Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hollywood, My Very Own Tinseltown

What is it about awards shows telecast around the world that catches my imagination? Jazzes my spirits? Quickens my pulse. When my compassion, my passion should be engulfed by the natural disasters claiming lives of untold thousands, uprisings holding infant nations hostage, genocides going unchecked, famines and scourges threatening millions daily. When over-the-air, free network television audiences are at an all time low with 24/7 social networks, Internet surfing, Wii, YouTube, electronic gaming and boredom usurping our time. I am both appalled at my distraction and curious as to my need for a fix of cheesy red carpet glitz delivered to my bedroom on the small screen. Cinderella-induced dreams swirling scarily while half the world suffers. My heart bleeds for the injustice. I should be ashamed.

But, I'm hooked. Not on Extra or TV Guide Network reportings voyeur-style by babes in toyland and 6" heels. Not on the late night talk shows featuring mere mortals groomed (or not) to sell makeup, clothing lines and lifestyles hawking their wares, plugging upcoming films unashamedly. What is it then? What is the spark that ignites the passion of this fifty-something sophisticate, jaded by an unconventional journey my life reflected through slightly smudged lens. Is it the craft? The art of story telling? The process of creativity? The collaborative effort? The structure of the deal? Or, the fairy tale? Whatever the magic ... I watch unabashedly, mesmerized and totally immersed.

The movie biz. It's in my blood. Both branches of the family tree. My maternal great-grandfather, Michael, a true fiddler on the roof forced out of Russia by the pogroms jumped into a passing freight train heading west to avoid conscription into the czar's army. Entered mid-19th century America with nothing but the clothes on his back, determination and imagination. Ending up half-way across the growing country at the 1884 St. Louis Exposition peddling eye glasses from a push cart. A new-fangled moving picture projector caught his fancy. Trading his wares for the crazy contraption he went back to Kentucky married his sweetheart and opened a thriving luncheonette and bakery. Daily after the last sandwich was served, entrepreneurial Michael and Annie turned the bentwood chairs toward the bare white wall, dimmed the lights, served confections and showed silent movies to awestruck patrons. Magical entertainment. Pizzazz. And, action! His picture show houses throughout Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee prospered.

Fast forward a half a century, my elegant Grandma Alice, my dad's glamorous widowed mother, relocated to a 1940s Los Angeles (that's a hard 'g') to an upscale hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. Sound and color had punctuated motion pictures. The industry abuzz. Aglitter. A diversion to the horrors of world war. Distractions. Fripperies. Leading ladies Greta Garbo, Lana Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman had nothing on my gorgeous grandmama. She dated movie moguls resembling Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart. Was ferried around town in her Packard convertible, gold cigarette holder daintily accenting her speech. Smoke rings evaporating into the air. Lunched on Cobb Salads at the Brown Derby. Frequented premiers at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. And, bought peignoir sets for me, her infant granddaughter and namesake at I. Magnin's around the corner from Rodeo Drive. I channel my grandmother. Sadly sans the gorgeous matinee idol leading man ... or the gilded life!

A natural cinema buff, moi. Bona fide. Viewer of over two thousand films. Industry connoisseur. Financier for film and broadcast media projects during the final quarter of the last century. A twentieth century fox. When Hollywood was still ... well ... the 'old' Hollywood. Pre-drag, pre-drugs, pre-TMZ, Idol and 'tweens. HBO a new venture. Cable wiring less than 20% of the country. Three over the air networks. Free TV. Motion picture production companies still run by the fathers of the industry or their proteges. Real honest-to-god movie stars. Back lots. Acres and acres of empty terrain nary a gated community nor high rise apartment-office-shopping mega-complex in sight. Monthly bicoastal jaunts from NYC to LA kept me abreast of emerging trends in 1980s independent programming for screens of all sizes.

You see. The thrill. The magic. Flows through my veins. Is proudly stamped on my DNA. My pulse quickens when the lights fade to dark in a movie house or on a sound stage of flimsily constructed sets befitting a school production but with cameras and sound booms and monitors and ... wow. You get the picture.

Cheers! Credits rolling. Until tomorrow!

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