In Tune with June!

Do you watch “As Time Goes By?” It’s a romantic comedy series that is frequently being repeated on television. You might have reacted to its star, Judi Dench, as I did. The actress has been a seven-time Oscar award winner and has also received many more for her work in theater and film. In Britain she is considered one of the greatest actresses of the post-war period. She hasn’t stopped, still working twelve-hour days in spite of macular degeneration and bad knees. The legendary Judi Dench, now over 80 years old, is enjoying as great a third act as any actor ever has. The Dame has no plans of slowing down. She’s been acting since the age of five when she played a snail in a school play. Years later Dench landed her first job at the Old Vic, later joining the Royal Shakespeare Company for the next twenty years. The work of the Bard has always held great appeal for her. However, at a film audition “very early on I was told that I didn’t have a face to be a screen actress. That was a time when you had to be quite a looker.” But against all odds she began one of the great film careers at the age of sixty-three. Actress Meryl Streep is quoted as saying “It’s been a privilege for me to have made seven movies with Judi.” Dench has never stopped working. Obviously she likes to keep herself occupied. “Hear! Hear!” “There are always things that I have to do.” Not wanting “to be left behind” she does her best to stay current with technology – receiving assistance from family members (like my son-in-law, Michael, who helps me) and also friends and even Verizon. “Retire,” she says, is the rudest word in her dictionary – and “old” is another one. Judi Dench doesn’t even like being called “vintage.” She prefers “enthusiastic.” The actress heard a 105-year-old on the radio who said “Don’t stop anything. I never stop anything I’m doing because otherwise I’ll never get started again.” Good! That’ll do for the indefatigable Dame Judi. I agree!

I admire a man who doesn’t change his name when he enters into the world of show business. I’m referring to Tom Hanks. He’s an Oscar-winning actor, producer, director, and author. His films made him the third highest grossing actor in North America yet he lived with a lot of upheaval. His family moved often and, at the age of ten, he lived in ten houses. He still vividly recalls the confusion of being that little boy in that odd potluck circumstance. He picked himself up, dusted himself off, and carried on despite a period of not only successes but failures as well. I easily recall many of his outstanding film roles. He turned himself into a policeman, an astronaut, an Army Ranger, an FBI agent, a Slavic tourist trapped in an airport, and even a Santa Claus. On the surface he manages to keep that decent Everyman exterior. Personally, he’s one of my favorite romantic comedy stars. Hanks has produced, co-wrote, and co-directed many award-winning projects. I chuckled when I learned the advice his dad had for him when going to school. Hanks says that the sum total of his dad’s advice to a young man was learn to type. As a result he fell in love with typewriters and now collects them. He states that his handwriting is “horrible, horrible.” Here’s a happy thought: when asked about his wife, actress Rita Wilson, he refers to her lovingly as his “fabulous wife.” As one of his fans he appears to be amiable and congenial. When asked if he was going for a PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) he laughed. Then he said that “sometimes you just have to take a risk and be bad at something, and get outside yourself and have someone else critique it.” He enjoys reading but avoids novels of murder and conspiracy. Me, too! Tom Hanks’ life story would make another fine film but who would play the leading role? Any suggestions?

The Fall 2017/Winter 2018 Programs and Exhibitions of the New York Historical Society has a theme: Making History Matter. The fourth floor has a gallery of Tiffany lamps displaying illuminated glass ones celebrating the work and design of Louis Tiffany. Its Center for Women’s History explores the pivotal role women have played and that’s interesting to see. In the past one exhibit called “Tattooed New York” surprised me. It told the history of a once controversial art form. I did enjoy “Thomas Jefferson – The Private Man.” It was especially interesting to learn that his skill and interest encompassed not only writing and politics but also – surprise – gardening, farming, and architecture. The New York Historical Society has on display a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s handwriting. There’s so much interest there that I suppose I should give you its address: 170 Central Park West (77th Street). Oh, I almost forgot the classic film series on Saturday nights. Now, if trains and toys appeal to you there’s a “Holiday Express: Toys and Trains” for all age groups. Starting November 3 and running until March 25 an exhibit entitled “Hotbed” shows Greenwich Village around 1910. It was a vibrant, Bohemian scene that re-energized the Women’s Suffrage Movement. It included a pennant, 1910-1920, saying “Votes for Women.” You might enjoy an exposition capturing the dramatic scope of John F. Kennedy’s life and times. Wow! There’s so much more to see at the New York Historical Society. That’s the theme they follow through: “Making History Matter!”

Can a writer plagiarize herself? I hope the answer is a resounding “yes” because that is what I’m going to do. In last month’s column I wrote about going to the 25th annual Cabaret Convention. There were four nights of entertainment and I would have enjoyed any but we picked one: the music of Hoagy Carmichael. Most of you know who composed the music of “Stardust.” It was the composer, pianist, singer, actor, and band leader, Hoagy Carmichael. His music was and still is inventive, sophisticated, and jazz-oriented. Carmichael was among the first singer-songwriters to use television, electronic microphones, and sound recording. Most of us are familiar with “Stardust” but how about “Georgia On My Mind,” “Heart and Soul,” and “Skylark?” Carmichael won Academy Awards for Best Original Songs. His mother taught him to sing and play the piano at an early age. He didn’t have much musical training but the piano was the focus of Carmichael’s after-school life. It interested me to learn that when times were bleak it was partly spelled by four-handed duets with his mother. (I certainly related to that since I played duets with my mom. In fact, for a while we had both an upright and a baby grand in our living room.) Carmichael marked the beginning of his musical career playing at a fraternity dance where he earned his first money ($5.00). Obviously that was a long time ago. And here’s something I didn’t know (among many things): He graduated law school, passed the bar, but devoted most of his energy to music and “writing tunes.” Where did he get the name Hoagy? You would never guess – after a circus troupe called “The Hoaglands” that had stayed at the Carmichael’s house during his mother’s pregnancy. The multi-talented man composed several hundred songs including fifty that achieved hit record status during his long career. So – sitting in the gorgeous Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and listening to the music of Hoagy Carmichael as part of the Cabaret Convention was my idea of great entertainment and fun. I felt lucky to be there.

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