“Henry VIII” (now playing)


If you know me, you know I LOVE the theater!  So last Sunday, I went to the Folger to see Shakespeare’s history play, Henry VIII.  (I got a reduced price ticket last Friday.)  Since it was a weekend matinee, there were all ages present, including a little guy who’d come with his grandfather.  

The set was interesting and unusual (with a large overhanging  piece in the shape of a crown).  The costumes were elaborate, beautiful, and period-accurate (unlike in the recent production of Hamlet that I saw at the Folger).  The music was used well- not too loud or overly dramatic. 

The actors were quite strong and spoke some VERY tough/long lines with ease.  Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Cochrane) and Queen Katherine (Naomi Jacobsen) stand out in my mind.  Using the fool Will Sommers (Louis Butelli), who served as narrator and participant, was a good choice.  It got the audience smiling and feeling less intimidated by the material.  I also liked how the actors would go into the aisles and up on the balcony to do some scenes. 

In the first act, the language (dense; winding) took time to get accustomed to.  (No, this isn’t like the modernized dialogue you hear on the Showtime drama The Tudors!)  The first act was not very exciting or emotional; the second act was much better.  

I felt for Katherine (portrayed as a very bright, strong woman) when she was in court arguing against  the divorce.  Being Spanish, Katherine was seen as a “stranger” in England when she was married off to Henry.  Over time, many people grew to respect and admired her, because she endured many hardships with great dignity.     

Henry (Ian Merrill Peakes) fell in love with Anne (Karen Peakes), one of Katherine’s ladies in waiting, very soon after she arrived at court.  He had a necklace set with many jewels sent to Anne- something NOT to be taken lightly coming from a king.  I liked Anne Boleyn’s little (foreshadowing) speech about “not wanting to be a queen for all the world.”  I wanted to hear more from Anne.   

As for Henry, he came off as a level-headed solid leader who had crisis of conscience.  Henry made the mistake of giving the cunning Wolsey (who secretly promoted French interets) too much money and power.   Though he wanted Anne, Henry regretted divorcing his loyal wife after 20 years.  He desperately wanted a male heir. 

The strongest scene came at the end- after the birth of Henry and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth.  There are fine speeches about how prosperous and important her time will be (foreshadowing the “golden age” of England).  Henry is full of fatherly pride and hope at the end.          

“Design for Living” (1933)

I saw this sly, funny, and and maybe a BIT naughty (for its time) comic film recently on TCM.  It stars Gary Cooper (a TOTAL hottie as a young man- check it out), Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins.  Two lifelong pals, a painter named George (Cooper) and a playwright named Tom (March), meet a pretty, charming blonde named Gilda (Hopkins) on a streetcar in Paris.  The buddies are BOTH instantly attracted to and intrigued by Gilda, who has a free-spirited and lively air. 

George and Tom separately get dates with Gilda, who lives in a spacious apartment and wears cute/stylish clothes.  It turns out that her former boss, the wealthy owner of an ad agency named Mr. Plunkett, is noticeably jealous of these guys.  After their respective dates, he lectures the wooers sternly.

Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day.

Mr. Plunkett plays the role of Gilda’s “concerned friend and kind of protector,” but he’s just waiting (and spending his cash) hoping to win her himself.

George (the quick-tempered one) and Tom (the brainy one) quickly realize that they are BOTH in love with Gilda, putting their friendship at risk.  Can they just ingore her?  They try, but it DOES NOT work!   

Gilda comes over to their humble attic flat and admits that she likes them BOTH!  She can’t imagine one without the other being there, too.   

A thing happened to me that usually happens to men. You see, a man can meet two, three or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice.

Gilda proposes a solution- they’ll live together platonically.  She can advise them about their work; she’s an art lover.  Comedy ensues out of this (unusual) relationship!

Recent views and more…

Films I’ve watched recently:

Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

This drama about obsessive love (starring one of Hollywood’s most beautiful leading ladies, Gene Tierney) was considered controversial for its time.  Novelist Richard meets a socialite (daughter of a famous chemist) on the train to New Mexico.  He is instantly struck by her beauty.  Ellen (Tierney) is in New Mexico to meet-up w/ her mother and sister, then scatter the ashes of her beloved father.  Her family invites the well-mannered/charming Richard to spend time on their spacious vacation home. 

Ellen, a strong-willed/mysterious young woman, doesn’t hide her keen interest in Richard.  In the span of a few days, they fall deeply in love.  One night, her  former fiance (Vincent Price) drops in.  Russell is a self-assured prosecutor with his eye on politics; Ellen is very cold towards him.  Her family is surprised when Ellen suddenly proposes to Richard! 


The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

This drama, focusing on the joys and sorrows of marriage and sudden wealth, stars Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor, Walter Pidgeon, and Donna Reed.  In the exciting aftermath of WWII, a likeable/optimistic Midwestern GI named Charles (Johnson) shares a passionate kiss with a gorgeous young woman in a Paris crowd.  At a cafe, he meets a sophisticated woman, an American named Marion (Donna Reed).  It turns out that Marion is dating one of Charles’ old friends, a Frenchman named Claude.  Marion, who’s obviously interested in Charles, invites him to her house for a party.  

At the party, Charles is happily surprised to see the woman he kissed, Marion’s fun-loving younger sister, Helen (Taylor).  Though they seem like opposites, he’s down-to-earth while she lives for parties, they quickly fall in love.  The only problem is money; Helen’s father lives above his means and Charles is merely a struggling journalist/aspiring novelist.                 

I’m currently watching:

Equal Justice

This is an early ’90s courtroom drama deaing w/ ambitious/young Pittsburgh ADAs.  You can see it on Hulu; it ran for two seasons.  The cast includes a young Sarah Jessica Parker (then just 25 y.o.), former model Debrah Farentino, and several fine character actors: Jane Kaczmarek, Jon Tenney, and Joe Morton. 

The Tudors (Season 3)

I have watched the first two episodes so far.  Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has started his married life (again) w/ Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis), a beautiful noblewoman who seems beyond reproach at first (b/c of her virginity, good breeding, and and mild personality).  Jane surprises and angers Henry when she speaks up for the banished Princess Mary (Sarah Bolger).  Jane quietly seeks to help women, who are “often put upon in this world.” 

There is unrest in the North (Yorkshire; Lincolnshire) as abbeys and churches (Catholic) continue to be looted and destroyed.  The clergy are disrespected and beaten, in many cases.  A group of “commons” (farmers, laborers, etc.) organize to voice their discontent.  A few nobles take on the cause.  Henry goes off on Cromwell (James Frain) when he realizes just how big the group has become.  These “pilgrims” starts marching to London, gathering more and more of supporters along the way. 

I’m currently reading:

How Starbucks Saved My Life – Michael Gates Gill

Fired after 25 yrs at one of NYC’s biggest ad agencies, the author (then in his early 60s) wonders what to do w/ his life while sitting at a Starbucks (78th & Lexington) near his childhood home.  He’s in dire need of health insurance.  Suddenly, a confident young black woman named Crystal, the manager of another Starbucks store (96th & Broadway) offers him a job.  With no other option at hand, he agrees! 


Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

The street kid who became an “American prince”

I could have been a politician or a brain surgeon.  But I didn’t have an education, so there wasn’t anything I could do but get into the movies. And, boy, did I ever.  To burst into the movies like I did…  Isn’t that neat?

Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz) was one of Hollywood’s ultimate outsider-insiders.  His parents were immigrants from Hungary who settled in the Bronx.  (The actor never completely lost his Bronx accent.)  Tony didn’t speak English until he went to school at age six.  His father was a tailor; the family lived in the back of his shop.  Tony and his brothers suffered at the hands of their abusive and schizophrenic mother.  He even spent time in an orphanage when money got TOO tight for the family!  

As a kid, he was beaten up for being BOTH Jewish and good-looking.  During these fights, he took care to protect his face, feeling that ONE day it could be the making of him.  At 11, Tony joined the Boy Scouts and eventually began acting in school plays at 16 at Seward Park High School.  (To this day, this public school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is attended by many young immigrants to the US.)  Reaching 18, he joined the Navy; this was right after Pearl Harbor. 

Because some like it VERY hot…

I was the best-looking kid in town.  It’s not what you have but what you do with it that counts.

At 23, Tony reached Hollywood and got roles in fluffly comedic films.  This was a period of learning for him.  However, he STILL faced anti-Semitism, as Jews weren’t yet fully accepted in the Hollywood studio system.  But Tony made his mark; later on, his duck-tail hairstyle would be copied by another ladies’ man- Elvis Presley.  Very cool!

Roles in some GREAT films, including his Oscar-nominated performance in The Defiant Ones (w/ Sidney Poitier) came in the late ’50s.  Hollywood took a few years to realize that Tony was more than a pretty (err, insanely gorgeous) face.   He broke a Hollywood taboo by insisting that Poitier have co-starring billing next to him.

Jack Lemmon and I always had a great time together; even though we were from different backgrounds – he was Harvard-educated, very intelligent and urbane.  We balanced each other out.

Tony acted w/ Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in the comic hit Some Like It Hot.  Tony’s lovestruck character copied Cary Grant’s posh accent to win over Marilyn’s character. 

Jerry: What are you trying to do to that poor girl, putting on a millionaire act?  And, where did you get that phony accent?  Nobody “talks loike thet!”

Aiming high… & scoring BIG

Another former NYC street kid, Burt Lancaster, recognized Tony’s talent, charisma, and ambition.  They were co-stars in two films- Trapeze and Sweet Smell of Success.  In Sweet Smell of Success, both actors transcended their looks to interpret amoral, ruthless strivers (a press agent and a popular newspaper columnist) in the Big Apple.          

J.J. to Sidney: I’d hate to take a bite outta you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.

Swords, Sandals, & Shirtless Scenes

In the photo above, Tony jokes around w/ his Spartacus co-stars Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons.  In the epic historical drama, Tony played Antoninus, innocent young slave of power-hungry ex-gladiator, Crassus (Laurence Olivier).  After Crassus  hits on Antoninus (during a bath in a NOT so subtle manner), he runs away to join Spartacus.

Idols United

In Operation Petticoat, Tony acted alongside Cary Grant, one of his long-time idols.   Tony played a tennis pro/playboy Navy officer who needs to be kept in line by Grant’s character- his captain.  It was a dream come true for Tony!    

Early on, I decided I didn’t want to be known as a mere actor.  I wanted to feel like a star.  I wanted to get my footprints in Hollywood on the sidewalk, which I got.  I wanted to be on the cover of all the magazines and go to parties in a limousine with a beautiful girl.  I did all of that – and more.  And I appreciate it.