Thursday, June 17, 2021

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Lisa Banes, who so wonderfully played Rosie O’Neill’s sister in our series The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, has passed away in New York City, the victim of a hit and run. How sad… and how ironic that she would get through the entire Pandemic without a hitch, be preparing to go back to work in New York’s theatre world, only to have some criminally careless scooter operator run her down as she was crossing the street.  Lisa struggled for over a week in hospital before succumbing. Besides our series, where she was truly a stand out, Lisa had numerous guest appearances on top TV shows, was featured in motion pictures such as Gone Girl and Cocktail, as well as stage, including Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on Broadway.

With Memorial Day just behind us, and now with Lisa’s passing… it all brought to my mind so many others with whom I have worked who have gone to whatever the “reward” is that awaits us all (or so we live and hope). And so, this moment of personal privilege to honor some of those who honored me with their fine work over the years. Besides Lisa, from Rosie O’Neill there was Georgann Johnson (who played the mother of both Lisa and Sharon in the series), directors Reza Badyi and Nancy Malone, cinematographer Jack Priestly and post production supervisor Jim Gross. The list is even larger for Cagney & Lacey: Al Waxman (Lt. Samuels), John Karlen (Harvey Lacey),Dick O’Neill (Charles Fitzgerald Cagney), Harvey Atkin (Sergeant Coleman), Sidney Clute (LaGuardia), Paul Mantee (Corassa), Jason Bernard (Marquette), Stanley Kamel (Solomon), Jo Corday (Josie), Robert Hegyes (Esposito), Vonetta McGee (Claudia Petrie), directors Ray Danton, James Frawley, Joel Oliansky, Ted Post, Joel Rosenzweig and John Patterson, post production supervisor Dick Reilly and guest stars Brian Dennehy, Peggy Feury, Estelle Getty, Mercedes McCambridge, Lois Nettleton, Jeanette Nolan, Doris Roberts, James Stacy, Susan Strasberg, Susan Anspach, Rose Marie, Production executives Ed Feldman, Richard M. Rosenbloom and Stan Neufeld, writers Barbara Avedon, Fred Freiberger, Max Jack, Shelly List, Brian McKay.

I will not go through every show and series, but just from the top of my head, other one-time close associates I think of so fondly must include Aaron Rosenberg, Fess Parker, Julie Harris, Gail Kobe, Maurice Evans, Roger Miller, Jimmy Dean, Yaphet Kotto, Jack Guss, John Newland, and Merwin Gerard (Daniel Boone), Director Harvey Hart, Howard Duff, Lloyd Bridges and Soon Tek-Oh (East of Eden), Celeste Holm (This Girl for Hire), and Jack Klugman (One of My Wives is Missing). I miss them all and find myself smiling as I reflect on the many memories. Lisa Banes is a more than worthy addition to this prestigious list, but she is included here way too soon… and way too tragically.

By way of a segue… and a legitimate enough way to get my mind refocused on more pleasant things, I turned to my television and season three of the Netflix comedy, The Kominsky Method. It opens with a funeral… and not just any funeral, but one for Michael Douglas’ lead co-star in the series, Alan Arkin. Big mistake. Mr. Arkin will be more than missed and as of this tiny toe-dip into the third season I am not at all convinced this superior foil for Michael Douglas can be replaced. On to find a drama:

Mare of Eastown is another crime piece from the darker regions of HBO. It stars Kate Winslet and is without question a good show, well worth your time, but I gotta tell ya, folks, it had me really missing Frank Capra’s America. Mare takes place in Eastern Pennsylvania in a small industrial town that has (apparently) seen better days. The photography, the direction, the acting, and the writing are all top quality… the kind of thing we have been conditioned to expect from the HBO platform which has excelled in the mystery format (True Detectives, Perry Mason, Watchman to name only three). All that said, throughout my viewing, I kept hearing a nagging voice in the back of my head saying “if this is America, what is all the fuss about? Let Donald Trump have it.”

I am just objective enough to know that smacks of coastal elitism potentially taking me down the rabbit hole of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.” I really don’t want to go there, but there is a reason Shakespeare focused on the foibles of his “betters” (as in Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello), and that Aaron Sorkin usually picks his locales and situations (American President, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, The Social Network) carefully, so that when one or more of the leading characters falls from grace, we (and the world) just might give a damn.

I get it that not every show should focus on the English royal family, a wannabe chess champion, or a media mogul and the lusting of his offspring for the power that will (perhaps sooner than later) be vacated by the greedy group’s patriarch. Game of Thrones cannot (should not) be replicated every season and, just maybe my dissatisfaction with the HBO elite is simply that they oughta know we all only just (hopefully) got through a pandemic of monumental proportions… I mean…c’mon, folks; whatever happened to escapist entertainment?

Maybe that’s it. Just maybe I am objecting to the timing; to the lack of social awareness about just what it is that is happening in this world of ours. Pick your spots, people. The Oscar nominees let us way down with tomes featuring a homeless woman who wanders the more dismal parts of America in her van, then, there is a family of immigrants who struggle against the land, a culture, and a language they barely understand and with which it is all but impossible to cope. There is the flick about a musician who loses his hearing and therefore his career and his livelihood … the list goes on. Does “there is a time and a place” resonate? Heck, if you have forgotten Frank Capra, what about Fred and Ginger?

Don’t get me wrong; film noir is among my favorite genres, but Mare and her neighbors are not that. They don’t come back with slick one-liners or make comment on how the mighty have fallen (or soon will). Mare’s family and friends are sullen, beer guzzling under achievers herein memorialized in a screenplay by an avowed alumni of the neighborhood who, I am sure, could not wait to escape to Hollywood or Manhattan so he might achieve some sort of payback for having been raised up amongst such a shabby group. His revenge is complete, if unsatisfying.

I did appreciate that police detective Mare took the actions of a cop that most of us, as well as Black Lives Matter, would applaud, such as putting away her gun when chasing the suspect, talking him to safety, helping him find shelter and generally being a Good Samaritan. Many more innocent men and women would be alive today if law enforcement followed Mare’s lead.

On that upbeat note, HBO has also brought us Hacks, a new filmed comedy starring the exceptionally fine actress, Jean Smart. Having washed off the grit of Eastown (Ms. Smart plays Kate Winslet’s mother in that limited series), in Hacks she is a fading super star of a comedienne, fighting for that piece of the Vegas stage she has occupied for more than a decade. Ms. Smart is brilliant and the show… once you give it a more than a two- or three-episode peak… is damn good as well. Here the HBO platform rightly famous for Veep and Barry serves up another show worthy of those tentpoles.

Finally, because of HBO and Jean Smart, let me remind you once again to see Watchman. Not only is it timely (its roots are in the Tulsa massacre of one hundred years ago that has so recently been featured in multiple documentaries and commentaries). but Watchman mixes idioms so brilliantly that the limited series is both serious and escapist. It is an interesting high wire on which to walk, and the film makers here pull it off brilliantly. I commend this show to you… even though it takes an episode or two simply to adjust to all that is coming at you from nearly every possible angle. In the middle of all this, Jean Smart completes this column’s hat trick with another wonderful (off-beat) performance.

I am married to another blonde and talented actress of a certain age. I therefore compose this ode to Jean Smart with some trepidation since it is clear to me Ms. Gless would have probably been every bit as good (maybe better) in Watchman or Mare of Eastown. But truth to tell, Sharon could not have done what Ms. Smart did with Hacks. I don’t know anyone else who could, except (perhaps) Julia Dreyfus. Julia had her turn with Veep, now, with Hacks, Jean Smart gets hers.


Barney Rosenzweig


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