Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Voice, and Words, to Remember

My father, the actor Lionel Stander, would have been 109 years old yesterday. Though he died in 1994, his indelible presence and words live on.

In mid-October I was contacted by Scott Dawson, who was going to play my dad in a staged reading of the Eric Bentley play, "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?" in Ithaca on November 6. Mr. Dawson wrote in an email, "The timing of the reading is especially important, given the political climate we find ourselves in. I am honored to have been cast to read Lionel’s testimony before HUAC, and as such have been trying to learn as much as I can about him."

Along with photos of Dad testifying at HUAC in 1953, I sent Scott these tips on how to play him: "Beyond the voice, there was my father’s larger-than-life presence. He never just walked into a room, he ENTERED it. Leading with his massive chest, he strode in and OWNED that room, and was the center of attention. Always. (Note his entrance in 'A Star Is Born.')" [Complete movie is here; Dad's first scene is at 44:43.]

I was disappointed that travel plans precluded my attending the reading; according to Mr. Dawson it went very well. Two days later (on my birthday...ugh), Donald Trump was elected president. Now some of my father's words ring out more loudly than ever.

 From his 1953 HUAC testimony:
"I know of a group of fanatics who are desperately trying to undermine the Constitution of the United States by depriving artists and others of life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness without due process of law ... I can tell names and cite instances and I am one of the first victims of it. And if you are interested in that and also a group of ex-fascists and America-Firsters and anti-Semites, people who hate everybody including Negroes, minority groups and most likely themselves ... and these people are engaged in a conspiracy outside all the legal processes to undermine the very fundamental American concepts upon which our entire system of democracy exists."
From a 1993 interview in the book TENDER COMRADES: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist by Patrick McGilligan & Paul Buhle:
"Right-wingers, unfortunately, are never in the closet. They're all out night and day campaigning, making noise, joining moral majorities and moral rearmaments. They're actually an immoral minority, but they're always out there. The left should only be so active."

Mike Kellin, who played my father in a 1979 production of Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? (with Liza Minnelli in a cameo as Lillian Hellman), nailed his voice and mannerisms. However, the costume, coif and beard (!) were all wrong. I went to a performance; Dad was horrified when I told him his character wore a garish plaid sports jacket. The lengthy scene, which starts at 1:12:19, is electric, funny and ominous.

Friday, July 04, 2014

What to Do on a Rainy July 4th: Watch a Hummingbird!

This juvenile (I think) ruby-throated hummingbird has been perched on the feeder outside my window for some two hours. Unlike adult hummers and larger birds, such as finches, it doesn't care how close I get to the window in my bright red shirt, and is unfazed when I move the camera. Every few minutes it takes a drink or two from the feeder. I even saw its tongue!

Update: After some five (!) hours an adult male attacked, jabbing ferociously until feeding from the opposite port. (Hummingbirds don't share and are examplars of Kissinger's saying about academia: The fights are so vicious because the stakes are so small.) The youngster hung upside down for a few minutes, motionless.

I thought he was injured or dead, but when I went outside to take a closer look he'd righted himself. Now he's just sitting there again, taking the occasional sip. Maybe he'll spend the night...

Further update, 6:40pm: S/he's gone--hopefully someplace safe for the night.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What NOT to do at a Book Festival or Writers Conference

The spring book festival season is underway. As a public service, here is a list of bad behavior I've observed and/or had to contend with.

Panel Moderator: 
  1. Wait to contact panelists till two days before the event—or not at all. 
  2. Be unfamiliar with panelists’ work: Not read author’s book (at least the first few chapters and website); not know who the literary agent represents; not know titles the editor has worked on. 
  3. Have no agenda for the panel, or a vague one, e.g., “I will read brief introductions, and each of you should speak for 12-15 minutes. Then we will take a few questions.” 
  4. Let panelists talk for so long that there’s no time for audience Q&A. (This happened with the panel in #3.) 
  5. Talk a lot about yourself or read from your own book. Your job is to help the panelists shine. If they look brilliant, so will you. 

  1. Cancel at the last minute because you just realized that the finances won’t work for you. Or cancel due to “family reasons”—but keep the plane ticket the organizers paid for. 
  2. Author: Leave book at home, or not have a reading figured out—and practiced!—beforehand. Agent/editor: Leave business cards at home. 
  3. Read for 15 minutes when you’re asked to read for five. 
  4. Monopolize the conversation and/or interrupt other panelists. 
  5. Belittle the moderator (“If you’d read my book…"), other panelists (“I can’t believe you’d say such a stupid thing!”) or audience members (“If you’d been listening, you wouldn’t need to ask that question.”) 
  1. Leave your cellphone ringer on. 
  2. Give copies of your manuscript or self-published book to panelists. 
  3. Pitch your book during Q&A session. 
  4. Ask self-serving questions instead of general ones. (“Why didn’t you answer the query I sent you six months ago?” vs. “What should a writer do if an agent hasn’t responded to their query after six months?”) 
  5. Engage a panelist in lengthy conversation afterwards, when there’s a line of people waiting behind you. 
  I'll be at VaBook Festival next week. Now go forth and be good!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Who's the Goat?

After more than a year of silence, I thought my father's 106th birthday would be a good day to start posting to this blog again. Especially since I acquired this photo yesterday. 

One would think that the headline for the caption that ran with the above photo would be something like "Oh, You Kids!" But one would be very wrong. Here's what's on the other side, date stamped Aug 6 1940:
LIONEL STANDER divorced Mrs. Lucy Stander in 1936. He charged she was hostile and belligerent and would call  him names in the presence of their friends. She also told him, according to his complaint, that she was tired of him and regarded her marriage as a handicap. The Standers  had been married eight years.
(Copyright 1939, Register and Tribune Syndicate Photoservice)
Why would such a story run four years after the divorce and some two years after my father had married again? Dad was still appearing on radio but his movie career had plummeted since 1938, when Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn called him a "Red sonofabitch" and said that any studio that renewed his contract should be fined $100,000. Consequently Dad was in just two pictures in 1940, down from eight in 1936. What an odd coincidence that just eight days after the above photo was stamped, "secret" testimony about him was leaked to the press in Los Angeles.

"HOLLYWOOD STARS ACCUSED AS REDS BEFORE GRAND JURY," trumpeted the New York Times on August 15. "The testimony identified the following as Communist members, sympathizers or contributors: Lionel Stander, actor; Jean Muir, actress... The witness who gave the Hollywood names was John R. Leech, alleged former 'chief functionary' for the Communist party in Los Angeles... Mr. Stander, himself, in recent appearances before the grand jury denied he ever knew Mr. Leech or was a member of the party."

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Quote of the Day

More like Quote of the Year, since I haven't posted since January. (Curse you, Facebook & Twitter!)

"Men don't seem to notice unless there's a breast hanging out! But the fact that they look at our faces is rather nice."

Revealed: Women Are the Secret Oglers