Author Archives: Adam Tawfik

About Adam Tawfik

I own and operate the entertainment site The Tawfik Zone where I review classic and current films, TV shows, music, as well as share rare and funny entertainment gems at tawfikzone.com.

Alternative Oscars In-Depth: Neville Brand, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody,

Right before the Tawfik Zone was out of commission for quite a while, due to a series of minor technical difficulties and my own hectic schedule, my dymanic duo Tia Nikolopulas and Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins recorded a couple of Alternative Oscars podcasts. (You can check out 1950, 1951, and 1952).

The opening jingle was composed by Incompitech genius Kevin McLeod.

This one is the first of what we hope will be a regular part of the podcast, an in-depth look at people or things related to the Alternative Oscars. In this episode we discuss character actors, all of whom got their start in the 1950s; the iconic Lee Van Cleef, the beloved Jack Elam, and the now-underrated Neville Brand.

If you find our other podcasts too long, you’ll be happy to know that this and future in-depth episodes is about 45 minutes. If you like our longer, stream-of-conscious Alternative Oscars episodes, don’t worry, we’re still going to do them. Alternating between these two types of episodes, we hope to provide content on a regular, monthly basis.

We hope you enjoy our In-Depth episode. If you have any questions or constructive feedback gives us a shout out. We’d like to hear from you.

Obit: Gloria DeHaven (1925-2016)

About 15 years after the launching the highly innovative and spellbinding moving picture, the scrappy moguls realized that the future of their industry depended on more than the novel technology itself. After reading several fan letters inquiring about the people in the movies (who were then uncredited), they came up with the ingenious idea of grooming movie stars for public consumption (we all know how well that worked out).

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

The star machine had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s during the Golden Age of Hollywood. One of the best practitioners of this method was MGM, whose endearingly corny but apt studio mantra was a place where there were “more stars than in heaven.” MGM, specializing in gorgeously gauche fare, was a perfect fit for the crude and synthetic star system.

One of its starlets, Gloria DeHaven who died from a stroke July 31st, has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Born to vaudevillian parents Carter and Flora Parker DeHaven, Gloria began her career early, making her screen debut as an extra in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936).

From the get go, this fresh-faced glamorous brunette (sometimes blonde) exhibited confidence and glamour and made a good impression in small supporting roles, best of which was Best Foot Forward (1943). She more than held her own against the large and vibrant cast, as a feisty co-ed who instigates antagonism towards publicity-hungry actress Lucille Ball, who opportunistically accepts a prom date from a young cadet. This film marked the first pairing between DeHaven and June Allyson who along with Nancy Walker vibrantly delivered the show stopping musical number “The Barrelhouse, The Boogie Woogie, and The Blues.”

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

DeHaven and Allyson had such great chemistry that the next year, they got their first leading roles as plucky singing sisters in the charming morale boosting WWII musical Two Girls and A Sailor. As two singing sisters who gently spar for the affections of a boyish sailor played by Van Johnson, DeHaven’s sexiness and poise as the slightly impulsive sister who attracts the men perfectly complements Allyson’s warm, maternal, though slightly homely sister. Musically, DeHaven’s smooth, clear mezzo and Allyson’s raspy alto are in sync. In the end, audiences gravitated more towards the cuter, All-American Allyson and Johnson who starred in several subsequent films together, thus ending the Allyson DeHaven duo. (Off-screen, the two women remained best of friends).

With that, DeHaven was relegated back to supporting roles, as mostly kid sisters or secondary ingénues. She always brought an effortless, personable, slightly naughty but nice quality that deftly eschewed cloying sappiness. Her charm and vivacity sparkled even if the film didn’t. She easily outshone the negligible song and dance man, George Murphy, mediocre songstress Ginny Simms, and antiquated ex-Vaudevillian fuddy duddy Charles Winninger in the clunky Broadway Rhythm (1944).

DeHaven had a couple of major career setbacks in the mid-40s. First, she was suspended for refusing a role in Good News. Her next assignment, Summer Holiday, a strange but interesting (though not entirely successful) musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Ah Wilderness, was a highly troubled production that sat on the shelf for two years, and flopped miserably when finally released. Collectively, this kept her off screen for three years.

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

While many of her peers utterly resented Dore Schary replacing an acrimoniously ousted Louis B. Mayer as head of production at Metro, DeHaven appreciated the chance to play against type in grittier roles under the new executive’s auspices. She gives a potently poignant performance as the black sheep of a cold, elitist family who has a pregnancy out of wedlock (and naturally a tragic outcome) in the broody melodrama The Doctor and the Girl. In the nifty, cynical little film noir, Scene of the Crime, a bottled blonde DeHaven is effective as a quasi femme fatale who strips in a skeevy nightclub and cavorts with riff raff.

Although both films turned a profit and received decent reviews, DeHaven went back to lighter fare, playing Judy Garland’s slightly self-centered sister in the bizarre farm-set musical Summer Stock and Red Skelton’s love interest in The Yellow Cab Man. Shortly after, she left MGM and freelanced, where the quality of the material declined.

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

While no longer an A-lister, DeHaven worked steadily on television, Broadway, and nightclubs until the 1990s. She continued to display her versatility in a variety of excellent performances ranging from a shady old-flame who embroils private detective Mannix in a murder case to an assertive travel agent friend of Jessica Fletcher in a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. In one of the best episodes of the series, DeHaven, engages in several delightful catfights with several grande dames of the studio-era Julie Adams, Kathryn Grayson, and Ruth Roman, all of whom had dalliances with a town handyman whose shrewish wife was recently murdered.

Like several of the classic stars, DeHaven was approached a few times to write an autobiography, but the deal always fell through because she refused to write a “tell-all” account of her Hollywood days. Instead, in public appearances, DeHaven emphasized the positive aspects of being part of the “Metro family” (though she found some of the sillier aspects of the censorious Hays Code disagreeable). While she didn’t have the widespread fame as some of her peers (I would say she was sorely underrated), Gloria DeHaven has made a lasting impression on movie-loving folks like me.

Podcast: Alternative Oscars 1952

Thanks Canva, for the foolproof interface :)

Thanks Canva, for the foolproof interface 🙂

Hi Everybody,

We’re back after a slightly long hiatus. Here’s our 3rd Alternative Oscars Podcast. In each episode, we discuss the Best Picture nominees of a single Oscars year, and then we give our way better choices, other films eligible for an Oscar in the same given year. They usually comprise of a mix between films that are now heralded as classics, underrated gems, and international films. This year is no different.

You can check out our previous two episodes, Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Podcast 1950 and Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Podcast 1951 on this website or on The Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Itunes Feed.

The setting is a newer brighter relish green room. We hope that the consistency is the same, if not better. Again, I am fortunate to be joined by friends and fellow film buffs, Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins and Tia Nikolopulas. As always, musical credit goes to Kevin MacLeod of Incompitech.com.

Without further ado, here is The Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars for 1952. Please let us know what you thought of the nominated films or our picks. Did we overlook any films?

Take 5: Ernestine Anderson

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

There is a bad tendency to fully appreciate and talk about one’s artistry only after the person dies. I have been guilty of this many times, most recently with Ernestine Anderson, an underrated jazz and blues singer who died March 10th at 87 years old of natural causes.

I suppose I took Anderson’s mortality for granted because even as an octogenarian, her vocal prowess was still in full command and she looked like she was fifty. Her second to last album, A Song for You, is a must for jazz lovers. She tackles standards like Day by Day and Make Someone Happy and pop songs like A Song for You and Candy with freshness and ease and nary a bum note.

While her career spanned for more than 60 years, it was never an easy one with a large share of major ups and downs. Even as a child, Anderson gravitated towards singing. However, her father, who wanted her to focus on school, relocated the family the family to Seattle, where supposedly there wasn’t much of a music scene. This proved to be dead wrong. There, she pursued her career harder than ever. Eventually, her parents came around and took care of her children while she went out on the road with various bands.

While she worked fairly steadily, including singing at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953, she wasn’t having the success of many of her peers. Wanting to stretch herself, she went to Europe, where she was warmly received. In Sweden, she recorded her debut album as headliner, what would become known as Hot Cargo. When influential jazz critic Ralph Gleason heard it and loved it, he put it on the map in the States. In the midst of being the toast of the town, she secured a contract with Mercury records.

The handful of her albums she made with Mercury in the late 50s and early 60s are very highly regarded by critics and fans then and now. I am not personally a fan of Anderson’s early work, feeling that she sounded like a generic girl singer with very little feeling in her voice.

Courtesy of www.eljefe.net

Courtesy of www.eljefe.net

I think she came into her own in the late 1970s, when she returned to the spotlight after an approx. 15-year hiatus due to a legal dispute with Mercury blocking her from recording for five years, the loss of gigs as a result, the lack of popularity of jazz in the 60s, and her own guilt from being separated from her children. Her voice beautifully matured into a soulful contralto with a sassy, crisp phrasing.

While Anderson’s voice could take on a harder edge possibly as a result of the hard knocks, there was also a smooth, warmness too that developed around the time she converted to Buddhism. Her discography reveals her versatility and consistency as she sang ballads, the blues, and bebop with equal authority.

Even though she recorded over 30 albums and received 4 Grammy nominations, money was still an issue. In 2008 Anderson made news when her house was at risk for foreclosure (thankfully friends and colleagues Quincy Jones and Diane Schuur raised the funds to save the house.)

For more interesting details on her life, I recommend listening to an NPR documentary as well as reading obits from the Seattle Times and The Guardian. Here are five songs that display the beauty of Ernestine Anderson.

Time After Time

From the first drawled out note, she creates a hypnotic trance out of this lovely ballad. BTW, it’s a different “Time After Time” from the Cyndi Lauper song of the same name.

Sunny

Anderson takes this one to great heights, seamlessly transitioning from a pensive beginning to an exuberant, improv-filled finale.

All Blues

In this cool, funky mid-tempo arrangement, Anderson combines her rhythmic jazz and soulful bluesy sensibilities to convey the good and bad blues present in everything and everyone

Please Send Me Somebody to Love

Anderson perfectly captures the desperation and longing of the love-starved narrator in this uber soulful and bluesy rendition of what she rightly notes is a timely and timeless torch song.

Honeysuckle Rose

She swings the hell out of this one, in a rollicking rocking arrangement of a song most associated with an easy listening version by Lena Horne

News & Views: Oscars So Vanilla…AGAIN

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

As some of you may have noticed in 2015, I haven’t written many reviews about new movies (only one to be exact, for the incredibly mediocre Mr. Holmes.) My contributors Heather Nichols and Candace Wiggins have been more diligent about getting their thoughts about current cinema in written form. I only ventured out to the movie theater about seven times; other than the new Star Wars, which I liked but didn’t love, I was disappointed with the films I saw. (Krampus, a stale hipster revamp of the 80s family movies with a punitively mean-spirited streak, was the worst of the sorry lot.)

I am probably not the most qualified to comment on the Oscars as I haven’t seen any of the films that scored any of the major nominations because they struck me as stale, more of the unoriginal middle-of-the-road fare with which we’ve been overloaded.

Courtesy of www.usatoday.com

Courtesy of www.usatoday.com

Some pundits were optimistic that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco that put a damper on last year’s Oscars. However, many realized that this would occur again. In a particularly funny and sad segment on The Nightly Show, they previewed the inevitable Black snubs, noting that Will Smith is out because “only white actors can win an Oscar for a movie nobody saw” and that voters will overlook Michael B. Jordan because punching people isn’t seen as acting when done by a black man.

The anger is understandable. When the critically acclaimed and financially profitable Straight Outta Compton and Creed only yield nominations for four white screenwriters and a white actor respectively and that in both of Cheryl Boone Isaac’s terms as Academy President the nominees were lily-white, it feels like an outright conspiracy.

As Viola Davis noted, the Oscars are symptomatic, but not the real problem lies with the lack of distribution of films with black actors, writers, directors, and/or producers. While I think this assessment is closer to the truth, I believe there are other factors contributing to the problem.

Courtesy of www.cinemablend.com

Courtesy of www.cinemablend.com

It is a bit of a misnomer to put the blame squarely on Hollywood as a whole. Many commentators talk about the top 100 grossing films in a year and the Oscars in the same breath. They are slightly separate issues because the blockbusters are rarely awards magnets (except for maybe the technical categories). Mainstream Hollywood movies certainly have a long way to go, but have been more cognizant to include people in color in prominent acting roles (their track record on writers, directors, and producers still leaves something to be desired.) John Boyega, excellent as Fin the Stormtrooper apostate turned hero in the multi-billion dollar smash Star Wars reboot, proved that people of color do not disrupt the movie world. As superhero fatigued as I am, the upside does seem that they sometimes lead for more diverse casting.

The ones who have really dropped the ball are the Mid-sized Indie productions and the big film festivals such as Sundance, TIFF, and the New York Film Festival. This is the community who produce Oscar bait; good luck finding a person of color in any of the whitey tighty films. An art-house cinema owner in a liberal artsy city told me that movies with black protagonists are a really hard sell; he would either get co-sponsorship from an outside organization or knowingly take a hit on the few occasions he could afford to.

The person widely credited for turning the Oscars into a race that rivals the presidential elections in terms of cost and time is Harvey Weinstein who usurped major Oscar wins for ho hum masterpieces like Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech, and The English Patient. In approximately 300 producing credits, about 50 feature a person of color in a prominent acting role (out of this list, non-whites as protagonists is significantly smaller, maybe 15).

Courtesy of www.standbyformindcontrol.com

Courtesy of www.standbyformindcontrol.com

If that seems like a troubling statistic, the other top producers of awards friendly fare such as Scott Rudin, Steven Spielberg, and Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner have a more significantly dismal track record. It is interesting to note that films produced by Spielberg (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Rudin (Aloha) have been associated with major PR snafus. Geisha alienated huge swaths of Asian audiences when the Japanese characters were played by more Western aesthetically pleasing Chinese and Korean actors.

Casting freckly ginger Emma Stone as a Hawaiian was only one of the myriad of miscalculations of Aloha, a film that represents Hollywood at its worst. Like so many studio films, Aloha was helmed by Cameron Crowe, an out-of-touch middle-aged man coasting off the acclaim of his earlier works (namely Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Almost Famous). According to the Sony leak, Amy Pascal and other execs knew the movie was doomed for failure (it flopped miserably), yet they acted as if everything was fine until post-production where they barraged him with criticism.

The producing duo Bevan and Fellner who are the British equivalent of Harvey Weinstein, have been major U.S. industry players since Four Weddings and a Funeral was a surprise smash in the States. While Britain has become more progressive since their colonial days and has a historical reputation for laxer censorship and tackling franker and grittier material, like so much of Europe, the entertainment industry like its society is still racially homogenized. Colorful character actress Miriam Margolyes caught Will.i.am and Graham Norton’s audience with a surprisingly remark, “I’m fascinated by you [because] unfortunately I don’t know many black people.”

Courtesy of www.theguardian.com

Courtesy of www.theguardian.com

Unfortunately, in more recent years some white European stars have made statements about race relations in less comical and self-aware ways than Margolyes ranging from absurd- Julie Delpy wishing she was a black man because they have more privileges than white lady feminists- to hostile- Charlotte Rampling claiming that boycotting the Oscars was racist to whites (though she kept mum when the interviewer followed up by repeating grievances by black people in the industry).

My big beef with the Oscars these days is that they are not only homogenously white, but the white movies and performances they recognize are generally nauseatingly mediocre. I depart from most Oscar critics as I wasn’t on the Selma bandwagon and I didn’t feel that Ava Duvernay or David Oyelewo were snubbed. (I believe that its Best Pic nomination was shameless ass-covering). That said I liked Selma’s white arch-nemesis American Sniper marginally better, though I’m not sure it deserved a BP nom either.

Courtesy of rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Courtesy of rippleeffects.wordpress.com

I loved Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which were one-of-a-kind masterworks, though they are part of the uber white indie structure.

One of my favorite films in recent years (that of course had no Oscar traction) was an unpretentious BET-produced showbiz drama, Beyond the Lights, beautifully directed by underrated writer-filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood and acted by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who cannily captured the soulnessness of pop stardom) and Nate Parker. It made $14.6 million, double its budget, yet it is considered to be a huge flop. For some reason, BET pushed it into a wide release without any promotion, so I think the box office return was not too bad all things considered.

Courtesy of www.forbes.com

Courtesy of www.forbes.com

I suspect that movies like Tangerine and Beasts of No Nation were overlooked by the Oscars because of their untraditional shooting methods/distribution as much as for their subject matters and casting. The most (maybe only) interesting awards moment was when Idris Elba scored two surprising SAG victories for his work in Beasts and Luther, almost as if to give the Oscars the finger. Since Alejandro Inatru, the mind behind the mind-numbingly awful Birdman, has it in the bag again with The Revenant, I think I’ll be skipping the Oscars this year.

I will continue to follow this story with a vested interest, and I hope that other commentators will do the same, because although the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be temporarily retired, the lack of diversity remains as a lingering problem.