Beverly Hills was alive with the sound of music, if only for a moment or two, when Julie Andrews treated a live audience to the most singing she's done since her botched throat operation five years ago.
On Thursday night Andrews hosted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Centennial Tribute to Richard Rodgers, the legendary composer whose famed collaboration with lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II gave the world such songs as "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "The Sound of Music."
After introducing several live performances and film clips featuring Rodgers-composed songs--including clips of herself singing as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music--the singer caught the audience off guard when she warbled the words to "Do-Re-Mi" in Japanese.
Andrews joined a group of performers that included Oscar winners Joel Grey and Kathy Bates, Tony Danza, Broadway stars Andrea Marcovicci, Anne Runolfsson and Lillias White, and jazz singer/composer Steve Tyrell for the big finale, a rousing rendition of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound of Music.
At the end of the evening, Andrews delicately sang the opening lyric to "So Long, Farewell," also from The Sound of Music, as she bid adieu to the audience, which included her husband, director Blake Edwards, her Music director Robert Wise, composer Richard M. Sherman (Mary Poppins) and all but one of her (now grown) Music child co-stars.
In 1997, the 66-year-old star of Broadway classics such as My Fair Lady and Camelot as well as the films Mary Poppins, Victor/Victoria and The Princess Diaries underwent surgery to remove non-cancerous throat nodules, and the operation left her unable to sing. Claiming she hadn't been warned of the surgery's risks, she sued two doctors and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Just last week the Associated Press reported that Andrews has been seeing Dr. Steven Zeitels, who heads the collaborative vocal restoration project at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for about four years.
"At my age, I'm hoping that there will be some restoration," she said at a press conference. "That actually is a possibility."
NEW YANKED MAGAZINE? New York Magazine is a very popular read in Los Angeles, especially because so many homesick ex-New Yorkers have relocated to the Left Coast.
So it came as quite a blow when the native sons and daughters couldn't find their weekly Gotham fix — the Nov. 29 issue of New York Magazine -- on L.A. newsstands.
What makes it doubly annoying is the fact that the issue carried a highly unusual L.A.-centric article, a scathing profile by Nikki Finke of ex-CAA superagent, drug addict and Mike Ovitz protege Jay Moloney, whose recent suicide shocked the entertainment community.
Finke's allegations were stinging: Dubbing Moloney a "gangsta" agent, she also suggested that the former CAA "Young Turk" was a racketeer whose death may have been more karma than tragic. She recounted his rise in the Biz, thanks to mentor Ovitz, who had him do double duty as nanny and driver on the Ovitz homestead before moving Moloney into the CAA mailroom.
In no particular order, Moloney, alleged Finke, snitched on fellow workers as Ovitz's spy, spread vicious and harmful rumors about competitors, probably stole at least one screenplay idea from friends, lied to at least one major client (Sean Connery), used Ovitz's name to get perks (a lounge chair at the posh Hotel du Cap in Antibes, France) and flaunted his drug usage in hip clubs, etc.
Not completely certain that there was no hanky-panky involved in the curious absence of the Nov. 29 issue of New York Magazine in L.A., we made some calls. Alex, who manages the popular Santa Monica World News newsstand in West Hollywood, said that this was the first time that New York Magazine didn't show up. At Anderson News, New York Magazine's L.A. distributor Robin Dorn said that the issues arrived on time. But Nat Dortch, Anderson's assistant operations manager, said that the magazine went out late, that "something got messed up with the ground carrier" also known as the "break-up agent.'
Mike Gural, director of newsstand sales for the magazine, is investigating the matter. He said that, according to New York's production director, "everything went out fine and on schedule" from the printing plant in Illinois to Anderson News in L.A.
GIRLS, ERUPTED: How to explain the amazing number of strong female characters and even stronger female performances hitting screens this fall and winter. Already, even wise old King Solomon wouldn't be able to choose between Hilary Swank, star of Fox Searchlight's "Boys Don't Cry," and Janet McTeer, star of Fine Line Features' "Tumbleweeds," for the upcoming Best Actress Oscar award.
Even their co-stars are being touted for nominations: Chloe Sevigny for her role as Brandon Teena's girlfriend in "Boys Don't Cry" and the debuting Kimberly J. Brown as McTeer's daughter in "Tumbleweeds." And let's not forget the strong performances of Annette Bening and even Thora Birch and Mena Suvari in "American Beauty."
This week will find Julianne Moore, sporting a very acceptable British accent, as the hypotenuse of a love triangle in Columbia's period romance "The End of the Affair." On Dec. 17 and also speaking veddy British, Jodie Foster, as the eponymous Anna in 20th Century Fox's extravagant epic "Anna and the King," portrays an awfully upright English teacher to the royal family in 1860s Siam (now Thailand).
And there are already whispers of Oscar nominations for Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, co-stars in the psychological drama "Girl, Interrupted," which opens Dec. 21.
Two-time Oscar nominee Kate Winslet has won some boosters and Oscar whispers for "Holy Smoke!" and Gwyneth Paltrow, for the upcoming "The Talented Mr. Ripley," might turn out to be the actress to beat. You go, girls!
SUNDAY IN NEW YORK: It was unseasonably balmy Sunday in New York, with spring and more than a little love in the air. So maybe we should forgive writer/director/boulevardier James Toback, appropriately known for films such as "The Pick-Up Artist," for taking to the streets and doing what he does best.
On Sunday, moviedom's second most infamous womanizer (Warren Beatty retains the No. 1 position in an emeritus capacity) did some picking up on New York's tony Upper West Side hub at 72nd Street and Broadway, chatting up at least one surprised young woman and taking her to a nearby coffee shop in an effort to get her to commit to a date.
Of course, it wasn't just the springlike weather that drove Toback into pick-up mode. His conversation, aiming to get the woman to commit to a rendezvous, oftentimes returned to the word "testosterone." But the "girl, interrupted" turned down Toback, who sported casual clothes, topped off by a Yankees cap and enough beard for two St. Nicks (it's that testosterone, he told her).
Because of action and motives so brazen, it occurred to us that Toback, with appropriately titled films under his belt such as "Fingers," "Love and Money," "Two Girls and a Guy" and "The Big Bang" might also have been trolling for ink. On that front, we're happy to accommodate by also reminding that Toback's "Black and White," which Screen Gems will release in March, opens with what one journalist calls a "filthy" Central Park scene involving two high school girls and a hip-hop artist.
Meanwhile, Friday in New York, at a much more formal evening gathering on the much more formal Upper East Side, a group of TV news biggies, including Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, downed caviar and other delicacies with their drinks. The lavish food offerings were no doubt given careful scrutiny by restaurant guide mogul Tim Zagat, also in attendance.
BUZZ CUTS ...
Tragic and Lowdown: Two tremendously disparate events that happened Friday are nonetheless related. Woody Allen's latest film "Sweet and Lowdown," a mockumentary starring Sean Penn as a flawed 1930s jazz guitarist, opened nicely in three New York theaters. This and Allen's other recent films probably would not have been possible without the fortune generated by the Safra banking family. Allen's producing partner, Jean Doumanian, is the longtime companion of Jaqui Safra, nephew of Edmond Safra, the billionaire banker and scion of the financial dynasty. Last Friday, Edmond Safra died in a mysterious fire in his Monte Carlo penthouse, where two hooded men apparently were attempting a burglary ...
Sharon a New Formula: Don't ever say Sharon Stone doesn't know how to promote a movie. Talking to journalists about her upcoming HBO movie "If These Walls Could Talk 2," Stone, who co-stars with Ellen DeGeneres in a segment about a lesbian couple who become moms, says that she's never experienced greater on-screen chemistry with a co-star than she did with DeGeneres.
A former shoeshine boy, he went on to a prodigious movie career and a prodigious life, starring in more than 100 feature films and siring 13 children. On Saturday, Anthony Quinn passed away from respiratory failure, robbing Hollywood of a true legend. Quinn was 86.
The tempestuous screen image of two-time Academy Award winner and Renaissance man Anthony Quinn matched his much-publicized, unquenchable thirst for life.
Quinn's exotic background enabled him to play a potpourri of ethnicity, ranging from an Eskimo in Savage Innocents (1960) to a Russian pope in Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), to his most famous role, Zorba the Greek (1964).
Quinn also played a plethora of historical roles like Crazy Horse in They Died with Their Boots On (1942), Attila the Hun in Attila (1955), Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956) and Kubla Khan in Marco the Magnificent (1966).
The death of his Irish-Mexican father, who had ridden with Pancho Villa before settling in Los Angeles to work as a cameraman and prop man, forced the younger Quinn to help support his grandmother, mother and sister. In addition to working such positions as shoeshine boy, cement mixer and foreman in a mattress factory, Quinn also played saxophone in evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson's orchestra.
During junior high school Quinn won a chance to study and work with celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose insistence that Quinn attend acting school to improve his speech ultimately led to his career in film.
Though Quinn acted on stage with Mae West in Clean Beds and spoke his first lines on film in Parole (both 1936), he made a lasting impression by standing up to Cecil B DeMille, who cast him as a Cheyenne Indian in 1937's The Plainsman.
As cast and crew looked on, Quinn responded to the most recent of a series of abusive outbursts from the director by telling DeMille how he should shoot the scene and where DeMille could put his $75 a day salary. After staring at the young actor for some time, DeMille announced, "The boy's right. We'll change the set-up," and later said admiringly, "It was one of the most auspicious beginnings for an actor I've ever seen."
Quinn would act in two more movies, The Buccaneer (1938) and Union Pacific (1939), for the directing legend. He would also woo and marry his adopted daughter Katherine and helm the 1958 remake of The Buccaneer, executive produced by DeMille and the director's last project before he died.
By then, Quinn had shaken free of the son-in-law tag to become a star in his own right, exhibiting tremendous staying power over the course of a career spanning seven decades, mixing inspired performances with good cured ham.
Quinn played his fair share of Indians amidst assorted heavies, even ending up with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in two of the "Road" movies: Road to Singapore (1940) and Road to Morocco (1944). But despite many good notices for supporting roles in pictures like Blood and Sand (1941), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and Back to Bataan (1945), it would take a return to the stage to raise his stock higher.
He made his Broadway debut in The Gentleman from Athens (1947) before director Elia Kazan tapped him as Stanley Kowalski for a U.S. tour of A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan then cast him as Marlon Brando's brother in Viva Zapata (1952), for which he earned the first of two Oscars as Best Supporting Actor.
Quinn played an aging bullfighter opposite Maureen O'Hara in Budd Boetticher's The Magnificent Matador (1955) and then won his second Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of larger-than-life artist Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956), the title an apt description of his own zestfulness.
Finally, after 20 years in the business, he had become a full-fledged box office star, and the next year would see him garner a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his turn opposite Anna Magnani in 1957's Wild Is the Wind. Quinn followed in the prestigious footsteps of Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the actor was also outstanding as the opportunistic Bedouin Auda Abu Tayi in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Although Quinn had portrayed with distinction Greek patriot Colonel Andrea Stavros in 1961's The Guns of Navarone, that character paled before what would become his signature role. The very embodiment of the actor's passion for living, Zorba the Greek (1964) was a wise and aging peasant, totally committed to life, no matter the outcome. From his slapstick pursuit of aging French courtesan (Oscar-winner Lila Kedrova) to the pathos of cradling her as she died in his arms, Quinn pulled out all the emotional stops on his way to another Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Nearly 20 years later, Quinn reprised Zorba!, this time in a 1983 revival of the Broadway musical which reunited him with both Kedrovaand the film's writer-director Michael Cacoyannis. Quinn earned a Tony nomination for his efforts before touring the U.S. from 1983-86, forever stamping the part as his in the minds of the theater-going public.
Wife Kathy Benvin, who is the mother of his two youngest children, survives Quinn, along with eight sons and four daughters.
Put Wally Cleaver, Bud Anderson and that kid from "Lost in Space" together in a movie and what do you get? Apparently not what you'd think.
Says Billy Mumy (aka that kid from "Lost in Space"): "When you look at this group of baby boomers' dream cast ... you think, 'Oh, it's going to be 'The Love Boat.' Or it's 'Lost in Space' or it's something kind of cute -- 'Love American Style'-ish. But it's very dark and it's pretty hard-hitting in its tone and non-compromising."
What it is is "Overload," an in-the-works indie sci-fi flick that aims to shoot several former child stars into the nether reaches of the galaxy, including Tony Dow (Wally Cleaver of "Leave It to Beaver" fame), Billy Gray (Bud Anderson of "Father Knows Best") and Billy Mumy, who, if we must be detailed about it, played astroboy Will Robinson on TV's "Lost in Space."
Also on board: Angela Cartwright (Linda Williams on "Make Room for Daddy" and Mumy's TV sibling Penny on "Lost in Space"), Johnny ("The Rifleman") Crawford, Don Grady (middle son Robbie on "My Three Sons"), who'll also handle scoring duties, and -- for good measure -- Melissa ("Little House on the Prairie") Gilbert. Er, make that the voice of Melissa ("Little House on the Prairie") Gilbert. (She's the computer.)
Add up all the names and you've got quite an assemblage of ex-TV kids from the 1950s and 1960s. But given the tabloid rep of said ex-TV kids, you (or some other wise acre) might ask is it lawfully safe for them all to work together on one project at the same time?
Don't worry about it.
Billy Mumy "None of these people have been living depressing, compromised lives," Mumy tells Hollywood.com. "They're all happy pursuing the lives they've pursued."
So, bosh the former child star "curse." "Overload" was not borne of a work-release program or a probation condition. It was borne of a ping-pong game.
The way Mumy, now 46, tells it, the saga began on the set of "Babylon 5," the 1994-98 sci-fi TV series. On "Babylon 5," Mumy, who grew up to be a musician ("Fish Heads"), writer ("Space Cases") and sometime actor, played a latex-covered alien while Dow, now 55, played the director. (Actually, Dow was the director -- one of them anyway. Other helmer credits include "Coach" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.")
Anyway, Mumy started bugging Dow (and the other powers that be on the show) to cast Billy Gray. Now, Mumy didn't know Gray. Had never worked with him. He just thought he was cool.
"When I was a teenager, I used to watch reruns of 'Father Knows Best,' and I used to think Bud Anderson was the coolest," Mumy says. "'Cause he was human, you know. He was just so great. The way he listened, his comedic timing, just the reality within him. ... And [then] he disappeared [from the screen]. No one's seen him for 20 years. I [thought] it'd be so cool. And, of course, they never listened to me and never tried to bring him in [for 'Babylon 5']."
But Mumy didn't give up on Billy Gray. So Dow, a friend of Gray, finally brought the two together. And they all played ping pong.
During the course of a tournament at Dow's house, Mumy asked Gray, whose once-promising film career ("The Day the Earth Stood Still," "On Moonlight Bay," etc.) was stunted by his TV success and whose TV success was stunted by his show's 1960 cancellation and a subsequent headline-making bust for pot possession ("a handful of seeds and stems") in 1962, if he wanted to act again.
Gray, now 62, has gone on to a comfortable existence racing motorcycles and inventing gadgets since bidding his screen career farewell after bits in the likes of "Porklips Now" and "The Vampire Wars." Did he still possess the desire to perform?
Says Gray: "I've always wanted to act. It's just that I never figured out a way to [get] any work. ... If acting was the only thing I enjoyed doing, I suppose I could have, but I've done a little bit of theater and it's not all that fun."
But Mumy's idea sounded fun, and "Overload" -- about seven space explorers in the near future (circa 2069) trapped on a dying vessel (dare we say, lost in space?) -- was hatched.
Mumy and writing partner Peter David cranked out a script for what was then to be a 30-40 minute short, with Mumy as executive producer, Dow as director and Gray as a cast member in good standing.
Along the way, Crawford, Grady, Cartwright and Gilbert joined the project, with "Star Trek" Lt. Sulu George Takei and "Babylon 5"'s Claudia Christian lending added sci-fi cred. Also along the way, "Overload" morphed from a self-financed short to a feature for Galaxy Pictures (www.galaxyonline.com).
If you think "Overload" got attention (and money) because of the former child star angle, the "Overload" team would agree -- to a point.
"What we wanted to do was use it [the former child star thing] as a sort of hook and then turn it around and say, 'Well, wait a second, this is not exactly what we would expect,'" Dow says. "'Cause it isn't an exploitive kind of thing."
Gray agrees "Overload" will be no one-trick pony: "I think that notwithstanding a bunch of kid actors getting together, just that subject matter is something that hasn't been tackled very often."
By way of the Cliffs Notes summary, Mumy describes "Overload" as "'Steambath' [an Off-Broadway play turned 1972 TV movie about a godly towel attendant] meets 'Lifeboat' in 'The Twilight Zone.'" (Translation: Expect a lot of meaning of life stuff mixed in with your special effects.)
After shooting demo footage in the spring, Galaxy says cameras should roll on the entire flick in the fall. Dow, Gray, Mumy and the others will be ready. And this time, Mumy promises, the erst while Will Robinson will have more to do than "lurching left and right and watching out for explosions."
Nobody saw "Nobody." Almost.
With an unwhopping $488 take (less than the price of a big-screen TV), the Phaedra Cinema release was 1999's lowest-grossing feature on record through Dec. 30, industry statistics show.
The film, a Japanese import, represents the flip side of Hollywood's chest-thumping and box-office boasting. For each blockbuster that pulled in $100 million-plus last year (there were 18 in all), there were at least 20 that grossed less than $2,000.
Directed by first-timer Toshimichi Ohkawa, "Nobody" was an action thriller about three friends whose lives changed when a bar fight became something far, far beyond their control. In a review for @NZone Magazine, writer Dustin Putman awarded the film a passing two-and-a-half (out of five) stars, calling it a "tautly filmed and tightly developed" flick that ultimately fell apart.
So, "Nobody," at least according to one reviewer, wasn't terrible. Was it worthy of something bigger than the three-figure gross it pulled in last June?
Sometimes victories aren't measured in dollars and cents.
"Just the fact that you are able to shatter the barrier of getting into a theater is victory enough," says Adam Jahnke, assistant director of Los Angeles operations for Troma Entertainment. "You have to first narrow your vision to the very few independent theaters operating, and then actually get your film booked. It is not an easy process."
Troma - home to low-budget legends such as "The Toxic Avenger" -- knows of where it speaks. The company released the 14th-lowest-grossing flick of '99, "Terror Firmer." The horror flick, a wildly comic tale of carnage, sex and bloodshed on the set of a low-budget movie, earned $1,434 the hard way on just two screens, according to box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.
"It is an uphill battle all the way," Janhke says. "If you make any money after all that, that's a bonus."
Of course, not all low-grossing films are the products of scrappy filmmakers devoid of big-time studio bucks. Five of 1999's bottom 20 were released by major distributors. Miramax ("Heaven"), Strand Releasing ("Pink Narcissus"), Gramercy ("I Want You"), Lion's Gate ("Elvis Gratton 2") and MGM ("Tinseltown") all issued titles that wound up in the under-$2,000 gross category.
These flicks didn't necessarily want for star power, either. Tony Spiridakis' "Tinseltown," a black comedy about two homeless screenwriters who befriend a possible serial killer with hopes of selling a movie based on the would-be sicko's exploits, featured familiar faces like Kristy Swanson ("Buffy, the Vampire Slayer") and Ron Perlman ("Beauty and the Beast"). The crime drama "I Want You" starred Rachel Weisz, who made 1999's top-grosser list as Brendan Fraser's love interest in "The Mummy." Name talent or no, "Tinseltown" and "I Want You" earned less than $1,800 - combined.
And while 19 of the bottom 20 features played at no more than two theaters, Lion's Gate opened the French-language Canadian comedy "Elvis Gratton 2" on a not-too-shabby 91 screens. But with just under $1,200 at the domestic box office through Dec. 30, "Elvis" actually performed worse (per-screen-average-wise) than any other film on the low-grossers list.
In some cases, last year's bottom feeders are still in release and may well end up making more cash before calling it quits and praying for video pay dirt. Troma's "Terror Firmer," for instance, continues its Los Angeles run -- moving from the USC-area University Cinema to the midnight confines of the New Beverly Theater.
Ultimately, the fate of a very small film -- like a "Nobody" -- is traditionally grim. Without money to promote and little incentive for theaters to book, these features are rarely given the exposure they need -- regardless of quality and content.
"Many times you simply can't put together the marketing campaign that will shout loud enough to get above the Hollywood films that command the market's attention," says Sam L. Grogg, dean of the American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Film and Television Studies. "What is important is the critical play and getting the attention of the film intelligentsia."
But Grogg says realists understand that even that kind of breakthrough is rare.
"You have to understand what the limitations are and use them accordingly," Grogg says. "I've always thought of the theatrical release as a launching pad for other release mediums - whether home video or cable TV. A theatrical release is still sought after, however. If you have a movie, you want to have it shown in front of people."
And not "Nobody."
Here's a complete look at the 20 lowest-grossing films of 1999, according to Exhibitor Relations:
1. "Nobody" (Phaedra) -- $488 2. "Bastards" (Margin) -- $503 3. "Tinseltown" (MGM) -- $517 4. "Summerspell" (Margin) -- $603 5. "Olympia" (King) -- $640 6. "Port Djema" (Shadow) -- $783 7. "The Underground Comedy Movie" (Phaedra) -- $856 8. "Flushed" (1st Look) -- $935 9. "The Milky Way" (Kino) -- $1,098 10. "Wallowitch & Ross: This Moment" (1st Run) -- $1,145 11. "Elvis Gratton 2" (Lion's Gate) -- $1,156 12. "Lilian's Story" (Phaedra) -- $1,220 13. "I Want You" (Gramercy) -- $1,242 14. "Terror Firmer" (Troma) -- $1,434 15. "Sixth Happiness" (Regent) -- $1,540 16. "Virtue" (Margin) -- $1,565 17. "Young and Dangerous" (Margin) -- $1,624 18. "The Pusher" (1st Run) - $1,656 19. "Pink Narcissus" (Strand) -- $1,724 20. "Heaven" (Miramax) -- $1,983