Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I Now Listen To What Simon Says

It looks like Simon Cowell has seen the Light.

As my readers have known for years, I have long held responsible Simon, his American Idol reality music competition show, and his rude and condescending behavior for the downfall of American television. Actually, both Simon and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have contributed to that end.

But one thing at a time.

Let's just stick to Simon for the moment (and I'll address Jerry in a later post).

First, I saw him on Oprah Winfrey a few weeks ago, when he reached into his deep pockets and paid off the mortgage of a family with a sick child. Then, last week, I caught him (along with his Idol co-stars, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Ryan Secrest) talking like a human being on CNN's Larry King Live!

Then, there was last night's Idol segment.

Again, something was different. Simon was different. He had changed. Warmer. Kind. Fair. It appears, somehow, that the Tin Man who can spot a tin ear at the drop of a tin can has found his heart.

The dude was actually charming and displayed humane behavior.

I commend Simon - and never really condemmed him. Before, I just felt sorry for him - and others like him. Privledged people who have known only success and economic stability their entire lives. Or worse, people who have grown up with nothing, and then trip upon success, then falsely leading themselves to believe that their new success now somehow makes them superior to others.

But, of course, what bothered me the most about Simon was his point-blank, mean-spirited attitude and arrogance- and how most of American bought into and encouraged it to make his Idol a massive success and template for contemporary television.

But again, last night's Idol was different. Simon actually offered constructive criticism to the contenders. He used his brilliant mind and keen observational, creative and music executive skills to relay the same advice and counsel that he has given in the past. But this time, he employed discretion and an even temper.

I'm still very much concerned about Ms. Abdul, and not so much Mr. Jackson. And as long as Mr. Cowell and his American Idol phenom-show continues to show his and its softer side (as with tonight's Big Give show), American television just may have a chance after all

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston: Moses and the Man

According to a blanket statement to the press from his family, Charlton Heston, who passed away on Saturday (and who revealed in 2002 that he had Alzheimer's disease), "was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played. No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country."

Sounds like the Chuck Heston to whom I was introduced via his monumental performance as Moses in Cecil B. Demille's 1956 cinema classic, The Ten Commandments (which also happens to be my Number One Favorite Movie of All Time).

Though I was never that crazy about Heston's politics (he loved guns and conservatively supported wars), with his iconic physical and vocal charisma, he was the consumate actor and star.

"I have a face that belongs in another century," he often remarked.

Cue the big Biblical epics, the aforementioned The Ten Commandments, as well as 1959's Ben-Hur, which earned 11 Academy Awards, including lead actor for Heston - and the sci-fi/futuristic tale, Planet of the Apes (penned by Rod Twilight Zone Serling, and which beget four sequels).

Off-screen, the actor's actor served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute and marched in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. As time marched on, Heston's conservative brow increased, and campaigned for conservative candidates. In June 1998, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, there were other historical figures he portrayed:

Andrew Jackson (The President's Lady, The Buccaneer), title role of El Cid, John the Baptist (The Greatest Story Ever Told, which also happens to be one of the greatest films ever made - as every frame is a portrait), Michelangelo (The Agony and the Ecstasy), General Gordon (Khartoum), Marc Antony (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra), Cardinal Richelieu (The Three Musketeers), Henry VIII (The Prince and the Pauper).

"What acting offered me was the chance to be many other people," he said in a 1986 interview.

And playing those additional individuals commenced in 1941, when he won an acting scholarship to Northwestern University, where he ruled the campus stage and appeared on Chicago radio. In 1943, he enlisted in the Air Force and served as a radio-gunner in the Aleutians. In 1944 he married another Northwestern drama student, Lydia Clarke, and after his army discharge in 1947, they moved to New York to become acting work. Finding none, they were hired as codirectors and principal performers at a summer theater in Asheville, N.C.

Back in New York, the Hestons began finding acting jobs. With his 6-feet-2 form and ruggedly handsome face, Heston won roles in TV soap operas and plays. He also eventually authored several books: The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976 (published in 1978), Beijing Diary: 1990 (about his direction of the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial in Chinese), In the Arena: An Autobiography (1995), Charlton Heston's Hollywood: 50 Years of American Filmmaking (1998).

The Hestons gave birth to a son, Frasier, and daughter, Holly Ann, and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1994 at a party with Hollywood and political friends. They had been married 64 years when he died.

Of course, he will live immortal - or at least every Easter, for the annual screening of The Ten Commandments, all to which the conservative Heston assuredly adhered - except maybe for Number 2, "Thou shall not make for yourself any idol..."

That one we all broke in his presence.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Stop the Book Surge Monopoly"


I seek to draw your attention to this important petition that I recently signed:

"Stop the Book Surge Monopoly"

This is an important cause, and I'd like to encourage you to add your signature, too.

It's free and takes less than a minute of your time.

Many thanks!