Nov 27

JoBethWilliamsPhotoAt a time in life when many consider slowing down, JoBeth Williams has never been busier. She’s currently balancing roles on two series, has work on a third and has two movies in the can. Not so long ago, she found herself going from one series set to work on another on the same day. She admits there have been times she’s been “at one studio thinking, ‘Now wait a minute. Where do I go from here?’ I get lost.”

Not that she is complaining.

Long embraced by the movie-going and TV-watching public for her honest portrayals — in dozens of films including “Poltergeist,” “The Big Chill” and “American Dreamer” and television productions from “I Am Bill W” to “Dexter” — the down-to-earth, all-American actress says she can’t imagine ever retiring. “I like being busy.”

She’s charmed by the team on “Marry Me,” the NBC show on which she plays Ken Marino’s controlling mom, Myrna. Her other series, TBS’s forthcoming “Your Family or Mine” (both from “Friends” producer Jamie Tarses) has JoBeth working opposite long-time friend Richard Dreyfuss.

“It’s based on an Israeli show that is hugely successful over there,” she says. “The idea of it is that each episode takes place at one set of in-laws’ house. So one week it’s set at our house — me and Richard — and the next week it’s at Ed Begley Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson’s house. We are the parents of the son, they’re the parents of the daughter. It’s about how hard it is to get along with your spouse’s family. And it’s very good and very real and very true, I think. So we’ve had a lot of fun, Richard and I.”

They met more than 30 years ago, as founders of a group called L.A. Classic Theatre Works — the precursor of today’s L.A. Theatre Works — that was comprised of “movie, television and theater actors who had all been trained in the theater and wanted to do plays.” JoBeth worked with Richard on radio plays and on a reading of “Babbitt,” but “Your Family or Mine” marks “the first time we’ve actually played husband and wife.”

She laughs when asked how she likes Dreyfuss as a mate. “Oh, he is one of the most imaginative people! He’s a character and he’s fun and the audience loves him. He’s a hambone like the rest of us. I think he’s having a great time. The writing on the show is really good and the other actors are terrific, so we’re really enjoying ourselves.”

With that going on, is it hard to get back into the “Marry Me” mindset? “Sometimes, yeah,” JoBeth responds. “But because it’s a different format. It’s one camera, and you shoot it like a movie. ‘Your Family Or Mine’ is done before an audience, and I love that because it reminds me of theater. It has that live response which really, particularly in a comedy, feeds you and is so gratifying for an actor — although you do get to go back and redo stuff, which you don’t get to do in play,” she adds, smiling.

“With ‘Marry Me,’ what is really fun, the writer/creator David Caspe — who is married to the leading lady, Casey Wilson — he’s often on the set, and he and the directors love to have the actors try a lot of different things.”

TV pundits have duly noted that the network chose to pick up only five episodes of “Marry Me” rather than a full back nine for the second part of its season order, leading to speculation about the show’s future being short.

She points out Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” began with a 13 episode order, then a pickupfor five more — then more episodes were added. Now that show, produced and directed by JoBeth’s husband, the highly regarded film and television director John Pasquin, is in its fourth season.JoBeth, however, says, “It’s got a following and I think it’s a terrific show. I think these young actors are so funny, so good and so clever. I think NBC is behind it because they don’t have a lot of comedies that are working, and this one they have has a lot of promise.”

The Pasquins have been married since 1982 and have two sons. “They’ve both finished college and are out in the work world going ‘well, hell,'” as she puts it.

As for her own career, the affable star says “I’m just happy to be working.” Thinking again, she adds, “It’s exciting because it gives me hope for the future of actresses. As long as I’ve been an actress we’ve been saying, ‘Surely the numbers will improve of roles written for women, and surely the number of roles written for older women will improve. And they haven’t very much unless you’re Meryl Streep. Now I think maybe what we’re seeing, with the quality of television being done and the types of material, that maybe the roles for women over 50 are starting to expand. I hope that’s true.”

Are there still items on her career bucket list?

“I’ve never done a Broadway show and I would love to do a Broadway show,” she says. “I’d love to do another lead in a movie; it’s been quite a while. I was nominated for an Oscar for directing a short film, then I directed for a couple of years — but then I became very busy acting, and my directing was forgotten. People don’t think of me as director anymore. I’m always looking for scripts to do a little independent movie to direct.”

JoBeth, who also finds time to serve as president of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, also feels she’s improved with the years. “I think I’m much smarter than I was when I was a younger woman. I think I have a better attitude toward things. I think I feel a little more connected to my life, and not like it’s this kind of frenzy of trying to achieve.” Now, says JoBeth, “It’s more about being able to do work I love to do, to be able to do it throughout my life, to maintain my health so that I can do it, and to take care of my family — to make sure that those relationships are nurtured and fed. It’s more important to me to enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it.”

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Nov 25

Lindy Booth, Christian Kane, Rebecca Romijn, John Larroquette, John Kim

Rebecca Romijn is looking pretty fierce, kicking butt and saving treasures in TNT’s “Librarians” series that launches Dec. 7 — a feat all the more remarkable considering the kind of schedule she was keeping through much of the production in Portland, Oregon.

“My husband was doing a play in New York and my girls had to finish up their school year, so their grandparents actually came and moved into our house with them and helped them, and I flew homeevery weekend from Portland to be with them,” reports the gorgeous actress of “X-Men” and “Ugly Betty” fame.

Referring to her and husband Jerry O’Connell’s twin daughters, she goes on with a laugh, “Taking care of two 5-year-olds for a weekend is not how you recover from a 90-hour work week. On Mother’s Day weekend, we shot till like 5:30 in the morning. I took a 6:30 a.m. flight home Saturday to spend Mother’s Day weekend with my kids. I was exhausted. I got right into bed and I had my girls with me and they were like, ‘It’s Mother’s Day! Can we go to the merry go round at the mall?’ ‘Hey, it’s Mother’s Day! Can we go to the bowling alley?’ And I was like, ‘How about, ‘It’s Mother’s Day. Let’s stay in bed and watch movies all weekend.’

“It was so tiring, but it was so worth it. And so much fun once they all got up there.”

Romijn also notes, “I enjoy work so much and I want my girls to see that and also sort of be a part of it. I have fun when I’m not working, too, but I’m really happy when I’m working and I want my girls to see that and hopefully be a role model for them.”

According to her, when it comes to spending time setside, Dolly and Charlie “love it. At this point, they don’t think there’s anything strange about it. They’re young enough where they — I think they assume everybody’s mommy and daddy does this.”

Does she foresee her daughters going into acting? “You know, there are some things that are out of our control. They may, and once they finish school they can do whatever they want,” says Romijn, “but as far as I’m concerned, nothing happens until they’re 18.

They can do as much acting in school as they want, but professional acting has to wait. That’s the deal my parents made with me.”

There was plenty for Charlie and Dolly to see around the “Librarians” sets. Taking off from the hit TNT franchise, this series has Noah Wyle’s character now aided by four more Librarians in the great quest to safeguard, preserve, defend, get back and otherwise curate fabled antiquities from supernatural forces. John Larroquette, Christian Kane, Lindy Booth and John Kim star along with Romijn. Wyle recurs and exec produces, and Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin are seen as well. The series keeps the same big, fun-loving tone as its predecessor movies.

“It’s as Noah Wyle put it: ‘Indiana Jones’ as if ‘Indiana Jones’ was being played by Don Knotts,” notes Romijn.

Her character is referred to as the “brawn” of the outfit, and she’s quite pleased about that. “I love it! I mean it’s such a fantastic time in television and movies with all these girls that can kick butt. I’ve gotten to play a few of these characters now that are sort of butt-kickers, and it’s an honor,” she says.

As far as preparation, of course, as the unforgettable blue Mystique of “X Men,” she had “done a lot of fight sequences.” Then, “Right before I got ‘Librarians,’ I had a series on TNT called ‘King & Maxwell’ and I had martial arts and weapons training for that. That was still fresh in my body, so I rolled all that training into this character.”

She was offered “Librarians” by franchise creator Dean Devlin, who is also exec producing the series. “He was working with TNT at the time, and I had a great relationship with TNT so it felt like a no-brainer, a marriage made in heaven.”

As for the future, and the prospective Jerry-and-Rebecca talk show that’s already getting attention? Romijn says, “That’s not official. There’s nothing to announce. We did a pilot, but there’s nothing to say about it yet.” Still, if it did come to pass that she and her witty mate try their hands at a chat show, “They did schedule it I would still be able to do ‘Librarians.'”

And she’s already proven how good she is at juggling schedules.

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Nov 23

Marty Allen bookTalking to Marty Allen is a little like stepping into a time machine, back to those cool Rat Pack days of yesteryear, and even earlier. In terms of keeping an energetic career going well into advanced years, the 92-year-old comic is up there in the rare terrain of Betty White. He not only still frequently plays gigs with wife of 30 years Karon Kate Blackwell, now he’s tub-thumping his “Hello Dere!” autobiography.

I wondered how someone so, well, mature could possibly recall the minutia of events dating back decades — dancing in the White House with Betty Ford, making friends with Joan Crawford, performing with former partner Steve Rossi on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on the same bill as The Beatles? Has he kept a journal all this time? “Oh, I remember, honey,” he assures, his voice imbued with schmoozy Las Vegas charm. “I even remember you.”

I’m not sure how to take that, but no matter. It’s interesting to think of Marty, with his googly-eyed expressions and untamed wilderness of upward-shooting hair, talking to the Fab Four backstage on that pop culture history-making night on the Sullivan show.

“Steve and I had done so many of those — someone asked me, ‘How many “Ed Sullivan Shows” did you do?’ and I said, ‘We did more than Ed Sullivan,'” he says. Ba-dum-bum! Marty recalls Sullivan telling him and Rossi, ‘You’re going to be on with The Beatles, and I went nuts because I had a hunch, when I saw them, that they were going to be the biggest thing that ever happened in show business. They were very nice; they were very courteous. They had no idea who Steve and I were. At the time I had that wild, crazy afro haircut, you know. John Lennon was tuning up and getting ready, and I said, ‘John.’ He said ‘Yes.’ I said ‘A lot of people mistake me for you.’ And he started laughing.

“A lot of little girls were trying to get in. It was the same studio where David Letterman is now. Backstage when we came in there had to be 1,000 girls screaming.”

Marty notes, “In writing the book, I remembered so many things. There’s sadness as well as happiness.”

So now that he’s completed his memoir, is there anything else on his show business bucket list?

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he replies. “Karon and I enjoy doing these shows, working, and now that I’ve got the book. … Hey, just to keep going. It’s a good feeling.”

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Nov 15

If all has goneJosie Bisset Paper Angels according to plan, Josie Bissett of “Melrose Place” fame has just set off for Sri Lanka on a week-long mission with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. She attributes her decision to make the trip to the inspiration she got starring in the TV adaptation of country star Jimmy Wayne’s “Paper Angels.”

Now that’s some strong inspiration.

“I have always wanted to do a mission and I’ve always loved traveling,” she explains. “But you know, life gets busy and work takes your attention.” Now she will be helping in the process of giving hearing aids to hearing-impaired children and adults.

How did “Paper Angels,” which debuts Sunday, Nov. 16 on the UP channel, lead to such a trek? The story of a woman who has run away from her alcoholic husband and is at such a point of destitution she can’t provide Christmas cheer for her children sounds like pretty tough subject matter for a holiday movie. But the readers of Wayne’s immensely popular book will smile at the mention of the name.

“It was just one of those feel-good movies that leave you wanting to be a better person and give more than you get, and I love that,” she says. “I love content like that, especially being a parent myself. I really loved it when I read it.”

In fact, Bissett, who is divorced from one-time castmate Rob Estes, finds much with which to relate in the character. “It was really interesting, the parallels with my own life. My kids are the same ages as the kids in the show, a boy and a girl,” notes Josie, whose son Mason is 15 and daughter Maya is 12. “There are so many single parents out there who can really relate to that struggle.”

She adds, “I’ve always known about those angel trees and the Salvation Army. I’ve known about it, but I’ve never truly understood the impact that it could have. It’s one of those things you do, but you don’t get to see the recipient open it, so you don’t really know. Hearing Jimmy Wayne’s story — because basically, that’s what the script is about — you realize, the Angel Tree program did change his life. His personal story — he got his first guitar through the Angel Tree program, and you know, look at him now. Without that program, he would not have had anything for Christmas.”

Wayne has made it his personal mission, through his songs and writings, public appearances and lobbying, to support and uplift people, especially young people, who are in similar dire circumstances to those from which he pulled himself. He was in a series of foster homes. He recalls starving to the point of stealing food.

“When I met Jimmy Wayne, I swear to you, he’s just like an angel on this earth,” enthuses Bissett. “He had such a horrific childhood and now his entire life is about helping other people because he knows how blessed he is coming out of it. That’s all he does is talk about and travel for foster care and helping the foster care system and his various programs. His story really opened my eyes to someone who is just so incredibly giving and passionate.

“I would love to mention his new book that’s just come out,” she adds, “‘A Walk to Beautiful.’ ‘Paper Angels’ is loosely based on his life, but ‘A Walk to Beautiful’ is his personal story.”

Bissett herself is an author. Her “Tickle Monster” children’s book and “Little Bits of Wisdom and Making Memories,” a compilation of stories she co-edited, have fared well in the marketplace and continue to sell. She has another series in the formative stages, one that she says requires travel.

As far as her acting aspirations at this point? Bissett, who lives in Seattle, says she’d be open to another series as long as it would allow her a reasonable work schedule — especially, she mentions, an ensemble show that would “let me keep a balance in my life.” Living in the Pacific Northwest isn’t a matter of wanting to be away from the bustle of the industry in L.A., she notes. It’s a question of, “Where do I feel the most grounded? Where do I want to raise my kids?”

And then there’s the personal side. “I would love to be with someone again some day, but I’m not out there trying,” confesses the multi-talented beautiful blond. “I still believe in timing, and when things are meant to be. I know in my heart, deep down, the person will come when the time is right. I don’t have to look for it or find it. Otherwise people spend all this time dating and it’s really a time sucker. I don’t have time for that. I’m trusting that it will happen when It happens.”

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Nov 04

Jennifer Lopez book coverCelebrity watchers now know that Jennifer Lopez has felt abused “mentally, emotionally, verbally” in past relationships — thanks to that snippet from her “True Love” memoir going viral in the media.

Released this week, Lopez’ book purportedly “sets the record straight” on her already highly chronicled marriages and romances. When you get right down to it, however, this is not a book of shocking revelations, but introspection — in a pop music diva kind of way — as J.Lo lets us know that, via therapy, she has realized passion is not love. These days, instead of men the likes of Ben Affleck and P. Diddy showering her with rare diamonds, trips to Europe and expensive cars, she writes that she wants a love who’ll give her time, kindness, honesty and faithfulness.

Indeed, evidently third husband Marc Anthony even got to have a look at the book prior to publication.

In the realm of celebrity tell-alls, it’s pretty non-combustible stuff. Recent years have seen a parade of shocking revelations — along with oddball moments, feuds, high living and bitchy remarks — flipping by us in the pages of books. When it comes to unforgettably revealing show business memoirs, it’s a cinch the following Top 10 Tell-Alls will be remembered after Lopez’ book fades.

1. Drew Barrymore revealed shocking facts behind her adorable child star image in her unflinching 1990 book, “Little Girl Lost.” Abandoned by her alcoholic father, saddled with a mother who didn’t act like one, at 7, the ‘ET’ cutie felt she was expected to behave like a 29-year-old. At 9 she was smoking and boozing, at 10 she was smoking pot, and by 12 she was on cocaine. She co-wrote the best-selling ‘Little Girl Lost’ at the older and wiser age of 14.

2. If “Little Girl Lost” isn’t enough to convince readers that it’s hard growing up a child star who is part of an acting dynasty plagued by substance abuse problems, then Tatum O’Neal’s “A Paper Life” will do the trick. In it, she says, among many other things, that her father, Ryan O’Neal, seethed with jealousy over her acclaim for their “Paper Moon” film, that he punched her in the face when he learned of her Academy Award nomination, and that on Oscar night when she was the youngest winner in history, neither of her parents attended the ceremony. Her mother, Joanna Moore, was a hopeless addict and the family was riddled with drug abuse.

3. And then there’s Corey Feldman’s 2013 “Coreyography” that alleged that he and his late friend Corey Haim were both victims of sex abuse by older men who preyed on young boys in Hollywood. He also wrote of his drug addiction and what it was like to hang out with pal Michael Jackson — who was NOT one of the predators — at the height of his fame.

4. Rob Lowe’s “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” and “Love Life” memoirs dish the Lowe down on his wild Brat Pack days, romances with Melissa Gilbert and Princess Stephanie among many others, the infamous 1988 sex tape, his realization in 1990 that he was an alcoholic, rehab, run-ins with other celebrities and more.

5. Tori Spelling made dishing on herself, her randy “Beverly Hills, 90210″ cast mates, and — especially — the extravagant luxury and strangeness of the Aaron and Candy Spelling household into irresistible reading in her 2008 No. 1 best-seller, “sTORI Telling.” Her late super producer dad had snow trucked in to their mansion’s tennis courts as a Christmas morning surprise. Her mother dressed her up in adult costumes — complete with fake breasts and hip enhancements sewn inside — when she was 5 years old and never seemed to fully approve of her. Tori spilled more dirt on her relationship with mom in 2009’s “Mommywood.” Subsequent books including last year’s “Spelling it Like it Is,” prove Tori is the queen of TMI.

6. Mackenzie Phillips’ “High On Arrival” stunned the world with its allegation that she’d had an incestuous relationship for 10 years with her late father, John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas fame. Her former stepmother, Michelle, is among those who denied and pointed to Mackenzie’s long history of drug abuse — but Mackenzie has been embraced by survivors of incest groups.

7. With his 1993 autobiography and tons of tabloid tales, we already knew a lot of dirt about ’50s and ’60s matinee idol Tony Curtis — his sexual conquests, drug use, adultery, the fact he snorted cocaine with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis when she was a young adult. So what could be left to shock the public by 2009? In his “Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Making of the Classic Movie” the late star claimed he and Marilyn Monroe were lovers and she miscarried their baby. He writes, “When I was in bed with Marilyn, I was never sure, before, during or after, where her mind was. She was an actress. She could play a part. She could give the part what she thought a man wanted. I never asked for more.” And here everyone thought they didn’t get along.

8. Perennially breezy and charming George Hamilton joined the tell-all ranks with his “Don’t Mind if I Do” memoir, in which he disclosed that he lost his virginity at age 12, to his stepmother. Ew. Also, George dished on relationships with Mamie Van Doren, Judy Garland, Danielle Steel and — her again — Marilyn Monroe. They had a date but didn’t hit it off.

9. If you’re into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, you’re bound to find Keith Richards’ 2010 “Life” riveting. Reading like an uncensored evening with the legendary guitarist, “Life” wends its way through tales of drug use and affairs that make it even more unbelievable Richards is still alive. This is the book that made Mick Jagger miffed at his Rolling Stones band mate for referring to him as “unbearable” and suggesting he lacked in male endowment — which Richards later said he regretted writing.

10. “Mommie Dearest.” The one that started it all. Christina Crawford’s harrowing 1978 expose about her adoptive mother, movie star Joan Crawford, sent shock waves through Hollywood, spawned a movie with Faye Dunaway and countless send-ups on shows from “Saturday Night Live” to “Project Runway” — and was at least partly responsible for a spate of celebrity tell-alls that followed. (Among them: texts by the daughter of Bette Davis and by one of Bing Crosby’s sons.)

The book alleges: Crawford insisted upon Christina and her siblings addressing her as Mommie Dearest. She had alcoholic rages and attacked Christina physically many times — including once trying to strangle her and the infamous episode wherein Crawford exploded over finding wire hangers instead of covered or wooden hangers in Christina’s closet. She was germ phobic, compulsive. She made the children refer to her many lovers as “uncle'” or “daddy.”

Pundits today conjecture that she may have been bipolar or have had borderline personality disorder. Whatever the case, Christina certainly made good on her vow that Joan would not have the last word by leaving her out of her will.

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Oct 29
Hero Dog Awards 2014

Donna Smith Lawrence and Suzie at left. The AHA Hero Dog Awards 2014 feature hosts Beth Stern and James Denton

In 2009, Donna Smith Lawrence and her husband saw a TV news report about a puppy that had been found with severe burns on her body, her ears burned off, a broken jaw and teeth. The North Carolina hairdresser told her husband she wanted to adopt that dog. It was an astonishing statement — especially in light of the fact that Donna herself had spent weeks in the hospital recovering from a horrific pit bull attack by an abandoned animal in her neighborhood.

The Lawrences nursed the puppy they called Susie back to health. Infuriating many, the man who had so cruelly burned and beaten her was sentenced to probation only. At the time, North Carolina law did not criminalize animal abuse. Donna and Susie got busy — and today the state has “Susie’s Law,” which makes animal cruelty a low-level felony.

On Thursday night (10/30), viewers will have the chance to see Donna and Susie, now a certified therapy dog, being honored at the 4th Annual American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards on the Hallmark Channel. The celebrity-studded award show features compelling story after compelling story of amazing canines. Susie’s and Donna’s story of triumph and forgiveness brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience in the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom.

Susie, however, seemed to enjoy basking in the adulation and glamor. She looked divine in a purple tutu and a strand of faux pearls for the formal event. “She’s kind of used to it,” admits Lawrence with a smile. “She was just a little star, just standing up there on stage, just taking it all in. She didn’t seem to mind at all. That’s kind of her trademark, pearls and tutus,” she adds.

Susie’s rise to fame began with the campaign to get her animal cruelty law on the books. She and Donna visited communities across the state, manned booths at events to get petitions signed, answered questions. Eventually, they took their case all the way into the state house in Raleigh. “We took her right up in front of the Senate and the House and let them see first hand what animal cruelty looked like. I think that’s what really made the powerful difference, ’cause it’s one thing to talk about an animal being abused but when it’s someone marching the animal right up in front of you, you can’t deny it.”

Susie’s abuser wouldn’t have been penalized even to the extent that he was if the assistant district attorney on the case hadn’t thought of prosecuting him on grounds of attempted destruction of personal property. Susie had belonged to the abuser’s girlfriend. “If the girlfriend had shown up in court and said, ‘I don’t care that he burned my dog,’ he would have got nothing,” says Lawrence. “I think her parents kept her away because of all the publicity.” Not surprisingly, Susie’s abuser has gone on to other incidents of trouble with the law.

Since news broke of Susie’s Hero Dog win, Lawrence has been deluged with emails. “I get emails from people who want to get the laws changed in their states: How can I do this? We want to do this here. People just want this epidemic of animal abuse stopped. And that’s how we stop it — to make it a national movement to stop animal cruelty. There are states that have great laws, but others don’t. North Dakota and South Dakota don’t. North Carolina was in the top five worst; the laws hadn’t been changed in 100 years. Alabama has pretty good animal cruelty laws now. Because of a dog that was burned that was named Gucci, they have a law called Gucci’s Law. That dog passed away.” Lawrence and Susie continue their lobbying efforts even as the pooch does her humanitarian work, visiting children, the aged, the disabled, always with her silent message that there can be a bright future even for those in despair.

Susie’s story is not only of victory, but of healing. After her pit bull attack, Lawrence, understandably, had a dread fear of dogs. Susie, she says, “got me over that. I felt God was saying to adopt her and ‘I have great plans for you. From this day forward you will no longer be afraid of dogs,’ and I haven’t been. It’s like Susie opened my eyes to where I don’t have to live in fear. Because, you know, she trusted humans again after what happened to her. I thought, ‘If she can trust humans, I can trust dogs.’ So, you know, she really helped me overcome that fear.”

These days, Susie keeps a full slate of public appearances — and there will be even more now that she is the Hero Dog Award winner of this year. There’s already a movie about her, “Susie’s Hope,” that stars Emmanuelle Vaugier. It fared well on the festival circuit, had a small theatrical run, and can now be found on Netflix, at Walmart, Best Buy and other outlets.

“It’s a really good movie and everybody’s loving it,” Lawrence lets us know. “And it’s a really good tool for the work we’re doing.”

A documentary for 2015 is also on the way. Oh, and Susie has a little toy line of her own – including plush therapy dogs that feature the pit bull mix’s trademark pearls and instead of ears, furry little nubs on their heads.

At age five, she is happy and healthy.

Lawrence adds, “I’m glad Susie won because of what she represents.”

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Oct 22

Stephen LangStephen Lang admits that one of his first thoughts upon reading the script for “23 Blast” — about a high school football player who goes blind, then manages to return to his team — was “‘This can’t be true.’ But it is! It is true.”

The film, opening Friday (10/24), has the esteemed “Avatar” and “Gods and Generals” actor/playwright in the real life role of Coach Willard Farris. It was Coach Farris who had the audacious idea of putting football-loving young Travis Freeman back into action after he became completely sightless. He turned him from a “gazelle” into a “pitbull” by moving him into the position of center.

Recounts Lang, “My agent said ‘I want to send you a script for a football movie that Dylan Baker is going to direct,’ and I was immediately intrigued because I’ve known Dylan for years as a very, very fine actor. And I thought that was exciting.” Once he read “23 Blast,” Lang realized, “‘This is actually a very delicate film. It would be a simple thing to slip into a cloying kind of sentimentality.’ But, in a way, you know, that’s not my problem. I can only be responsible for what I do.”

He went ahead and made the movie on the story’s actual location in the hamlet of Corbin, Kentucky. The youthful cast includes Alexa Vega (“Spy Kids”), Mark Hapka (“Criminal Minds”), Max Adler (“Glee”) and Bram Hoover — with stalwart support from elder actors including Timothy Busfield, Fred Thompson, and Baker himself.

Then, “Cut to several months later and I went to see it, and I was absolutely thrilled because there was an authentic, simple honesty to the film; not one time in the movie did it ever get syrupy or sentimental,” Lang declares. “It delighted me, and it filled me with admiration for Dylan and for the editors and the production team. You know, it could have gone another way, but I thought he elicited lovely performances from a cast of really, really vibrant and fine young actors. I thought the old pros did their jobs just great.”

“23 Blast” is one of a flurry of diverse projects Lang has taken on before battening down to reprise his role as Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s three “Avatar” sequels — all of which are to be made simultaneously. Besides the inspirational sports flick, he was in the recent Stephen King “The Good Marriage,” and next month, he’s taking his Beyond Glory solo show on the road with plans to perform in “eight or nine states.”

Speaking of the consuming experience of making “Avatar,” he notes, “I’ve already been there once — and now instead of one ‘Avatar,’ we’re doing three! I’m thinking for the next couple of years, probably beyond that, it’s going to really dominate my life. So it’s good to be able to get other stuff done and exercise my chops before I plunge into that — something I’m really looking forward to plunging into.”

The excitement in his voice is palpable, in fact. “It’s great stuff. Sometimes it comes easily, but sometimes it doesn’t come easily because there’s so much technical wizardry that has to occur simultaneously in the ‘Avatar’ world, and it’s kind of one foot in front of the other, working scene after scene,” he says. “We’re looking forward to the whole process. We know that not only do we regard it as an extraordinary thing — which we did when we were making the first one — the world has expectations as well. We better be good.”

Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to the unveiling of “23 Blast.” Certainly, coming in the wake of month after month of player scandals that have rocked both the professional and high school football establishments, the story comes as a breath of fresh air.

Lang tells us that a classmate of his happens to be director of public relations for the NFL. “She’s coming to see the film and she is so looking forward to it,” he notes with a smile. “She says, ‘I just want to see something about football in a positive light.'”

Despite the recent spate of negative stories, Lang believes that football “is a very venerable institution. What is that line — ‘When sorrows come, they come in battalions.’ I think there’ve been battalions of sorrows, but still, it is a great, great game.” He pauses, then can’t resist adding with a laugh, “It’s not baseball, but that’s just my opinion.”

Both Freeman and Farris were on the set a number of times during production of “23 Blast.” “We filmed in Corbin and Corbin is a small town,” points out Lang. “It was very nice to meet them. I think the fairest thing to say about what I did — it’s a creation. But I’m not going to say ‘loosely based’ — it was based on this man, Coach Farris, who is clearly a good man. Obviously, without the coach being part of the whole thing, it never would have happened.

“It was terrific having the folks around,” he adds. “They weren’t there on a daily basis. There was never a feeling of ‘I wish they would get out of the way.’ I never felt that at all. I think they’re all quite pleased. What was a very significant event in the history of this town, and of course, high school football. Aside from Travis, high school football is a very important element in that town in terms of a sense of community. So to be able to have his story told, I think, is a really important thing. Everybody was extremely supportive.”

He enjoyed portraying the Coach. “Very often the coach in this type of film is a real hard ass kind of guy, a bit of a drill instructor, real tough. And I think that Farris has that; he stands strong, but there’s also this side where you’ve got heart, and he cares about his people. It’s immensely helpful,” notes Lang, “that the first time you see the coach, he’s coaching six year old boys.”

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Oct 17

Erica durance imageAfter seven years of comic book adventures as Lois Lane in “Smallville,” Erica Durance was glad for a shift into more serious territory with her medical drama, “Saving Hope.” Now the beautiful Canadian actress is trying something different again with the Oct. 19 Hallmark Movies & Mysteries romp, “Wedding Planner Mystery.”

“It was fun. That’s one of the reasons I picked it,” she tells us from her home in Vancouver. “It’s a mixed bag of different things, a little bit of a spy and kind of who dunnit feel, more funny than what I’ve been doing. My heart is in a lot more comedy and that’s how I do life — with a lot more positivity.”

The movie is based on Deborah Donnelly’s novel “Veiled Threats,” about a wedding planner named Carnegie whose work with a rich and notorious family in the midst of a fraud scandal leads to her becoming a suspect when a member of the wedding party is murdered and the bride is kidnapped. This being Hallmark, there’s a suave and oh-so-handsome and wealthy friend of the family who is romantically interested in our girl, and a pesky but oh-so-handsome reporter dogging her footsteps.

Might there be more movie tales of the daring, tulle-wielding Carnegie? “I know that it’s part of a series of books. There wasn’t a lot of heavy discussion about it at the time, but I know that they have other material they can pull from,” she replies. “I never make assumptions. I always come away thinking this is a one-off, a great experience. I’d never say never, but the industry is a little too fickle for me to say ‘I want to do more of these.’ I just want to enjoy this one, and then we’ll see where we’re all at.” She would love to do more work with Hallmark.

Married since 2005 to Canadian actor, writer and director David Palffy, Durance’s life revolves around her professional pursuits.

She currently tied up shooting “Saving Hope.” The series that began life in 2012 as a CTV/NBC offering went on to success in Canada, while NBC pulled its first season from the air with two episodes to go. Now Durance and company is beginning season three, and the show will be making its way back to American audiences via a newly closed deal with the ION channel.

“They haven’t worked out the schedule yet, but I believe we’re starting in January sometime,” Durance reports. “It’s been so gratifying, the people who have been loyal to the show and have found it in a variety of ways despite the fact that it’s not airing in the U.S. It’s pretty incredible — they tracked it down, found different places that it’s streaming from and got a hold of it. I’m really grateful for that kind of tenacity and that kind of support.”

Especially given its unusual beginning, Durance is pleased that “Saving Hope” has kept going. She notes that CTV “loved the show and kept it and pushed it and the fan base continually keeps growing. So I kind of think of us as ‘The Little Engine that Could.’ We keep plugging away and people find it and fall in love with it, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s certainly a different type of thing for me to be doing,” she says of the paranormal-infused medical drama in which the spirits of the comatose and the dead roam the hospital halls.

Not only does she star as Dr. Alex Reid, Chief Surgical Resident of the fictional Hope Zion Hospital in Toronto, she is one of the series’ producers. “I wanted to be able to study the art of storytelling from many different perspectives, not just the acting side. Being in more of a leadership position, learning a little bit more about the other side of things has been really interesting. You realize more fully how every single part of this working mechanism is crucial. One thing that for me was quite new was the editing — to get into that whole other world and just witness just how different your story can be depending upon how you choose to edit. It’s really fascinating.” She feels, “I’m getting paid to go to film school.”


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Oct 14

stephen collinsHas there ever been a faster fall from celebrity to ignominy than that of Stephen Collins? With TMZ’s release last week of a recording made during a therapy session — in which Collins apparently admits to three instances of exposing himself and/or inappropriate touching with three girls under the age of 14 — he immediately became poison to the public and the industry. His scenes were cut from “Scandal,” he was dropped from the film “TED 2,” and countless media outlets reaped ratings, sales and page views from his shame. The TV Guide Network and UpTV dropped “7th Heaven” series reruns from their schedules. And all before a single charge was filed.

Criminal charges may happen, of course. People magazine confirmed that the NYPD had received an official complaint about Collins after the audio came out, and that the case is under investigation by the Manhattan Special Victims Squad. The LAPD reopened a 2012 investigation. Collins’ estranged wife, Faye Grant, secretly made the tape and then handed it over to police that year. She now claims she had nothing to do with the TMZ leak, although Collins’ attorney has pointed out that the timing, on the eve of their divorce trial, is questionable to say the least.

Given the fact that Collins once enjoyed a squeaky clean, religious faith-inflected image, his fall from admiration is particularly brutal. And of course, the accusations are much uglier than in most of even the worst celebrity scandals. But not all.

Going all the way back to the death of actress Virginia Rappe at a wild party in 1921, some of Hollywood’s famed have dropped to the lowest depths. Then-superstar Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was accused of raping the young ingenue violently and assaulting her with foreign objects, leading to her death. It was also said, however, that she was ill with venereal disease when she went to the party. Three manslaughter trials later, Arbuckle was exonerated, with a public apology from the jury, no less. Nevertheless, he remained persona non grata to his formerly adoring public. The case is still argued about today.

From 2003 into 2005, the media was full of awful step after awful step of the case against the late Michael Jackson. Some 70 investigators from the Santa Barbara D.A.’s office descended on Neverland Ranch with a warrant, you may recall, and accusations led to his indictment and trial for child molestation.

On June 13, 2005, the jury found Jackson not guilty on all fourteen charges, but he was a shell of his former self; his old life was over. He lived in self-imposed exile for a while. His health deteriorated and his dependence on pain medication increased, until he died in 2009.

On the other hand, director Roman Polanski’s life and career went on with a great deal of success after the 1977 incident when he was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. He pled guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor, but fled the U.S. before he could be sentenced. Last year, “The Girl,” Samantha Geimer’s disturbing memoir about the rape, was released. Polanski has said he’s regretted the incident ever since.

There were many who believed the star best known as Pee-wee Herman would never come back from lewd conduct charges filed against him in 1991 — the masturbation incident in a Florida adult theater — or the 2002 scandal when his home was raided by police and the L.A. City Attorney’s office seized what they claimed was a massive collection of child pornography. But Paul Reubens has reclaimed his career — possibly due in part to his steadfast insistence that his collection of vintage gay erotica was not child porn.

He issued a statement that people “may think I’m crazy or anything that anyone wants to think about me. That’s all fine. As long as one of the things you’re not thinking about me is that I’m a pedophile. Because that’s not true.” The child porn charges were dropped. Reubens went on to a series of high-profile TV guestings including the role of a European prince on “30 Rock” (created for him by Tina Fey), then his triumphant return as Pee-wee in 2010. This year, movie audiences saw him in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and TV viewers watched him in “The Blacklist.”

Only a few years ago, an Access Hollywood poll showed that 72 percent of moviegoers planned to pass on future Mel Gibson films — that after the star’s anti-Semitic tirade while being arrested, his hurling of the N-word, and his accusations of abuse by ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.

However, industry insiders we spoke to at the time predicted he would overcome. After all, he was worth almost a billion dollars and had an entertainment empire. “If you’re saying people won’t come to see his movies because of this, no,” one writer-producer who had worked with Gibson said flatly. “That’s just not how it works in this business. As long as he’s productive, he’ll have an audience.”

You may have noticed that in the recent “The Expendables 3,” Gibson’s villainous character’s wife is a beautiful young woman with a Russian accent. The casting was not a coincidence. Some joke.

Some stars have struggled back from ignominy. Whether Collins can find a pathway to some sort of public reconciliation is a question that won’t be answered for a long time.

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Oct 08

Along Came A Nanny Final Photo AssetsHandsome and energetic, Cameron Mathison has amassed several different constituencies of fans at this point in his career. He’s known to soap followers for his long running role as Ryan on “All My Children,” his hosting of the SoapNet reality show “I Wanna Be a Soap Star” and the online “Dallas” after shows.

To “Dancing With the Stars” fans, he’s Edyta Sliwinska’s season five celebrity partner. To “Good Morning America” and “Entertainment Tonight” watchers, he’s a cheerful lifestyle and entertainment segment host.

And to devotees of the Hallmark Channel and the newly renamed Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel, the Ontario-born Mathison is an engaging leading man — soon to be seen in the Oct. 12-debuting “Along Came A Nanny.”

Mathison says that his eclectic career grew on its own energy. He didn’t plan it this way. However, beneath his hearty and congenial personality is a persistent perseverance — that Mathison guesses may stem from his childhood of having to contend with Perthes disease. The disease that affects the hip socket and thigh leaves some children unable to bear weight, with a high risk of broken bones and arthritis.

“From about 2 1/2 to almost 7, I had this big metal contraption on my legs day and night,” he recalls. “It was bigger than what Forrest Gump had in the movie. It’s a tough thing for a young guy. But I have a feeling that on some level, maybe subconscious, it added a lot of drive for me to do what I want to do — to try new things, and to be very active. I’m a very active guy. I think it plays into my life in more ways than I even know.”

To be sure, those who saw Mathison doing his thing on “Dancing With the Stars” know how brilliantly he succeeded in overcoming any physical limitation.

His latest starring role is less demanding on his athleticism — but does call upon his ability to shoot hoops and do physical comedy. In “Along Came a Nanny,” he plays a police detective who goes undercover as, yes, a nanny in order to solve a string of robberies.

It turns out that as a domestic majordomo he makes a great cop.

“Some of the most fun I had was the comedic stuff,” says the actor, whose character becomes smitten with a lovely fellow nanny in the neighborhood (Sarah Lancaster from “Chuck”) in the TV movie. “I had a lot of fun being a disastrous nanny around the house, trashing the place, ruining the laundry room and the kitchen. I had a lot of fun with the kids.”

His own son and daughter with wife Vanessa Arevalo are not so different in age from his on-camera charges, Valin Shinyei and Jena Skodje.

“I got to teach this boy how to play basketball, and I’ve taught my son how to play. I literally have those scenes in my life with my son a lot. I coach his basketball team. Those were fun,” notes Mathison.

Other scenes in “Along Came a Nanny” were more intense, there being bad guys and all, so Mathison got to show some different sides.

As far as his own domestic skills? He laughs. “I’m a very hands-on dad with respect to the kids, helping them with homework and things like that. As far as cooking, I’m very good at breakfast and there are some specific dinners that I am in charge of like meatloaf that I do. In general, though, lunches and dinners are usually my wife’s doing.”

He’d love to see “Along Came a Nanny” have a life after this movie. “In any actor’s head, you know, I can spin this into a series in a heartbeat,” he says. “I would love to continue. It’s such a fun character, and it has potential, I think.

“As far as Hallmark in general, I have nothing in the books right now, but I’d love to do more with them. I love working for Hallmark. I love the kindness and the good intentions in their projects. I love the opportunities that they’ve given me to play. I love how I feel doing their scripts and in their stories, and watching the finished projects. It’s a very feel-good, family-oriented place. I’m proud of these movies, proud to show them to my kids,” says the actor, whose other Hallmark credits include “The Christmas Ornament” and “My Gal Sunday.”

He’s also glad to be a part of the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (formerly Hallmark Movie Channel) rebranding.

Mathison is so enamored of his new movie, in fact, he even imagines that he could have been a nanny in real life. “Who knows? I really enjoy being around kids,” he says. “I’m like a big kid myself.”

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