Quick Hits: August 22

  • German film director Wolfgang Petersen has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81. Petersen received critical acclaim – and two Oscar nominations – for 1981’s Das Boot. Petersen’s first English-language film was 1984’s The NeverEnding Story, based on the German fantasy novel by Michael Ende. He went on to direct 90s thrillers like In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, and Air Force One.
  • I am 100% here for this:
  • Glamour‘s YouTube channel has released the latest in their series, “Would They Wear That?”, and it covers one of my faves, A League of Their Own. Fashion historian Raissa Bretaña hosts the series, which basically fact-checks the wardrobe – head to toe – of a movie or television character. Previous entries in the series include Titanic, Grease, The Queen’s Gambit, and Mary Poppins.
  • On the heels of last week’s news that Lauren Ambrose would be joining the cast of Yellowjackets for its second season comes another juicy casting tidbit: Elijah Wood will play a fellow member of Misty’s citizen detective club named Walter. This isn’t the first time Wood and Christina Ricci have worked together; they both appeared in the 1997 gem The Ice Storm.
Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood in The Ice Storm
  • Five years after his death, Bill Paxton’s family has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. On February 14, 2017, Paxton underwent open heart surgery to repair a damaged aortic valve. Complications led to a second emergency procedure the following day; Paxton’s condition deteriorated over the next ten days and he died of a stroke on February 25. The family alleged that Paxton’s surgeon, Dr. Ali Khoynezhad, used “high-risk and unconventional” methods and that he was not present in the operating room when Paxton developed the arterial damage that necessitated the second surgery and ultimately led to his death.
  • Actor Gary Busey has been charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct following an appearance at Monster-Mania Con in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. This isn’t the first time Busey has faced accusations of misconduct: in 2001, he was arrested amid allegations of spousal abuse by his ex-wife Tiani Warden and in 2011, he allegedly sexually assaulted a female member of the Celebrity Apprentice production team.
  • Musician Q Lazzarus (real name: Diane Luckey) has died following a brief illness. She is best known for the haunting 1988 synthpop single “Goodbye Horses”, which became a cult hit following its use in the infamous “tuck” scene from The Silence of the Lambs. Fun fact: Q used to drive a cab in New York City and one fateful day in 1985, she picked up director Jonathan Demme and played him the demo of “Goodbye Horses”. Demme loved the song so much that he featured it in both 1988’s Married to the Mob and Silence. Q Lazzarus was 61 years old.
  • One of my favorite composers, Claude Debussy, was born on this day in 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. A piano prodigy from a young age, Debussy was accepted to the Conservatoire de Paris at age ten. A founding member of the Impressionist musical movement (though he vehemently rejected the label), Debussy preferred “symphonic sketches” to full operas or symphonies. Debussy was one of the most influential composers of the 20th century; among his acolytes were Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, and Leoš Janáček.
An absolutely perfect needle drop

ONJ Forever

I dreaded the day I’d have to type these words: Dame Olivia Newton-John has passed away after her third bout with cancer. Newton-John was my first – and most enduring – pop music idol. She was my Taylor Swift, my Lady Gaga, my Lana Del Rey. I knew the lyrics to every song, often singing them into the hairbrush I pretended was my microphone. I fell in love with her (along with the rest of America) when she played Sandy in the iconic 1978 film adaptation of Grease. With her angelic voice and her wholesome beauty, she was Australia’s sweetheart, the world’s sweetheart, my sweetheart. Over the decades, other music loves have come and gone, but my hopeless devotion to Olivia Newton-John never faded.

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge on September 26, 1948. Her family history is fascinating: her dad Brinley Newton-John was an MI5 officer who worked on the Enigma code-breaking project and helped bring Rudolph Hess to justice, and her Jewish maternal grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, fled Nazi Germany for Great Britain with his wife and kids prior to World War II. In 1954, Brinley was hired as a professor and master at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, and the Newton-John family – including Olivia’s older siblings Hugh and Rona – relocated to Australia (fun fact: from 1980 to 1985, Rona was married to Olivia’s Grease co-star Jeff Conaway).

Olivia Newton-John was just fourteen when she began performing professionally, appearing on televised talent shows, one of which – Sing, Sing, Sing – she won in 1965. Her prize was a trip to her native UK; she traveled there and began performing as a duo with Pat Carroll (not the one who voiced Ursula in The Little Mermaid). Pat introduced Newton-John to her boyfriend (and later husband), songwriter and producer John Farrar, with whom Olivia would collaborate frequently – and very successfully – over the next two decades. When Carroll’s visa expired, forcing her to return to Australia, Newton-John opted to remain in the UK as a solo artist. She recorded her debut album, If Not for You, at Abbey Road studios.

If Not for You was released on November 1, 1971, when Newton-John was just 23 years old. The album’s first single was the title track, a cover of the Bob Dylan song (more accurately, it was a cover of George Harrison’s cover of the Bob Dylan song). The single went to #7 in the UK, #14 in Australia, and #25 in the US. Her 1972 follow-up, simply titled Olivia, failed to make much of an impact, but an international tour with her good friend Cliff Richard helped win Newton-John some new fans.

In 1973, Newton-John released her third album, Let Me Be There, which included tracks from her first two albums as well as some newly recorded material. The title track was her first US top ten hit and earned Newton-John her first Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. In 1974, Newton-John competed in the Eurovision Song Contest with “Long Live Love”, a song chosen for her by the British public. She would later admit she disliked the song and I gotta be honest, it’s terrible (that was the year ABBA won for “Waterloo” and I can’t imagine a different Olivia song would have changed the outcome). Newton-John recorded two other singles in 1974, “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” and “I Honestly Love You”, which became her first US #1 – and her signature song. “I Honestly Love You” won her two more Grammys: Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (it lost Song of the Year to “The Way We Were”, which I think was the right call).

In 1975, Newton-John released her fifth album, Have You Never Been Mellow. The album and its title track both went to #1 in the US; a second single, “Please Mr. Please”, made it to #3. Over the next three years, Newton-John would release four more studio albums and several singles (including a cover of Bee Gees’ “Come On Over”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and “Sam”), as well as her first greatest hits compilation. Then, in 1978, everything changed; Newton-John made the transition from pop star to movie star.

Grease, released on June 16, 1978, was the highest-grossing movie of the year; it went on to become one of the most iconic and beloved movie musicals of all time. Newton-John was initially hesitant to accept the role of Sandy, concerned that at age 28 she was too old to believably play a teenager, but she agreed to do a screen test with John Travolta. The pair had off-the-charts chemistry, but Newton-John struggled with the American accent, so Sandy Dumbrowski from Chicago became Sandy Olsson from Australia. Grease earned more than $132 million in its initial theatrical run, becoming the highest-grossing live-action musical ever (a record it held until 2012 when it was beaten by Les Misérables). The soundtrack was also a smash hit, selling an estimated 28 million copies worldwide, and went to #1 in twelve countries. The album generated four top-five hits: the Barry Gibb-penned title track (sung by Frankie Valli), “You’re the One That I Want”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Summer Nights”. Grease was nominated for one Oscar, Best Original Song for “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (it lost to “Last Dance” from Thank God It’s Friday).

Best. Makeover. EVER.

It is impossible to overstate the impact Grease had on me. It is the first movie that I definitively remember seeing at the cinema: I went with my mom and my sister and I wore a peach-colored sundress my mom had made for me. We saw a preview for The Swarm, which scared the shit out of me (for months afterward, I was convinced I would die by a swarm of killer bees). The soundtrack album went into regular rotation in my house (fun fact: I broke a bone in my foot dancing to it when I was in the 6th grade). Grease was a rare phenomenon – a global, timeless icon – but for me, it’s always felt quite personal, because it launched my lifelong love affair with Olivia Newton-John (it also launched HER lifelong friendship with John Travolta).

Now a bona fide movie star, Newton-John embraced Sandy’s makeover look for the cover of her next studio album, Totally Hot. Released in November 1978, with Grease still dominating popular culture, Totally Hot was more challenging vocally and harder musically than anything she’d done before, incorporating synthesizers, electric guitar, and vocoder. Totally Hot, while extremely PG, helped Newton-John shed her wholesome image for good; it was also her most successful outing yet, the first of her studio albums to go platinum. The album generated three singles: “A Little More Love”, “Deeper Than the Night”, and the title track, and it is absolutely my favorite ONJ album. In 1979, Newton-John prepared to film her follow-up to Grease, a roller-disco musical fantasy called Xanadu.

She made this look so easy (it’s not)
Totally Hot‘s first track, “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting”, demonstrates Newton-John’s insane three-octave vocal range

What to say about 1980’s Xanadu? It is a cult classic, a campy holdover from a less cynical time, and my ultimate guiltless pleasure (for reference: https://peanut-butter-and-julie.com/2021/04/14/guiltless-pleasures/). The plot – Newton-John plays a muse named Kira sent to earth to inspire a struggling artist (Michael Beck), who decides to open a nightclub with a big band musician (Gene Kelly in his final film role) who was also once acquainted with Kira – is beyond ridiculous, but who cares when you’re having this much fun? (My middle sister, who had to take me to see Xanadu at the movie theater, didn’t have so much fun, but I was on cloud nine) Xanadu tanked at the box office, putting a damper on Newton-John’s movie career (though she would make film and television appearances for the remainder of her life) and inspired the inaugural Golden Raspberry Awards, which is too bad because she’s lovely and charming (plus, Gene fucking Kelly). And the music kicks so much ass: Newton-John performs six songs, including duets with The Tubes (“Dancin'”), Cliff Richard (“Suddenly”), Gene Kelly (“Whenever You’re Away from Me”), and ELO (“Xanadu”). Xanadu turned out to be magical for Newton-John’s personal life as well (more on that later).

I will never apologize for how much I adore this movie.
Gene Kelly choreographed this number and put Newton-John through the paces to make sure she could handle the steps (she could)

As Newton-John’s film career came to an unfortunate halt, her music career was about to reach its apex with 1981’s Physical. The album’s lead-off single was the title track, released on September 28, 1981. The single and its accompanying video went into regular rotation on radio and the fledging MTV; “Physical” spent a record-tying ten weeks at #1 (that record has since been broken) and was the top-selling single of the year. It also generated some controversy due to its suggestive lyrics (gasp!) and Newton-John’s sexy, assertive new persona. I personally recall my sister’s friend who – in response to the lyrics “There’s nothin’ left to talk about unless it’s horizontally” – said something like “Well, you could do it vertically” (no, I’m not going to admit how long it took me to figure out that joke). I also remember repeating it to my mother – because, again, I DIDN’T GET THE JOKE – who was appalled (apparently, my mom did get the joke).

Lyrically, Physical was more mature than anything Newton-John had recorded before. Yes, there were love songs, but there were also songs about sex and infidelity and heartache, as well as hints at her future as an environmental activist – “Silvery Rain” – and animal rights advocate – “The Promise (The Dolphin Song”). Physical also featured an iconic cover with photography by the legendary Herb Ritts (during the same shoot, Ritts also photographed Newton-John swimming with dolphins for the album’s inner sleeve).

I have no idea what’s going on here, but oh, those heavenly harmonies at 2:34!

Physical produced two more singles, “Make a Move on Me” and “Landslide”, as well as a Grammy-winning video album (an expanded version of which became a highly-rated ABC television special titled Let’s Get Physical). In 1982, Newton-John embarked on a North American tour to support Physical. That same year, she released Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 with two previously unreleased songs, “Heart Attack” and “Tied Up” (both were recorded during the Physical sessions). Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 went multi-platinum and was the tenth best-selling album of 1982. Also in ’82, Newton-John performed two duets (“Rest Your Love on Me” and “I Can’t Help It”) with Andy Gibb for his third and final studio album, After Dark.

In 1983, Newton-John reunited with Grease co-star John Travolta for Two of a Kind. The movie flopped, putting the nail in the coffin of Newton-John’s movie career for good, but the soundtrack was a success. “Twist of Fate”, the album’s lead-off single, was Newton-John’s final top five hit. Also in 1984, she recorded a duet with Barry Gibb called “Face to Face” for his solo album Now Voyager.

By the mid-80s, marriage, motherhood, and other interests put Newton-John’s musical career on the back burner, though she recorded two more pop albums, 1985’s Soul Kiss and 1988’s The Rumour. Inspired by her young daughter, she recorded an album of lullabies, titled Warm and Tender, in 1989. She released a third compilation, 1992’s Back to Basics: The Essential Collection 1971-1992, and was preparing for a comeback when she received her first breast cancer diagnosis. She underwent a partial mastectomy, a breast reconstruction, and nine months of chemotherapy. She became an advocate for breast cancer awareness and research, later opening the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne (https://www.onjcancercentre.org/). She explored alternative wellness options and became an advocate for medical marijuana. She found solace in spirituality. And she kicked cancer’s ass (she did it again in 2013).

Australia’s sweetheart obviously had to make an appearance at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney
Newton-John’s 2010 appearance on Glee

Newton-John continued to act, record, and perform throughout the remainder of her life. Though she never recaptured her late ’70s/early ’80s glory, she didn’t need to: her status as a legend and icon had already been cemented. In 2012, Newton-John completed a world tour that included a stop in my small midwest city. I’d never seen her live before and was thrilled to finally have the opportunity. She looked and sounded amazing, still squeezing into leather pants at the age of 63, still singing like an angel. It was an evening I’ll never forget.

Newton-John was a guest judge on a 2015 episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race, where the queens lip-synced to “Twist of Fate”
Also in 2015, Newton-John had her first #1 single on the Billboard Dance Club chart with this duet with daughter Chloe Lattanzi

In 2017, Newton-John learned that her cancer had metastasized to her bones (after an initial misdiagnosis of sciatica); she completed radiation therapy and used cannabis to help ease the pain of extremely painful-sounding bone lesions. Her entire life, Olivia Newton-John gave to others; through her music, her films, her advocacy for the environment and animals and cancer research and wellness, and her UN goodwill ambassadorship. She has given me so much in my lifetime: I wanted to sing like her, to look like her (trust me, I did not pull off that Physical haircut), to be like her. I admired her. I was inspired by her. I wanted to name a child after her. Olivia Newton-John died peacefully at her Santa Ynez Valley home on Monday, surrounded by her loved ones. She was 73 years old. I will miss her profoundly, but she will live in my heart forever.

On the set of Xanadu, Newton-John met dancer Matt Lattanzi (that’s him on the far left, from the film’s final scene). The two fell in love, eventually marrying and having a child (Chloe Rose) before divorcing in 1995, though they remained friends. Matt is said to be devastated by her passing.

Quick Hits: August 14-15

*** SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilery info about Netflix’s The Gray Man and Showtime’s Yellowjackets ***

*** CONTENT WARNING: This post contains references to death, murder, and suicide ***

  • Anne Heche has died from injuries she sustained on August 5 when she crashed her vehicle into a house, resulting in a fire that left Heche severely burned (thankfully, the house’s occupants are all okay). She was declared brain dead on August 11 but was kept on life support while organ donation recipients were located. Despite an award-winning career that spans more than fifty films and numerous television series (including Men in Trees and Hung), Heche was probably best known for her three-year relationship with Ellen DeGeneres (and her very public mental health crises). She was 53 years old; she leaves behind two children.
Heche came to prominence in 1987, when she began a four-year stint as twins Vicky and Marley on Another World (she was offered the role just before her high school graduation). She won a Daytime Emmy Award and two Soap Opera Digest Awards for her performance.
  • Thirty-four years after the publication of The Satanic Verses led to calls for his assassination (if you’re not familiar with the context: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Satanic_Verses_controversy), Salman Rushdie was stabbed multiple times on Friday. His injuries were severe but he made it through surgery and is said to be on the “road to recovery”. The attack occurred at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was scheduled to give a lecture. Police apprehended the suspect at the scene.
  • I couldn’t imagine better casting news: Lauren Ambrose, best known for her Emmy-nominated turn as Claire Fisher on Six Feet Under, will join the cast of Yellowjackets for season two. She’ll play the adult version of – SPOILER ALERT – Van; Liv Hewson, who plays teenage Van, will be promoted to series regular as well. One of my favorite things about Yellowjackets is the expert casting of the older and younger versions of each character, a trend I’m confident will continue with Hewson and Ambrose.
  • Speaking of casting, Stranger Things‘ casting director Carmen Cuba shared some amazing stories about the casting process as well as adorable clips from the actors’ auditions.
  • Netflix has released the first look at the absolutely terrifying-looking Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The anthology series will debut on October 25, just in time for Halloween.
  • I found out the other day that my husband had never seen Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, so I obviously immediately remedied that (it’s on HBO Max, by the way). Fun fact: the film’s original ending had Average Joe’s losing to Globo Gym in the finale. Test audiences balked and a new ending – including the infamous “Milkshake” post-credits sequence – was added.
“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” (Seriously, how awesome was Rip Torn?)
  • Hubby and I also recently watched the Russo brothers’ The Gray Man on Netflix. Based on the novel by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man stars Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, and Chris Evans. Also appearing is the exquisite Julia Butters, who was so wonderful in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Butters is just thirteen years old; I predict a bright, award-filled future for this youngster. So is The Gray Man worth the $200 million Netflix spent on it? Probably not, but it’s entertaining enough. The action zips along at a breakneck speed and the cast – which also includes legends Alfre Woodard and Billy Bob Thornton – is game. But The Gray Man really comes alive when Evans is onscreen. As psychopathic assassin Lloyd Hansen, Evans is having way more fun than anyone doing their job has a right to. It’s too bad – SPOILER ALERT – Hansen dies at the movie’s end; perhaps the already-announced sequel will be a prequel so we can get more Evans? Or I could just watch this six-minute video of Hansen’s highlights.
“Don’t say ‘preternatural’ to me. It’s an asshole word.” will always be funny to me
  • After a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, A Place in the Sun opened on August 14, 1951. Fun fact: A Place in the Sun won the first Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama. That’s the only “fun” thing about this classic, which is based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel An American Tragedy (it lives up to its name). A Place in the Sun was a commercial and critical success; it received nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture and won six awards including Best Director (George Stevens), Best Screenplay (Michael Wilson and Harry Brown), Best Costume Design (Edith Head), and Best Original Score (Frank Waxman). I’ll admit I’ve never seen it, and I want to fix that but this movie sounds bleak as fuck (it is available to stream on Hoopla if you’re in the mood for bleakness).
Among A Place in the Sun‘s Oscar nominees were lead actors Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters (they lost to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen and Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire, respectively). The film itself lost Best Picture to An American in Paris, with which it shared Golden Globe honors. George Stevens won the Best Director prize, an achievement he repeated five years later for Giant.
  • Dorothy Stratten was murdered on August 14, 1980, by her estranged husband Paul Snider (who then turned the gun on himself). She was just twenty years old. Stratten, 1980’s Playboy Playmate of the Year, was making a go of an acting career and had recently finished work on her most significant film role to date, in Peter Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed. She’d also begun a romance with Bogdanovich while attempting to arrive at a divorce settlement with her abusive ex. Stratten’s murder was dramatized in two films: 1981’s made-for-television movie Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis as Stratten and Bruce Weitz as Snider, and the 1983 feature film Star 80. The latter was directed by Bob Fosse (it was his final movie, actually), and Stratten and Snider were played by Mariel Hemingway and Eric Roberts, who won the Best Actor prize from the Boston Society of Film Critics.
  • On August 15, 1965, The Beatles performed for 55,000 – their largest audience ever – at Shea Stadium. The show is considered the first major stadium rock concert, just another way the band was ahead of their time. Their set list included “Twist and Shout”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, and “Help!” Among the 55,000 people in attendance were future Beatle wives Linda Eastman and Barbara Bach.
  • Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now opened on August 15, 1979, after winning the Palme d’Or at the 32nd Cannes Film Festival. Loosely based on the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now was a critical and commercial success and received eight Oscar nominations (inexplicably, Martin Sheen – who literally almost died for this role- was not nominated for Best Actor). At the 52nd Academy Awards, the film took home just two statues, for Best Cinematography and Best Sound (the night’s big winner was Kramer vs. Kramer). Regardless, Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest films ever made.
Among the cast members, the only Oscar nominee was Robert Duvall (Best Supporting Actor), who also gets the film’s most iconic line of dialogue
  • Chef, author, television personality, and all-around badass Julia Child was born on August 15, 1912. Child’s unbridled enthusiasm for food earned her generations of fans. Her groundbreaking, Peabody Award-winning PBS series The French Chef was one of the first programs to bring cooking into people’s living rooms (fun fact: it was also, in 1972, the first show to use captions for the hard of hearing).
Child inspired my all-time favorite SNL skit

Legend: Jason Robards

Jason Robards would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. One of the all-time greats, as well as one of my personal favorites, Robards was an eight-time Tony nominee (the most for any male actor in history), one of twenty-four people to ever earn the prestigious Triple Crown of Acting (more on that later), and one of just five actors to win back-to-back Academy Awards.

Jason Nelson Robards Jr. was born in Chicago on July 26, 1922. Jason Sr.’s acting career took the family to New York City and later to Los Angeles. Jason Jr. attended Hollywood High School, where he excelled in athletics. After high school, Robards enlisted in the United States Navy. He was a radioman 3rd class on the USS Northampton, which was about 100 miles off the coast of Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Robards saw combat in the Pacific theater; the Northampton was sunk by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 30, 1942. Robards survived the sinking by treading water for hours.

While Robards was still in the Navy, he found a copy of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude in the ship’s library (he would go on to appear in the stage and screen versions of several O’Neill works). After completing his military service, Robards attended the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Upon graduating in 1948, Robards quickly found success on the stage. He earned his first Tony nomination in 1957 for his featured performance in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Two years later, Robards won his only Tony on his second nomination, for The Disenchanted; between 1960 and 1978, he received six more Tony nominations.

In 1959, Robards made his feature film debut in The Journey. Three years later, he starred in the film adaptation of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, for which he won the Best Actor prize from both the Cannes Film Festival and the National Board of Review. In 1965, Robards earned mainstream success – and a Golden Globe nomination – for his performance in A Thousand Clowns. Over the next ten years, Robards starred in some of the most iconic films of the time, including Once Upon a Time in the West, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and A Boy and His Dog. He received back-to-back Supporting Actor Oscars for his turns as Ben Bradlee and Dashiell Hammett in 1976’s All the President’s Men and 1977’s Julia, respectively; he earned his third and final Oscar nomination in 1980 for his role as Howard Hughes in Jonathan Demme’s delightful Melvin and Howard.

Robards continued to work steadily throughout the 80s, starring in feature films like Max Dugan Returns and Parenthood (a personal favorite) and in television movies such as The Day After and Inherit the Wind. For the latter, Robards won a Primetime Emmy for his performance as Clarence Darrow’s stand-in Henry Drummond, completing the aforementioned Triple Crown. So what is the Triple Crown of Acting? It consists of an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy – the industry’s three most prestigious awards. As of 2022, only twenty-four people have earned the Triple Crown, including legends like Ingrid Bergman, Rita Moreno, Maggie Smith, Al Pacino, Frances McDormand, and Viola Davis (I might explore the list in detail in a later post).

Robards stayed busy in the 90s, appearing in movies like Philadelphia, Crimson Tide, and Enemy of the State (another personal favorite). His final role, filmed after his lung cancer diagnosis, was in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 follow-up to Boogie Nights, Magnolia. Robards died on December 26, 2000; he was 78 years old. Robards left behind six children from his four marriages, including actors Jason III and Sam.

In honor of Robards’ 100th birthday, here are some of his most memorable roles, along with a few personal favorites.

  • A Thousand Clowns

The film that made Robards a star, A Thousand Clowns is the story of unemployed comedy writer Murray Burns, who must stifle his nonconformist worldview in order to maintain legal custody of his nephew Nick. Based on the Tony-winning play by Herb Gardner (Robards and Barry Gordon, who plays Nick, both originated their roles on Broadway), A Thousand Clowns was nominated for four Oscars (it won one, Best Supporting Actor for Martin Balsam, who plays Murray’s more conventional brother Arnold) and while Robards himself was not nominated, he did receive a Golden Globe nod (he lost to Cat Ballou‘s Lee Marvin).

  • Once Upon a Time in the West

The fact that Robards plays a character named Manuel “Cheyenne” Gutiérrez is obviously problematic, but he still entertains in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West. Robards stars opposite Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in this 1968 epic, generally considered one of the greatest westerns of all time (the iconic score by Ennio Morricone doesn’t hurt either).

  • Tora! Tora! Tora!

This 1970 dramatization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reunited Robards with his A Thousand Clowns co-star Martin Balsam. Robards portrayed General Walter Short, the commander of the US Army Forces in Hawaii at the time who took much of the blame for the security failure. The film was a box office disappointment but was nominated for five Academy Awards.

  • All the President’s Men

One of my all-time favorite movies, All the President’s Men is a marvel from start to finish: from William Goldman’s brilliant Oscar-winning script to Alan J. Pakula’s taut direction to the dazzling performances. All the President’s Men was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four; Robards earned his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of no-nonsense Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

Unrelated, but how fucking adorable is Tatum O’Neal?
  • Julia

The following year, Robards played another historical figure, legendary mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, in Fred Zinneman’s Julia. Based on a chapter from Lillian Hellmann’s 1973 book Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, Julia generated a fair amount of controversy (loooooooong story short, psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner claimed the story was based on her life and no one has been able to corroborate the existence of another person who could be Hellmann’s supposed childhood friend). Nonetheless, Julia received eleven Academy Award nominations – the most for any film that year – and won three Oscars: Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Vanessa Redgrave, and Best Supporting Actor for Robards. With this win, Robards became part of an exclusive group: actors with back-to-back Academy Awards. Only four other actors have accomplished this feat in Oscar history (for the record: Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Tom Hanks).

By the way, if you’re a history nerd like me, I recommend this video that breaks down the Julia controversy in more detail:

  • Melvin and Howard

Robards earned his third and final Oscar nomination for his portrayal of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (whose middle name was Robard, if you can believe that) in Jonathan Demme’s delightful Melvin and Howard. He lost to Ordinary People‘s Timothy Hutton (fun fact: Hutton, who was twenty at the time, is the youngest Best Supporting Actor winner ever), but Robards make the most of his brief screen time to deliver another iconic performance.

  • Max Dugan Returns

This 1983 dramedy was the last of five movie collaborations between writer Neil Simon and director Herbert Ross, as well as Simon’s final film with Marsha Mason (the pair divorced that year). Robards plays the titular character, the long-lost dad to Nora (Mason). Max is looking to unload some money he embezzled by lavishing Nora and her teenage son Michael with gifts. Things get complicated when Nora begins dating a police detective. Max Dugan Returns is not the best of the Simon-Ross-Mason oeuvre – that’d be 1977’s The Goodbye Girl – but Robards is inarguably the highlight of the movie.

  • The Day After

One of the most terrifying films of the Gen-X era is this 1983 made-for-television movie, which traumatized us with graphic depictions of a nuclear apocalypse. An estimated 100 million people watched The Day After (it still sits in the top 20 most-watched broadcasts of all time), which starred Robards as Dr. Russell Oakes. The Day After received a whopping twelve nominations at the 36th Primetime Emmy Awards.

  • Inherit the Wind

Inherit the Wind, the beloved 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, used the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial as a parable for the dangers of McCarthyism. This 1988 made-for-television update starred Robards as Henry Drummond (the fictional counterpart to Scopes’ defense attorney – and leading member of the ACLU – Clarence Darrow) and earned him the Emmy Award that completed his Triple Crown.

  • Parenthood

Parenthood is another personal favorite, a poignant comedy about the peaks and pitfalls of parenthood with a brilliant cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, and Tom Hulce. Robards plays Frank, the emotionally distant patriarch of the Buckman clan. When the youngest Buckman (Hulce) – Frank’s obvious favorite child – comes back to town with a kid in tow and thousands in gambling debts, Frank finds himself with some difficult decisions to make. This scene is one of the film’s best, with director Ron Howard getting out of the way and letting these two legends do their thing.

  • Enemy of the State

Enemy of the State is one of my all-time guiltless pleasures, a shamelessly entertaining political thriller anchored by terrific performances from Will Smith, Gene Hackman, and Regina King. Robards, in an uncredited cameo, plays Congressman Phillip Hammersley, whose assassination at the direction of a power-hungry NSA official (Jon Voight) kicks off the film’s plot.

  • Magnolia

Robards, his body already ravaged by cancer, made his final film appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Robards plays cancer-stricken Earl Partridge, who is being cared for by a nurse named Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The scenes with Robards and Hoffman are my favorite in the film, made all the more bittersweet now that both actors have passed away. After Robards’ death, Hoffman wrote a touching tribute for Entertainment Weekly.


Pop Quiz Answers

I had so much fun putting this quiz together! I hope y’all enjoyed it too.

  1. Aged Actor, Leading Man, Doorman, Autograph Seeker, Stage Manager (1950) – ALL ABOUT EVE
  2. Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso, Man on Fire Escape, Miss Hearing Aid (1954) – REAR WINDOW
  3. Car Driver, Assassin in Bedroom, Submarine Captain (1967) – YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
  4. Mission Controller, Astronaut, Ape Attacked by Leopard (1968) – 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
  5. Field Reporter, Zombie/Posse Member, Washington Scientist (1968) – NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
  6. Cat Man, Deputy, Dancing Girl, Hooker #4, Pickup Truck (1969) – EASY RIDER
  7. Prison Chaplain, Conspirator, Handmaiden in Bible Fantasy, Desk Sargeant (1971) – A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
  8. Michael’s Bodyguard, FBI Man #1, Impressario, Ellis Island Doctor (1974) – THE GODFATHER PART II
  9. Fight Announcer, Club Corner Man, Paulie’s Date, Owner of Pet Shop (1976) – ROCKY
  10. Playmate of the Year, Soldier in Trench, Catholic Priest, Helicopter Pilot (1979) – APOCALYPSE NOW
  11. Wise Man #2, First Centurion, Intensely Dull Youth, Alarmed Crucifixion Assistant (1979) – MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN
  12. Mean Mongolian, Giant Sherpa/1st Mechanic, Tall Captain, Peruvian Porter (1981) – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
  13. Lumberjack, Ray Gun Geek #1, Ray Gun Geek #2, Freshman, Organist (1983) – SIXTEEN CANDLES
  14. Violinist, Hotel Manager, Tall Woman at Party, Hot Dog Vendor, Library Ghost (1984) – GHOSTBUSTERS
  15. One-Legged Man, Terrified Soldier, Rape Victim, Medic (1986) – PLATOON
  16. Chemistry Teacher, Bagpiper, Dormitory Porter, Senior Student (1989) – DEAD POETS SOCIETY
  17. Freshman Smartass, Assistant Coach, Beer Delivery Guy, Liquor Store Clerk (1993) – DAZED AND CONFUSED [Liquor Store Clerk pictured above]
  18. Wilson’s Trainer, Gawker #1, Shot Lady, Long Hair Yuppie-Scum (1994) – PULP FICTION
  19. TV Reporter #1, Cheerleader in Bathroom, Young Girl in Video Store, Bored Teen (1996) – SCREAM
  20. Stereo Customer, New Year’s Eve Young Stud, Donut Boy, Man with Gun (1997) – BOOGIE NIGHTS
  21. Food Court Maitre D’, Next Month’s Opponent, Bus Driver with Broken Nose (1999) – FIGHT CLUB
  22. Angry Promoter, Waving Girl, Plaza Doctor, Swingo’s Desk Clerk (2000) – ALMOST FAMOUS
  23. Michigan Girl, German Teacher, Kissing Girl, Skater Girl, Marymount Captain (2004) – MEAN GIRLS
  24. Bank Manager, Assistant DA, Heckler, Cop Heckler, Prison Ferry Pilot (2005) – THE DARK KNIGHT
  25. Chinatown Merchant, Pool Hall Goon, Fight Club Boss, Super Soldier #2 (2016) – DEADPOOL

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot!

We’re all familiar with the iconic characters of cinema: the intrepid hero (Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa), the dastardly villain (Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Darth Vader), the selfless superhero (Captain America, Wonder Woman), and the homicidal psychopath (Annie Wilkes, Norman Bates). The private investigator (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe), the police detective (John McClane, Harry Callahan), and the federal agent (Clarice Starling, Jack Ryan). The cyborg (T-1000, Robocop) and the sidekick (Goose, Samwise Gamjee). The teen queen (Regina George, Cher Horowitz) and the hapless dad (Clark Griswold, George Banks).

But what about the characters with no names? The characters whose names represent a physical characteristic (The Ten Commandments’ “The Blind One”, for example) or a job title (“Wig Salesman” from Amadeus). They might be part of a group, like “Woman at Bar #1” from The Departed, Fargo‘s “Bismarck Cop #2” or Shampoo‘s “Model #3”. Perhaps their name denotes a geographic location, such as Raging Bull‘s “Detroit Promoter” or “Oklahoma Patrolman” from The Last Picture Show. Maybe they are referred to by a simple pronoun, like Die Hard‘s “Woman” or Poltergeist‘s “Husband”.

Their name might be an article of their clothing, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade‘s “Fedora” and “Panama Hat”. Perhaps the name is nonsense outside of that particular film’s context: “Second Swallow-Savvy Guard” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a great example. You might immediately visualize the character (for example, Back to the Future‘s “Clocktower Lady”, pictured above). You might never be able to pick them out of a crowd, like the twelve characters named “Hero Orcs / Goblins / Uruks / Ringwraiths” in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (their mothers probably know).

So here’s to the unsung heroes of cinema, the nameless masses, the glue that holds a movie cast together. The following are actual character names from iconic motion pictures; your job is to guess which movie they’re from. Some of these films are big-budget crowdpleasers, others are cult classics. All of them have insinuated themselves into our collective consciousness to one degree or another. I couldn’t think of a better way to organize them, so they are in chronological order by release date. I’ll reveal the answers tomorrow; in the meantime, happy guessing!

  1. Aged Actor, Leading Man, Doorman, Autograph Seeker, Stage Manager (1950)
  2. Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso, Man on Fire Escape, Miss Hearing Aid (1954)
  3. Car Driver, Assassin in Bedroom, Submarine Captain (1967)
  4. Mission Controller, Astronaut, Ape Attacked by Leopard (1968)
  5. Field Reporter, Zombie/Posse Member, Washington Scientist (1968)
  6. Cat Man, Deputy, Dancing Girl, Hooker #4, Pickup Truck (1969)
  7. Prison Chaplain, Conspirator, Handmaiden in Bible Fantasy, Desk Sargeant (1971)
  8. Michael’s Bodyguard, FBI Man #1, Impressario, Ellis Island Doctor (1974)
  9. Fight Announcer, Club Corner Man, Paulie’s Date, Owner of Pet Shop (1976)
  10. Playmate of the Year, Soldier in Trench, Catholic Priest, Helicopter Pilot (1979)
  11. Wise Man #2, First Centurion, Intensely Dull Youth, Alarmed Crucifixion Assistant (1979)
  12. Mean Mongolian, Giant Sherpa/1st Mechanic, Tall Captain, Peruvian Porter (1981)
  13. Lumberjack, Ray Gun Geek #1, Ray Gun Geek #2, Freshman, Organist (1983)
  14. Violinist, Hotel Manager, Tall Woman at Party, Hot Dog Vendor, Library Ghost (1984)
  15. One-Legged Man, Terrified Soldier, Rape Victim, Medic (1986)
  16. Chemistry Teacher, Bagpiper, Dormitory Porter, Senior Student (1989)
  17. Freshman Smartass, Assistant Coach, Beer Delivery Guy, Liquor Store Clerk (1993)
  18. Wilson’s Trainer, Gawker #1, Shot Lady, Long Hair Yuppie-Scum (1994)
  19. TV Reporter #1, Cheerleader in Bathroom, Young Girl in Video Store, Bored Teen (1996)
  20. Stereo Customer, New Year’s Eve Young Stud, Donut Boy, Man with Gun (1997)
  21. Food Court Maitre D’, Next Month’s Opponent, Bus Driver with Broken Nose (1999)
  22. Angry Promoter, Waving Girl, Plaza Doctor, Swingo’s Desk Clerk (2000)
  23. Michigan Girl, German Teacher, Kissing Girl, Skater Girl, Marymount Captain (2004)
  24. Bank Manager, Assistant DA, Heckler, Cop Heckler, Prison Ferry Pilot (2005)
  25. Chinatown Merchant, Pool Hall Goon, Fight Club Boss, Super Soldier #2 (2016)

Quick Hits: July 26-27

  • Paul Sorvino has passed away at the age of 83. Primarily known for playing gangsters and cops, Sorvino found his greatest success in the early 90s with roles in Goodfellas and Law & Order. No cause of death has been announced, but Sorvino had apparently been suffering from numerous health issues recently.
  • Renegade film director Bob Rafelson, a founding member of the American New Wave of cinema, died Sunday of lung cancer at the age of 89. Rafelson is best known for his collaborations with Jack Nicholson, including Five Easy Pieces (which earned Rafelson his only two Oscar nominations), The King of Marvin Gardens, and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
  • The full trailer for A League of Their Own has been released. The series will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime on August 12.
  • Jean Shepherd was born in Chicago on July 26, 1921. Best known as co-writer and narrator of the holiday classic A Christmas Story, Shepherd began his career in radio and later segued into print media and live performances. His yarns about growing up in Hammond, Indiana (just east of Chicago) were compiled for the autobiographical novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which later became the basis for A Christmas Story and its 1994 sequel, My Summer Story. Shepherd inspired a generation of storytellers such as Spalding Gray, Garrison Keillor, and Jerry Seinfeld. Shepherd died in 1999 at the age of 78.
  • Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. were married on July 26, 1969. The two met as members of the 60s vocal group The 5th Dimension; they left the group in 1975, recorded their debut album as a duo in 1976, and co-hosted their own variety show for CBS in the summer of 1977. By the 80s, they were both solo artists; McCoo hosted Solid Gold and appeared on Days of Our Lives while Davis embarked upon a gospel recording career. They continue to record and perform together.
  • On July 27, 1982, Little Shop of Horrors made its off-Broadway debut at the Orpheum Theatre in the East Village. From the legendary songwriting partnership of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Little Shop of Horrors became the highest-grossing off-Broadway production of all time. The beloved 1986 film adaptation earned Menken and Ashman their first Oscar nomination (they lost to “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun) AND a deal with Disney Animation. Menken and Ashman completed two films (The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) for Disney and won Academy Awards for both; they had begun work on Aladdin when Ashman passed away in 1991 from AIDS-related heart failure.
“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” earned Menken and Ashman their first Academy Award nomination
Menken and Ashman won their first Oscar for “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid (“Kiss the Girl” was also nominated)
Ashman and Menken were nominated for three songs from Beauty and the Beast, winning their second Oscar for the title song
Ashman was nominated posthumously for “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin, his final collaboration with Menken before his death
  • A Wild Hare, Bugs Bunny’s Looney Tunes debut, was released on July 27, 1940. Director Tex Avery added Bugs’ “What’s up, Doc?” line, a common expression in Avery’s home state of Texas. Audiences went bananas for the wascally wabbit and one of the most iconic animated characters in history was born.
  • And finally, Madonna’s self-titled debut album was released on July 27, 1983. The album went five times platinum in the US, yielded five singles, and catapulted Madonna to stardom. The first two singles, “Everybody” and “Burning Up”, were dance club favorites but it was the third single, “Holiday”, that broke through to the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at #16. “Lucky Star” and “Borderline” both made the top ten, as did the album itself. According to Rolling Stone, Madonna is one of the 100 best debut albums of all time; it’s certainly one of the most important debuts, as it heralded the arrival of one of the greatest artists of the modern era. And though its success would pale in comparison to Madonna’s later efforts, it still managed to sell 10 million copies worldwide.

Legend: Philip Seymour Hoffman


On February 2, 2014, I got a notification on my phone that shook me to my core: Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment. I was aware that Hoffman had struggled with substance abuse in the past, but believed (as Hoffman’s friends did) that he had his addiction under control. His death was officially ruled an accident caused by “acute mixed drug intoxication”; an autopsy revealed Hoffman had heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and amphetamine in his system. He was just 46 years old.

My favorite actor ever, Philip Seymour Hoffman had a gift for finding the humanity in any character. Although Hoffman primarily played supporting characters, when he took center stage – as in Capote – he proved he could carry a film as well. No matter the size of the role, Hoffman was a commanding presence anytime he was onscreen.

Hoffman was born on July 23, 1967, in Fairport, New York. His primary childhood interest was sports (mostly wrestling and baseball) but at the age of twelve, a stage performance of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons put Hoffman on a path toward acting. At age fourteen, he suffered a neck injury that permanently ended his athletic aspirations, and his focus turned full-time to acting.

At the age of seventeen, Hoffman was selected to attend the New York Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs. It was there that he met lifelong friends and collaborators Bennett Miller and Dan Futterman. After graduating high school, Hoffman was accepted to NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. While working toward his degree, he trained at the summer program at Circle in the Square Theatre in midtown Manhattan.

After graduating from NYU in 1989, Hoffman spent much of his time in Off-Broadway productions and supported himself by working odd customer service jobs. In 1991, he made his screen debut in an episode of Law & Order; that same year, film audiences were introduced to Hoffman in Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole (I don’t remember it either). At this point, to avoid confusion with another actor named Phil Hoffman, he adopted his grandfather Seymour’s name.

More movie roles followed, and in 1992, Hoffman got his big break when he was cast in the Oscar-winning hit Scent of a Woman. It was this role that caught the attention of an aspiring filmmaker named Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast Hoffman in his 1996 directorial debut, Hard Eight (Hoffman and Anderson would make four more movies together); that same year, multiplex audiences were treated to Hoffman’s performance in Twister (more on that in a minute).

Over the next eighteen years, Hoffman worked with some of my favorite filmmakers – the aforementioned Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Lee, Sidney Lumet, the Coen brothers, and Cameron Crowe (to name just a few) – and co-starred in three of my favorite films (Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski and Almost Famous). He was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the Best Actor Oscar for his mesmerizing performance in 2005’s Capote. He continued working in the theater, earning three Tony nominations as he went. He found love and had a family.

Then one day, he was just gone. His death impacted me in a way few celebrity deaths do. His performances over the years had given me so much, and though I found solace in knowing those movie roles would live on, I wept for the performances we’d never see and for the family and friends he left behind. Hoffman would have celebrated his 55th birthday yesterday; in honor of the occasion, here are some of his most memorable film roles.

  • Dustin Davis – Twister

The beauty of a PSH performance is that every word, every gesture, and every nuance is authentic; in mere moments, you know exactly who this person is. And so it was when I was introduced to Dusty Davis. I’d already seen Hoffman in two movies – Leap of Faith and Scent of a Woman – but neither film had made much of an impression on me. The first time I asked myself, “Who IS this guy?” was Jan de Bont’s Twister. In a supporting cast of incredibly talented actors like Jeremy Davies, Alan Ruck, and Lois Smith – not to mention the awesome special effects – Hoffman upstages everyone, including the cows. Twister is one of my rainy day movies, a film that always makes me happy – and Hoffman is the key reason why.

  • Scotty J. – Boogie Nights

Hoffman became my favorite actor the day I saw Boogie Nights for the first time. All of Scotty’s insecurities and repressed emotions play on Hoffman’s face; he doesn’t have to say a word and we know exactly what he’s feeling. When Scotty finally summons the courage to act on his crush, Dirk’s rejection is more than Scotty can bear. Sitting in his car, saying to himself “I’m a fucking idiot” over and over, Scotty breaks my heart every time. Boogie Nights had a massive impact on me, and it’s still in my all-time top three. Burt Reynolds, in a “comeback” situation, earned Boogie Nights‘ Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination; in this humble blogger’s opinion, the nod should have gone to Hoffman.

  • Brandt – The Big Lebowski

There is so much to love about The Big Lebowski – the Coen Brothers, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, the endlessly quotable script, the amazing cinematography, that soundtrack! – it’s a testament to Hoffman’s talent that he still manages to steal every scene he’s in. As Brandt, the titular character’s uptight personal assistant, Hoffman beautifully toes the line between the character’s authenticity and the Coen Brothers’ idiosyncrasies. His line reading of “That’s marvelous” is just that – marvelous.

Warning: this clip contains graphic language of a sexual nature
  • Phil Parma – Magnolia

For his third feature, Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson wrote a character so much like Hoffman, he was named Phil. An empathetic nurse caring for cancer-stricken Earl Partridge (Jason Robards, in his final film role), Phil Parma helps grant Partridge’s dying wish by helping him reunite with his estranged son Frank (Tom Cruise).

  • Freddie Miles – The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley is such an anomaly: a studio thriller with the heart of an indie. One of my favorite films of 1999 (and 1999 was an outstanding year in film), The Talented Mr. Ripley is gorgeously shot and beautifully acted. Hoffman slays as Freddie Miles, expat pal to Jude Law’s Dickie. After Dickie disappears, Freddie – who never cared for Matt Damon’s titular character – is the first one to see through Ripley’s lies, and he pays the ultimate price for it.

Trying to decide which of the following clips to use, I realized the answer was “both”. The first clip is our introduction to Freddie; the second shows us his demise.

One of the greatest film entrances of all time
“In fact, the only thing that looks like Dickie is you”
  • Lester Bangs – Almost Famous

Lester Bangs (director Cameron Crowe’s real-life mentor and friend) is a part Hoffman was born to play. No one else could have captured Bangs’ chaotic energy and acerbic wit the way he did. Hoffman showed up for a few days – with the flu – and simply knocked it out of the park. Patrick Fugit, who played Crowe’s stand-in William Miller and was just sixteen at the time Almost Famous was filmed, shared a lovely memory of Hoffman:


“Honest and unmerciful”
  • Dean Trumbell – Punch-Drunk Love

Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love provided Hoffman with a small but memorable role, as phone-sex-hotline-fronting-as-a-mattress-store owner Dean Trumbell. He made the most of his mere minutes of screen time, chewing up every piece of scenery along the way.

  • Jacob Elinsky – 25th Hour

A Spike Lee joint, 25th Hour stars Ed Norton as Monty, a drug dealer enjoying his last twenty-four hours of freedom before beginning a seven-year prison stint. Hoffman plays Monty’s friend Jacob, a lonely high school teacher harboring a crush on one of his students, and once again, he killed it.

  • Truman Capote – Capote

No words are necessary. Just sit back and behold every moment of this captivating performance, which earned Hoffman his only Oscar.

  • Gust Avrakotos – Charlie Wilson’s War

For all the high-wattage star power involved with Charlie Wilson’s War – stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin – Hoffman’s role as CIA operative Gust Avrakotos earned the film its only Oscar nomination. It was his first of two consecutive Best Supporting Actor nods.

  • Father Brendan Flynn – Doubt

Hoffman earned his second consecutive Oscar nomination for his performance as Father Brendan Flynn in Doubt. Flynn may or may not be a pedophile preying on his young male parishioners; he maintains his innocence but Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius is certain of his guilt. The audience is left to their own devices to decide Flynn’s guilt, but one thing is certain: Hoffman more than held his own against the GOAT.

  • Art Howe – Moneyball

Moneyball reunited Hoffman with his Capote director (and good friend) Bennett Miller. Hoffman is note-perfect as Oakland A’s irascible manager Art Howe, who butts heads with Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane; Howe is a traditionalist who opposes Beane’s newfangled statistics-based approach to managing a baseball team. Howe was reportedly unhappy with the film’s depiction of him, but regardless of the film’s accuracy, Hoffman knocks it out of the park (sorry, had to).

  • Lancaster Dodd – The Master

As the titular character in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (their fifth and final collaboration), Hoffman earned his fourth and final Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Django Unchained‘s Christoph Waltz). Lancaster Dodd is based in part on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and Hoffman leans fully into Dodd’s charisma and idiosyncrasies. He and star Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Dodd’s acolyte/frenemy Freddie Quell, bring out the best in each other as their characters bring out the worst in each other.

  • Plutarch Heavensbee – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and – Part 2

I was a fan of The Hunger Games, having read the entire trilogy and watched the movie adaptation of the first book in the series. There is no question I would have seen the second movie, Catching Fire, either way – but Hoffman’s presence in it was the icing on the cake. Hoffman’s final two film appearances, both of which were released posthumously, were the adaptations of the final book in the series, Mockingjay.

Some more memorable Hoffman roles:

Sandy Lyle – Along Came Polly

Quick Hits: July 10-11-12

  • James Caan passed away last week at the age of 82. He’s rightfully received praise for his roles in Brian’s Song (which earned him an Emmy nomination) and The Godfather (Caan received his only Oscar nod for his performance as Sonny Corleone). But when I think of Caan, I think of three movies: Thief, Misery, and Elf.
Thief, Michael Mann’s directorial debut, belongs in one of my favorite subgenres: the “one last hest” film
My favorite Caan movie is Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. Kathy Bates garnered most of the praise – and an Oscar – for her brilliant portrayal of Annie Wilkes, but Bates needed a great sparring partner and Caan delivered.
In 2003’s Elf, Caan is the perfect straight man to Will Ferrell’s Buddy, but he gets to demonstrate his softer side later in the film when Walter Hobbs receives some much-needed redemption in the final act.
  • Tony Sirico, best known as The Sopranos‘ Paulie Walnuts, also died last week at the age of 79. No official cause of death was given, but Sirico was apparently diagnosed with dementia several years ago.
  • After six years and two kids, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons are married. Dunst and Plemons met in 2015 while filming season two of Fargo, where they played Peggy and Ed Blumquist. The two also appeared together in one of 2021’s most highly acclaimed films, The Power of the Dog, for which they were both nominated for Oscars.

  • Speaking of Jesse Plemons, my husband and I recently began watching Friday Night Lights, which neither of us had seen before (2006 was a challenging year for us, and television wasn’t a top priority). The entire cast – headlined by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton (Eric and Tami Taylor are #relationshipgoals) – is fantastic. Plemons, in his breakout role, was just eighteen when the series premiered. In the first season, his Landry Clarke mainly provided comic relief for Zach Gilford’s super-serious quarterback Matt Saracen. But in season two, Plemons was given his own storyline (plus a romance AND a spot on the football team!) and he knocked it out of the park. Anyway, Friday Night Lights is awesome and I highly recommend it; you can stream it on Netflix or Hulu.
  • The Last Movie Stars, an intimate profile of one of Hollywood’s most enduring and beloved couples – Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman – will premiere on HBO Max on July 21. Directed by Ethan Hawke, The Last Movie Stars will feature the couple’s home movies as well as transcripts of interviews with their friends (Laura Linney and George Clooney provide the voices of Woodward and Newman). I can’t wait for this one.
  • The trailer for David O. Russell’s upcoming Amsterdam was also released this past week. I do love a period comedy-mystery and the cast is *chef’s kiss*.
  • Fred Gwynne, best known for his roles in 60s sitcoms Car 54, Where Are You? and The Munsters, was born on July 10, 1926. Gwynne’s height (6’5″) and his booming baritone voice made him the perfect fit for Herman Munster (although they had to add up to fifty pounds of padding to give him the requisite hulking frame). The Munsters only ran for three seasons on CBS but the series found life in syndication; Herman Munster remains Gwynne’s most iconic role. Gwynne made memorable appearances in 80s flicks like The Cotton Club, Fatal Attraction, and Pet Sematary. His final film appearance was My Cousin Vinny, a movie I unabashedly love. Gwynne passed away in 1993 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Make sure you watch until the end!
“What is a yute?” 🤣🤣🤣
  • Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant was born on July 10, 1954. Tennant met Chris Lowe in 1981 (at the time, Tennant worked in publishing but dreamed of a music career); the two bonded over a love of early synthpop pioneers like OMD, Soft Cell, and Kraftwerk. In 1983, after being hired by British music magazine Smash Hits, Tennant traveled to New York City to interview The Police. While in New York, Tennant met with music producer Bobby Orlando, who agreed to a recording session with the lads. Orlando went on to produce the band’s first single, “West End Girls”. Pet Shop Boys continue to perform and record together.
One of my favorite PSB songs is this cheesetastic 1987 duet with Dusty Springfield
Another favorite is their 1993 cover of the Village People classic
Fun fact: Pet Shop Boys produced Boy George’s “The Crying Game” and Tennant also provided backing vocals
Pet Shop Boys recently recorded a single with their idols Soft Cell, and I kind of love it
  • The Hollywood Bowl opened on July 11, 1922.

  • On July 11, 1969, David Bowie released “Space Oddity”. I’m just going to leave this here:
  • Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12, 1895. One-half of one of the most beloved musical songwriting teams ever (composer Richard Rodgers was the other half), Hammerstein left Columbia Law School in 1917 to pursue a career in the theater. After Rodgers’ first partner Lorenz Hart was incapacitated by alcohol addiction, he and Hammerstein began collaborating with 1943’s Oklahoma! Among their best-known works are South Pacific, The King & I, and The Sound of Music, all of which won Tony Awards for Best Musical and were adapted into Oscar-winning movies. The pair also won two Academy Awards, a Pulitzer, and a Grammy (fun fact: Richard Rodgers was the first person to get an EGOT). Eight months after The Sound of Music debuted on Broadway, Hammerstein died of stomach cancer at the age of 65. “Edelweiss” was the final song the pair wrote together.
  • And finally, this year’s Emmy nominations were announced today. It is a very good day for HBO, which picked up an extraordinary 140 nominations (Succession led the pack with 25). I’m thrilled to see nominations for Melanie Lynskey and Christina Ricci, who were so brilliant in Yellowjackets‘ spectacular first season. See the full list of nominees below. The Emmy Awards will air live on NBC and Peacock on Monday, September 12.


Quick Hits: June 29


  • The trailer for Ticket to Paradise dropped this morning. I am so here for this one.
  • I’m also here for this charming-looking whodunit starring Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell. I can’t get enough of period comedy-mystery flicks. See How They Run is slated for a September 30 release.
  • Peacock’s The Resort, which premieres on July 28, stars the delightful William Jackson Harper and Cristin Milioti (and reunites Milioti with her Palm Springs exec producers).
  • Jayne Mansfield died in a horrific car accident on this day in 1967. Mansfield was traveling from Biloxi to New Orleans for an appearance the next morning. Accompanying her were her partner Sam Brody and her three children with Mickey Hargitay (Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska), along with their driver, Ronnie Harrison. At around 2:30 AM, their 1966 Buick Electra ran into the back of a tractor-trailer, which had slowed for an approaching vehicle with red flashing lights. The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly; the children, including three-year-old Mariska, all escaped with minor injuries. Despite the popular urban legend, Mansfield was not decapitated; her official cause of death was “crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain”.

Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me” is an homage to Mansfield and includes the lines “It’s divoon, oh, it’s serene/In the fountain’s pink champagne/Someone carving their devotion/In the heart-shaped pool of fame, oh” (all references to Mansfield and her fondness for pink things and hearts)

  • On this day in 1978, actor Bob Crane – best known as the titular character on Hogan’s Heroes – was found bludgeoned to death in the Scottsdale, Arizona apartment he rented while on tour with a dinner theater production of Beginner’s Luck. While the case remains officially unsolved, the killer was likely Crane’s friend – and partner in sexual escapades – John Henry Carpenter (Maricopa County never had enough evidence to convict Carpenter, who himself died in 1998). The fantastic movie Auto Focus – directed by Paul Schrader and based on a book by Zodiac author Robert Graysmith – is a dramatization of Crane’s life and death. Auto Focus, which you can stream on Tubi or rent on Amazon, stars Greg Kinnear as Crane and Willem Dafoe as Carpenter.

  • Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller were married on this day in 1956, giving hope to nerds everywhere that they too might land the starlet of their dreams. The pair divorced in 1961.
  • Film composer Bernard Herrmann was born on this day in 1911. Herrmann hit the jackpot with his first film, a little picture called Citizen Kane, for which he received his first Oscar nomination. That same year, he was also nominated for his second film, The Devil and Daniel Webster, which earned Herrmann his only Academy Award. In 1976, he repeated the one-two punch with posthumous nominations for Taxi Driver and Brian De Palma’s Obsession (Jerry Goldsmith took home the prize that year for The Omen). Herrmann is perhaps best known, though, for his work with Alfred Hitchcock; he composed the music for nine Hitchcock films, including Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. Herrmann died in his sleep from an apparent heart attack in 1975, at the age of sixty-four.
Fun fact: Herrmann’s score for Twisted Nerve was featured in Kill Bill: Volume 1 and American Horror Story
  • On this day in 2008, Leonard Cohen brought down the house at the Glastonbury Festival with a rendition of his iconic song “Hallelujah”.