Apr 14

Mike Wallace "acting" like a newsman with China's Deng Xiaoping

and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini

Legendary broadcast journalist Mike Wallace is getting his due respect at hundreds of media outlets in the wake of his death this past weekend.  And then there is Gawker.  Judging by the way Nick Denton’s popular media gossip site trashed Wallace’s memory a day after he died, one would think the staff had a personal grudge against him — or they’re rabid for attention, or both.

The John Cook piece, Mike Wallace Was an Icon of Television, Not Journalism, wasn’t a typical, sharp Gawker-as-provocateur offering.  It was as clever as a clubbing — and came complete with an insulting image of Wallace’s head superimposed over the body of a stage performer getting the hook.

The piece refers to Wallace as “a failed soap actor and vaudeville hack named Myron who just wanted to be on television.  He was as much a journalist as Ryan Seacrest.”  Here’s a momentary pause, to allow the absurdity of that statement to sink in as we recall Wallace having the nerve to go to Iran two weeks after the U.S. Embassy takeover in 1979, and to ask Ayatollah Khomeini to his face what he thought of being called a disgrace to Islam and a lunatic.

It continues, “Glossed over in most of Wallace’s obituaries is the fact that his pre-60 Minutes career—he didn’t join the show until he was 50 years old and on his third wife—was little more than a desperate and sustained attempt at achieving celebrity.”

The implication that Wallace landed in news after failing at other professional pursuits is wrong.  In fact, according to Wallace, his decision to devote himself entirely to journalism caused his income to fall to about a quarter of what he’d been making as a multi-career man — for awhile.  As those who are familiar with Wallace’s story will recall, the death of his older son, Peter, during a 1962 mountain climbing excursion, was a pivotal event for him.  As Wallace told Marilyn Beck: “It turned my life around, in a strange way…I decided, ‘How do I make something useful out of this tragedy?  What can I do that he would have been proud of?’ …To me, news stood for substance, social usefulness and integrity.  I decided to limit myself to news.”

That’s not to say Wallace’s career was unblemished.  Cook writes of the scandal over his handling of the 1995 story involving tobacco company whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand.  To criticize his actions would be one thing.  But to say he was never a newsman at all is preposterous.

He reportedly wanted his epitaph to read “tough but fair.”  RIP, Mike Wallace, you strove to live up to that credo and inspired countless others as well.  Which is more than we can say for this cowardly smear job of a dead man — a follow-up to Gawker’s post-mortem smears of Steve Jobs and Andrew Breitbart.  Time for the hook, indeed.

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Apr 11

news photo shows Harrison Ford in 2001 when he rescued missing Boy Scout Cody Clawson

Ryan Gosling’s rescue of a British newspaper writer who had unwisely stepped in front of an oncoming taxi got worldwide attention last week. The “Drive” star pulled her to safety and reportedly said, “Watch out!” – a moment that would likely have passed with little notice had it been some regular guy doing the saving. But good for Ryan, just the same. It was his second widely-heralded real-life heroic moment within a year. Last August, he was seen in a viral video, breaking up a street fight while wearing a striped wifebeater that showed off his impressive biceps. The ode someone wrote to his tank top and guns on You Tube is worth the read.

Is there something about playing movie heroes that makes a person act like a hero in real life? Because we now have enough accounts of such exploits to do a study.

Last year, Brad Pitt reportedly rescued an extra who’d fallen down and was in danger of being trampled in a zombie mob scene for his “World War Z” movie. That was after his other rescue story, in which he saved someone in danger of drowning in a lake. Robert Downey, Jr. stopped filming of “Iron Man 2” to help an injured extra. Heroic Sean Penn rescued two people trapped in a building after an aftershock in Haiti in 2010. Tom Hanks was jogging on the beach near his Malibu, California home in 2002 when he heard the screams of a drowning man – and wound up rescuing him.

And who could forget brave Kate Winslet, saving the 90-year-old mother of billionaire Richard Branson last August? After the Virgin Islands estate in which they were staying was hit by lightning, Kate made sure her children were outside, then rushed back in, picked up and carried the frail elderly lady out to safety before flames consumed the entire structure. Even Kate herself remarked that it was like a movie scene, but nobody said “Cut.” What a woman!

Arnold Schwarzenegger made news in 2004 when he saved a drowning man while vacationing in Maui. The endangered swimmer was in 20 feet of water, and Schwarzenegger reportedly hauled him up onto a boogie board and took him back to shore.

Vin Diesel was riding down the Hollywood Freeway on a motorcycle in 2002 when a car in front of him got into an accident in which it rolled over and burst into flames. The “Fast and the Furious” and “XXX” star screeched to a halt behind it, as the incident was widely reported at the time, ran to the car and pulled the family’s children out of the back seat. After everyone was out, the automobile became completely engulfed in flames.

This gives Vin something in common with “NCIS” star Mark Harmon. Harmon rescued two teenagers from a burning car in 1996, using a sledgehammer to break the windows and pulling the boys to safety. The car erupted in flames after crashing through a fence and into a tree near Harmon’s home in Brentwood. The former UCLA football star ran from his house to help — and rescued the teens before authorities arrived. Modest Mark declined to comment on the incident, but neighbors and medical personnel agreed the boys owed him their lives.

The year 1996 was not only the year Tom Cruise scored with his first “Mission: Impossible” movie and “Jerry Maguire” – it was also Cruise’s banner year for rescuing, with no less than three incidents widely reported in which he starred as a real-life hero. First, Tom came upon a woman injured in a hit-and-run automobile accident, helped her out, took her to the hospital – and then paid her bill! Then, Tom reportedly saved two little boys who were endangered by the crush of a throng of people – by pulling them out of the crowd himself. And then, while yachting, Tom supposedly saved a group stranded aboard a burning boat, giving them a lift. The latter rescue was later disputed – there was a burning boat, but Tom was not involved in rescue efforts — with some authorities ascribing the erroneous reports to media that was, by then, getting carried away with tales of terrific Tom.

There’s no disputing Harrison Ford’s rescuing exploits. An accomplished pilot with a particular fondness for his Bell helicopter, Ford has volunteered his services for rescue activities near his Jackson, Wyoming digs through the years. Our favorite story occurred back in the ‘90s, when a young female hiker named Sarah George was overcome with heat, dehydration and altitude sickness while on a five-hour climb of Table Mountain. Ford flew in to get her. She didn’t know that none other than Han Solo was at the controls of the chopper that saved her ‘til told by an emergency medical technician. With about a minute to go before landing at Jackson’s St. John’s Hospital, the ailing George vomited into a hat. Later, she told press, “I can’t believe I barfed in Harrison Ford’s helicopter!”

The list goes on and on: Pierce Brosnan jumped into a runaway van and put on the brakes during filming of “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” in 2009, thereby sparing a nearby group including Uma Thurman from injury. “Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen saved his co-star Zuleikha Robinson from a runaway horse – by jumping off the back of the animal and grabbing the reins that had slipped from her hands — on the set of his film, “Hidalgo.”

In 2004, actor and singer Robert Davi answered a cry for help from his neighbor’s kids in Northridge, CA, and wound up rushing into the neighbor’s burning house and (with two L.A.P.D. officer friends) fighting the flames until the fire department arrived, saving the house from destruction.

Renee Zellweger became a real-life action hero when she saved a woman who had collapsed when out hiking in California’s Runyan Canyon. Renee was walking with her personal trainer when she saw the lady faint and fall down part of the canyon. Instead of waiting for help, Renee risked her own safety and slid down to help the woman while her friend went to get paramedics.

Hooray for Renee! On the other hand, gals, can you imagine a more dreamy rescue than that experienced by Janice Flisfeder at the Toronto Film Festival back in September, 2001?

Ms. Flisfeder collapsed while at a screening of “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.” She later recalled being brought around by a kindly rescuer: “I felt a man stroking my hair and kissing my forehead saying ‘It’s okay, sweetheart,’ and realized it wasn’t my husband,” the mother of three said. “When I opened my eyes and looked back to him I just thought ‘nahh can’t be.'” The man who rushed to her assistance was Matthew McConaughey.

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Apr 06

Talk about a fast job switch.  While Mary McCormack and her “In Plain Sight” team were in their final days of filming the fifth and last season of her popular USA series, the actress was also fielding occasional long-distance calls about the ABC comedy pilot she’ll be shooting April 24.

Among the issues: whether Mary should have a different hairstyle for the new show — in which she’ll play a newly-unemployed corporate executive trying to adapt to full-time parenting of her two teenaged children.  If so, what should the new look be?  She tells us, “We haven’t made that decision.  After six years it does seem like time to give myself a change.”

And that applies to much more than her appearance.  Her schedule this past week has included the “In Plain Sight” wrap party and three final days of shooting in Albuquerque, NM, where the show is based.  Now she and her husband, producer-director Michael Morris, and their three young daughters are getting ready to leave New Mexico.

“It will take us awhile to move.  The kids are in school here.  We have packing and goodbyes.  It is bittersweet, sad to leave a part of your life,” Mary notes.  “It’s a great crew down here.  We’re going to miss people.  But on the sweet side, there’s more time with my kids to look forward to.  They’re little.  I want to spend more time with them while they’re still small.”

Yet, she’s going right into another show.  “But it’s totally different.  A multi-camera show schedule is so much better for a mom,” Mary points out.  “It’s such an easy schedule compared to what I’ve been doing.”

The comedy (working title: “The Unprofessional”) has a cast including Greg Germann and Mo Gaffney.  “I’ve never done this kind of show before, so I’m nervous,” she says.  “But it’s good to get scared.”

Filming the ending scene of “In Plain Sight” “was emotional,” she admits.  “But we saved time for it.  We had hours.”

Stephen Lang will soon be seen on the show as the long-absent, career criminal father of Mary’s U.S. Marshal character, Mary Shannon.  Also, as followers of the Friday night show are aware, Shannon now has her baby daughter and an apparently cordial relationship with the infant’s father.  And there is her partner, Marshall (Fred Weller) and the yet-unfulfilled energy of their relationship.  Will “In Plain Sight” fans hungry

for some happily-ever-after for Mary Shannon be satisfied?  The actress replies with a laugh.  “I can’t tell you.  I really wish I could.”  Don’t bet against it.

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Apr 06

Loretta Devine tells us that the set of  Lifetime’s Sunday (4/8)-debuting series version of “The Client List” — filled with actresses playing call girls — has become a popular studio destination.  “All the girls are absolutely beautiful, and with Jennifer Love Hewitt the star and producer, the guys — oh!  The guys come around.  They’ll come to push towel racks,” laughs the multi-talented actress, whose credits range from the original Broadway Dreamgirls through “Waiting to Exhale,” “Boston Public” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

And now, she’s playing a madam — Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boss, as a matter of fact.  “Wait until you see her in the show,” Loretta says.  “This girl has a body.  Oh, my goodness!”

Loretta gets to be sexy, too.  How does she like that?  “All I can say is, Thank God for Spanx!”  She adds, “I love my role because she’s a strong woman who is running a business, but she has other sides.  Her husband left her three years ago for one of the girls.”

Beyond the sexy fun, she sees another side for the show as well.  “I think of it as a cautionary tale.  You get a chance to see all the troubles these girls are getting into trying to make a buck.  We’re shooting the eighth episode now, and all kinds of things are happening.  There’s a lot of drama in it, an undertone of danger, as well as comedy.”

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Apr 04

If NBC’s “Bent” romantic comedy gets tossed on the dust pile of short-lived series after tonight’s two episodes air — as TV pundits across the land predict — it certainly won’t be for lack of effort on the cast’s part to save the show.

Charming hottie David Walton tells us his schedule this past week included an intensive radio tour, TV and print interviews.  “Whatever is out there, I’ll do.  I’ve been whoring myself out as much as possible” as he puts it.  “I love it.  I love talking about the show.  The NBC publicity team has been helpful.  I don’t really know how publicity works, but I’m sure the more people hear about it, the better the chance people will watch, so I’ve been telling strangers.  I opened a bank account yesterday and I told the teller I would withhold my opening of the account if she didn’t watch.”

The series, with Walton as a surfer dude contractor working for Amanda Peet’s no-nonsense corporate lawyer/single mom character, has its flaws.  But it also has appeal in the actors’ chemistry, fun repartee and Jeffrey Tambor as Walton’s father, a frustrated actor.  It certainly appears to have more going for it than other shows given more of a chance than its stingy run.  Six episodes are being burned off in three weeks — opposite “American Idol” and “Modern Family.”  Really, it looks like the network is committing sericide.

But Walton is being as upbeat as possible, in his actory way, as he stresses the collection of good reviews amassed by “Bent.”   He adds, “The first episode was good, but by the third and fourth we hit our stride and were dying to do more.  We’ll end our run, and then for a month and a half we’ll wait for our fate.”

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Apr 04

News that Jane Fonda is probably stepping into the pumps of none other than former First Lady Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” feature caused a flap last week — quite predictably, given Nancy’s association with Republican red, and Jane’s with red, as in commies.  This comes fresh on the heels of Julianne Moore’s performance as Sarah Palin in “Game Change” this election year, and Meryl Streep’s Oscar win for playing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  It’s a vintage season for actresses portraying political stars — and in each case, there has been a degree of controversy.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a politically-charged personality for casting to elicit widespread critiques.  When stars play stars of any sort, it’s a hazardous business.  Let’s face it, Ashton Kutcher’s casting as Steve Jobs has just been announced, and already, you know there are moviegoers poised to shoot him down.  Playing someone famous, the risks, the complaints, and the rewards are bigger.  For every triumph — ala Michelle Williams in her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn,” or Jamie Foxx’s Academy Award-winning performance as Ray Charles in “Ray” — there are missteps galore.

You may recall the critical shark bit when the usually-great Kevin Spacey played Bobby Darin in his auteur film, “Beyond the Sea.”  Val Kilmer’s portrait of The Doors’ rocker Jim Morrison was too weird for some — perhaps appropriately — and it reportedly took Kilmer months to shake the character. Dennis Quaid got mixed reviews as Jerry Lee Lewis in “Great Balls of Fire!”  James Brolin was critically crucified for his performance as Clark Gable in the film “Gable and Lombard.”

However, when actors nail such a performance, the rewards are big.  The Academy loves a great star playing a great star.  Think Robert Downey, Jr. — nominated for his Charlie Chaplin performance.  Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who scored an Oscar nomination for him and a win for her, for playing Johnny and June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line.”

With Charlotte Chandler’s Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography having focused fresh attention on the film icon (the book is just now being released in paperback), you can be sure actresses are musing about playing her.  Who could pull it off?  Cate Blanchett, perhaps?  She already has an Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator.”  What a bookend a Dietrich Oscar would be!  Or how about Diane Kruger of “Inglourious Basterds”?  Chandler says she imagines a European actress in the role.

Coming up this year are “The Drummer” biopic of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, starring Aaron Eckhart; Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” HBO Liberace project with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon; Damon again in the planned Robert F. Kennedy biopic “His Life”; and  the competing Linda Lovelace biopics — Amanda Seyfried in “Lovelace,” and Malin Akerman in “Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story.”  Time will tell who’ll get acclaim, and who’ll go down in flames.

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Apr 04

Edie Falco’s acclaimed “Nurse Jackie” returns to the Showtime lineup Sunday (4/8), while in real life, the actress is weighing whether to take on another role — or focus on her role as a mom during her hiatus this year.     “I’m looking at a whole bunch of stuff.  I’m sort of excited by the potential of some things coming up,” she tells us.  On the other hand, “It might not be the worst thing for me to take some time off.  It would actually be nice to be home for the kids and do some things.”

Her kids — adopted son and daughter Anderson and Macy — are now eight and four years old, respectively.  Edie has found that balancing work and motherhood, now that they’re a little older, “Is actually easier.  They come with me a lot.  They seem to enjoy themselves.  They run up and down the halls of the studio where I work. They know the people, play with the guys.  And when they don’t come with me, they understand when I say, ‘I’m going to be late tonight.’  I can actually sort of explain myself, and talk about it when they feel disappointed.”

Contrary to her real-life happy home, things are anything but healthy, smooth or fun for her pill-popping Nurse Jackie Peyton.  The beginning of the new season will find her “still fumbling around to find out exactly what her bottom is — what her last straw will be,” as Edie puts it.  As for Jackie’s work mates and loved ones, “Everybody’s tolerance for the insanity of addiction is different.”  Expect some big changes for Jackie this season.

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Apr 03

Jared Harris is practically a one-man rep company of late, with his “Mad Men” character, Lane Pryce, his recent turn as Moriarty in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” and his forthcoming role — as Ulysses S. Grant — in Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

“What a great character, what an amazing character,” he says of the Union Army General and 18th President of the United States.  “The number of failures the man endured!  When you consider that when the Civil War broke out, he was a store clerk in his father’s canning business, and then eight years later he was President of the United States, it’s fantastic.  What a great 10-part series on cable that would make,” Harris muses.  As far as Harris is concerned, “He’s been kind of maligned in terms of his military success, even his success as a president.”

Of Grant’s notorious drinking, Harris says, “He liked a tipple.  Apparently he couldn’t handle his liquor.  When there were in lulls in the campaign, he would commandeer a steamboat, go up the river for a day and get absolutely legless, and then come back.  But he was never drunk or under the influence while the enemy was anywhere near.

“One of the things that endeared him to his soldiers was that he lived the life they lived.  They were used to seeing commanding officers with 27 wagons of personal belongings following them.  Grant came with one clean shirt and slept on the ground.”

Harris credits “Mad Men” — and the fact Spielberg is a “Mad Men” watcher — for the fact he landed in Grant’s saddle.  In fact, he gives the 15-Emmy Winning AMC drama (freshly returned for its fifth season) credit for the heat in his career.  Having grown up amid the industry, the 50-year-old son of the late Richard Harris is all too aware of its vicissitudes.  “You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.  I remember watching Jack Lemmon accept a lifetime achievement award.  He stopped in the middle of his speech, and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m crying because I’m so happy to receive this award, or because I haven’t worked in two years.'”

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Apr 03

The “Grimm” troupe is three episodes away from finishing production of its first season, with the cast and crew of that NBC supernatural crime drama in good spirits as they near the finish line.

“I don’t know that we’re a huge hit, but certainly a hit enough.  It exceeds most expectations,” notes Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays the series’ good wolfman, Monroe.  “Being on Friday is a nice element, because I think the expectations, viewership-wise, are less on a Friday.  We’re doing really well with Live+7, which is anybody who watches it on DVR or on demand within seven days of the original airdate.  As far as that metric goes, we’re doing very well.”

Mitchell is known for having played a string of disturbed and/or disturbing characters on “Prison Break” (as “Haywire” Patoshik), “Burn Notice” (as unstable arms dealer Seymour) and other shows.  He laughs when asked whether he yearns to play a regular sort, say a suburban dad or office worker.

“I don’t know about playing ‘regular,’ per se, but I think it would be fun to play someone whose rhythms are slower and kind of more delicate, than Monroe, whose brain fires at a certain speed,” he says.  “I love the bouncy, firecracker mind, but I think it would be fun to play someone deliberate, just as a change of pace.”

The actor is grateful that he hasn’t had to endure as many hours in the makeup chair as some might expect for the transformation into his creature alter ego.  He tells us that the team shot sequences of Monroe, the Blutbad, doing various movements all at once, and has interspersed them through the season, as needed.  “The guy who has really had to take it on the chin in terms of schedule is David Giuntoli,” he says of the series’ lead.  “Especially at the beginning, it was really all about him and stuff he was doing.  Now, as the story has entrenched itself and grown roots, there are more people involved in the story and it’s a little easier on him.”

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Mar 30

Gladys Knight is not only in the TV spotlight as a “Dancing With the Stars” contestant — she’s also planning for the launch of her first album in six years, “Another Journey,” next month.  Among the helping hands producing the recording is “American Idol’s” Randy Jackson, who won a Grammy for co-producing her “At Last” album in 2001.

“Yeah, I’m still working with big Dawg Randy,” says the legendary Empress of Soul with a laugh.  “That’s my buddy.  I’m finally coming out with that album.  People kept asking me for it.  I really thought I was through with recording, to tell you the truth.”

She says she’s been amazed to hear Gladys Knight and the Pips songs being sung by contestants on “Idol.”  “It does my heart good to know I did something that’s lasted all these years, and that they feel the music we did is worthy enough to choose to perform at such an important moment in their lives.  That’s how I feel about it: ‘This is your time to shine, and you chose my song.'”

Now is her time to shine as a dancer.  Asked for a progress report on her training, she says, “I’m doing pretty good.  I’m kind of shocking myself, because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do this.  I think a lot of it is due to my partner, Tristan (McManus), and how he teaches and how patient he is.”

Is Gladys a natural dancer?  “Noooo.”  She laughs. “You would think so, honey, with all them Pips dancing around me all the time, but they never let me dance, you know?  I used to want to learn the routines of the Pips and in the beginning I did.  Then Pops said, ‘Ok, look.  This is how it is, Baby.  You’re a lady.  So you’ll strut and the Pips will dance.’  And that’s how they set it up.”

The 67-year-old grandmother of 17 has been keeping up her concert tour schedule, training with McManus while on the road.  She is in the midst of a two-week break as we speak, expecting to get back out for gigs in Canada and Mississippi after tonight’s and tomorrow night’s shows.  “Is that crazy or what?  But when I perform, our engagements are set months in advance and there were things I just couldn’t cancel,” she explains.

Where does all her energy come from?  “Well, I try to eat right, and, you know, exercise is always good for you.  I had fallen off the wagon, so to speak, in terms of exercise, but dancing gives me my cardio.  It’s working out pretty good.”

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