Larry Vaughn with Mentora Vaughn Gratrix
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Archive for the ‘Actors’ Category

Stallone Strikes Again

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Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.
— Rocky Balboa

Back in 1976 when I started my job as a film buyer, I had never heard of Sylvester Stallone. It’s amazing how Stallone not only wrote but also starred in Rocky, a classic film that made him a household name. Fast-forward forty years to 2016, and remarkably the “Italian Stallion” has a good chance of receiving his long-overdue Academy Award for his performance as Rocky Balboa in his newest film Creed.

Silvester and Larry 2

I first heard of Sly when my boss, Eddie Stern, was out of the country on an extended vacation. I was a newbie to the film department and wanted to prove that I could handle things while Eddie was away…

Excerpts from Hollywood’s Chosen:

My adrenaline got more than a good workout when Eddie and Jerry were in China. When it came to bidding for movies, I was throwing money around like it was play money. Sure, I made some great deals for the company, but I also bought my share of losers, just as Eddie had known I would.

Then sometimes I got lucky. One afternoon Betty announced, “Larry, Joe Kennedy is on line three.” Joe was the Florida branch manager for United Artists. I found out early on that Joe preferred doing business with our competitors rather than with Wometco Theatres. Joe continuously stayed upset with Eddie because Eddie . . . was notorious for bypassing Joe and doing his business directly with UA’s New York office.

I picked up the phone, and after some small talk Joe got to the point.

“Kid, don’t shoot the messenger. I received instructions from New York. We have to take The Sunshine Boys out of the Bay Harbor and move it to Loew’s Bal Harbour Theatre.”

I couldn’t hold back my anger. “Joe, Eddie personally made that deal with your boss, Jerry Esbin, months ago. You can’t up and pull the picture at this late date. You know the best gross in the state will come out of the Bay Harbor!”

“Kid, you and Eddie need to be thankful that you don’t bid our product on Miami Beach. Besides, I have another picture that was scheduled to play in Loew’s Theatre that I will gladly move to the Bay Harbor.”

I thought to myself, “If Eddie found out that I let Loews steal The Sunshine Boys, he would kill me! Joe is taking advantage of Eddie being out of the country and doing a favor for his good friend Bernie Myerson, Loew’s film buyer.”

“Okay, Joe, let’s cut to the chase. Who do I have to talk with at United Artists? I am not giving up the film.”

“Kid, last time I checked it was not your film to give up. I believe United Artists made The Sunshine Boys, and not Wometco.”

“Joe, I am going to hang up and call Esbin and voice my displeasure at what you are trying to do.”

“Kid, you don’t get it, do you? Esbin is the man who told me to call you!”

There was silence on the line. “Ummm, La’rie, do you want the other picture or not?. . . .It’s one of those underdog films about a boxer who goes from nobody to somebody.”

“What’s the title, and who is in it?” I asked. . . .“Wait a minute, Joe. Is this the film that was shot in twenty-eight days on a shoestring budget of a million-one? And the guy who wrote the story is also playing the lead in the picture? What’s his name, Stalwart?”

“No, ummm, I don’t think it’s Stalwart.” I heard a heavy sigh. “Hold on, here’s his name. It’s Stallone. His name is Sylvester Stallone. The movie is Rocky.” Joe replied.

I thought to myself, “When Eddie gets back, I might be the next victim to go through that swinging door that I’ve heard so much about.”

I mumbled, “Okay, Joe. Book Rocky in the Bay Harbor.”

“Thanks, kid. I mean La’rie. Tell ‘His Highness’ I owe you one.”

Well, the rest is history. Rocky, the little picture I was forced to play on its release date, turned out to be the biggest-grossing film of 1976. It grossed over two hundred and twenty-five million dollars domestically and was honored with three Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture of the Year.

Leave it to Sly to still be in the ring. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Stallone isn’t a contender this January for an Academy Awards nomination. I’d love to see him go all he way with a knockout Oscar win.

Trivia: Sylvester Stallone was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay) for Rocky in 1977, which made him the third man in history (after Orson Welles and Charles Chaplin) to receive these two nominations for the same film.
— Wikipedia

Want more of Sly? Check out this story: This Crazy Untold Story Made Sylvester Stallone Famous…

Tom Hanks — BANGO — I am a star!

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I’ve made over 20 movies, and 5 of them are good.
— Tom Hanks

There are so many things to love about the talented actor Tom Hanks. As a teenager, my first encounter with Tom (as I affectionately like to call him) was in the movie Big. We’ve blogged on other Tom Hanks films: What You Don’t Know About Forrest Gump and Is Saving Mr. Banks Worth Saving? I recently read an article about a letter eighteen-year-old Tom Hanks wrote to the Oscar-winning director George Roy Hill. (You can read the full article here Hollywood Reporter Tom Hanks.) When I read Tom’s letter, I laughed so hard! I love the gumption Tom Hanks had as a teenager, and of course the crazy part is Thomas J. Hanks had it right—for us who know him as Tom Hanks, we all know that his career could certainly be summed up as “BANGO—I am a star.”

Dear Mr. Hill,

Seeing that … I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning film “The Sting,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and enjoyed it very much, it is all together fitting and proper that you should “discover” me. Now, right away I know what you are thinking: ‘Who is this kid?’ and I can understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline High School has heard of me. … My looks are not stunning. I am not built like a Greek God, and I can’t even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films … they will pay to see me.

Let’s work out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was discovered, me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me and — BANGO — I am a star.

Or maybe we can do it this way. I stumble into your office one day and beg for a job. To get rid of me, you give me a stand-in part in your next film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing room, and, because you are behind schedule already, you arbitrarily place me in his part and — BANGO — I am a star.

All of these plans are fine with me, or we could do it any way you would like, it makes no difference to me! But let’s get one thing straight. Mr. Hill, I do not want to be some bigtime, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown American boy who has hit the big-time, owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford “Bob”.

Respectfully submitted,

Your Pal Forever,

Thomas J. Hanks

Denzel Washington Inspires Me …

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Man gives you the award but God gives you the reward.
Denzel Washington

 

Denzel Washington delivered an inspiring speech to the graduating class at Dillard University in New Orleans last month. I’ve always admired Denzel Washington as an actor and a filmmaker. I could list his many accomplishments in the Hollywood entertainment industry, but most of you already know his many talents as an actor. While listening to his speech, my admiration took on a new meaning as Denzel Washington brilliantly shared his heart. He was open and honest about his struggles in college, admitting that at one point during his college career he “was flunking out of college” as he had a 1.7 GPA before getting back on course. His speech was sprinkled with humor and a real sense of his need and dependence on God. Denzel Washington’s words inspired me. Here are a few highlights from his speech:

Put God First: Put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me; everything that I have accomplished; everything that you think I have … everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift … I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life, and it’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with him, but he’s always stuck with me; so stick with him.

Fail Big: Do what you feel passionate about. Take chances … professionally. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to dream big. But remember, that dreams without goals are just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointments. So have dreams, but have goals—life goals, yearly goals, monthly goals.

You’ll Never See a U-Haul Behind a Hearse: I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you.  The Egyptians tried it … they got robbed. That’s all they got. You can’t take it with you. And it’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.

While You’re on Your Knees in the Morning, Say Thank You:  Say thank you for wisdom; for grace; for understanding; for parents. Say thank you in advance for what’s already yours. True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to indicate that it’s yours. And anything you want, good, you can have; so claim it. Work hard to get it. And when you get it, reach back pull someone else up. Each one, teach one. Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference!

(Highlights taken from this article: www.bellanaija.com)

 

He Had Me at Carrots! Remembering Gilbert Blythe…

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Maybe you don’t think I’m good enough for you now, but I will be someday.
— Gilbert Blythe

Jonathan Crombie, better known as Gilbert Blythe, passed away last Wednesday from a brain hemorrhage at the age of forty-eight. The news was devastating, not only for me, but for so many other women . . . and men (my brothers never liked to admit it because it wasn’t cool, but I knew better!), who like me grew up watching the classic miniseries Anne of Green Gables. Honestly, Gilbert Blythe had me at “carrots!” No one could get under Anne Shirley’s skin like Gilbert Blythe. While their tantalizing love story kept me on a rollercoaster of emotions, Gilbert’s unfailing love and patience in his pursuit of Anne Shirley made him, well, quite irresistible.

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Anne, wait! I’m sorry for teasing you about your hair.
Don’t be mad at me for keeps.

In a very real sense, the memory of Jonathan Crombie will continue to live on. Unlike most of us, actors have a unique legacy because we can watch their films long after they’re gone. Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley were my role models growing up. During my dating years, I gave guys such a hard time (not on purpose); but deep down inside, I realize now I just wanted someone willing to patiently woo me, as Gil did with Anne.

And thankfully Gilbert’s legacy will continue. My girls and I are in the middle of reading Anne of Green Gables, and I am anxious to finish the book so we can watch the movie together. I can’t wait to watch their reaction as they meet Gilbert Blythe for the first time. I hope they too will admire his patience, kindness, and strength and that they will look for those characteristics when they are old enough to have a man in their life. And most importantly, I hope they learn that it’s okay to be complicated as a woman—and, yes, even a challenge. Why? Because every girl wants to have this conversation someday:

Anne Shirley: You just think that you love me.
Gilbert Blythe: Anne, I’ve loved you as long as I can remember. I need you. 

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Perhaps LOVE unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship.. as a golden hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

USA TODAY’s writer Jayme Deerwester wrote a tribute to Jonathan Crombie’s life:

Crombie is best remembered for his work as Gilbert. He was never bothered by the fame it brought him and even answered to the name Gil when recognized on the street, [Jonathan Crombie’s sister, Carrie] says.

“I think he was really proud of being Gilbert Blythe and was happy to answer any questions,” she told the CBC. “He really enjoyed that series and was happy, very proud of it — we all were,” she said.

The son of former Toronto mayor and Canadian Cabinet minister David Crombie, he beat out fellow Canadian and future 90210 star Jason Priestly for the role. “We never screen-tested him,” Green Gables producer Kevin Sullivan told the CBC. “We met him and he was cast. It was a perfect storm. … It just all worked perfectly.”

“I think for legions of young women around the world who fell in love with the Anne of Green Gables films, Jonathan literally represented the quintessential boy next door,” he said, explaining the actor’s appeal.

“I think there will be hundreds of people who will be floored that this has happened,” he said of Crombie’s sudden passing. “It’s such a devastating tragedy. In reality, Jonathan was as generous, as kind, as sensitive and as ambitious, in some ways, as the character he came to be identified with.”

Keeping in character with his kind, generous alter ego, Crombie’s organs were donated.

Throughout his acting career, Crombie traveled back and forth between New York and Toronto via bus. “That’s how we are going to be bringing him back,” his sister explained to the CBC. “We felt that it was an ode to Jonathan. He would never go on a plane, so we’re going to make the trek from New York to Toronto on a bus with his ashes.”

Read the entire article here: www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2015/04/18/jonathan-crombie-anne-of-green-gables-death/25994191/

 

My Lunch with Leonard Nimoy & His Vulcan Ears

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A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
—Leonard Nimoy
(shared on Twitter a few days before his death)

It would be hard to live on planet Earth and not know who Mr. Spock is from Star Trek. Even if you’re not a Star Trek fan (which would be hard to believe!), no one has worn Vulcan ears better than Leonard Nimoy. I, like so many other fans, was saddened to hear of the passing of Leonard Nimoy. While he had his share of struggles (like so many of us do), he will always be remembered for his contribution to Star Trek, as he would frequently “boldly go where no man has gone before.” I actually had the pleasure once of having lunch with Leonard Nimoy at Paramount Studios. Here’s an excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen:

We spent the majority of the following day visiting the distribution arm at Paramount Studios. We had lunch with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy at the Paramount commissary. Mr. Shatner and Mr. Nimoy were taking a lunch break from filming their weekly Star Trek television series. Walter Matthau stopped by our table while on lunch break from filming the film version of the Neil Simon play, Plaza Suite.
A comical moment happened during lunch while Mr. Morgan (who always spoke extremely loudly) was speaking. Mr. Nimoy interrupted Mr. Morgan, cupped his Vulcan ear in his hand, and then leaned in toward Mr. Morgan and bellowed, “What? What did you say? My Vulcan ear makes it hard for me to hear.” I laughed out loud, as I couldn’t help but think, “Now, that’s got to be a first: asking Heyward Morgan to speak louder!”

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The Hollywood Reporter published an article by Kim Masters on February 27, 2015. (You can read the full article here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-leonard-nimoy-was-convinced-778379.) I love this story because it reminds me of so many behind-the-scenes stories that we share in Hollywood’s Chosen. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The original script for the first Star Trek movie did not include Mr. Spock.

The project was conceived as what would have then been the most expensive television project ever, with a budget of $3.2 million. When that vision died, Paramount — which had watched other studios feast on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind — decided to make a movie instead.

With a planned $18 million budget, the studio courted director Robert Wise (West Side Story), who took the job not because he loved the old television series but because his wife and father-in-law were fans. Based on their comments on the script, he told the top film executives at Paramount, Michael Eisner and a young Jeffrey Katzenberg, that Spock was essential.

But there was a big problem. Leonard Nimoy did not care at all for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who had engaged him and then dropped him from another project without explanation. And he was suing Paramount for using his likeness on merchandise without his permission. When his agent called about the movie, Nimoy told him, “If you ever call me again about Star Trek, you’re fired.”

At the time, the actor was in New York appearing onstage in Equus. Katzenberg called and said he’d like to come see the play. Flattered that Katzenberg would fly across the country for that purpose, Nimoy agreed to meet with him.

Backstage two days later, Katzenberg pressed Nimoy to have coffee with him. In three more meetings over the following days, Katzenberg listened to Nimoy’s grievances about Roddenberry and Paramount. Katzenberg suggested that Nimoy could do the film while the litigation was pending, but Nimoy replied, “I just can’t do that. I’m sorry.”

Within a couple of weeks, Paramount settled the lawsuit. Nimoy received a check from the studio at 5 p.m. and a copy of the Star Trek script an hour later. By 7 p.m., Paramount rang to set up a meeting. . . .Production started before the script was set. As the project fell weeks behind schedule, Nimoy and William Shatner devised a workable third act as Roddenberry was pushed aside. The budget climbed from $18 million to $45 million — staggering for the time. For Katzenberg, the ordeal almost derailed his career. (He briefly quit or was fired before Eisner brought him back.) The buzz on the movie was so negative that theaters tried to get out of playing it. But Paramount held them to their contracts so they would be forced to meet guarantees that the studio believed would offset inevitable losses from the movie. To everyone’s surprise, the film was a $82 million hit and with its sequels and spinoffs, became Paramount’s biggest franchise.

When Nimoy wanted to make his directorial debut on the third film in the series, Eisner was reluctant to entrust him with this now-valuable property. Nimoy was clear: Eisner needed a director, and he needed Spock — both problems that Nimoy could solve. “You and I are having a very important meeting,” he told Eisner. “This might be the last time we ever speak to each other. We’re either going to start working together on something, or we’re literally down to the final moments of our relationship!”

The result was another hit — and Nimoy went on to direct the fourth Star Trek movie and other hits, including the 1987 smash 3 Men and a Baby. By then running the Disney studio, Eisner and Katzenberg were no longer in the Star Trek business, but they had been wise to keep Nimoy in the fold.

This article has been adapted from a section of Kim Masters’ book, Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.

A special thanks to J.P. Brooks for sending me the link to this article. We’re always looking for fresh material for our blog, so please send us an email or use our contact page.