‘Jeannie’ Barbara Eden dreamed of being a TV cop

Jeannie x650

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Barbara Eden, who turns 85 today, is remembered most fondly as the sexy genie in the Sixties sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie” but what she really wanted to be was a TV cop.

“We had a marvelous idea for a female police officer,” she told me. “It really would have been terrific, an hour show that incorporated comedy and the usual cop-show thing. I thought it could very clever, funny and good for me. It was a cute idea because she was a fish out of water in a man’s element and she often achieved her goals by using unorthodox methods, which gave us good comic material.”

This was in the early Seventies and ABC executives were afraid it wouldn’t work: “They said no policewoman would have blonde hair or fit her uniform, ‘absolutely not, it would not be believable’. Then Angie Dickinson came along on CBS (“Police Woman”) and proved them wrong. I guess CBS had more courage.”

harpervalleypta movie x650

When I interviewed the vivacious star in 1981, she was about to do the TV series, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” based on the 1978 movie of the same title in which she played a single mother who shakes up the pious leaders of a small town by revealing their secrets. It was drawn from a country song written by Tom T. Hall that was a major hit for Jeannie C. Riley in 1968.

Jeanie Eden HagmanEden had become famous as the mischievous Jeannie opposite Larry Hagman (left) in the Sidney Sheldon fantasy comedy series that ran for 139 episodes from 1965. Fans of the show will recall that the suits at NBC at the time were scared to death that in her skimpy, silky costume, Eden would show off her belly-button: “It started out as a joke and I didn’t realise what a snowball it would become. I was always dressed. My belt was at the waist, at the normal waistline, so you didn’t see my navel. I guess we really were square here.”

The Texas-born actress and singer had already done a lot of TV from “Perry Mason” to “Gunsmoke” to “Father Knows Best” and she starred with Merry Anders in 52 editions of the syndicated sitcom “How to Marry a Millionaire” 1957-59. She played opposite Elvis Presley in one of the few of his films worth watching, Don Siegel’s 1960 western “Flaming Star” and  made her first foray into sci-fi in Irwin Allen’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” with Walter Pidgeon and Joan Fontaine in 1961.

Her favourite pictures at the time were two she worked on with stop-motion pioneer George Pal, first in “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm”, which he directed with Henry Levin in 1962. “I have very fond memories and a wonderful feeling for ‘Brothers Grimm’,” she told me. “It was a great experience, it really was. It was MGM doing things well and George, it was just all the way around a good experience. Then I worked with him again on ‘7 Faces of Dr. Lau’ (1964) with Tony Randall, also at MGM. I was very proud of that picture.”

Raised in San Francisco in a musical family, Eden had studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and then she won a scholarship at the city’s Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. She’s had a very steady TV career despite divorces and family tragedy and has been busy as recently as 2009 in the TV movie “Always and Forever”.

Barbara_Eden USO show 1987 x325She also used to do USO shows (pictured right in 1987) and  tour regularly in plays and musicals such as “Blithe Spirit”, “The Sound of Music”, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and her favourite, “Annie Get Your Gun”. “I like ‘Annie’. It’s such a well-written show, so well constructed and I had a big thrill when I did it. The man who had directed it originally, Joshua Logan, came to see it and said he wanted to do a version of ‘Bus Stop’ at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London but I didn’t feel it would be right at the time because son was in school.”

Most of all, Eden said, she just liked the work itself. “I enjoy it. I like my work. I’m always sad when a film is over. We have a great group of people in our industry and you become very, very close in a short period of time, and then, ‘Poof!’ you don’t see anyone for a long time.”

The only role she coveted was the female lead in George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra”. She said, “I’ve always wanted to do that. Somewhere, either on stage or TV or film. I recall vividly Vivien Leigh playing Cleopatra and she was so wonderful. I would like to do that.”

To my knowledge, she never did, but Barbara Eden has given us many fond memories, and one of my fondest is what she said to me at the end of our interview. She was soon to begin shooting “Harper Valley P.T.A.” on the Universal Studios lot, and she said, “Listen, come and see me on the set if you’re in town. I’ll share a boiled egg with you. I brown-paper-bag it to work. Our hours are so long, I nibble my lunch in the trailer and catch a few catnaps. The commissary is a long way from the set and we only have a half-hour for lunch.”

How I wish I had.

Posted in Film, Interviews, Memory Lane, Music, Television | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

TIFF2016: ‘Magnificent 7’ to open, ‘Edge of 17’ to close

TIFF Magnificent 7 x650

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Antoine Fuqua’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven” will have its world premiere at the opening gala of the 41st Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8. TIFF 2016 will close on Sept. 17 with the world premiere of Kelly Fremon Craig’s “The Edge of Seventeen”.

TIFF CEO and Director Piers Handling and Artistic Director Cameron Bailey also announced its first slate of 19 galas and 49 special presentations over the course of the festival. Typically, TIFF announces further titles closer to the event.

Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke (pictured top) head the cast of the reimagined 1960 western classic and Bailey said, “Fuqua’s ability to effortlessly blend visceral action and the emotion of drama is what makes him such a compelling storyteller, and this film is no exception.”

Hailee Steinfield and Haley Lu Richardson (pictured below) star with Blake Jenner in Craig’s comedy about the life lessons of a high school junior and Handling said, “It’s always a pleasure to close the festival with laughter. ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is an entertaining and witty coming-of-age tale that will leave audiences smiling long after the lights have come up.”

TIFF Edge of Seventeen x650

The first round of films, Handling said, includes “bold and adventuresome work by established and emerging filmmakers from Canada, France, South Africa, Ireland, the UK, Australia, USA, South Korea, Iceland, Germany, Denmark, Chile, India, and China.”

Bailey said, “The global voices, transformative stories and diverse perspectives of these films capture the cinematic climate of today. New films featuring cinema’s brightest talents promise to captivate and entertain the world’s film community and audiences alike.”

World premieres at TIFF 2016 will include Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon” starring Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell, Rob Reiner’s “LBJ” starring Woody Harrelson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, and Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest” starring Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin.

Here’s the complete first slate announced for TIFF 2016: Continue reading

Posted in Film, Previews, TIFF Toronto International Film Festival | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When I spoke to Wonder Woman, she had no clothes on …

Lynda Carter Wonder Woman x650

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Lynda Carter, in her “Wonder Woman” prime, stepped naked and wet from the shower as I said “hello” to begin our interview about life after three seasons as TV’s top female superhero.

Sadly, we were more than 2,000 miles apart; she at her ranch just north of Malibu in California, me in Toronto, Canada.  She chuckled as she explained why it had taken her so long to come to the phone. We were live on the radio but I dined out for a long time on my yarn about the time I interviewed Wonder Woman when she was in the nude and it’s a fond memory as Lynda Carter celebrates her 65th birthday today.

It was Saturday Oct. 16, 1982, and I was on my regular weekly spot on the topic of television on Radio CJCL in Toronto with popular broadcaster Tom Fulton. He was the pro and I was the TV “expert” and since the radio station was owned by Telemedia, which also owned TV Guide Canada, where I worked, it was a good fit. Not least because I was able to get Hollywood stars live on the phone on a Saturday morning, most of them not in their birthday suit.

lynda carter hotlineCarter had moved on from “Wonder Woman” after 60 episodes in 1979 and was busy making music specials and TV-movies about social issues such as “The Last Song” (1980), about pollution, and  “Born to be Wild” (1981), about illicit adoptions. Her latest, though, was a straightforward thriller called “Hotline” (right), which was to air the night we spoke. I suggested that she’d done it for the fun of it.

“That’s exactly right,” she said. “It was very hard to do but it was a lot of fun because it was really the first chance I’ve had with something like this. It’s also the first time that I’ve ever lynda carter rita hayworthhad a romantic interest on television in my entire career.”

On “Wonder Woman”, Diana Prince performed her derring do with Col. Steve Trevor Jr., played by Lyle Waggoner. He didn’t count? She chuckled down the line and said: “Well, no. Not really.”

Her career has continued to flourish with TV-movies, including the title role in “Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess” (1983, left) and TV series such as the private detective show “Partners in Crime” (1984) with Loni Anderson (“WKRP in Cincinnati”) and period drama “Hawkeye” (1994) with Lee Horsley. She played the U.S. President in the 2015 TV series “Supergirl” and she remains a very popular singer on the concert circuit with gigs at major venues (below left). She’ll be at Hollywood’s Catalina Jazz Club and the Apple Room, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York in November.

Some stars who become so closely associated with a TV series on the order of “Wonder Woman” come to regret it later, but that’s not been true of Carter. She said, “It’s never been a problem with me. I’ve never felt like it was a problem. I think that actors generally can fall into stereotypes  no matter what series they’ve been on. People see you every week as one particular person lynda carter now x325and they sometimes have a hard time readjusting. But they haven’t done that so far. They’ve been tuning in to see pretty much everything I’ve done and I’m thrilled with that.”

Was she concerned that whenever Wonder Woman was mentioned in the media there would be a picture of her in costume?

She said, “It doesn’t bother me at all. It is something that I did and I certainly can’t control the way that people remember me. I think it will be with my name probably for the rest of my life and afterwards. It’ll be in reruns for a long time. It sold well overseas too, in more than 100 countries. There’s really no place I can go in the world that hasn’t seen it. It’s been very good for me, though, because I have a diversified career so it has provided me with an opportunity to be very well known around the world.”

Note: Tom Fulton, a terrific broadcaster who went on to become the morning host of CHWO Radio in Oakville, ON, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack in December 2002, aged 58. Radio CJCL is now Sportsbet Radio Fan 590. Read more about Lynda Carter the performer at Lynda Carter Sings

Posted in Interviews, Memory Lane, Music, Television | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How a love of sports made Garry Marshall a comedy legend


By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Garry Marshall, who died Tuesday aged 81, said one of the reasons he became one of the most prolific and successful producers of TV sitcoms was because he was a sports nut.

“I’m into sports, you see, and so I approach everything from sports,” he told me. “The farm system has always fascinated me and I feel it should be applied to show business. With series, I was always putting together the farm teams that would come up and take over once the other guys moved on.”

garry marshall x325He also believed that it was important to ring the changes: “Life does not stand still and I think to do the same thing on a show for a long time is not creatively rewarding to anybody. You have to keep coming up fresh and new to sustain in this rather competitive business.”

When I interviewed Marshall (left) in 1982, he was busy with a spinoff from “Happy Days” (top picture) titled “Joanie Loves Chachi” starring Scott Baio and Erin Moran. It wasn’t unprecedented. He’d successfully spun off “Laverne & Shirley” and “Mork & Mindy” before.

That was largely because he had an aversion to pilots: “I’ve been very anti-pilot all my career. I think pilots are a waste of time. Most of my successes have come without pilots.”

With “Joanie Loves Chachi”, he did four episodes initially: “It’s to see what the reaction is, see if there’s a series there. Usually, the public will tell you and we’ll see. Everyone asks, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ well, if it doesn’t work, they’ll go back to ‘Happy Days’.”

The show ran for just 17 episodes and they were back on “Happy Days”. But Marshall said the two leads had been happy to have their own show: “I have a policy in my organisation that nobody is made to do anything. Scott and Erin said they wanted to a show very much. People who want to something else, they have rights. I recall back in the old days, the network insisted that Henry Winkler do his own show. Henry said he didn’t want to do it so I refused to do it. There was quite a fight about it but there was no ‘Henry Winkler Show’.”

Odd couple x325He also paid attention when his stars wanted to quit, including Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (left): “I usually try to run my shows with a certain democracy. I recall on ‘The Odd Couple’, after five years I sat down with Tony and Jack and said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ They said, ‘We did all that we were going to do, we both are ready to do our own shows so why don’t we pack it in?’ So we packed it in.”

Afterwards, Randall reportedly had second thoughts and Marshall said, “Sometimes you’re in a place and you’re going along pretty well and you think something’s wonderful out there but then you get out there there and it’s not quite what you thought. I think the atmosphere we created on that show, I don’t think Tony will ever find again, or Jack, or me for that matter, the kind of chemistry we had. It was a very easy show to do in the sense of making a product each week with every member interested in the product, not interested in their dressing room, what billing they get or how much money they make.”

He also was prepared to see “Happy Days” end: “My dream was to do 10 years on ‘Happy Days’ and the fact that we finally got 10 years has been very rewarding to me. I felt 10 years should be it. But again, I respect the feelings of all the people involved and after the 10th year, if it’s still there and in the ball game … I keep changing the characters and making new angles, they change jobs, change lifestyles … if people want to go on then I certainly won’t say no, I’ll go on with it. I talk like I go there every day and do every single thing. I don’t. But I do go in there and shake it up a lot so they’ll stay awake. They seem to fall into the doldrums and say, ‘Everything is fine, let’s just make the same kind of stuff, and nothing lasts like that.”

The series lasted for one more season and then Marshall took his finely honed comic sensibility to the big screen but aside from “The Flamingo Kid” (1984) and “Pretty Woman” (1990), it’s for his TV shows that Garry Marshall will be remembered.

Posted in Interviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cheryl Ladd on ‘Charlie’s Angels’, Farrah Fawcett and bikinis


LONDON – Cheryl Ladd, who turns 65 today, was always the most fun and down-to-earth of TV’s “Charlie’s Angels”, friendly and a bit flirty, and she wasn’t catty about Farrah Fawcett when she had every right to be.

Ladd joined the hit ABC-TV series in its second season in 1977 to replace Fawcett after the actress then known as Farrah Fawcett-Majors quit to capitalize on the extraordinary fame the show and a best-selling pinup poster had brought her.

Fawcett had garnered attention as David Janssen’s neighbour in his cult private eye series “Harry O” and as an occasional guest on her husband Lee Majors’s show, “The Six Million Dollar Man”.

She joined Kate Jackson, always the serious one (below right), and glacial beauty Jaclyn Smith in the glossy Aaron Spelling crime series about three detectives given their assignments by the unseen Charlie, voiced by John Forsythe (“Dynasty”).

cheryl-ladd w: Smith, Jackson x650

The show was an immediate Top 10 hit not least due to the trio’s frequent need to go undercover in various stages of undress and bikinis in particular. Fawcett left in a legal cloud and Spelling brought Ladd in to play her character’s sister, Kris Munroe.

To the surprise of many, the show’s ratings did not dip without Fawcett, who said ungraciously that she was dismayed that her departure had made no difference to its popularity.

When I asked Ladd several years later how that had made her feel, she said, “I think it’s just very telling about all actors, that there’s always someone getting off a bus somewhere who’s talented, willing to work hard and try to make something of himself or herself. To survive, you have to enjoy the work process and not take the celebrity part of it, or your press clippings, very seriously. It’s a very tough business, a roller-coaster business, and sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re not.”

PURPLE HEARTS, Ken Wahl, Cheryl Ladd, 1984, (c)Warner Bros.Ladd was a singer before she turned to acting and she was busy with TV roles but hungry for something special when “Charlie’s Angels” came along. When I spoke to her three years after the show ended, she told me: “I’d been working regularly on TV series but it was time to get somewhere. I had come very close to getting a role on ‘Family’ with Sada Thompson and Kristy McNichol. It came down to Meredith Baxter-Birney and me. We came very close. Obviously, she got the role and I was terribly discouraged. When ‘Charlie’s Angels’ came along, I was not terribly enthusiastic about it. Not because of the kind of show it was but because Farrah was such a phenomenon. I was a little nervous about going in after her she left. But I was ready to have something happen.”

It worked, but Ladd said she knew she still had plenty of work to do: “Looking back, it was a wonderful experience. But when  I was doing the series and it was successful for me, people said, ‘Wow, you’ve made it; you’re there; it’s happening!’ and I thought, ‘Wait a second, this is just the kickoff to the game for me.’ It was a wonderful beginning but it certainly wasn’t the end-all. The success was very nice but it wasn’t terribly fulfilling for me as an actress.”

Cheryl Ladd OJShe appeared in 87 episodes before the show ended in 1981 and then she took a couple of years off: “Working on a series is grueling. You work 12 or 14 hours a day, then you have interviews and photo sessions. At the time, I was also was doing record albums and specials and in my time off I made TV-movies. Perhaps I overdid it. I worked myself into a bit of a frenzy. It put a lot of strain on my life. I went through a period of time when I had to say, ‘Wait a second. Who am I? What am I doing here? Why am I doing this?’ It can be difficult in this business if you spread yourself too thin. I put my music aside to focus on acting because people get confused if you do too many things.

I interviewed her for TV Guide Canada in the spring of 1984 when Ladd, after appearances in a string of TV-movies including the title role in “Grace Kelly”, was making a stab at big screen stardom in a romance set against the Vietnam War titled “Purple Hearts”. Filmed in the Philippines, it augured well as her co-star was Ken Wahl (above), who would go on to success in TV’s “Wiseguy” and it was directed by Canadian filmmaker Sidney J. Furie, who had earlier made a well-received Vietnam picture there called “The Boys in Company C”.

It flopped, however, and she went on to pursue a steady career in television with films and series including “One West Waikiki” and “Las Vegas”. Latterly she’s had roles on “CSI: Miami”, “NCIS” and “Ray Donovan” and this year she played Linell Shapiro opposite John Travolta as attorney Robert Shapiro in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”.

Long married to Canadian producer Brian Russell, the actress was always clear-eyed about the business. When I asked her if we would see a different Cheryl Ladd in “Purple Hearts”, she said: “Oh, gee. I have no idea. Only time will tell. I wanted very much to play someone very real and unglamorous. The nurse I play is not remotely glamorous. In a lot of the film, I wear no makeup. I like the movie. It’s very difficult to be objective when you’ve done it but it’s been good to see people respond to it. There’s not much immediate gratification in screen acting. That’s a little difficult to deal with because you work and work and nearly a year later, after they edit it and do the music and plan the marketing, you’re going, ‘Didn’t I do a movie a while ago?’”

It didn’t stop her from enjoying life. She had become an avid golfer at the time: “Not a terribly good one. I haven’t established a handicap yet but I’ve been breaking 100. It’s nice because I can play wherever I travel. I played at St. Andrew’s in Scotland and in Manila. I love it.”

When I asked her what was her idea of escape, she gave an angelic smile and her eyes twinkled, “Escape to me means the beach and surf and sun. I think of Hawaii immediately with no makeup … and as few clothes on as possible.”

Posted in Film, Interviews, Memory Lane, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Bill Murray had all the good lines in ‘Ghostbusters’

Ghostbusters 1

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Bill Murray not only got all the big laughs in the original “Ghostbusters”, he also got the girl and he told reporters at the New York junket for the film in 1984 that it was all Dan Aykroyd’s fault.

Aykroyd, who has had a lifelong interest in the supernatural and has been a card-carrying Fellow of the American Society for Psychical Research, had hammered out ideas for “Ghostbusters” as a blue-print. He and the rest of the cast and the director were on hand at the Park Plaza Hotel for the film’s press launch. He said, “I always like to work that way: get the raw material down, throw it in there and see what other people’s thoughts are.”

Producer and director Ivan Reitman took the pitch to Columbia Pictures and they liked it, but he said, “I didn’t let them read Danny’s draft script because they would have jumped off a tall building.”

Reitman thought Aykroyd’s idea was wonderful but the script would be impossible to produce: “It would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. It took place partially in outer-space and was filled with special effects.”

Harold Ramis, who was co-writer on Reitman’s “Meatballs” and “Stripes” and directed his own script for “Caddyshack”, came in to work with Aykroyd and co-star. Ramis said, “It’s become a very natural process for all of us because as far back as ‘Second City’, which for me is 1969, we’ve had a lot of practise collaborating with people.”

Ramis liked the core of Aykroyd’s idea: “The whole concept of professional ghost exterminators really worked for me: taking something that is so special and exotic as the supernatural and then playing a really mundane workmanlike attitude around it.”

In the final script, Aykroyd and Ramis are committed ghostbusters and Murray’s character more or less goes along for the ride.  As their ghostbusting careers skyrocket, they take on not only slimy green apparitions but ugly inter-dimensional creatures and evil deities from the past. It’s left to Aykroyd and Ramis to explain to the audience what’s going on while Murray gets most of the laughs.

Ramis said, “We racked our brains to come up with a consistent cosmology that would make sense because we had to make this leap from ghosts, which are one thing, to inter-dimensional creatures recurring on some kind of karmic wheel. Dan and I worked out our own conception of time and space that would account for what happens.”

Aykroyd was amazed and delighted by the reaction of audiences: “They follow the story and our mythology, this whole crazy, silly think. I mean, ghosts? Come on, now. But we make them take it seriously and they’re kind of rapt throughout the whole exposition.”

His major concern was where the laughs would come from, and that’s where Bill Murray came in: “Bill’s our point man; his whole attitude is scepticism. We saw him as the mouthpiece, the guy who delivers the punchlines simply because he does it so well.”

Murray had a different take on it: “I ended up with a lot of lines because Aykroyd is lazy. He and Harold wrote the script and I had all the lines like ‘Let’s go’, all the sleazy lines, too, and the dumb lines. I had the most lines because they really like days off. Danny likes to drive around and Harold likes to sit at home.”

Aykroyd said that Murray became the romantic lead in the film opposite Sigourney Weaver (pictured) because “Bill works well with women that way. I might have been a little stiff.”

Murray said, “I think it was a mistake on Dan’s part because Sigourney is pretty good fun. She’s got style. She’s a big drink of water and she’s really very funny when you make he laugh. She gets goofy when she laughs.”

Murray did not, however, enjoy working with special effects he couldn’t see: “It’s kind of difficult and kind of boring. You get into a lot of things like, ‘OK, there’s a sheet of flame in front of you. Look scared.’ I did the same thing every time. ‘Duhh!’ They’d say, ‘Great! Print it.’ I couldn’t believe it. They’d say, ‘More scared!’ and I’d go, ‘Duhhhh!’. They’d say, ‘Perfect.’”

Posted in Film, Interviews, Memory Lane | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Gordie Howie pretended that we were buddies

Gordie Howe x650

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – In Canada, Gordie Howe, who has died aged 88, has long been revered and will always be remembered as Mr. Hockey, the greatest ever ice hockey player. I will always remember the day he made out that we were pals.

It was some time in the early Seventies. I was a reporter on The Windsor Star newspaper and although most of my colleagues thought of me as just off the boat from England, I had earned a reputation for being strangely savvy about North American sports.

When Canada played the U.S.S.R. in 1972, I knew nothing about hockey but I knew that the Canadian team was made up of superstars and the Soviet team was not. The clash reminded me of the 1953 football match between the stars of England and the nobodies of Hungary.

The Magyars came to Wembley Stadium, where England had never lost to a team from overseas, and walloped us 6-3. Overnight, the Hungarian players became every English schoolboy’s idol and we knew every name. When the captain, Ferenc Puskás, was reported killed during the Hungarian revolution in 1956, it made the front page of every newspaper in England. Five days later, we learned that he was still alive and he went on to huge success in football with Real Madrid and lived a long life.

In Windsor in 1972, I tried to make a bet that the U.S.S.R. would beat Canada in the first game of what would become an epic series of matches. It was on the basis that the Russians played as a team, just as the Hungarians had, while Canada was made up of all-stars. The other reporters scoffed at my ignorance and wouldn’t take my bet. To their horror, the U.S.S.R. beat Canada in Canada 7-3.

Another time, one of the sports nuts on the copy desk named Benny Grant finally caved in to my pestering and accepted a bet on which NFL team would get closest to the Super Bowl that year. He picked the Oakland Raiders. I subscribed to Playboy magazine in those days (for the pictures, of course) and it had a terrific sportswriter named Anson Mount. I read his predictions for the season and he said that recent newcomer Cincinnati Bengals would be a dark horse that year. At season’s end, the Bengals had shaded the Raiders and with a shake of his head, Benny parted reluctantly with 20 bucks.

Which brings me to Gordie Howe.

A dozen or so reporters and editors from the newspaper went across the river to Detroit to watch a major league baseball game at Tiger Stadium. I drove over with a guy named Marty Knack, who was a sportswriter for the Star and covered hockey. As we walked along one of the stadium hallways toward our seats, he spotted the publicist for the Detroit Red Wings.

Standing with him was a man whom even I recognised, the tall, rugged-looking athlete with a genial smile who was the legend Gordie Howe, who had led Detroit to four Stanley Cup championships and to first place in regular season play for seven consecutive years (1948–49 to 1955–56), a feat never equaled in NHL history.

The publicist introduced Marty and me to the great man but I do not recall what we chatted about, probably how well Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych was pitching. We said goodbye and with big grins on our faces, Marty and I went up into the stands to join our friends.

Before we could brag about who we’d just met, a hubbub spread through the immediate crowd and people stood up, straining to get a look at who had emerged into the stadium. Howe and the publicist made their way down the steps to their seats and the star shook some hands.

As they went past our row, Gordie Howe turned and, to the utter amazement of our colleagues, called out, “Hi, Ray! Hi, Marty!” I responded, “Hey, Gordie, good to see ya.”

It was one of the finest sporting memories of my life and, until now, I never did explain how one of the greatest sportsmen in history came to know my name.

I ran into Howe again many years later in Los Angeles at a media event for a TV show starring the next great Canadian hockey star, Wayne Gretzky. Long retired but still a vigorous, intimidating man, Howe was eminently approachable and we stood at the back of the studio watching Gretzky work.

I related the story of his prank at Tiger Stadium. He just smiled and I knew it wasn’t the first or last time he had done something like that. I’m just happy one of those times involved me.

Here’s an obituary of Gordie Howe in Macleans

Posted in Memory Lane | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kraków Film Music Festival: ‘A total pleasure!’

witcher wandzelx1

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – Cliff Martinez said it best. The genial but taciturn favourite movie composer of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, said, “It is simply very exciting to be in a place that celebrates film music.”

Martinez was speaking at a media conference at the 9th annual Kraków Film Music Festival where his music for films by Nicolas Winding Refn were celebrated along with other creators of scores both traditional and alternative.

“If there was a programme like his in my home town of Los Angeles, five or six people would show up,” he said. As it was, organisers said that more than 39,000 people participated in the festival.

It ended on May 31 with the gala “Video Game Show: The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt” at the Tauron Arena (pictured top). Another demonstration of FMF’s innovative spirit, it featured the AUKSO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy and Pro Musica Mundi Choir conducted by Polish maestro Marek Moś.

'Raiders' KFMFx1

The night before had seen a blazing performance at the Tauron Arena of John Williams’s electrifying score for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” played to the film by Sinfonietta Cracovia conducted by Swiss maestro Ludwig Wicki.

The concerts brought to an end another typically eclectic and enterprising film music event that makes Kraków the envy of the rest of Europe and especially North America. The numbers alone are impressive: 10 concerts including six galas; five major orchestras; two mixed choirs; 12 top-level conductors; 170 film industry guests from Poland and elsewhere plus 50 composers for film, television and videogames.

FMF panel1 x650

There also were more than 40 hours of master classes for a select 27 young composers of various nationalities including one that I did on electronic film music (see photo above) with (from left) Joseph Trapanese (“Straight Outta Compton”, “Tron: Uprising”), Dave Porter (“Breaking Bad”, “The Blackist”) and Martinez.

Artistic Director Robert Piaskowski (striding onto the stage after the Drones concert in photo below) said, “The 9th edition is proof that we are slowly surpassing the formula of film music itself, and at the same time we are getting more into music connected with screen – cinematic, TV and computer.”

Piakowski FMF 16 x650

Cliff Martinez wasn’t the only composer bowled over by the range and commitment of the festival. Joseph Trapanese said, “To see film music celebrated as an art form in itself is really humbling.”

And Hollywood-based Brazilian composer Heitor Pereira (“Smurfs”, “Despicable Me”) summed it up: “It is a total pleasure! I wish every city had one of these events!”

Photos: Bottom: Robert Slusniak; panel: Michael Ramus; ‘Raiders: Ray Bennett; top: Wojciech Wandzel

Posted in Film, Krakow Film Music Festival, Music, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kraków Film Music Festival: Animation Gala

animation2 x650

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – Animated films tend to be filled with basic emotions that offer composers the opportunity to revel in them all from the terror of oppression to the tumult of revolt, the panic of flight to the anguish of loss, and the joy of mischief to the elixir of romance and the splendour of victory all in one picture.

The music of a dozen top film composers at the Kraków Film Music Festival’s Animation Gala on May 28 reflected all of those and with many clips chosen aptly for the big screen, all the audience of 16,000 at the Tauron Arena Kraków needed to do was relax and enjoy the fun.

animation4 sluszniak x650

German maestro Frank Strobel was the conductor except when composers took the baton and he led the superb Beethoven Academy Orchestra and Polish Radio Choir through three-hours of cues, songs and suites from some of the most popular animated films of recent times.

British composer John Powell’s nimble music for “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” (2006) kicked things off and his Oscar-nominated score for “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) came along in the second half.

Frenchman Alexandre Desplat, who had been in Kraków earlier in the week to accept the Kilar Award, left behind a video in which he introduced his song “Still Dream”, which Renée Fleming sang in “Rise of the Guardians” (2012). He said, “It’s a very difficult song to sing” and then Kraków Opera star soprano Wioletta Chodowicz came on and showed beautifully just how it should be sung.

animationx3 robert sluszniak x650

A typically adventurous suite by British composer Harry Gregson-Williams for Aardman Animations’ “Arthur Christmas” (2011) was played live for the first time followed by a stunning rendition by radiant Polish pop star Edyta Górniak (pictured top) of “Colors of the Wind”, the Oscar-winning song from “Pocahontas” (1995) written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and sung in the film by Vanessa Williams.

American composer Michael Giacchino appeared in a video from the set of “Star Trek Beyond” to introduce a bold and frisky suite from “Zootopia” (2016) and then sublime Polish vocalist Kasia Łaska, a star of Musical Theater ROMA in Warsaw, delivered in Polish a flawless version of “Let it Go”, the Oscar-winning song from “Frozen” written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and sung in the film by Idina Menzel.

animation 5 slusniak x325Frank Strobel conducted the live world premiere of music by Harry Gregson-Williams from “Shrek 2” (2004) and the composer stepped up to present the FMF Young Talent Award, for which he was a judge, to Dutch composer Joep Sporck (pictured left). Gregson-Williams then doffed jacket and tie, picked up the baton (pictured above) and took the orchestra through a rousing suite of his score for “Shrek” (2001).


Following an intermission, Spanish maestro Diego Navarro took the podium to conduct a vigorous selection from his score to the film “Capture the Flag” (2015), directed by Spain’s Enrique Gato and then there was a pause in the music as Hollywood industry veteran USC Thornton Professor Daniel Carlin (pictured below left with host Magda Miska-Jackowska), a Kraków regular involved in panels and master-classes, was awarded the annual FMF Ambassador Award.

carlin award x325There was more of Gregson-Williams’s fleet-footed music, this time from “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” (2003) performed live for the first time with Marcin Suszycki a standout on the electric violin. Another sensational Polish vocalist, 20-year-old Magdalena Wasylik, also a star of Musical Theater ROMA, appeared to perform the Oscar-nominated song “Once Upon a December”, written by Stephen Flaherty (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) for “Anastasia” (1997). It was sung in the film by Liz Callaway and Angela Lansbury.

The exuberant scores of Brazilian composer Heitor Pereira were next in the spotlight as clips added to the pleasure of hearing live for the first time suites from “The Smurfs” (2011), “Angry Birds The Movie” (2016), “Despicable Me” (2010), “Despicable Me 2” (2013) and “Minions” (2015).

Warsaw recording artist Marcin Jajkiewicz joined Kasia Łaska for a breathtaking performance of the Oscar-winning song “Beauty and the Beast” from the 1991 film of the KFMF-2016 x650same name, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and sung in the movie by Angela Lansbury and then over the end credits by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson.

After Powell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” suite, vocalists Łaska and Wasylik were back to close the show with a sublime delivery of Stephen Schwartz’s Oscar-winning song “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), sung in the movie by  Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky and over the end credits by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.

Such concerts are meat-and-potatoes for film music shows but Kraków FMF’s ability to attract top composers and provide excellent musicians and singers is almost unparalleled. Not for the first time, the only problem the audience had was to choose which theme to hum on the way home.

The festival runs through May 31.

Photos: Robert Slusniak

Posted in Film, Krakow Film Music Festival, Music, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kraków Film Music Festival: alterFMF Gala: Drone Sounds

drones 1 Wojciech Wandzel x650

By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – The annual Kraków Film Music Festival continues to extend and deepen our appreciation of movie music and the life of film scores after the credits roll. The latest example was an outstanding concert of electronic film music by Americans Cliff Martinez and Joseph Trapanese, Iceland’s Jóhann Jóhannsson and Poland’s Łukasz Targosz .

The alterFMF Gala: Drone Sounds, in the vast Auditorium Hall at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre on May 27, featured the excellent AUKSO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy conducted mainly by the U.K. maestro Anthony Weeden except when composers took over.

A key question about all film music, but especially the moody and less melodic ambient electronic form, is if it can work without the cinematic images that it informs. Movie clips certainly helped in this concert but also it was easy to close your eyes and become entranced by the mix of ethereal, vibrant and chaotic aural structures. With an array of solo artists on arcane instruments to replicate the composers’ synthesized sounds, the harmonics kept the 16,000-member audience enthralled.

drones 4 targosz wandzel x650

Kraków’s Łukasz Targosz (above) set the bar very high with a suite from HBO Poland’s political thriller series, “The Pact” and one from Polish director Patryk Bega’s 2016 crime movie “Pitbull: New Orders”.

Targosz, performing live for the first time in 10 years, played six instruments including keyboards, the Array mbira and a manual typewriter to reflect the journalistic aspect of “The Pact”. The suite was a compilation of dark and drone pieces the composer wrote for the first season and the world premiere of cues from the second season.

The new pieces featured four type machines, two tank drums, xylosynth (electronic/MIDI xylophone), taikos, tubulars, bass drums, and anvils along with strings, harps and pianos. It was what Targosz calls “a drone body and an acoustic soul”.

Targosz says that he tried to play live as many parts as he could and so he divided multi-voiced arpeggiators between performing musicians. With Robert Kubiszyn on bass guitar, Michał Dąbrówka on percussion instruments, Jacek Tarkowski on synthesizer, he added Görkem Şen’s extraordinary Yaybahar, an acoustic instrument with fretted strings, coiled KFMF-2016 x650springs and drum skins.“The absolutely acoustic soul of this one-of-a-kind instrument was especially interesting for me,” Targosz says.

His suite from “Pitbull” had a hard-rock beginning with baritone electric guitar, some electronic tones and the thrilling Polish singer Ania Karwan, plus acoustic arrangements he prepared for the symphonic orchestra.

Berlin-based composer, arranger and orchestrator Stefan Behrisch prepared the sometimes mesmerising Cliff Martinez suite for the evening, which included music from Nicolas Winding Refn’s thrillers “Drive” (2011), “Only God Forgives” (2013) and “Neon Demon” (2016) and his documentary “My Life” (2014).

For the well-received live presentation, under conductor Weeden, Behrisch arranged the composer’s completely electronic tones for the full symphonic orchestra with a large percussion section plus electric guitar and two keyboards. He says, “I tried to use the orchestra in unusual ways with contemporary playing in the strings, bows on mallets and so on. It still remained the orchestra and became a mix of modern orchestral sound and electronic. Cliff was super-open. He trusted me and let me do my thing. I sent him a final demo and he was excited about it and happy about it.”

Anthony Weeden took the baton again for the closing suites of the programme with Jóhann Jóhannsson on hand to play electronics on his distinctive and exciting tracks from the crime mystery “Prisoners” (2013), narcotics thriller “Sicario” (2015), and romantic biography “The Theory of Everything” (2014).

The composer added several dynamic soloists to the mix including  Skuli Svergisson on bass guitar, Caroline Ehret on Odnes Martenot and Michele Deneuve on Cristal Baschet.

drones2 trapanese robert slusniak

Classically trained U.S. composer Joseph Trapanese (above) stepped up to the podium to conduct selections of his absorbing and stirring music from sci-fi films “Earth to Echo” (2014), “Insurgent” sequel “Allegiant” (2016) and  “Oblivion” (2013) plus Disney’s TV series “Tron: Uprising”.

The fast-rising Hollywood composer says that he starts to write his scores the old-fashioned way at a piano with sketch paper. “But that’s really just for my initial ideas. After I watch the film once or twice, I look at the broader dramatic statement that maybe the music can help with but I transfer to the computer very quickly as that’s the method by which I need to deliver my music.”

As he led the orchestra through his compositions, it appeared that he had reversed the procedure for live instruments and the audience showed its appreciation to bring another splendid Kraków Film Music Festival concert to a close.

The festival runs through May 31.

Photos: Top and centre: Wojciech Wandzel; bottom: Robert Slusniak

Posted in Film, Krakow Film Music Festival, Music, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment