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Remember Ron Glass

The cast of the gritty, Greenwich Village police comedy, Barney Miller (1975-1982), was anchored by Hal Linden in the lead. He played the 12th precinct’s rational police captain, who was practical, balanced and optimistic. The show’s uniquely dry, humorous pathos stemmed from shuttling between cynicism and idealism, almost always with a dash of the ridiculous. A multicultural cast avoided tokenism in the writing, which twists stereotypes every which way with cop and criminal characters that are old, Puerto Rican, black, female, Polish, gay, etc. The most intellectual character was a police detective who’s a writer named Harris.

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Ron Glass (seated, far left) as Det. Harris on ‘Barney Miller’

Detective Harris was played by Ron Glass, who died last week. Glass played Harris with perfection for all eight seasons. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the show, which isn’t easy to find in syndication, and longer since I watched with my dad as a kid while it aired on ABC. I remember Detective Harris as clever and discriminating in spending his wit and intelligence on his work in the precinct; Harris did his job and did it well and was often called upon for his writing skills. What was distinctive, besides his being black in an era in which most black TV characters were poor, uneducated or criminal, is that Harris was both intellectual and debonair; he was handsome and was always the best dressed without being a dandy.

Det. Harris was also the only one with a steady, long-term career goal outside of law enforcement. He was usually relaxed, driven and disciplined. Harris always held himself a bit removed from his co-workers. He was proud, even a bit arrogant, yet affable and he never sought to be just one of the guys. Harris had higher aims. As I recall, the sophisticated detective was also the least prone to suffering, guilt and self-pity. Harris was an egoistic, happy policeman.

I can’t think of too many writer characters in Seventies television, let alone writers portrayed as positive and efficacious, as against fundamentally flawed and neurotic, and in mostly male work environments. I noticed this as a boy and, because I knew I wanted to be a writer, I found myself looking to Harris as a character every week, watching how he held and handled himself, checked himself, disciplined himself, withdrew or spoke up and worked within the precinct as a means to an end. That Harris, who eventually wrote and published a book, happened to be black was less integral to his identity than that he wanted to write. I noticed this, too. I think that’s thanks to Ron Glass, who took biting lines and deadpan looks, gave the character depth—not merely sass—and created an indelible cop-writer.

Last week, a decrepit dictator died who should be remembered for mass enslavement, misery and death and, as a warning, for glorifying thuggishness in TV, media and culture. TV also lost an amicable and talented entertainer, Florence Henderson, who played a cheerful housewife and mother for five seasons on another ABC comedy. Seeing the glorified thug on TV taught me early in life that something was terribly wrong with the world. Watching an idealized parent on TV gave me some guidance in the form of an often artificial and silly situation. I gained the most value from watching an actor playing an intellectual policeman who chooses to become a writer. For eight seasons on Barney Miller, Ron Glass made projecting a goal into the future seem possible and enjoyable. He did it with a sense of hard, grueling work as a rare and rewarding achievement. For this reason, I think it’s Ron Glass, the least likely of these three to be known, grieved and remembered, whose work will have—and ought to have—the greatest impact in the future.

Clinton Con

The New Left-run Democratic Party staged an unsuccessful convention in my estimation, underscoring a contention that Democrats, if elected again to the presidency, may be less effective in persuading the public than you might think. With a politically correct culture and its byproduct, rampant self-suppression and self-censorship, polls may conceal or underestimate the number of Trump voters. I suspect that Trump, a buffoon who represents an American backlash against dominant ideas and intellectuals, has the edge in 2016’s presidential race.

This is partly thanks to Democrats, whose vacancy and empty value proposition is contained in their secondhand convention slogan: “Stronger Together”.

HRChissyHillary Clinton, the former Goldwater girl gone to college, may have intended to stress togetherness over strength but I think the convention theme is a part of her campaign’s problem. By emphasizing unity without providing a coherent cause around which to unite or evidence of unity—the nation, in fact, is divided—Democrats incurred the voter’s anger (Clinton admits that people are “furious” at the state of the union) and affirmed that the nation is more divided than before Obama was elected and re-elected. There is no togetherness in America. Given two terms of hope and change and constant conflict brought by Barack Obama, there is chronic domestic violence and foreign attack—often the blurring of both—amid daily strife, confusion and division.

Obama is why Donald Trump is the only apparent alternative.

Similarly, by emphasizing strength—”Stronger Together”—as the goal, Democrats all but cede Trump’s reason to exist in the race, daring the American voter to choose the strongman whose basic proposition is that he can fix what’s wrong with America, because he’s a more conniving crony than Mrs. Clinton, and that he can do it—somehow, never mind details. If togetherness is what voters seek, they were reminded this week during the Philadelphia propaganda that it is lacking in the U.S. If pure strength is what voters want, they were given a contrast between Trump, whose bluster is mistaken for strength, and Clinton, who obviously does not bring Americans “together” let alone make the incessantly attacked U.S. “stronger”. The evidence is everywhere in the news, social media and the streets. The U.S. is neither stronger nor together by the most elementary accounting of facts. Only entrenched New Left intellectuals and stakeholders really believe Democrats’ slogan if they do (and if they told the truth, they probably don’t). Leftists hurl invective at the Tea Party movement, Ted Cruz and Fox News and at anyone, even CNN and Starbucks, who questions the Obama administration or leftist dogma.

In other words, the Democratic National Convention’s “Stronger Together” is based on a fraud, a lie, a contradiction.

This suits President Barack Obama, a dishonest president who lapsed this week into his performance persona again, cadence and all, to deliver what most pundits deemed an optimistic speech on America. That Obama’s speech was not optimistic, unless by optimism one means confidence in a future nation divided by race, sex and every other factor beyond one’s immediate control, was lost on most pundits, who compared Obama to Ronald Reagan. Obama’s hip, rhythmic rant chided Trump’s narcissism while displaying Obama’s own, invoking himself over and over, from self-centered focus on a past speech to a veiled pitch for a book he wrote. No, Obama’s speech is not an example of optimism in America’s future. It is an example of gloating about America’s demise by his doing. Flag-waving displays of what’s been interpreted as patriotism were a hacking at Americanism—a kind of gravedancing before the casket’s been lowered. The Obama presidency stands for dismantling American law, rights and founding ideals. Obama and the Democrats seek an end to the United States for its moral basis: individual rights. The screaming, yelling, raging and sermonizing was not an expression of optimism, it was pure triumphalism for multiculturalism and feminism and their premise, egalitarianism, over individualism, thinly disguised as Philadelphia patriotism.

But Democrats’ celebration of victory over individualism is premature. America is not yet completely done as the nation based on individual rights. Not yet, not yet. Democrats laid out every old idea to dominate the world’s bloodiest century—altruism, collectivism, statism—with plans for total government control of the individual’s life in terms of faith and the use of force. A preacher sermonized the multicult while a general bellowed about a PC war. Mrs. Clinton would rehash her book about the U.S. as a village, a book in which she proposed prohibition of divorce for couples with children. Vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, a Virginian who expressed admiration for Harry Truman, the Democrat who brought peace in a world at war by dropping the atomic bomb twice, not just once, on the enemy, stood out for sounding reasonable. Bill Clinton was reduced to a prop to make his hard, embittered wife seem softer. Michelle Obama chastised and judged. Michael Bloomberg, who as mayor used demagoguery to ban drinks in New York City, denounced the danger of demagoguery. Socialist Bernie Sanders, who is not a Democrat, made an impact with his socialist uprising. Elizabeth Warren noticeably withheld a rant. Democrats succumbed to the New Left.

Then came Chelsea Clinton, the only child of multimillionaire influence peddlers Bill and Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton eerily emerged to mimic the Stepford-like appearance last week of her friend, Ivanka Trump. This familialism or familism—the alarming rise of a Blood Collective/Family as an American political power—began as modern-era mythology with the morally depraved Kennedys, continued with the terrible presidencies of the Bushes, echoed with repulsive objectification of wives, children and grandchildren with Gores, Palins and others and comes to a sickening, un-American climax with this parade of Trumps, Clintons and still more new breeds. Twins were a Democrat theme. America’s first pair of husband-wife presidential nominees is coupled with a nepotistic GOP nominee. If either major candidate wins, a tyranny of Family looms large over America.

Enter Hillary Clinton, an activist-Methodist from Park Ridge, Illinois, who in her less guarded moments is almost amicable compared to her vulgar, nationalist opponent. Yet the former first lady, senator and secretary of state resembles Meryl Streep’s matriarch ruler in The Giver, pointing, hugging and faking her way through this week’s propaganda show, complete with big screen breaking glass effects to evoke a female Big Brother in 1984. Whether that’s what persuades voters that she is less pathological than the deranged, dangerous Donald Trump remains to be seen. Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to show her composure and speak to Americans as a fractured but decent people, rising above the hatred and divisiveness of the Obama years, pledging to do what her gauzy graphics promise she’s equipped to do: listen to and contemplate Americans as individuals. Hillary Clinton, accepting her earliest New Left ideals, badgered by Sanders the socialist and tied to a track record of distorting the truth while peddling influence, did not rise to the occasion.

Roundup: TCM Classic Film Festival 2016

Classic movies tend to linger. Last month, TCM’s seventh annual Classic Film Festival, which I attended for the first time last year and wrote about here, offered a range of marvelous movies.

I covered festival events, discussions and interviews and watched or reviewed films from every decade from the 1920s to the 1990s. Besides my blog, reports and articles appeared elsewhere online. I’m also writing articles for a new, independent film source for future publication. 80fd3868f6692b85f0c9a3cca2d9d1dbThis year, I was finally able to see a 40-year-old past Best Picture Oscar winner at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 hit Rocky, a film I had never seen in any format. Now, I think every adult should see it. What an inspiring movie.

Besides the new Rocky review, my other TCM festival reviews also include thoughts on the live interviews as applicable. Among the new reviews: thoughts on Stanley Kramer’s brilliant Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) starring Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, John Singleton’s powerful Boyz N The Hood (1991) featuring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, and Vincente Minnelli’s lively, inventive The Band Wagon (1953) starring Fred Astaire.

Happily, I’ve also discovered Frank Borzage’s restored, Rachmaninoff-themed I’ve Always Loved You (1946), Josef von Sternberg’s striking Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich, and I enjoyed seeing Elia Kazan’s insightful A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) with Dorothy Maguire on the big screen for the first time.

John Frankenheimer’s conspiracy-themed The Manchurian Candidate (1962), about an assassination plot to control the United States of America by a global Communist cabal, was an incredible moviegoing experience—also at the Chinese. It was introduced by Angela Lansbury.

In addition to the interesting discourse on journalism in movies and composer Michael Giacchino’s audio-visual presentation on making the musical score for film, I had the pleasure of watching Faye Dunaway, who’d previously introduced an anniversary screening of another still-timely picture, Sidney Lumet’s satire Network, interviewed at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. Dunaway, a glamorous movie star whom I found intelligent and discriminating about her career, did not disappoint. At that point, I’d already run into the Washington Post‘s Carl Bernstein, who was there for a screening of All the President’s Men, and met fellow movie bloggers and buffs, including TCM curator Charles Tabesh after a press conference. Socially, the best aspect was trading thoughts with moviegoers from across the world.

Classic film fans might also be interested in new Western critiques of Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) co-starring Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck and the 1946 version of The Virginian starring Joel McCrea, both screened at the Autry Museum of the American West.

As much as I enjoy seeing new movies, and I do, I must say that I appreciate the classics more on the larger screens and I think they get better with age. I was filled with a similar rush last year with the TCM-screened movies—film noir Too Late for Tears with Lizabeth Scott, George Stevens’ Gunga Din, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata!, Walt Disney’s So Dear to My Heart and Robert Wise’s adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music—and, afterwards, the same sense of motion picture withdrawal.

Good movies leave me wanting more.

Preview: TCM Classic Film Festival 2016

This week, Hollywood returns to its idealistic, enterprising and glamorous origins, welcoming those who really power the motion picture industry with TCM’s seventh annual Classic Film Festival. I attended for the first time last year and wrote about it here.

80fd3868f6692b85f0c9a3cca2d9d1dbFor four days, the best movies (and, admittedly, others, too) take over Hollywood’s most legendary and best movie theaters to be seen, discovered and enjoyed uncut and commercial-free, to borrow the phrase made famous by Ted Turner’s namesake Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Films from the silent era with Buster Keaton to the Golden Age with Doris Day, Fred Astaire and Gary Cooper and through the modern era with Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett will be studied, examined and discussed by fans, filmmakers and movie stars.

This year’s event passes are sold out, though individual tickets are available as the festival encourages passholders to choose from among several competing movies.

For instance, on the festival’s first night, one can see 1964’s movie about interracial marriage One Potato, Two Potato with leading actress Barbara Barrie discussing it with a film historian afterwards or watch a 40th anniversary screening of All the President’s Men (1976) and hear thoughts on journalism from both the men who made Oscar’s recent Best Picture winner about journalism, Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, and the Washington Post‘s Carl Bernstein, portrayed in the movie by Dustin Hoffman.

But one could also choose from among three other movies in the same time frame: Harold Lloyd’s 1925 classic The FreshmanDark Victory (1939) starring Ronald Reagan and Bette Davis, and Elia Kazan’s 1945 adaptation of Betty Smith’s novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Here, the best is showcased in abundance.

Billy Dee Williams is scheduled to talk about Brian’s Song (1971). The boy who gave voice to Walt Disney’s Bambi (1947), Donnie Dunagan, recalls making the animated classic. Faye Dunaway appears at an anniversary screening of Paddy Chayefsky’s biting and brilliant 1976 satire, Network.

Guests include archivists, scholars, authors and other artists and intellectuals. See the actor who played the boy in 1989’s Cinema Paradiso. See 1989’s Field of Dreams. Indulge in discussion of dogs in films, an examination of the movie score, a conversation with Elliott Gould about acting, thoughts on playing opposite Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner from co-star Katharine Houghton or an appearance by Angela Lansbury at a screening of The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Get to know Truth‘s Mary Mapes and James Vanderbilt, The King and I‘s Rita Moreno, Leonard MaltinChildren of a Lesser God‘s Marlee Matlin, Carl Reiner, the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, Trapeze‘s Gina Lollobrigida, Rocky‘s Talia Shire, or On the Waterfront‘s Eva Marie Saint remembering 1966’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.

The theme for this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is Moving Pictures, meaning there’s an emphasis on movies that move the audience to think, to feel, to act.

Many of the 100 featured films do exactly that and, in today’s disturbing times, several stand out as extraordinarily relevant. From questions raised and dramatized about so-called income inequality in Douglas Sirk’s 1955 classic All That Heaven Allows and blacks’ lives depicted in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood to the penetrating portrait of media complicity in enabling the rise of a charismatic power-luster seeking government influence in Elia Kazan’s prophetic 1957 masterpiece A Face in the Crowd, the best pictures earn renewed respect over time.

Turner Classic Movies, honoring its creator, Ted Turner—a media titan who once bought billboards asking “Who is John Galt?” the philosophical challenge from Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged and created TCM because he loves movies, particularly Gone With the Wind (1939)—continues to earn respect, too. With a wine club, movie-themed Disney cruise, forthcoming app with the Criterion Collection for streaming classic movies and original programming and publishing, TCM skillfully brands itself as an expression of passion for movies which exists with outlets in reality, not as some obscurity for dilettantes pondering the avant-garde.

This week’s film festival is the best example, bringing together people who make and watch movies and doing so with a sense of joy, humor and especially with seriousness for thinking about what moves the world—which is exactly what ultimately moves and makes the best movies.

TCM fundamentally thrives as a source for great movies. But it also serves as a reminder and catalyst for today’s Hollywood to consider and honor its exciting and productive past and move the audience, studio and filmmaker alike to project into the future. Its annual presence in Hollywood gathers and converges the industry’s most loyal patrons and producers to worship what’s glamorous, grand and magnificent about movies, ensuring that industrialization carries on.

Remembering Patty Duke

In the beginning of the 1960s, a child actress took the stage, screen and television ratings with remarkable creative and commercial success. Her name was Patty Duke. Sadly, the Academy Award-winning actress, pop singer and TV star of her own show died this week, apparently of sepsis. She was 69.

Courtesy of UPI

Patty Duke as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker/Courtesy of UPI

The life she lived before her unforgettable and groundbreaking performance as Helen Keller in the stage and film versions of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker was one of turbulence, alcoholism, depression, sexual assault and despair, a stream of child abuse which was a secret until the 1980s. The life she lived after her initial popularity and success carried a high price, too.

I think I first saw Patty Duke on a television game show. It was a 1970s CBS afternoon series titled Tattletales, a forerunner to today’s sordid and self-contradictory reality TV genre (in which nothing, in fact, is as it seems) and she would appear with other so-called celebrity couples with her then-husband, actor John Astin (The Addams Family). In retrospect, it was a flawed premise—it was maudlin—which was often uncomfortable and there is a sense in which Patty Duke, who was born as Anna Marie Duke and constantly struggled with her identity and self-esteem, became somewhat of an early reality TV star.

In fact, in a relevant prelude, Patty Duke had already been implicated in a TV scandal. She had admitted that, as a child star, she’d been given the answers in advance on a popular quiz show when quiz shows were the dominant non-fictional television genre. The genre never recovered from the scandal. But the quiz show scandal became a lesson in America’s cultural history from which Americans, many of whom currently keep up with TV sluts, nudes and bachelors and raise and pound fists at rallies for a TV fascist presidential candidate, have not learned.

Damage became part of Patty Duke’s brand as an actress and celebrity. From portraying Helen Keller in 1962 to playing a part based on Judy Garland in the 1967 adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling novel Valley of the Dolls (as doomed stage and movie star Neely O’Hara), with hit songs and her own hit sitcom—she was the youngest person to get her own show—in between, Patty Duke’s talent and success aligned with the turbulent times. What happened before and between playing larger than life opposites Keller and O’Hara was happening in the culture, too; from her portrayal of an American heroine in what Ayn Rand called her favorite epistemological play to starring as a hedonistic star, Patty Duke’s career matched America’s descent into the gutter. Her personal life was marred by semi-public instances of an extramarital affair, unwed pregnancy, addiction and suicide.

Patty Duke as Annie Sullivan in 1979.

Patty Duke as Annie Sullivan in 1979.

That Patty Duke endured is an integral part of her heroism. The daughter of a manic depressive mother and an alcoholic father who was taken in by a couple who managed and, by her account, robbed and abused her triumphed over the era’s terrible secrets to continue to work and shine in an exceptional life. Patty Duke went on to write her memoirs (Call Me Anna), play the first woman president (Hail to the Chief), portray Martha Washington, and, memorably and powerfully, as Helen Keller’s teacher Annie Sullivan in an excellent TV version of The Miracle Worker with Melissa Gilbert as Helen Keller. She had three sons and eventually fell in love with Michael Pearce, a sergeant she met while playing a woman in the military, marrying him and moving to an Idaho ranch.

Her son, Sean Astin, a fine actor himself, wrote this week that “Anna ‘Patty Duke’ Pearce passed away this morning March 29, 2016 at 1:20 a.m…She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon. She will be missed.”

For being an individual of ability and mastering her own damaged life—for choosing to take personal responsibility instead of hiding in fear, shame and repression—I know that I will miss Patty Duke, whom I had hoped to interview. Describing the petite actress as “fragile, tender and pained” when she auditioned for the role of Helen Keller, Arthur Penn, who directed Patty Duke both on stage and screen in The Miracle Worker, added that what distinguished Patty Duke was her “spark of liveliness.” What distinguishes her now, besides her talent, is that she chose to reignite it, protect it and never let it go out. May Anna rest in peace.