Philip Baker Hall as Richard M. Nixon, disgraced former U.S. President
New Jersey, early 1980s
Film: Secret Honor
Release Date: July 6, 1984
Director: Robert Altman
This week, we learned that the great Philip Baker Hall died at the age of 90. Familiar as a recurring face in Paul Thomas Anderson movies and as the anachronistic, straight-talking “library cop” Bookman on an early Seinfeld episode, Hall’s breakthrough screen performance was reprising his stage role as a disgraced Richard Nixon in Secret Honor.
“You have read in the press the reasons for the Watergate affair. Today, my client is going to reveal to you the reasons behind the reasons,” Hall narrates into a tape recorder as the now-former President Nixon. It was fifty years ago today when five burglars were caught breaking into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate hotel, igniting a political scandal that resulted in the fall of a president and a widespread cynical distrust of American government.
Subtitled “A Political Myth”, Secret Honor was originally a one-man play written by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, who adapted their work for Robert Altman’s film of the same name. Avoiding caricature of an easily caricatured man, Hall portrayed Nixon—the only human who ever appears on screen—who spends the film’s hour-and-a-half runtime ranting to the contents of his study, specifically a tape recorder, an increasingly empty bottle of Scotch, a loaded revolver, his mother’s grand piano, and portraits of presidents and significant figures in his life from Henry Kissinger to his own mother. Continue reading
Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, sophisticated freelance assassin
Bangkok, Thailand, Spring 1974
Film: The Man with the Golden Gun
Release Date: December 20, 1974
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Supervisor: Elsa Fennell
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Sir Christopher Lee, the imposing yet debonair screen icon known to many for portraying Count Dracula a total of nine times while Bond fans may know him best as Francisco Scaramanga, the eponymous villain who faced off against Roger Moore’s James Bond in Moore’s sophomore 007 outing, The Man with the Golden Gun.
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, volatile and violent Mafia associate
New York, Spring 1970
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy Mother’s Day! One of my favorite cinematic sequences depicting the relationship between a son and his mother comes by way of my favorite movie, in which master auteur Martin Scorsese cast his own mother Catherine as the charming Mrs. DeVito, mother to the psychotic gangster Tommy (Joe Pesci) who brings his cohorts Henry (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) seeking a shovel in a covert night-time stop to fetch a shovel… only to be sweet-talked into an early breakfast.
Catherine Scorsese endearingly embodies the familiar archetype of the aging Italian-American matriarch with her plastic-covered furniture, the gift to effortlessly slip between American English and Italian dialects, and the fierce desire to feed her children and their friends… regardless of whether they’re hungry or not. Continue reading
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, Cuban-born bandleader, actor, and TV producer
Los Angeles, September 1952
Film: Being the Ricardos
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Costume Designer: Susan Lyall
I grew up watching I Love Lucy, my childhood punctuated by many memories of me channeling inordinate levels of anxiety at Lucy’s antics into pacing around my grandmother’s kitchen while the decades-old drama unfolded in black-and-white from the small TV tucked on a corner countertop. Almost thirty years later, I still can recollect Lucy pitching Vitameatavegamin or stomping grapes with better clarity than anything I may have binged on Netflix over the last year.
As the real Desi Arnaz was born 105 years ago today on March 2, 1917, let’s take a look at Javier Bardem’s Academy Award-nominated performance as Desi in Being the Ricardos. Continue reading
Harry Belafonte as David Boyeur, popular local politician
On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955
Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes
Tomorrow will be the 95th birthday of Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor, and activist born March 1, 1927. Belafonte has tireless worked in show business and to advance social causes since beginning his recording career in the late 1940s. Though he’s narrated documentaries and appeared sporadically in features in the decades since, his screen acting career were primarily throughout the ’50s in features ranging from the musicals that made obvious use of his singing talent to drama, sci-fi, and noir.
Belafonte co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge in his first three films, their collaborations concluding in the colorfully lush drama Island in the Sun, based on Alec Waugh’s novel of the same name. The eponymous island was said to be the fictitious “Santa Marta” in the Caribbean, though actually filmed on location in Barbaos and Grenada through the fall of 1956. Continue reading
Telly Savalas as Theo Kojak, NYPD lieutenant
New York City, Fall 1973
Episode: “Dark Sunday” (Episode 1.08)
Air Date: December 12, 1973
Director: Charles R. Rondeau
Creator: Abby Mann
Who loves ya, baby?
As today would have been the 100th birthday of Telly Savalas—born January 21, 1922—it felt like the time to take a long-overdue look at the Greek-American actor’s signature role as the tough and tenacious Theo Kojak.
Kojak’s famous lollipops were introduced in the eighth episode, “Dark Sunday”, which begins with the murder of a small-time criminal named Artie Fowler (Marc Alaimo). “He used to love to play with cars, you know,” recalls Kojak. “Strip ’em, drive ’em, steal ’em… oh well, what else?” Through his investigations of the murder, Kojak welcomes Artie’s girlfriend Maria Cranston (Lara Parker) to his office. He has a lit cigarillo in his mouth when she enters, but he swiftly tosses it away in favor of a Tootsie Pop pulled from his desk… the first of what would become one of the character’s trademarks. Continue reading
Frank Sinatra, multi-talented entertainer facing retirement
Los Angeles, Summer 1971
Series: Sinatra: All or Nothing At All
Air Date: April 5-6, 2015
Director: Alex Gibney
Born December 12, 1915, Frank Sinatra had recently turned 55 when he started talking seriously with close friends about retirement. For more than 30 years, the entertainer had enjoyed a landmark career, beginning with his days as a pop idol, then a career downturn in the early ’50s that was reinvigorated by an Oscar win for From Here to Eternity and a series of concept albums for Capitol Records that launched him to massive success.
Throughout the ’60s, Sinatra evolved from one of the most popular entertainers in the nation to one of the most influential entertainers across the world. He had founded his own record label with Reprise Records, been a confidante of a sitting U.S. President (before their famous falling-out), and continued to prove his success on the charts with songs like “My Way” (despite his resentment for this particular tune.)
Like so many successful 55-year-old Americans, Ol’ Blue Eyes decided to hang up his tilted hat and retire, with his final performance to be June 13, 1971, at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Alex Gibney’s 2015 HBO documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing at All was framed around the singer’s hand-chosen setlist for the concert, and how the eleven musical milestones Sinatra selected essentially told the story of his life to that point. Continue reading
Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, smug and successful corporate raider
New York City, Spring 1985
Film: Wall Street
Release Date: December 11, 1987
Director: Oliver Stone
Costume Designer: Ellen Mirojnick
Tailor: Alan Flusser
Happy birthday to Michael Douglas, the actor, producer, and activist born September 25, 1944, who may be most famous for his iconic Academy Award-winning performance as ruthless financier Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
Steve Carell as Michael Scott, paper sales regional manager
Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 2006
Series: The Office
Episode: “Michael’s Birthday” (Episode 2.19)
Air Date: March 30, 2006
Director: Ken Whittingham
Creator: Greg Daniels
Costume Designer: Carey Bennett
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is my b-day and people around here just go crazy for it, I don’t know why. Oh, fun fact: I share my birthday with Eva Longoria. So I’ve a perfect icebreaker if I ever meet Teri Hatcher.
Before Andy Bernard brought his Brooks Brothers-informed sense of style to Dunder Mifflin Scranton, regional manager Michael Scott probably thought himself the branch’s snappiest dresser and particularly chose his 41st birthday as the time to exhibit that. Continue reading
Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey, mystery novelist and wealthy patriarch
Massachusetts, November 2018
Film: Knives Out
Release Date: November 27, 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Costume Designer: Jenny Eagan
The great Canadian actor Christopher Plummer died a week ago today at the age of 91 after three quarters of a century honing his craft across stage and screen from Shakespeare to The Sound of Music.
In his penultimate screen credit, Knives Out, Plummer starred as Harlan Thrombey, a charismatic writer who built his fortune through writing mystery novels and, on his 85th birthday, resolves to finally set his free-loading family free. Continue reading