Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Remembering Jill Ireland: April 24, 1936 - May 18, 1990

Today would have been the 77th birthday of the lovely actress and author of several best-selling autobiographies Jill Ireland who passed away at the age of 54 in 1990 after a long, brave and public battle with breast cancer.  Many remember the string of motion pictures she co-starred in with her second husband Charles Bronson, but Jill Ireland also had a long and interesting career on the small screen. 
On "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
You may also remember that her first husband was David McCallum, the talented actor who became a genuine sensation as the dashing Russian secret agent Ilya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., also starring the equally dashing Robert Vaughn.  While her then-husband was off fighting the global baddies of T.H.R.U.S.H., Jill Ireland was making appearances on series like Ben Casey, My Favorite Martian, 12 O'Clock High, Daniel Boone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and co-starring on the short-lived series Shane opposite David Carradine.  Jill Ireland also starred on several episodes of her husband's TV show which is where I first saw her and remembered her.  (Ireland divorced McCallum in 1967 and wed Bronson the next year.)

Most famously perhaps, Jill Ireland made an guest appearance on the legend-making Star Trek -- only nobody knew then how far-reaching that series' impact would turn out to be -- in a first season episode This Side of Paradise.  Written by Roddenberry's trusted story editor D. (Dorothy) C. Fontana and directed by TV veteran Ralph Senensky, the episode was a fan favorite as the ever-logical Mr. Spock met up again with a beautiful woman who had been enamored of him on Earth.  Leila Kalome as played by Jill Ireland was an ethereal blonde vision of loveliness, a gentle soul who, as we find out, is one of a colony of planetary settlers who have been infected with parasitic spores which induce peace, acceptance and docility.  Even the unemotional Mr. Spock is finally able to break his stoic Vulcan demeanor and express his love for Leila. 

This was Star Trek history and Jill Ireland was an integral part of it.  We would like to honor Jill Ireland by sharing the trailer for The Side of Paradise.  For fascinating background information on the production of the episode, you will want to check out director Ralph Senensky's own blog for his entertaining and enlightening recollections -- click here.

You'll also enjoy this fan-made video for a song from Leonard Nimoy's second record album The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy.  "Once I Smiled" (written by Nimoy and Charles R. Grean) tells the story of This Side of Paradise and the video illustrates the lyrics with clips from the episode.  It may be a little silly, but it's Star Trek: The Original Series canon and that's good enough for a lot of us.  We can't embed it here but you should go directly to YouTube by clicking here and watch it.

We fondly remember Jill Ireland on this day.  She is not forgotten.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Legendary George Takei!

Let's be honest -- Star Trek is one of the most important pop culture creations of the 20th Century, and anybody associated with it gains instant immortality.  Some of those people actually earn it, too, and Star Trek: The Original Series star George Takei is one of them. 

George and his husband Brad
Aside from being a terrific actor on stage, screen and television, Takei has ridden the tide of history to become an important symbol for justice, intelligence, diversity, kindess, hilarity and forward-thinking in general.  Lately his star has risen even higher with his activism for LGBT issues including gay marriage, and he never fails to put himself out there when a voice of reason and compassion is needed. 

Takei was born April 20, 1937, which makes him 76 years old today.  Along with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, both of whom celebrated their 82nd birthdays last months, and Nichelle Nichols who was 80 last December, this quartet of Star Trek actors is helping redefine aging for us boomers.  It's also wonderful to see how they all now seem to be completely comfortable in their Star Trek skins, all honored for being essential to the message of Star Trek and to its continued importance to so many of us.  Takei has even taken part in one of the fan-based Star Trek revival efforts with his co-starring role in 2007's Star Trek: New Voyages episode "World Enough and Time" alongside Grace Lee Whitney who played Yeoman Janice Rand in the original series.  Check out the entire episode here and for more information on this wonderful initiative head over to their website.

But today is George Takei's day!  We're sharing just a handful of clips showing some of the diversity of Takei, but the internet is full of great George Takei material. If you're on Facebook be sure to "friend" him because his posts are always wise or funny and probably both; you don't want to miss anything he shares.

So let's celebrate a bit of Takei -- here he is during his TV Academy interview discussing how Sulu got his name.


Here's Mr. Sulu in an action sequence from the episode "Return of the Archons"; he's looking exceptionally spiffy in his quasi-Revolutionary War-era costume, too!

This is one of the character's most beloved moments, from "The Naked Time" --

Here's another favorite moment from "Mirror, Mirror" when Uhura deals with the mirror universe Sulu --

George Takei is hilarious in this Sharp TV ad from a little while back --

In a more serious vein, a young man meets his hero George Takei --

And in a jovial moment, Takei and his husband Brad share his "Happy Dance" --

George is currently starring in the new musical stage drama Allegiance which is expected to end up on Broadway in the near future; please check out the show's website for more information.  Allegiance centers on the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II; here's a preview from its run at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego last fall.  This is a personal story for Mr. Takei -- he and his family lived this experience.

Be sure to visit George Takei's website where you will find out everything that this versatile and eternally young-at-heart but old-in-wisdom man of the world is up to.  He's also just published a new e-book Oh Myyy: There Goes the Internet which you can purchase off his page, too.

George Takei is an inspiration and a delight.  Happy Birthday, George!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Inimitable Bill Irwin, America's Clown Prince!

This is pure love for me, wishing the amazing performer Bill Irwin a Happy Birthday today!  Sigh...I've been a fan of Irwin's since I saw him on TV doing his hilarious and brilliant theater piece The Regard of Flight on PBS in 1982, then was lucky enough to see it live when he brought it to Los Angeles the next year in a small theater next to the Hollywood Bowl.  Oh my was a revelation and I had to go back to see it again.  One -- well, two -- of my best times in a theater ever, and I immediately sat down and wrote him a fan letter c/o the theater to tell him so.  I got back a nice postcard (which I know is somewhere around here stuck in a book, most likely) thanking me and I've been following his career ever since.

There is simply no one like Bill Irwin.  Looking to my mind like a mild-mannered Clark Kent with mad kinetic skillz, Bill Irwin and his cohorts Doug Skinner -- the stage manager/pianist -- and Michael O'Connor -- the irascible critic -- presented a madcap treatise on comedy and acting, as seen here in a few clips that are on YouTube.  (There doesn't seem to be a release of the PBS show available now, and so my old VHS copies are among my most beloved possessions.)

It's hard to describe Bill Irwin by making a list and including all the things he can do -- his talent is limitless.  It's easier to say that there is nothing he can't do, from classic farce to knockabout
vaudeville to circus clowning to song-and-dance to acrobatics to deep emotional drama to light comedy and everything in-between.  He is a bonafide genius, certified years ago by the MacArthur Foundation which gave him a multi-year grant back in the early 1980s and boy, did they ever get their money's worth and pick the right guy.

If you don't know him by name, you would know him by face.  If you or your kids ever watched Sesame Street, he was Mr. Noodle.  If you watch C.S.I. he had a recurring role as a serial killer and he also was a recurring character on Northern Exposure.  Bill Irwin has been a semi-familiar face on TV for decades and continues to land big roles, most often dramatic these days. Very early he was one of the Sweethaven townspeople in Altman's film Popeye starring Robin Williams; this was his first screen appearance, in fact, after training at the Ringling Bros. Clown College and working with the Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco where he practiced the unique form of idiosyncratic acrobatic dance that evolved into his signature style.  (I was thrilled recently to see a special mention of him in the Ringling Circus Museum here in Sarasota.)

But mostly, probably, he's best known to theatregoers all over the country for his constant appearances throughout his career in both his own works and more traditional roles, all of which have garnered him honors and awards commensurate with his talents.  (Check out his listing at the Internet Broadway Database for more details).  His next big self-written and performed Broadway theatre piece after The Regard of Flight was Largely New York which won the 1989 Tony for Best Play and received several other important nominations.  (Bill won the Tony Award for Best Actor for his 2005 performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.)  Here's a clip from the Tony Awards special that year with the Largely New York segment -- a rare treasure!

Along with performing partner David Shiner he created the lauded Fool Moon in 1993, and they reunited earlier this year at the Signature Theatre in NYC for a new production entitled Old Hats.  You'll be happy to hear that the show (read the NYT review here) has been extended at least until early June and you can buy tickets online right now!

Bill Irwin is also mesmerizing just performing on a school stage, doing some of his classic bits, and you'll also want to check out an early 1980's performance at the renowned Jacob's Pillos dance festival -- click here.

You'll like this clip of Karen Ziemba and Irwin performing "Sooner or Later" in the 1993 PBS special Stephen Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. 

Bill Irwin was featured in another PBS Great Performances, this one a celebration of his career entitled Bill Irwin, Clown Prince in December of 2004. You can still check out the website -- click here -- and though it's not available on DVD, by some miracle somebody posted the show on Vimeo and I suggest you go to there immediately and watch it!  Click here! 

Bill Irwin is an American treasure, a work of art and a one-of-a-kind force of nature.   Happy 63rd Birthday, Bill. Irwin! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday's Question: Compare and Contrast the "Mad Men" Opener

If you want to compare your take on the season premiere of AMC's Mad Men with some of the TV writers out there, a great place to start is Metacritic, a terrific site where they aggregate all the pertinent reviews and articles on popular culture in one place.  It's like Rotten Tomatoes, the famous movie rating site, except Metacritic covers several more categories. 

So if you want to see what everybody else is thinking about Mad Men, have at it!  Click here to go directly to the Metacritic Mad Men Season 6 page!  Enjoy!

Getting in the Mood with "Mad Men" -- Did it Live Up to the Hype?

After watching the  Season 6 opener of AMC's Mad Men last night, let's take a look at a selection of promos.  These were designed to give us the proper mise en scene for enjoying the series, for there is no other show out there that is so focused -- perhaps obsessed -- on getting the whole package pitch perfect as a prerequisite for ingesting the content.  It's not just about getting the hairdos correct, it's the right glances and stances that makes Mad Men such a world unto itself. 

So here are a few looks at what we saw in the 2-hour episode and will see in weeks beyond --

This last one is especially neat, as it's from SkyAtlantic, so it's deliciously different than what we get here in the United States.

Share your thoughts on last night's Mad Men!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: Both Dark...Both Weird

I've said it before and I'll say it again...we are living in a golden age of television viewing.  Fantasy epic Game of Thrones just started its third season on HBO.  Emmy award winning period piece Mad Men is returning to AMC this Sunday.  And currently we have two dark and thrilling original mysteries on the air; ANE's Bates Motel and the superb Top of the Lake on the Sundance channel.  Both are set in small rural towns where the citizens are menacing and off kilter.  Like Twin Peaks except everyone has a smart phone, and half the folks are crazier than a burlap bag full of poly-dactyl cats.  Both series also have big name talent in their casts.  And both have plenty of sex and violence, in keeping with the first law of cable TV which is that all bets are off except for full frontal naked dudes (and HBO even gets away with that from time to time).  Let's take a look at both of them, starting with the good and working our way up to the sublime.

Bates Motel airs on ANE Monday nights at 10pm.  Three episodes have already aired and if you missed them you can stream them all on their website for free. Based on the classic Hitchcock favorite Psycho, this series is a sort of prequel to the movie.  Call it Norman and his mother...the early years.  It stars the extremely talented Brit actor Freddie Highmore  (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as our dear nut-ball Norman and the gorgeous and capable Vera Farmiga as his smother mother Norma. They just moved into the big house in a rural U.S. town (looks like northern California) and they're off to a rocky start.  The cops are crooked, the former owner is enraged and something very bad is happening up in the woods.  The characters are mildly quirky (I particularly love the high school nerd girl who has to wear an oxygen tank) and the writing is sharp.  It has become appointment TV for me now, filling what was formerly a Monday night desert.

Top of the Lake is the phenomenal new short series (alas only 7 episodes) from the Sundance Channel.  If TV shows were boyfriends then Top of the Lake is my new boyfriend and I'm in love. I'm a late bloomer for the show, having just gotten around to watching my first episode last night on (cable) demand.  You can also catch it on Sundance or download episodes from iTunes or Amazon.

Written and directed by Academy Award winner Jane Campion (The Piano), Top of the Lake is terribly disturbing and yet also darkly hilarious.   It takes place in a backwater town in New Zealand, so when things seem off-the-charts odd you're not sure if it's nuts because that's the way things are in New Zealand or maybe this town sets a whole new high bar for weird.  At the center of the tale is a woebegone 12 year old (Tui) who is five months pregnant.  She's not saying how, and Detective
Griffin (the incredible Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men) is brought in to investigate. She seems the only one in this strange little town that is even remotely outraged by this poor child's terrible situation.  Tui's father is one of the scariest, most unlikable characters I've seen in quite some time.  He shoots dogs, he drowns real estate agents...and he's practically incomprehensible with a Scottish brogue thicker than mud.  In fact, he is so despicable, my guess is that we are going to find out that there's a decent fellow buried under all his sputter and menace.  Campion will try to surprise us, I'm sure of it.  And speaking of surprise, I thought I would go the rest of my life not liking Holly Hunter but now it's not going to happen.  I always found her off-putting...mostly because of that voice which has the metallic grate of a spoon caught in a garbage disposal.  In this series, she is a revelation.  She plays a new-age guru for abused women.  She looks a bit like aging punk rocker and poet Patti Smith.  Her character (GJ) is 82 pounds of androgynous woman and 42 pounds of long silver hair.  Of course, one is captivated by her in every scene.  Much of her appeal has to do with the writing which is insanely good.  When she first meets the unfortunate Tui, her reaction is not concern or even anger.  With great conviction she points to Tui and says, "You've got a time bomb in's going to go off!".  Absolutely nothing in this series is predictable.

All of this would keep me coming back for more, but I'm a sucker for odd-ball secondary characters and this series has plenty.  One of GJ's acolytes is recovering from a tragic friendship with a chimpanzee.  Another is a corpulent sex addict. Underneath all the odd, is Campion's trademark tightly crafted rage against the patriarchy. Ticking like a bomb, and ready to go off.

Hunt for these series as fast as you can.  I'll see you in the woods, or down by the lake!

"Bonanza" Episode with Michael Dunn Airs Today on Encore Western Channels!

There's a great opportunity today on the Encore Western channels to see the superb actor Michael Dunn in the 1970 Michael Landon-written-and-directed Bonanza episode It's a Small World.  It airs at 4pm Eastern and then again at 7pm on the W feed. 
Michael Dunn in 1964
If you are a Little House on the Prairie fan you will recognize that Landon did a remake of this theme -- a dwarf circus performer turns out to be far more courageous than any of the other townpeople -- in the episode Little Lou, where Billy Barty takes on the central role.  You can watch the episode on YouTube (click here)

It's a Small World comes from the 11th season of Bonanza, and is a great example of what a sensitive writer and director Michael Landon evolved into.  This evolution produced the timeless gem Little House on the Prairie -- proof enough, I'd say.

In terms of sheer acting prowess I have to give the nod to Michael Dunn, but Barty is pretty darned good.  If you're not familiar with Dunn, just think of him as yesterday's Peter Dinklage.  Every few decades a preternaturally talented actor emerges who is unlike most others.  I wrote a post a few years about him for TCM's Movie Morlocks, which you can check out by clicking here.

Don't miss Bonanza today on Encore!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

She Had the Mark of Gideon: Happy Birthday to Sharon Acker!

We'd like to extend a Happy Birthday today to actress Sharon Acker, a talented beauty who enjoyed a terrific career playing mostly on series TV during the 1960s through the 1980s.  Of course we're going to particularly shout-out her Star Trek appearance in the third season episode The Mark of Gideon.  Remember that one?  She was the lost young woman who was trapped on a deserted version of the Enterprise with Captain Kirk, and every so often the windows would open and they'd see these creepy figures staring in at them. 

Nobody is crazy about the episode -- a lot of the third season entries strike fans that way -- but at least The Mark of Gideon was saying something about overpopulation.  (I don't want to give away more of the plot in case anyone hasn't seen it.)

In any case, Ms. Acker was a lovely Odona, and if you watched any series TV during that time you'd have seen her on just about every program -- The Wild Wild West, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, Alias Smith and Jones, It Takes a Thief, The Bold Ones, Mission: Impossible, The Mod Squad, McMillan and Wife and so on.  Check out her full list of career credits here.  She had a good role as Lee Marvin's wife in the big-screen tough guy thriller Point Blank in 1967, but most of this Canada-born actress' work -- and there was plenty of it -- was on the small screen.

Sharon Acker is included in this clever compilation of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible actor crossovers:

She's also featured in this Get Smart/Star Trek crossover video:

The Flaming Nose wishes she had continued her career into the 1990s and beyond-- her last credit is from 1989 -- but as we've noted around here before, all you need to have done is one Star Trek and you are a TV immortal. 

Happy April 2nd Birthday, Sharon Acker!