Longtime readers of this blog (the four of you) know by now that I have a complete lack of self-consciousness about self-promotion (a quality, I hasten to add, that can almost always be found in a show-biz kid). So it is with no humility whatsoever that I announce that the Directors Guild of America (or rather its members) have nominated me as Best Director of a Mini-Series for my work on "Madoff", which aired last spring on ABC. Click on this to read the Variety article. I would appreciate you sending good thoughts and vibes into the ether as I'm up against two HBO movies and two live musical events, all of which are stiff competition. The hell with it. It's great to be recognized by one's peers and I'm deeply thankful to mine.

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Above is a very watchable twelve minute doc consisting of combined interviews of Stephen Sondheim through the years. You'll see young Stephen (including excerpts of the show I previously posted), middle aged Stephen (talking on the Mike Douglas show at some point in the 70s) and aging Stephen, sitting in a rather baronial and countrified room in what I believe to be his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. There are many fine moments--a young Stephen appears on a TV show with Arthur Laurents (this is around the time of 'Anyone Can Whistle' making it the mid-60s) and Laurents makes extravagant (and correct) claims for the superiority and originality of young Stephen's lyrics. Sondheim sits patiently, taking in the words impassively with not a hint of embarrassment or false humility. It's this sense of complete confidence, certainty and cool that I find so oddly disarming--does he never have a doubt? There's another nice moment where he casually mentions how helpful alcohol can be in creative work--and the accompanying visual shows him pouring a very healthy shot of Absolute Citron into a highball glass. What a relief to finally have a writer deviate from the party line: "I drink but never when I'm working". Bullshit!

Best of all, though, comes at 10 minutes in. In yesterday's post, I mentioned that Sondheim began spinning the same anecdotes that we'll hear over the years on that early 60s CBS show. The story of how Oscar Hammerstein taught him everything he knows about plays and lyrics one afternoon when he was a teenager is told using six different interviews spread over fifty years. It's a very amusing way to send up Stephen and it's also instructive; the truth is, he's a quite shy man (full disclosure: I met him and spent an hour in his company about five years ago at a big show-biz event and while charming and friendly I could see how painful an ordeal the whole afternoon was for him) and recycling good anecdotes is probably the easiest way for him to get these interviews over with and get back to what he really prefers: staying home and playing games, whether they're board games, card games, or music and lyric-writing games.

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When Stephen Sondheim was still just a lyricist he appeared on a CBS 'educational show' and discussed how he became (at the age of not-yet-thirty) the celebrated lyricist of 'West Side Story' and 'Gypsy'. Above is the show. It's a wonderful watch as we see the young, low-key and utterly confident Sondheim begin spinning the basic anecdotes, opinion and autobiography that he's never really changed over the years e.g. how his childhood mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, taught him to write a show by mercilessly criticizing his high-school musical effort, how he hates writing lyrics, how he doesn't like his own beautiful lyrics to 'I Feel Pretty' etc. etc. The orchestrator/conductor Irwin Kostal is also part of the show and, during his  interview, goes a little postal on how much his arranging helps composers who are lazy and only give him a melody to work with (!), as well as throwing in his contempt for how unschooled new composers are and how bad rock and roll is. It's quite a performance, matched only by the woefully miscast and stiff singers who demonstrate a few Sondheim songs--in the words of Gore Vidal (when he was speaking of Charlton Heston's acting): "You can hear the piles of wood collapsing from miles away".

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Here's a one minute clip of an interview with Joan Rivers in which she discusses her one appearance on the Jack Paar show and how Paar utterly failed to help her career. Forty-some years later, Rivers is still bitter about what happened. Good for her. I think I'm getting to like Paar less, the longer this series goes on...

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In 1986, twenty-four years after Jack Paar left the Tonight Show, NBC aired a one-hour special called 'Jack Paar Comes Home'. Hosted by Paar himself, the special is a lovely time-capsule of mid-century entertainment--not just a compendium of acts but a sampling of moments and of the very specific aura and style that Paar specialized in. Paar hosts the show in much the same way he hosted the Tonight Show, casually offering up stories and anecdotes while sitting on a stool and engaging the audience not merely as viewers but as cohorts. It's an excellent way to get an overview of Paar for those of you who've yet to experience his very special brand of talk/humor/anecdoting.

On the other hand, Paar was batshit crazy and would involve himself in bizarre and unnecessary feuds with other celebrities seemingly at the drop of a hat. Read this 1959 article from the Chicago Tribune on an absurd (and nationally followed) tussle he had with Ed Sullivan. It all had to do with the fact that performers worked for scale on the Tonight Show but Sullivan had to pay the same performers higher rates. This naturally irked Sullivan but this, in turn, annoyed Paar, who sensitively pointed out that on his show the guests had time to offer routines, talk and for audiences to get to know them, instead of being "squeezed in between the dance act and the performing seals" (as they presumably were on Sullivans show). A live debate about the matter was actually planned between the two men on TV with Bennett Cerf moderating. Paar dropped out of the debate when Sullivan understandably refused to have the debate in front of Paar's studio audience. Was it all a big gag? Did these guys chortle and plot together in order to get headlines and ratings? Somehow I don't think so. The self-importance of televisions first celebrities was a real and vivid thing. This was the first time people got nationally famous for appearing in people's living rooms. Something about this seemed to inflate their righteousness. It was only a few years before that Arthur Godfrey fired Julius La Rosa on the air for 'lack of humility'. I'll get to that one soon...

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