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Posts Tagged ‘Academy Awards’

TV Writer Bruce Vilanch Tells Us How He Slipped Sly Gay Jokes Past the Censors

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Unicorn Booty
TV Writer Bruce Vilanch Tells Us How He Slipped Sly Gay Jokes Past the Censors
May 7, 2017
By Matt Baume
Regular Contributor

Bette Midler and Bruce Vilanch

Bruce Vilanch was toiling away in a perfectly adequate newspaper job in Chicago when Bette Midler came to town. She wasn’t quite famous at that point — an appearance on Broadway and some bathhouse concerts were her credits — but Bruce went to check out her show. Afterwards, he wrote a glowing review, and she called to thank him.

“You should talk more,” he told her.

“You got any good lines?” she asked. He did, and she hired him.

Forty years later, Bruce’s work has touched just about everyone in America. He’s written some of the most famous variety shows ever broadcast, crafted jokes for the Oscars and Emmys and Tonys for decades, and has appeared on everything from RuPaul’s Drag Race to Hollywood Squares to The Simpsons.

I interviewed Bruce Vilanch on my podcast The Sewers of Paris, where every week I talk to gay men about the entertainment that changed their lives. For Bruce, an important early influence were big movie and stage extravaganzas like The Greatest Show on Earth and a Carol Channing flop called The Vamp.

“I taught myself to read with the movie ads,” he recalled. He was obsessed with showbiz from an early age, though his parents tried to steer him toward more reliable work as a doctor or lawyer. They’d take him to films set in courtrooms and point out that attorneys get to perform; but he knew he needed a different kind of limelight.

“I used to have a routine in a hula skirt that was embarrassing to everyone,” he said. “I would have taken a job on the hood of your car, jiggling as you drove.”

An adventurous aunt told him stories of the world and accompanied him on trips into Manhattan. He attempted a career on stage, but discovered that his look and his skills were a little too idiosyncratic. So he went into journalism, and that’s where he had his big break when he wrote about Bette Midler.

“She found the beauty in trash,” he said of her at the time. She’d come out on stage looking a little disheveled and unpredictable, though “the talent was there.” Audiences loved it, particularly when she was on tour and told jokes about local landmarks and figures. The secret of those jokes was that Bruce would leverage his journalism connections to write them, calling colleagues at local papers to find out what the big scandals were before Bette arrived in town.

Eventually, he made his way to Los Angeles, where he’d get his start writing variety shows for Cher, the Brady Bunch, and the Manhattan Transfer. When he could, he’d slip sly queer references into the shows, though they always had to be coded.

“Did you feel exasperated that you couldn’t say gay?” I asked him during our chat.


“It was challenging,” he replied. “It wasn’t frustrating because it hadn’t been done. … That was a couple years off.”

Nevertheless, he still delighted in the sly gay references he was able to place in shows like Hollywood Squares. “It was ‘inside,’ we called it,” he said. “The ones who get it will laugh and the ones who don’t will say ‘what was that?’”

It’s a vastly different world now, of course. But the freedom that gay writers and comedians now have on television is only possible because of pioneers like Bruce.

Listen to the full interview with Bruce below or at SewersOfParis.com.

Kritzerland Announces THE APRIL FOOLS Concert with special guest, Bruce Vilanch

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Broadway World
Kritzerland Announces THE APRIL FOOLS Concert
by BWW News Desk Mar. 17, 2017

4-27-2013 3-29-19 AM

Kritzerland has announced a new concert event coming on Sunday, April 2, 2017 entitled “The April Fools.” This entertaining evening will take place at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal in North Hollywood, California.

For the 76th Kritzerland show, we have our annual wild and wacky April Fools show, always a favorite for us at Kritzerland. You can always expect the unexpected – you’ll get some Spring songs, some April songs, and some Foolish and crazy songs – as always, you’ll know some and many you won’t know at all – for this iteration, we have songs from several flop musicals we all know and love, including Carmelina, Bring Back Birdie, We Take the Town, Minsky’s, and others, while we also have songs from Promises, Promises, Hallelujah, Baby, Annie, Newsies, as well as some classic pop standards. We’ve assembled a merry and fun cast for this one as well as our hilarious guest star, Bruce Vilanch and we can only say that what he’s doing in this show you will not want to miss. So, come join us in the merriment and mirth and tuneful evening we have in store. Kritzerland is produced and hosted by Bruce Kimmel and co-produced by Doug Haverty.

Included in the line-up are:

Will Collyer [Regional: Breaking Through (Smith) Pasadena Playhouse; Parade Mark Taper Forum; Carousel (Enoch Snow, Jr) Hwd. Bowl, Local: MTG, WCE, Boston Court, Odyssey]
Jennifer Foster [Off B’way: If There Is … ; Regional: Merrily We Roll Along, Hair, Carrie: The Killer Musical; TV: Looking, Glee; Film: Looking; Disney: Frozen: Live at the Hyperion]
Hadley Belle Miller [Voice, Lucy van Pelt, Peanuts Movie; National Tour: Cathy Rigby Is Peter Pan (Michael); (www.hadleybellemiller.com)]
Kerry O’Malley [B’way: Into the Woods (Baker’s Wife), White Christmas (Betty), Billy Elliot (Mum), Annie Get Your Gun (Dolly), On a Clear Day (Sharone); TV: Shameless, Boardwalk Empire, etc.]Jenna Lea Rosen [Regional: Parade, Ovation Award 3DT; TV: Sofia the First (Shelly, Clio, Hildegard), Elena of Avalor (Ciela) Disney Jr. series.]
Hayley Shukiar [Meet Me In St. Louis (Tootie); Peter Pan (Wendy); Little Mermaid (Ursula); Willy Wonka (Veruca Salt) Cabrillo; Studio singer for Hal Leonard Publishing.]
NICK TUBBS [Regional: Assassins (Balladeer), Forever Plaid (Jinx), Les Miserables (Enjolras) The Full Monty (Malcolm); Other: Princess Cruises, Kit and The Kats]
Robert Yacko [Do I Hear a Waltz? (Renato) MTG; Addams Family (Mal) 3-D; Parade (Dorsey) Mark Taper, Company (Paul) w/ Carol Burnett, Sunday in the Park with George (George) LA Premiere]

Bruce Vilanch (Special Guest) [B’way: Hairspray (Edna); Off B’Way: Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous; Film: Mahogany; TV: Hollywood Squares, The Simpsons, The Oscars (2 Emmys/Writing)]

RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED!

IMPORTANT RESERVATION INFORMATION!

The only way to reserve is via Brown Paper Tickets! It’s easy! Go to sterlingsupstairs040217.brownpapertickets.com.

Dinner reservations: DOORS OPEN 5:30pm. SHOW STARTS 7:00pm

Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal is located at 5303 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601

Bruce Vilanch, Chris Hendricks, Roslyn Kind and More Slated for MY NEXT BREATH Fundraiser

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

Broadway World
Bruce Vilanch, Chris Hendricks, Roslyn Kind and More Slated for MY NEXT BREATH Fundraiser
Mar. 6, 2017

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An evening of music and comedy will serve as a fundraising event for the filming and editing of the documentary project “My Next Breath” (mynextbreathfilm.com/about), hosted by Bruce Vilanch, with musical performances by Chris Hendricks, Roslyn Kind and Mary Wilson, on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at Catalina Jazz Club 6725 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028.

The evening features the comedy of Kathy Buckley and Geri Jewell. Under the musical director of Michael Orland with director/producer and David S. Zimmerman, the event will include special surprise guests.

Program: 8:00 pm show (6:00 pm doors / VIP Seating – 6:30 pm doors / General Seating). Tickets here.

My Next Breath is a documentary that takes a journey inside the world of an intensive acting class, and finds out how the artists are able to be thoroughly open enough to create from a true and sacred place inside. The documentary also shows the profound impact the workshop has had upon its participants years later and how it facilitated a powerful imprint among each of the members the group.

 


 

Academy Awards 25 Years Ago: Not So Different From Today

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

New York Times
Academy Awards 25 Years Ago: Not So Different From Today
By BRUCE FRETTS
FEB. 24, 2017

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From the moment the host Billy Crystal was wheeled onstage wearing a straitjacket and a face mask à la Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” viewers knew the 1992 Oscars were not going to be normal.

“It was a bit like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” Jodie Foster, the “Silence” star who won best actress that year, recalled in a telephone interview. “You were being catapulted from one surreal experience to the next.”

The circumstances surrounding the Academy Awards 25 years ago were not so different from the ceremony set for Sunday: Presidential politics served as the backdrop (in that case, Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown, whom Mr. Crystal jokingly compared to that year’s self-destructive cinematic rebels Thelma and Louise, were trying to unseat President George Bush). Major social issues played out at the podium (then it was homophobia and sexism), and black filmmakers were making inroads. But in 1992, four of the five best-picture nominees were among the year’s top 20 domestic box-office hits; this year, that’s true for only two of the nine contenders (“Hidden Figures” and “La La Land”).

“In those days, people still believed the recipe to make a popular film was to make a good film,” Ms. Foster said. “The way the economy has shaped the industry over the last 25 years, it’s ghettoized films into either big, dumbed-down mainstream movies that are trying to attract as many audience members as possible, and movies that are substantial and meaningful, which are relegated to a different sphere.”

I asked winners, nominees and one of the show’s writers about that year’s most memorable moments.

The Show Opener

A review in The New York Times described the 1992 ceremony as “uncharacteristically lively,” and that began with the first bit the writers devised for the host. “It’s a great entrance for Anthony Hopkins in the movie, so we knew it would work with Billy,” Bruce Vilanch, one of the telecast’s writers, said in a recent telephone interview. “It was kind of irresistible.”

One-Armed Push-Ups

Jack Palance doing one-armed push-ups at the Academy Awards in 1992. Credit Craig Fujii/Associated Press
The bizarre mood was struck early when best supporting actor went to Jack Palance, Mr. Crystal’s co-star in the western comedy “City Slickers.” Mr. Palance gave, as The Times put it, a “cheerfully unprintable acceptance speech.”

“It was an odd thing to say at the Academy Awards,” Mr. Vilanch said, recalling a specific line in the speech. “But that was Jack. He was a genuinely strange and scary guy.”

Then, in a display of his virility, the 73-year-old character actor dropped to the floor and did one-armed push-ups. Backstage in the writers’ room, “we looked at each other and said, ‘We have to go with this — it’s too funny.’” Thus began a run of on-the-fly jokes from Mr. Crystal (“I was just given a bulletin: Jack Palance is now on the StairMaster”) that stretched through the night.


A Family First

For supporting actress, Mercedes Ruehl won for “The Fisher King,” but it was one of her competitors, Diane Ladd, who made Oscar history. She was the first mother to be nominated along with her daughter (Laura Dern) for the same film, the Southern drama “Rambling Rose.” Ms. Dern and Ms. Ladd also presented the award for best visual effects to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

“When I was standing on that stage, and I looked out at my peers and then over at Laura, it was a great honor,” Ms. Ladd said. “I had to fight to keep from crying.”

A Surprise From Space

More emotional moments played out as George Lucas received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from his old friend Steven Spielberg and, in a bit of technical wizardry, the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, complete with a floating Oscar. Another satellite link allowed the acclaimed Indian director Satyajit Ray to accept his honorary Academy Award from his hospital bed in Calcutta; he died 24 days later at 70. “Gil Cates, who produced that show, loved technology,” Mr. Vilanch said. “He always had remotes.”

Gay-Rights Protesters

Many Oscar ceremonies come with some controversy, and the 1992 show had its share. Gay-rights advocates picketed over villainous characters in “Silence” as well as in “J.F.K.” (Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for best supporting actor for his turn as a gay man put on trial and acquitted for an alleged conspiracy to kill the president) and in the just-released “Basic Instinct,” which starred Sharon Stone, who was also a presenter. “It was a good discussion, but it was also very stressful,” Ms. Foster said.

The protesters could take solace in the fact that Howard Ashman — who had died a year earlier at 40 — became the first person lost to AIDS to win an Oscar: best original song for “Beauty and the Beast.” His longtime companion, Bill Lauch, accepted the award on his behalf.

A Toon Dispute

Disney’s wildly popular “Beauty and the Beast” stirred up discord when it became the first animated film nominated for best picture, which didn’t sit well with some Oscar purists. “They created the best animated feature category after that because they didn’t want more cartoons nominated for best picture,” said. Mr. Vilanch. (Only “Up” and “Toy Story 3” have managed the feat since.)


Streisand Slight

The night’s loudest contretemps surrounded Barbra Streisand, who was passed over for a best director nomination even though her drama “The Prince of Tides” snagged a best picture nomination. The group Women in Film cited sexism. “In some circles, they said I took her slot,” said John Singleton, who at 24 became the youngest and first African-American best director nominee, for his searing debut, “Boyz N The Hood.” “What people don’t know is that I’m a huge Barbra Streisand fan. She signed my application to get me into the Directors Guild.”

Mr. Crystal gracefully defused the situation with a satirical lyric during a musical number. Referring to “The Prince of Tides,” he crooned, “Seven nominations on the shelf, did this film direct itself?” The cameras quickly cut to Ms. Streisand, laughing appreciatively.

Rookie Mistake

Mr. Singleton lost best director to Jonathan Demme for “Silence,” but he had higher hopes of winning best original screenplay. Yet the award went to another first-timer, Callie Khouri, for the feminist road-trip saga “Thelma & Louise.”

“I was trying not to jinx myself, so I wrote an acceptance speech in pencil,” Ms. Khouri said. “By the time I opened it up, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, so I just winged it. I forgot to thank the producer, so that was fairly horrifying.” (For the record, Mimi Polk Gitlin produced the film.)

A ‘Silence’ Sweep

The biggest winner, of course, turned out to be “The Silence of the Lambs,” which became only the third film in history, after “It Happened One Night” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” to sweep the top five awards: best picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay (by Ted Tally, based on Thomas Harris’s novel).

“Three years earlier, I had won best actress for ‘The Accused,’ and I was the only person nominated from the film, so I was by myself,” Ms. Foster said. “But for ‘Silence,’ it was really extraordinary — we kept winning, one after the other, and we all met backstage. I remember everybody was really hot and sweaty, and we all had our arms around one another.”

Postscript

That wasn’t the only happy ending. Five months later, Mr. Crystal, Mr. Vilanch and his fellow writers Hal Kanter, Buz Kohan, Robert Wuhl and David Steinberg took home Emmys. “We won for throwing out the script and rewriting it on the spot,” Mr. Vilanch said. “That’s Hollywood.”

Bruce Vilanch, Josh Groban, Cynthia Erivo & More Join Broadway Backwards March 13, 2017

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Broadway Buzz
Bruce Vilanch, Josh Groban, Cynthia Erivo & More Join Broadway Backwards March 13, 2017
By Lindsey Sullivan February 28, 2017

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This year’s Broadway Backwards just got even more star-studded! The Great Comet star Josh Groban, Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, Tony winner Cady Huffman, Broadway.com Audience Choice Award winner Santino Fontana and more have joined the previously announced lineup. The annual benefit showcases Broadway favorites offering gender-bending takes on their favorite tunes. Tony winner Julie White returns to host the event, which is directed by Robert Bartley and set for March 13 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Six-time Emmy winner Bruce Vilanch, Tony nominee Carolee Carmello, Cagneys Robert Creighton, School of Rocks Eric Petersen, Megan Sikora, Elizabeth Stanley, Dominic Nolfi, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard will also take the stage.

As reported, the roster already includes Sierra Boggess, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Javier Muñoz, Alex Brightman, Rachel Bay Jones, Andrew Rannells, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Turner, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ariana DeBose, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Lora Lee Gayer, Len Cariou, John Glover, Levi Kreis, Bobby Steggert and Rachel York. Performers are subject to change.

Produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the event will benefit BC/EFA and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.

Bruce Vilanch To Write Special Material For, Trevor: The Musical, Based on Oscar-Winning Short, Aiming For Broadway

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Playbill
Trevor: The Musical, Based on Oscar-Winning Short, Is Aiming for Broadway
BY ANDREW GANS
JAN 27, 2017

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Marc Bruni, who directed the Tony-winning Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, will helm the world premiere of Trevor: The Musical, based on the Oscar-winning 1994 short film Trevor, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Broadway-aimed musical will make its debut this fall at the non-profit Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Chicago. U Rock Theatricals will produce. Casting will be announced at a later time.

Trevor: The Musical, about a gay 13-year-old boy who is a fan of Diana Ross, has book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis.

The 1994 film won the Academy Award for Best Short Film, Live Action. It also won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Peggy Rajski, the musical is adapted from the screenplay by James Lecesne with special material by Bruce Vilanch. The film cast included Brett Barsky, Judy Kain, and John Lizzi. Internet Movie Database describes the film as such: “Upon hitting puberty, a high-school boy realizes he is homosexual and faces prejudice from his parents and friends.”

The film was the inspiration for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning young people ages 13-24.