Tribute: Rose Marie

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Copyright Rose Marie 2017
We bid a sad and fond farewell to Rose Marie, a star from the era of radio to the era of Twitter, who died yesterday at age 94. She is best remembered today as Sally Rogers, the wisecracking comedy writer (inspired by Selma Diamond) on the fictitious “Alan Brady Show” in my all-time favorite television series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Sally’s brash humor, mostly directed toward herself and her single status, was a perfect counterpoint to Van Dyke’s suburban dad and Morey Amsterdam’s non-stop one-liners. For me, and I imagine for many girls and young women across the country, the writer with the bow in her hair who was the only woman in the room was an inspiring example of an independent, respected working woman. In her appearances on talk shows and “The Hollywood Squares” she was as quick and funny as the character she played. And could she sell a song.

After all, she had been a singing superstar as a little girl with a very big voice and and a bigger personality, billed as “the child wonder.”

Here she gives her thoughts on comedy.

And how the Sally Rogers character was based on her own personality.

I was proud to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary about Rose Marie that came out earlier this year. It includes many remarkable stories about her early days as a child superstar and her appearances in Las Vegas back when the mob was running the casinos.

Carl Reiner, creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” wrote on Twitter:

I was so sad to learn of the passing of Rosemarie. There’s never been a more engaging & multi-talented performer. In a span of 90 years, since she was four, dear Rosie performed on radio, in vaudeville, nightclubs, films, TV, & Vegas & always had audiences clamoring for “more!!”

Bill Persky, a writer for the show, paid tribute on Twitter as well: “Laughter lost a friend today with the passing of Rosemarie, Every line we wrote for her was guaranteed, she never failed to deliver, The New Year will be less happy with her gone.”

Columnist Amy “Ask Amy” Dickinson wrote in her book that her appearances on the NPR show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” are inspired by her inner Sally Rogers. I think all of us of that generation, especially those who write, have a bit of Sally — and Rose Marie — in us.

May her memory be a blessing.

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Actors Tribute

For the What a Character! Blogathon: Thelma Ritter

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I am honored to participate in this year’s “What a Character!” blogathon, featuring essays about great character actors by movie bloggers across the internet. And I am thrilled to have an opportunity to write about one of my very favorite character actors, the magnificent Thelma Ritter. Whether in comedy or drama, her honest earthiness gave her characters a blunt authenticity that was enormously appealing.

She was nominated six times for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, still a record, three Golden Globes and an Emmy. And she won a Tony for “New Girl in Town.”

She was born in Brooklyn on Valentine’s Day in 1902, and never tried to lose her New York accent, which gave a lot of flavor to the characters she played. She did some acting and was an agent while her children were growing up, but did not get her first movie role until 1945’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” where she had a brief, unbilled scene as a tired mother who could not find a special toy for her son.

Her characters were usually blunt and smarter than the more educated and upper class characters around her. She brought warmth, humanity, street smarts, and crackerjack timing to all of her roles, opposite the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Ritter nursed James Stewart in “Rear Window.”

She was a tipsy maid in “Pillow Talk,” starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  And she was Bette Davis’ assistant in “All About Eve,” memorably responding to Eve’s sad story with, “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.”

One of the most complex characters she played was a sometime police informant with her own code of honor in “Pickup on South Street.”

She also appeared in the very silly romantic comedy “A New Kind of Love,” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe.

One of my favorite Ritter performances is in “The Mating Season,” where she a hamburger joint owner whose new daughter-in-law mistakes her for a maid.

And another is opposite Kirk Douglas and Mitzi Gaynor in “For Love of Money.”  It’s a rare role for her because she plays a woman who is wealthy and powerful.  Douglas plays a lawyer she hires to get her estranged daughters to marry the men she has picked for them.

Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminating the story’s themes.

Announcement: Sixth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

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Actors Great Characters

Millicent Simmonds of “Wonderstruck”

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“Wonderstruck,” based on the award-winning book by Brian Selznick, is the story of two deaf children, decades apart, who are both on their own in New York City and both end up hiding out at the Museum of Natural History. Selznick, who also wrote the screenplay, told me:

The picture story is set in 1927 at the end of the silent movie era. So I thought I could tell the story of Rose in 1927 as a black and white silent movie. We would think we’re watching it in silence because it’s 1927 but it would be revealed that we’re watching it like this because we’re watching it the way that the main character in that story experiences the world because she’s deaf. So we see the world the way she does. We hear the world the way she does.

Rose is played by a young deaf actress, Millicent Simmonds, who has a wonderfully expressive face.

He also told me that because a portion of the film is silent, they were able to use deaf actors to play hearing people:

I realized that with a silent section in our movie it gave us the opportunity to hire deaf actors to play hearing characters. Deaf actors were hired all the time in the silent movie era because they were so expressive. They knew how to tell a story without spoken language. And so we used six deaf actors as hearing people. We had these amazing days on the set with hearing actors, deaf actors, sign language interpreters. The rest of the cast, the crew and everybody worked together.

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Actors

Movie Accents — Erik Singer on Actors Playing Real People

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I am always fascinated by accents, in real life and in movies and I love to hear people who can switch from one to another. I was most recently very impressed with the Appalachian accents in “Logan Lucky,” especially Daniel Craig.

In this video from Wired, dialect/accent/linguistics expert Erik Singer talks about actors who take on one of the most difficult challenges of all, “ideolects,” not just a regional or class-related accent but the specific way a particular individual speaks, from Steve Jobs and Muhammad Ali to Ray Charles or Jacqueline Kennedy. We know the way these iconic figures sound. It takes a very talented and dedicated actor to get the details so right that we barely notice and can just focus on the performance.

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Actors Behind the Scenes Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Tribute: Jeanne Moreau

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We mourn the loss of Jeanne Moreau, one of the most enchanting performers in film history, who has died at age 89. The Washington Post’s Adam Bernstein captured her exquisite screen presence, dubbing her “the thinking man’s femme fatale.”

There was the dry, husky voice that hinted at a million smoked Gauloises. There were the dark eyes, carnal and enigmatic. There was the brooding, slightly downward curve of her lips, a sultry pout that could flash capriciously into a beguiling smile. She was playful and dangerous….Critics and audiences found Ms. Moreau spellbinding, particularly in roles in which she embodied liberated sexuality or in which her outward composure masked boundless complexity. Movie scholar David Shipman once described her as the “art-house love goddess.”

She exemplified the French “New Wave” of filmmaking, intimate and provocative. One of her best-remembered performances is in “Jules and Jim,” the story of a love triangle. She enchanted her audience the way her character enchanted her two co-stars.

A.O. Scott talks about the film here, calling Moreau “incomparably alluring.”

May her memory be a blessing.

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Actors Tribute
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