Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Ah, Father’s Day when we celebrate dear old dad. This year instead of giving him an lousy tie, consider a family bonding experience like going out to the movies. Or staying in with one of the following movies about the paternal bond.
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) Robert Benton adapted and directed this tearjerker from the novel by Avery Corman. Workaholic ad-man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is shocked when his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) leaves him to raise their son Billy alone. It’s tough going for a while, but over time Ted and Billy develop a closer bond – at which point Joanna comes back wanting custody. It received five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.
Father of the Bride (1991) A remake of the 1950 comedy of the same name. George Banks (Steve Martin) is a successful businessman, happily married to Nina (Diane Keaton) and with an extremely close relationship to his eldest child and only daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams in her film debut). When Annie announces her whirlwind romance and engagement to rich young Brian McKenzie (George Newbern) dad finds he’s not ready to give his little girl away. There’s an hysterical performance by Martin Short as the wedding planner the family hires. The film was both financially successfully earning back four times its budget and positively reviewed by critics as well.
In the Name of the Father (1993) Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) directed and co-wrote this courtroom drama based on the true story of the Guildford Four. Young hoodlum Gerry Conlon (the only and only Daniel Day-Lewis) is arrested on false suspicion of terrorism and tortured to confess along with three of his compatriots. When Gerry’s father Giusseppe (the late great Peter Postlethwaite) goes to England to help his son, he’s arrested as well as a co-conspirator. After a ridiculous sham trial everyone is sent to prison with Gerry and Guisseppe being assigned to the same facility and indeed being cellmates. The movie gets a lot of great drama from the courtroom antics with Emma Thompson playing Gerry’s lawyer, but the heart of the film is the bonding that takes place between father and son behind bars. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Thompson, Best Supporting Actor for Postlethwaite, and yet another Best Actor nomination for Day-Lewis.
He Got Game (1998) This sports drama was written and directed by Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington, in the third of the four movie collaborations the two have done together. Denzel plays Jake Shuttlesworth a convicted murderer whose son Jesus (real life NBA star Ray Allen) is the number one high school basketball player in the country with colleges fighting over him. Jake is given an one week furlough by the governor with the condition; if he gets Jesus to play for the governor’s alma mater, he’ll be released early from prison. Milla Jovovich , John Turturro, and Rosario Dawson round out the cast. It has an 80% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for three NAACP film awards.
Finding Nemo(2003) Overprotective clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks in one of his best roles,) goes across the ocean to rescue his lost son Nemo, and along the way has a series of adventures while meeting a fabulous cast of characters including Dory (Ellen Degeneres) a blue tang who suffers from short term memory loss, surfer dude tortoise Crush (Andrew Stanton) and Bruce (Barry Humphries) a white shark trying to go vegetarian with mixed results. It was the highest grossing animated movie of all time AND helped establish Pixar’s reputation not only for CGI wizardry but also heartfelt storytelling. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture and was nominated for three other awards including Best Original Screenplay.
A June 1 article in the Boston Globe caught my eye: parents are hiring other people to teach their children how to ride a bike. What was once considered a bonding experience for a parent and a child (think of that scene in Kramer vs. Kramer when the dad played by Dustin Hoffman teaches his son how to ride a two-wheeler), has now been assigned to a “professional.” The story offered reasons why parents are dodging this job: no time, little patience, and the fact that many parents don’t know how to ride a bike themselves.
Biking along the Potomac, with the Washington Monument (left) and the Jefferson Memorial (right) in the distance.
For some reason, the story made me sad, not only because many parents are missing the opportunity to teach their children how to ride a bike, but also that these adults themselves are missing out on such a fun sport. The previous week I had taken advantage of a beautiful sunny day in Alexandria to enjoy a roundtrip 12-mile ride into Washington. The bike path takes riders and runners through Old Town’s waterfront, past the Dangerfield Sailing Club, Reagan National Airport (watching planes land and take off is still a thrill), and alongside the Potomac River where the monuments can be seen across the water. Even in this urban oasis, the wildlife is abundant. Once a bald eagle swooped down in front of me before landing in a tree. I was so excited I nearly toppled off my bike. There have been other “moments.” Riding alongside participants in the Avon Breast Cancer walk, most outfitted in over-the-top pink outfits, I stopped to take a photo and hear their stories. Before Memorial Day, there were many military groups either running or riding bikes. Occasionally, low-flying helicopters serve as notice that security has been ramped up because POTUS is on the move.
I have been riding a bike since, well, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t ride a bike. And yes, my mom and dad got involved in teaching me. I know my first bike was a small one, definitely pink, maybe 16 or 18 inches high. As I became taller, so did my bike. Growing up in the fifties, bikes were our major mode of transportation. We rode them everywhere, often miles and miles from our homes. We rode in the parks, on city streets, even on highways. It was also great exercise, one reason why childhood obesity was never an issue. I had plastic streamers flowing from my handlebars. I also used clothes pins (remember those?) to attach playing cards on the spokes to create that tick-tick-tick sound that made my bike sound like a motorcycle (albeit a very low-powered one). We didn’t wear helmets, a safety precaution that was far in the future. I can’t remember ever sustaining any more than a scraped elbow or knee from a fall. What I do remember is how much fun we had riding our bikes.
Hello summer! Lasker Rink being transformed into a swimming pool.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling The Happiness Project, has said that one key to happiness is to think back to what made us happy when we were ten years-old. So no surprise that I get that happy feeling every time I hop back on a bike. A week after that Boston Globe article appeared, I was in New York, riding the six-mile loop in Central Park. It was a beautiful day and the park was teeming with people and there’s no better way to take in the action than by biking through the park.
Being greeted by the “Cat” atop Central Park’s hill.
On the park’s northern end, I watched parents with strollers walking around the Harlem Meer and saw workers transforming Lasker Rink into a swimming pool. On the park’s west side, I glimpsed tourists and others struggling with oars on the boat pond. On the east side, after agonizing up “Cat Hill,” I was able to see the latest exhibit atop the roof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Spying Cornelia Parker’s “Transitional Object” on the Met’s roof.
Unlike the bike path that goes from Alexandria into Washington, Central Park’s roads are jam packed. Along the way it’s necessary to dodge everyone else on the loop – other bike riders, roller-bladers, pedicabs, horse carriages, runners, and walkers. I have seen many accidents and have been grateful that helmets are now a necessary safety element. But despite the risks, I wouldn’t give up my ride.
The Boston Globe article cited a 2015 survey by YouGov which found that only 5 percent of people 55 and older can’t ride a bike, while 13 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds can’t ride. My advice: it’s never to late to learn what truly is an activity you can enjoy all your life. Millennials may want to think about taking some lessons themselves now so they can eventually teach their children to ride. I’m available and my rates are very low.
Author Michael Schulman, a contributor and arts editor for The New Yorker, became particularly intrigued with Meryl Streep because of her self-effacing acceptance speeches. How, he thought, can the foremost actor of our generation (not, his, he’s younger), be surprised at and humble about her success? “To be called the greatest living actor, something even my own mother wouldn’t sanction is a curse…” the actor has said. “When I heard my name, I could hear half of America saying her again?!” (her Oscar acceptance speech for The Iron Lady)
Was she ever just a struggling, 20-something performer, Schulman asked himself? Did she arrive from Yale in full bloom, preternatural talent ripe? “When most actresses have reached their sell-by date, she continues to carry movies…so little is known about the early days…The book is not a soup to nuts biography, it’s about her origins.” The author met the very private Streep only once, for a Talk of the Town piece, not this later volume. He interviewed 80 of the artist’s friends and associates, dug through archival material and viewed performance on film and video.
This thoroughly entertaining glimpse at Schulman’s book begins with Mary Louise Streep of Bernardsville, New Jersey, “a brassy bully who didn’t care how she looked.” In fact, the preteen photo resembles a librarian. She studied singing with an opera coach (I hear a few ah has out there), but changed priorities upon discovering boys.
“Essentially, she decided to be another person.” Streep studied the girls in Seventeen and Mademoiselle Magazines. She actually said/wrote that she practiced giggling and became purposefully deferential so boys would appreciate her. She went blonde. The next photo we see projected is the fair haired young woman as a cheerleader. She was Homecoming Queen. “They liked me better and I liked that, but this was real acting.”
“Super Hero origins are all about their learning to apply their powers.” This heroine’s journey began at Vassar when it was an all girls school. She stopped “faking her way” and found herself making lifelong friends. “My brain woke up” (Streep) Schulman reads excerpts from letters she wrote to an earlier high school boyfriend then stationed in Vietnam. Streep was searching for something that took her out of herself. Even after her first appearance starring in Strindberg’s Miss Julie, she was ambivalent. Still, she applied to Yale- because the admission fee was $25 less than Julliard.
Schulman tells us about early New York roles featuring humor and character, not as an ingénue, calling out the artist’s lack of vanity and fear as well as obvious empathy. He shows us photographs from Arthur Wing Pinero’s Trelawney of the Wells (at Lincoln Center), and Happy End (Weill/Brecht/Lane.)
Streep’s breakout appearance, he suggests, was in the tandem Twenty Seven Wagons Full of Cotton (Tennessee Williams) and A Memory of Two Mondays (Arthur Miller.) In one of several wonderful descriptions of auditions shared by fellow thespians, John Lithgow describes her chatting amiably with director Arvin Brown as she took down her hair, changed her shoes, and stuffed her brassiere with tissues.
In the first play, Streep played a languid, brassy, southern sexpot; in the second, a steely, urban secretary that was so different, people didn’t recognize her. I can testify to that. I was there with my mother who double checked her program. We both felt in the presence of astonishing talent.
Joe Papp’s production Measure for Measure in Central Park introduced Streep to John Cazale who was older, an established film actor, and by all reports, extremely eccentric. (Cazale played Fredo in The Godfather.) The two fell madly in love and moved in together. Tragically, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. At 28, Streep dropped everything to join the cast of TheDeer Hunter in order to be with Cazale during his last film. “They needed a girl between two guys and I was it.” Al Pacino was floored by her devotion which is, he says, the first thing he thinks of upon seeing Streep. Cazale died shortly after. He never saw the film.
“She got into movies despite herself,” Schulman tells us. “This was the first of 19 Academy Award nominations. Six months later, Streep married sculptor Don Gummer, the second great love of her life. They have three daughters.” Then came The Taming of The Shrew in Central Park, Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Kramer vs. Kramer the film that arguably made her a star (and garnered her first Academy Award.) Schulman says he writes quite a bit about the pivotal juncture, ending with it.
Apparently Streep’s recollection of that audition was diametrically opposed to those others present. She recalls telling the men that as written Joanna was “an ogre, a princess, an ass,” further informing those who might hire her that the character was a reflection of the struggle women go through all across the country; that she had a reason for leaving and a reason for coming back. If she was to be hired, rewriting must take place. (Streep actually ended up rewriting parts of the role, including courtroom testimony. “Once she applies her sense of empathy,” Schulman comments, “characters that were villains become heroes…think of The Devil Wears Prada.”)
Director Robert Benton and Dustin Hoffman remember the audition being a disaster, Streep’s hardly saying anything. Hoffman wanted to hire her because of Cazale, because he felt she could draw upon fresh pain. During the shoot, he taunted and even once slapped her to evoke what he felt necessary in the only method acting way he knew how. “He’s bragged about this since….” The floor opened to questions after Schulman’s talk.
Michael Schulman speaks to Streep’s feelings about service, sacrifice, femininity, feminism, and empathy with some insight. By focusing on a particular, lesser known period, he illuminates and entertains. All the chapter heads call out a major role except one entitled Fredo. This is likely a very good book.