July 31, 2009
For today, I've chosen an old favorite of mine: And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field.
Click here to read And Now Tomorrow and listen to the Lux Radio Theater version.
July 24, 2009
For today, I've chosen an old favorite of mine: Bulldog Drummond by Sapper (H. C. McNeile).
Click here to read Bulldog Drummond, watch the 1929 version starring Ronald Colman, and listen to the radio program.
July 23, 2009
July 17, 2009
For today, I've chosen an old favorite of mine: Peter Ibbetson by George du Maurier.
Click here to read Peter Ibbetson and to listen to the Campbell Playhouse version starring Orson Welles and Helen Hayes.
July 16, 2009
"I was a very precocious child, I understand," Ms. Bergen said with a laugh.
Next weekend, one landmark Litchfield County event will benefit from her talents, from an extraordinary dedication to charity causes to an eye for chic headwear. As Honorary Chair of the 12th annual Tea for Two Hundred in Washington July 25, Ms. Bergen is championing the event's fund-raising efforts to benefit the Susan B. Anthony Project of Torrington and the Interfaith AIDS Ministry of Greater Danbury, as well as judging the hat contest.
The Southbury resident's connection to both causes is longstanding and personal. In the 1970s, Ms. Bergen joined forces with women prominent in the arts and entertainment world and those in state and federal government positions across the country in the Equal Rights Amendment movement. The group pushed for a constitutional guarantee that women be afforded equal rights with men under local, state and federal laws. Though the proposed amendment would not meet its two-year ratification deadline, the movement permanently changed the course of the national discussion on discrimination based on sex. The movement also served as Ms. Bergen's introduction to Susan B. Anthony, the iconic suffragist and civil rights activist, whom Ms. Bergen researched.
"She was such an incredible woman who worked all of her life for women," Ms. Bergen said.
The Susan B. Anthony Project in Torrington specializes in helping survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, prevention of such abuse through education and the overall promotion of women's independence. The organization offers legal and medical advocacy, counseling, emergency shelter and a transitional living program.
As for Ms. Bergen's experience with the HIV/AIDS campaign, her close friend and hairdresser was an early victim of the AIDS in 1979. Ms. Bergen became part of a women's group in Hollywood that raised funds for research. She remained active as the disease spread from impacting men to women and children.
"That was when people were really just recognizing that something was going on," Ms. Bergen explained. "They weren't even talking about AIDS in terms of the public."
The Interfaith AIDS Ministry works to generate community knowledge and awareness. The organization also provides spiritual, nutritional and physical support services for those living with HIV/AIDS and their families, in addition to acting as a public education resource.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Surveillance Program recorded 358 new cases of HIV and 387 new cases of AIDS in 2008. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the epidemic has caused 583,298 deaths in the United States as of 2007, with 571,378 Americans living with HIV/AIDS at the end of the same year.
"My commitment will go on from here," Ms. Bergen said of her responsibilities as chair.
Referring to her current status as almost entirely retired, she added, "For the first time in my life, I have the time to do that."
The local movie theater's stage back in Tennessee was just the first stop in her career. Ms. Bergen's father's job in construction moved the family with every project, until the last stop in California, near Los Angeles. She began auditioning at 15 and soon landed a gig as a society band's singer. Ms. Bergen worked her way from the opening act to the closer, singing in Las Vegas during the summer breaks.
Screen tests with legendary producer Hal Wallis gave her an entree into Hollywood. Between 1950 and 1952, she acted in three movies with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis-"At War with the Army," "That's My Boy" and "The Stooge." Her other notable films include the original production of "Cape Fear," the adaptation of John MacDonald's novel "The Executioners," and "Move Over, Darling" with Doris Day and James Garner.
Though she has appeared in more than 20 films, Ms. Bergen credits television with molding and polishing her acting chops.
"In those days, television really became America's teaching ground and proving ground," she said. "Several of us had our own shows and I was one of them."
"The Polly Bergen Show" ran from 1957 to 1958. The live show featured songs, skits and general variety fare. Before guiding her own program, though, she replaced one of the stars, Dorothy Collins, on "Your Hit Parade," a Saturday music show in which singers performed the week's most popular singles. Ms. Bergen also appeared regularly on the game show "To Tell the Truth" and the interview format show "Here's Hollywood."
"I learned my acting skills from TV," she said.
The arbiters agreed, giving the actress several nods of recognition throughout her career. Ms. Bergen won an Emmy for the portrayal of singer Helen Morgan while acting in the 1950s television series "Playhouse 90." She was nominated for her role in two ABC miniseries "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" in which she reunited with "Cape Fear" co-star Robert Mitchum as the wife of Captain Victor Henry. The dramas, based on Herman Wouk's novels of the same names, chronicled the events of World War II as seen through the lens of the military Henry family. The actress also received a Tony Award nomination for her lead role in the 2001 Broadway revival of "Follies" by Stephen Sondheim.
A break from acting to raise her three children proved to be an unexpected opportunity for Ms. Bergen to explore her business skills. Having been blessed with naturally beautiful skin, she never used much makeup until she discovered the need for a moisturizer. A chemist's concoction fit the bill, but Ms. Bergen soon found herself supplying all her friends with the wildly popular product. She started a company selling the moisturizer, Oil of a Turtle, on a small scale. The turning point came during an appearance on a talk show to promote an acting project which was suddenly defunct. Thinking quickly, she began talking about her skin care venture instead.
The brand exploded. Ms. Bergen created six new products and ran the company for 12 years before selling it. The business, which she jokes happened almost as if by accident, stirred her entrepreneurial instincts, which carried over to jewelry and shoe lines and three books on makeup and beauty.
Recently, Ms. Bergen has established herself as a recognizable face for yet another generation of television audiences. In 2004, she appeared on "The Sopranos" as Fran Felstein, Tony Soprano's father's mistress with ties to JFK. Throughout 2005 and 2006, she played the president's mother in "Commander-in-Chief," which styled Geena Davis as the first female president. Then, in 2007, Mr. Bergen received a call from long time fan Marc Cherry, the creator of "Desperate Housewives." Mr. Cherry invited her to play Stella Wingfield, Lynette's mother. Ms. Bergen appeared in several episodes from 2007 to this year and nabbed an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
Reflecting on her career, she said, "I was lucky enough to move on to the next important thing naturally. The fact is I did high-profile things when they were high profile."
Since hindsight is 20/20, Ms. Bergen muses that perhaps she should have stuck with one medium, such as film or television or music.
"Depending on when you were born, you didn't really know what I did," she said. "Nobody could nail me down."
However, it seems that it is the blending of all her different experiences and successes that has created and nurtured her strength, giving nature and independence of spirit.
Gael Hammer and Gary Goodwin host the Tea for Two Hundred at their home in Washington Depot. Tickets are $50 each. For more information, call 860-489-3798, or visit the Web site at www.teafortwohundred.org.
July 10, 2009
For today, I've chosen an old favorite of mine: Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung.
Click here to read Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman and to listen to the Librivox version.
July 03, 2009
For today, I've chosen an old favorite of mine: Life with Father by Clarence Day.
Click here to read Life with Father and to watch the film version starring William Powell and Irene Dunne.
July 01, 2009
LOS ANGELES – Karl Malden, the Academy Award-winning actor whose intelligent characterizations on stage and screen made him a star despite his plain looks, died Wednesday, his family said. He was 97.
Malden died of natural causes surrounded by his family at his Brentwood home, they told the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. He served as the academy's president from 1989-92.
While he tackled a variety of characters over the years, he was often seen in working-class garb or military uniform. His authenticity in grittier roles came naturally: He was the son of a Czech mother and a Serbian father, and worked for a time in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, after dropping out of college.
Malden said he got his celebrated bulbous nose when he broke it a couple of times playing basketball or football, joking that he was "the only actor in Hollywood whose nose qualifies him for handicapped parking."
Malden won a supporting actor Oscar in 1951 for his role as Blanche DuBois' naive suitor Mitch in "A Streetcar Named Desire" — a role he also played on Broadway.
He was nominated again in 1954 for his performance as Father Corrigan, a fearless, friend-of-the-workingman priest in "On the Waterfront." In both movies, he costarred with Marlon Brando.
Among Malden's more than 50 film credits were: "Patton," in which he played Gen. Omar Bradley, "Pollyanna," "Fear Strikes Out," "The Sting II," "Bombers B-52," "Cheyenne Autumn," and "All Fall Down."
One of his most controversial films was "Baby Doll" in 1956, in which he played a dullard husband whose child bride is exploited by a businessman. It was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency for what was termed its "carnal suggestiveness." The story was by "Streetcar" author Tennessee Williams.
Malden gained perhaps his greatest fame as Lt. Mike Stone in the 1970s television show "The Streets of San Francisco," in which Michael Douglas played the veteran detective's junior partner.
During the same period, Malden gained a lucrative 21-year sideline and a place in pop culture with his "Don't leave home without them" ads for American Express.
"The Streets of San Francisco" earned him five Emmy nominations. He won one for his role as a murder victim's father out to bring his former son-in-law to justice in the 1985 miniseries "Fatal Vision."
Malden played Barbra Streisand's stepfather in the 1987 film "Nuts;" Adm. Elmo Zumwalt Jr. in the 1988 TV film "My Father, My Son;" and Leon Klinghoffer, the cruise ship passenger murdered by terrorists in 1985, in the 1989 TV film "The Hijacking of the Achille Lauro."
He acted sparingly in recent years, appearing in 2000 in a small role on TV's "The West Wing."
In 2004, Malden received the Screen Actors Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award, telling the group in his acceptance speech that "this is the peak for me."
Malden first gained prominence on Broadway in the late 1930s, making his debut in "Golden Boy" by Clifford Odets. It was during this time that he met Elia Kazan, who later was to direct him in "Streetcar" and "Waterfront."
He steadily gained more prominent roles, with time out for service in the Army in World War II (and a role in an Army show, "Winged Victory.")
"A Streetcar Named Desire" opened on Broadway in 1947 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle awards. Brando's breakthrough performance might have gotten most of the attention, but Malden did not want for praise. Once critic called him "one of the ablest young actors extant."
Among his other stage appearances were "Key Largo," "Winged Victory," Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," "The Desperate Hours," and "The Egghead."
Malden was known for his meticulous preparation, studying a script carefully long before he stepped into his role.
"I not only figure out my own interpretation of the role, but try to guess other approaches that the director might like. I prepare them, too," he said in a 1962 Associated Press interview. "That way, I can switch in the middle of a scene with no sweat."
"There's no such thing as an easy job, not if you do it right," he added.
He was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago on March 22, 1912. Malden regretted that in order to become an actor he had to change his name. He insisted that Fred Gwynne's character in "On the Waterfront" be named Sekulovich to honor his heritage.
The family moved to Gary, Indiana, when he was small. He quit his steel job 1934 to study acting at Chicago's Goodman Theatre "because I wasn't getting anywhere in the mills," he recalled.
"When I told my father, he said, `Are you crazy? You want to give up a good job in the middle of the Depression?' Thank god for my mother. She said to give it a try."
Malden and his wife, Mona, a fellow acting student at the Goodman, had one of Hollywood's longest marriages, having celebrated their 70th anniversary in December.
Besides his wife, Malden is survived by daughters Mila and Cara, his sons-in-law, three granddaughters, and four great grandchildren.