View from the Cheap Seats
Thursday, 01 May 2014 13:55

In Memory of Mickey Rooney

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Even with all the plaudits and platitudes, not enough was written upon the passing of Mickey Rooney. I don’t know, actually, if there could ever be enough.

Lord Laurence Olivier once called Mickey Rooney “the greatest actor of them all,” and Marlon Brando said he was “the best actor in films.” [Read on here…]

Even if Mickey Rooney had no talent at all, was just a mugger, he should be lauded for earning a living in show business for over 90 years. Yet, he never received one of those AFI Achievement Awards nor was he selected for a Kennedy Center Honor. Unreal.

Hollywood knew what it had – the Motion Picture Academy gave him two Honorary Oscars. Think of the musicals, like Babes in Arms, or the dramas like Boys Town or the character parts like The Black Stallion. How about A Midsummer Night’s Dream or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World or Bill or Andy Hardy? He was supposed to be Archie Bunker, but he wasn’t crazy about the content. He was a proud United States veteran, winning a Bronze Star.

I fell in love with Mickey when I first saw Sugar Babies on Broadway in 1980. I remember my brother saying “I want a Mickey Rooney for Christmas!” If you missed him doing his baggy pants comic routines, you had your chance – he did it, along with legend in her own right Ann Miller, for 1,208 performances in New York and then toured with it for five years. What a pro.

Which brings me to my friend, Oscar winning producer Gray Frederickson, who has worked with “A” list talent his entire career. He doesn’t talk about actors much – someone else did casting. His stories about Brando, DeNiro, Eastwood and Pacino are minimal.

Stacey Keach and Mickey Rooney on the set of Mike HammerBut he loved working with Mickey Rooney.

Gray was producing a television movie that was actually The Return of Mike Hammer, which brought Stacy Keach (who was robbed this year for his turn in Nebraska), in 1986, back to his iconic Mickey Spillane inspired television role.

Guest star Rooney was playing an intrepid reporter and was given a significant amount of business to perform during a take.

“Mickey was supposed to be walking out to his car, stopping to pick up a paper, then light a cigarette and some other activities and there were several takes,” Gray said. “Never in my life have I seen a more professional actor – he hit his mark every time and never missed a beat – all the time with a smile on his face.”

Gray said Rooney’s behavior on set was delightful as well.

“He acted like a regular journeyman actor, in fact, at one time he mentioned that he had been in the business for a long time and had been a leading man at MGM. We reassured him that we knew exactly who he was and were thrilled to have him on the picture. He seemed surprised that people remembered him.”

But George Lucas has an AFI Life Achievement Award. Go figure.

At this writing, we’re trying to work out an interview with Scott Eyman, whose new book John Wayne: The Life and the Legend reveals a side of The Duke about which even his most ardent fans are possibly unaware. It is a stunning achievement – just think, this is really the first book to tell Wayne’s life story and boy is it is revelatory. My favorite tidbits regard the respect our hero had for those who toiled in the movie industry – specifically the deep affection he had for Oliver Hardy – remember the rotund comic is in The Fighting Kentuckian – and the story of how he got the part is, ok, I’m saying it, heart warming.

It was novelist and screenwriter William Goldman who had the most succinct quote regarding Hollywood ever created – maybe you’ve heard it – “Nobody knows anything.”

Keep that statement in mind as I tell this story, again from Gray Frederickson’s memory bank,

One time Gray was either at Paramount or Lorimar or Albert S. Ruddy productions when a writer/producer came in, breathless with a new idea about a movie.

“Hey guys,” he said. “I have a great idea for a movie – I was watching the Biography channel last night and they did a feature on this newspaperman from the early days – I think his name was William Rudolph Hearst!”


Home Video

Add The Criterion Collection among those for which I say prayers every night. Seriously, what would we movie junkies do without them? Among their newest releases is a real rarity – Riot in Cellblock an independent, tougher than tough “B” picture which tackled, in 1954, the deplorable conditions in America’s prisons. (Producer Walter Wanger was just out of the pokie himself – for more info on this sordid Hollywood tale, Google Joan Bennett and Jennings Lang when you get a sec.)

Criterion's Riot in Cell Block 11 Blu-rayFilmed in San Quentin by tougher than tough guy Don Siegel, Riot is given the complete Criterion package, with tons of extras and a beautiful restoration.

Among the “stars” of this tight little gem is legendary, to my friends and me, actor Alvy Moore. Recognize the name? Maybe you’ll remember this – he served six seasons as Hank Kimball on the greatest sitcom of all time, Green Acres.

One time a friend of mine and I, way back in the day, found out Mr. Moore was playing in an Oklahoma golf tournament. We hauled ass to Guthrie, waited around forever in the hot sun and were fabulously rewarded when out he walked. I think there were much bigger stars there, but not to us. He was, I remember, engaging and very proud of what he had accomplished on television. And I have a signed “Mr. Kimball” score card.

Here’s another “Bud ADD Moment” – nothing at all to do with Riot in Cellblock 11 – remember, on Green Acres the character “Eb” – of course you do. Well, Tom Lester, who played the loopy farmhand, actually taught at my small Oklahoma high school in the early 60s. Just a couple of years ago, I had the bright idea to feature him on the cover of Distinctly Oklahoma, of which I was managing editor. I tracked down his agent, I don’t remember how, and begged her for almost a year to interview and photograph Tom Lester. I think he lives in Georgia now. I wonder if he thought he was fodder for fun or something, because it never happened. If you’re reading Tom, my interview would be the most sycophantic in which you ever engaged. Can you imagine being on that set? With all those looney tunes? All that dope? With Arnold the pig?


Twilight Time

Oh but these mad scientists at Twilight Time are at it again and my goodness – their new releases include a modern day noir classic, a British gem and 60s and 80s American comedy at its best

Twilight's Wild at Heart Blu-ray DiscAre we losing David Lynch? I met him once and he was a centered, smart human being, just like he appears everywhere. It was at a screening for Inland Empire which was, to date, his last feature. Wild at Heart is a masterpiece, based to the punctuation on the Sailor and Lula book by noir master Barry Gifford, it’s Lynch’s most commercial film and one savors every scene. Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Defoe (as, truly, Bobby Peru) and Harry Dean Stanton, Freddie Jones (who I recently discovered was Toby’s father!) and, of course Jack Nance.

Twilight Time’s restoration of this film is sublime and I’m sure it will sell out of its limited release of 3,000 units. Let’s make that happen, ok?

Used Cars is, ok, I’m gonna say this, a gas. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and John Milius (anyone seen the terrific documentary about him?) the movie was described by Pauline Kael (anyone read the book about her?) as “A classic screwball fantasy – a shaggy celebration of American ingenuity.”

Side note, my friend Gray Frederickson (boy is he all over this one today) is in the movie – he and Spielberg, buddies now and forever, flew to the set and had a walk on bit. But here’s the deal – Gray doesn’t remember if he made the final cut or not. Are you kidding? Most people I know would have their magnifying glass taped to the TV.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation features the kinder, gentler Jimmy Stewart, not the lunatic Jimmy Stewart from Vertigo or the authoritarian Jimmy Stewart from Anatomy of a Murder. He mugs here with the best of them. Perhaps the best thing about this film, although it’s very watchable, is a pitch perfect score by the late, great Henry Mancini.

Now Rita, Sue and Bob Too is a 1987 British sex comedy made around the time of Stephen Frears groundbreaking British films The Hit, My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears. This is actually the find in the new Twilight Time releases and a must own.

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Warner Archive grinds them out every week, to the joy of film enthusiasts all over. Recently they have released some nifty titles such as the George Raft noir Race Street and the 1980s Johnny Quest animated series and 1950s Eleanor Powell camp classic Caged.

But the real reason for joy here is the Blu-ray release of Performance, which continues to be one of the weirdest movies ever made – unless you’ve seen the recent theatrical release Noah. Talk about weird.

This British film stars Mick Jagger and James Fox in a rock and roll gangster we’re trapped in a house with naked young girls movie that the family could watch over and over, kinda like The Sound of Music. It is co-directed by the great Nicolas Roeg (who I got to meet when his wife Theresa Russell shot a movie in Guthrie, Oklahoma) and Donald Cammel, who was so upset with the movie business that he killed himself in the mid 90s.

StarVista Entertainment has recently released The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Crack Ups, personally selected by the woman herself. Was there ever anything funnier than when Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would yuck each other up? This one is a keeper.

Among the films recently released by IFC, is one of the best movies of last year Bastards a modern day crime film called a “punch drunk nightmare” by Time Out New York. I’ll spare you the plot because I hate giving it away. Just get a copy. Also recently released by IFC is the Michael Winterbottom (I once got yelled at for calling him a porn director, which he is) called Everyday as well as a great raunchy French comedy called Wrong Cops and the Hitchcock like thriller Trap for Cinderella starring a true up and comer Tuppence Middleton. She’s gonna be a star.

I love when TCM creates its own product and now they have released a new original DVD TCM Originals: Conversations with Robert Osborne.

Shout!'s Sophie's Choice Blu-ray DiscIncluded are two examples of Osborne’s wonderfully produced Private Screenings – including interviews with Liza (with a “Z”) and an interview of Osborne himself by Alec Baldwin. There are also three videos under the heading of Live From the TCM Film Festival including interviews with Luise Rainer, and well all know who she is, right, and Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint.

Chief photographer for all things Turner is a good old Oklahoma City boy named Mark Hill. I’ll tell you stories about him some day.

And finally the Shout! Factory has finally made Sophie’s Choice for us, in glorious Blu-ray. While this movie is now over 30 years old, it is as stunning and compelling as it was in 1981 when young Meryl Streep won her first Best Actress Oscar in the title role. It was also the film debut of Kevin Kline. On the polar opposite from Shout! is The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection, all 53 animated theatricals including 12 cartoons in widescreen for the first time! These are the cartoons we all saw on TV as kids and they’re priceless.

As are you, dear reader.

Now I do have to close with a bit of a personal story – but there’s a movie involved so keep with me. Several years ago someone gave me as a Christmas gift a certificate that pronounced that I was hereby known as a “Priest of Dudeism” after Jeff Bridges in the Coen Brother’s film The Big Lebowski. And then right around that same Christmas, and there may have been some fermentation abounding, I told some friends of mine that I could legally marry them, should the time ever come.

Well I was called by my dear friend David Beerley actually on April Fool’s Day to say that the future Mrs. Beerley, then Lisa Miller, wanted to get married on 4-4-14 at 4:00 and would I perform the ceremony? I seriously didn’t know what he was talking about until he reminded me. I then had to tell him then it was the vodka or tequila or rum or whatever talking and I really couldn’t do it - then, as couples had already had the idea of the 4-4 etc and the judges were booked, I was coerced into going to the Oklahoma County Courthouse, where I was given unlimited help by our wonderful county commissioner and head of the Wanda Jackson fan club (another Oklahoma native!)  Brian Maughan, and I walked out of that austere building as an officially sanctioned “Priest of Dudeism” by the County of Oklahoma, where I can, as long as I breathe, officially preside over weddings all throughout the Sooner State. For real.

Here’s a pic and a shout out to two stars in my life, who flattered me without end by asking me to be part of their special day.

Bud Elder officiates the Beerly wedding

See you at the flickers!

- Bud Elder


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