Friday, February 21, 2014

"The Tonight Show" Returns to NYC after 40 Years


Living the Dream

Many people dream about living and making it in NYC.

Here is one of those stories.

Paul Colby, RIP

Put this in the category of people who should have been famous - but weren't.

Paul Colby managed and owned the famous Greenwich Village club The Bitter End for decades. And, unlike so many of those clubs, it still exists today. It was, and is, a small cramped venue where people interested in emerging artists came and gave the newbies a chance to practice their craft in front of an audience.

And several of these newbies became legends.

Everyone from Bob Dylan to Woody Allen to Lady Gaga got there start performing there. Kris Kristofferson practically credits the The Bitter End for his entire career.

Several years ago, when CBGBs closed, there were lots of stories of unpaid rent and mismanagement that led to its demise. Sure, there was a greedy landlord who hiked the rent but many disputed why this great club had to close. So it's a wonderful thing that someone like Paul Colby could keep a place like The Bitter End running for years. Without him, none of these artists would have had a stage to perform on.

A great New Yorker with a great legacy, Colby died recently at the amazing age of 96 years old. Because of him, our city's cultural life was made a lot richer and, for that, we thank him.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Woody and Mia: The Aftermath

Woody Allen is one of the greatest artists that America has ever produced. As a comedian, actor, author, playwright, screenwriter, and film director, he has produced an amazing body of work, including comedy albums, books of essays, plays, and movies that have influenced generations of writers and directors and will stand the test of time. His work has always had a distinct New York persona, a neurotic nebbishy voice in a country full of sell-satisfied swagger.

That said, Woody Allen doesn't sound like a very nice person.

From everything I've read and heard, he's narcissistic and selfish. He's cold and aloof and, as wonderful as his work is, he doesn't sound like he'd be so wonderful to hang out with. And, in 1992, he shocked the world by dumping his long term partner Mia Farrow for her adoptive daughter Soon Yi Previn. People were understandably upset that the great Woody-Mia artistic and personal collaboration had collapsed -- and, more to the point, they found the Woody-Soon Yi relationship creepy. But that relationship -- now marriage -- has lasted for more than twenty years. It seems to be loving and, in its odd way, meant to be. As the pope might say, who are we to judge?

But judging Woody Allen seems to be all the rage this day.

Twenty-years ago, Woody and Mia went through a grueling, almost two year custody battle over their children, both adoptive and natural. Eventually Mia won custody of the kids and cut them off from Woody. But, most horrifyingly, Mia Farrow accused Woody Allen of molesting their adoptive daughter Dylan at her Connecticut home. This awful accusation was investigated fully and Woody Allen was never charged.

That seems to have been the end of it, at least for the next two decades. Woody remained with Soon Yi and kept making movies. Mia Farrow acted here and there and did great humanitarian work. While Woody and Mia's families never reconciled, at least they seemed to have maintained a peaceful distance, the wounds slowly healing if never completely.

Well, now the scabs have been flicked off.

It began late last year, when Mia Farrow gave a long interview to Vanity Fair, demonizing Woody Allen all over again. And a now grown-up Dylan Farrow, in the same article, gave details of the alledged sexual abuse she supposedly suffered at Woody's hands. It was shocking stuff, like going back to an old nightmare. If true, then Woody is a child molester who should have been charged and gone to jail a long time ago. But, if false, it's a totally malicious smear. In a situation like this, there is no middle ground. Someone is lying and we can never know who.

The article created some hubbub, not just for the allegations but also for Mia Farrow's bizarre claim that Ronan, the son that she and Woody Allen had in the mid-1980s, might actually be Frank Sinatra's (you can't make this stuff up). Then, in January, the Golden Globes gave Woody Allen a lifetime achievement award (as usual, Woody wasn't there, so Diane Keaton, Ms. Annie Hall herself, accepted it for him). During this segment of the show, Ronan sent out a nasty Tweet while also re-posting the damning Vanity Fair article. Sometime thereafter, Mia Farrow Tweeted the same article and condemned the award as an insult to all survivors of sexual abuse. And now, Dylan Farrow has released a letter, really a blog post, to the New York Times, re-alleging the abuse.

Hmmm?

The Vanity Fair article, the Tweets during the Golden Globes, now this letter, all seem like some kind of coordinated smear campaign against Woody Allen. Again, it's very important to point out, that this matter was investigated fully at the time and Woody Allen was never charged.  Obviously, like the rest of the world, I can't claim to know the whole truth. But unlike Roman Polanski and Micheal Jackson, Woody Allen was never charged because there was no evidence. People can be accused of committing any crime but without evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they can't be charged and convicted of a crime. Even if new evidence emerged proving Dylan Farrow's claim true, the statutes of limitations expired a long time ago and Woody Allen can't be charged for it now. But Mia and Dylan Farrow haven't produced any new evidence -- just the old allegations.

If this abuse really happened, then it's tragic that Woody Allen was never punished. But Woody had never been accused before -- or since -- of child molestation, and molesters rarely only have one victim. Also, this allegation came on the heels of the Woody-Mia split, with Mia pressing hard for Woody Allen to be charged. The timing of it looked like the attempted revenge of a woman scorned and she was using her daughter as the weapon. It obviously failed.

So what's the deal now?

In her letter, Dylan Farrow rhetorically asks the various stars of Woody's movies, "What if it had been your child?" She also accuses Hollywood of "turning a blind eye" and somehow siding with Woody Allen against her. In her thinking, the fact that he still has a career is an insult to her and all victims of child abuse.

Maybe you agree -- and that's fine. But let's put this in some context.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Woody Allen easily made the best movies of his career: Bananas, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days and Crimes and Misdemeanors. The ones from the 1980s also starred Mia Farrow, and she was great in them. After Woody and Mia split, for the most part, Woody went into a creative decline. Sure, in the 1990s, he made a few good ones -- Bullets over Broadway, Deconstructing Harry, Sweet and Lowdown -- but most of his films were less than great. And, in the 2000s, with the exception of Match Point, most of Woody's movies were outright clunkers and he seemed like a total has-been. However, in the last few years, Woody's career has regained steam. Vicky Christina Barcelona and more recently Midnight in Paris got great reviews and won Oscars (including Woody's first in 25 years). Midnight in Paris was also a huge box office hit. And last year's Blue Jasmine was a big success as well and the star, Cate Blanchett, appears poised to win the Best Actress Oscar. Also, in March, a Broadway musical version of Bullets over Broadway is supposed to open and has generated great buzz. 


Suddenly, at age 78, Woody Allen is cool again.

In many ways, this late career resurgence gets to the heart of Mia Farrow and her family's lingering grudge against Woody Allen: he abandoned them twenty years ago and is still successful to this day and they can't stand it. So Mia Farrow and her family are on the attack: they want to destroy him. This seems to be their wish: that no one will finance, or act in, or distribute, or watch, or give awards to, any Woody Allen movie in the future. They hope that Woody Allen, after almost 50 years in the business, will be shunned from it forever and never work again and presumably he and Soon Yi and their children will end up on the street. Really, what else could they want?

Mia Farrow and her family couldn't convict Woody Allen in a court of law so they want to convict him in the court of public opinion. Clearly, Mia Farrow is still bitter, still angry at Woody Allen. He hurt her twenty years ago and she was understandably angry -- but instead of trying to rise above it and be the better person, she's given into the anger and transferred it to her children.

As for Dylan, she's clearly in pain. She truly believes that she was a victim of abuse and the awful thing is that she just might have been -- and it will never be officially punished. One can only hope that she find peace and joy in her life and the years ahead.

But what good is this smear campaign doing? What's the point? It's just bringing up a lot of anger and hurt feelings, it's just re-litigating a matter that was settled twenty years ago and cannot be changed today. It's also unclear why Mia Farrow and her family somehow think that the entire film industry should somehow judge Woody Allen's career based on his private life and on their allegations against him. Hollywood only cares about his movies -- how good they are and how much money they make. A court of law are where people are convicted for their crimes and sent to jail -- not a crazy business based on illusion.  
 

When something awful happens to you, either you can give into the anger and bitterness, give into the rage you feel towards the person who hurt or you can show that you are stronger than the hurt, stronger than the damage done to you. You go on, regroup, live to fight another day, and show the world that you cannot be crushed. Clearly Mia Farrow and her family cannot do this. Is trying to destroy Woody Allen going to change their pasts and improve their futures? Somehow I think not.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Tonight Show in NYC

On September 27, 1954, Tonight Starring Steve Allen premiered on the NBC TV network. It was the first national late-night talk show of its kind, broadcasting from the Hudson Theater on West 44th Street.

It had begun a year earlier as a local show and, even after it went national, The Tonight Show was still considered a quintessential exemplar of the city, full of New York attitude. Steve Allen would interview people on the street, perform a monologue and various stunts, and usually he and his guests would imbibe a cocktail or two before the show and the night were over. When you watch late-night TV today, all of things that the various hosts -- Letterman, Leno, Kimmel, et. al. -- do, all started with Steve Allen in that midtown theater sixty years ago.

Eventually, Tonight would be migrate to the NBC studios at Rockefeller Center and be hosted by Jack Paar in 1957, and eventually by Johnny Carson in 1962. Then, in May 1972, something tragic happened: following the sad example set by the Dodgers fifteen years earlier, The Tonight Show uprooted itself from its New York origins and headed west to Los Angeles -- broadcasting from "beautiful downtown Burbank."

Like the "Ford to City: Drop Dead" headline, the departure of The Tonight Show from NYC symbolized the declining fortunes of the city in the 1970s. Carson would then host Tonight for the next twenty years and then be replaced by Jay Leno - then Conan O'Brien -- and then Jay Leno again, who will end his run as host on February 6th.

Two articles from this month's Vanity Fair take an interesting look at The Tonight Show's past and future. Jimmy Fallon promises exciting things for the new New York-centric show. But things will probably never be as crazy as when Carson was hosting the show from NYC in the 1960s -- and these were the things happening off the air. It included Carson hanging with mobsters and getting thrown down stairs in bars all the while making Tonight the cultural center of America.

So why did The Tonight Show move from NYC to LA? Basically, it was two things: Johnny Carson got divorced and he wanted to start a new life in a new city, and producer Freddy de Cordova felt they could getting better guests in California. Off it went. 

And on February 17, 2014, The Tonight Show will return to NYC after an absence of 42 years, broadcasting once again from Rockefeller Center. Jimmy Fallon will become host and a new era for the show and our city will begin. Jerry Seinfeld once said that The Tonight Show is the headquarters of show business so, once again, its location will be in NYC.

Two articles from this month's Vanity Fair take an interesting look at The Tonight Show's past and future. Jimmy Fallon promises exciting things for the new New York-centric show. But things will probably never be as crazy as when Carson was hosting the show from NYC in the 1960s -- and these were the things happening off the air. It included Carson hanging with mobsters and getting thrown down stairs in bars all the while making Tonight the cultural center of America.

So why did The Tonight Show move from NYC to LA? Basically, it was two things: Johnny Carson got divorced and he wanted to start a new life in a new city, and producer Freddy de Cordova felt they could getting better guests in California. Off it went. 

And now, after forty-years, it's back -- and hopefully it will be an exemplar of New York attitude once more.