14 May 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 96 | May 14, 2010

Act Naturally

Our theme this week
Oscar-winning singers-turned-actors

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Cher
Tuesday         —   Bing Crosby
Wednesday    —   Barbra Streisand
Thursday        —   Jennifer Hudson

Frank Sinatra

frank sinatra_2

Frank Sinatra was the greatest moonlighter in the history of cinema.  He made more than 50 movies, from the 1940s into the ’80s, starring in musicals, thrillers, comedies, and dramas, many of them hits, while earning the respect of critics and more than a few awards along the way.  All the while, he kept his day job.  You may have heard.  He sang a few songs.

Undeniably, Sinatra has a spot on the short list of great entertainers of the 20th century.  From this vantage, his career may look like one success after another.  Yet his enduring fame wasn’t inevitable.  He had his highs, and he had his lows.  When he was down, he came back.  In the end he triumphed.  As the song says, he did it his way.

Sinatra’s music career had several phases.  He got his start as a singer in a band, with Harry James, then Tommy Dorsey.  Later he was a solo recording artist, working most notably with Nelson Riddle.  Sinatra went through different periods in his film career too, from his song and dance days in the heyday of Hollywood musicals, to an impressive series of dramas in the ’50s, to comedy and movie star roles in later years.

A trio of MGM musicals were his most successful films of the ’40s.  In each he co-starred with Gene Kelly, and for a couple he played a sailor on shore leave.  Anchors Aweigh (1945) featured “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” and On the Town (1949), “New York, New York” (same title as another song that Sinatra would make his own in the ’80s).  Busby Berkeley’s Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) was another hit.

In the next few years his marriage broke up, after a public affair with his next wife, Ava Gardner, and his appeal to bobby soxers was on the wane.  Sinatra turned his career around with From Here to Eternity, the big screen adaptation of James Jones’s novel set on the eve of World War II.  He played Private Maggio, a supporting role, and it was an all-around success.  The film was a box office hit and won Best Picture.  Sinatra took home an Oscar for his performance, and established himself as a dramatic actor. 

Sinatra’s films of the ’50s include his best dramatic performances.  In 1954 he starred in Suddenly as a tough guy out to assassinate the president.  The next year he was a heroin addict in Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm.  Other films were the drama-musical-biopic The Joker Is Wild (1957) and Some Came Running (1958).  Sinatra continued making musicals, notably Guys and Dolls (1955), as Nathan Detroit, opposite Marlon Brando, High Society (1956), with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, and Pal Joey (1957), from Rodgers and Hart, with Rita Hayworth.

Ocean’s Eleven (1960) was hardly a great cinematic achievement, yet it put the Rat Pack together, those icons of cool, with Ol’ Blue Eyes the ringleader.  The film has been remade, and relatively well, but the aura of the original gang still hasn’t been touched.  The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is a classic, with Sinatra in one of his most memorable roles as Major Marco, a Korea vet trying to unravel a bizarre assassination plot.

Sinatra’s approach to recording music and to making movies was quite distinct.  He was meticulous with his records, taking long hours for rehearsal and laying down many tracks in the studio.  On the film set, he was in and out, preferring a single take.  With music, he aimed for perfection.   With films, spontaneity.  In either case, no one can argue with the result.

Academy Award nominations
The House I Live In (1946, short subject, Honorary Award)*
From Here to Eternity (1953, BSA)*
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955, BA)
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, 1971*
* Won Oscar

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
John Frankenheimer, director
Frank Sinatra, Henry Silva
Karate Fight


Sinatra broke the little finger on his right hand while filming the fight.

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Otto Preminger, director
Frank Sinatra

Pal Joey (1957)
George Sidney, director
Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth
“The Lady Is a Tramp” (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart)

Quote of Note
Rosie:  Maryland’s a beautiful state.
Marco:  This is Delaware.
Rosie:  I know.  I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the track on this stretch.  But nonetheless, Maryland is a beautiful state. So is Ohio, for that matter.
Marco:  I guess so.  Columbus is a tremendous football town.  You in the railroad business?
Rosie:  Not anymore.  However, if you will permit me to point out, when you ask that question you really should say, “Are you in the railroad line?”  Where’s your home?
Marco:  I’m in the army.  I’m a major.  I’ve been in the army most of my life.  We move a good deal.  I was born in New Hampshire.
Rosie:  I went to a girls’ camp once on Lake Francis.
Marco:  That’s pretty far north.  What’s your name?
Rosie:  Eugenie.
Marco:  Pardon?
Rosie:  No kidding, I really mean it.  Crazy French pronunciation and all.
Marco:  It’s pretty.
Rosie:  Well, thank you.
Marco:  I guess your friends call you Jenny.
Rosie:  Not yet they haven’t, for which I am deeply grateful.  But you may call me Jenny.
Marco:  What do your friends call you?
Rosie:  Rosie.
Marco:  Why?
Rosie:  My full name is Eugenie Rose.  Of the two names, I’ve always favored Rosie because it smells of brown soap and beer.  Eugenie is somehow more fragile.
Marco:  Still, when I asked you what your name was, you said it was Eugenie.
Rosie:  It’s quite possible I was feeling more or less fragile at that instant.
Marco:  I could never figure out what that phrase meant: more or less.  You Arabic?
Rosie:  No.
Marco:  My name is Ben, really Bennett.  Named after Arnold Bennett.
Rosie:  The writer?
Marco:  No, a lieutenant colonel.  He was my father’s commanding officer at the time.
Rosie:  What’s your last name?
Marco:  Marco.
Rosie:  Major Marco.  Are you Arabic?
Marco:  No.
Rosie:  Let me put it another way.  Are you married?
Marco:  No.  You?
Rosie:  No.
Marco:  What’s your last name?
Rosie:  Chaney.  I’m a production assistant for a man named Justin, who had two hits last season.  I live on 54th Street, a few doors from the modern museum of art, of which I’m a tea-privileges member, no cream.  I live at 53 West 54th Street, Apartment 3B.  Can you remember that?
Marco:  Yes.
Rosie:  ELdorado 5-9970.  Can you remember that?
Marco:  Yes.
Rosie:  Are you stationed in New York?  Or is stationed the right word?
Marco:  I’m not exactly stationed in New York.  I was stationed in Washington, but I got sick, and now I’m on leave, and I’m going to spend it in New York.
Rosie:  ELdorado 5-9970.
Marco:  I’m gonna look up an old friend of mine who’s a newspaper man.  We were in Korea together.
—Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), Eugenie Rose Chaney (Janet Leigh), The Manchurian Candidate (1962)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 14 May 2010 @ 12:11 AM

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 13 May 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 95 | May 13, 2010

Act Naturally

Our theme this week
Oscar-winning singers-turned-actors

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Cher
Tuesday         —   Bing Crosby
Wednesday    —   Barbra Streisand

Jennifer Hudson

jennifer hudson

Jennifer Hudson has the thinnest résumé of this week’s featured performers.  We can cut her a break, though—she is still in her twenties.  Yet for someone who is just getting started, she has had one remarkable run the past few years.

Hudson became an overnight success in 2004, one of the finalists on a TV show called American Idol.  You may have heard of it.  She finished seventh, and for anyone who’d like to argue that Idol contestants have better careers by losing rather than winning, Hudson is Exhibit A.  Her self-titled debut album hit #2 on the charts and won a Grammy.  It didn’t come out till 2008, though.  She was tied up in the meantime filming an Oscar-winning performance.

Hudson had the good fortune to be cast as Effie White in the 2006 film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway hit Dreamgirls.  It was a good match of singer and material, and she won rave reviews, new-found respect within the business, and a statuette on Oscar night.

Dreamgirls is a story about the struggles and successes of a group of African-Americans making it in the music business.  It’s set in the pre-Idol 1960s and ’70s, loosely based on the lives of real-life stars.  Think Motown, with the names changed.  Effie White is one part Florence Ballard (of the Supremes) and one part Aretha Franklin, a singer who has to compete against prettier women and a Berry Gordy-like figure who doesn’t love her the way she loves him.

Hudson followed up with non-musical film roles, including appearances in Sex and the City (2008), and as the caregiver to a troubled teenager in The Secret Lives of Bees (2008).  Up next, with filming to start this month, is Winnie, the story Winnie Mandela, the South African political leader and onetime wife of Nelson Mandela.  Hudson will play the title lead, opposite Terrence Howard.

Hudson’s personal life was rocked in October 2008, when her mother, brother, and nephew were murdered in Chicago.  Her brother-in-law was charged with the crime.  Hudson took time off from public life.  She returned in 2009 to perform the national anthem at the Super Bowl in Tampa.

Academy Award nominations
Dreamgirls (2006, BSA)*
* Won Oscar

Dreamgirls (2006)
Bill Condon, director
Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx
“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Tom Eyen & Henry Krieger)


Jennifer Hudson
“I Am Changing” (Tom Eyen & Henry Krieger)

Quote of Note
“Deena’s beautiful, and she’s always been beautiful.  But I’ve got the voice, Curtis!  I’ve got the voice!  You can’t put me in back.  You just can’t!”
—Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Dreamgirls (2006)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 12 May 2010 @ 12:41 AM

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 12 May 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 94 | May 12, 2010

Act Naturally

Our theme this week
Oscar-winning singers-turned-actors

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Cher
Tuesday         —   Bing Crosby

Barbra Streisand

barbra streisand

“Hello, gorgeous.”  That, her first line from her first movie, Funny Girl, was Barbara Streisand’s introduction to the film world—and her introduction to the Oscar she won for her performance—but by 1968 the singer was already a star to music fans around the world, having had a #1 record, several Grammy Awards, hits on Broadway and the West End, and a series of popular television specials. 

Funny Girl tells the real-life story of Fanny Brice, the vaudeville entertainer who became a star with the Ziegfeld Follies.  William Wyler directed, the next-to-last film—and only musical—of his long and storied career.  Streisand was the 14th, and last, of many actors who worked for Wyler to take home an Academy Award.  (She shared the Best Actress prize with Katharine Hepburn.)

The next decade were busy years for the singer-actress.  She followed her debut with a couple of musicals, Hello, Dolly! (1969) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970).  She then turned to comedy, starring in The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), with George Segal, and What’s Up, Doc? (1972), with Ryan O’Neal.   The Way We Were (1973), a period piece co-starring Robert Redford, was one of Streisand’s biggest box office hits, and the theme song she sang was also a big hit on the music charts.  She reprised the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Lady, and in 1976 co-starred in the rock update to A Star Is Born, opposite Kris Kristofferson.

Barbra Streisand had started producing her films by the mid-’70s, and she would go on to direct three theatrical releases:  Yentl (1983), The Prince of Tides (1991), and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).  In recent years she has returned to comedy as Rozalin, the onscreen wife of Dustin Hoffman, in the Fockers series (the third in the series, her second, is due out this year).

Growing up in the glory days of rock and roll, I used to think of Streisand as a throwback to another era.  Her pop standards could well have come from an earlier age (not like much of the music I was listening to).  Streisand was just working in the tradition of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, and doing it as well as anyone of her time.  It was a time, though, of waning interest in movie musicals; otherwise she may have made even more movies than she did.  Still, she has had a remarkable film career, onscreen and behind the camera.  She is as well a remarkable and diverse talent, adept at comedy and drama, and Streisand is above all one of the great singers of hers or any other time.

Academy Award nominations
Funny Girl (1968, BA)*
The Way We Were (1973, BA)
A Star Is Born (1976, Song)*
The Prince of Tides (1991, Picture)
The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996, Song)
* Won Oscar

Funny Girl (1968)
William Wyler, director
Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif
“People” (Jule Styne & Bob Merrill)

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)
Herbert Ross, director
Barbra Streisand, George Segal

Quote of Note
“You think beautiful girls are going to stay in style forever?  I should say not!  Any minute now they’re going to be out!  Finished!  Then it’ll be my turn!”
—Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand), Funny Girl (1968)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 11 May 2010 @ 11:15 PM

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 11 May 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 93 | May 11, 2010

Act Naturally

Our theme this week
Oscar-winning singers-turned-actors

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Cher

Bing Crosby

bing crosby

Bing Crosby was one of the most popular entertainers in history.  He was the top-selling recording artist in the era before rock and roll, and his “White Christmas” is still, by some measures, the best-selling single of all time.  His films from the 1930s to the ’50s were consistent hits at the box office, and he ranks third all-time among actors in number of movie tickets sold.

Bing Crosby first made his name with Paul Whiteman’s band in the 1920s.  His singing success led to a successful radio show and a series of film musicals, including The Big Broadcast (1932), Anything Goes (1936), and Pennies from Heaven (1936).  He teamed with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in 1940 for Road to Singapore, the first of the long and winding “Road” series that eventually stopped in Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali, and Hong Kong.  Holiday Inn (1942), with Fred Astaire, was a hit, leading to a remake twelve years later, White Christmas, named for the original’s legendary, Oscar-winning song.  The role of parish priest Father O’Malley earned Crosby two Best Actor nominations (and one win), for Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s, the latter with Ingrid Bergman.  His notable films of the ’50s include The Country Girl, as a has-been with one last chance, with Grace Kelly, and High Society, a musical update to The Philadelphia Story, with Kelly again and Frank Sinatra.

Crosby’s trademark was his easy-going style, in song and on film.  The charm he exhibited before the cameras may not have been his off-screen self, by some reports, but his natural and pleasant personality was undeniably popular with audiences of the time, and that perhaps is his most enduring legacy.

Academy Award nominations
Going My Way (1944, BA)*
The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945, BA)
The Country Girl (1954, BA)
* Won Oscar

Holiday Inn (1942)
Mark Sandrich, director
Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds
“Easter Parade” (Irving Berlin)


Road to Morocco (1942)
David Butler, director
Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
“Moonlight Becomes You” (Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Burke)

High Society (1956)
Charles Walters, director
Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra
“Well, Did You Evah!” (Cole Porter)

Quote of Note
Susan:  Are you married?
Larry:  No, I’m sane!
—Susan Sprague (Madge Evans), Larry Poole (Bing Crosby), Pennies from Heaven (1936)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 10 May 2010 @ 01:11 AM

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 10 May 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 92 | May 10, 2010

Act Naturally

Well, I’ll bet you I’m gonna be a big star
Might win an Oscar you can never tell
The movies gonna make me a big star
‘Cause I can play the part so well

What’s it take to be a big movie star?  If you believe the song, all you gotta do is “act naturally.”  I’d guess it may involve a bit more than that, but this week’s theme—keeping it musical, once again—is singers who became actors and did it with remarkable success.  Over the years there have been precisely 87,234 actors who were once singers of one rank or another.  But only the slimmest fraction of them qualify for this select group:  people who were first and foremost singers, big names of the music scene, who not only went on to become movie stars too but also won Oscars for their work.

Our theme this week
Oscar-winning singers-turned-actors



Many years ago—some time between the invention of the wheel and the invention of the internet—I watched Sonny and Cher on a TV show talking about their stardom in the music world.  (It may have been The Mike Douglas Show.  The late-night shows were probably past my bedtime back then.)  As I remember it, one of them made the comment that the two of them were considered very hip by people who were square—but by people who were hip, Sonny and Cher were considered square.

That seemed true then, and though the hip/square distinction doesn’t matter today as it did in the ’60s (we divide the world in other ways now), when looking at Cher’s musical career, there’s still some truth to it.  She gets—and deserves—credit for her longevity as a hit maker and her engaging personality, but her music doesn’t have the same cachet as others’ from over the years. 

In contrast, Cher’s film career has been relatively brief but filled with performances earning critical acclaim.   In 1982 she reprised the stage role of Sissy in Robert Altman’s Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.  Her performance won a Golden Globe nomination and a new appreciation from fans and people in the film business.  A Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination followed, for playing the lesbian roommate in Silkwood, opposite Meryl Streep in the title role.  She starred in Mask (1985), winning Best Actress at Cannes, as the freewheeling mother of a disfigured son.  She was one of the three witches in The Witches of Eastwick, in 1987.  The same year she won the Oscar for Best Actress in the hit Moonstruck, a funny and touching film about an Italian-American family in Brooklyn.  She’s made only a handful of films since then, including Franco Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini in 1998.  Cher has a few movies due out this year and next.  She’ll co-star with Christina Aguilera in the musical Burlesque, perform the voice of the giraffe in the comedy The Zookeeper, and star in another comedy, The Drop-Out.

Cher is now in her sixties, and despite a farewell tour this past decade, shows little sign of slowing down.

Academy Award nominations
Silkwood (1983, BSA)
Moonstruck (1987, BA)*
* Won Oscar

Moonstruck (1987)
Norman Jewison, director
Cher, Olympia Dukakis

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichols, director
Cher, Meryl Streep

Quote of Note
Ronny:  I love you.
Loretta (slapping him):  Snap out of it!
—Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), Loretta Castorini (Cher), Moonstruck (1987)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 10 May 2010 @ 01:10 AM

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