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Mike Nichols: It Took Me 50 Years To Figure Out That ‘The Graduate’ Is ‘Phedre’

By | Friday July 11, 2014 @ 7:42pm PDT

Mike Nichols: It Took Me 50 Years To Figure Out That ‘The Graduate’ Is ‘Phedre’Broadway‘s John Golden Theatre was SRO Friday evening with invited guests and fans who’d scored tickets through a lottery to hear directors Mike Nichols and Jack O’Brien talk movies — specifically Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), Nichols’ freshman and sophomore efforts following an extraordinary run of Broadway hits that included Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park and The Odd Couple. The first film earned him an Oscar nomination for best director; with the second film, he took home the statuette.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 10.23.49 PMThe conversation, which was being filmed for HBO, began a day earlier, in private, and covered his years as half of the comedy team of Nichols and May (whose 306-performance Broadway run beginning in October 1960 had taken place in this same theater) and his collaborations with Simon and others. And it will pick up again in private on Monday, dealing with his years working both sides of the continent. But Friday night, the subject was filmmaking, a career Nichols practically fell into by accident.

Related: `Master Class’ Helmer Mike Nichols Talks Shop for HBO

“Who the hell are you, and how did you know you could do a film?” O’Brien asked, only half-kiddingly after a brief introduction. O’Brien — himself one of the theater’s most intelligent and crystalline directors (with Nichols he shares a special affinity for the work of Tom Stoppard) — explained that after recently publishing his autobiography, he’d encouraged Nichols to do the same. Out of Nichols’ demurral came the idea of filming the conversations; the timing is fortuitous, coming just a day after the announcement that Nichols will film an adaptation of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, starring Meryl Streep as a diva in the mold of Maria Callas, beginning after the turn of the year.

Related: TCA: HBO Reveals Details Of Mike Nichols/Meryl Streep ‘Master Class’

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Hot Teaser: ‘Burton & Taylor’

Helena Bonham Carter is Elizabeth Taylor and Dominic West is her Richard Burton in BBC America‘s fall biopic Burton and Taylor. (Not to be confused with Liz & Dick, this year’s Lindsay Lohan-Grant Bowler telefilm take on the famed Hollywood couple.) Pic focuses on the celeb love affair as the husband and wife prep their 1983 revival of Noel Coward’s stage play Private Lives:

Related: First Look Photo: BBC America’s ‘Burton And Taylor’

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Hammond On Cannes: Elizabeth Taylor’s Memory Lives On At Festival As ‘Cleopatra’ Premieres And AIDS Event Hits 20th Anniversary

Pete Hammond

There are lots of stars in Cannes this year but I don’t think any of them are shining brighter at the festival than one who is no longer with us. Elizabeth Taylor may have died over two years ago at the age of 79 but she lives on, not only on the big and small screens where her many films still play, but also for all the amazing charitable work she did in her lifetime, particularly her fight against AIDS. Tomorrow night amFAR will certainly be remembering her at the 20th anniversary of Cinema Against AIDS, the signature event set during the Cannes Festival she helped start. And Tuesday night 20th Century Fox World Premiered its meticulous 2K digital restoration (it took nine months to complete) of the 1963 film, Cleopatra, infamous for the torrid off-screen love affair between its stars Taylor and Richard Burton.

Related: A New Day As HBO and VOD Movies Compete For Palme d’Or

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary the studio pulled out all the stops with a black tie premiere of the four-hour movie (that ironically almost bankrupted the studio), followed by a lavish party sponsored by Bulgari, the jeweler who supplied Taylor with so many of the baubles she was famous for collecting.  In fact, as you entered the party on the J.W. Marriott rooftop it was hard to avoid them displayed in special glass cabinets. Included was the platinum and emerald necklace her  co-star Burton gave her for their engagement in 1962. Host (and Bulgari spokesperson) Jessica Chastain actually wore it to introduce the film before taking it off and giving it back to Bulgari. She is the only person to have worn it other than Liz on her wedding day (or one of her wedding days). Also Fox brought in several original Cleopatra costumes. Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos was there to help intro the film and told me later that the financial toll the film took on the studio has been overblown. “It turned a profit after three years,” he says although the movie’s cost was astronomical and ran off the rails. I asked Fox President of Post-Production Ted Gagliano about the story that director Joseph Mankiewicz actually had a six-hour cut and that two never-before seen hours of the film are somewhere in the Fox vaults. He says he has heard this as well but thinks it’s another in the long line of Cleopatra myths since they searched high and low and found nothing. One of the guests at the premiere, director and film nerd Alexander Payne told me after seeing the film again he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn there was an even longer cut. “But who really needs to see a six-hour version?” he asked. Both Payne and his guest Laura Dern (whose father Bruce Dern stars in Payne’s Cannes entry, Nebraska, which premieres here Thursday) said they loved seeing the film in all its restored glory. Read More »

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Lindsay Lohan In Talks To Play Elizabeth Taylor In Lifetime Movie

By | Monday January 9, 2012 @ 6:28pm PST
Nellie Andreeva

Lindsay Lohan In Elizabeth Taylor MovieLindsay Lohan As Elizabeth TaylorEXCLUSIVE: After emulating Marilyn Monroe in a series of photo shoots, most recently for Playboy, Lindsay Lohan may be taking on another screen legend, Elizabeth Taylor. I have learned that the 25-year-old actress is in early talks for the female lead in Lifetime’s original movie Elizabeth & Richard: A Love Story, chronicling the enduring love of movie icons Taylor and Richard Burton, whose fiery romance was the most notorious, publicized and celebrated love affair of its day. The film, produced by Larry Thompson (Amish Grace) and written by Christopher Monger (Temple Grandin), was originally announced as part as Lifetime’s 2011-12 development slate. Lohan, a child actress who successfully transitioned into young adult roles with Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, has been largely sidelined from her acting career for the past couple of years by stints in rehab, jail, court rooms, and recently a morgue as part of her community service. Lohan’s most recent credits include the features Machete and Labor Pains and an arc on ABC’s Ugly Betty. Lohan has been compared to Taylor. In addition to their physical resemblance, a 2004 Slate story lists a host of other similarities: “Both had domineering stage mothers, little semblance of a real childhood, fame from a young age, substance abuse issues, public emotional outpourings, and copious amounts of tabloid … Read More »

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CANNES: Elizabeth Taylor Remembered As amFAR Sets New Record

Pete Hammond

The late Elizabeth Taylor was fondly remembered during a tribute Thursday night at the ultra-glamorous  annual amFAR Cinema Against AIDS event (now in its 18th year) at Hotel Du Cap. The event co-chaired by Kenneth Cole and Harvey Weinstein broke all records, bringing in a haul of more than $10 million after an auction that also saw record prices. In clips from movies like Cleopatra and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, along with footage from her work for the organization in which she was the founding international chairman and host of the first event in 1993  Cole saluted Taylor as someone who “spoke up when others wouldn’t and said things when others can’t. I hope this will always be part of her legacy.” Weinstein added, “It was an honor to work beside her and it was an honor to watch her movies.”

Continuing the Taylor theme of the evening, two “Elizabeth” items went for big bucks in the annual auction that is always a part of this glitzy dinner, thrown near the end of each Cannes Film Festival since ’93. A limited-edition Herb Ritts photo of Taylor taken in Malibu in 1991 fetched a whopping $150,000, while an Andy Warhol dated lithograph of Liz circa 1964 fetched $400,000.

Among the stars taking part in the evening and auction were Janet Jackson, Brooke Shields, Freida Pinto, Kanye West, Rosario Dawson, Naomi Campbell, Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale, Patrick Dempsey, Milla Jovovich (who opened the proceedings with a sultry “I Wanna Be Loved By You”), Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn and Sean Penn. Penn, bringing up the rear, got big laughs demanding women abstain from sex unless their men cough up $10,000 apiece in order to break the record amount for the fundraiser. Twenty-one of them did just that. Boy George performed a couple of songs, too. Among those in the crowd were three Cannes jury members including president Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman (who also participated in the auction) and Jude Law, along with Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst, who looked happy not to have Lars von Trier as her date. Read More »

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Elizabeth Taylor Funeral Today In Private Service At Forest Lawn

By | Thursday March 24, 2011 @ 1:00pm PDT

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor
Pete Hammond Recalls Elizabeth Taylor’s Complicated Dance With Oscar

TMZ has the death certificate, which reveals that Elizabeth Taylor will be laid to rest this afternoon at Forest Lawn in Glendale, in a private funeral service. The L.A. Times reports that she will be buried at the cemetery’s Great Mausoleum, where the likes of her friend Michael Jackson, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow also rest. Taylor died Wednesday at age 79.

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Pete Hammond Recalls Elizabeth Taylor’s Complicated Dance With Oscar

By | Wednesday March 23, 2011 @ 7:40pm PDT
Pete Hammond

The list of Oscar intrigue goes on and on and Academy history is full of stories. But hearing of Elizabeth Taylor’s death this morning (R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor), I started to think about her own history with Oscar. There are many stars who have had a complex relationship with the award over its 83-year history, largely because they never won and only got their shot when the Academy decided to rectify the outlandish situation by giving them an Honorary Award. Like Peter O’Toole who was nominated  eight times but always came up short even for such brilliant performances  in Lawrence Of Arabia, The Lion In Winter and Becket. Or the late and great six-time losing Deborah Kerr. Or Edward G. Robinson who was never even nominated until the Academy gave him that special lifetime achievement consolation prize (he actually died two months before the 1973 ceremony so never got to hold it). Some egregiously overlooked  stars  like Paul Newman or Henry Fonda received Honorary Award only to win an Oscar in competition the very next year. Then there was Katharine Hepburn, nominated 12 times as Best Actress  but who never attended the show to accept any of them — including the record 4 that she actually won.

Taylor was the star of stars. There will never be another like her. She didn’t need an Oscar to prove this but certainly the Academy did not fail to recognize her talent.  But they  basically  ignored  her acting career except for  one remarkable decade of a 60-year span in front of the cameras (her debut came in 1942 with There’s One Born Every Minute). There was no Taylor recognition for 1951’s A Place In The Sun or 1956’s Giant as I think there should have been. But clearly the Academy tried to make up for those oversights. Between 1957 and 1966 she received five best actress nominations, including a remarkable streak of four in a row:  Raintree County (1957), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), and Butterfield 8 (1960). At least two of those, Cat and Summer represent some of her finest screen work. But she lost until Butterfield 8, a glossy MGM potboiler based on John O’Hara’s 1935 novel about a call girl who falls for a wealthy married man (Laurence Harvey).

It came out in 1960 and turned this three-time Oscar loser into a winner. It is generally considered one of the weakest movies ever to spawn a major Oscar winning performance. Taylor was terrific in it though, and the movie is a guilty pleasure now (although the presence of her then-hubby  Eddie Fisher didn’t help). She often said she wasn’t fond  (I believe “loathed” was a word used often) of the script or the finished film. In fact, when I was a producer on The Arsenio Hall Show, Taylor guested in June 1992 (only her second ever late night show appearance ever and she wore a really cool-looking black motorcycle jacket) and I lobbied Arsenio to ask her about that Oscar performance. She sloughed it off by saying “I only won it because I almost died.” That’s probably true.

In the months leading up to that year’s Oscar show, headlines carried the news that  Taylor was at death’s door due to a grave bout with pneumonia. She had a tracheotomy. And there was even one report that she had died. All of this was irresistible for the Academy, and Oscar night, April 17, 1961, would be her first public appearance since her illness. All the drama probably insured a win, even though she had lost the Golden Globe in January to Greer Garson (Sunrise At Campobello). I believe without all the ‘death’s door’ drama Shirley MacLaine would actually have triumphed as Best Actress in that year’s Best Picture winner, The Apartment. Nevertheless Taylor won and made her way  to the stage with Fisher’s help. Her tracheotomy scar was even still visible. She accepted by saying, “I don’t really know how to express my gratitude for this and for everything. All I can say is thank you, thank you with all my heart.”

This came as Taylor’s infamous Cleopatra saga was taking place in Rome where her affair with Richard Burton was about to unfold. Cleopatra was a colossal financial disaster that almost sank 20th Century Fox. But when it came to Oscars, it actually did quite well, winning four technical awards out of nine nominations that also included a 1963 Best Picture nod. Taylor, however, was completely overlooked.

Her final Oscar nomination would not come until 1966’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? in which she starred opposite Burton. It’s a drama that still packs a wallop even by today’s standard. For my money, it is Taylor’s performance of a lifetime, especially considering she was only 34 when she made it. Even though she had won just six years earlier, there was no way she could rightfully lose the Oscar although her competition was formidable. Fellow nominee Anouk Aimee in A Man And A Woman actually beat her for the Golden Globe and, although Taylor won the New York Film Critics Award, she tied with another nominee (and Globe winner) Lynn Redgrave who had made big waves in Georgy Girl.

Still Taylor declined to fly in from Europe to attend the Academy Awards, and Anne Bancroft had to accept for her. Liz was so mad that co-star Burton failed to win, too (on his fifth try, losing to A Man For All Season’s Paul Scofield) that she didn’t even offer a ‘thank you’ to the Academy afterwards. She finally agreed to receive it weeks later at the BAFTA awards where she also won. It didn’t matter. This was the Oscar she richly deserved. It is still an indelible performance, and I know she was damn proud of it as her character Martha might have said.

Virginia Woolf was the peak of her screen career and her final nomination. She was good in The Taming Of The Shrew (1967), again opposite Burton, and decent in The Comedians (1967), The Only Game In Town (1970)  and X, Y and Zee (1972). But her only future brushes with Oscar would be as a Best Picture presenter, notably in 1970 when she was again hoping Burton would finally win for Anne Of The Thousand Days (he lost to John Wayne), and in 1974 when she followed the infamous nude streaker on stage.

But the Academy had one more honor in store for her. In 1993 she, along with the late Audrey Hepburn, both received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Taylor had her third statuette, this one for her leadership in the fight against AIDS. Taylor launched a second career as an AIDS activist in 1985 when she organized APLA’s first “Commitment to Life” event, which would go on to become the biggest AIDS fundraiser in history. In 1986, she co-founded The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and testified before a U.S. Senate Committee in support of federal funding for HIV care and treatment. and in 1991, she launched The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which continues to provide funding for HIV and AIDS programs globally, including those at Aids Project Los Angeles.

This role would be perhaps her greatest and it was so fitting that the Academy acknowledged it. Just as she did when she won her first for Butterfield 8 some three decades earlier, Taylor received a roaring standing ovation and ended her heartfelt remarks by saying, “At the end of each of our lives, we can look back and be proud that we have treated others with the kindness, dignity and respect that every human being deserves.” Read More »

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MPAA’s Chris Dodd Adds To Outpouring Of Elizabeth Taylor Tributes

WASHINGTON—Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, issued the following statement on the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, Academy Award-winning Hollywood actress:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Elizabeth Taylor. Her artistic contribution to the motion picture industry is immeasurable. In a career spanning more than 70 years and 50 films, her talent endured the test of time and transcended generations of moviegoers. She truly was an American icon, whose legacy went far beyond her acting skills, most notably in her efforts to lead the battle against HIV/AIDS. Our thoughts are with her family and her many friends and fans during this difficult time.”

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R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor

By | Wednesday March 23, 2011 @ 6:19am PDT

It is a sad day in Hollywood. Elizabeth Taylor’s publicist is telling news organizations that she has passed away at 79 from congestive heart failure. The British-born child star who grew up to become one of the world’s most famous actresses and great beauties and dedicated AIDS activists, whose complex personal life often overwhelmed her Oscar-winning professional career, was admitted last month to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for treatment of congestive heart failure.

Taylor missed a scheduled appearance at an amfAR benefit gala last month in New York, where she was to receive an award alongside President Bill Clinton and designer Diane von Furstenberg, celebrating their dedication to AIDS research. Elton john accepted the honor on her behalf and read a message from her: “I am there in spirit and I join you in saluting my fellow honorees and all these extraordinary leaders. I am inspired by their example, exhilarated by their vision, and encouraged by their compassion and love. And I love them in return.” Taylor appeared in more than 50 films and won Academy Awards for her performances in Butterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) as well as an Honorary Oscar in 1993 for her AIDS activism. She had eight marriages, most famously to the love of her life Hollywood producer Mike Todd and two times to actor Richard Burton.

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‘Cleopatra’ Conversation Turns To David Fincher

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: What has happened with Sony Pictures’ plans to mount an exciting new biopic of Cleopatra, with Angelina Jolie attached as the Egyptian queen, based on Stacy Schiff’s bestselling book Cleopatra: A Life? I’m told the director conversation right now is with David Fincher, who just got a Best Director Oscar nomination working with Cleopatra producer Scott Rudin, and who is working with Rudin on the Stieg Larsson novel adaptation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, also at Sony Pictures.

You’ll recall last October that Deadline revealed James Cameron’s keen interest in directing a PG-13 3D version of the movie with a Brian Helgeland script, until 20th Century Fox stepped up and got him to commit instead to two Avatar sequels. After that, speculation centered around Paul Greengrass, who wound up instead directing his own script, Memphis, about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., for Universal, also with Rudin producing.

It’s not surprising that the top directors in town are after this gig. As Rudin has described it, this is the first telling of the Cleopatra story from a woman’s perspective. Instead of simply being a seductress, as she was portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz-directed film, Cleopatra is also a shrewd politician, strategist and warrior, with sexual charisma to spare. The feeling is the role is a perfect fit for Jolie, who might be the only actress right now with the box office … Read More »

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R.I.P. Eddie Fisher

By | Thursday September 23, 2010 @ 5:41pm PDT

Reliable sources tell me that Eddie Fisher has died. He was 82. [UPDATE: His daughter, Tricia Leigh Fisher of Los Angeles, told the AP that he died Wednesday night at his Berkeley home of complications from hip surgery.] The singer and entertainer and TV star of his own show and co-star of films Bundle Of Joy and Butterfield 8 had his heyday in the 1950s. In 1953 Fisher was given his own 15-minute TV show called Coke Time, sponsored by the Coca-Cola company; it was so popular that Coke then offered Eddie an unprecedented $1 million contract to be their national spokesperson. But Fisher is best known for having been married to Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, and Connie Stevens and for fathering multitalent Carrie Fisher and TV actress Joely Fisher. He created quite the worldwide scandal when he dumped his first wife, America’s sweetheart Reynolds, to marry his best friend’s widow, America’s sex symbol Taylor, who then dumped him for Richard Burton. Fisher became reviled and his career never recovered. (The two women later mocked Fisher in a thinly veiled TV movie about their relationship.) Fisher wrote two autobiographies which prompted Carrie to declare: ”That’s it. I’m having my DNA fumigated.”

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