Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Night Among the Ladies of L.A.

Tonight I was lucky enough to have to make some tough choices about what to do in L.A. I had originally planned to attend a taping of Jenna Elfman's new CBS sitcom Accidentally On Purpose.

But then, I ran into the showrunner for Lifetime's Rita Rocks, now filming episodes for its upcoming second season. That show's taping, he tipped me off, would feature guest star Swoosie Kurtz. I hatched a plan to attend both tapings, since their soundstages are right near each other on CBS' Radford lot. I'd slip back and forth between the two shows, and compare which had better craft service catering.

But ultimately, due to a snafu with the audience list at Rita Rocks, I ended up spending all my time on the Radford lot at Accidentally on Purpose. The show was created by former Knots Landing actress and now prolific sitcom writer Claudia Lonow, based on a memoir by San Francisco-based writer Mary Pols about getting knocked up after a one-night stand. And it's quite fun, relying heavily on Elfman's quirky charm as lead character Billie and some really great supporting players like Lennon Parham as Billie's sister. The episode taped tonight will air as the show's 4th, and features Elfman's character padded as to look slightly visibly pregnant. Of course the irony is that co-star Ashley Jensen is actually pregnant, but spent this episode hiding her much larger belly unconvincingly behind a file folder, a shopping bag, etc.

But although I was enjoying Accidentally on Purpose, I couldn't stick around to see how this particular episode works out, so I'll just have to catch it on TV this fall. Because tonight here in
L.A., the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a program that was too good to resist (and I'd have to turn in my gay card if I even tried.)

I've been obsessed with the 1959 Lana Turner-Juanita Moore-John Gavin film Imitation of Life for as long as I can remember. For a while there in the '90s, it was on cable seemingly every day, and I must have watched it 20 times. Well tonight, in honor of the Douglas Sirk film's 50th anniversary, the Academy screened a restored print -- and presented a talk-back panel afterwards with the 86-year-old Moore, who played black housekeeper Annie, and Susan Kohner, aka Annie's white-looking mixed-race daughter Sara Jane. Both actresses were nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for their roles.

The incredible Moore, who got a long standing ovation on her entrance and applause for every sentence she said, talked about being chosen for the film by producer Ross Hunter despite the studio's insistence on a bigger star name like Pearl Bailey, Ethel Waters or Mahalia Jackson (who still does appear in one of the film's most famous moments, singing Gospel at Annie's funeral.) And even more revealing, Moore recounted how when Lana Turner was enduring her daughter Cheryl Crane's trial for murdering gangster Johnny Stompanato, she would come in to work every morning crying, and asking her co-star for advice -- while calling her by her character's name, Annie.

After the panel, which was hosted by Kohner's son, film producer Paul Weitz, and film critic Stephen Farber, the crowd descended on the two actresses, overwhelming them for autographs. Among the crowd, I spotted a few famous faces, like Everybody Loves Raymond's Doris Roberts, and a favorite of Frank's, David Hedison from the '60s series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And here's an exclusive: I overheard Roberts being asked to return September 25, when the Academy will be hosting a similar evening for the 30th anniversary of the film The Rose. Bette Midler, who will be on a break from her show in Las Vegas, will be there. And if the night is anywhere near as fabulous as tonight, so should you! (For the Academy's event and ticket info, click here.)

1 comment:

  1. dang
    completely forgot about this. And now I can't go to the academy early film screening on sunday - silents from the Netherlands Filmmuseum.

    Glad you enjoyed it, jim