Monday, 29 December 2008

'The Sound of Music': 40 years of unstoppable success

Its director was the editor of "Citizen Kane." Its screenwriter was the author of "North by Northwest." Its composers were the most successful songwriting team in American theater history. And "The Sound of Music" was the movie that everybody hated but the people.

Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp himself, is said to have called it "The Sound of Mucus." Robert Wise, the director, worried with Julie Andrews, the eternal Mary Poppins, about what they could do to remove a spoonful (or two) of the schmaltz. Pauline Kael, who would become the reigning film critic of her era, denounced it as "the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat."

And yet 40 years ago, "The Sound of Music" was not just the summer movie of 1965. It was the spring, fall and winter one, too, and in inflation-adjusted dollars, it remains the third-biggest-grossing film of all time at the domestic box office, according to Box Office Mojo.

It hit the Billboard Top 40 video sales chart shortly after it became one of the first movies ever released on home video in 1979 and still holds the chart's longevity record, of more than 300 weeks and counting.

Twentieth Century Fox has to released a special 40th-anniversary two-DVD edition in November, with new documentary material (including interviews with Andrews, other cast members and creators) prepared by Michael Kantor, who directed the PBS series "Broadway: The American Musical" in 1999.

What explains such colossal success? "It's mainly the script," said Wise, who is 96 and once estimated that he had been asked that question an average of twice a week since the film's premiere on March 2, 1965. "It's a family film; nothing more universal."

When Ernest Lehman, the highly regarded screenwriter of movies like "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and "Sweet Smell of Success," told his friend Burt Lancaster that he was working on "The Sound of Music," Lancaster responded that he must have needed the money.

But, in hindsight, a compelling case can be made for "The Sound of Music," as the last picture show of its kind, a triumph of craftsmanship and the apogee of the studio system that produced the kind of entertainment that dominated mid-20th-century mass culture.

When it opened, it displaced "Gone With the Wind" (by then already 26 years old), as the all-time box-office champion in nominal dollars, a position it held for seven years until "The Godfather" knocked it off in 1972.

It was at once the salvation (and very nearly the death knell) of its own studio, rescuing Fox from the financial disaster of "Cleopatra" but also sending the studio in quest of similar surefire successes that wound up as famous failures, like Rex Harrison's "Doctor Dolittle" and "Hello, Dolly!"

With its breathtaking Austrian locations and complex outdoor musical sequences, "The Sound of Music," building on Wise's film of "West Side Story" before it, had the bad luck to liberate the film musical forever from the soundstage-bound conventions that once forced pigeons to fly into painted backdrops in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," at the very moment that four nightingales from Liverpool were helping to change mass musical taste.

A film that was easy to mock as stale and conventional in the wake of the French Nouvelle Vague (and on the brink of "Bonnie and Clyde") is far easier to appreciate now for its old-fashioned gloss and arch performances from silken pros like Eleanor Parker, who played the Baroness with the poise of an early Avedon model; Peggy Wood, the Mother Abbess, who had made her Broadway debut in "Naughty Marietta" in 1910; and Anna Lee, the doughty veteran of the John Ford stock company who played Sister Margaretta.

From the moment on Broadway in 1959 that Mary Martin, the first Maria, sang that her day in the hills had come to an end, critics dismissed "The Sound of Music" as the least original work of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the men who did more than any other to bring the Broadway musical - arguably America's most original art form, together with jazz - to full flower in works like "Oklahoma!" "Carousel" and their Pulitzer Prize-winning "South Pacific."

"Not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music," Walter Kerr wrote in The New York Herald Tribune.

But from the very beginning, the public lapped it up. Kael lost her job as movie critic for McCall's after her infamous panning, and the film has since survived innumerable television reruns, cast reunions and high-camp "Rocky Horror"-style sing-alongs that began in London in 1999.

The first major Austrian production of the stage version (quite different from the film) is now playing at Vienna's Volksoper, where it has received mixed reviews but immense popular acclaim.

One of the main achievements of Lehman's screenplay was to discard some of the lesser songs from the Broadway production, and re-order others, including "My Favorite Things" (which was sung onstage to Maria by the Mother Abbess, not by Maria to the von Trapp kids during a thunderstorm) and "Do-Re-Mi," which was sung the moment Maria met the children, not all over Salzburg in a still-thrilling sequence painstakingly worked out by Wise and Saul Chaplin, a veteran Hollywood music director and the movie's associate producer.

"Nobody has the magic wand, or there'd be movies like this done all the time," said Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, who estimates that anniversary-related activities surrounding "The Sound of Music" have occupied more than 90 percent of his time in the last two months. "In retrospect, it's a very good story, with very good tunes. The score doesn't really sound like a score written by 60-year-old men. There's a kind of youthfulness and honesty to the songs, about how to learn music, but also how to break down barriers. It doesn't sound like someone's trying to phony something up."

Forty years and a lot less innocence later, in the era of film as theme park thrill ride and prepackaged comic book sequel, a little artful manipulation seems a small enough price, and "The Sound of Music" a big enough blessing. Let it bloom and grow.

To buy this extraordinary 40th anniversary DVD, click the link below.

Sound of Music (40th Anniversary Edition)

Anyone who has seen "The Sound of Music" knows how Maria von Trapp's life began--but what happened after the final scene?

Discover what Maria's life was like after fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria for America. With intriguing facts about her life in the nunnery, her romance with Captain von Trapp, their ten children, and their singing careers, this inspiring story reaches beyond "The Sound of Music" --and reveals the courage and determination of a kind, energetic, and very real woman.
(Click the link below.)

Maria Von Trapp: Beyond the Sound of Music


Friday, 12 December 2008

Phillies Sign Raul Ibanez

The Phillies and Raul Ibanez agreed to a 3-year, $30 million contract.

Ibanez, 36, is a career .286 hitter with 182 HR and 794 RBI. Last year with the Mariners, Ibanez hit .293 with 23 HR and 110 RBI. He recorded a .358 on-base percentage and .479 slugging percentage. By comparison, Pat Burrell recorded a .367 OBP and .507 SLG last season.

Since Ibanez was a Type A free agent and was offered arbitration, the Phillies will forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2009 to the Mariners.

Tim’s Thoughts: It’s almost absolutely certain the end of Pat Burrell’s tenure as a Phillie. His nine-year run as left fielder was largely successful; now the Phillies bring in a player of slightly lesser offensive caliber. The difference between Burrell and Ibanez defensively is almost non-existent — Ibanez isn’t that good. So overall, the Phillies gave three years to a player worse than Burrell, but for probably $16M fewer than what Burrell wanted.

Basically, this deal will be determined on those $16 million. Do I think Ibanez will perform his worth — based on the discrepancy between monetary figures — in these three years? Judging his durability (at least 480 at bats the last seven seasons) and prowess against left-handed pitching in 2008 (.305/.368/.497), I do think he’ll adequately fill his spot. Not wonderfully. But adequately (and frankly, adequate is fine in left field).

To me, the largest issue to fret is how the Phillies will now spend money. Do they have enough to still grab Derek Lowe? Do they think the best additions are smaller, value-style additions (such as Chan Ho Park)? Will they make a trade to bring in something larger? Ibanez took a chunk out of the offseason budget, and while he fills the hole adequately, he goes a long way in determining the remainder of the offseason.


Top Chef Sam Talbot Weds Model Paola Guerrero

Photo by: Jemal Countess / WireImage
Top Chef's Sam Talbot Gets Married

Sam Talbot, the heartthrob finalist from Top Chef's second season, is officially off the market.

The chef and his fiancée, Paola Guerrero, got married in a secret wedding ceremony at City Hall in New York City on Nov. 17, a source close to Talbot confirms to PEOPLE.

"It was just the two of them, looking low-key but gorgeous," says the source. "They are madly in love, and he is the happiest man alive to call her his wife."

Talbot and Guerrero, a model and T-shirt designer from Colombia, met on his 30th birthday in Brazil last December.

"She's amazing. She's stunning," Talbot told PEOPLE last year when he announced their engagement.


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sunny von Bülow, focus of society drama, dies at 76

Martha (Sunny) von Bülow, the American heiress who was first married to an Austrian playboy prince and then to a Danish-born man-about-society who was twice tried on charges of attempting to murder her, has died. Von Bülow, who was 76, had been in a coma for nearly 28 years.

Maureen Connelly, a spokeswoman for the family, confirmed the death, which occurred Saturday at a nursing home in Manhattan. Von Bülow's three children said in a statement that they "were blessed to have an extraordinary loving and caring mother."

Von Bülow's death came 27 years, 11 months and 15 days after she was found unconscious on the floor of her bathroom in her mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, on Dec. 21, 1980.

In her long, silent years at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital and then at the nursing home, doctors said von Bülow never showed any signs of brain activity; she was fed through a tube in her stomach. Yet there were always fresh flowers in her room, and photographs of her children and grandchildren sat on a bedside table. She was attended by private nurses, and her room, for some time, was guarded by private security personnel.

She is survived by her daughters, Annie-Laurie von Auersperg Kneissl Isham and Cosima Pavoncelli; her son, Alexander von Auersperg; and nine grandchildren.

Her second husband, Claus von Bülow, was convicted and later acquitted of twice trying to kill her with injections of insulin so as to aggravate her hypoglycemia, a low blood sugar condition.

His trials were among the most sensational of the 1980s. The news media from around the world were irresistibly drawn to the drama of the beautiful heiress who lay in a twilight zone, the debonair husband accused of attempted murder, two royal children pitted against their younger stepsister and the glittering social milieus of Newport and New York providing the backdrop.

Hollywood, too, could not resist. The trials became the subject of the 1990 movie "Reversal of Fortune" with Glenn Close as Sunny von Bülow and Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bülow. The film was based on a book by Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who had been Claus von Bülow's lawyer during his appeal.

The prosecutions were the result of an investigation initiated at the time by Alexander von Auersperg and his sister Annie-Laurie (Ala) von Auersperg Kneissl, the children from Sunny von Bülow's marriage to Prince Alfred von Auersperg. The accusations pitted the von Auerspergs against their stepfather and their half-sister, Cosima von Bülow, and divided the loyalty of friends in Newport and New York.

In his first trial, in Newport in 1982, Claus von Bülow was found guilty of twice trying to kill his wife and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He appealed and posted a $1 million bond believed to have been put up by his friend J. Paul Getty Jr., the oil tycoon.

The appeal was guided by Dershowitz, working with, among others, a team of Harvard students, and the conviction was overturned on the grounds that certain information had not been made available to the defense and that there had been no search warrant when pills were confiscated and sent for testing.

Claus von Bülow was acquitted in 1985 after a second trial in Providence, Rhode Island.

A $56 million civil suit filed against Claus von Bülow by his stepchildren was settled in 1987 with the stipulation that he agree to a divorce and not discuss the case publicly. The couple were divorced in 1988. Claus von Bülow lives in London.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Saturday, 6 December 2008

O.J. Simpson Dying In Prison!

When a person reaches the golden years, it should be with pride in reflecting a life of working and achieving, and relief at finally being able to relax, soothed by accomplishment, even as the body fades.

O.J. Simpson celebrated his golden years with the possibility of dying in prison. He walked into Courtroom 15A at the Las Vegas Regional Justice Center Friday morning wearing a navy blue, state-issued V-neck jumpsuit to be sentenced for his part in an attempted armed robbery on Sept. 13, 2007. His wrists were shackled by handcuffs attached to a steel chain around his waist. His face, as it always has been, was remarkably unlined, even as the gray has begun its inexorable march across his hair.

He didn't look particularly old. But so much of his story, so many of the details of his bizarre, self-destructive actions, and so many of the tired symbols he has come to embody, most certainly were.

When the sentencing was over, the 61-year-old Simpson was broken, first by the recognition that this time his celebrity, fame and charm would prove insufficient commodities to provide an escape for him, and finally when Judge Jackie Glass confirmed his suspicions by sentencing him to a minimum of nine and a maximum of 33 years in state prison.

He will be incarcerated at least until 2017, when he will first be eligible for parole. Prosecutors, though, said it is very unlikely he will serve just the minimum of his sentence. He will be 70 years old before he even has an opportunity to leave prison.

His dignity and reputation were already gone. Now, O.J. Simpson's freedom is, too.
No athlete in American history has ever suffered such a spectacular fall. Why Simpson chose such a clearly losing path -- in his remarks to the judge, Yale Galanter, one of Simpson's own attorneys, used the term "stupid" at least a dozen times for Simpson's dangerous, ill-conceived plan to recover items from former associates -- might always be an unanswerable question to anyone but him. Another unanswerable question is whether athletes will ever realize that accountability applies to them.

Judging by the Plaxico Burress affair, it appears some still don't. Simpson should have provided the cautionary tale 13 years ago, and again today. As Glass pointed out so powerfully, Simpson could have killed someone, "an innocent tourist or worker." But O.J. Simpson believed in the protection that the hero always seems to get.

"At Mr. Simpson's initial bail hearing, I didn't know if he was arrogant or ignorant or both," Glass said. "During this trial, I got my answer. It was both."

There can be no underestimating the complete undoing of O.J. Simpson. He was once the country's greatest athlete. If Michael Jordan is considered the man who perfected the marriage of sports and marketing, O.J. Simpson is the man who pioneered it. If it is commonplace for athletes to sign multimillion-dollar contracts that now include music, movie and broadcasting deals, it is only because O.J. Simpson introduced to all parties the concept of crossover star power.

And now, it's all over. His dignity and reputation disappeared following his acquittal on a double-murder charge in 1995, and what was left of his freedom, well, that's gone now, too.

The judge said O.J. was both arrogant and ignorant.

The juxtaposition of election night last month and the courtroom on Friday was all too obvious. The scene at Chicago's Grant Park, after Barack Obama won the election and in the process shattered so much of what people were convinced they thought they knew about the black and the white and the possibilities of America, hovered Friday over Simpson, his voice crackling, trying to negotiate the difficult task of sipping water from a Styrofoam cup while handcuffed. Thirteen years ago, it was Simpson who was the face of America. The famous photo of black cheers adjacent to white dejection upon the announcement of the Simpson acquittal served as proof that race was intractable, impossible to break. In 1995, O.J. provided the proof that blacks and whites viewed the idea of justice very, very differently

In the courtroom on Friday, sitting in the third row from the door behind the prosecution, was Fred Goldman, whose son Ronald Goldman was murdered along with Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994. Goldman has remained visible, as he was during Simpson's 1995 trial and acquittal and again two years later when the Goldman family won a $33.6 million civil judgment from Simpson.

There is hell on Fred Goldman's face. It is the hell of losing a child. He wears it sometimes like a deep scar, visible to the eye, easily traced by the touch, and at other times like a water balloon, quivering, tenuous, ready to burst. After Glass read her decision, Goldman and his daughter, Kim, left the courtroom, stood near the bank of elevators on the 15th floor of the building and began to speak. After a moment, Fred Goldman said he needed time to compose himself and agreed to speak on the courthouse steps. He walked to the far wall of the corridor, hugged his daughter and erupted in tears.

When father and daughter arrived at the microphones at the foot of the courthouse steps, the American hero culture -- the millions who side with the glamour and the talent and the money over everything else -- was waiting for them, its acolytes shouting loudly over each sentence.

After the sentencing, Fred Goldman referred to O.J. as a 'monster.'

"It was satisfying to know that S.O.B. will be in jail. It was satisfying to see him in shackles, the way he belongs," Fred Goldman said. "He still had that arrogant look on his face when he came in and that same look when he left. He committed a crime and he's going to be where he belongs, with others of his kind."


Fred Goldman continued to speak, although he had to hear the heckling. He was competing with the muscle of the celebrity culture, the culture that allowed Burress to walk into a New York nightclub armed with a gun while ordinary people were frisked at the door, that allowed a hospital to shirk its responsibility by not reporting Burress' gunshot wound (which is in and of itself against the law), a culture that demands accountability as long as it doesn't interfere with the fun.

If his son had been killed by a nobody, Fred Goldman would have been treated with respect. But Goldman and his daughter were taking on a hero, a man who has proved he has little in substance but made the people cheer, nonetheless.

There were only a half dozen hecklers, but that was six too many.

"There is never closure," Fred Goldman said over the din of the insults. "Ron is always gone. What we have is satisfaction that this monster is going where he belongs."

Steve Thomas, 56, was among those who came to the courthouse to support O.J. on Friday.

The Goldmans left and the lawyers took over. Galanter said he thought it was inappropriate for the Goldmans to be in attendance. ("I know it was open to the public, but it was an example of how the justice system can run afoul," he said.) He is preparing an appeal that may take up to a year. The prosecutors seemed disappointed that Simpson did not receive a harsher sentence, but insisted justice had been done.

Forty-six days away from the inauguration of the country's first biracial president, O.J. Simpson was sent to prison Friday, a pathetic anachronism. He left this Nevada courtroom very differently than he did the one in California 13 years ago. Then, race had torn the country apart. Now, there is no position in America that a person of color can't attain. There are no excuses.

The country did not split along racial lines this time. The police were not on trial. A convicted criminal with all the advantages the world could provide went to jail.

Unfortunately, the hero game still lives on, as the post-sentencing scene in the street revealed. But now, it lives on with one fewer player.

Source: Howard Bryant, a senior writer for and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" He can be reached at