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.
Playwright/actor Ed Dixon first met George Rose when, as a callow youth, he was cast in a touring company of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince. “I was young, pretty and could hit the high notes.” The British performer, 30 years his senior, was a respected character actor and unabashed homosexual – rare in the day. Dixon’s first impression? Underwhelming. Then Rose took the stage as Lutz, a typically vaudevillian turn. “He was outrageous, ridiculous, hilarious…with an uncanny ability to break through the fourth wall…” Captivated but “wary he might put his hand on my knee,” the nascent performer visited Rose in his dressing room. No such attempt occurred.
This is Dixon’s intimate story of the powerful relationship that supported early endeavors and made his life more colorful while teaching him about both theater and life. It’s an illuminating, warts-and-all portrait of the talented artist that became Dixon’s idol, then fell from a great height with dire consequences to both men – as told, it should be noted, with love.
The playwright is a terrific storyteller. We learn about Rose’s habit of calling all his dressers Lisette, attiring them in French maid’s aprons; of having mountain lions “in the second bedroom of an ordinary apartment on an ordinary street in Greenwich Village” and, later, after their harrowing demise, an ocelot. There are priceless quotes and song snippets enacted as if Rose whose comments knew no social boundaries and who used blue language like a truck driver queen. And oh, the alligator joke!
A roster of iconic British actors come briefly to life. Ralph Richardson leaned over Rose at the makeup table and advised, “When you’re all finished, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, is it human?” We hear Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov…
If Dixon looks at something not there, we see it. When words deny, while his body language does otherwise, we get it. Joy and surprise are infectious. Flamboyance is never quite over the top. Moving around the stage with grace, energy and precise gesture, now a character actor, he’s a pleasure to watch. “One by one I played all of George’s repertoire.”
The saga’s last chapter is empathetic horror. It’s as if something sat on our collective chests. Breathing slows as scenario becomes unspeakable. Dixon’s honesty not only about what he observed and felt but its personal aftermath is striking. We’ve been on his journey. The play ends with moving perspective.
Director Eric Shaeffer helms complete focus, visual variety, a sense of confiding, channeling rather than imitation, and excellent pace.
Dixon is simply wonderful. As is this play which is both entertaining and heart-rending.
Ah, the holiday season. A time for generosity, merriment, good cheer…and felonies. Yep, in the real world, crooks don’t take a break for Christmas and they didn’t in any of the following five films either.
We’re No Angels(1955) Humphry Bogart (in one of his very few comedic roles), Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov star as three prisoners who manage a daring escape from Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve and arrive at a small French colonial town. They quickly become involved with a local shopkeeper and his family. Originally, they’re just looking for a hideout and a chance to steal supplies to make a getaway, but much to their own surprise, they end up becoming the ‘guardian angels’ of the family. Also starring Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone, and Leo G. Carroll.
Die Hard(1988) Directed by John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in the iconic roles that launched their careers into superstardom. Arguably the most perfect action movie ever made, it also happens to be set during the Christmas holidays, thus we get plenty of tinsel along with the gratuitous violence. And who doesn’t love a DMC Christmas rap? Featuring such classic zingers as “Ho-ho-ho-Now I have a machine gun,” and “If this is how they celebrate Christmas I gotta be there for New Year’s!”
Home Alone(1990) Directed by Chris Columbus (Gremlins and Harry Potter) and starring young Macauley Culkin as Kevin McAllister who is mistakenly left behind while the rest of his family flies off to celebrate Christmas in Paris. Kevin finds himself enjoying the time to himself but when thieves Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) figure out the truth, they plan a home invasion only to have Kevin turn the tables on them. Culkin was nominated for a Golden Globe and Home Alone became the highest grossing live action comedy film of all time.
The Ref(1994) This black comedy directed by Ted Demme stars Denis Leary as jewel thief Gus. Gus accidentally trips an alarm and hijacks a car owned by a wealthy, married couple Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline Chausser (Judy Greer). Unfortunately for Gus, Lloyd and Caroline are a severely dysfunctional couple whose constant bickering drives him nuts. Matters are further complicated by the unexpected arrival of troubled son Jesse, and then Lloyd’s family, including his brother, sister in law, nephew, niece, and horrible mother, Rose (Glynis Johns). Gus soon finds himself unwittingly playing counselor to the whole clan while trying to avoid the police and get the hell out of suburban Connecticut.
Bad Santa(2003) Terry Zwigoff, (Crumb, Ghost World) directed this raunchy black comedy Every year professional thieves Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton at his most hilarious) and his dwarf assistant Marcus (Tony Cox of Willow, Spaceballs, and Beetlejuice), pose as a department store Santa and his elf assistant. They use their access to rob the malls blind with the help of Marcus’s wife Lois (Lauren Tom of The Joy Luck Club and Futurama), their getaway driver. Willie’s alcoholism, sex-addiction, and foul mouthed behavior though, have begun to alienate Marcus. Meanwhile, Willie befriends a sweet, fatherless, overweight child named Thurman (Brett Kelly) while taking up with a fetching bar lass Sue (Lauren Graham), with a Santa fetish. It well earned its R rating in theaters and there’s an unrated option now for rental! Bad Santa 2, also starring Thornton, is now in theaters.
In further proof that Hollywood is out of fresh ideas for anything that doesn’t star someone wearing a cape, they’ve decided to do a completely unnecessary remake of the Charlton Heston classic Ben-Hur, coming out on August, 19. But to be fair to the movie executives, there is something especially appealing about films set in the days of Ancient Rome. Consider the following.
Julius Caesar (1953) This film adaption of the Shakespearean play was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz of All About Eve. Louis Calhern (The Asphalt Jungle, The Prisoner of Zenda) played the title role, while James Mason (The Boys From Brazil, Murder by Decree) played Brutus and won Best Actor Award from The National Board of Review which also awarded Julius Caesar Best Film. Marlon Brando as Marc Antony was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the BAFTA as did John Gielgud for his turn as Cassius.
Spartacus (1960) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Howard Fast, it tells the true story of a gladiator who began a slave uprising against the Roman Empire. Starring Kirk Douglas (in arguably his most iconic role) as the titular lead opposite Laurence Olivier as Roman general Crassus the film won four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Ustinov for his turn as slave trader Batiatus. Furthermore, its screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted at the time, and President Kennedy himself crossed picket lines to view the film! It became Universal Studios highest grossing picture to date, and “I Am Spartacus,” is part of the zeitgeist.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum(1966) This hysterical musical comedy farce based on the Broadway smash of the same name, was directed by Richard Lester (Help! The Three Musketeers) and had the legendary Zero Mostel (The Producers) reprising his stage role as Pseudolus as well as Jack Gilford (Cocoon) as Hysterium. Joining them were Lester favorites Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, and lastly Buster Keaton in what was his last motion picture performance. It won the Oscar for Best Musical Score; no surprise since the music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim.
Monty Python’s Life Of Brien (1979) Following Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the irreverent British comedy group wowed the world once more with this religious satire about how Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) a member of the People’s Front of Judea (one of a large number of divided Jewish independence groups who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans) around during the time of Christ gets mistaken for the actual Messiah. The film provoked gut belly laughter AND accusations of blasphemy from numerous religious groups. Ireland and Norway both banned its screening altogether. Despite (or rather because of) the controversy it became the fourth highest box office hit in Great Britain and the top grosser of any British film in the U.S. that year.
Gladiator(2000) This box office smash directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down) about how General Meridius (Russell Crowe) is sold into slavery, betrayed by the evil Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), sold into slavery. Meridius then rises through the ranks of the Gladiator arena scheming to avenge his murdered family. The film won Best Picture, Best Actor, as well as three others Oscars AND helped revitalize the historical epic movie genre.