Thursday, March 31, 2022

LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS 1972

I remember when I was a teenager there used to be a radio station format called MOR, which stood for "middle of the road." And as the name suggests, these surprisingly popular stations catered to the seasoning-free music needs of its still market-significant 34-65 listening demographic--folks who were concerned that The Osmonds were beginning to sound a little too “street”--by playing inoffensive melodic pop, soft-rock, instrumentals, and standards (i.e., elevator music). It served as a counterprogramming response to the late-'60s revolution in rock, soul, and R&B that emerged out of the youth movement, drug culture, and changing socio-political climate.
Middle Man
I bring this up because when it comes to movies, I tend to forget that around this same time (roughly 1967 - 1978) Hollywood was in the midst of its own revolution, dubbed the New Hollywood. A revolution the floundering studios responded to with its own brand of MOR counterprogramming designed to satisfy the needs of the middle-age-bracket ticket-buyer who still saw movies as primarily a  "family medium" and went to theaters for escapism, not significance.
In the years following the breakout success of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969), a struggling film industry began aggressively courting the rapidly-growing youth market. Embracing unconventional films with topical themes, profanity, and graphic displays of sex, nudity, and violence, the goal was to lure audiences with what they couldn't get on television. While Hollywood traditionalists balked, the coveted college-age demographic dominated the marketplace, turning offbeat, taboo-shattering films like Midnight Cowboy (1969) A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Last Tango in Paris (1972) into major boxoffice hits.

Simultaneously, while television still remained the dominant entertainment choice for the dwindling 35 to 64-year-old market, they proved that, when given the right G or GP-rated inducement, they were capable of showing up in significant enough numbers to make such old-fashioned (if not downright primordial) movies as Yours, Mine, & Ours (1968), The Love Bug (1969), and Airport (1970) some of the highest-grossing films of their respective years.
Stuck in the Middle with You
The "Hollywood Renaissance" era of the '70s is rightfully remembered for its creative daring and for producing groundbreaking films like The Graduate (1967), Klute (1971), and MASH (1970). But they are also the years when doggedly routine MOR comedies sought to cling to relevance in the youth-centric marketplace by viewing the rapidly-changing cultural landscape through a reactive, decidedly middle-aged (mostly male, always white) prism.  

The undisputed master of MOR movies at this time was the late Neil Simon, who built a career out of glorifying the middle-aged, middle-class everyman bewildered by a world that was changing too fast. Having begun his career writing for TV (Your Show of Shows, The Phil Silvers Show), the prolific playwright, screenwriter, and Broadway golden boy was a master of sitcom plotting and gag-heavy humor. All of which reassured ticket buyers that a night out with a Neil Simon movie was a guaranteed risk-free, comfortingly familiar experience. Dubbed the "King of Kvetch Comedy", for almost a decade Neil Simon had his finger on the arrhythmic pulse of America’s “middlers”— folks too old for the Pepsi Generation but not yet ready to join the Geritol set. 
Barney's Queen of the Sea
Sweet savory salmon saute swimming in salivary succulence 

But by 1972, when even TV sitcoms were beginning to adopt a hipper, more contemporary comedy style (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and Maude all premiered between 1970 and 1972) and Simon--who turned 45 that year, the same age as the main character in Last of the Red Hot Lovers--found that his trademark jokey, setup-payoff style had begun to feel dated even to his core audience. Which perhaps explains why the audience that had helped turn his early screen adaptations Barefoot in the Park (1967) and The Odd Couple (1968) into boxoffice hits went largely MIA by the time Star Spangled Girl (1971) and Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972) came out. 
Alan Arkin as Barney Cashman
Sally Kellerman as Elaine Navazio
Paula Prentiss as Bobbi Michele
Renee Taylor as Jeanette Fisher

If Classical Hollywood’s fumbling efforts to join the New Hollywood youthquake were a movie, that movie would be Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers. It’s the story of Barney Cashman. Balding, happily married, settled-in-his-ways Barney Cashman who every day wears a blue suit when he drives his black 4-door sedan from Great Neck to New York to open his seafood restaurant. The routine sameness of Barney's life has him, at age 45, both contemplating his mortality and grappling with the nagging certainty that on the battlefront of the '70s Sexual Revolution, God has classified him 4-F. 
It's Barney's deepest desire to have just one afternoon of “exciting” in a life that has thus far been one uninterrupted stream of “nice.” Neil Simon's midlife-crisis comedy of bourgeois manners chronicles Barney’s earnest but disastrous pursuit of the perfect Afternoon Delight. 
The Peacock Revolution
Along with everything else, men's fashion underwent an upheaval in the '70s.
Bold styling and vivid colors signified youth and sex appeal

Although a Tony Award-nominated hit when it opened on Broadway in 1969 (with James Coco in the lead), Last of the Red Hot Lovers —the 7th of Simon’s plays to make it to the screen—hit theaters during a downtrend in Simon's career and, like Star Spangled Girl before it, opened to terrible reviews and non-existent business. By the time it was released on VHS in the early '80s (when I saw it) it had earned the reputation of being the most missable of Simon's screen adaptations. 

So wouldn’t you know it...coming to Last of the Red Hot Lovers with rock-bottom expectations and the participation of faves Paula Prentiss and Sally Kellerman my sole interest, I wound up laughing louder, longer, and more frequently at LOTRHL than any other Neil Simon film I'd seen to date. That was more than 40 years ago. Today, even after multiple revisits,  Last of the Red Hot Lovers still remains my #1 favorite Neil Simon stage-to-screen adaptation.
Barney Whips Out His Schtick
The comedy in Last of the Red Hot Lovers is from a time when the mere sight of a middle-aged man in boxer shorts (37-year-old Arkin shaved his head to play 45) was considered a sure-fire laugh-getter 


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM     
The obvious reason I love Last of the Red Hot Lovers is that it makes me laugh. A lot. What’s not so obvious is why. It’s not like I’m blind to the film’s numerous shortcomings: Neal Hefti’s oddly dispiriting musical score; director Gene Saks’ (Mame) pedestrian approach to the material (it looks like a TV movie that ran into budget trouble); and the overall sense that the film's premise is too thin to support the level of repetition imposed upon it by its "comic triple" structure.
For those unfamiliar, the Comic Triple is the ages-old comedy writing principle that says things are funnier in threes. A setup built around - 1. normal, 2. normal, 3. surprise! 
A typical example is this exchange from Young Frankenstein (1974)-co-written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks: 

1. "Would the doctor care for a brandy before retiring?"
    "No. Thank you."
2. "Some warm milk, perhaps?"
    "No. Thank you, very much. No, thanks."
3. "Ovaltine?"

Like Simon's earlier play Plaza Suite, Last of the Red Hot Lovers has a "3-in-One" structure (three one-act playlets united by the same male lead) that turns the film itself into a Comic Triple. But I guess for some, 98 minutes was an awfully long time to wait for a punchline.  

(Mel Brooks and Neil Simon were friends who both got their start as writers for Your Show of Shows in the ‘50s. Only a year apart in age, Simon never really shed his status as the comic darling of the blue-hair set, but Mel Brooks' broad farces and satirical movie homages struck a chord with young audiences and came to influentially exemplify the look of hip, college-crowd comedy in the ‘70s.)  
It's All in the Writing / It's All in the Casting
I'd say Simon's jokes hit most of the time. But for me, Arkin, Kellerman, Prentiss, and Taylor bat it clear out of the park with every swing. Seeing what these quirky, broke-the-mold character actors do with Simon's set-in-aspic material is why this movie is such a favorite


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
In Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Barney Cashman’s failed trio of trysts in the New York apartment of his 73-year-old mother (empty two days a week from 3 to 5 when she’s out doing volunteer work at Mount Sinai) begins in the winter of his discontent and continues through summer and fall. Making him a sort of frustrated man for all seasons. Each encounter brings about subtle changes in Barney, something that should have a unifying effect and make the film feel more like a single narrative. Alas, the variance in tone and pacing of these sequences felt less like watching a movie with a cohesive plotline and more like watching the isolated sequences in an episode of Love, American Style.    

LOVE AND THE SENSUOUS WOMAN
"I get cravings. To eat, to touch, to smell, to see, to do.
A physical, sensual pleasure that can only be satisfied at that particular moment."

The first sequence is the most quintessentially Simonesque of all the episodes. A machine-gun barrage of wisecracks and one-liners delivered with surprising comic panache by an amusingly salty Sally Kellerman with a prototypically subdued Alan Arkin – the master of comic stillness – playing straight man. The occasion of two married people agreeing to meet for an afternoon of no-strings adultery has Simon applying his The Odd Couple formula of close-quarters dissimilarity-conflict to an unforeseen obstacle: anxious Barney is looking for romance while illusion-free Elaine (“A coughing woman of Polish persuasion”) is looking for sex. 
What should be a semantic non-issue becomes a Wall of Jericho as Barney’s stubborn need to justify his infidelity with sentimentality finds no common ground with Elaine’s clear-eyed sexual pragmatism. Behind the witty barbs and comebacks in their talking-in-circles banter lies a sharp discourse about the death of romance in the age of Deep Throat and Portnoy’s Complaint (two films that came out the same summer as Last of the Red Hot Lovers).
In her 2013 memoir, Sally Kellerman cited her performance in Last of the Red Hot Lovers as her proudest career accomplishment, which I’m in absolute agreement with. Reminding me of one of those silent wives in a Martin Scorsese mob movie, Kellerman’s hard-edged Elaine Navazio is a standout and my favorite performance of her career. The writing in this sequence is perhaps the tightest and funniest, and Kellerman has a great comedy rhythm with Arkin (the two would team again in 1975’s Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins).  
What hasn’t been as obvious to me until multiple revisits is how hilariously in character Arkin’s underplaying is. His performance is infused with dozens of small bits of business (the running gag of his non-drinker’s reaction to drinking, for example) that not only set up and support Kellerman’s jokes beautifully, but nicely establish Barney’s behavioral details that have their payoff in latter sequences reflecting his evolution as a red hot lover.

LOVE AND THE ACTRESS
"I don't need their stinkin' show. I'm more of a movie personality. 
Barbra Streisand, Ali MacGraw...that's the type I am."

The first playlet ended with Barney emphatically vowing “I will never, never, never do that again.” In this chapter, which stands as the requisite “silly” episode in Neil Simon’s 3-act formula (remember that passed-out hooker storyline in California Suite?) we learn that “never’ for Barney is about six months. It’s summer, and having shed his romantic illusions along with his winter suit, Barney is again inspired to entertain a young woman in his mother’s apartment. This time it’s Bobbi Michele (Prentiss) the “theatrically built” actress-singer he meets in the park. 
From Barney’s outside-looking-in perspective on the sexual revolution, Bobbi represents all those beautiful, long-legged, mini-skirted, sexually-uninhibited women Barney sees and fantasizes about on the streets and staring out at him from the covers of sexy magazines. That she turns out to be Grade-A Looney Tunes turns their afternoon into a “be careful what you wish for” male midlife-crisis cautionary tale.
I’m a huge admirer of the woefully underappreciated Paula Prentiss so I feign no objectivity when I say she’s brilliant is pure gold and hysterically funny in this essentially a made-to-order role. Not a popular performance even among many of her fans, I find her to be brilliant. No one does kooky-sexy like Prentiss, her distinctive delivery and impeccable timing working to make the comedy in this sequence feel almost absurdist.

LOVE AND THE TIMES WE LIVE IN
Jeanette - "You're not appalled by the times that we live in? The promiscuity you find everywhere?"
Barney - "I haven't found it anywhere! I hear a lot about it, but I haven't found it!"

In this final installment, Last of the Red Hot Lovers gets a bit serious. A family friend whose husband is having an affair (Taylor) plummets into a deep depression and solicits the by-now practically predatory Barney for an ill-advised revenge dalliance. In the course of trying to seduce the woman after she’s already expressed she’s having second thoughts, Barney has a Willy Loman moment where he’s confronted with his moral hypocrisy and the very real possibility that he may not be the decent man he prides himself on being. In the midst of this, the film seems to make the questionable (but no doubt comforting) leap that before the sexual revolution introduced so many gray areas, America was a bastion of heterosexual monogamy. Conveniently ignoring the decades of smutty sex comedies (some written by Simon himself) satirizing the morality of suburban bed-hopping.  

In later years, Neil Simon would get better at balancing the whole comedy-drama thing. But this third act episode, which has Simon’s characters dealing with some pretty hard-hitting truths, is somehow written to be the broadest, most farcical sequence of them all. 
Perhaps on stage, it came off better. But with the intimacy of the movie screen, the skill of Renee Taylor's performance only emphasizes the sequence’s whiplash shifts in tone. (Taylor is superb. How she manages to be screamingly funny one minute and heart-breakingly real the next is remarkable.) Does it make me laugh? Yes. Between the running gags of Jeanette's handbag and her retreats to the coffee shop, it has me in stitches. Does it work? Intermittently I’d say. 
Once again I call attention to how good Alan Arkin is, and in this sequence, he has to work with coming off as kind of creepy and unsympathetic. But both actors redeem the shortcomings of the material through the authenticity of their characterizations.
Looking like a flesh and blood Boris Badenov,
incognito Barney tries to make it to his mother's apartment unnoticed

As a journalist noted at the time, Last of the Red Hot Lovers is a sad comedy about a real cultural phenomenon of the time: the youthquake era was the first time adults didn't look to their elders for guidance on how to live their lives, they looked to the young.
It's hard to know what being middle-aged must have felt like at a time when so much of life around you seemed to be in flux for only the young, but everyone can relate to feeling left out, feeling as though you're missing out, or that the parade is passing by. With Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Neil Simon takes a witty and insightful stab at exploring the experience of a character who had to go too far to learn that being in the middle wasn't so bad.


BONUS MATERIAL
Iconic Looks - The Lynx Fur Coat 
I really love the look of Sally Kellerman's Elaine in Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Especially her enormous fur coat. As character-defining costuming goes, the lynx fur coat worked overtime in the '60s and '70s. I don't know if they ever went through a phase when they were considered sincerely chic or glamorous, but when a character is sporting one in a movie, it always seems to serve as a signifier of a certain kind of brassy, East Coast vulgarity. Living in California, I don't think I've ever seen one in person, but my first screen lynx sighting was in 1967's Wait Until Dark when it was worn by street-savvy heroin smuggler Samantha Jones (bottom). Next, in 1970s The Owl and the Pussycat, Barbra Streisand's model/actress wore her omnipresent faux fur coat like it was sex-worker armor.  

Sally Kellerman (June 2, 1937 - February 24, 2022)
The recent death of actress Sally Kellerman is what inspired me to re-watch Last of the Red Hot Lovers. In her 2013 memoir Read My Lips, she cites her performance in the film as one of her proudest accomplishments, and I can't help but agree. The first thing I ever saw Kellerman in was an episode of the Marlo Thomas sitcom That Girl titled "Break a Leg." It was broadcast Thursday, November 10, 1966, and it made an impression on me because I had a 4th-grade teacher I had a crush on who looked just like Kellerman in this episode. Although her most famous role (Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan) is from a film I really can't stand (Robert Altman's M*A*S*H), I loved Sally Kellerman in Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975), Slither (1973), Foxes (1980), Brewster McCloud (1970), and even 1973's  Lost Horizon.

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2022

15 comments:

  1. As one of your silent readers, all of your posts are enjoyed.

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    1. As the silent reader of many blogs I enjoy but never (or only infrequently) comment on, your taking the time to pass on such a nice compliment is a gesture that means a great deal.
      Best of all, it affords me the opportunity to sincerely thank you for the continued reading my blog. Let's hear it for the silent readers!

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  2. Hey Ken,
    Maybe I should give LOTRLL a try finally - as I've seen most of the other Neil Simon movies (both adaptions of his own plays and originals). I've read most of his plays as well, but Red Hot never grabbed me. But Arkin and that trio of excellent actresses? Looks worth it!

    As a child, I avidly watched reruns of The Odd Couple TV show, so I was familiar with Simon's name once I began reading plays by the late 1970s. And before that, I went to "Murder by Death" when it was new in 1976 as I was both a Peter Sellers and mystery spoof fan. One of the more interesting Simon plays I was able to see on TV in 1978 (or thereabouts) is "The Good Doctor," an adaption of several Chekhov stories which starred Richard Chamberlain, Rene Auberjonois and Marsha Mason.

    It should be noted that Neil Simon continued to have "MOR" Broadway hits in the 1970s (The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Sunshine Boys, Chapter Two, etc.) as well as flops (God's Favorite, The Gingerbread Lady - which Simon rewrote as the movie Only When I Laugh for Mason.) In the 1980s and beyond, Simon got more personal with his "BB" trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound) and more critical respect. I also like how he dramatized his feelings about the death of his first wife in "Chapter Two" - the wisecracks are still there, but it reaches a height of honest emotion at its dramatic climax.

    But, yes, Arkin, Prentiss, Kellerman, Taylor? I really should give Red Hot a try. :)

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    1. Hi Mark
      I always try to reinforce that my love of a particular film is not so much an endorsement of a film’s quality as much as it is a mere reflection of my particular tastes and personality. But if reading this inspired you to want to check out one of Simon’s most unpopular screen adaptations, I guess maybe my enthusiasm can be contagious.
      It sounds as though we have in common a fondness for Simon’s work when we were young. I would go to the library and read all his plays, and “Murder By Death” I’ve watched more times than I can count (I used to have so many lines of dialogue from that film as cues and sounds on my computer). I think I said goodbye to Simon after Max Dugan Returns (1983), so I missed out on many of the later screen adaptations you mentioned. Ones in which I’ve heard he showed a mastery of balancing the comic with the dramatic he hadn’t yet honed when he wrote LOTRHL.
      I somehow missed THE GOOD DOCTOR…reading it or seeing it. But what a cast!
      Right now I’m reading Simon’s memoirs. Perhaps they’ll inspire me to check out some of his later plays. A tall order, that. The man was prolific!
      As for LOTRHL, if you do get around to seeing it, I hope it turns out to be a happy surprise and not a confirmation of your reticence. Thank you for reading and commenting Mark. Oh, and also for your knowledgeable contribution of more background info on Neil Simon and his works to this post.
      Much appreciated!

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  3. I’m fascinated that you like this film so much. I saw its original theatrical release. I was 16 and really didn’t like this movie, but it taught me a lot. Over the years, I’ve refreshed my memory by looking at online clips. I still pull back from it.

    Arkin is a master of his small niche. He always has an off-putting intensity. His voice is always harsh. I know why his Barney is isolated and don’t believe he could run a successful restaurant. I don’t see why those women would warm to him. The character even says, “I could rob a bank. Nobody would look up.” For a feature film, I need someone driving the bus who makes me look up. For this Barney to get three different women to meet him for a tryst is more than I can embrace.

    James Coco originated the role on Broadway. He was very charming on stage and could look out into the audience and win them over in an instant. I want to run from Alan Arkin. Despite being the greater sad-sack type, women would meet James Coco because he had such great humor. As he is sympathetic, an audience member could identify with him. His frustrations are our frustrations. We have all felt that we are missing out. Everyone in attendance connects. Arkin’s Barney is someone you would observe at Leonard’s of Great Neck and run from.

    It’s the audience that finally makes a Neil Simon play. They laugh at even the worst production of The Odd Couple. Writing dancer to dancer, I hope you get this. Neil Simon on stage plays in 6/8. Actor, actor, audience. Actor, actor, audience. The beats for the audience laughter are tacitly written into the script. The laughter is part of the performance. That’s how Simon, in one way only, is like Shakespeare. The rhythm is essential. Don’t change a word. Especially not a syllable. Simon crafted each line precisely. They must be spoken perfectly. Don’t change “spaghetti” and “linguini” into “fettuccine” and “tagliatelle.” It’s all pasta, but it’s not all funny. The cues for the audience participation are the punchlines and the laughter is incorporated into the rhythm.

    The actors in a film have no audience. Instead of flowing in 6/8, scenes start to feel as if the actors are pushed in 2/4 to cover all that space. Actor, actor. Actor, actor. Actor, actor. Without the audience being part of the performance, a scene partner is missing. If it’s not a march, maybe it’s something like Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer dancing Eugene Loring’s choreography in 5/4 while the orchestra plays Harry Warren’s Coffee Time in 4/4. Brilliant, but even Fred Astaire did not attempt 90 minutes of it. Since ‘Red Hot Lovers’ is three two-handers, the problem is exacerbated. Gene Saks did not solve the problem. When Barney exits the bathroom wrapped in a towel, it should get a huge laugh. The stage actress playing Jeanette gets to work off that for her next line. Renee Taylor didn’t and pushes through. The angst in Simon’s characters is more concentrated without the audience there to laugh at them and neutralize the bile. Maybe the things he wrote specifically for the screen are different.

    Broadway had Coco, Linda Lavin, Marcia Rodd, and Doris Roberts. Amiable Coco surrounded by some really terrifying women. The movie reversed that. Arkin is cold and abrasive and the women are all more sympathetic. Since it is Barney who ties it together, he should probably be the sympathetic character, his trysts doomed from the start by these messy women. How funny to imagine Doris Roberts saying, “… my husband was spending afternoons humping Charlotte Korman!” Well, of course. NO ONE would hump Doris Roberts. Which makes it funny that Barney would somehow cast his eye on her. Eeek. He doesn't get it.

    This is not a film I think about, but once again, you provoked my tired old brain. As always. A testament to your superpowers. Thank you. I’m happy you love this movie. The film’s cast are all wonderful actors, lucky to have your endorsement.

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    1. Hi George W-
      I counter your being fascinated by my fondness for this movie with an equally fascinated appreciation of your being able to delineate so thoroughly why the film doesn’t work for you. It’s always an eye-opener and learning experience hearing divergent opinions and responses to a film (one of my biggest disappointments with Film Twitter is how few film lovers seem to be able to share opposing points of view without a Twitter battle breaking out…someone has to be right, someone has to be wrong…and then the name-calling starts!).

      What’s great about your comment is the clarity and specificity of where and how the film falls short for you. From the casting to the different comedy rhythms required of stage and screen. At one point you say you learned a lot from watching LOTRHL, which brings to mind one of the things that has always been true for me; sometimes the biggest lessons I’ve learned about film (pacing, structure, character) have come from the movies that demonstrated what happens when those things don’t exactly come together for me.

      You provide many good and valid examples of the things you found lacking. Things that prevent you from finding anything in the film that’s worth your time.

      While I’ve always been able to cite what I don’t like in a movie with more articulate detail (and enthusiasm) than what I do like (everything’s all wrapped up in feelings and visceral unconscious reactions. It’s hard to be academic with subjective responses), my writing about movies like (films I like that were not well-received by the public. Films that are imperfect and arguably very flawed) has an objective.

      I’ve a purposeful (oft-stated) objective in writing about widely-vilified movies (XANADU) alongside widely-acknowledged masterpieces (CHINATOWN) …to spread the word that a bad movie does not automatically mean a bad time, just as a masterfully crafted film is no guarantee of even having an experience you can recall.

      There are definite rules and principles to be applied in the creation of art, solid, essential ones that need to be understood and respected. But I guess the reason they are considered arts and not sciences is that at the end of the day, each of us has a personal relationship with a work of art, and that relationship is unique and essentially anarchic. Our human wiring allows us to sometimes have profound responses to “cheap” pop-culture entertainments, or be left unmoved by a work of crafted brilliance.

      My blog has always been about encouraging people to be comfortable with saying “Oh, yes.. that movie is definitely a piece of crap…but it’s my favorite film of all time” as well as “I’m aware Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’ is a work of genius, but I find it the biggest slog to sit through.”

      So. thanks for (perhaps inadvertently) supplying a glowing example of how someone can feel 100% differently about a film, yet express those differences of opinions in ways that enlighten the reader to the broad polarities of perspective while still respecting the expressed preferences of each. It’s not easy, but I think you did a great job. Thanks so much!

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  4. > remember that passed-out hooker storyline in California Suite?

    I met that actress on a plane once! (She recruited me for a crossword puzzle.) She thought me too young to have seen her movies, but I had seen California Suite at age 8, and even at that age had thought the hooker storyline pretty lame. She wasn't too proud of that role, moreso of her stage work if I recall correctly. Her husband is an actor too, from e.g. Queer as Folk.

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    1. Wild you recognized and met Denise Galik! I always thought she handled a pretty dodgy role with as much dignity and humor as humanly possible, so I can well imagine she did wonderful work elsewhere in her long career. I know I've recognized her in a couple of things, never being able to place the name.
      And Allen, now that I have the opportunity, I wanted to thank you for steering me to "Celine and Julie Go Boating"- I was utterly enchanted by it. Loved its leisurely pace and dreamlike narrative. I've added it to my collection.

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    2. So glad to have steered you this way. Another leisurely Rivette for your consideration is La Belle Noiseuse, for its amazing transformation of Beart.

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  5. I have not seen this movie but read Sally's book, it seemed like a manual on how to self-sabotage your career mainly by wanting to be a singer too (I saw her record in the stores when I was a kid) but also by some bad decisions. Timing is everything I guess and she was no Barbra or Judy but will always have Lost Horizon.

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    1. Ha! It's so true! If there's any moral to be found in the memoirs of "hot for a minute" actors with long careers that never quite lived up to their gangbusters debuts, it's to never take your success for granted. The assumption that success is "for keeps" once arrived at has led to a lot of sobering hindsight wisdom.
      And yes, for an actress with a passion for singing, she at least had the opportunity to appear in one musical. Even if it was "Lost Horizon".

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  6. Thanks, Ken!

    Ah, Sally Kellerman, alas. She will be missed. And what a potent, commanding spiritual presence! Tall, charismatic, innately stylish, less pretty than arresting, striking, and possessed of the smokiest, sexiest tone of voice since Lizabeth Scott, er, I mean Lauren Bacall. Thank God Garbo set the template early in the sound era: we've been in love with these scotch-whiskey-toned, contralto-voiced actresses ever since.

    Sally Kellerman was scintillating from the very beginning, with silver eyes and a mad-for-Mod geometric hairstyle on an early episode of Star Trek; perfectly cast as Rocky and Bullwinkel's Natasha in an otherwise forgettable movie; and once, she even delivered a characteristically-sultry interpretation of Molly Bloom's Ulysses' soliloquy, one riveting enough to galvanize even lumpish oaf Rodney Dangerfield into paroxysm: "YES! YES! YES!"

    And as an American International Pictures devotee, I once decided to check out Sally Kellerman's IMDB-listed debut, a little 1957 mongrel with one of great exploitation-movie titles of all time: Reform School Girl. She is listed way down in the credits, but I still remember being shocked at her appearance in the film (that is, if I had the right actress, but I remember double-checking to see if her character's credited name on IMDB, Marcia, matched-up with the person onscreen, and it did). Playing a violent, butch bully, Kellerman is completely unrecognizable in Reform School Girl, and carrying so much extra weight it makes you wonder if Kellerman extreme-dieted her way to stardom.

    And one of my big regrets in life, Ken, along with missing Pink Floyd's The Wall tour when it came to the Nassau Coliseum in my Long Island neighborhood back while I was in the tenth grade in 1980, and Elaine Stritch when she was perfectly cast as Edward Albee's sardonic Greek chorus, the immortal Claire, in his great play A Delicate Balance in a 1990's Broadway revival, was once missing Sally Kellerman's cabaret act. Briefly, my ex once had to take someone else on an RSVP cruise that I had planned to make with him, after the two of us had a big fight about my drinking (this was back when I was a self-destructive alcoholic NYC cop, and this poor guy was less a boyfriend than a hostage that I took). But when they returned from the cruise, they were both complaining about the terrible entertainment onboard, a cabaret act. They both went on for awhile about how awful it was, but when I heard the name of the performer, SALLY KELLERMAN, I became incredulous. "SALLY KELLERMAN?" I remember arguing with them, "No, it must have been terrific!" And while they didn't appreciate it, I'm sure, as a Sally Kellerman fan, if I had made that cruise, I would have. But beyond her cabaret act, can you imagine spending a week on a gay cruise with Sally Kellerman onboard? So close, but so far. But as us recovering alcoholics say: We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it (the only part of the AA promises I struggle with to this day).



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    1. Hi Rick
      You’ve done Sally Kellerman proud with your lovely and very fitting tribute. In describing her unique virtues so eloquently you capture everything I’ve ever felt about her ability to make the most of even the smallest, most underwritten roles. That magnificent voice!
      I lamented how poorly she was served by that awful script for Boris & Natasha. A role she was as ideally suited for ass Shelley Duvall was for Olive Oyl).

      I have Reform School Girl in my collection and I, too, had a similar response to her film debut. The first time I saw it I kept waiting for her to show up, unaware that the butch, big-boned, bully towering over the rest of the cast was her! Like model Peggy Moffitt in that other girls’ detention exploitationer GIRL’S TOWN, Kellerman’s later transformation was a testament o good nose jobs and probably, as you allude, extreme dieting.

      That’s a great story about Kellerman’s cabaret act. I missed out on seeing her several times, myself, but I never knew anyone who’d ever seen her perform live. There’s a lengthy youtube video of one of her acts, and I think it’s probably safe to say, if you’re not already a Kellerman fan, I’m not sure her act would turn you into a convert.
      I persoanlly would have been in heaven

      My big Kellerman regret is that I came *this* close to being her personal trainer back in the early 90s. It was a chance to get her in shape for some film, but the film fell through before we could even have a meeting.

      (And…OH…that I wouldn’t have given to see Elaine Stritch in A Delicate Balance! The character is tailor-made!)

      Thank you for reading my post and sharing with us a bit of well-deserved Sally Kellerman admiration. Appreciate it, Rick, I enjoyed reading this very much.

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  7. I saw this on a drive-in double bill with Elaine May's A New Leaf. Definitely a night of fun and laughs. I've loved Arkin ever since his heartbreaking turn in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

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    1. I think you're the only person I've ever "known" who's ever seen this on the big screen. And what a great double-bill...I love "A New Leaf." I saw Arkin in HEART in the 1990's. Had I seen it during its original release, my reaction to his performance in WAIT UNTIL DARK would have been even more intense. He's so moving in that. Arkin is such a good actor, and according to Neil Simon, a great director (The Sunshine Boys), as well. Thank you for checking out this post and commenting!

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