and directed by Andrew J. Kuehn; director of photography, Jose Luis Mignone; edited
by Maureen Nolan; music by Michael Feinstein; released by Miramax Films.
Bruce Vilanch, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Lily Tomlin, Robin
Williams, Raquel Welch, Carol Burnett, Billy Crystal and George Schlatter.
time: 93 minutes.
Bruce" is rated R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
Some of the jokes are off-color.
STEPHEN HOLDEN, New York Times (1999)
the oddest events can catalyze a show business career. As Bruce Vilanch, the writer
of hilarious special material for Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal,
Robin Williams and dozens of other Hollywood stars, recalls, for him it was "The
Vamp," a glitzy flop Broadway show starring Carol Channing.
who didn't emerge from behind the show business scenes until he began appearing
regularly on "Hollywood Squares," is the endearing, very funny and utterly
unpretentious subject of Andy Kuehn's likable documentary, "Get Bruce!"
If anyone can be said to have reinvented awards-show patter since the days of
Bob Hope, it is Vilanch, who over the last decade has regularly stamped his gently
campy, carefully naughty signature on the Academy Awards.
the Oscars are only the tip of the iceberg. Vilanch has also written for the Emmys,
for President Clinton's 50th-birthday party and for numerous Hollywood galas.
As scenes of him collaborating with Crystal, Williams and others reveal, he is
a masterly technician whose special gift is coming up with material so custom-fitted
to an individual personality that you barely sense the writer's invisible hand.
with an unruly mop of blond hair and a preference for oversize, pink plastic-rim
glasses and wittily inscribed T-shirts from his extensive collection, Vilanch
effuses the good-natured canniness of an all-knowing cherub. He observes, without
a trace of malice, that one of the prerequisites of becoming a major Hollywood
star is a powerful, driving self-absorption.
at the age of 4, Vilanch grew up in suburban New Jersey and recalls discovering
early in life that he was gay. He developed his humor partly to deflect peer-group
meet his mother, a longtime show business devotee to whom he feels related by
blood, even though he isn't. While working as a celebrity interviewer for The
Chicago Tribune, he wrote a profile of Ms. Midler that so impressed her that she
called to compliment him, and the two began collaborating. He introduced her to
the raunchy humor of Sophie Tucker. Eventually moving to the West Coast, Vilanch
had his first Hollywood job writing for "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour,"
in which he had the formidable task of making guests like Donny and Marie Osmond
collaborations have occasionally ruffled feathers. The most notorious case was
a Friar's Club roast of Whoopi Goldberg at which Ted Danson, her boyfriend at
the time, appeared in blackface. Ms. Goldberg defends Vilanch in the film and
says he was only doing what she wanted. Of Ms. Goldberg, he observes: "You
know there's going to be that moment when she goes off the graph, that's the whole
idea. If you didn't want that to happen, you'd hire Kathie Lee Gifford."
We also meet an ABC television censor who frets about the necessity of having
to monitor Ms. Goldberg.
the high points of Vilanch's career were the inspired musical-comedy medleys he
created with Crystal to introduce the best picture nominations, from which "Get
Bruce!" shows excerpts.
course, Vilanch's services don't come cheap. When Barbra Streisand called, he
says, she made him an offer that was less than what Jim Bailey had made for him
to work on a show in which he impersonated her. Even so. Ms. Streisand wouldn't
budge. It's the one moment of "Get Bruce!" in which Vilanch allows himself
to bite back.
ROGER EBERT, Chicago-Sun Times
Bruce" is exactly the kind of documentary we all want to have made about
ourselves, in which it is revealed that we are funny, smart, beloved, the trusted
confidant of famous people, the power behind the scenes at great events and the
apple of our mother's eye. That all of these things are true of Bruce Vilanch
only adds to the piquancy. I have known him for 30 years. If there is a dark side
to his nature, I believe it shows itself mostly when he can't decide which T-shirt
writes "specialized material" for Hollywood stars. When Whoopi emcees,
when Billy does the Oscars, when Bette Midler opens a new show at Radio City Music
Hall, much of what they say (and most of the funniest stuff) has passed through
Bruce's laptop computer. He has written the recent Oscarcasts and can be found
backstage at almost every big Hollywood awards show or charity benefit, suggesting
"improvised" one-liners as the host dashes onstage between acts. His
greatest triumph was arguably the night Jack Palance did the one-armed pushups,
and Billy Crystal milked it for the whole evening.
is not that Billy, Robin, Whoopi, Bette and the others are idiots who need Vilanch
to put words in their mouths. Quite the opposite, as this film shows in some fascinating
footage of them at work. Vilanch is a foil, a collaborator, a dueling partner,
a lateral thinker able to help them move in the direction they want to go. Only
when some clients are insecure or truly at sea does he become a ventriloquist.
knew him a long time ago, in Chicago, when he worked for the Tribune, the film
says, although I recall, perhaps imperfectly, that it was Chicago Today. He was
very funny then. He looked about the same: large, always wearing a well-stretched
T-shirt, his face a cartoon made of a mass of hair, a Santa beard and glasses.
He wrote wonderful celebrity profiles, and that's how he met Bette Midler at Mister
Kelly's and went from rag to riches.
may not have actually been present when they met, but I was there at Kelly's one
night at about the same time. Mort Sahl was on the stage. I was in the booth next
to the runway to the dressing rooms. I heard a voice. "Why do I have to open
for this guy?" It was Bette Midler. Another voice. "Why do I have to
be your piano player?" Her piano player was Barry Manilow.
world was young then and Bruce flirted briefly with the possibility that he could
build a performing career of his own. He actually opened at Kelly's as a stand-up
comic. This was in the days before comedy clubs, and it took nerve to stand up
in front of a room of friends and critics (the friends were more frightening)
and try to be funny. I do not recall that he was a hit. I can see from "Get
Bruce," however, that he's good in front of an audience these days, no doubt
because he has a lot more confidence and because his persona is familiar to his
isn't a show in town that can be held without him," says one of the subjects
of "Get Bruce." He recalls, usually with the perpetrators, how specific
material was generated. Not just the triumphs (Palance's pushups) but the disasters
like Ted Danson's appearance in blackface at the Friars' Club roast for Whoopi
Goldberg. Vilanch wrote a lot of Danson's material, which went over so badly,
it occupied the entire front page of the New York Daily News the next day, but
Goldberg defends him: "It was my idea. All my idea."
remember when he left for the coast. There was a farewell party at mutual friend
Larry Dieckhaus' and we all sat on the floor around a coffee table, eating pizza
and weeping with laughter.
first it was slow going in L.A. He got a job on "The Brady Bunch Hour,"
and then interviewed with Donny and Marie. What he said to Donny during their
unsuccessful meeting cannot be quoted here, but will be much quoted elsewhere.
He also recalls some of the people he did not write for; he is well paid, we learn,
and Barbra Streisand's offer was so low he told her, "Jim Bailey offered
me more to write the drag version of this act."
of the film's best sequences have Vilanch bouncing lines back and forth with Crystal
and Williams. He works differently with each client. With some he's a counselor,
a source of calm reassurance. With others he's a competitor, a one-upper. Lots
of funny lines are generated, and he remembers a few that went too far and were
wisely left out of the script.
does he get his humor? Maybe from his mother back on Long Island, whose every
statement is hilarious--apparently unintentionally, although we sense she knows
exactly what she's doing. Bruce was adopted, she confides, but "he's more
like me than any child who was ever naturally born." High praise. Deserved.
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