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WGA Holds Memorial Tribute To Comedy Writing Legend Hal Kanter

By | Monday May 7, 2012 @ 12:14am PDT
Pete Hammond

It was a very funny, sometimes touching, but mostly uproarious tribute Sunday afternoon at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills. The WGA West and the Writers Guild Foundation along with the Kanter family held a well produced and attended memorial for one of their most illustrious members, Hal Kanter, who passed away in November at age 92. The three-time Emmy winner (and seven time nominee) was also believed to be the only person ever to win all three of the Guild’s prestigious special honors – the Morgan Cox award for service to the WGA, the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award, the Valentine Davies Award.

And why not? As was very evident from this memorial, Kanter was one of the most versatile and productive comedy writers ever. He belonged to a golden era when that was possible. It’s hard to imagine a young writer today forging the same kind of long-lasting career Kanter, and others in his generation, were able to have over the course of seven decades in the business. Writing is tough and unforgiving – and most of its practitioners, particularly in television,  are used up and tossed out after several years. It was clear from all the clips and personal anecdotes that the show business Kanter loved and lived in doesn’t exist anymore. Writers who want that kind of longevity in a career probably will have to try another profession. But keeping relevant was never a problem for Hal Kanter who it was noted was still preparing to write another screenplay, even in his 90s. He was also a producer, director, raconteur, master of ceremonies, playwright, author and all around wit. As Kanter said in a clip from one of his many appearances at a WGA awards show banquet, “I was born with a compulsion to amuse. And if my work has inspired anyone to become a comedy writer, I apologize.” Read More »

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HAMMOND: Billy Crystal Rides To Rescue (…For Oscars Yet Again!)

By | Thursday November 10, 2011 @ 3:27pm PST
Pete Hammond

OSCARS: Billy Crystal Set As (New) Host
Tom Sherak On Oscar Drama
HAMMOND: Oscars Post-Ratner – What Now?

This past Monday morning, Brett Ratner was producing the Oscars (with Don Mischer. And Eddie Murphy was the high profile host. Three days later, Brian Grazer is producing the Oscars (with Don Mischer). And Billy Crystal is the high profile host. Other than that nothing’s new. Clearly the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences felt the need to act with lightning speed in order to turn around the PR debacle which Brett Ratner caused with his unfortunate and offensive comments in several public forums. True, AMPAS tried in the recent past to make the Academy Awards more young, hip, and different with some of their choices. This year due to the chaotic nature of the 84th annual honors already (and it’s only November), the powers-that-be are playing it safe again. At 63 years old and a veteran emcee of the show, Billy Crystal was the obvious choice in this scenario. And he is riding in triumphantly just as he has done in years past. In 1990 Crystal rode to the rescue with his first Oscar hosting gig after the disaster of the previous year’s Allan Carr show (remember that one when Rob Lowe sang with Snow White?) This year history repeats itself and Crystal is back to save the Oscars from … Read More »

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R.I.P. Hal Kanter

By | Monday November 7, 2011 @ 8:34pm PST

Veteran screenwriter, producer and director Hal Kanter died Sunday of complications of pneumonia in Encino, his daughter Donna Kanter told the Los Angeles Times. He was 92. “He was considered one of the wits of the industry,” said Carl Reiner, upon learning of Kanter’s death. ”He was a funny elder statesman, and there’s nothing better.” In a career that spanned several decades, Kanter worked in radio, TV and movies. He wrote for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Kanter directed Elvis Presley in Loving You which he co-wrote and he wrote the screenplaly for Blue Hawaii. He even collaborated with Tennessee Williams on the 1955 movie version of The Rose Tatoo. Among other movie credits were George Cukor’s Let’s Make Love, with Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand and Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles.

His numerous TV credits included creation of the landmark sitcom Julia, for which Diahann Carroll became the first black actress to star in her own sitcom whose character was a professional woman rather than a maid. He also worked briefly on All in the Family and was a writer and produceer on Chico and the Man. His association with the Oscars as a writer on the ceremony began in 1952 when it still on radio and continued for more than 30 years. In 1991 and ’92 he shared Emmys for writing duties on the Oscar show telecast. His other Emmy was for The George Gobel Show. Read More »

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R.I.P. Dolores Hope

By | Monday September 19, 2011 @ 5:35pm PDT

Dolores Hope, the widow of Bob Hope, died of natural causes at her Los Angeles home today. She was 102. Born in Harlem in New York on May 27, 1909, Dolores DeFina was a singer at Manhattan’s Vogue Club when she met Bob Hope in 1933. The couple married the next year and later adopted four children. She often accompanied her husband on his USO shows. At age 84 she sang “White Christmas” to Operation Desert Storm troops from the back of a truck in the Saudi desert. Although she put her singing career on hold after her marriage to Hope she worked for numerous charities. From 1969 to 1976 she served as president of the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert, Calif. Funeral services will be private.

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HAMMOND: Eddie Murphy Oscar Host Choice Could Be A Win-Win For Academy AND Eddie

Pete Hammond

Eddie Murphy Agrees To Host Oscars; Producers Tell Film Academy It’s Official

When you are an Oscar producer I guess it pays to have a film coming out co-starring someone who just might be the perfect Oscar host. That’s the enviable position Brett Ratner found himself in as he landed the Oscar gig just as he was editing his new film Tower Heist, which features Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy among others and is generating good inside buzz in advance of its November release. I hear test scores for Eddie were so high they talked about enhancing his part in the film. Sight unseen, it sounds — on the surface at least — like a return to the old Eddie that made him a movie superstar. So Eddie and Brett will continue the collaboration for another few months at least, and it would seem to be a win-win all around now that Murphy has officially been named host.

For the Academy, it gives them the opportunity to return to the tradition of having a stand-up comic host the show, which has always worked best, and in Murphy they have one who is a movie star, an Oscar-nominated actor (for Dreamgirls in 2006), and a guy whose past experience on Saturday Night Live and his stage gigs gives him the chops to pull this off — and a reason for the audience to tune in.

In fact, when I was in Telluride over the weekend and Nikki first broke the news of Murphy’s possible Oscar-hosting gig, I ran into Academy COO Ric Robertson and former Academy president Sid Ganis and showed them the story. Although both had not heard the report and seemed surprised, they immediately seemed to like the idea. At least that’s the impression I got. At another party I ran into producer Michael De Luca, who told me he had been offering free advice to Ratner and said he told him the key thing was to hire a comedian as host. In Murphy they obviously have one, with the added plus that he’s fresh Oscar-host meat, lending to the curiosity factor over just how well he might do in front of that notoriously nervous and fidgety Kodak Theatre audience. It’s not an easy job, even though the best comics who have done it (Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin) make it look that way. Read More »

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HAMMOND: Time For Billy Crystal & Oscar Again? UPDATE: Brett Ratner Responds

Pete Hammond

MONDAY PM  UPDATE: As you know, Brett Ratner is producing the Oscar show with Don Mischer and emailed me tonight with his reaction to Billy Crystal’s statements regarding possibly hosting the Oscars again. Ratner says: “I didn’t see what Billy said. I’m really focused on finishing my film Tower Heist right now. [But] I was told by the Academy that I don’t have to make a decision until mid-September.”

PREVIOUS: So is Billy Crystal once again the answer to all of Oscar’s woes? His statement in answer to a fan’s query at an American Cinematheque screening of City Slickers on Friday night was that he might be open to hosting again “maybe one or two more times”. But that’s not even the first time he’s dropped the hint this year. In March, shortly after he made his appearance on the 83rd Oscar show to honor Bob Hope, he was hosting a charity event  and told a reporter, “I think the show needs to change. There’s too many awards and it has to sort of freshen itself up, and if I can be a part of that, that would be great.” Between that and Friday’s encouraging words, what more do the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and newly minted producers Brett Ratner and Don Mischer need to hear? Read More »

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R.I.P. James Bacon

By | Saturday September 18, 2010 @ 4:04pm PDT

James “Jim” Bacon, the last of the colorful chroniclers of Hollywood’s Golden Era, died today of congestive heart failure in his sleep at his Northridge home. He was 96. In his many decades as a Hollywood journalist, columnist and author, Bacon traveled Vietnam battlefields with Bob Hope, sipped Jack Daniels with Frank Sinatra, hung out with John Wayne, and was a confidant of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, according to his official biography. Bacon was a reporter and Hollywood columnist for the Associated Press for 23 years, and a Hollywood columnist for Hearst’s now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner for 18 years. He received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 6, 2007. His last Hollywood column appeared on June 6th in Beverly Hills 213 where he had written for 10 years. He was the author of three best-selling books, two chronicling his Hollywood years, Hollywood Is A Four Letter Town (1976), and Made In Hollywood (1970), and a third writing comedian Jackie Gleason’s autobiography, How Sweet It Is (1985).

I was fortunate to have known Jim Bacon — we’d both spent many years reporting for the AP from around the world in our careers – and I’d occasionally take him out to lunch and just listen quietly while he’d tell me about his many years covering Hollywood. The story I remember best? How the old MGM and MCA publicity machine had conspired with him to cover up a rape committed by then huge star Mario Lanza.

According to his official biography, Bacon broke many major stories of Hollywood’s Golden Era. He was the only reporter in the actress Lana Turner’s bedroom as she detailed the fatal stabbing of her lover Johnny Stompanato by her daughter Cheryl Crane. (A longtime Lana pal, he’d palmed himself off as the coroner to get past the police barricade.) It was Bacon who accompanied Elizabeth Taylor’s physician to her home  to break the news that her third husband, impresario Mike Todd, died in a plane crash in New Mexico. Bacon had declined Todd’s invitation to accompany him on the flight and was on the plane’s manifest. Bacon was the only reporter allowed in the house and briefed the reporters outside. A few years later, Bacon traveled to the tiny Mexican fishing village of Puerto Vallarta where Liz was having a very public romance with Richard Burton while he filmed Night of the Iguana there. The actress’ 4th husband, singer Eddie Fisher, refused to give her a divorce. As Bacon later related, he reached Fisher by ship-to-shore phone to ask why he wouldn’t accept the multi-million dollar settlement. Fisher replied, “Because I’m still married to Elizabeth.” To which Bacon replied, “Let me be the first to tell you that Richard Burton is down here having a helluva lot of fun with your wife.” Years later Liz told a television interviewer, “He has always been one of the most forthcoming, honest, true, unbitchy [journalists] …a dear, dear friend.”

As his official obit points out, “Bacon’s wit, his capacity for Dom Perignon champagne and whiskey, as well as the accuracy and world-wide reach of the Associated Press made him a favorite companion of many of Hollywood’s legendary stars. Clint Eastwood, in a 1999 E! True Hollywood Story, said of him: “Jim always made you feel like  …he was a pal looking to hang out.” That was why John Wayne confided his battle with cancer to Bacon, who broke the story.

James Bacon grew up in small central Pennsylvania towns and would write that he began his fascination with motion pictures at age 6 at the lone movie house. “The first movie I saw was an Art Accord two-reeler Western directed by a young William Wyler, freshly arrived from Germany,” Bacon once recalled.  “About 35 years later, Wyler,  by then a top Hollywood director, told me he not only had a shaky knowledge of English back then, but also had no idea what a Western was.” He would later graduate from Syracuse University. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, Bacon rejoined the Associated Press in the Chicago bureau in 1946 and transferred to the Los Angeles bureau in 1948. He first met a teenage Betty Grable in 1933 when she appeared at Notre Dame. She later introduced him to Frank Sinatra.

Some 25 years later, Bacon was filling in the wee small hours with Frank Sinatra at intimate star-studded parties after the singer’s performances in Las Vegas showrooms. In 1958, former actress Grace Kelly, then newly Princess Grace of Monaco, invited Bacon to attend her first Red Cross gala. Sinatra was performing and afterwards Sinatra kept the party going in his suite at the Hotel de Paris while Noel Coward played piano and Somerset Maugham applauded.  Read More »

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