As Hollywood watches, Cher finally thanks her Moonstruck mentor Jewison for her Oscar (at last!)

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD:  When Nicholas Campbell, Angie Dickinson and Shawn Doyle are members of the audience, sitting a few rows ahead of Canadian uber-agent Michael Levine, Beverly Hills columnist George Christy and M.A.S.H. producer Burt Metcalfe, you know there’s something special happening on stage. And what is happening on stage at the L.A. County Museum of Art is very special indeed.

Assembled to tell tales, some tall, some small, are an illustrious clutch of Oscar winners: Classic beauty Eva Marie Saint, still-ravishing screen siren Faye Dunaway, artful cinematographer Haskell Wexler, brilliant songwriters Marilyn & Alan Bergman. Joining them is still-irrepressible funnyman Carl Reiner. Emceeing the evening is veteran film historian Leonard Maltin. And sitting between Maltin and Dunaway is the subject of all their stories, and the object of their bubbling affection: Screen director Norman Jewison.

Reiner and Saint, of course, led the all-star cast of Jewison’s classic comedy hit The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming;  even before that, Reiner had scripted Jewison’ s curious comedy about marketing immortality, The Art Of Love, with Ms. Dickinson  and Dick Van Dyke. Dunaway had co-starred with Steve McQueen in Jewison’s notorious romantic thriller, The Thomas Crown Affair.  Haskell Wexler owned the eyes behind the camera on such diverse Jewison films as In The Heat Of The Night and Other People’s Money.  And Marilyn & Alan Bergman wrote the original songs, now American standards, that graced such Jewison gems as Best Friends (How Do You Keep The Music Playing) and Thomas Crown Affair (Windmills Of Your Mind.) And all of them have some wonderful tales to tell. But the master story teller, naturally, is Jewison himself. 

When he tells us how Steve McQueen misbehaved on Thomas Crown Affair, going AWOL in a dune buggy while the cast and crew watched the light fade, Dunaway is clearly entranced. “I never knew that!” she exclaims. Thomas Crown was only her third film, she says; Warren Beattywas still locked in the editing room with Bonnie & Clyde,  and Jewison had hired her after seeing her off-Broadway in Hogan’s Goat. And when McQueen disappeared from the set, Jewison had told her to wait in her trailer until he called her. “And I did what I was told!” she adds, chuckling softly.

The  tribute to Jewison is originally slated to run 45-60 minutes, but the hush from the appreciative crowd inspires Maltin to let his all-star gabbers hold sway. Reiner, who played a leading man for the first time in his life in Jewison’s Russians Are Coming, reveals that the director had originally asked him to play the Russian sailor, a plum role that Alan Arkin eventually won. Reiner and Saint further regale the audience with tales of white-knuckle flights to Jewison locations;  Wexler reminds us of Jewison the activist and his deep commitment to U.S. civil rights; and the Bergmans praise him as one of only two directors they’ve worked with (the other, sadly, being his friend, the late Sydney Pollack) whose passion for music gives him a unique  understanding of  the potential of original music in screen storytelling.

The near-capacity crowd is clearly enthralled. Close to the front LACMA honcho Ian Birney, another transplanted Canadian, is grinning happily. Beside him sit the co-hosts of the event, Film Independent’s Dawn Hudson and Canadian Film Centre chief  Slawko Klymkiw, beaming like proud parents. Klymkiw, aided and abetted by Birney and Hudson, has initiated this event (among others) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Toronto film centre Jewison founded two decades earlier, and celebrated alumni Christina Jennings and Clement Virgo, among others, are sitting in the theatre with the rest of his fans.

Leonard Maltin is admittedly fascinated by the fact that in addition to international megahits as Jesus Christ Superstar and Fiddler On The Roof, this Canadian director, in his opinion, has  also produced some of the most quintessentially American films ever to come out of Hollywood. And the on-stage showbiz love-in is well into its second hour when Maltin raises the subject of another polished Jewison diamond, Moonstruck, which will be screened immediately following the tribute. And then he utters the magic phrase that so many of us have been hoping to hear.

“Let’s invite Cher up here,” says Leonard Maltin.

A gasp from the audience, a truly all-ages group from 9 to 99, as a woman seated near the front of the house makes her way to the stairs leading up to the stage,  her long black hair a perfect contrast to her stylish white designer duds and funky white fedora. Cher is on stage kissing Reiner, shaking hands with Saint, embracing Dunaway — the audience is standing now, and cheering — and greets Jewison with an enormous bear hug. Cher is in the house, and an already excited crowd is now deliriously beside themselves.

The fun is just beginning. When she confesses she was a “bad kid” on Moonstruck, Jewison smiles in tacit agreement. “But,” he interjects,” you’re a good girl tonight.” Yes, she agrees, she’s a good girl tonight. And she proves it, by telling wonderful anecdotes, revealing and occasionally touching, about the fact that Jewison had to cajole, trick and at times even threaten her to enable her to do the best screen work of her career. 

She tells tales out of school, too, stories that make Jewison laugh out loud. About how he finally got Nicolas Cage to loosen up for a scene by relentlessly goading him until Cage picked up a chair and threw it across the room. “And we were all shocked,” she recalls, “and we all looked at Norman, waiting for him to say something, anything! …  and Norman said, ‘Action!’  And he got the scene he wanted.”

When she and Jewison weren’t at odds with other — a creative tension she now suspects he manufactured, to enhance her performance — they were a formidable tag team. For one thing, they both wanted Cage for her leading man. Cher had seen him in Peggy Sue Got Married, “and I thought he was terrific.”

And Jewison remembers thinking that the young actor, at that time, was clearly “the most tortured soul in Hollywood.”

“So of course Norman and I thought he’d be perfect for the role!” adds Cher, grinning.

When MGM balked at casting Cage, she huddled with Norman and then told her manager to tell the studio she would walk out on the picture if they didn’t hire Cage. “Which, of course, I had no intention of doing!” she add with a guilty grin.

But hey, she and Norman got the leading man they wanted. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Movie history, that is. Which brings me to another piece of movie history.  When Cher won her Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck, she facetiously thanked her hairdresser and her make-up artist, but neglected to acknowledge the guardian angel of her performance.

On Friday night she makes up for that 20-year-old gaffe.  After a brief intermission she returns to the stage to introduce Moonstruck, and gives the speech she should have given 20 years ago at the Academy Awards. It is short, sweet and unmistakably sincere — a luscious cherry to top a spectacularly rich evening.

* * *

BEV ON THE BEACH: Who was the alabaster blonde walking on the sand with Norman Jewison yesterday? None other than CTV  charmer Beverly Thomson, who got up Friday at 3 a.m., co-hosted the morning edition of Canada A.M., and then hit the airport. An understandably bleary-eyed Thompson made it to Los Angeles in time to attend the tribute at LACMA and yesterday hit the beach to tape an exclusive interview with Jewison in Malibu. And you can see it too, tomorrow morning on CTV.

 

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