Jul 15

IWABTGfrontcoverWith his “It Won’t Always Be This Great” novel drawing widespread acclaim, former “Seinfeld” writer Peter Mehlman acknowledges he’s getting nibbles from Hollywood types interested in turning the darkly comedic tale into a movie. His feeling on that: “If that happens, fine, but the goal was to write a novel — not to write a novel and have it adapted into something else.”

Hailed by L.A. Weekly as “the Great American Jewish Novel,” “It Won’t Always Be This Great” has at its center a couple in an enviably strong marriage — it is that great — an interesting feat from an author who has never been married himself. How did he manage it?

Mehlman says, “First of all, I am very opposed to the theory that you should write what you know. If you’re writing a novel, I think it’s great to make it all up. You get to exercise your ability to empathize, to put yourself in the position of these characters and think how they think. A friend of mine said, ‘Alyse is probably your dream girl. Don’t be embarrassed, she’d be my dream girl, too.’

“What I really liked was writing a novel about a marriage that works. It’s like a genre that’s unexplored — a good marriage, who writes about that?” he asks. Mehlman admits he had moments when he was going to have his protagonist say something negative about his wife, “but I ended up liking her so much I couldn’t do it.”

Meanwhile, Mehlman’s on a roll, nearing completion of his follow-up book — one he says is “completely different and fantastic.” “Seinfeld” may be forever labeled as a show about nothing, but Mehlman’s “Deep Down Iola” is absolutely about something.

“It’s about a 17-year-old high school girl in the South, who knows for a fact that in a previous life she was Sigmund Freud. It’s really fun. She looks back on her previous life like it was sheer misery, just being involved in people’s problems all the time.

She just wants to lead a happy life, and yet she is constantly called upon to, like, talk people down from ledges.”
Titled “Deep Down Iola,” the new novel began life as a television idea.

“I had the idea, and at one time I pitched it as a TV show,” reveals the brilliant writer with the singular point of view. He goes on, “And just for the sake of the networks, I tried to get down to their level. I said, ‘It’s kind of like “My Favorite Martian,” except instead of Ray Walston, you have a like, a really beautiful girl.’ The networks basically felt the audience wouldn’t know who Freud is. I kid you not.”


Mehlman, from The Etownian

These days, Mehlman is appreciating the solitude of writing prose. He points out that he started his professional life as a journalist, and TV writing was actually move of a side trip for him.

“The reason I lasted on ‘Seinfeld’ was because — even though you had a lot of collaboration, especially with Larry [David], at the same time it was up to you to come up with the story yourself. Sitting in a writers’ room, I couldn’t have been successful at it. I don’t think my process lends itself to collaboration. I don’t keep regular hours. I work when the spirit moves me,” he says.

Although he crosses paths with former “Seinfeld” colleagues from time to time at industry events and such, he doesn’t particularly stay in touch. “I’m very much for moving on,” Mehlman notes. Yet he can’t help enjoying the fact that 17 years after the series left the air, it’s still being watched in reruns — now including Hulu.

Why does he think the classic sitcom holds up? “I think it’s because the situations are so human and so universal. The most flattering thing people say is, ‘I had such a Seinfeldian moment today.’ The situations in the show are timeless. They’re not necessarily tied to the ’90s. A lot of those situations could happen today.” Mehlman acknowledges, “Obviously, there would be changes with cellphones and things like that. But the situations could happen today, they could happen in the ’60s. It’s people trying to muddle through life.”

Something Dr. Freud would no doubt appreciate, wherever she is.

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Jun 16

starflackerKirk Douglas and John Wayne, conspiring to make the most of a so-called “feud” between them in order to grab the attention of the press and public — just as their “The War Wagon” movie was hitting theaters.

Doris Day, generously and graciously forgoing Hollywood glamor to help a press photographer get her photo session done early when the photographer suffered a death in her family — never hinting that she knew the reason for the rush.

Megastar Gary Cooper caught by a journalist in a potentially embarrassing situation — and the journalist keeping it to himself for decades.

Those are just samples from the treasure trove of inside Hollywood antics contained in “Starflacker: Inside the Golden Age of Hollywood,” the memoir by legendary publicist Dick Guttman, known for repping top of the A-list clientele the likes of Barbra Streisand and the late Elizabeth Taylor.

Amid a seemingly-never-ending stream of shock value celebrity tales, Dick’s book is refreshingly positive, full of warmth and wit.

As Renee Taylor noted, it’s a wonderful thing to see a man still in love with both Hollywood and his wife after six decades.

Dick has been known to stay firmly out of the limelight throughout his career. With “Starflacker” (available on he steps out to serve as historian and guide to a Hollywood that lives in the cherished memories of some, and must seem like a fantasy to those familiar with the more cynical and less free show business scene of today.

A personal story is woven through, with surprises (LSD? CIA?) along the way.

Don’t let the daunting 652-page length scare you. It is a fun read, a trip back in time.

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Jun 10

Bob_barkerBob Barker made history as America’s longest-running television host, with his 35 years on “The Price is Right,” 18 on “Truth or Consequences” and more. But the 91-year-old’s most impactful legacy just might turn out to be his work in animal rights. Having set up endowments for the study of animal law at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Northwestern University, Georgetown, Columbia, Duke and the University of Virginia several years ago, he’s getting word that other colleges are emulating their focus.

“There are universities I haven’t helped at all that are establishing their own courses on animal law,” he says with some surprise.

He’s also heard back from students involved in this field of study — gratifying notice of young people dedicating themselves to the protection of animals. The classes “are very popular, apparently,” notes Barker, who was named an Honorary Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in 2010. “They are accomplishing precisely what I set out to accomplish. They are getting excellent students and they’re going on to things I had hoped they would.”

In a time when news reports are full of alarming information about the straits of our natural world and the animals therein, he finds there are encouraging signs — starting with increased public awareness of heretofore little-seen problems. “The animal rights movement is like a snowball,” he declares. “It’s rolling and getting bigger and bigger and there’s no stopping it now. Things are really happening. I’m so optimistic.”

His activism has taken him from lobbying against cruel rodeo practices in Canada to circus rescues in Peru. The latter, current efforts with Animal Defenders International, he terms “the biggest and most complex animal rescue ever attempted. It’s going so well the Peruvian government has requested that ADI help rescue monkeys and other animals in Peru from the illegal wildlife trade — which is something we’re all concerned with, those of us in the animal rights movement.”

One can’t help noticing Barker’s sharpness and energy during an afternoon’s chat. It’s remarkable for a man his age. The WWII naval aviator’s piquant humor was recently on display when he was seen joking in a TV interview that people talk a lot about the atomic bomb ending the war, but it was really him and his Corsair.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he attributes his healthful zest to his vegetarianism.

“I’ve been vegetarian about 30-35 years. My wife became a vegetarian and I decided I would, too,” he says, referring to his beloved Dorothy Jo, who passed away in 1981 after 36 years of marriage. “I became a vegetarian and I’ve never been sorry about it. I did ‘Price is Right’ until I was 83 years old, and ‘Price’ is an hour show and not sitting at a desk; there’s a lot of moving around and physical activity in it. I don’t think I could ever have done it if I hadn’t become a vegetarian.”

He goes on, “I became a vegetarian out of concern for animals, but I soon realized that the people who preached the healthful qualities of being a vegetarian are right and it’s been good for me.”

Also, “I work out every day. I lift some light weights and I do a lot of stretching and I get on the elliptical machine, and that’s good for my heart. I’m very conscientious. I think that as you get old — at any age your diet and exercise are important, but as you get older you MUST exercise and you MUST eat a healthy diet or you’re going to be shuffling around.”

Barker is certainly a shining example of the benefits of such a lifestyle.

He laughs. “I’ve never been described as a shining example of anything before, but I like it!”

Although he pops up on TV from time to time — as in his April 1 “Price is Right” appearance as “Drew Carey” and his recent turns on “The Bold and The Beautiful” — Barker makes it clear he’s having “a very successful retirement” and isn’t interested in any more regular gigs.

He’d rather make his calls and do his talks about animal welfare. Occasionally, animals call on Barker. One of the organizations he helps is the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center that does work on behalf of wolves. “They have a wonderful wolf out there called Wiley, and Wiley and I just struck it off,” says Barker. “He seems to like me and I love Wiley. I have a big picture of Wiley, and I told my new housekeeper, ‘He’s going to come visit.’ She said, ‘A WOLF?!'”

He laughs. “This gentleman from the rescue center brought Wiley to the house. I sat on the patio and talked to him, then Wiley went to her and she thought it was wonderful. He ran all over the house and she loved it. Wiley is a good friend, I’ll tell you. He’s just so big and friendly.”

Considering all the characters with whom Barker contended on “The Price is Right” all those years, it’s no wonder he can handle a wolf.

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May 26

CHRIS POWELL, HEIDI POWELLSeason five of “Extreme Weight Loss” launches tonight, May 26, and this year there will be a couple of new variations on the popular theme of long-term weight loss journeys.

“This season we’re dabbling with something that Heidi and I have been wanting to do for a long time and that’s work with couples,” reports trainer and lifestyle makeover specialist Chris Powell, referring to his wife and fellow trainer, Heidi. “We have three engaged couple who want to make a change before they start the next chapter of their lives together.”

“We not only get to work with them in achieving their weight loss goals,” adds Heidi, “Chris gets to give the bachelors advice and I get to give the bachelorettes advice. We tell them what’s worked for our marriage and what hasn’t worked — so it goes further than weight loss.” She laughs brightly, “It’s weddings and weight loss.”

Literally — as those particular weight transformations each ends with an on-camera wedding. In fact, notes Chris, “I got to marry one couple. It was such an honor.” He admits, “I was more nervous for that than anything I’ve done this year. It’s like, it wasn’t about the show, it was about that they’d become such wonderful friends of ours and we wanted that moment to be perfect for them. It was an honor and it was a blast.”

This energetic, seemingly sweet-natured, attractive and — of course — mightily well-toned pair have four children and a unique lifestyle in Aurora, Colorado, balancing their reality series with such activities as their weight loss boot camp at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

And yes, they really are friends of their show’s participants. Season four’s Bruce from Salt Lake City, for example, comes and stays with Chris and Heidi and their brood every month. They’re like an extended family.

“They are! We call them the extended Powell Pack,” affirms Heidi. Their kids “have all these extra aunts and uncles. They love it — more people to love them.”

The beautiful blond fitness expert, also seen on the Web series “Meet the Powell Pack,” has always worked with “Weight Loss” participants behind the scenes — but only last year began co-hosting the prime time show. Being seen as a training twosome obviously works well for the Powells, since Heidi is not only back this year, but in more episodes.

Another difference this season? “I will say this season’s cast is female dominant,” notes Heidi. “I do feel this past year there has been more need for a woman’s perspective and more involvement in my own experience. Many times I think it’s so much easier for women to open up to other women who have been there.”

To look at Heidi, a walking example of perfect female form, one wouldn’t think extremely overweight women would find her relatable.

“The thing that people don’t realize until they get to know me is that I struggled with my own eating disorder for a long time,” responds Heidi, who met Chris when they were both going through tough times.

(He was coming out of a business failure, she was a newly divorced mother of two.) She goes on, “Really, anorexia is almost the exact same thing they’re dealing with except on the opposite end of the spectrum — very, very similar. The difference is, my eating issue wasn’t as apparent as their eating issue. And mine wasn’t limited to anorexia. I also struggled with bulimia.”
If Heidi hadn’t been afflicted with the disorder that causes victims to purge their bodies of food, her binging would soon have caused her weight to balloon. “I would have been the same weight they were,” she says of her and Chris’ clients. “So I do understand, in so many ways, what they’re dealing with and what those triggers are that make you not only eat food but binge eat food — eat until it doesn’t even look good or taste good but you keep eating because it’s there.”

What do the Powells advise someone who is, perhaps, dealing with an extremely stressful situation and unconsciously trying to handle it by shoveling in food? How do they short-circuit that drive?

“Any time you’re using food as a coping mechanism, there is something much deeper that has to be dealt with,” says Heidi. “Myself included. For everyone it’s different. For some people it’s the need to love and forgive someone. It might just be insecurities they need to overcome within themselves. My responsibility, and Chris’s responsibility is helping them get to the root, and once we do that, we can identify that food is the coping mechanism you have using that you’ve trained your body to use for years. It’s easier to trade addictions — maybe we go from food to a healthier addiction, maybe exercise, or whatever it is. Awareness is the key to everything.”

Chris elaborates, “To actually achieve long-term transformation is to get to the emotional root of what is driving that behavior in the first place. It’s by far the biggest challenge. Some people get there in a couple of weeks, for some it takes months. Some, it could take a whole year. It really depends on the individual and their journey.”

In a television landscape full of “reality” shows that have nothing to do with reality, “Extreme Weight Loss” does seem to show moments of genuine disappointment and outright failure. The folks working to drop half their body weight or more over the course of a year have been known to rebel, go off the plan, regain weight, try to hide their eating. Sometimes — many times — they miss their weight loss goals along the way.

“This is the reality of rehabilitation,” stresses Chris. “This is what it’s like for people to change. We need people to know it’s not easy. The most important part is the emotional and psychological battle. It’s not all hugs and high fives. We want people to watch the show and find hope and inspiration, but also realistic expectations. We want to give them the tools they need to know, hey, life’s gonna be tough but I’m tough enough to push through.”

The Powells have been “decompressing” between promotional chores, as their children’s school year, and their season five filming, just came to an end. Heidi notes that twice a year, they take family trips that are work-free.

“We made a pact; we put the phones down and just spend time with the kids. In October we took them to Hawaii and in March, we took the family to California. Other than that, the kids kind of dig traveling with us when we’re working, too. We enjoy our time together.”

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May 20

Jazmyn SimonIf you’ve seen any of the HBO promos for Dwayne Johnson’s June 21-debuting “Ballers,” you know the half-hour dramedy about a retired pro football player looks like a high octane, chest thumping, head bumping, heart pumping, flash-with-cash testosterone fiesta.

Jazmyn Simon is the sole female star in the cast of the show, a position that could have quickly gone sour. However, the fact she starts laughing when asked about that lets us know right away that hers is not a tale of woe. “It was the best thing in the world,” insists the 5’5″ beauty, who plays the wife of 6’6″ Omar Benson Miller. “It was like a clinical study of the male habits of these guys. After awhile, they stopped treating me like a girl and just started treating me like a little sister. The ‘representative’ them leaves, and then the real them arrives, and I have to tell you, men are hilarious.”

Well, yes. Of course.

“On our show, half the guys are married and half are single, and when you get a group of handsome single guys in Miami, you get to see funny stuff. I got to see guys hitting on girls — that they would not normally allow me to see. It was amazing.”

Amazing as in pickup lines that make you roll your eyes?

“I rolled my eyes all the time, do you hear me? I rolled my eyes,” she declares. “All I’m doing is rolling my eyes with these guys.”

She also notes, “They took great care of me. Any time the cast and crew went out, they made sure I had a production assistant walking me to my car. I loved it. And not only was I a little sister, I was like a big sister. One guy, Donovan Carter, is younger than me and we got extremely close, we spoke a couple of times a day every single day, before and after production.”

And to hear her tell it, Johnson led the way in gentlemanly ways. “Any time I walked in the room, he’d stand up give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and then make sure I sat down before he sat down. His parents raised him right,” says Jazmyn. “He is just an exceptional person, by far one of the nicest people around. I’m laughing because it’s crazy how someone could be so handsome and so talented and such a big name and still remain so humble. He’s kind. He’s approachable.”

We will see Johnson as we haven’t seen him before, according to her. “If I drive down the street, I’m going to see, like, three different billboards for movies he has coming out right now,” says Jazmyn, speaking of the star who has “San Andreas” opening May 29, is among the stars of “Furious 7″ (released last month, the blockbuster has a worldwide box office gross of $1,467,817,000 so far) and has several films in the works in addition to “Ballers,” which wrapped its first 10 episodes in Miami this past March.

“I can honestly say he’s an action star up until this point. He does a lot of muscle — ‘Hercules.’ On this show, Dwayne is acting his a— off. He is acting. It’s not Dwayne being a muscle man, it’s Dwayne being the actor, and he’s really so great.”

As for her own role — is she like a little or big sister on camera as well as off?

Jazmyn is quick to reply in the negative. “She’s definitely not sisterly. Julie is sexy and sassy and ambitious and funny, but not sisterly. She is a very ambitious woman who wants the best for her family. She is married to a retired football player, just navigating life after the game of football. When you’ve spent so much time navigating one thing, and then you have to open a new book, it’s chapter 1. It’s post-football. She really wears the pants in her family, which is a good strong character for a woman.”

It’s also a surprising character in this context.

“It’s such smart writing, because it’s true, you generally don’t see that in this context. If I say, ‘She’s married to a football player,’ you automatically thought of something. You thought of a tight skirt, high heels, an expensive purse and an expensive car and there’s nothing wrong with that. They have a lot of money and they know how to spend it. But you don’t really see strong, smart and professional. My character is a doctor, so not only is she sexy and funny and ambitious, but she is very smart and she has a career. So you’re going to see her and her husband figuring out life after football.”

“Ballers” was Jazmyn’s 200th audition — and what a show, what a part to land!

“It feels like a dream. It feels surreal,” she says of the series, which was created by Stephen Levinson (“Entourage”) and is executive produced by Johnson, Levinson, Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), who also directs.

“I’m so grateful, I count my blessings every day.”

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Apr 14

dreesenComedian Tom Dreesen is feeling bittersweet about his last “Late Show” visit with old pal David Letterman, which is coming up Thursday (4/16). “We’ve known each other since 1975, and we were two young comics at the Comedy Store,” he says, referring to the famed L.A. nightery. Jay Leno was there, he remembers, and Robin Williams and Michael Keaton, “and the girl waiting tables was Debra Winger.”

Dreesen and Letterman “became fast friends — we played basketball, jogged together. The first time he hosted ‘The Tonight Show,’ I was his guest.”

Dreesen recalls Letterman being “funny and witty, but never comfortable” on the nightclub stage, but the first time he saw him do television, “I thought, ‘oh my God. He’s home. You know, he broke into TV in Indianapolis as a weatherman. In a studio, he was right at home.”

Network executives saw that as well, recalls Dreesen. “If a network sees something in somebody, they know right away.”

Don’t be surprised if Dreesen shows up with photos highlighting some of his early days with Dave — as part of the Comedy Store basketball team and such.

Starting with his and Tim Reid’s trailblazing Tim & Tom biracial comedy act, Dreesen’s made standup his metier throughout his career.

He spent 14 years touring with Frank Sinatra as the show business icon’s opening act. Now he’s touring with his “An Evening of Laughter & Memories of Sinatra” one-man show in this year, marking the centennial of Sinatra’s birth. He also spent years as a “Tonight Show” mainstay.  Tomorrow (4/15), however, Dreesen will be doing something entirely different from all that — serving as the keynote speaker at the 150th anniversary of the passing of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. Dreesen’s topic will be Lincoln’s humor.

“He was a master of the art of storytelling,” notes the comic. “And he enjoyed having a laugh and giving a laugh. You know, he lost two sons during his presidency. His wife had emotional problems. And he went through the darkest times of the Civil War. If he hadn’t been able to find ways to laugh, he probably wouldn’t have made it.

“Laughter causes a chemical change in the body. When you’re laughing, you’re not thinking of your problems. Endorphins are released.” Dreesen points to research done at UCLA with the late Norman Cousins that showed a correlation between humor and healing. “Abe Lincoln didn’t know about that, of course, but he knew the value of humor.


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Mar 19

Hunter+King+headshotInterested in starting a conversation about bullying? “A Girl Like Her” gets up close — very, very close — and personal with a mean high school girl who bullies a classmate into constant suffering, employing in-your-face docu-style camera techniques that make you feel as if you’re there.

“At first I really was hesitant. It was a big choice I had to make whether to play that bully and have people think I was that character,” admits Hunter King, the “Young and the Restless” Daytime Emmy winner, who portrays the beautiful but brutal bully, Avery, in the film that begins a rollout release March 27 in 17 markets. “I decided to make the choice to take this role because the movie is about something so important. It speaks to so many people.”

Still, she lets us know, “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as an actress.

“Days when I’m done shooting over at ‘The Young and the Restless,’ I’m back to reality right away; ‘This is my job,’ you know? ‘This is real life. I’m OK,'” she adds. “But with this film, a lot of the days I would feel depressed and sometimes it was even difficult to transition back to my real life because I was so emotionally drained from everything that was happening. I had to really dig deep for the emotions.”

Hunter worked with filmmaker Amy S. Weber on the faux documentary that chronicles the worlds of the bully, the bullied (Lexi Ainsworth) and an onlooker (Jimmy Bennett). Weber, she notes, “wrote an outline of the script, of the scenes that are supposed to happen” — but left room for a great deal of improvisation. “Before each scene of the bullying interaction, we would get together and she would explain to me what she would want to see happen and she really made me feel fully confident to embody the character of Avery and get like a really authentic reaction out of everyone.

We really worked together to give everybody a taste of what was going on in Jessica’s (Ainsworth) life.”
And what is going on in Avery’s life.

“Amy really had to prepare me for what a monster I would be in this film. It was really, really hard for me to get into Avery’s head and her mindset. I have never spoken to a human the way Avery speaks to Jessica. But with my director being there and my mom, we really created a really crazy, compelling character. By watching this film, people are going to experience the bully’s side of it,” says the young actress.

Hunter herself knows what it is to be on the wrong side of high school jokes and bad comments — though the former cheerleader is quick to note that what she experienced at her “regular public high school” was on an entirely different level from what is depicted in the film.

“Everyone deals with those mean girls in high school. I had a lot of people make fun of me, and there were occasions when girls or even guys, when they’re just mean and say really hurtful things to you and make fun of you publicly. I got to the point where I thought, ‘I want to focus on my career and I don’t want to deal with being treated like this anymore.’ I had to put myself through that. I graduated early – fortunately, I was able to do that. I didn’t have to go through it like Jessica did.

“But even now, not being in high school, I experience it on Twitter. Anyone who has a social network presence is open to that treatment. The only difference is now I try not to take it as personally as I did in high school. It’s helped a little bit with the different mindset. People can be bullied in middle school or high school — or at work. You can be bullied at all different ages,” she notes.

She hopes that the film will get people talking. “It really is amazing, to be part of something this huge. It’s mind boggling,” she says. “That’s our main goal with this film — to spark dialogue about how to solve this epidemic of bullying and how to get to the root of the problem.”

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Feb 23

oscar winners 2015Eddie Redmayne enjoyed being in a weird dream, Julianne Moore gushed about her husband, and Patricia Arquette honored Meryl Streep in backstage interviews at the 87th Academy Awards.

“It just felt like a euphoria really, an extraordinary euphoria,” said best actor winner Redmayne, describing the feeling of hearing his name called and accepting his Oscar. Adding to the thrill for Redmayne was the fact he was presented with the award by Cate Blanchett, a friend from when they made “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” together. “I was recovering from that excitement of seeing her, and then just trying to bury all this frenzy of nerves and white noise and trying to speak articulately and, of course, you then forget everything,” he said.

Redmayne plans to go back to Cambridge at some point and show his Oscar to Stephen Hawking, his ex-wife Jane and her husband Jonathan and the Hawking children. “They have been so kind to us the whole way through this process. …Their support has been amazing.”

Amazing is an appropriate word for Redmayne’s staggering performance as the ALS-stricken genius. He provided a little insight into his process when asked about his physical preparation for the role: “When I was approaching the film, we knew we weren’t going to be out of shoot chronologically. So we were going to have to jump into different stages in Stephen’s life and within the same day. And so I didn’t want for Stephen — the illness was of very little interest to him after he was diagnosed. He’s someone that lives forward and lives passionately. And so, similarly, I didn’t want the film to be about the physicality. So I wanted to have the physicality so embedded in me that we could play the human story, the love story. And so I went to ALS clinics in London for about four months with a choreographer, wonderful Alex Reynolds, and she helped to sort of train my muscles to sustain those positions for long periods of time.”

The remarkably gifted Redmayne, who sang live on the Oscar show three years ago when he was part of the “Les Miserables” team, is currently making “The Danish Girl” with Tom Hooper, with whom he worked on the great musical. “The Danish Girl,” he said, is “an incredibly beautiful and passionate love story about authenticity and bravery, and so I’m really in the middle of that project at the moment and it just I was filming on Friday night, got on a plane yesterday and I go back tomorrow and I arrive on Tuesday morning, go straight onto set, so this feels like a wild, weird dream that I’ll wake up in a few days, and go, did that happen? I’ll pinch myself, but it’s amazing. I’m having fun.”

“Still Alice” best actress winner Julianne Moore expanded on her thanks to her husband, Bart Freundlich, backstage. “This is the first time I’ve told anybody this, and I’ll tell you guys in this room. He was the first person to see the movie. The first time I saw the cut, he came with me. And I told the story about how I heard him crying, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ When we walked out of there, he said, ‘You’re going to win an Oscar.’ And I was like, ‘Come on.’ I swear to God, that’s what he said to me. And I just couldn’t believe he said that. But anyway, that’s how much he supported me from the very, very beginning.”

The win was a long time coming for the dependably superb Moore, who’s been nominated five times. But the actress made it clear she didn’t feel particularly deprived up till now because she’s been able to do work that she loves and that is meaningful to her.

“I believe in hard work, actually, you know. And I think — and I like stories about — mostly I like stories about people. I like stories about real people and real relationships and real families, and that’s what I respond to. And this movie had all of those things in it,” she said, speaking of the story of a brilliant linguistics professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “It was about a, you know, it’s about a real issue and relationships and who we love and what we value. And so that’s important to me, too. But I mean, I think just, at the end of the day, it’s the work.”

Oscars 2015 will go down as a year thick with causes and comparatively thin when it comes to frivolity. (Who else noticed the complete lack of response to some pretty funny Neil Patrick Harris material?) Best supporting actress Patricia Arquette’s impassioned call for pay parity for women when she accepted her “Boyhood” honors set the stage for more political statements throughout the night. Backstage, Arquette said that she didn’t see Meryl Streep’s standing, fist-in-the-air reaction to her speech, but “I heard about it, and I hugged her afterwards. And she’s the queen of all actresses, patron saint of actresses.”

She continued, “The truth is, the older women get, the less money they make. The more children the highest percentage of children living in poverty are female-headed households. And it’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t — one of those Superior Court justices said two years ago in a — in a law speech at a university, we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So, the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

It’s not surprising that Arquette used her Oscar moment as a platform. She is passionate about her beliefs, and it may be noted, she also suits her actions to her words. For example, she was down in the grit and disease of post-earthquake Haiti, arranging housing for the homeless with ingenious converted shipping containers and bringing eco-sanitation to camps on the stricken island.

With four wins for his “Birdman,” including best picture, Alejandro Inarritu became the second Mexican filmmaker in a row to be named best director (after Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.”) Backstage, he was asked about that several times, then talked about the internationality of the Oscar and the art form. “Look at this room. I don’t know how many nationalities are in this room, but I don’t feel different [from] anybody here. … I as an artist, as a human, as a filmmaker, I cannot have these stupid borders, flags, and passports. Those are a concept that were invented by a human society. But, honestly, naked, in tighty whities we will be the same. And I have never felt that different. So for me to make films in United States, or in Africa, or in Spain, or in Mexico, I’m talking about human beings and emotions. And — and I think that’s the beauty of art. Art doesn’t have those stiff ideological borders that @#$! the world so much.”

Though this year’s nominations launched a cacophony of criticisms in the media and #oscarsowhite comments in the Twittersphere, the Academy Awards ceremony itself certainly proved a moving night for people of color — particularly in the dynamic performance of, and win for, “Glory,” from the film “Selma.”

In his acceptance speech, John Legend bemoaned the number of African-Americans under correctional control in America today and the compromising of the Voting Rights Act those in Selma in the Civil Rights Movement fought so hard to achieve. He expanded on that when interviewed in the pressroom, saying, “I think there still is a lot to be done. Some of the things I spoke about today, about the rolling back of some of the Voting Rights Act, is real. … What I spoke about regarding incarceration is real and it’s destroying communities and it’s a waste of our national resources to put so many people in prison, and it disproportionately affects black and brown communities. And so when we think about equality and freedom and justice, we know we’ve got more work to do … and we hope that our song is inspiration for those who want to do that work as well.”

Common, who shares the best song Oscar with Legend, told press he would have liked to have thanked director Ava DuVernay as well as actor David Oyelowo onstage. “He was the beginning of this film,” he said of Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King. “He had the heart and wanted to make this film and he knew it in his heart. And he made sure that Ava DuVernay got on board, he got Oprah to get it moving, and it’s the reason why the film happened.”

J.K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor honors for his portrayal of a domineering music teacher in “Whiplash,” was a victor to be taken to heart as one who is finally getting well-deserved recognition. The Farmers Insurance spokesman self-effacingly noted backstage that “maybe more people saw me tonight than see me in the commercials for the first time, because I know those are seen by more people than the films.”

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Feb 20

Bill EngvallHosting an award show takes superhuman nerve, as funnyman Bill Engvall can attest. “You only have two or three minutes up front to try to get ‘em,” observes Engvall, who serves as emcee for the second year in a row on tomorrow night’s, Feb. 21, 23rd Annual Movieguide Awards on Reelz.

Yes, in addition to the mighty grand finale of awards season coming up Sunday, Feb. 22 — The Oscars — the weekend brings us a favorite awards presentation among fans of family and faith-based fare. As host, Engvall must be funny while keeping things nice and clean. This is no problem for the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and “Bill Engvall Show” veteran. Humor abounds in this realm, he says. In fact, you can find some of the funniest stuff that happens in church: “Obviously, God has a sense of humor. … Look around.”

Still, he admits he was a little tense about hosting the Movieguide Awards when the idea was presented to him initially. “The worst audience a comedian can have is industry people. It’s not like doing a concert. That said, comedians love the opportunity to do awards shows, so there’s a dichotomy.” The Oscar show is cracked up as toughest of all, yet “I’d love the opportunity to do the Oscar show,” Engvall confesses.

Engvall finds it encouraging that wholesome fare has found a hungry audience of late, as the burgeoning ratings of Hallmark Channel movies and other recent family-friendly television programming shows. In January, NBC made a deal with Dolly Parton involving a series of family-friendly made-for-TV movies. Could it be the start of a bandwagon effect?

“Man, I hope so,” says Engvall. “I’m not preaching here, but it’s unfair to drop something disgusting into a show that can be seen by kids — the kind of thing where you go, ‘OK, that’s just for shock value.’ You don’t have to show them actually slit the man’s throat. You don’t have to be that explicit.”

He adds, “I’m not a prude — I love a good dirty joke as much as anyone — but the language on TV nowadays, I’d have had soap in my mouth for using it.”

Engvall has the big screen “Catching Faith” movie in post-production and he’d love to do more family films. Meanwhile, he’s busy throughout the year doing his standup — and enjoying his own family, wife Gail and their young adult offspring, daughter Emily and son Travis.

The latter is soon to graduate from Northern Arizona University and the Engvalls will be out en force. Attending his son’s graduation necessitated Engvall withdrawing as host of the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan, a move that generated a surprising amount of headlines.

“Some people were upset that I’m going to my son’s graduation,” he acknowledges. “It’s a huge moment in our lives. After all the investment of time and money, to see it come to fruition? Of course we’re going to be there to see him walk across the stage.”

He goes on, “Some of these celebrities don’t realize that one of these days, this will be gone. If your career ends tomorrow, what do you have? You have your family.”

That’s family-friendly indeed.

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Jan 24

ferrerePower suits. Shoulder pads. Catfights. Nobody did the ’80s prime-time soap better than the series that put the nasty in “Dynasty.” Now the Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” is bringing together members of the Carrington clan with the latest in their vintage TV reunion specials, coming up Monday, Jan. 26.

The recent “Knots Landing” reunion show “went over so well, three days after it aired, the producers told me next we were going to do ‘Dynasty,'” says “Home & Family” co-host Cristina Ferrare.

Pamela Sue Martin, John James, Al Corley and Gordon Thomson are among the names you can expect to see. And you never know who might Skype in — as Alec Baldwin did for the “Knots Landing” show.

It’s a blast from the past to Cristina — and not just because she herself used to wear fabulous “Dynasty”-worthy Nolan Miller gowns. Recall that her husband, Tony Thomopoulos, was the head of ABC back when “Dynasty” ruled the airwaves. Tony and his Max Factor supermodel cum TV hostess bride, Cristina, were one of Hollywood’s dazzling power couples. She’d meet the casts of his shows at various industry events, “do the wife thing, say ‘Hello’ and be gracious,” she recalls. Also, having been co-host of the popular “AM Los Angeles” for four years, Cristina met pretty much every show business luminary out to tout their latest projects.

For the Cleveland born-and-raised Cristina, it was a dream come true. “I was like a little girl caught up in this amazing fantasy — sitting with people like Jimmy Stewart and Lucille Ball.”

She notes, “The whole town was so different then.”

Indeed, things were quite different in the four-network universe, when everyone was watching the same shows, before the fragmentation of TV into dozens of outlets and hundreds of viewing choices.  “Home & Family” remains a bastion of show business of, well, a homier and more family style than much of television now.

“That’s what makes us so unique — no make believe ‘reality,’ no shock value. We have real life problems and humor,” says Ferrare, who is in her third season of the show co-hosted by Mark Steines. “We cook and play games. We shoot the show in a real house.”

Their house is in the middle of the Universal Studios Hollywood lot, but hey, it’s still real — which is a bit like Cristina herself. Much as she is part of the show business milieu, she remains relatable to her admiring audience, coming off as down-to-earth, charming and warm — the neighbor everyone would like to have.

She and Tony have now been together 31 years. The former network honcho currently has projects in the works at Sony Television and with the BBC. “He loves producing,” she says.

What’s their secret to a long-lasting marriage in (of all places) Hollywood?

“A sense of humor,” she answers. “We argue — but we argue laughing. We are each other’s best friend.

“And our family — our kids are everything to us. We have seven children — two from my first marriage, three from his, and our two together. Everyone gets along with everyone. It’s always family, family, family.”

And food, naturally, considering Cristina’s culinary gifts. “Home & Family” viewers have seen daughters Arianna and Alex whipping up delectable items along with their mother. Alex has been pursuing cooking and comedy, in fact, and Cristina says she may just have her own show one of these days. “She’s really funny.”

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