Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Hollywood Hangover – Golden Globes

golden_globes_standSo, the annual booze up, organized by the Hollywood Foreign Press has successfully kept up the tradition of giving the best booziest party in town ─ and why not? If it’s a free host bar and the sponsor is taking care of the bill, let’s have another one for the road! Now that all the booze bottles, empty magnums of Moet Champagne have gone to be recycled (we hope) and the new and shiny Golden Globes have settled in amongst the memorabilia in the cabinet, we wish all the winners a belated congratulations and hopefully will see you at the Oscars.

My first encounter with the Hollywood  Foreign Press was in 1959. I had  been smuggled into a screening of THEY CAME TO CONDURA at the old Director’s Guild near Doheny and Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. It was my first Hollywood preview and I didn’t know the procedure  ─ that the back row is reserved for the stars of the film ─ so, being a very nervous late arrival,  clutching my program,  I took my seat right in the middle of the empty back row ─ the best seat in the house.  Minutes later, this tall, blonde hunk shuffled along the aisle followed by a gorgeous shapley red head ─ it was Tab Hunter and Rita Hayworth  and they were followed by Gary Cooper and Van Heflin...the stars of the film.

Yeah Man, I had hit the jackpot. Furthermore at the end of the film we all sashayed into the adjoining Green Room for the party. Me, hobnobbing with the big nobs, Wow! I could easily get used to this caper. I ordered a large Tanqueray G&T at the bar, with a slice of lemon and not too much ice. Why not, it was all free! Then, I sashayed around the crowded room like I was the Queen of Sheba on ice skates. I complimented Rita on her turquoise dress, completely ignoring the studio publicist who was expecting me to ask questions about the film we had just seen.  Tab was quite talkative, but Van and Gary were swallowed up by the  New York Press. Afterwards the stars and studio big wigs sailed off in their shiny limousines  and I walked across  Santa Monica Boulevard  and caught  the Metro bus to  Hollywood and took the elevator to my boudoir in the Y.M.C.A.

That was my first Hollywood piss up, compliments of the Hollywood Foreign Press…and I had gate-crashed their star studded shindig. I was very impressed. I had schmoozed with Rita Hayworth and Tab Hunter,  I was three sheets in the wind, full as a tick and slept like a baby all night. What more could a gate-crasher wish for? The next day, armed with at least a dozen of my blurbs printed  in British magazines, I went to the H.F.P office in Hollywood, where I was met by two tall Swedish gentleman ─ identical twins, one had a monocle in the right eye and his brother  in the left. After a brief interview I was welcomed into the club. I had joined the booziest organization in town. From then on I started to get weekly invitations to studio press previews of their films, usually followed by a piss up on the adjoining sound stage. “If you’ve produced a lousy movie but wanna a great review, invite the Foreign Press to a party and lay on plenty of free booze,” advised Jack Warner, who was never very diplomatic.

With so many invitations we all became very blasé about the so-called piss up après le movie. Disney had very bubbly hosts and hostesses, but usually served freshly squeezed Orange Juice. Columbia and Universal served the brands of booze you see on the shelves of a Tijuana liquor store.   20TH Century Fox were quite generous, especially considering one used up half-a-tank of gas, driving all the way out to their lot in Century City. The stars in the film were usually at the party, swanning a round, posing for pix and dodging awkward questions. The Foreign Press were all issued with I.D. badges, with our name (usually spelled wrong) and the name of the magazine. Many of the so-called stars should also have worn name tags ─ they always seemed to be much shorter, older and frequently lost for words without a script in their hand.

I remember the preview for “What’s Up Doc?”  starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal.  None of us were very sober ─ or even wanted to be.  Miss Streisand was working the crowd and sashayed up to me, examined my name tag, sniffed and walked away. “And the same to you with brass knobs on,” I yelled. That was the second time the diva had snubbed me. After that I made sure I, or any of my sub editors, never mentioned her name in any of our magazines again.

The Hollywood Foreign Press were not taken very seriously at first. “It’s no good inviting the Foreign Press, because half of them will be deported by next week,” whispered  big wig from Paramount .

“You’re a member of the Foreign Press, Mister Asquith,” sneered some pen pusher from the London Times. “I’d never join that mob, they’re just a bunch of foreigners and alcoholics.”    

natalie_wood_great_raceI remember one shindig at Warner Studio to publicize their movie The Great Race starring Natalie Wood and Jack Lemon. The studio had invited scores of newspaper editors from all over the world. The largest sound  stage had been transformed  into a replica of the famous Coconut Grove nightclub and one of us “local” scribes were seated at a table with the foreign guests to answer any questions and  “push” the film. I was seated with a two beautiful French women dressed in their latest Parisian rags and elaborate beehive hairdos sparkling with jewels. They certainly knew how to quaff the champagne , but spoke very little English. My school boy French wasn’t much use. All I had remembered from my school days were Merde! and  a saucy invitation for the lady to sleep with me!

Since none of these bon mots were apropos,  I was glad when a less-than-sober  Dean Martin came on stage, sang a few songs then announced. “Ladies and Shentelmen,” he slurred, “It gives me great, great….. pressure to introduce our host, Mister Jack Warner.” We all applauded and applauded and applauded, but no Jack Warner came on.  Dean got very nervous and was about to burst into song, when suddenly Jack swaggered onto the stage. He stood their grinning and adjusting his fly. “Sorry, I’m late,” he said, “I had to take a leak.”

Zee leak? What is zee leak?,” questioned the puzzled French Fifi at my table. It was an awkward  question, but  fortunately I had too much of the bubbly to worry. “He had to visit the pissoir,” I replied, trying not to laugh. “Mon Dieu !  Le pissoir ?  Sacre Bleu!”  screamed  Madame  Fifi. “Monsieur Warner dans le pissior?” Now you can bet our French Fifi had plenty to write about when she got back to Paris and it was not all about Natalie Wood and Jack Lemon in The Great Race

The H.F.P.A. may garner a lot of headlines about their booze ups, and wild parties, but it’s seldom written up about their donation of $18 million dollars to educate disadvantaged children, or their on-going financial support for the restoration of old classic films. Being an ex-member, I can testify they are a great bunch of people who know how to have a good time and share the wealth. But then, THAT’S HOLLYWOOD!


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Nothing Like a… Dame Angela Lansbury

AngBed“There is nothing like a Dame, “ chorused the sailors in the musical “South Pacific”, perhaps not meant in the same context as a real British Dame, but nevertheless a compliment in every sense of the word. In Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s Honour’s List, British/American actress Angela Lansbury was recently made a DAME , this is equivalent to being knighted and given the title SIR. Helen Mirren, Penelope Keith, Diana Rigg and Elizabeth Taylor have also been awarded the title for their outstanding services to the theatre and it’s various charities.

Dame Angela Lansbury genuinely believes in the much loved phrase, “Charity Begins At Home ,” It was not so much charity, it was in the form of generous overtime payments for the cast and crew working for her production company of MURDER SHE WROTE, the TV series which ran for 12 years. Angela starred as the writer and female detective, Jessica Fletcher solving crimes in her little village and at the same time employing out-of-work actors to play either the victim or the villain.

Overtime in film studios, usually referred to as Golden Time, is very expensive and a definite No No at many film companies. At five o’clock the cameras generally stop rolling and everyone quits work and Clocks Out …but Dame Angela Lansbury ’s company rarely stopped work at five o’clock and the cameras kept rolling until the scene was finished. The cast and crew were paid their well-deserved golden overtime, and consequently Angela is one of the most respected ladies in Hollywood. Her numerous awards, Oscars and Golden Globes have all been well documented, but I’d like to write about an interview I had with her when she was making BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS for the Walt Disney studios.

As usual the studio provides a P.R. person to accompany any journalist on interviews to make sure they asked the right questions . The guy sent to accompany me, a rat-faced little squirt who, in my opinion wasn’t qualified to empty the office waste-paper baskets, ordered me to follow him in my car to Angela’s house in Malibu. “No more than thirty minutes,” he said, when we parked in her driveway, “and stick to questions about the film…and don’t forget we would like to see a copy of what you write before you send it off to your magazine.”

Angela was expecting us and we were warmly invited into her house on the beach. Right off the bat the P.R. guy started off the interview himself expecting me to write down his questions and Miss Lansbury’s replies. She looked at me and winked and replied to his questions like a good schoolgirl in class.

“In the film you play a spinster lady who is training to be a Witch,” he asked. “Was that fun?”

“Fun, being a Witch?” replied Angela. “Actually I was also helping to rehabilitate evacuees from the war in Europe, and being one myself I …”

“Your co-star was David Tomlinson, a British actor, how did you get along with him?” questioned the P.R. man, making sure I wrote down the question. “Well, being British myself, David and I spoke the same language and…” And so it went on. Finally the P.R. guy looked at his watch and announced my time was up. He thanked Miss Lansbury and led the way out of the house to where we had parked our cars. “Don’t forget to send us what you have written before you send it in,” he ordered. Ironic, inasmuch as he had asked all the questions.

Angela then came to the door and told me I had forgotten my brief case. I was amazed inasmuch as I didn’t have one. She waved goodbye to the P.R guy and I followed her back into the house. “My God, what a pain the rear end he was,” confided Angela. “Sit down, Duckie and we’ll have some Earl Grey tea and a slice of my home made birthday cake.” …and so Miss Lansbury brought me tea and a slice of cake and talked and laughed about various films and her first visit to America as an evacuee with the Pied Piper scheme when she and many others, including Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall were sent to America in 1939 to escape the German invading armies. (In 1940, a second ship, the City of Baneres carrying 90 evacuee children to Canada, was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic by a German submarine and seventy-seven of them were drowned.)

Because of their distinct British accents, Angela, Elizabeth and Roddy were soon signed up by MGM. Roddy McDowall starred in the Lassie films, Angela and Elizabeth were together as sisters in NATIONAL VELVET with co-star Mickey Rooney. Unfortunately during the making of this film, Elizabeth fell off the horse she was riding, twisted her spine and suffered excruciating back pain the rest of her life. Elizabeth and Angela both richly deserve the honour bestowed up them by Queen Elizabeth, not only for the acting achievements but their unstinting generosity to their friends and various charities they endowed.

The sailors from South Pacific belting out the song “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” are right on the button…. but then, THAT’S HOLLYWOOD!

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Bye Bye Phil

Roger Asquith with Phil and Don Everly

Roger Asquith with Phil and Don Everly

The death of Phil Everly, the younger half of the pop rock & roll pioneer duo of brothers, was recently reported in the news. I was fortunate to meet the Everly Bros in a recording studio in Hollywood during an interview for NBC Television. The British fan magazines were eager for news and pix of Don and Phil and I was very pleased to write about them.

Their latest hit recording, Wake Up, Little Susie was playing everywhere across the country and they were in great spirits looking forward to a tour of Europe. In London they would be starring in the most popular television show in the U.K.  SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE PALLADIUM,   following in the  illustrious wake of famous American artistes, like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye  and a dozen others all of whom praised the warm-hearted response from the always very enthusiastic British audience. Furthermore their televised performance at the Palladium would be watched by over ten million fans in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and they could be assured of sold out concerts all over the U.K.

Relaxing later in the Green Room , I warmed in the glow of Don and Phil’s  soft Southern accent which came from their early years performing in Nashville, Tennessee . Phil admitted they were both nervous about their upcoming tour of Europe and asked me a lot of questions about London, where they had been told it was always raining. I assured them that sun soon came out and thousands of fans would be there to welcome them.                                                               .

Don was particularly interested in English history and looking forward to visiting some of the famous tourist venues, such as Westminster Abbey and Hampton Court, one of the homes of Henry the Eighth.  I reminded him that it was Henry VIII who ransacked dozens of  English Abbeys  and monasteries because the Pope would not allow him to divorce the first of his six wives. Don was then even more keen to check out the old tyrant.

The Beatles once referred to themselves as “the English Everly Brothers.” and Bob Dylan said, “We owe these guys everything. They started it all.”  Ironically it was Phil who nearly ended it all, when, during an argument on stage at Knott’s Berry Farm in California, he threw down his guitar and walked off the stage, leaving an embarrassed Don to tell the crowd  “The Everly Brothers have just died.”  Fortunately the two brothers got together again in  1983 and three years later they were inducted into Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of Fame  and soon had a hit pop-country record, “Born Yesterday.” R.I.P Phil.

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