“Here ’tis, little Fats Waller. Mama’s favorite 285 lbs of jam, jive and everything!”

Fats suffer

  May 21, 1904 – December 15, 1943

Title sums it up. “Jam, Jive and Everything!.”  Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller is one of the most charming, talented and prolific artists to ever tickle the ivories of a stride piano.

We share a birthday – May 21st.  His last recording session was in Detroit, Michigan – home of my birth. I guess it was destiny that his music and spirit would come to bring me such joy!

What excites me about Fats?

When I was a kid and first saw the ground breaking musical Stormy Weather (1943) I was familiar with its star Lena Horne because my father loved him some Miss Lena.  But for me, the wonderful surprise of the film was Fats Waller.

Fats Waller and Lena Horne

When you see him you’re totally invested.  His personality jumps off the screen.  People talk about presence.  Fats created “presence!”

Fats is credited with advancing the musical style – stride piano.  Although known for his two most famous compositions:  “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, he penned many more uncredited hits such as “I Can’t Give you Anything but love, Baby” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street”.

Waller copyrighted over 400 songs and began his professional career as a pianist at the age of 15, working in cabarets and theaters.

His life and artistry became the Broadway musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin‘ produced in 1978.  (The show and star Nell Carter won Tony Awards.)


Recordings of Fats Waller were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame which is a special Grammy Award established in 1973 to honour recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have “qualitative or historical significance”.


Here ’tis, a tribute to Fats’ brilliance and charm:


Fats Waller – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Stormy Weather (1943)


This song cracks me up!

Fats Waller – Your Feet’s Too Big! (1936)


Fats Waller – Honeysuckle Rose (1929)


Thanks Fats for the jam, jive and everything!

To Remake or Not To Remake. That is the Question.

I’m on the record saying I hate remakes. If it was genius in the first place, why mess with it? If it stunk, why bring it back? Are you so ego driven Mr. Director that you feel your “version” outshines, oh say, Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho? Or Mr. Director, do you so lack creatively that you cop-out and warm over some – why was it made in the first place (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) flick?

That being said, there are those exceptions. Websters’ definition of a remake is: to make again or anew as in a new form or manner. If a film can pay homage and capture the essence of the original but also bring freshness, I consider that film to be a great remake!


This classic has a great remake:


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)


Directed by Don Siegel and Produced by Walter Wanger, the film starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. This 1956 sci-fi thriller taps into a hideous nightmare, what if we went to sleep and awoke as a “pod person?” (Our physical self but void of emotion.) This movie in and of itself is an update of the 1950’s fear of space, atomic energy, and aliens. However, instead of giant mutated spiders, this tale is of an invasion from within.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)


“From deep space the seed is planted.”

Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, this remake ups the ante. It honors the original sense of foreboding but the degree of terror is raised to a pandemic level.

There’s a scene in the original involving a dog that alerts the “pod people” that “Becky” (Dana Wynter) isn’t one of them. In this version they remake the dog scene but takes it to a much freakier place.   Outstanding!

I won’t give away the ending but, holy crap, that was frigging frightening!  Totally fresh update!


A box office success, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was well received by critics and is considered by some (myself included) to be among the greatest film remakes.

To Remake or not to Remake. That is the Question.

In this instance – YES!

Master of Suspense?

Master of Suspense

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock  (August 13, 1899 – April 29,  1980)

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock aka “Master of Suspense” was a British born director known for his mastery of the suspense and psychological thriller.  He was an innovator using film editing (cuts) as the basis to construct a film. He poked, stabbed and forced us to face our fears, obsessions and compulsions.

Hitch is one of my favorite directors because of his fearlessness. He used a voyeuristic style and cuts to let you see inside the head of his leading characters. Rear Window (1954) is a classic example of his style as the audience becomes the voyeur along with James Stewart’s character. We go along with Hitch and peer through the windows of Stewart’s neighbors and cross a line we otherwise wouldn’t.

In Psycho (1960) we peer through the peephole with “Norman Bates” (Anthony Perkins) and end up rooting for this very troubled individual. Not allowing patrons to enter the theater after Psycho started was a great gimmick. His most fearless move was what occurred in the first 45 minutes of the film. Now that’s risk and genius!

In 1992, the US Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Now, meet Hitchcock as he takes us through the Bates Motel and the events that occurred. This is Sir Alfred in all his shocking glory.

Although Hitchcock is legendary for his film editing genius, Rope (1948 ) proved to be his ultimate experiment. Instead of using film editing, he would shoot the movie in one long sequence. Stopping only to change the camera role. Like filming a play. Each role of camera film holds about 10-12 minutes of film.

The set was insane with flying walls and furniture. Jimmy Stewart once remarked about placing his drink on a table, turning back around and not only was the drink gone but the table it was sitting on. Everyone had to be on their mark and not drop a line because if anything went wrong they had to do everything  all over again. Hitchcock said the film just about killed him!

A Little Hitchcock History:

His first directing assignment, Number 13, began in 1922 but unfortunately wasn’t finished due to financial issues. His big break came in 1927 with the completion of his thriller The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.  The plot revolved around a search for a Jack the Ripper type of serial killer and mistaken identity. Hitchcock’s first thriller is ripe with mood and the German Expressionist influence. A taste of things to come in Hitch’s repertoire, it was a commercial and critical success.


Hitchcock’s tenth film, Blackmail was released in 1929 and considered Britain’s first talkie. It also starts his usage of landmarks as a tradition and appears in the longest cameo of all his films.


The 39 Steps (1935) is widely considered the best of Hitchcock’s early films and made him a star in the U.S.  It also branded Hitch’s obsession with the cold blonde, sophisticated leading lady which Grace Kelly would come to epitomize. Then there’s the infamous “MacGuffin.”  A reoccurring plot device that actually had no real significance to the story-line. A decoy. Just another Hitch thing.

The 39 Steps

Alfred Hitchcock’s films were produced in Britain until in 1939. When David O. Selznick signed him to a seven year contract, Hitch relocated to the United States with his wife Alma Reville (his closest collaborator) and his daughter Patricia Hitchcock.

Alma Reville was an accomplished director, writer, editor and producer in Britain before she met Hitch while working  at Paramount‘sFamous Players-Lasky studio in London, during the early 1920s. Patricia Hitchcock appeared in several of her dad’s films including: Psycho, Strangers on a Train and Stage Fright.

Rebecca (1940) was Hitchcock’s first American film. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director but did not win. In fact, although nominated five times, he would never be afforded that honor.

Alfred Hitchcock  became an American citizen in 1956 and was a multiple nominee and winner of a number of prestigious awards. Hithcock was the recipient of  two Golden Globes, eight Laurel Awards, and five lifetime achievement awards including the first BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award.

Hitchcock received a knighthood in 1980 when he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II.

What’s your quintessential Hitchcock film?

  • Stage Fright (1950)
  • Saboteur (1942)
  • Strangers on a Train (1951)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • Spellbound (1945)
  • Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  • Rebecca (1940)
  • Foreign Correspondent (1940)
  • The 39 Steps (1935)
  • Rope (1948)
  • Vertigo (1958)

Not here? Voice Your choice in the comments.

Check out Alfred Hitchcock’s substantial catalog.

The quintessential “Master of Suspense.”

Robin Williams – A Tribute

Robin Mork

 Robin McLaurin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014)

My heart was deeply saddened by the news of  Robin Williams’ passing.  Even though we’d never met, the news hit like losing an old friend.  He made me laugh in ways and places that were utterly unique and hilarious!  Listening to tributes not just from Hollywood but from my own friends, it’s stunning how his genius and sincerity as a human being reached beyond the stratosphere.  His true gift was being able to listen, internalize and transform his energy into a non-stop series of humor and insights that no one has ever done before.  I’ve followed his career from the beginning in the late 1970’s with his stand-up routines.  His first TV performance as “Mork” from Ork on Happy Days resulted in his own series Mork and Mindy in 1978.  His subsequent films and stand-up performances were the ultimate proof of his unlimited talents and abilities.

In celebration of his genius and the man, here are some of my favorite Robin Williams moments:


Thanks so much Robin for all the joy, laughter and love you shared with us all.

Rest In Peace


“Say it Loud” – The Godfather of Soul

“Get on Up” today, not sure what to say.

Complicated man, how to portray?

Right to wrong, from wrong to right.

What the people say?  He’s Mr. Dynamite!

Laid to rest, Lord can it be?  Deserves respect. Lord let it be.

DonnaMarie Woodson

Get on Up

Get on Up is the new biopic directed by Tate Taylor and chronicles the life and career of “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown.  Chadwick Boseman portrays Brown and channels his essence through his speech, gait and definitely in his dance moves.

The film employs several devices to tell the story.  “Breaking the 4th wall” as the actor speaks directly into the camera to make commentary, “flashbacks” to early childhood traumas and “internal monologues” from Brown’s child self.

 The supporting cast serve as witnesses and testifiers and underscore the storytelling. Jordan and Jamarion Scott portray “little James Brown.”  Their performance was both moving and haunting. Being able to convey the harshness of Brown’s early life enables the audience to empathize with the complexities of James Brown’s personality and relationships.

Directed by Tate Taylor
Produced by Brian Grazer
Mick Jagger
Tate Taylor

 “Susie” (Viola Davis) Brown’s mother’s performance was intense and desperate. Through her we see a psyche damaged by life and circumstances.

“Bobby Bird” (Nelsan Ellis) was a lifeline throughout Brown’s career. Proof that we all need support. No one can make it totally on their own. (even if YOU think so)

James Brown has been a huge influence on a myriad of musical acts including Michael Jackson, Prince and The Rolling Stones. “Make it Funky” wasn’t only a song lyric but also a musical credo for – as he insisted on being addressed – Mr. Brown.

James Brown was also influential politically playing to a crowd at the Boston Garden after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. He was able to calm the crowd and reminded them as black people we should respect one another. My personal favorite memory is the song “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” I had an English teacher who had us dissect the song and express how it made us feel. At that time referring to one’s self as Black was radical. We were still being referred to as Negroes. This song compelled youth to recognize our importance and power.

James Brown recorded 16 number-one singles on the Billboard R&B charts. Brown was also honored by many institutions including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Mr. Brown is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stones list of its 100 greatest artists of all time.

Call him a genius, crazy, or just a complicated man, “Mr. Please, Please, Please, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” “Mr. Dynamite,” “The Godfather of Soul” was an artist, force and important contributor to our musical and political landscape.  That significance deserves to be remembered and celebrated.


Blazing Saddles_movie_poster

I’ll never forget the day my boyfriend (now husband) came to me super excited about, in his words, “the funniest movie he’s seen” and there’s another showing in half an hour!.  Okay I say, skeptical, but I’m game.  He couldn’t stop talking about his favorite “moment” – the “campfire and beans scene.”  As the end credits rolled I agreed, this was the funniest movie I’d ever seen and my favorite “moment” was — holy crap — I can’t name just one.  Lili von Shtupp “I’m Tired”, “The sheriff is near” or “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”   Awwh, it’s too hard to pick just one!  Blazing Saddles is probably one of the most quotable movies of all time.

The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute‘s 100 Years…100 Laughs list.

“Mongo only pawn in game of life”



But, I wonder, how would Blazing Saddles be received by audiences today?

This film was released in 1974 but reflecting today on the welcoming scene for Sheriff Bart, it could just as well have been President Obama’s Inaugural Reception.  In the western town of Rockridge the women clutched their purses and the men drew their guns.  A Black Sheriff, no way!  For some, The President’s election and re-election evoked some of those same feelings.  A Black man in the White House, no way!   Yes, it’s 2014 but yes for some, the stereotypes still exist.  There are those who wish the country could go back to the “good ole days” when if you were white it’s alright, but, if you’re black get back.  It’s irrational and built on fear, but racism has always been apart of the fabric of this country.

Mel nig


Directed by: Mel Brooks

Written by: Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Al Unger

Songs: Mel Brooks

Starring Cleavon Little
Gene Wilder
Harvey Korman
Slim Pickens
Madeline Kahn
Mel Brooks

It’s a brilliant film!  The writing, the acting, the concept.  And what a concept.  A Black sheriff in an all white 1874 small western town.  What could possibly go wrong?

The film is an in your face satire about racism in the old west as opposed to the Hollywood cowboy myth.  Liberal uses of the N word and plenty of references to black men being sexually”gifted.”  Lili: “Is it true what they say about you people?”  Also, you know black men all want white women.

Lili von Shtupp goes there:


“Where the white women at?”


I’m not really sure how Blazing Saddles would touch people today, but in 1974 I got the feeling that black and white laughed at the jokes and understood their own truth within the satire.   Have the voices of hate overshadowed our ability to laugh and rebuke racism or are the hate filled voices of today outliers?  Is the majority of the country trying to go backwards or are we embracing progress and the commitment it takes?

Harvey Mel

 Blazing Saddle Quotes:

  • Jim: [consoling Bart] What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.
  •  Bart: I better go check out this Mongo character.

[Bart reaches for his gun]

Jim: Oh no, don’t do that, don’t do that. If you shoot him, you’ll just make him mad.

  • Mexican Bandit: Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.
  •  Lili Von Shtupp: Hello, handsome, is that a ten-gallon hat or are you just enjoying the show?

If you have seen the movie give it a revisit and let me know what you think.  Or if you haven’t, check it out and let me know your thoughts in the comments.