I was on Broadway with 'Sugar Babies' simultaneously while Elizabeth was appearing in 'Little Foxes.' We would meet occasionally after shows. I will never forget those eyes or that laugh.” This morning, Esther (Williams) commented on her fellow MGM colleague, “How very sad for us all. She was a marker of our time, my time. It seems like yesterday that I taught a beautiful 14-year-old Elizabeth how to swim at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, more beautiful, more voluptuous than Miss America. I will miss her.” Fellow thespian, Carol (Channing) mentioned to me this morning, that “I loved her. She hosted a huge party when 'Hello Dolly!' first opened in Los Angeles. I remember the lavender roses and the aura of her personality.
She said when you find the particular love of your life, it is never forgotten. Everyone loved her too.” While speaking with Florence (Henderson), she caught essence of how American's as a whole feel about Ms. Taylor when she said, "Like so many, I grew up with her. As a poor child, her movies like 'Lassie' and 'National Velvet' gave me hope. I had the good fortune to meet Elizabeth and thought she was just a lovely person." Margaret O'Brien, whose history with Ms. Taylor is so long and extensive that to share her experiences would fill a book, added "The world is sadden today, but it is a very personal sadness for me, due to our 60+ years of friendship. We will all remain forever in debt to Elizabeth for her immense contributions as an actress, the efforts to fight AIDS and the countless charities she gave to so selflessly. Life loved Elizabeth and and Elizabeth loved life." I recall that a photo from “Little Women” that I asked both to sign, pulled one of the largest bids I had ever seen in a charity silent auction.
Dame Elizabeth Taylor belonged to the world, and yet she made everyone feel like they were something special. I still have the note she sent me regarding a friend suggesting "She will live forever if you always hold her close to your heart." The same will be said of you, Ms. Taylor.
And the same could be said of you, Harlan! Thanks for preserving the legacy of these great stars!
Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian (seen here with Dori Berenstein, CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE) have devoted their lives to arts in education. Together, they have formed The Dr. Carol Channing-Harry Kullijian Foundation.
They, and I, feel that EVERY KID IN AMERICA should have an education that exposes them to the arts.
Jade is a successful Latin pop singer, comedian, choreographer, actor, political commentator, and human rights activist. Out Magazine called him "the first gay Latin star."
Jade Esteban Estrada is doing two shows this summer for the FFACTS Clinic and STFAN (South Texas Family AIDS Network). He is doing his show "A Lullaby for Ryan: The History of HIV/AIDS in America."
He tells me that he is having a great time with these organizations. Many of them deal with people infected and effected by the HIV virus that don't speak English. So he feels good about using his skills via song and dance.
Both organizations are out of San Antonio, Texas.
Jade also sent me the following:
Plaza de Armas
By Jade Esteban Estrada
Phillip George understands a thing or two about the science of making people laugh. He started directing "Forbidden Broadway" in 1992, the musical sendup that dominated Manhattan's must-see list and even won a honorary Tony Award in 2006, earning him and the show a permanent place in the history of the Great White Way. But he admits that whether or not an audience responds to a comedic idea is often simply the luck of the draw.
On opening night of his latest mega mini show, "High Hair and Jalapeños," adrenaline is pumping through his tall, lean body. The production has already had three local incarnations; the current one runs for the next five weekends at the Cameo. He tells me he can never be sure how an audience will react to a joke, and I'm curious to know if any creative risks stand out in his memory. He strokes his beard thoughtfully, searching his glittery database as exiting well-wishers congratulate him.
"We were in Boston," he says, smiling. "'Les Miserables' had just opened on Broadway and the first national tour was going around the country. At the time we were doing 'Forbidden Broadway,' we would try out material in Boston and then take it to New York."
He speaks quickly, sustaining only significant words or phrases.
"So we put the 'Les Miz' number together and we came up with the crazy turntable idea. We didn't actually have a turntable, but it would just be us moving our feet."
That "turntable routine," which mimicked the rotating stage in 'Les Miz,' would become iconic.
By the time "Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab" closed in New York in 2009, George and resident impresario Gloria Lui were already into their second year of messing with Texas via High Hair, a living, breathing musical extravaganza whose songs and performers can, and do, change.
Playing out the format of a high-energy vaudevillian revue, the effervescent Jillian Cox opens the show dressed in a light pink, "kiss my grits"-inspired waitress uniform and tall, flaming red hair. She takes dinner orders from the first couple of rows, seamlessly roping the audience into the title song and into a world where if you're "a straight, Caucasian, Republican Baptist, you oughta fit in just fine." Welcome to Texas.
Faster'n bad chili through a hound dog, Act I flies by with one motley musical number after another, tackling hot topic humor from Dallas to Laredo, including geography, tall tales, illegal immigration, women in prison and a truck-load more identifiers from livin' la vida Lone Star. There's even a song called "Thank God, There's Still Lone Star Beer." George knows that the only way to hold an audience's attention is to keep the conversation directed toward their favorite subject - themselves.
Reminiscent of a younger Bonnie Victor-Fried, Cox shines in supreme solo numbers like "Bigfoot" and "El Toro." George is fortunate to have found a talented leading lady who could easily transfer to a New York run.
And speaking of leading ladies, there are a few tributes in the show.
One of the freshest new numbers is "Keeping America Beautiful," featuring Becky King in a classic tribute to Lady Bird Johnson, who, in the 1960s, became an advocate for beautifying public landscapes.
"I read a book about Lady Bird Johnson and I just fell in love with her," George says. "I've got to be honest with you, I knew about the beautification program but I didn't know a lot about her."
Entering with billowing clouds stage right and left, the white-winged King offers herself as an example of how "not all Texas democrats go to hell." When Cox enters as Mary Kay (who made America beautiful "one ugly face at a time"), the duo share a moment of genuine confusion - are they in "Texas or heaven? - both places are like paradise." Cheesy, yes. And bloody hilarious. Costume designer Rose Kennedy knocks the ball out of the Astrodome with King's presidential garb and indispensable wigmaster Rob Hammett outdoes himself with her period look.
Act II's carnival of cultural excavation gives a shout out to bilingualism, obesity, the search for natural gas, Fiesta (in a number that randomly, through still photographs, features anchorwoman Ursula Pari from KSAT 12) and the right to bear arms. "Higher," a number showcasing Michael J. Gonzalez, Josh Harris and Matthew S. Goodson as three hairdressers is absolutely genius.
Gonzalez, hotter than a fur coat in Marfa, happily fills the shoes of the token Latino (are we allowed to still say things like that?). Like Cox, he has starred in the show since its local premiere in '08.
In a revue whose book, music and lyrics can (almost) do no wrong, attention naturally gets directed to the newer cast members who are still finding their way around this Tex-ified oasis. Especially with fans who've seen previous editions. Harris' (Lil' Roy) astounding level of charm seems to win over the audience with good ol' fashioned adorableness in songs like ""B-B-B Barbara," "An Unfortunate Duet" and "Roadkill," earning himself a full gubernatorial pardon for his nefarious lack of vocal and dance technique. But an infallible example of how watered down performances can make a number with great music, lyrics and choreography fall into a cowpie face-first is "It Won't Play" featuring Pastor John Hagee (Goodson) and Governor Rick Perry (Harris) explaining the Texas version of "separation of church and state." In the past this has been one of the best moments in the show. Yet, Harris ends up my favorite performer. Go figure.
Each of the songs in the show has a style all its own ("I'm in Love" is 1950s dance party, "Muy Caliente" is a nod to the famed salsa song "Margarita"), but "An Unfortunate Duet," cleverly composed by David Caldwell (musical theater itself) is among the show's most creative compositions, combining two catchy songs in one.
And then there's that rotating cast. "It's good that there are changes. It keeps people coming back," says Kate Miller who steps into the role of Corrine every Sunday of the run.
The show's popularity may lead one to wonder whether or not a singing, dancing Texas is an entertaining enough concept for other markets.
"Texas is not like other states," says George, who would like to see the show in a small house on Theatre Row. "Texas is huge in people's minds."
And songs about Texas are huge in his. I wonder how it makes him feel to make people laugh with a song he wrote.
"Oh, it's every bit of joy you can imagine," he says, still searching for more perfect words. "It's something you created out of nothing. Connecting to someone creatively ... I'm a real junkie for that."
"It's a funny comedy to share with friends," says Massimo Ballucci, a frequent theater-goer who's seen the show several times. "It's a chance to make fun of ourselves, and yeah, we're proud of our own state."
So get on down to the Cameo.
Even if you're a lesbian, black, Democratic Jehovah's witness – chances are you'll fit in just fine.
Carol Polcovar sent me the following: All Out Arts is seeking more Board Members. Mission is to support LGBT artists and art, to honor LGBT's contributions to the arts and to nurture young artists. Of course, they can always use contributions ----www.AllOutArts.com for more info...
I also received this today: Giving Back: Do It Now... Not When You Are "Famous"
By Kristina Hughes
I'm no Angelina Jolie or world ambassador (yet) but I wanted to share this quick story with you in hopes that you might take action where you live or when you go on tour. It was summer of 2008, the early stages of Twitter... http://www.holdonlog.com/pages/AN-GIVE-0610.html
And from Christine Talbott Sutin: I'd like to include an organization I worked for from 1995-98; Housing Works, which deals with formerly and currently homeless men, women, and children living with HIV and AIDS. During those years, I music-directed four shows for their theater project-for two of these, I composed original music; each show had a different theme, and was based upon the participants' biographical journal entries (and sometimes, their original poetry.). I got to know a lot of pretty amazing people, and consider my Housing Works experiences to be among the proudest moments in my career and my life.
Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!
Now, GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE!
Thank you David Vernon for your suggestion for this blog! Thank you Laurie Vega for the song suggestions!! And thank you,Barbara Gurskey and Paul Vincentt, for your contributions.
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Tomorrow's blog will be About Danny Kaye and Red Skelton; Celebrating Two MALE Redheads! Thank you, Bart Greenberg for this suggestion.
Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING & HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS:
And help us get Carol Channing the 2011 Kennedy Center Honor!
Contact me for details!
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED WEEK!
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com