Monday, April 18, 2011

James Caan Ambles Into The Aero Theater

L.A. is really great place for film fans, you can't beat the venues to view classic films. One of the best places in town is The Aero Theater (actually located in the next door town of Santa Monica.) The Aero Theater is part of the wonderful the non-profit American Cinematheque organization. Last week, The Aero paid tribute to actor James Caan, showing many of his classic films; The Godfather, The Gambler and Misery, just to name a few.

I went down there on last Friday, as the presented director Michael Mann's gritty first feature film; Thief. In the picture, Caan gives a bravado performance, as a high end professional thief, who brakes his independent code (he ends up working with a local crime boss, and lives to regret it.) Also on the bill, was Caan's only directorial effort, the very underrated drama, Hide In Plain Sight. The true story of the first case of the witness relocation program, Caan played a working man who's children become missing, after his ex-wife's new mobster husband testifies on his mafia family.

In between the films, Caan showed up to a packed house, to do a Q & A with film critic and screenwriter, F.X. Feeney. Caan spoke of his experience working with the then new feature director Mann (who was in the audience.) He said, that Mann approached him while he was working on another film, he found him sitting in his chair with the Thief script. Caan said that he enjoyed working with Mann, he jokingly called the young director a "Napoleon" on the set and still said that Thief, was still Mann's best film to date.

Caan also spoke of his film, which received terrific reviews, with strong performances with a then mostly unknown cast ( Danny Aiello and Jill Eikenberry, and a wonderful performance by Robert Viharo as the witness, who was also in attendance that night. )  Caan spoke from the heart about being disheartened with the way his film was released by the MGM brass at the time (with very little advertising, and with unneeded studio source music.) Sadly the experience turned him off, and he decided never to sit in that chair again.

Caan, became lighthearted when someone in the audience (beat me to the punch) and asked about working with legendary Hollywood film director, Howard Hawks on the John Wayne-Robert Mitchum western, El Dorado. Caan recalled, that even though it was a big picture, he thought his part was pretty silly (as was his gamblers top hat, that he wore in the film to make him look taller) and was prone to smile when he was delivering his lines to Wayne. Then, Caan, cracked the audience up with an imitation of Bob Mitchum ribbing him; "Hey Jiminy Cricket, I see that you seem to be smiling quite a lot there." Caan, maybe best know to younger audiences as "Big Ed" Deline from the action series, Las Vegas, (a kinda throwback, to the Howard Hawks style entertainment that he started his career with) which ran several seasons on NBC. Caan's currently starring in the caper film, Henry's Crime with Keana Reeves. And at 71, Jimmy Caan still looks like he can kick your ass, and somehow, that makes me sleep a little better at night.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Marilyn Monroe: M M – PERSONAL @ Book Soup with Lois banner & Mark Anderson

The window of Book Soup
 The Blond has been gone since 1962, for almost 50 years!. .. But, the aura of 20th century film star still lingers on and strong. Is there anything else that we don’t know about this woman? This woman who still holds a grasp on our imagination after all these years? Well, the answer is “yes.” A fantastic new book has just been published by Abrams Books, called M M – PERSONAL: from the Private Archive of MARILYN MONROE.
Lois & Mark
 What makes this standout from your standard Marilyn book, is the mystery of it, or to be precise; two large metal file cabinets that once belonged to her, and that have been missing since her death.  Enter well known celebrity photographer Mark Anderson. Originally from Australia, Mark is a photographer pal of mine who used to do some shoots at my old Hollywood hangout and workplace, the late, great, The Ambassador Hotel. I lost contact with him for a couple years, after I losing my job, when the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to demolish the landmark hotel (which by the way, was where Marilyn Monroe was first discovered at the Blue Book Modeling Agency that was located inside the hotel.) 

The MM Treasure Chests!

Mark seemed to kind of fell off the face of the earth? But, one day we did finally connect on the phone. And when I asked him “what have you been up too?” That’s when he started the ball rolling with this wild incredible story of Marilyn’s missing file cabinets. I just remember saying things like; “What?” and “wow” over and over again. Mark told me how he was contacted by a mysterious man, and how he drove out on a rainy, stormy night forty miles east of downtown L.A. to see some items that presumably belonged to Marilyn Monroe? The man told Mark, he wanted to photograph some of these items and if he would be interested in being the photographer?  Mark, being the gregarious and curious Aussie, he is, took a chance on his story, not knowing if he was going out on a weird & wild goose chase? He found more than he bargained for…

A Special Guest?
To make a long story, into a shot blog; after a 2008 cover story in Vanity Fair on the lost Marilyn treasures, that featured several pages of photos that Mark took. His next step was to do a book (according to Mark that’s a book in itself!) he teamed up with Lois Banner, (who teaches a  course actually on MM at USC) after noticing an LA WEEKLY with Marilyn on the cover (that featured Lois) when he stopped for a coffee on his way to his daily MM excavation.And I gotta tell you, they seem to be at first glance, a strange pairing, but it worked. I just think it's so funny that these two people who were brought together by someone that that they had never meet, who's been gone for almost five decades. And just to tell you, I'm just glazing over the whole story, I'm not even gonna attempt to fill in all the blanks here...

The MM Dream Team

Mark brings down the house, as he show the look on Lois's face, when see first laid eyes on the file cabinets!
So when I got an invitation to their book signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood (a wonderful bookstore by the way, with pretty redheads), I couldn’t miss it. So, I grabbed my trusty Olympus camera and went. It was a nice night, Lois spoke of MM (and she really knows her stuff!) she said that; MM is one of the most complex females of all time… and that has to be her appeal?  Also Mark did a slide show of some of his wonderful images that are featured in the book. Mark said that part of the reason it took him so long to photograph the items is, that he’s end up reading everything! He just couldn’t help himself (and wouldn’t you? I know, I would have!) Among some of the nights highlights, Mark gave a wonderful story about having figured out that an obscure letter was written by Marilyn in the guise of the family dog Hugo! The letter was to her young stepchildren by Arthur Miller, who as Hugo, she apologized for being naughty & chewing up their things. But perhaps the most humorous moment of the evening was Mark’s imitation of Lois, when he introduced her to the Marilyn’s file cabinets for the first time.
This brings me to the question... haven’t we gotten over Marilyn yet? Apparently not? Something about that woman still grabs us… I don’t know what it is?  All I can say is if you have an interest in the legend that is or the person that was Marilyn; By all means pick up this book.

Mark, MM & Ray

And FYI, I always figured that I was pretty immune to MM hoodoo... she was someone for Hollywood Boulevard tourist? But a few months ago, I was rummaging through so things and found a German poster for The Misfits (her last film & my favorite.)  I must have picked up somewhere? I have no idea, but it was in black & white, nice graphics; I ended up hanging it up over my bed. Then, I remembered that when my grandfather passed away a few years ago and he just loved MM, as I said good bye to him, I slipped in his coat pocket a small photo of Marilyn...Man, I just wish that I somehow get this book to him!

Me with Marietta, Mark's lovely wife & new book!