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From Buster Keaton To Shirley MacLaine: The TCM Classic Film Festival

From Buster Keaton To Shirley MacLaine: The TCM Classic Film Festival

I’m still recovering from the whirlwind that is the TCM
Classic Film Festival. What a glorious event, attended by the most enthusiastic
moviegoers in the world, run by a friendly staff, and filled to the brim with
screenings, panels, interviews, and more. Because TCM stalwart Robert Osborne
was recovering from a minor medical procedure and Ben Mankiewicz can’t be in two places at once,
I had even more hosting duties than usual. My personal highlights were chatting
with Christopher Plummer before a screening of The Man Who Would Be King, introducing a new restoration of Buster
Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. with
Carl Davis debuting his new orchestral score, and interviewing Shirley
MacLaine—twice.

It was equally enjoyable for me to introduce films I care
about to such a  receptive audience,
including Walt Disney’s underappreciated So
Dear to My Heart
(1949), John Ford’s little-seen Airmail (1932), Orson Welles’ Chimes
at Midnight
also known as Falstaff (1965).

I even treated myself to an extracurricular screening on
Friday afternoon: the Museum of Modern Art’s new 35mm print of Don’t Bet on Women (1931), a saucy
pre-Code comedy starring Edmund Lowe, Jeanette MacDonald, and Una Merkel. What
fun!

The only time I felt imperiled all weekend was when I had to
end a brief conversation with Shirley MacLaine before a screening of The Apartment on Saturday. The audience
didn’t want to let her go! Fortunately, we had more than an hour to talk the
next day at Club TCM (in the historic Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt
Hotel). Never shy, Shirley knew what people wanted to hear and gave it to them
in spades: candid opinions, canny observations, and plenty of “dish.” (She
names Dean Martin as the funniest man she ever met, and spent three years in an
affair with Robert Mitchum, trying to figure out the elusive actor.)

Christopher Plummer regaled the crowd at the Egyptian
Theatre with his impressions of director John Huston and costar Sean Connery,
who rescued Plummer’s job on The Man Who
Would Be King
by telling the backers that if they cut his role as Rudyard
Kipling, Connery would not be there the next day! I also asked Plummer to share
an arcane but interesting fact that he told me the first time we met: his
cousin was the great character actor Nigel Bruce, although (sadly) they never
met.

On Saturday evening I interviewed longtime studio executive
Sherry Lansing about a movie that left a deep impression on her when she first
saw it as a teenager and still makes her cry today: Imitation of Life (1959). But as we were taking our seats I
realized I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to ask her about working as an
actress with Howard Hawks on the John Wayne movie Rio Lobo (1970), early in her career. Sherry obliged with several
amusing—and insightful—anecdotes. She recalls that when Hawks didn’t get his
way with the studio he suddenly developed a pain in his leg and wasn’t able to
work—for three successive days. It was then, she says, that she learned who
really had the power in Hollywood.

With scores of screenings and special guests taking place
simultaneously, it wasn’t possible to take in all the films or
question-and-answer sessions I would have liked to see…but that’s what makes
the TCM Festival an embarrassment of riches. I feel very fortunate to be a part
of it.

        

         

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