Posts Tagged ‘Bette Midler’
Interviews: Red Carpet Premiere of New Christmas Film, ‘Scrooge & Marley’
Dec 3, 2012
CHICAGO – Bring up the immortal classic “A Christmas Carol,” by author Charles Dickens, then bring up how many film and TV versions have been done using its basic story. After a half hour of listing every conceivable production, a gay version won’t be found. “Scrooge & Marley” is the new film that takes care of that category. The premiere was last week in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre.
Bruce Vilanch is a Hollywood legend, a comedy writer known for working up material backstage at the Academy Awards, and developing jokes for Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Billy Crystal, Roseanne Barr and Robin Williams. He also spent four years on “Hollywood Squares” and wrote/performed a one-man show, “Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous.”
HollywoodChicago.com: You seem like you were born to play a party coordinator like Fezziwig. What impresses you about his character in the source novel that you wanted to make sure was in this version of the story?
Bruce Vilanch: I viewed him as being crazy, over-the-top and flamboyant, at least as far as Dickens could go with that character back then, and it seemed to coincide with what the writers did in this movie. My Fezziwig spends a lot of time in the 1970s, when it seemed like everyone was having a party, and he was the party provider. [laughs] It was a nice match.
HollywoodChicago.com: Which line or piece of written material first got you noticed as the joke writer that eventually got you backstage at the Academy Awards?
Vilanch: I started writing with Bette Midler, having met her in Chicago at Mr. Kelly’s nightclub, and my reputation grew as she started doing more. I don’t know if it was one single line, but I remember I sold Johnny Carson a one-liner a long time ago. There was a football player named Lance Rentzel in the 1970s, and he was arrested for exposing himself. So the joke was ‘it was cold today…how cold was it?…it was so cold that Lance Rentzel stopped me on the street and just described himself to me.’ It got me a lot of notice, and I started writing more jokes for him and other people. So I’ll use that line as a first.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was the most controversial line you’ve ever written, who said it and what was the circumstance and setting?
Vilanch: I can’t think about the specific line, but I was involved when Ted Danzig did blackface at Whoopi Goldberg’s Friars Club roast. It was Whoopi’s idea, and Ted went along with it because their relationship at the time was ending, and they both thought it would be a good way to put a period on it. It was wildly controversial.
HollywoodChicago.com: Finally, if you had to write a saying on one of your famous tee-shirts that best describes this film, what would that line be?
Vilanch: We put the ‘dick’ back in Dickens. [laughs]
Windy City Times
Wigging out with Bruce Vilanch
by Jorjet Harper
The world contains quite a few people who seem to always be playing to an invisible camera. But Bruce Vilanch is one of those truly rare people who is always cracking jokes off the top of his head that are actually funny.
Vilanch is known for his work both behind and in front of the camera. The two-time Emmy winner has written material for many of America’s top comedians, but is probably best known to the public for his time as a regular on Hollywood Squares. Vilanch has been head writer for the Academy Awards since 2000. In 1999, he was the subject of a feature-length documentary, Get Bruce!, about his life as Hollywood’s most sought-after humor writer.
It’s easy to see why Vilanch is such a valuable commodity in Hollywood. In person, he’s endearingly clever in a down-to-earth way, loves playfully entertaining everyone around him, and seems unable to stop saying things that are genuinely hilarious.
Vilanch was in Chicago for the shooting of the new film Scrooge & Marley, a contemporary retelling of the classic Dicken’s tale, A Christmas Carol, “with a gay twist,” that will premiere during this year’s holiday season. In a casting stroke of genius, Vilanch plays the comic/tragic character Fezziwig in the film.
Though he already had on his Fezziwig wig for our interview, the makeup department had not yet glued on his Fezzi-beard. He stroked the strawberry blonde locks of his wig lovingly, and told me, “My old hair—it’s come back to visit. It’s been living in a condo in Boca Raton, and now it’s decided to come out of retirement.” In fact, his real hair today, with its strawberry blonde color and shoulder-length Prince Valiant styling, looked rather similar to his Fezzi-wig—just a bit less bushy.
Not done hamming it up, Vilanch began to croon to his wig: “’Hello my old friend … ’ I feel like Sweeney Todd,” he quipped. “’This is my burden … .’ Soon there will be a beard to complete the picture. I will look like a nightmare version of myself from the Seventies. I can’t wait!”
In Dickens’ original Christmas Carol, Fezziwig is young Scrooge and Marley’s boss. He’s a generous, ethical businessman who treats his employees like family, cares about their welfare, and throws lively holiday parties for all. Sadly, he is forced to sell his business to avaricious corporate interests who care nothing about worker morale. Scrooge and Marley, grown more callous over time, side with the heartless new owners.
“I play Fezziwig, who you’ll remember from Dickens,” Vilanch said. “But this is a different kind of Fezziwig. He’s a guy who owns a disco in the Seventies and he’s Auntie Mame—Rosalind Russell and Auntie Mame.” Vilanch threw back his head, causing his wig to flounce. “He’s all, ‘Oh how droll, how vivid!’ He’s a pretty fabulous character, and he brings young Scrooge and Marley in [to his business] and of course they do him dirt—you know the story. And then we see his downfall. But then there’s a resurrection. It’s very biblical.”
Though Scrooge & Marley is a modern, gay-themed retelling of A Christmas Carol, Vilanch’s character follows the traditional Dickensian arc. “He’s a jolly old soul who gets caught up in his vices and gets caught up in their chicanery. And eventually he’s something they [the spirits] show Scrooge, to show what a bad guy Scrooge has been through the years. So Fezziwig’s kind of a poster child for excess. But at the same time, he’s brought down by the hand of somebody who is genuinely sinister. And he’s not. And I like him.”
Dickens’ Fezziwig symbolized the end of an era he knew well, the Industrial Revolution. Dickens’ saw it as a time when small businessmen and local industries like Fezziwig’s were disappearing, swept away by more ruthlessly profiteering business practices and cutthroat corporations. The Fezziwig in Scrooge & Marley also symbolizes the end of an era: the pre-AIDS gay culture.
“Fezziwig is the end of that party that was going on in the gay community in the Seventies, that was ended by the AIDS epidemic,” said Vilanch. “Suddenly everything got very serious and everything that we were told would happen because of what we were doing suddenly happened—and not because of what we were doing. It was totally coincidental. It was the end of some kind of a party that had been going on since I think Stonewall. There was a great deal of joy about liberation and getting a movement going and all that, and that came crashing down when people began dying. And ironically enough, that movement, because of the epidemic, became a real genuine political movement, which is as forceful today as it can be.”
Vilanch was living in Chicago in 1970, working at the Chicago Tribune, when he met Bette Midler. Midler hired him to write jokes for her, marking the start of a successful collaboration that has lasted through the years. After moving to L.A., Vilanch began writing material for other famous comics as well, including Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, and Lily Tomlin, and for television shows like ABC’s original Donny and Marie Show and The Brady Bunch. Vilanch heard about the Scrooge & Marley project from his friend, the film’s co-director and co-writer, Richard Knight.
“I had done his radio show when I was in Chicago doing Hairspray, and we’ve been friendly ever since. And he talked about making this strange gay take on A Christmas Carol. When you consider Christmas Carol’s been done every other way—I mean, I’m waiting for the al-Qaeda version, that’s all that has been missed—so I thought, how could I not be a part of it? It’s so original, so unusual.”
Vilanch also considered a gay version of A Christmas Carol in it’s wider cultural context. “I think that the reason to do a gay version of anything is to show that we’re all basically the same under the skin. That the humanity is the same. We just have wildly different cultural perspectives and ways of expressing ourselves. But it’s the humanity of it all that’s important,” he observed.
“And gay community, and gay culture, for want of a better word, is just so much fun. It’s so festive and everything-is-in-quotes and over-the-top exaggerated, because it’s a culture that had to live under the thumb of a straight culture for years, so its take on things comes from being oppressed. And that’s always funny,” said Vilanch. “I mean, I’m Jewish, too, and we have that in common: we were oppressed for five thousand years and that’s why so many funny people are Jews. When you’re at the bottom, you kind of have to look up and laugh, because you don’t see the sun a lot.” Vilanch paused, then added warmly, “And eventually, you do.”
Feast Of Fun
A Double Date with Bruce Vilanch and Ronnie Kroell
Oct 2, 2012
Today we are thrilled to have two of our favorite guests in the home studio- Bruce Vilanch and Ronnie Kroell. Bruce is best known for his 4 year stint on Hollywood Squares, and as the head writer for the Academy Awards.
And we also have the incredibly handsome Ronnie Kroell, who rocked the best bod in a long time on the cover of Playgirl and stole people’s hearts on Bravo’s “Make Me a Supermodel.”
Bah humbug—is just an old fashioned way to say—oh Mary!
Listen as we go on a double date with Bruce Vilanch and Ronnie Kroell! Bruce talks about what happened between him and James Franco at the Oscars. Last we heard, the Hollywood hunk blamed sweet Bruce for his lackluster hosting abilities, and then later deleted his Twitter account.
What was it like to working with Diana Ross in the film Mahogany,
And how drunk did Joan Crawford get when he interviewed her.
To Listen: Click Here
Stars Are Out Tonight series
Â byÂ The StaffÂ onÂ July 12, 2012Â
If thereâ€™s a writer for the stars more famous than Bruce Vilanch, we havenâ€™t heard of him. Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal . . . and most hosts on more Oscar telecasts than we have time to list. He also wrote the legendaryStar Wars Holiday Special.
This week, Vilanch is bringing his stand-up act (which he insists is â€œnot an actâ€) to the Mansion of Saratoga Springs, as the first performer in the Stars Are Out Tonight series.
As one Denver-based critic descibed his act, â€œnothing stings or feels mean. His humor is all about being an insider and sharing anecdotes about the foibles of working in show business.â€
Bruce Vilanch will perform July 18 (Wednesday) and July 19 at 8 PM as part of the Stars Are Out Tonight series at the Mansion of Saratoga Springs (801 Route 29, Rock City Falls). For more info, call 885-1607 or visit themansionsaratoga.com.
Bay Street Theatre has announced a special evening entitled BIG AND TALL: An Evening with Bruce Vilanch and Judy Gold on Saturday, June 30 at 8 pm. Making people laugh is a big, tall order and these two fit the bill for an evening of laughs. Tickets are $65-$75 or $100 with an after party, which includes nibbles and bites along with wine and refreshments. Mingle with Bruce and Judy to cap the night off in this intimate and fun atmosphere after the show.
Multi-Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch has written The Oscars for 23 years now. Not only the Center Square on Hollywood Squares, Bruce played Edna Turnblatt in HAIRSPRAY on Broadway and himself in his Off-Broadway hit ALMOST FAMOUS. He’s written with and for Bette Midler, Diana Ross and countless others.
Judy Gold returns to Bay Street where she always sells out her Comedy Club performances. This year she brings her humor and hysterical sensibilities on the same evening as Bruce Vilanch. Itâ€™s a comedy double header for sure! Gold is the Queen of Off-Broadway with two hit one-woman shows – 25 QUESTIONS FOR A JEWISH MOTHER and THE JUDY SHOW â€“ MY LIFE AS A SITCOM. With 4 comedy specials and regular appearances on The View, Tru TV, HBO, Comedy Central, and on SiriusXM’s OUTQ, Judy still finds time to be an upper-west side mother – well, she has no choice really.
Buy tickets online at www.baystreet.org or by call the Box Office at 631-725-9500. The Box Office is open Monday-Saturday, 11 am â€“show time and Sunday, 3 pm â€“ show time.
Bay Street Theatre is a not-for-profit regional theater presenting new, classic and contemporary works, with a commitment to challenging and entertaining our diverse community. This commitment extends to innovative educational programs that highlight the power of live theater. It is our mission to be an artistic haven for an extended family of artists and audience, while continuing to provide a gathering place to share in the unique collective theatrical experience.