Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday morning, February 27, 2012.

One of the best things about living in Los Angeles, for a movie fan, is that you don’t have to stay up until midnight to watch the Oscars. The show was over at 8:30 here last night, leaving time to watch Family Guy and CSI: Miami and still be in bed by a reasonable time.
            The highlight of the show last night, for me, was Meryl Streep’s win. Sunday morning she awoke to a churlish L.A. Times piece by Charles McNulty, the Times’ theater (not movie) critic, entitled “My Streep Problem.” He called her recent portrayals (in Mamma Mia!, Julie and Julia, The Devil Wears Prada and It’s Complicated) “cartoonish,” “superficial,” and, to top it off, “artful drag burlesques.”
            And then there are his friends, he wrote, whom he found to not only be indifferent to Streep’s “greatness” but “actually put off by it.”
            Who is this guy, and who are these friends of his? We should celebrate greatness, in every arena, not be “put off” by it. I never heard anyone express similar attitudes about her, although there did seem to be a lot of people who just assumed Streep had won an Oscar just about every year. Nominations, yes--Oscars, no. She’s been nominated seventeen times, a record, but before last night had won only twice (once for Best Supporting Actress) and had lost fourteen times in a row as Best Actress. (Almost Susan Lucci territory!)
            Toward the end of their ad campaign, her studio wisely ran print ads featuring only one review quote—a critic marveling that it had been 29 years since Meryl Streep last won an Oscar. This may very well have tipped the scales in her favor, because most people were surprised by that. She had given so many Oscar-worthy performances during that spell that it came as a shock to realize that she’d been overlooked so many times.

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The show, as happens depressingly often, was poorly produced. The best supporting actress award wasn’t given until 45 minutes into the show. As important as technical achievement are, it’s inherently less interesting to see them rewarded than it is to see glamorous stars accepting the Oscar. The retrospective of great Hollywood movies went back only as far as the eighties—why bother if you’re not going to include Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, or a hundred other great films?
            Billy Crystal was fine but a bit of a throwback as host—he reminded me most of Bob Hope, who used to be Mr. Oscar and could be relied on for stale jokes and self-deprecation. As so often happens, the attempt to do something different than last year’s unsuccessful double-hosting by James Franco and Anne Hathaway led the Academy to go too far in the opposite direction. If the academy wants to seem hipper they should hire Ellen to host next year.

Next week: 2012—The Year of Marilyn Mania

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A welcome from James Spada

Thank you for helping me celebrate my brand-new website (  and my first-ever blog! I’m excited to let everyone know that many of my out-of-print books are being re-issued as eBooks, beginning with Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets.

Many people have asked me why I chose Peter Lawford to write a biography of. After all, he wasn’t as big a movie star as my other subjects. I explain that for me as a Marilyn Monroe fan, Peter’s name kept coming up. I also have followed the Kennedy family, and there was Peter again. Sinatra’s Rat Pack—Peter again! So I thought, Who is this guy, and why was he close to so many powerful people? I started researching his life, and to my delight I found that his life was a great story, above and beyond his associations.

This is one of my books that I’m most proud of. It was the first full-length, exhaustively researched book on Lawford (and remains so to this day). It was such a joy to research and do interviews for, especially since there had not been any books on Lawford previously, so I was uncovering new information wherever I went. I spent a month in London researching his childhood, then Palm Beach for his teen years and then, of course, Los Angeles for the bulk of his life. I did hundreds of interviews, most notably with Peter’s long-time manager and best friend, Milt Ebbins. Ebbins was there for everything in Peter’s life after 1954, and Peter told him many stories about the years prior.

Milt generously gave me hours of his time to be interviewed, and he opened many doors to me. Milt has passed now, but I will always be indebted to him and I will always remember his gentlemanly demeanor and warmth.

Lawford’s life story is fascinating—“more Dickensian than Dickens,” as the Los Angeles Times put it in reviewing the book. He inhabited so many worlds—London in the twenties, Palm Beach in the late thirties (where he parked old Joe Kennedy’s car!), the MGM factory in the forties, television in its early years, life as a Kennedy in-law and Sinatra confidante in the fifties, and close friend of Marilyn Monroe in the early sixties. Las Vegas, France and Hawaii also figure prominently in Peter’s life. Much of it couldn’t have been invented by the most imaginative novelist or screenwriter—truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

In the next year my Grace Kelly, Barbra Streisand and Marilyn Monroe books will be available as eBooks, and I’ll be doing blogs about them as well. I’ll also be writing occasionally about people and events in show business, beginning with the Oscars next week.

I hope you’ll continue checking out my blogs, and I welcome hearing from you with your thoughts and reactions.

--James Spada, February 22, 2012