Three Legendary Ladies

At the 2015 The Kennedy Center Honors on Tuesday, December 29, 2015, three great ladies–Carol King, Cicely Tyson and Rita Moreno were among the five honorees.

Cicely Tyson, at 90 looks as elegant as ever.  She is best known for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.  She was born in Harlem, New York City and raised by deeply religious, West Indian parents from Nevis, St. Kitts.  Her mother was a domestic and her father was a carpenter. Cicely was discovered by a fashion editor and she became a model.  She took the fashion industry by storm, quickly rising to the top.  She began acting in 1957 in off-Broadway productions before she was cast in feature films.  Her first major role was Portia in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter in 1968.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her amazing performance in Sounder.  She has appeared in Roots, King and a Woman Called Moses.  Cicely is a seasoned and hugely talented actress who portrayed strong and positive black women.

I don’t condemn anyone for making their choices. If someone chooses those roles, fine. But not for me. When someone stops me and says, You’re the reason I became an actress, that lets me know I made the right decision – Cicely Tyson

We applaud Cicely for standing by her convictions.  Our choices can not only affect us but they can affect others.

Carol King wrote tons of songs such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for the Shirelles, “Run to Him” (#1 and #2 hits for Bobby Vee in 1961), “Crying in the Rain” (The Everly Brothers, #6 in 1962), “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva, #1 in 1962), “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters, #5 in 1962), “Chains” (The Cookies, #17 in 1962, The Beatles in 1963), “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons, #5 in 1963), “Hey Girl” ( Freddy Scott, #10 in 1963, also Bobby Vee and The Righteous Brothers), “I’m Into Something Good” (Herman’s Hermits, #13 in 1964), “Just Once in My Life” (written with Phil Spector for The Righteous Brothers, #9 in 1965), and “Don’t Bring Me Down” (The Animals, #12 in 1966) and You Make Me Feel which has become the song most associated with Aretha Franklin.

The songs I identify most with Carol are “You’ve Got a Friend” which became a no.1 hit when it was recorded by lifelong friend, James Taylor and “It’s Too Late”.  Carol is the most renowned song-writer in pop music.   She has the distinction of having 400 of her compositions recorded by over 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles.  In 1987 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1990 she was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

At the age of 70 this remarkable songwriter, performer, author and environmentalist is still going strong. Beautiful–The Carole King Musical which tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom won two Tony Awards in 2014 and a Grammy in 2015 for Best Musical Theater Album.  Her music continues to thrill us.

It’s about connections. I want to connect with people; I want to make people think “Yeah, that’s how I feel”. And if I can do that, that’s an accomplishment – Carol King

We are grateful to Carol King for her music which still resonates with us.

Rita Moreno has starred in three great musicals–Singin’ In the RainThe King And I and West Side Story for which she earned an Academy Award.  She has the distinction of being one of the very few and the first performers to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy.  She was born Rosita Dolores Alverío in Humacao, Puerto Rico to seamstress Rosa María (Marcano) and farmer Francisco.  She and her mother moved to New York City where she began her career.

Unfortunately for Rita, she was typecast as a Hispanic pepper pot or another “exotic”.  In Father Knows Best, she was cast as an exchange student from India.  She considered the roles she was given degrading. It wasn’t until the ’70s that she was given better roles.  It was during that time that she won a Grammy Award for her contribution to “The Electric Company”‘s soundtrack album, a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for “The Ritz” and Emmy Awards for The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files.  In 2004, she received the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.  It is said that when her star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she fell on top of it, openly and uncontrollably weeping, later commenting, “I had been dreaming of this day since I was six!”.

We admire Rita who came from humble beginnings to where she is now.  She is a reminder that childhood dreams can come true.

Bigger than life is not difficult for me. I am bigger than life – Rita Moreno

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Notes to Women salute these amazing women for their well deserved honors and recognition for their work in music, film and stage.

Sources: IMDb; Brainy Quote; Carol King Website; Think Exist; IMDb;

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Ingrid Bergman

I just read in the Stabroek News that the 68th Cannes Film Festival unveiled its official poster featuring legendary actress Ingrid Bergman in a tribute to what would have been her 100th birthday this year.  I think that’s wonderful.  She was an actress I truly admired and appreciated.  She had gentle beauty and an air of quiet refinement.  She was very classy.  I remember her in films like Casablanca, Gaslight, Anastasia and For Whom the Bells Toll.  She acted with some of Hollywood’s A list male stars–Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.  It would have been interesting to see her star opposite Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster.

Acting was something Ingrid always knew she wanted to become.  Her father, a Swedish artist and photographer wanted her to become an opera star and had her take voice lessons for three years.  She wore her mother’s clothes and staged plays in her father’s empty studio.  He documented all of her birthdays with a borrowed camera.  He died when she was thirteen.  Her German mother had died when she was two years old.

After her father’s death, Ingrid was sent to live with an aunt who died just six months later from a heart disease.  She moved in with another aunt and uncle who had five children.  Her aunt Elsa was the first one who told Ingrid when she was 11 years old that her mother may have “some Jewish blood”, and that her father was aware of this long before they got married.  Her aunt cautioned her about telling others about her possible ancestry as “there might be some difficult times coming.”  This reminds me of Queen Esther who was intially cautioned by her uncle not to let anyone know that she was a Jew.

In 1932 when she was 17, Ingrid had only one opportunity to become an actress by entering an acting competition with the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.  For Ingrid it was a terrible moment.  She recalled:  As I walked off the stage, I was in mourning.  I was at a funeral.  My own.  It was the death of my creative self.  My heart had truly broken…they didn’t think I was even worth listening to, or watching.”

This couldn’t have be further from the truth as she soon learned after meeting one of the judges who told her, “We loved your security and your impertinance.  We loved you and told each other that there was no reason to waste time as there were dozens of other entrants still to come.  We didn’t need to waste any time with you.  We knew you were a natural and great.  Your future as an actress was settled.”  What a thrill and relief that must have been for the aspiring actress.  She received a scholarship to the state-sponsored Royal Dramatic Theatre School where Greta Garbo had earned a similar scholarship just years earlier.

Ingrid’s dream was now a reality.  She was given a part in a new play and over the summer break, she was hired by a Swedish film studio which led to her departure from the Royal Dramatic Theatre a year later to work full-time in films.  She starred in a dozen films in Sweden, including En kvinnas ansikte which was later remade as A Woman’s Face, starring Joan Crawford.  Ingrid made one film in Germany in 1938.

Then it was off to Hollywood…Thanks to David O. Selznick, she starred in Intermezzo:  A Love Story, her first acting role in the United States.  It was a remake of her 1935 Swedish film, Intermezzo.  Ingrid didn’t plan to stay in Hollywood.  She thought she would complete this film and return home to Sweden to be with her husband, Dr. Peter Lindstrom and their daughter, Pia.

Selznick had concerns about Ingrid.  “She didn’t speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German, and her eyebrows were too thick.”  However, Ingrid was accepted without having to modify her looks.  Selznick let her have her way because he understood her fear of Hollywood makeup artists who might turn her into someone she wouldn’t recognize.  He told them to back off.  Besides, he believe that her natural good looks would compete successfully with Hollywood’s “synthetic razzle-dazzle.”

Selznick, who was filming Gone With the Wind at the same time, shared his early impressions of Ingrid in a letter to William Hebert, his publicity director :

Miss Bergman is the most completely conscientious actress with whom I have ever worked, in that she thinks of absolutely nothing but her work before and during the time she is doing a picture … She practically never leaves the studio, and even suggested that her dressing room be equipped so that she could live here during the picture. She never for a minute suggests quitting at six o’clock or anything of the kind … Because of having four stars acting in Gone with the Wind, our star dressing-room suites were all occupied and we had to assign her a smaller suite. She went into ecstasies over it and said she had never had such a suite in her life … All of this is completely unaffected and completely unique and I should think would make a grand angle of approach to her publicity … so that her natural sweetness and consideration and conscientiousness become something of a legend … and is completely in keeping with the fresh and pure personality and appearance which caused me to sign her.

Not surprisingly, Intermezzo was a huge success and resulted in Ingrid becoming a star.  She left quite an impression on Hollywood.  And Selznick’s appreciation of her uniqueness made he and his wife Irene remain important friends to Ingrid throughout her career.

Before making Casablanca, Ingrid made one last film in Sweden and appearing in three moderately successful films, Adam Had Four Sons, Rage in Heaven and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  According to her biographer, she felt guilty that she had misjudged the situation in Germany.  She had dismissed the Nazis as a “temporary aberration, ‘too foolish to be taken seriously.’ She didn’t believe that Germany start a war because the good people of the country would not allow it.  Sadly, she was wrong.  She felt guilty for the rest of her life and when she was in Germany at the end of the war, she had been afraid to go with the others to witness the atrocitites of the Nazi extermination camps.

In 1942, she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, a movie famous for its wonderul lines and the famous song, “As Time Goes By”.  I was surprised to read that Ingrid did not consider it to be one of her favorite performances.  She said, “I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart.”  I thought she and Bogart were great together.

I think I only saw For Whom the Bell Tolls once but really liked it.  My sister and I liked how she looked with her short, blond, curly hair and a “sun-kissed complexion”.  I read that Ernest Hemmingway wanted her to play the part of Maria.  When he met her, after studying her, he exclaimed, “You are Maria!”  When Ernest told Ingrid that she would have to cut her hair to play the part, she was quick to respond, “To get that part, I’d cut my head off!”

For Whom the Bell Tolls, was the film that saved the song, “As Time Goes By” from being removed from Casablanca.  Warner Brothers wanted to substitute the song and planned to re-shoot some scenes with Ingrid but thanks to her hair-cut, they had to drop the idea as there would be a problem with continuity even if she wore a wig.

A year later, Ingrid won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gaslight.  It was a gripping and suspenseful movie of a wife being driven to madness by her husband, masterfully played by Charles Boyer.  She next starred as a nun in The Bells of St. Mary opposite Bing Cosby, garnering her third consecutive nomination for Best Actress.   She came in a succession of Alfred Hitchock movies, Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn (I never heard of this one).

During her marriage to Lindstrom, Ingrid had a brief affair with Gregory Peck.  This affair was kept private until five years after Ingrid’s death, when Gregory revealed in an interview with Brad Darrach of People, “All I can say is that I had a real love for her (Bergman), and I think that’s where I ought to stop…. I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work.”

Unlike her affair with Gregory Peck, the one with the Italian film director, Roberto Rossellini was a very public one.   Although Ingrid received another Best Actress nomination for Joan of Arc in 1948, the film was not a hit, partly because news of her affair with Rossellini broke while the movie was still in theatres.  It was her admiration for Rossellini which had led Ingrid to write him a letter, expressing her admiration and suggesting that she make a film with him.  She was cast in his film, Stromboli and during production, she fell in love with him and they began an affair.  She became pregnant with their son, Bergman became pregnant with their son, Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe (“Robin”) Rossellini and this affair caused a huge scandal in the United States.  She was denounced on the floor of the United States senate and Ed Sullivan chose not to have her appear on his show despite a poll showing that the public wanted her there.  However, Steve Allen had her on his equally popular show, noting, “the danger of trying to judge artistic activity through the prism of one’s personal life.” 

The scandal drove Ingrid back to Italy, leaving her husband and daughter.  She went through a very public divorce and custody battle for their daughter.  She and Lindstrom divorced a week after her son was born and she married Rossellini in Mexico.  In 1952, Ingrid gave birth to twin daughters Isotta Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini.  Five years later she divorced their father and the following year she married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical entrepreneur from a wealthy Swedish shipping family.  That marriage lasted until 1975 when they divorced.

In 1956, Ingrid starred in the movie, Anatasia. It was her return to the American screen and her second Academy Award for Best Actress which her best friend Cary Grant accepted for her.  She made her first appearance in Hollywood since the scandal when she was the presenter of the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 1956 Academy Awards.  She received a standing ovation after being introduced by Cary Grant.  In 1969, she starred opposite Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn in the hilarious and delightful movie, Cactus Flower.  It was nice seeing Ingrid take a turn in a light romantic comedy.

In 1972, US Senator Charles H. Percy entered an apology in to the Congressional Record for Edwin C. Johnson’s attack on Ingrid 22 years ago.  In 1974 she won her third Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express, earning her the distinction of being one of the few actresses ever to receive three Oscars.  Her final role was as Golda Meir in A Woman Called Golda.   She was offered the part because, “People believe you and trust you, and this is what I want, because Golda Meir had the trust of the people.”  This interested Ingrid and the role was greatly significant for her because she still carried the guilt of misjudging the situation in Germany during World War II.  Ingrid was frequently ill during the film although she hardly showed it or complained.  She was a real trooper.  Four months after the film was completed, on her 67th birthday in London, Ingrid died of breast cancer.  Her daughter, Pia accepted her Emmy.

Ingrid was a  woman of grace, natural beauty who brought realism and dignity to her roles.  She was a star with no temperament, making her a delight to work with, unpretentious, unique, hard-working, “a great star” who “always strove to be a ‘true’ woman.”  She was not a saint but a woman with real emotions.   She was not afraid to speak out against racism.  During a press conference in Washington, D.C. where she was promoting, Joan of Lorraine, she protested against the racial segregation she witnessed firsthand at the theatre where she was performing.  This drew a lot of publicity and some hate mail.  In a news column in the Herald-Journal, she is reported as saying, “I deplore racial discrimination in any form.  To think it would be permitted in the nation’s capital of all places!  I really had not known that there were places in the United States–entertainment places which are for all the people–where everybody could not go.”

Notes to Women salute this remarkable woman and actress who won our hearts and deepest admiration with her grace and courage.  We celebrate one of the greatest leading ladies that ever graced the silver screen.  She once said, “I am an actress and I am interested in acting, not in making money.”  Dear Ingrid, we are so very thankful that you chose acting over opera.

I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.

I can do everything with ease on the stage, whereas in real life I feel too big and clumsy. So I didn’t choose acting. It chose me.

I don’t think anyone has the right to intrude in your life, but they do. I would like people to separate the actress and the woman.

Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.

If you took acting away from me, I’d stop breathing.

ingrid-bergman

Sources:  Stabroek News ; Wikipedia; IMDB; Brainy Quotes; Herald-Journal

Golden Girl Betty White

Golden Girl Betty White

Seven time Emmy winner, Betty White is still going strong.  Her wit and sense of humour is still as sharp as ever.  I love her on The Golden Girls as the sweet and naive Rose Nylund.

Betty  has a lot of titles under her belt–actress, comedienne, singer, author, and former game show personality.  Her career began in 1939, three months after she graduated from high school. Betty found work as a model and her first professional acting job was in at the Bliss Hayden Little Theatre.  Her career was interrupted when World War II broke out causing her to join the American Women’s Voluntary Services.  In the 1940s, Betty worked in radio, appearing on shows such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve and This Is Your FBI. Then she got her own radio show, called The Betty White Show.

In 1950 Betty made history by being nominated for her first Emmy Award as “Best Actress” on television.  This was the first award and category in the new Emmy history designated for women on television.  The Emmy went to Gertrude Berg.  Two years later Betty hosted Hollywood on Television, White co-founded Bandy Productions with writer George Tibbles and Don Fedderson, a producer.  In 1954, she briefly hosted and produced her own daily talk show, The Betty White Show, on NBC.

Betty’s fame picked up in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to her long stint as hostess and commentator on the annual Tournament of Roses Parade broadcast on NBC.  She was later replaced by NBC due to her success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a show on rival network, CBS.  Betty admitted to People Magazine that it was difficult  “watching someone else do my parade”, although she soon would start a ten-year run as hostess of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for CBS.

From 1973-1985, Betty enjoyed success in sitcoms such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Betty White Show, Mama’s Family and in 1985, she landed the role on The Golden Girls which turned out to be the biggest career hit of her career. The show enjoyed a successful run from 1985 through 1992. The cast could not have been more perfect–Beatrice Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan.  I remember watching the show in New York every Saturday night with my mother and sisters.  I watch the reruns and still laugh out loud.

Betty won one Emmy Award, for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, for the first season of The Golden Girls and was nominated in that category every year of the show’s run (the only cast member to receive that distinction. I was sorry when the show ended but it ended on a positive note–Dorothy got married again.

I remember learning that Betty was the oldest cast member of the show but is the only surviving member, following the deaths of Estelle Getty in July 2008, Bea Arthur in April 2009, and Rue McClanahan in June 2010.

Betty was originally offered the role of Blanche in The Golden Girls, and Rue McClanahan was offered the role of Rose (the two characters being similar to roles they had played in Mary Tyler Moore and Maude, respectively). Jay Sandrich, the director of the pilot, suggested that since they had played similar roles in the past, they should switch roles, Rue McClanahan later said in a documentary on the series.

Initially Betty was scared to play Rose, feeling that she would not be able to play the role—until the show’s creator took her aside and told her not to play Rose as stupid but to play her as someone “terminally naive, a person who always believed the first explanation of something.” I am thankful that the roles were switched.  I can’t imagine anyone playing Rose but Betty and no other actress could pull of the role of Blanche as Rue did.

Life after The Golden Girls was very good for Betty. She guest starred on shows like Ally McBealThe Ellen ShowMy Wife and KidsThat ’70s ShowEverwoodJoey, and Malcolm in the Middle.  She was nominated for her appearances on  Suddenly SusanYes, Dear and The Practice. She won an Emmy in 1996 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, appearing as herself on an episode of The John Larroquette Show. She has lent her voice to popular animated shows such as The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy.

She joined in the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful in December 2006.  Her 2007 parody of Ugly Betty earned her a part on Ugly Betty as herself.  White had a recurring role in ABC’s Boston Legal from 2005 to 2008 as the calculating, blackmailing gossip-monger Catherine Piper, a role she originally portrayed as a guest star on The Practice in 2004. This character was a far cry from Rose Nylund but it just went to show what a talented actress Betty is.  She pulled it off so well.  She attended the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner.

On May 8, 2010, Betty hosted Saturday Night Live at the age of 88, making her the oldest person to host the show.  She published her latest book If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), was published in 2011.

On a personal note, Betty married Dick Barker, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot in 1945. The marriage was short-lived. In 1947, she married Lane Allen, a Hollywood agent. This marriage ended in divorce in 1949.  On June 14, 1963, White married television host and personality Allen Ludden, whom she had met on his game show Password as a celebrity guest in 1961, and is legally Betty White Ludden. He proposed to her twice before she accepted.  Sadly, Allen died from stomach cancer on June 9, 1981.  The couple did not have any children.  Betty has not remarried.

We salute this remarkable woman who is a pet enthusiast and animal health advocate who works with a number of animal organizations and a recipient of numerous awards and honors, including her induction into  the Television Hall of Fame in 1995; the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. She was formally inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1995.  and the Screen Actor’s Guild.  We thank this funny lady for all the golden years of comedy she has brought to us.  We wish her all the best.

Betty White - Interview

 

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_White

Oscar History Makers

In light of the Academy Awards which are happening this Sunday, I thought I should salute two women who made Oscar history.  The first is Halle Berry.   Her gutwrenching portrayal in Monster’s Ball of a hard-working waitress struggling to raise an obese son while her husband sat on death row earned her the Best Actress Oscar, making her the first African American woman to accomplish this. 

The emotional scenes in the movie were raw.  In the nude scene with Billy Bob Thornton, Halle seemed to be comfortable with baring it all.  In an interview, she was asked about this.  “But with Monster’s Ball, without this scene, I think it would be a very different movie. I think it’s a pivotal moment and from that moment on, you understand why these two people get together.”  What helped Halle to really let herself go was, the fact that “Billy [Bob Thornton] went to the same place I went to.  He was as naked, as nude, as exposed, as I was. You saw everything on him as you did me. Men don’t have breasts so we didn’t get that thrill.  But he was just as vulnerable.(http://www.beatboxbetty.com/celebetty/halleberry/halleberry/halleberry.htm).

In another interview, she admitted that “it was tough, but like I said, not tougher than when I had to abuse my overweight son. No tougher than that. That was probably tougher than the love scene.”

Halle was not director Marc Foster’s choice for the role of Leticia but Halle pushed until she won him over.  She explains how she managed to convince that she was right for the part and why she was so determined to get it.  “I just know that I was relentless in my approach. I just wanted a chance to sit in the room and tell him who I thought she was. My take on the movie. How I thought I could breathe life into her. I wanted a chance to tell him all these things that were brewing inside of me and I finally got that chance. And then I met with him a couple of times, and then the producer, and then Billy Bob, until they just gave in.

“It’s a wonderful character for a woman to play and we don’t see them that often. I think they are becoming more available but not that often. I think I related to her right away when I read the movie screenplay. I was riveted. I wanted to know what would happen to her. Things kept happening, the unthinkable, twists and turns and I started to care about these people (http://www.iofilm.co.uk/feats/interviews/h/halle_berry.shtml). 

Her persistence paid off.  On 24 March 2002, Halle Berry made oscar history.  “I am so honoured, I’m so honoured, and I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which this blessing might flow. (http://www.cinema.com/news/item/5850/halle-berry-makes-history-with-oscar-win.phtml).

Eight years later another woman makes oscar history.  Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker

“This really is… There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime. First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful, my fellow nominees, such powerful filmmakers who have inspired me and I have admired for, some of whom, for decades. And thank you to every member of the Academy. This is, again, the moment of a lifetime”  (http://www.altfg.com/blog/awards/kathryn-bigelow-oscar-acceptance-speech-494/).

Bigelow was once married to fellow director James Cameron.  Bothwere both nominated for Best Director at the 2010, 82nd Academy Awards.

In April 2010, Bigelow was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathryn_Bigelow).

Kudos to these two remarkable women who used their talents to make waves in the movie business.  They prove that anything is possible once you set your mind to it.  Each of us can have our “moment of a lifetime”.