They Made it to 2018

Happy New Year! The start of 2018 gives me a chance to update my list of celebrities who are still with us but, because of advanced age or the passage of time, are kind of forgotten. As I’ve said in earlier posts, think of this as a chance to experience the “I didn’t know s/he was still alive” feeling before reading their obituaries.

A good number of past spotlighted celebrities are still kicking. Carol Channing (96), Hal Holbrook (92), Henry Silva (89), and the private Doris Day (93) are alive. Olivia de Havilland continues to be the standout celebrity for my list. At 101, the former actress who had a lead role in Gone With the Wind is likely the oldest living Oscar winner. Of course, former “Lollipop Guild” member and oldest living “Munchkin” Jerry Maren (98) is also a noteworthy mention.

The passing of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry in 2017 make legends like Little Richard (85) and Jerry Lee Lewis (82) worth mentioning. Carl Reiner (95) recently made a documentary for HBO called If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast spotlighting nonagenarians like himself. Friends Dick Van Dyke (92), Betty White (95), Mel Brooks (91), and Norman Lear (95) were all among the folks featured.

That’s already a lot of celebrities, but let me draw attention to three you might not know about:

Larry Storch (94)
Comedian and former star of the show “F-Troop” will turn 95 on January 8. He had a full career in television as a frequent guest star in notable shows of the 60s and 70s and as a voice actor in cartoons later on in life.

Charolette Rae (95)
Mrs. Garret is now 95. She announced last year that she has cancer, but she’s made it to 2018 despite the disease. She is most famous for playing one character on two television shows. Edna Garret began as the housekeeper for the Drummond family of “Diff’rent Strokes” and then became the lead adult in the show “Facts of Life,” which ran from 1980-1988.

Kirk Douglas (101)
The star of Spartacus, Paths of Glory, and The Bad and the Beautiful is perhaps the most famous “Gold Era” Hollywood star still with us. He reached the century mark in December 2016 and is now 101. Father to Michael Douglas, the elder Kirk is arguably the most prominent oldest living celebrity.

“Is Hollywood Mexican enough?”

Chris Rock is making the news these past few days because of his comments on race in Hollywood. Those comments were a lot broader than just about his experience as a Black man in the industry.

But forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans. It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist — not racist like “F— you, nigger” racist, but just an acceptance that there’s a slave state in L.A. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I remember I was renting a house in Beverly Park while doing some movie, and you just see all of the Mexican people at 8 o’clock in the morning in a line driving into Beverly Park like it’s General Motors. It’s this weird town.

You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true?

You can check out his full essay at The Hollywood Reporter.

Oscar invites Latinos to join

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences—the group who selects nominees and winners of the Oscars—is about to grow by some 276 members, and some notable Latinas and Latinos are on the list!

The Academy has been under recent scrutiny for its lack of diversity. A 2012 article in the LA Times estimated that nearly 94% of the select and largely secretive group were white. A staggering 77% were male. African Americans comprised about 2% of the nearly 6000 member organization while Latinos were less than 2%.

Those numbers are about to change. In a year when the Academy lifted is usual quota for new invitees, 276 industry artists and professionals have been invited to become members of the Academy—100 more than last year. Among them are some notable people of color, including a fair share of Latinas and Latinos.

Rosario Dawson and Jennifer Lopez are part of the new class, as is character actor Michael Peña. Everybody’s favorite vato Danny Trejo is a much-deserved invitee. Working actors Miriam Colon, Geno Silva, and Alma Martinez were also recognized for their pathbreaking work. A number of Latinas and Latinos are also part of the non-acting categories of the invitee list.

You can read all the names of the new invitees here.

I am particularly happy to hear of the inclusion of Alma Martinez. I had the distinct pleasure of being her colleague for some years while she worked at Pomona College. The first Mexican American character to be featured in a storyline on a daytime soap, Martinez was a part of the original cast of the historic Chicano production “Zoot Suit.” When the play made its way to the silver screen, she reprised her role.

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Alma Martinez has been working in the industry ever since. She’s not only a mountain of talent and an amazing actress she’s also a trailblazer in this very male and very white world of entertainment. As she has carved out her career she also earned a reputation as an open and caring mentor for others. This is a much-deserved recognition and an exciting event for all Latina and Latino actors.

Latinos are an important part of the movie world. Not only are we a large a ever-growing segment of the film viewing public, but we are also an important part of the community of artists who make the movies. In front of the camera and behind it, in ways recorded and gone unrecognized, Latinos have long contributed to the Hollywood. (For goodness sakes! The model for the Oscar statuette was mexicano screen legend Emilio Fernández!)

It’s only fitting that the Academy expand its ranks and diversify by including more Latinas and Latinos, as well as the many other people of color who will now join this fabled group.

¡Felicidades a todos los nuevos miembros de la Academia!

They made it to 2011

Well here we are–the 2nd Annual “They Made It To ___” on LatinoLikeMe!

For those who don’t remember, in an effort to recognize (largely inactive) entertainers before they’ve actually died, every New Year’s Eve I write a post about three celebrities who lived to see the new year. Each featured celeb had an impact on me in some way and also happened to live long enough that people might be surprised to hear they are still around.

Last year we spotlighted Phyllis Diller, Lena Horne, and Carol Channing.  I’m happy to report that two of the three also made it to 2011.  Of course, recording and screen legend Lena Horne died in May, but what a legacy she left behind.

This year, I want to say how much I have enjoyed the acting talents of Mickey Rooney; the comedic gifts of Sid Caesar; and the legendary career of Esther Williams.

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When he began his career at age 7, the young Joe Yule played the character “Mickey” in a series of serials, eventually taking the name of the title character as his own. Before he reached 19 years of age, he had been in scores of productions, won a “juvenile” Oscar, and starred with Spencer Tracy in “Boys Town.” Already one of the top box office stars of the late Depression, this role catapulted Rooney to the respectable big time. He went on to be one of Hollywood’s most recognizable figures in its “Golden Era” and beyond, making more than 200 films (!), many of which (like “Boys Town,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “National Velvet”) are among the best Hollywood turned out. The diminutive man is also well-known for his romantic life, having married 8 times (his first to star Ava Gardner). His romance with Judy Garland is the stuff of Hollywood legend.

I won’t pretend Rooney was better than he was. He had talent–anybody who watches “Boys Town” can see that–but it probably never really had the chance to mature in any meaningful way. He was a star at a young age and managed to remain so for the rest of his professional life, more focused on “the next picture” than on any kind of artistic development. In a lot of ways, he was a well-established figure before such concerns came of age, but in an industry which celebrates the “working actor,” Rooney worked. Some of that work made an impression on me at a young age. Raised on the classics, and a big fan of Johnny Carson, Rooney has always been a part of my entertainment life. He turns 91 this fall.

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If Milton Berle “invented” television, Sid Caesar was the first to perfect it.  His “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour” are television legends, as big as it gets in the medium.  Sid, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris, and Carl Reiner (who I almost chose for this year’s list) are arguably the best variety comedic cast in TV history, and they were among the first.  His writing staff…well, when you have a play written about your writing staff, you know you were big. Caesar was a TV favorite for most of American in the early 50s, and some of their sketches are the stuff people can still talk about and get a laugh, half a century later.

Sid Caesar, who is now 88, is a figure I can’t neatly summarize in a paragraph or two, and I don’t really want to try.  I do want to say, that in addition to always being one of those figures who I knew as long as I knew of such things, the young historian in me was always respectful and enamored with what he and his crew did.  Every time I got a chance to see a documentary on Caesar I’d watch it, every time I got a chance to see clips from his shows I would.  Maybe more so than most figures of his generation, I liked Sid Caesar because I actually liked his work, not just because he was a big star.

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Finally, Esther Williams–who is now 89–began her career as a professional swimmer. She would have competed in the 1940 Olympics if not for the outbreak of WWII, but instead found her way into acting in one of those legendary stories of “being discovered.” Williams acted for less than 20 years, and though she was a formidable talent behind the camera, he aquatic talents earned her her stardom. Below you will see why:

Williams participated in some of the most visually impressive cinematic creations Hollywood ever produced, and became a household name for a generations of this country. In my house, like in so many others, she became synonymous with swimming talent of any sort (“Look at you! You think you’re Esther Williams?”). I don’t know why–the visual symmetry or the fact that it was ladies in swimsuits–but for some reason I always loved her work.

Plus, she was once married to Fernando Lamas!

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And there you have it! Congrats Mickey, Sid, and Esther! You made it to 2011!!

Kevin McCarthy–R.I.P

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I am a sucker for the working actor, the man or woman who does the job and manages to make a living at it but not necessarily hit the big time in terms of celebrity.  Kevin McCarthy was one of those guys.

He might be one of those people you recognize by face but can’t quite place.  Or maybe he was one of those faces that you remembered instantly, even if you could never remember his name.  He acted for most of his life, credited with some 200 motion pictures and television episodes in his seven-decade career.

Kevin McCarthy died Sunday at the age of 96.  A lot of folks probably didn’t know he was still around.  With some cult classics to his name, he has a good shot of always being around.

Here’s a sample:

From the classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956)

From the cult favorite “Pirahna” (1978) (check out his speech around the 5:00 mark)

And from one of my young adult favorites (for some unknown reason), “UHF”(1989)

Henry Gibson has died

Actor Henry Gibson has passed away at the age of 73.

Depending on your age, Gibson was one of those actors whose face you knew well, though you couldn’t remember his name.  For my generation and older, you could probably remember a few of the reasons you knew his face.  If you’re younger, maybe not.  But you would still know his face.

I have all the respect in the world for actors who can make a full-time career of their art, in particular those like Gibson who never become household names but manage to be as successful as anyone.  If you have a moment, check out his credits at IMDB.  I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

If I were a little bit older, he would probably be best known to me as part of the motley bunch of comics on “Laugh In.”  The three roles I most associate with Gibson, however, are a creepy guy he played on an old episode of “Wonder Woman,” the Nazi guy from “Blues Brothers,” and the voice of Wilbur the pig in “Charlotte’s Web.”  He was great in everything he did.

Thanks for all the wonderful memories Mr. Gibson.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

All-Time Top Movies

As a lover of movies and all things “Hollywood” I have been obsessed with the motion picture box office ever since I was a kid.

As any Hollywood-file knows, however, the top earners list is not the same as the top earners adjusted for inflationThe Dark Knight might have kicked some box office butt last year, but that was largely due to the rise in the price of a ticket, not because more people paid to see the movie than, say, Star Wars.

So who are the All-Time Box Office Leaders when compensated for inflation? Well, here’s the “Top Ten” with their adjusted (and actual) box office totals, and, more importantly, what I think of them:

1. Gone With the Wind (1939): $1,450,680,400 ($198,676,459)
I didn’t see the whole thing until I was in my twenties, when it toured in the beautifully restored version. It was beautiful and grand, yes, but a very different creature than when it was released in 1939.  It was the most-eagerly awaited film in history at its release, a film of a best-selling and much-loved novel. By the late 1990s, Scarlett O’Hara seems like the devil going around fucking up everybody’s life.  Kind of like Showgirls for the Civil War.  Anyhoo, the numbers justify some sort of respect, if not for content and form than just for the sake of being such a monumental hit. And it hit it was.  Gone With the Wind ran in theaters for more than a decade.

2. Star Wars (1977): $1,278,898,700 ($460,998,007)
What can I say about the movie that turned every blanket into an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume and every broom stick into a light saber?  The only reason it isn’t number 1 is because people had more things to do in the 1970s than they did in the 1940s.

3. The Sound of Music (1965): $1,022,542,400 ($158,671,368)
Any movie that recasts nuns into active anti-fascists is one that was bound to be force-fed to me from a young age. All my Catholic recovery steps have done nothing to mitigate the sheer force of Maria and those damned singing kids. I love this movie.  It might be the last of the great musicals to ever be made.

4. E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982): $1,018,514,100 ($435,110,554)
Two memories related to “E.T.” standout for me. First, seeing the movie for the second time, I decided to sit apart from my mom and sister because I thought I might cry. I tried hard to fight off the tears, but one might have snuck out. My other memory is of going to Tijuana to shop and buying a small “piggie bank” of E.T. made of plaster and paint. I chose it from a line of some 40 vendors all collectively selling somewhere between 100 and 150 of the same bank. I also bought an E.T. wallet that day. The movie remains “magical” upon reviewing in my jaded middle age.


5. The Ten Commandments (1956): $940,580,000 ($65,500,000)
I hate Charlton Heston.  And not for his politics, although those were stupid, too. Basic problem with him is that he can’t act.  That can work in film (like in Planet of the Apes) or brilliant people can combine to work around it (like in Ben Hur). Here, he just stinks in what is trite Hollywood Bible fare. That said, I have fond memories of the film growing up, since it was beaten into our minds as some sort of Easter tradition. But how in the hell did Edward G. Robinson get a role in this?

6. Titanic (1997): $921,523,500 ($600,788,188)
I remember walking out of this spectacle and thinking how damned talented James Cameron was to make a movie that had something for everybody. This is a “guy’s movie” and a “chick flick” all at once. I think the parts holdup better than the sum upon reviewing. I remain fond of the narrative structure and the story he weaves, familiar to fans of mainstream films yet unrelenting in its consistency with the project. Plus, its the first film on our list with boobs.

7. Jaws (1975): $919,605,900 ($260,000,000)
I was only three when it came out, so too young for the hoopla. But it had legs (or fins?), as they say. When it premiered on On-TV in the early 1980s, I couldn’t stand the tension! It remains one of my favorite Spielberg movies because he does what he needs to do so frickin’ well. Anytime you are in a pool with kids, don’t you start “the song”?

8. Doctor Zhivago (1965): $891,292,600 ($111,721,910)
This is the one on the list I haven’t seen. I suspect it is good, since Omar Sharif is cinematic coolness.

9. The Exorcist (1973): $793,883,100 ($232,671,011)
I’ve only seen the non-television version of this movie once, at least from beginning to end. I can see how folks thought it was scary but, geez, Nixon was president. Compared to him it’s like the number 10 movie on the list. At my one full viewing I felt it didn’t hold up, especially when compared to Psycho before,  Don’t Look Now! at the same time, and The Ring since.

10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): $782,620,000 ($184,925,486)
Has hardcore mine labor ever sounded so good? You have to turn off the “political” analysis side of your brain to make sense of the good parts of Snow White. Then again, if you turn that academic brain on and do some sub-textual analysis it all gets a little kinky. Either way, it is a work of history and of art, looking and flowing better than most of the Disney work. The story works, too.

For the rest of the list, visit the kids at Box Office Mojo.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

25 years ago today a man came from the future

Have you ever tried to cook enchiladas and bake a coffee cake at the same time?  It doesn’t work.  You end up with bad dinner and dessert, or even worse–sweet enchilada coffee cake!  Well, that’s why I haven’t been writing much on the blog lately, because other, more serious, more “finish or else you lose your job” kind of writing is taking my time.

But I couldn’t let the day pass without some mention.  After all, today is the 25th anniversary of May 12, 1984.

You can watch the scene here.

This scene, from James Cameron’s 1984 classic Terminator, has it all:  sci-fi technology; butt; humor at the expense of a hobo; time travel; the inference of gay, alley sex; and a killer Casio™ keyboard score right out of a John Carpenter movie.  It drips with the 80s.

Hardcore sci-fi/Terminator fans will note that “12th, May, Thursday” in 1984 was really “12th, May, Saturday.”  Rumor has it the movie was set to film in 1983–when it was a Thursday–but due to Schwarzeneggar’s contractual obligations to Conan, had to be postponed.  They never updated the day in the script.  I say, when a naked man steals your gun and points it at you, you are bound to get a few facts wrong during an impromptu quiz.  Eh…

After seeing the new Star Trek movie last week, Terminator has been on my mind.  In it, Kyle Reese (the naked man you see above) is sent back from the future by a man named John Connor to save Sarah Connor.  Sarah is the future mother of John Connor, the leader of the resistance in the war against the machines.  In that future, the machines have sent one of their own back to kill her, thereby hoping to extinguish the resistance (by making sure their leader is never born).  What we learn in the movie, of course, is that Kyle Reese is the one who gets Sarah Connor pregnant.  He is the father of John Connor.

But how could John Connor be alive to send his father back in time so that he would be born if he wasn’t already alive?

Ah! Because time is connected but not dependent.  Instead of a Back to the Future space-time continuum, we have a series of dots in time/space where new lines of dots can emerge from the others and not change the course of the ones already in existence.  Sound familiar?

So Skynet was sending back a Terminator to 1984 to kill that Sarah Connor so as to kill off the possibility of a John Connor being born in the future that comes from then.  Get it?  Skynet was so fucking pissed off, it sent a machine back in time to do something that would have no effect whatsoever on its own present reality.  It just wanted to fuck it up for another human reality.

Aw, forget it.  Just bask in the glow of commemorating an anniversary of something that happened in cinematic fiction.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán Merino (1920-2009)

Simply put, he was a legend.

Obit Montalban

While most of us might think of him as something of a semi-comical figure, knowing him primarily from his days as the mysterious Mister Roarke on the hit ABC show Fantasy Island, Ricardo Montalbán, who died yesterday, was much more than a man in a white suit.

As a kid, both the immigrant and native-born sides of my family had a profound amount of respect for him, as an actor and advocate.  People lie Cesar Romero, Anthony Quinn, and Montalbán were the symbols of talent and dignity within our transnational culture.  Montalbán–whose 66 year marriage to Georgiana Belzer was legendary within the Spanish media–was always held in a little bit more esteem than the other two.  I remember seeing him on a Spanish interview show when I was about ten or eleven.  He spoke about his glory days in Hollywood but also about the limiting ways Latinos were (and continued to be) depicted in television and movies.  He never faltered in thinking beyond his own success and fame.

It’s no wonder so many Mexicans on this side of the border respected him.  We could relate to his bicultural life.  He was a star of stage, television, and cinema–in both Mexico and the United States.  When he began his career in Hollywood in his early twenties he had already been acting for years in both Mexican films and stage productions.  He would continue to perform in productions made on both sides of the border through the forties.  When he became a contract MGM actor in that decade, he was one of only a handful of actual Mexicans of the silver screen.

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Montalbán knew first hand the limitations faced by Latinos in the U.S., professionally and otherwise.  He often was cast as the “Latin lover” in his early films and, after leaving MGM, he found himself relegated to playing a host of “ethnic” roles.  As a young Mexican in 1940s Los Angeles, he also recalled instances of witnessing segregation and discrimination.

All this fueled a political committment to improving life for Latinos in the U.S.  He lent his fame to causes like the Council on Mexican-American Affairs, a group founded in 1955 to work for Mexican American rights.  He advocated for a more responsible form of depicting Latinos in cinema, both informally and as the founder of the Nosotros Foundation, a group he led from its 1969 start.  Through Nosotros, Montalbán represented a consistent voice for dismatling sterotypes and opening doors to the next generation of Latino actors.

He paid the price for his political committments.  He attributed his inability to find work in the fifites to an industry that saw him as a trouble maker.  He was misquoted in the press at the time as complaining about Anglos playing Mexicans in film.  Although all his political committments were moderate by even contemporary standards, he was cast as a Latin radical for a time, a reputation that stuck with him for some time.

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Of course, for those of us who are part of generation x, he was also Mister Roarke and Khan in the classic Star Trek sequel released in 1982.

Thoughtful obituaries can be found at the Los Angeles Times, La Jornada, and the Huffington Post.  For more on his politics, see his autobiography, Reflections: A Life in Two Worlds (1980).

Latinos Take Over the Golden Globes

It’s that time of year again!  The Hollywood awards season has begun, for reals!  After those hors d’oeuvres teasers last month, we get the first real course of our nominations feast–the Golden Globe awards.  Nominations were announced today, and you know what? I bet Latinos are shining brightly.

Let me gather up all the Latino nominations for you.  Just a minute…

Hmmm.  That can’t be right.  Give me a sec to double check this.  In the meantime, think about the wackiness of that Illinois governor.  Man!

Alright… well…

America Ferrera got a nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series” for her work on ABC’s Ugly Betty.

And… then… there’s…

DAMN!  That’s it.  I mean, well, Weeds got a nod for “Best Television Series-Musical or Comedy,” and they were sort of a Latino-themed show this year, but it was all gang-bangers, drug dealers, and corrupt Mexican officials on the border (not to mention the murdering, torturing, and human trafficking).

Okay!  New game:

2009 Golden Globe Nominees Who You Might Think Are Latino (But Aren’t)

  • Frank Langella, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama (Italian)
  • Javier Bardem, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Spanish)
  • James Franco, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Italian)
  • Angelina Jolie, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama (just hot)
  • Penélope Cruz, Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Spanish)
  • Sam Mendes, Best Director -Motion Picture (British with a spot o’ Portuguese)
  • “Gran Torino”, Best Original Song-Motion Picture (song about a car)
  • Tony Shalhoub, Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series – Musical Or Comedy (Lebanese)
  • Catherine Keener, Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Lebanese)

I guess the title of my post should be: “Latinos!  Take Over the Golden Globes!”