Saturday, December 1, 2007
Around TIN PAN ALLEY in New York City, ubiquitous autograph hounds scrounge around the streets, on the look-out for celebrities.
Fans with eagle eyes are either seeking an elusive autograph for their own collection, plan to trade the scribbles in their hot little hands for more prized ones - or just maybe - are in the signature biz seeking to make a fast buck here and there.
Frank Langella noted on a talk show once that when he was on the boards in the hit Broadway Show "Dracula", he was scouted down ad nauseam for his John Henry.
After all, with the glare of the spotlight on his career, a little flourish of the pen was bound to rustle up high sticker prices.
He jokingly noted that after the successful run of Dracula, he was in a phone booth one day chatting up a friend, when one of the regulars in the theatre district dashed up and banged on the door demanding his signature.
"Just a second," the charismatic Langella whispered politely through a crack in the sliding door, "I'll be off the phone in a second."
The guy retorted,
"Frank, I can't wait that long. Your autograph is only worth five bucks these days."
Ah, the fickle finger of fame!
When I first moved to the Big Apple, I used to get all giddied up, and catch a Broadway show or Concert on a Friday or Saturday night.
One night - as I stepped out of a taxicab dressed to-the-nines - a scruffy little man dashed up and asked me for my autograph.
I felt awkward because I didn't have any acting credits to speak of, then.
Obviously, because of the way I was elegantly attired, he assumed I was "somebody".
Yeah, I just exude star quality, don't I?
Although I was relatively well-known in Canada, it was doubtful he'd be familiar with my name and reputation in New York City. Most assuredly, my autograph would be of little value to him at that stage of my career.
But, when I tried to elude his advances by emphatically noting that he "wouldn't know me", he persisted.
"You'd be surprised," he cackled,
"I know a lot of the actors and the shows in town. I follow 'em."
"You wouldn't be familiar with me," I insisted, somewhat embarrassed.
But, he remained anchored by my side.
"Tell me your name," he pestered, "Who are you, come on!"
Finally, to get rid of him, I blurted out my name.
"Ah, never heard of you," he retorted, as he turned on his heel and scurried off to find the next victim.
Paul Newman told a hilarious story once that really takes the cake, though.
When a talk-show host asked that he share his strangest experience as a famous actor, he chuckled.
Apparently, Paul was taking a whiz at a urinal one day in a public "John" when a man sidled up at the next stall. Without batting an eye, he excitedly turned to the celebrated actor, and quizzed, "Are you Paul Newman?"
When Mr. Newman acknowledged he was, the fan asked for his autograph.
For obvious reasons, the Oscar-winner was dumbfounded.
If it were me - I would have turned and said "Yes" - then peed all over his leg.
How's that for a piece of memorabilia?
Tips on Autograph seeking according to WikiHow
First and foremost, remember that celebrities are just people.
Stars have real lives and responsibilities; so, make sure your timing is appropriate for the occasion. Fans are appreciated, but keep in mind that no one wants to be ambushed as they're savoring a mouthful of dinner at a trendy eatery.
Also, understand that celebrities are used to people asking them for autographs. They take it in stride; therefore, don't be too nervous. Approach the celebrity, but don't get so close that it annoys them.
It's a good idea to say "Hi," tell them your name, and offer up a light compliment. Do not gush, apparently they don't enjoy it.
Ask a question or two. For example, comment on their latest movie, video, book, or whatever they're famous for.
Hold out a pen and paper, but don't stuff it into their hands.
Ask for an autograph by saying "I'd love to have your autograph," or "May I take a picture with you?" Don't be shy. Be confident and smiley.
John Grisham's autograph
I suppose if there wasn't a toll bridge at the turnpike, Sonny - a character in the "Godfather" - would never have been ambushed and murdered in brutal gangland style.
New Yorkers feel they are being ambushed in another way.
On the horizon?
City-dwellers in the Big Apple can expect to be squeezed for tolls on mid-Manhattan streets during peak traffic hours.
"It's another scheme for them to milk the middle class," said one irate driver.
Another quipped that, "It's for rich people like Bloomberg."
Backers argue that "congestion pricing" will ultimately save money because companies won't have to pay workers to sit in traffic.
After all, there are stunning claims that gridlock currently saps about $13 billion dollars out of the economy each year.
In jolly old England, commuters pay hefty fees daily for the privilege of careening around the downtown core of London's quaint city streets.
Of course, their system is so much more ominous than the one proposed in the U of SA.
Imagine that, a device affixed to the lower carriage of the vehicle actually tracks the drivers as they cruise through the cityscape.
Geez, that sounds a lot like Orwell's 1984, to me!
Out of spite - a defiant few are parking their old caddies and new-fangled hybrids - to hop on a scooter, take a morning jaunt to work, or ride public transport.
People must be getting desperate, eh?
I'm waiting for the days when we can use a particle device to transport our sentient beings through space without any dependence on Detroit or the automakers in Japan.
Not such a far-fetched idea.
In fact, in the December issue of Nature Magazine, a group of researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, reported an account of the first experiment to verify quantum teleportation.
Another team in Rome ( headed by Francesco De Martini) submitted similar evidence for publication in the Physical Review.
Neither group sent a colleague to Katmandu or a car to the moon.
But, what they did prove is still pretty startling.
Anton Zeilinger, De Martini and their colleagues - demonstrated independently of each other - that it is wholly possible to transfer the properties of one quantum particle (such as a photon) to another.
Even if the two photons are at opposite ends of the galaxy.
I just hope my body reconfigures correctly at the other end when they transport me!
Friday, November 30, 2007
At a special ceremony last night at the Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists presented Bob Barker - former host of "The Price is Right" - with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In accepting the award, Mr. Barker noted, "...of the many awards that I have received over the years, this is the one that is most important to me."
The celebrated Game Show host has been a member of AFTRA for fifty-five years, and has always backed the Union in their efforts to protect the rights of workers in all areas of the media.
Attendees at the presentation were treated to a handful of hilarious clips from the "The Price is Right".
The popular daytime show has the unique distinction of being the longest-running game-show in Television history.
Barker was in true form last, delighting the audience in attendance with a few zesty one-liners.
At one point, he noted that at his age, he now recognized the need for Health care, for instance.
This joke was made in reference to the fact that AFTRA was the first entertainment union to secure health care benefits for their membership.
In fact, last night, UNION reps used the occasion to unveil a documentary - "Commitment to Action" - which not only celebrates AFTRA'S 75th birthday - but the Union's good works over the years.
In the doc, well-known celebrities - like Studs Terkel - spoke out vigorously in support of AFTRA'S efforts to secure worker's rights, encourage activism, and ultimately, ensure that all performers under the "umbrella" were equally protected.
While the Screen Actors Guild negotiates contractual agreements in the area of film, AFTRA maintains jurisdiction over TV Sitcoms, Soap Operas, Radio, and a portion of the new media proliferating now in the entertainment arena.
In one insightful segment, the filmmakers report how AFTRA went to bat for the first black female newscaster being discriminated against a few years ago on Channel 5.
There was also some nasty footage of early activists getting their heads cracked open, all in the name of the cause of activism in the ranks.
A behind-the-scenes look at how the TAFT HARTLEY LAW got passed was particularly educational - and inspiring.
Also known as The Labor-Management Relations Act, it is a United States Federal Law that greatly restricts the activities and power of labor unions.
The Act, still largely in effect, was sponsored by Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred A. Hartley, Jr. and passed over U.S. President Harry S. Truman's veto on June 23, 1947, establishing the act as a law.
Labor leaders called it the "slave-labor bill".
At the time, though, then President Truman argued that it would "conflict with important principles of our democratic society".
The Taft-Hartley Act amended the National Labor Relations Act which Congress had passed in 1935.
29 U.S.C.A. 141, specifically states that the NLRA was enacted to,
"To promote the full flow of commerce, to prescribe the legitimate rights of both employees and employers in their relations affecting commerce, to provide orderly and peaceful procedures for preventing the interference by either with the legitimate rights of the other, to protect the rights of individual employees in their relations with labor organizations whose activities affect commerce, to define and proscribe practices on the part of labor and management which affect commerce and are inimical to the general welfare, and to protect the rights of the public in connection with labor disputes affecting commerce."
The amendments enacted in the Taft-Hartley Act added a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices", on the part of unions to the NLRA, which had previously only prohibited "unfair labor practices" committed by employers.
The original Taft-Hartley Act prohibited jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts and "common situs" picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns.
Union shops were heavily restricted, and states were allowed to pass "right-to-work laws" that outlawed union shops.
Furthermore, the executive branch of the Federal government could obtain legal strikebreaking injunctions if an impending or current strike "imperiled the national health or safety," a test that has been interpreted broadly by the courts today.
Over the years, there has been a push to merge the Screen Actors Guild with AFTRA.
One of the stumbling blocks of the plan appears to be an elitist view by a handful of members at the Screen Actors Guild.
Unlike SAG - where an actor must have a UNION job to join the Guild - AFTRA has an open-door policy.
"Any person off the street can join AFTRA," old-timers are often heard to lament to anyone within earshot.
I am in accord with the open-door policy, personally, because I am vehemently opposed to "closed shops".
I believe that everyone should have the right to work; moreover, in my view, competition is healthy.
The dedicated, hard-working few, will always work...because it is in their nature to do so.
After hearing the comments of some of the panelists at the Fine Arts Theatre - who spoke after the Documentary screened to loud applause - this would appear to be so.
A handful of AFTRA Members - an airborne news reporter, a former talk-show host, a soap actor, and a voice-over specialist - made a number of excellent points about the UNION, its value, and the need for more dues-paying members to get involved.
For the record, I have been an AFTRA member for over twenty years...having worked on TV Soaps such as "General Hospital" and "The Young & Restless"...on popular TV Sitcoms such as "Saved by the Bell" and "Silver Spoons"...and hit comedy shows on Fox like "In Living Color".
But frankly, I do have a bone to pick.
Although reps are supposed to drop down to the set to check on working conditions - I recall that a couple of the Television reps - Chris V. Hagstrom and Kathy Ewers, in particular - often neglected to meet their obligation.
Actors complained that calls on the telephone often went unanswered, because Hagstrom, Ewers, and others - were conveniently unavailable.
When it came to disputes over overtime, special business, and penalties...reps appeared to side up to the production companies.
On occasion, when SAG was picking up shows which normally would have been under AFTRA jurisdiction, the reps were also known to kow-tow to the "suits" to hold on to their small pickings...looking out for their own jobs, perhaps?
In addition, I was often put off by the horrendous attitude of AFTRA employees like Lauren Bailey, who were not only a tad slow to saunter to the telephone - but more-often-than-not - acted like they cared less...in spite of the fact the calls were made with the deliberate aim of resolving issues pertaining to benefits, residual checks, whatever.
Maybe if I was in management, or on the AFTRA Board of Directors - instead of a lowly actor - these three pig-headed employees at AFTRA would have treated me with a little more respect.
If you ask me, Union reps like the ones aforementioned, sold us down the river years ago - and just maybe - it's their fault we're in the pickle we're in today with producers.
For this reason, I wholeheartedly urge that members DO get involved, as they were requested to do last night...if only to keep a watchful eye over paid AFTRA employees who appear to be only concerned about their own backsides - not that of any relatively-unknown actor pulling down less than $15,000.00 a year.
For my taste, AFTRA employees are too clubby, prone to play favorites, and too-often engage in too much questionable politicking for their own good.
Just the facts, man.
Occasionally - the press will run news bites about Beach Boy Carl Wilson - band member of the musical phenomenon, the Beach Boys.
Usually, there's a lot of fodder about dependency, or curious tales about an unethical psychiatrist who pulled the member's strings for a short period.
And, just maybe, reports muse about the band's overall illustrious musical past.
In contrast, Dennis Wilson remained out of the unpleasant glare of the spotlight during his short dance on the face of the Earth.
Save for the Charles Manson association, of course!
Years ago, through acquaintances, I became friends with the drummer with the steady catchy beat, in a round-about way.
Although Dennis was separated from his wife - Karen Lamm - he constantly longed for the woman who got under his beautifully-tanned skin.
Not unlike the "Burton's" in their day, Wilson & Lamm tried to work out the intricacies of their tempestuous relationship. In the end, the pretty charismatic twosome called it quits, in spite of the fact they were married and divorced twice.
On occasion, Dennis would drop by unannounced for an impromptu visit - at some un-Godly hour like 3 a.m. in the morning - for instance.
Within minutes after alighting on my couch, he'd produce a miniature antique spoon from within the confines of his fashionable outerwear. With a couple of quick precise maneuvers, he'd be snorting up a mound of white powdery stuff.
In spite of the fact he was addicted to the high - for the most part - the laid-back beach boy managed to remain in control of his faculties.
In my presence, anyway.
But, he had his melancholy moments, when he'd pine for the love of his life, Karen Lamm.
Their sad demise was something difficult for him to fathom.
An elusive dream, that slipped away forever.
But, the talented musician didn't want for company; after all, Dennis was an attractive, sexy man.
Usually, he dashed around town sporting a pair of doctor's scrubs, in vogue at the time.
Slight of build, he wore a scruffy beard with surprising style, topped by a mane of healthy shaggy hair.
But, he was a madman on wheels, that's for sure.
On a couple of occasions when I rode with him in the black Corniche Rolls Royce at his disposal, he squealed through the Hollywood Hills burning rubber like he was behind the wheel of an expensive hotrod.
At the time, he was half-way into an affair with Christine McVie.
The whole scenario was not disimiliar to the tale that was depicted in the remake of the classic film - "A Star is Born" - which starred songstress Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
When McVie was off on tour with Fleetwood Mac racking in the glory and the big bucks, Dennis shuffled around her Manse in the hills - stir crazy - and in need of an emotional fix.
He was obviously discontent, but what made him tick?
One day, after brooding a little, he angrily noted that his father had sold all the rights to the Beach Boys' early hits.
At the time, I was naive, and not too familiar with the ins-and-outs of the record business.
So, his angst soared over my head, failing to hit its intended target.
Certainly, I was capable of feeling his pain.
But in the great big scheme of things, my head was in the clouds.
Years later, when a classic Beach Boy hit turned up on a tacky taco commercial, it suddenly hit me smack dab in the gut.
Yeah, the Wilson boys' father sold 'em out.
Tough for a young man to face up to, even when the reality of it all stares him in the face.
When Dennis wasn't at McVie's elegant palace in the hills, he'd lull away hours on his yacht moored in a slip at the Marina.
Ah, he loved the majesty of the great sea!
Out-of-the-blue one day, a news report blared out from the TV, and it upset me.
Apparently, Dennis dove in for a refreshing swim one fine morning, and failed to reappear at the surface of the still waters.
A beach boy, king of the California sun and sand and surf, spirited away by the powerful currents of the ocean lurking below the surface.
Maybe, it was appropriate.
The California dreamer is at peace, at last, in his true element.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Edgar Wright - director of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" - is programming a festival of films (The Wright Stuff) at the New Beverly Cinema to run December 2nd thru the 17th.
Wright not only hand-picked a select collection of his favorite movies for screening, but will preside over many of the events, schedule permitting.
During the course of the festival several surprise guests will make an entrance - much to the delight of fans - no doubt.
The films range from the horror genre to those in the realms of comedy and action-adventure.
There's a quality production to suit every taste, I expect, judging from the press release.
Wright started out directing TV in the UK; in particular, he is known for the cult series, "Spaced".
Shortly thereafter, the zany director wrapped his first comedy feature, "Shaun of the Dead".
"Shaun" won him the British Independent Film Award for best screenplay and the Empire Award for best British film.
In 2007, Wright's second feature - "Hot Fuzz" - was released to critical and financial success, and won him a best comedy nod at the National Movie Awards.
The festival is kicking off on December 2-4 with a double feature.
"Bugsy Malone" (directed by Alan Parker) and Brian De Palma's "Phantom of the Paradise" will surely delight local film buffs who pine for this kind of zany bill-of-fare.
Wright says he's a big fan of these films - in no small part due to the roster of great songs - penned by the lengendary, Paul Williams.
"Flash Gordon" and Mario Bavas spy thriller - "Danger Diabolik" - will be inclued in the eclectic batch of celluloid classics shown over the course of the mini-festival.
Also, two of Wright's favorite action films - "The Last Boy Scout" and the sleeper hit "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (Shane Black) - will screen later in the week.
On the subject of Shane Black, Mr. Wright was inclined to sing praises.
"Shane Black has long been a writing hero of mine and these are my two favorite scripts to have been spat out of his typewriter. The first is criminally underrated and the second is scandalously under seen, together they make for a double bill of the finest in neo noir."
John Landis fans may want to take "An American Werewolf in London".
The Landis offering was one of the first horror films to hit Wright - as he demurely puts it - in the "gut".
In Wright's view, the director was at the height of his powers when he lensed it.
"Wolf" is suitably matched on a double-bill with little the horror gem "Tremors" (which stars Kevin Bacon, if you recall).
Audiences will no doubt turn out in droves to catch two zany comedies - "Top Secret" and "Bananas" - which Wright has tapped for the end of the Festival.
High camp will be featured, too.
"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is sure to jolt the sensibilities.
"Head" - the Monkees' cult classic - is scheduled to team up with the soapy drama.
Mr. Dolenz is expected to attend the screening, field questions, and sign autographs for fans.
I'm hankering to catch "Raising Arizona" and Sam Raimi's gory offering "Evil Dead 2".
Edgar laughingly refers to the little ditties as an on-the-edge of your seat "double-barreled blast".
Although Wright promises to be the one laughing loudest and hardest throughout the Festival, I'm sure to give him a run for his money.
Edgar, watch out!
Wright Stuff Festival Info: http://www.newbevcinema.com
Yesterday, a California Appeals Court ruled that "it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws."
Ending years of dispute, the court ruled in favor of Felix Kha, a medical marijuana patient seeking the return of medical marijuana that was seized by police.
In a ruling that rejects law enforcement’s claim that federal law preempts the state’s medical marijuana law, the court asserted "we do not believe the federal drug laws supersede or preempt Kha’s right to the return of his property."
The court’s ruling also affirms a policy change by the California Highway Patrol (CHP)which until 2005 held the record for the worst violator of Proposition 215. The CHP’s policy of mandatory seizure of medical marijuana was challenged in court by the ASA, after which the state’s top law enforcement agency amply modified its policy.
"It should now be abundantly clear to law enforcement across the state that it is not acceptable to seize the medicine of seriously ill patients," said Joe Elford, who represented Kha as Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access.
As of yesterday, California law enforcement will be "fulfilling their more traditional duty to administer the laws of this state," according to the court’s ruling, an ASA rep noted.
Yesterday’s victory marks the culmination of two years of litigation led by ASA.
"The ruling can help someone else that is in really bad need of access to their medicine." Felix Kha said after hearing of the victory.
Felix is not alone, apparently.
Americans for Safe Access documented nearly eight hundred patient encounters with local or state police during a period of more than two years.
During this time frame, their reports indicated a glaring trend...more than ninety percent of all police stops resulted in seizure of medicinal marijuana by police regardless of any probable cause.
And, according to records maintained by Americans for Safe Access, rampant seizure of medical marijuana from qualified patients and primary caregivers has taken place in 53 of California's 58 counties.
This precedent-setting victory was achieved through years of meticulous planning by the Legal Affairs Department of Americans For Safe Access.
Of course, the fruits of their labor would not have been achieved, but were it for the generous donations of the members of Americans for Safe Access and other enthusiastic supporters...
Will the DEA raids of local suppliers continue?
In spite of the fact California voters approved a measure (Bill 215) seven years ago, allowing for compassionate use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes, the DEA has been cracking down on the local suppliers, alleging that their outlets are engaging in conduct which amounts to the, "...illegal sale of an illicit drug which is outlawed by the Federal Government."
According to Timothy L. Landrum, Special Agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles,
"...these dispensary operators are no different than any other drug trafficker; they prey on people in our communities to make a profit. The DEA and our Law Enforcement counterparts will not turn a blind eye to flagrant disregard of our Nation's essential drug Laws".
However, the fact remains: there is a definite conflict between State & Federal laws which needs addressing.
For example, while it is illegal to possess, sell, or distribute Marijuana in the United States on a Federal level, in California a resident is legally entitled to use the substance for medicinal purposes.
The issues have yet to be resolved.
I trust California Residents will concur that the DEA pot busts, and abusive and illegal conduct of the agents - who are clearly blinded by a kind-of reefer madness - should cease and desist, too.
Or is a costly waste of Judicial Resource, at taxpayer's expense, beckoning to accomplish this end?
Peter Frampton's tresses of yesteryear had nothing on me!
Photographers found me a scintillating subject as I pranced - and spun around - and leapt through the air.
Indeed, their lenses were always at the ready to capture the impromptu moments on celluloid
Many of the candid shots ended up on the front pages of morning newspapers, in slick glossy magazines of the day - and in one instance that I know of - framed and lined neatly on a wall in Ottawa's National Art Gallery.
In one dazzling shot, a photographer snagged me mid-flight - with arms outstretched skyward and back gracefully arched - framed against the image of my favorite architectural beauty, Toronto's futuristic-looking City Hall.
So - when it was announced that the Rock Musical "HAIR" was coming to town - all manner of folk egged me on to audition.
I was a natural, after all, wasn't I?
Although I acquired a smidgen of actual stage experience (a portrayal of "Lomov" in Anton Chekhov's play "The Marriage Proposal" won me an Award of Merit in a Drama Festival) the chance to prance the boards in a full-fledged musical always eluded me.
Tossing caution to the wind, I burst onto the stage at the audition, determined to wow 'em.
After I sang the audition piece, the director quizzed me.
"What are you on?"
"The stage," I replied tongue-in-cheek.
A gaggle of reporters on hand - chuckled - and excitedly jotted down the remarks.
Needless to say, my audition tape ended up on the National News.
But, no cigar.
When word filtered back from casting, I was astonished by the appraisal.
The producers thought I was stoned - and subsequently - passed!
I put the disappointment behind me and continued on with my street performances.
On one outlandish occasion, when I got swept up in the emotion of a protest on Baldwin Street, I was arrested for dancing on a police car.
But, I was acquitted due to the expert legal counsel of a smart young lawyer - Clayton Ruby - who's star was on the rise.
One fall day, I was vigorously performing for a handful of tourists on Bloor Street in Hog Town, when a taxicab screeched to a sudden halt.
A wild-looking man with a burly build raced towards me and yelled out:
"You've got to be in Hair!"
As it turned out, the charismatic hippie-guy was none other than Gerome Ragni - who wrote the rock musical "Hair" - with his partner, James Rado.
In town to assist with the Toronto production, he had his eye on me as the great white hope!
At this juncture in my life, though, my stage ambitions had been quelled a little.
Despite Gerry's urgings, I neglected to dash down to the Royal Alexandria Theatre to become a member of the Tribe.
However, we became fast friends.
According to Gerry, Hair was a difficult production to get off the ground.
The innovative musical languished beneath the radar of the theatre-going public, and subsequently, the initial sales were sluggish.
Hair was just another obscure off-off Broadway production, struggling for attention, amid other worthy theatrical hopefuls.
Things turned for the better one fine morning when the writing duo struck on the idea to incorporate a titillating sensual nude scene into the mix.
You got it!
The police caught wind of the plot turn (probably by way of a sly press agent) and - amid a lot of fanfare - paid a much ballyhooed visit to the Theatre to close the show down on charges of indecency.
Understandably, Hair was thrust into the International spotlight.
Before you could say - Rock Musical Hit - the show was a sell-out success!
The rest is show biz history, of course.
Although I did not sign on to be a member of the hippie cast in Toronto's production - on opening night, I not only attended - but sprang up on stage at the grand musical finale and danced up a storm with the cast!
The exuberant moment was captured by photo journalists, and subsequently, published in the weekend edition of the major daily.
Yes, "Hair" was the musical that got away, but there will be others!
Although Gerry passed away in 1991, fond memories often surface.
On those occasions, I find myself humming a tune,
"When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars."
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Two favorite actors - Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman - are starring in "Savages".
So, when the lights fell at the screening, I settled in for what I expected would be a night to remember.
By cleverly using a handful of expert cross-cuts in the opening scenes, the filmmakers quickly establish early on that an elderly gentleman is losing his grip - dementia, in fact - may be setting in.
An urgent call is put out to his two children who have been essentially out-of-touch with their father for a number of years.
The brother (Hoffman) and sister (Linney) are soon thrust together in a tug-of-war over various issues - things left unsaid, unsavory memories from the past, choices to be made about their father - you name it.
There's a whole ball of sticky wax to unravel.
Hoffman's character - Jon Savage - is a self-absorbed teacher of philosophy; while his sister, Wendy (Linney) is an unproduced playwright with promise. Each is struggling to come to terms with his or her own shortcomings - most of all - unpleasant troubling feelings that bubble beneath the surface that are striving to be reckoned with.
In the early chapters of the feature - directed by Tamara Jenkins - there are a number of searing painful insights into the issue of elderly care - or the lack thereof.
Right off-the-bat, the audience is faced with the bitter truth - the reality - of old age.
In fact, during these intense moments, anxieties of my own surface.
Also - I sensed a feeling of foreboding all around me, too, as the mostly over-fifty audience appear to be reflecting on their own circumstances and the approaching darkness that beckons most in their middle-age.
Will a caring hand be there to nurture and guide each of us at the end?
Curiously, when a moviegoer in a wheelchair arrived at the theatre with a friend just before the curtain fell, all the reserved spaces for disabled persons were taken.
At first - none of the moviegoers (who did not appear to be seriously afflicted physically in any way) - were inclined to part with their comfy spot.
When one woman finally succumbed, it was not before lamenting to anyone within earshot.
"I don't mind giving it to them, as long as they don't demand it."
A sad commentary, indeed.
Should a disabled person in a wheelchair have to ask for what is rightfully theirs?
Likewise - in a civilized society - should an elderly person be forced to make a plea to be treated with dignity and respect in their final days?
The whole scenario is a tough row to hoe - but an aspect of life on this mortal coil - most are forced to deal with at some point.
Personally, as the painful images emanated from the silver screen, I was hit with many conflicting revealing emotions.
Dying suddenly - or going out by one's own hand - appears to be preferable to the one articulated in the film.
For example - in "Savages" - various options are offered to the children so they can valiantly press on.
When the siblings struggle over the issue of a nursing home - as opposed to an assisted-care facility - it all boils down to humanity, the daughter maintains stridently.
Hoffman's character lashes back.
In a gut-wrenching poignant speech that is raw and bursting with emotion, he eloquently argues that the finely-manicured lawns, the aesthetically-pleasing facilities, and the caring attitudes depicted in the glossy brochure are not aimed at the ailing elderly on death's doorstep.
"It's all about appeasing the family's guilt."
That is the truth, he asserts.
The approach softens the pain a little and appears to be an appropriate insightful message to pay heed to.
None-the-less - one has to wonder - what is the true nature of God's plan?
To test one's compassion against the pain and sorrow of another?
To demonstrate the irony of life?
Sentient beings are born into the world wide-eyed and excited about the wonder of life.
Then, later on - go out much the same - in diapers and in a blur of faces and uncertainty.
Are the final gruesome hours a parting glance on the human condition or a last ditch-effort to reflect on the meaning of life?
Or, just a humbling opportunity to make amends so we can prepare to meet the maker?
When a film festival announced their intention to screen a documentary of Andy Warhol star, Jackie Curtis, I jumped at the chance to snatch up a ticket.
After all, my paths crossed with Jackie Curtis many years ago.
I was curious to see how the filmmakers would depict the underground star who appeared in classic low-budget projects such as "Flesh" and "Women in Revolt".
I was in an off-off Broadway play - "The Magic Hype" - which was a spoof on the Andy Warhol stars, when I first came into contact with Ms. Curtis.
The troupe I was involved with were known as the "Hot Peaches".
In "Magic" - the writers took jabs at Andy, his cast of off-the-street down 'n out on-the-edge characters, and the Factory - from whence they came.
Jimmy Camicia was the writer/director/producer cum chief cook and bottle-washer of the "Hot Peaches" troupe, as he likes to demurely put it.
During the successful run of the show (the reviews weren't half-bad in spite of the kitsch and campiness of the production) I struck up a friendship with Jackie who was this-close with a number of the actors in the review.
Jackie was well-known for having appeared in a handful of Warhol films with legendary counter-culture figures such as Candy Darling & Holly Woodlawn.
The raunchy, in-your-face films, were usually directed by clever Paul Morrissey.
When the camera (frequently manned by Warhol) rolled, there was generally a free-for-fall, with the actors - I use the term loosely - and as much improvised content as was theatrically possible in a single take.
On one occasion, I recall chatting with Jackie in her bed-sitting suite above a convenience store in a two-story walk-up in the East Village.
At Jackie's insistence - I recited a handful of my early poems while the lady-of-the-house prepared tea - of all things!
Jackie was a keen writer, as well.
The rambunctious underground star began writing plays in the late 1960's in which he/she usually appeared as the female lead.
"Amerika Cleopatra" ran during the summer of 1968 and co-starred Alexis Del Lago and Harvey Fierstein (Cleo's Jewish Mother).
Remarkable as it may seem, Robert de Niro made his first entrance on the stage opposite Candy Darling during the first run of the production of "Glamour, Glory, and Gold".
Jackie was penning that play in the days we first rubbed shoulders; occasionally, when we bumped into each other at Max's Kansas City, or elsewhere, she offered up snatches of the dialogue for me to critique.
Then, the mercurial Curtis got stuck on the idea of a musical. So, she whipped up a sweet little offering, "Lucky Wonderful". The stage show, with music composed by Paul Serrato, was produced in 1968 at the Bastianos Theater.
Another project - "Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit" - was taken under John Vaccaro's wing at the Playhouse of the Ridiculous in 1969 and toured internationally for two years.
One of my favorite pieces - "Vain Victory" - was produced at La Mama in 1971. The cast included: Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Paul Ambrose, Eric Emerson, Mario Montez, and Andy Warhol.
Then, Jackie got on a kick with James Dean.
Out-of-the-blue one day, Jackie tossed a slick glossy photograph in my lap. It was an 8 x 10 head shot of Ms. Curtis copy-catting the James Dean "look". Excitedly, Jackie exclaimed that she was jetting off to Hollywood to audition for a part about the rebel without a cause, swearing she'd become the next James Dean.
Well, I had to laugh.
Bless her heart! I mean - if you knew Jackie, well - she was more Queen than Dean!
However, because of that momentary loss of her senses, a bolt of lightning struck bringing unexpected fame.
Lou Reed picked up on the madness, then - immortalized Jackie - by writing about the scenario in the tantalizing lyrics for the popular hit, "Walk on the Wild side".
If you recall, in that memorable chart-climber, Lou Reed sang, "Jackie was just speedin' away, thought she was James Dean for a day."
Lou Reed and I actually sang a rock 'n roll version of the Wizard of Oz ballad - "Somewhere over the Rainbow" - one late night, but that's another story...
Not to get sidetracked.
One day, Jackie dashed up to me on the street, begging me to appear with her in a skit for a New Year's celebration at a small Theatre in the East Village.
Of course, I was game.
The idea was worked out to perfection.
I'd gently push Jackie back and forth on a large swing adorned with flowers of all persuasion, center stage. Then - the two of us would dance a simple two-step cheek-to-cheek and side-by-side - to the tune of "Tea for Two".
But it did not go off without a hitch!
About forty-five minutes before the house manager was to wave us onstage, Jackie whipped out a bottle of Jack Daniels.
I was aghast and cried out, "Jackie, not before we go on stage..."
But, Jackie was insistent; it would loosen us up.
Despite my violent protestations, she foisted the bottle on me. Believe me, Jackie was a difficult person to say no, to.
Well, by the time we both got on stage, we were both bombed!
All I recall from that wild, zany night was the swing, a torrent of silky petals cascading furiously to the stage floor, blinding stage lights, and a lot of hilarious laughter and applause.
Oh, and a very nasty hangover the next morning!
Whether Jackie was aware of it or not, that little escapade instilled in me a valuable lesson adhered to this day.
I never partake of alcoholic spirits before a performance on stage!
Unfortunately, Jackie did not - nor did she ever - kow-tow to convention; this was a truism in her professional life, to be sure.
The social graces were to be chided - trampled upon - mocked!
But, polite society received her none-the-less.
I surmise her motto was, "Live it up, so you can write it down".
Yeah, she was wild, impulsive, and daring in every conceivable fashion. A darling who pushed the limits.
As the filmmaker of the documentary noted, she could connive, cajole, charm - whatever - until the sights she set were within reaching distance.
Bright, witty, desperate, wacky - .she was all that - and then some.
Ah, I fondly recall Jackie with a smile on my face.
Forget it. After the little Warhol scamp was made the mold was broken.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
In the opening montage of "Hitman", strains of Ava Maria play in the background, as a series of slick images introduce the audience to the tale about to unfold on screen.
For a moment, I thought I was sitting at home watching the TV.
"Hitman" has all the trappings of a fiction series for the idiot box, but lacks muster for the wide silver screen.
In spite of bad reviews, though, their packing 'em in at the movie theaters.
I expect the eye-catching, mysterious ads - surreptitiously tucked away here and there throughout the pages of the major dailies - intrigued a few!
Yeah - it was just a silhouette image in a provocative stance - hinting at mystery and adventure.
The "Hitman" is coming!
The fast-paced action scenarios about hired assassins, global intrigue, and mind-boggling thrills, have widespread appeal to young males in the eighteen to thirty-four-year-old age bracket.
Forget about realism.
Turn in your common sense to the usher at the door, please!
If you like - a riot of explosions, exhilarating smash-ups, imaginative wizardry, and a titillating flash of nubile young flesh - this one's for you, bud.
In fact, there's enough gadgetry and cutting-edge paraphernalia to satisfy any discerning techie junkie.
Unfortunately, only a person with half a brain would find the plot satisfying intellectually.
Here's the premise in a nutshell.
A secret organization recruits young men at a tender age and trains the studly innocents to become ruthless robot-style killers.
In essence, they're assassins for hire, who are virtually unstoppable.
But, the producers have ignored the obvious at times.
For example, a bald villain with a ubiquitous bar code on the back of his head?
Wouldn't the hired gun stand-out in a crowd, and later, be easily identified by witnesses?
Talk about loopy!
Notwithstanding this obvious flaw in the storyline, it also stretches one's credulity to imagine how a professional killer - at the top of his game - could miss an easy target.
In "Hitman", a nasty villain actually goes off half-cocked - and misses the package - in spite of the fact the target is out in the open without any obstructions in sight!
Gee, if I was the contractor, I'd want my moolah back pronto!
To make matters worse, the lead - Timothy Olyphant - has all the sex appeal of a rubber suit.
And a curious acting style, to boot.
His facial expression - yeah, there's only one - jogs the sensibilities.
Then, there's the stilted walk on slight tippie-toe, which effects a curious bounce whenever he struts gingerly by onscreen.
Ah, the super hero is a swish!
My favorite moment occurs when he's about to spring into action.
At that juncture, he lowers his chin slightly- levels his eyes into camera - and then advances forward slo mo.
A tad distracting.
A lot was exploited in "Hitman", but when it came to Olyphant, the producers looked askance.
Theatre-goers undoubtedly paused to wonder why the suits at the studio failed to jump on the opportunity to show off a little flesh - defined pecs, chiseled abs - the like.
Yes, there was one shower scene, but it was shot through frosted glass and consisted of a few seconds of a burly arm and out-of-focus chest.
Does Olyphant have a rash, I wonder. Maybe, his figure is less than Greek?
Perhaps the filmmakers expect fans to wait with bated breath for the sequel?
Gee, they lost me already.
I'd rather watch old episodes of the Six Million Dollar man.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Essentially - "We Own the Night" - is a cop film.
But, unlike the others in the genre that harp about honor and duty, this little gem focuses more on "family".
Apparently, it was booed at the Cannes Film Festival.
But, I liked it!
It's kind-of an intimate tale about a young man who must make a troubling decision when his wild lifestyle puts his father and brother in harm's way.
Joaquin Phoenix is the manager of a trendy dance club, who thrives on the adrenalin-rush of the night life, high-energy music, and the thrill of rubbing shoulders with an exotic mix of dangerous low-life personalities.
The path of least resistance, also appeals to the independent nature of the young man, too.
Occasionally, he snorts a whiff of cocaine and engages in a little wild sex.
Yeah, ignorance is bliss.
His comfortable carefree existence is interrupted one evening when a Machiavellian drug dealer saunters into the club and starts to shake up the status quo.
The scumbag attracts so much attention, in fact, that the club becomes the focus of a drug investigation instigated by Phoenix's brother (Mark Wahlberg)and headed up by their father (Robert Duvall).
When the brothers' heads start to butt - and Wahlberg's character ends up seriously injured after a professional hit by the underworld - Phoenix is compelled to reevaluate his lifestyle.
In the film - "The Departed" - I found Wahlberg's acting a little over the top and out-of-sync with the other seasoned actors he played against.
Here, the studly actor has found a proper balance which works.
Not an exceptional bit of acting, but it satisfies.
As usual, Robert Duvall turns in a quality performance.
However, when roles in films overlap a little, there are bound to be some repetitions.
Thus, his crusty portrayal of the Police Chief amounts to the - same old same old - I'm afraid.
Nothing to write home about.
In contrast, Phoenix turns in stunning performance which steals the show!
His performance is not only nuanced, but a multi-faceted characterization, which rivets the audience.
Phoenix's acting is a revelation with touches of brilliance.
When actors talk about the "method" - realistically portraying an emotion and crafting a seamless performance - this is was what they are talking about.
Having succeeded in fleshing out his character - Phoenix is subsequently able to touch, mesmerize, and render - a haunting lasting impression.
The film was directed by James Gray, who carved a bit of a niche for himself in the industry, with projects like "Little Odessa" and "The Yards".
In this instant case, the direction is a little pedestrian.
But, the cinematography is rich and impacts the eye; enough so, that the audience remains connected to the action.
Yes, there's plenty of that, but not in a distracting exploitative way.
"We Own the Night" is not innovative or great filmmaking.
But, the movie is entertaining, none-the-less.
A good popcorn movie to cuddle up at home with on a dark stormy night.
A couple of weeks ago, I published a post, noting that John Edwards and his campaign team were seeking additional donations to meet a goal of $500,000.00 for their coffers.
In the event the sum is reached in the new few days, contributions will be matched through public-financing.
Joe Trippi, Senior Adviser for the campaign, reports that as of late last night, about $390,000.00 has been collected.
Now, at this crucial juncture, Edwards has a few days to rustle up the remaining $110,000.00.
We're counting down to the most important caucuses and primaries in nearly two decades. We need your support today so John's message can reach every voter in these key early states. We have direct mail and broadcast spots to get out, staff and volunteers who are going block-by-block—and your contribution helps us with this critical final push!
Another $110,000 will help us reach our goal of raising $500,000 online in just two weeks. Thousands of you have already contributed — but John needs you — and your friends — to help us again.
Help us raise $500,000 online — and know that can be doubled with matching funds, providing us with an additional $1 million to put into the early states with just 38 days before the first caucuses.
So, hit the piggy banks, kids!
Sell the savings bonds, Grandma!
For a while now I have been troubled by a puzzling ailment...
In recent weeks, as I sat at my desk composing a post or two - for some inexplicable reason - my foot would unexpectedly seize up...causing me a great deal of anguish and discomfort.
I was even tempted to dash off to "emergency" on more than one occasion, when I awoke from a deep slumber in the morning, suffering muscle cramping so severe, that I was bent over in excruciating pain for fifteen or twenty minutes.
The ailment puzzled my doctors; after all, a number of blood tests determined that my potassium and calcium levels were normal.
And, the condition worsened.
Would this mysterious illness end up crippling me for life?
Today, I dropped in to Starbucks for a cup of Earl Grey Tea, as usual, and comfortably settled in for my early morning routine - a quick read of the morning papers.
As I started to put the steaming tea to my lips, I suddenly tossed the cup down.
In the health section of the LA TIMES, an article by a couple of pharmacologists (Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon) spelled out my problem to a "T".
Apparently, there are documented reports that individuals have suffered from pain and cramping, due to Earl Grey Tea!
According to the "health tip", Earl Grey Tea is flavored with oil from the citrus fruit bergamot. And, bergamot also contains the oil bergapten...a natural compound that can block the flow of potassium in and out of the cells.
Because muscle cells rely on potassium for that flow, those sensitive to the oil, may experience muscle cramps and pain.
So, that was the culprit!
Understandably, I intend to swear off Earl Grey Tea.
I wonder, why has the company never warned consumers about this potential health hazard with Bergapten oil in Earl Grey Tea?
A few months ago Michelangelo Antonioni passed away and there were a number of tributes paid to the Italian Director.
Although it was a few years ago, I vividly recall a number of the scenes from the feature - "Blow Up" - which affected me greatly both personally and professionally.
The film was set in the swinging sixties in London, England.
The images in the park still resonate; in particular, those of a mime playing a surreal game of tennis which casts nagging doubts in the mind about illusion and reality.
For their day the ideas were thought-provoking and ground-breaking.
The visionary auteur was capable of going beyond boundaries - and as a result - he exacted his own inimitable style.
For this reason, he was a director's director.
Martin Scorsese was asked to reflect on Antonioni's body of work.
In a discussion on "L'Aventura", Scorsese noted:
"His visual language was keeping us focusing on the rhythm of the world: the visual rhythms of light and dark, of architectural forms, of people positioned as figures in a landscape that always seemed terrifyingly vast. And there was that tempo, which seemed to be in sync with the rhythm of time, moving slowly, inexorably, allowing what I eventually realized were the emotional shortcomings of the characters - Sandro's frustration, Claudia's self-deprecation - quietly to overwhelm them and push them into another adventure, and then another, and another."
Further, he reflected that,
"His characters floated through life, on impulse to impulse, and everything was eventually revealed as a pretext: the search was for a pretext for being together, and being together was another kind of pretext, something that shaped their lives and gave them a kind of meaning."
Scorsese emphasized that Antonioni seemed to open up new possibilities with each new unveiling. For example, he points out that the last seven minutes of L'Eclisse were even more terrifying and eloquent than the final moments of an earlier picture considered part of a trilogy.
"Antonioni brings us face to face with time and space, nothing more, nothing less. And they stare right back at us. It was frightening. It was freeing. The possibilities of cinema are endless."
According to Scorsese - Antonioni realized something extraordinary - the pain of simply being alive. And, its mystery.
Kevin Thomas, a Los Angeles Times critic, noted:
"He had the uncanny ability to capture the undercurrents of a particular time and place."
This observation was particularly true in respect to "Zabriskie Point".
At a recent screening it became painfully obvious that in contrast to "Blow Up" - which remains timeless, in many respects - "Zabriskie" appears dated and locked in some-kind-of Twilight Zone.
Undoubtedly, it's due to the fact the piece is set in the turbulent sixties.
In this instant case, Antonioni's vision was hindered by his methods - the pregnant pauses, the off-kilter slant on realism - and ultimately - Zabriskie Point sank in a sea of dashed hopes and good intentions.
A lot of style without substance!
For the most part, the camera shots tended to be gimmicky, too.
This is particularly true in respect to one scene where an architect leans back in a comfortable easy-back chair. Antonioni elected to shoot up from below - strategically setting the character within a frame of his choosing - against a startling vivid blue sky in the background.
As a result, the direction is not seamless, but glaring instead.
In a scene at the sand dunes later, clever camerwork, awesome lighting, and remarkable filmmaking technique, evoke a surreal quality to the desert which is breathtaking. Antonioni's manipulation of the senses manages to conjure up scintillating images - but without legs to stand on - they fall flat. However, the scenes are seductive, none-the-less.
In many respects - "Zabriskie Point" - appears to be an experiment.
A psychedelic one, at that.
In sum, Antonioni's intriguing message appeared to be all about the shifting states of mind that struggle for safer ground.
For a number of bang-on reasons, critics quickly panned the effort, unfortunately.
In my estimation, the obvious was overlooked for the most part.
Antonioni captured the mood of the era, and the instinct of a younger generation, seemingly so distant now.
Today, the celluloid moments - precious as they are in a biographical or historical sense - jump out like a sore thumb but are relevant none-the-less.
In sum, "Zabriskie Point" is a little clunky and unnatural in form.
But, the images are intriguing to watch.
For Scorsese they are,
"Images that continue to haunt me, inspire me. To expand my sense of what it is to be alive in the world."
Ah, there's a heightened sense of that aliveness, for sure!
Sunday, November 25, 2007
December 1st is World AIDS day.
Once again, there is a call to say a prayer for those lost who lost their fight to the killer disease, and contribute money to fund critical research needs.
So, you want to do something memorable for the cause, right?
This year, you have the opportunity to raise much-needed cash in a unique way, by getting involved with "Light to Unite".
Light to Unite is an initiative to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in the US each year.
On World AIDS day each year, "Light" brings together sponsors to hold a virtual-candle lighting event online and forwards the donations to AIDS organizations in the US to fight HIV/AIDS.
Just go to the united site, make a donation, and light a candle.
The National AIDS Fund is one of Americas largest philanthropic organizations dedicated to eliminating HIV/AIDS as a major health and social problem.
To learn more about the National AIDS Fund go to www.aidsfund.org.
Please don't delay. Light a candle. Show your support today.
Elizabeth Taylor has been on the move...
This past week, the magnetic superstar - dripping in clusters of exquisite diamonds - appeared at Geary's in Beverly Hills to promote her new line of jewellery.
The celebrated megastar wowed 'em!
Next week, she'll cause quite a stir when the creme de la creme of Hollywood's power-elite, elbow their way to the best seats in the house at a special one night stage performance of "Love Letters".
The event takes place on World AIDS Day, December 1st, and is expected to raise funds in excess of one million dollars for AIDS Research.
Hard-boiled WGA strikers picketing Paramount in recent days over contract issues, have agreed to graciously bow to the star turn, allowing LA LIZ, co-star James Earl Jones, and guests to attend the evening's celebration without any pesky picket lines to cross.
Elizabeth last appeared on stage in "Private Lives" with Richard Burton amid sold-out houses and a lot of frenzied fanfare.
In a prior stage production, Little Foxes, Ms. Taylor was nominated for a Tony.
I have a fond memory (and souvenir) from those heady days.
The year she was nominated for a Tony Award, she appeared at the celebrations in New York City, only to lose to another nominee.
Shortly after missing out on the treasured Golden Statuette, Taylor appeared on stage to make a presentation. In a jittery moment, her nerves got the best of her, and she flubbed a line. Non-plussed - but quite flustered, none-the-less - she giggled nervously, then carried on.
Ah, it was one of those precious show-biz moments that touches you.
Later, she tossed a tongue-in-cheek party for the losers at Sardi's.
On a whim, I decided to drop Ms. Taylor a line to relay how much I enjoyed her appearance on the Tony Award Broadcast. In a quick note sprinkled with glowing praises, I underscored that she was the "winner", in my estimation.
Because her mailing address was unknown to me, I was left to zip it off to Washington, D.C, in care of her politician husband at the time, John Warner. Then, forgot about it.
A few weeks later, I spied a letter in my mailbox, franked in Manhattan.
Imagine my surprise when I opened up the envelope and found myself reading a note from Ms. Taylor on her personal stationary, thanking me for my card!
I trust you'll agree that anyone who takes a break from their busy schedule and high-profile personal life to post a note of thanks to a stranger, is a very special, thoughtful person, indeed.
Curiously, I vividly recall the first time I ever laid eyes on Elizabeth.
When I was a mere lad, my grandmother grabbed my hand one day, and spirited me off to the movie house to take in a screening of the romantic drama, the VIP's.
The tawdry tale was about a glamorous socialite about to leave her businessman husband (Richard Burton) for a gigolo (Louis Jourdan). Unfortunately, as she plans her exit from the marriage at a rendezvous point at the Airport, a fog drifts in and grounds her get-away plane - at which point - her husband gallantly tries to win back her affections.
On the heels of the credits, Elizabeth suddenly appeared on screen - a stunning beauty nestled in the back of an elegant Rolls Royce - wrapped in a luxurious designer topcoat.
And, her exquisite porcelain face was framed in a chic, black fur hat.
When she alighted from the chauffeured vehicle, she floated along in a swirl of magic stardust, I swear!
Through the mystical power of celluloid, and by virtue of Ms. Taylor's flawless, remarkable beauty, the images have been indelibly etched on my mind ever since.
Needless to say, I'm still spellbound...and, Ms. Taylor's Numero Uno fan, to this day.
New DNA research has raised a controversy.
It all started when scientists identified small changes in DNA that account for pale skin in Europeans, a tendency for Asians to sweat less, and a West African ability to resist disease.
DNA can also reveal what percentage of genes are from Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Because of established theories on tendencies towards afflictions based on genes, a heart drug (BiDil) was marketed for Afro-Americans who appeared to be predisposed to specific ailments of the organ.
Likewise, Jews were offered prenatal tests for genetic disorders rarely found in other ethnic groups.
The studies worry some!
Social critics fear racial prejudices may arise as a result.
The idea that humans are no different from each other - except by skin tone - appears to be evaporating.
So, some say the idea of equality may disintegrate as well.
"We are living through an era of the ascendance of biology and have to be careful," noted - Henry Louis Gates Jr. - the Director of W.E.B. at Du Bois Institute for African and American Research at Harvard University.
There is a fine line between using the data constructively and abusing it, according to Gates.
Non-scientists investigating the issues speculate explosive conclusions are bound to follow on the heels of the historically charged subject of race and intelligence determined from the biological data.
One study, for instance, linked bits of DNA to High IQ.
And, to the disappointment of some, the traces were determined to reside in Europeans and Asians specifically.
However, scientists may be jumping the gun.
The researcher at Half Sigma Blog - who put forth the theories at an early stage of the game - has been accused of "rushing to an egalitarian stance that all races are equal is false."
No matter, in my estimation, co-factors - such as environment, child rearing and nurturing (or the lack thereof) - are important influences to consider as well.
Though a few bits of human genetic code that vary between individuals have yet to be tied to physical or behaviour traits, scientists allege that roughly ten percent of them are more common in certain continental groups and can be used to distinguish people of different races.
Studying the data is not only important, they say, but crucial to mapping the genetic basis for disease.
Hold on, now!
Many geneticists, concerned about possible discrimination, are worried that openly discussing race could endanger support for their research.
Understandably, those individuals are afraid to discuss the social implications of the findings.
It's a delicate subject, many some scientists warn.
"There are clear differences between people of continental ancestries," said Marcus W. Feldman (Professor of Biological sciences at Standford University).
"It's not there yet for things like IQ, but I can see it coming. And it has the potential to spark a new era of racism if we do not start explaining the findings better," he added firmly.
For some, the path to take is obvious.
Renata McGriff - a fifty-two year old health care consultant who previously had been encouraging black clients to volunteer genetic information to scientists - has changed her stance lately.
Until its clear that the science is not going to be used to validate prejudices, she is going to opt out of genetic research.
"I don't want the children in my family to be born thinking they are less than someone else based on their DNA," added Ms. McGriff.
So, do we hide our heads in the sand?
Speaking of sand, Dr. Clark (a retired neonatologist in Kansas) went on record about the issue.
"When was the last time a non-black sprinter won the Olympic 100 meters? To say that such differences aren't real," Dr. Clark noted in an interview, "is to stick your head in the sand and go blah blah blah until the band marches by."
Maybe it's time we wore our genes with pride - stone-washed, tie-dyed - whatever!