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More Stars than in Heaven

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If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles in the vicinity of Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards (an easy stroll down from my alma mater, UCLA), take an hour out of your busy day to visit the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. A hundred years ago, the cemetery was surrounded by dirt roads and grasslands. Now, as it is entirely surrounded by high-rise buildings and is no longer even visible from the street. It’s a good bet that the vast majority of drivers passing on nearby Wilshire Boulevard have no idea it’s even there. In fact, it’s a bit tricky to find even if you know where it is – it always takes me a couple of tries to locate the alley which serves as the unassuming entrance.

Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.  (Photo credit: Oleg Alexandrov)

Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. (Photo credit: Oleg Alexandrov)

The Westwood Cemetery was established in 1905 as Sunset Cemetery, the burial ground for the sleepy village of Westwood, CA. It is just 2 ½ acres, miniscule by most cemetery standards. By contrast, Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills sprawls over hundreds of acres. If you are into dead celebrities, both are worth a visit. The Westwood Cemetery, however, has more entertainment industry luminaries interred or entombed per square foot than any cemetery in the world.

When I visited recently with my daughter, we had the place mostly to ourselves. She was impressed by Marilyn Monroe’s niche in the mausoleum, stained pink from all the smooches left over time. She’s a teenager, so recognized few other entertainment industry icons. For my part, it was sobering to realize just how many of the names I did recall. Marilyn Monroe’s niche in the mausoleum (Photo credit: Tom Laemmel)

Billy Wilder’s tombstone (Photo credit: Tom Laemmel)

Billy Wilder’s tombstone is sure to elicit a chuckle for those that recognize the reference to what is probably the most famous line from his film, SomeLike It Hot. Wilder was also the screenwriter of Sunset Boulevard: a movie which famously opens with the screenwriter star (William Holden) floating dead in the swimming pool of a Sunset Boulevard mansion. It seems that Billy Wilder had a sense of humor about his chosen profession.

Marilyn Monroe’s is the most visited gravesite at Westwood Village Memorial Park. Legend has it that Joe Dimaggio had roses sent to her every week for as long as he lived. And Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, is rumored to have purchased the burial spot next to her for his future resting place (it remains unmarked). The second most visited gravesite is probably Natalie Wood’s, who died a tragic death by drowning, and was the star of Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, and Splendor in the Grass. Just one row down from Natalie Wood’s grave lies Col. Hogan of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane, (another actor with a tragic Hollywood death). Three rows down is the grave of actor Eddie Albert, star of the Green Acres TV sitcom about a New York lawyer who drags his spoiled wife out to live on a farm (played by Eva Gabor, also buried here). In this same area is the gravesite of actress Donna Reed who won an Oscar in 1955 for her supporting role in From Here to Eternity. She also played Jimmy Stewart’s wife, Mary, in the 1946 Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, but she may only be known to some as Miss Ellie, from her role on the original Dallas TV series.

There goes the neighborhood! (Photo credit: Tom Laemmel)

Rodney Dangerfield’s headstone: “There goes the neighborhood.”

There are simply too many luminaries to recount, giving a new twist to MGM’s claim from the 1940’s that they had “more stars than there are in heaven.” Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, the original Odd Couple, are buried not far apart. Dean Martin, Carroll O’Connor, Brian Keith, Don Knotts, George C. Scott, Burt Lancaster, James Coburn, Karl Malden, John Cassavetes, Robert Stack, Eve Arden, Eva Gabor and John Cassavetes. Rodney Dangerfield’s headstone reads, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Frank Zappa’s Unmarked Grave (Photo credit: Tom Laemmel)

Curiously there are still open plots and crypts, along with evidence of recent internments. How does this place not fill up? There’s the unmarked empty crypt next to Marilyn Monroe and some empty spots in the grass aren’t really empty at all: a blank space just beside Lew Ayers (nominated for an Oscar in 1948 for Johnny Belinda) is where Frank Zappa was buried with no marker. A few yards away lies Roy Orbison’s unmarked grave.

In addition to all the movie stars, Westwood Cemetery has its share of movie moguls, such as Darryl F. Zanuck, authors like Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch (author of Psycho), Sidney Sheldon and the previously mentioned Billy Wilder. Musicians are represented as well; Mel Tormé, Minnie Riperton, “the world’s greatest drummer” Buddy Rich, and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys are interred here.

A version of this article also appeared on the Snackdish users blog. Snackdish is a social platform for TV and movies.

By the way, today is Marilyn Monroe’s birthday. She was born June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles and died August 5, 1962 in her Brentwood home, just a couple miles from the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Video: Executive VP, NTT Com

Produced this video of Michael Wheeler, executive vice president of NTT Communications’ Global IP Network at NTT America, discussing the wholesale IP industry move from 10G to 100G – one of the major developments shaping the market today.

I pitched the project, prepared the speaker, scripted the Q&A, selected the production company and worked on the editing. This video is part of a larger NTT Com campaign which will be played out over the coming year.

Press Release: NTT Com at ITW 2015

NTT Communications Corporation (NTT Com), the global data and IP services arm of Fortune Global 500 telecom leader NTT (NYSE:NTT), announced its participation at the International Telecoms Week (ITW) 2015 taking place in Chicago, May 10-13. ITW is the annual meeting for the global wholesale telecommunications community, bringing together participants from around the world and providing the opportunity to learn and network with industry peers, suppliers and customers.

http://www.thestreet.com/story/13145736/1/michael-wheeler-executive-vice-president-of-ntt-communications-global-ip-network-at-ntt-america-photo-business-wire.html

Mad Men: Beginning of the End, End of an Era

The first of the final seven Mad Men episodes aired last Sunday at 10/9 p.m. central on AMC. With just six hours remaining, it is the beginning of the end for the show and the characters we have come to know since its premier in 2007. The question on everyone’s mind is, just how exactly will it end?

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In recent interviews the head writer and showrunner, Matthew Weiner, has claimed that he knew from the start where the story would end, just not exactly how it was going to get there. Weiner was a writer on the final years of the Sopranos series and had a hand in that memorable finale, so we know that he has some experience in creating a dramatic ending. I’m hoping that the conclusion of Mad Men won’t be as cryptic, but I’m sure that whatever happens it will be the subject of much discussion, criticism and analysis. (David Chase was the head writer and showrunner on the Sopranos, asking Weiner to join his writing team on the strength of his script for the Mad Men pilot.)

Many viewers believe that Don Draper will die in the finale episode. There is no denying that death has been a common theme throughout the series. And the guy (Don) depicted in silhouette in the opening credits is not likely to survive that 30 second free fall. But I’d like to think that having toyed with death in the Sopranos finale, Weiner will choose some other fate for Don. In fact, the real Don Draper is already dead, so why kill him again? And Matthew Weiner makes a point of confounding audience expectations, so I don’t think he will do the obvious thing here.

My bet is that the ending, like the beginning, will have something to do with cigarettes. In the very first episode, S1, Ep1: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Don must come up with a way to sell Lucky Strikes in the wake of the 1960 Reader’s Digest report linking cigarettes to cancer. In last week’s episode we overheard President Nixon on the TV announcing his plans to withdraw 150,000 troops from Vietnam, which puts the series timeline at April 20, 1970. That same month Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio starting on January 2, 1971. Coincidence?

How do you think Mad Men is going to end? Share your thoughts with your fellow fans on Snackdish and Facebook.

By the way, the last TV commercial for cigarettes was shown at 11:59 p.m. on January 1, 1972 during a break on The Tonight Show. It was a 60-second ad for Virginia Slims. A “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” retrospective, from suffragette to woman’s libber (and then, uhm, to lung cancer).

This article was originally published on the Snackdish blog. Snackdish is a social platform for TV and movies.

Press Release: NTT Com at Capacity Latam Conference in Rio de Janeiro

NEW YORK & RIO DE JANEIRO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–NTT Communications Corporation (NTT Com), the global data and IP services arm of Fortune Global 500 telecom leader NTT (NYSE: NTT), announced today that it is the exclusive Platinum Sponsor at the Capacity Latam Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and will participate in the conference’s keynote panels.

NTT Communications to Address Challenges and Opportunities in Latin America at Capacity Latam 2015.

A TV Guy on Broadway

This past year I managed to see all but one of the major 2014 Oscar contenders. That’s a lot of movies, but for the sheer number of hours poured into it, TV (and its close cousins Netflix, Amazon, etc.) is my medium. So, as a TV guy, I was a bit of a fish out of water when I wandered onto the Great White Way to catch a preview of Larry David’s Fish in the Dark.

Larry David is a TV guy too. He is the creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm which premiered in 2000 and ran for 8 seasons on HBO. That was after he co-created a little show called Seinfeld, named by TV Guide as the best TV show of all time. This pedigree, together with great demographics, set the stage for spectacular ticket sales – a record setting $13.5 million in advanced sales before its first performance. (About those demographics: Seinfeld, set in New York, ran from 1989 to 1998. This means that those 20 and 30-something fans are now in their 40’s and 50’s armed with the nostalgia and, more importantly, the discretionary income to brave Broadway ticket prices.)

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The Cort Theater Marquee – LD on the Great White Way (Photo credit: T. Laemmel)

Fish in the Dark officially premiers tomorrow, March 5. Larry David wrote and stars in the play. The marquee exclaims, “His first time on stage since the eighth grade!” The Broadway tradition (astonishingly honored by all legit press) precludes the review of previews. But I’m a TV guy (and not a journalist); I abide by no such code.

It’s not a one-man show, as I had first surmised. I counted 18 actors when they came out for their bows. It’s a whole new set of characters, not quite Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, but definitely the usual suspects. The play centers on the death of a family patriarch. It’s a comedy, bordering on a sex farce. The story line and tone could be a two hour Curb pilot, except it’s live and it “feels” like a play.  The play begins with amplified voices from a bedroom offstage. That was fine, but as soon as the actors took to the stage I found it hard to hear all the dialogue.   I think it’s because Larry David is a TV guy. On a TV set you don’t need to project to the audience. To exacerbate the situation Larry David was a bit hoarse. That’s understandable seeing as he’s the main character (i.e., biggest talker) for eight shows a week (additional matinee shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays, dark on Mondays; another Broadway tradition).

My hearing has not yet started to deteriorate, yetI was still missing some of the dialogue. Because of the aforementioned clientele (mostly aged 50+), Broadway theaters have “Assistive Listening Systems” to boost the audio. Apparently I wasn’t the only one having a hard time. At the intermission there was a run on the booth doling out the headsets. But when I got back to my seat for the second half, I found the boosted audio felt uncomfortably like listening to a television blaring loudly from another room. I wanted a live experience, not canned sound, so at the risk of missing a word or two, I elected to go without.

Norman and Sidney Drexel

Norman Drexel (aka LD) shows his brother Sidney the correct way to stand when acting. (Photo credit: Fish in the Dark)

The next thing I noticed was how lanky and slim Larry David is. This is accentuated by his odd habit of arching backwards when he stands, hyperextended like a bow. You don’t see that on television. Otherwise much of what I saw I could have expected on TV. Larry David played a character that was very much like Larry David, no surprises there. All of the other actors were stage and TV veterans and did their parts admirably. Rosie Perez, as the housekeeper with a secret, was an unexpected and pleasant surprise for me (alas, not for you!) The dialogue was quick and witty, but palpably more TV sitcom-style than Broadway play.

A few other things bugged me. The audience clapped when recognizable characters came out on stage. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except it revealed just how primed people were to revel in the cozy comfort of the tried and true, the Curb and Seinfeld familiarity. At one point LD is asked how something was (I forgot what) and he milked his reply, “Pretty good. Pretttty, pretty good!” and the crowd roared its approval. I’m sorry, for me the audiences’ response was just a bit too revealing of why we were all there. I thought embarrassingly of the folks that would shout “Nanu! Nanu!” at Robin Williams for years after his Mork & Mindy days.

And then there was the bit of a deus-ex-machina in the form of a text message towards the very end of the show that left a bad taste in my mouth. The only bit of weak writing, I saw it as a quick trick to patch the family back together, enabling us to leave the theater with a happy feeling. If you ask me, an ancient and awkward device for the kind of money we’re paying. How much exactly? A $140 a ticket for decent seats. Prices range from $49.00 to $275.00 when purchased directly from the theater if you can get them (most are on the resale market now). The $50 seats are in the nosebleed sections and $275 gets you the first few rows. Broadway is a unique experience, it is not TV after all, so one can justify the occasional extravagance. How much you like Fish in the Dark will depend upon on just how much you liked Seinfeld and Curb. In other words, your enjoyment depends on just how much of a TV guy/gal you are.

Larry David as Norman Drexel

Larry David as Norman Drexel.(Photo credit: Fish in the Dark)

LD on Broadway

LD’s Broadway debut (Photo credit: Fish in the Dark)

This article was originally published on the Snackdish users blog. Snackdish is a social platform for TV and movies.

I Would Watch You, If You Were the Last Man on Earth

I am looking forward to the premiere of The Last Man on Earth. The half-hour series stars Will Forte, and debuts with two back-to-back shows on Sunday, March 1, 9:00pm ET/PT on FOX. (TV-14 D, L, V).

Fox describes the new series as “an end-of-the-world comedy.” If that sounds a bit warped to you, it does to me, too. And it’s also why I’m looking forward to seeing how they will pull this off. The concept, and the name, has a long list of antecedents, beginning (from a movie/TV standpoint at least) with the 1964 science fiction horror film based on the Richard Matheson 1954 novel I Am Legend. The movie was called The Last Man on Earth and starred the legendary genre star Vincent Price. (Not to be confused with 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, or 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith.

So, how do you make a comedy series out of a horror movie premise? The answer seems to be by having some fun with it. This version of The Last Man on Earth is living in a post-apocalyptic utopia where an average Joe named Phil Miller (Will Forte) discovers what life is like when there are no rules and no one to tell you what to do. “I get to do a lot of wish-fulfillment stuff,” Forte told writers at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. That sounds like fun!

Will Forte as Phil Miller

Will Forte as Phil Miller, possibly the last man on earth… (Photo credit: FOX)

And if you are worried that watching Will Forte walk around in his underwear stealing and smashing things might get boring, consider this: maybe he’s not the last person on earth after all. January Jones (of Mad Men and X-Men) and Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard and about 90 other things) are just two of the cast listed on the show’s IMDB site. Yes, some are men. Don’t let that ruin the premise for you, though. There’s no reason they can’t appear in flashbacks. Or maybe he’s not really the last man on earth. Or, like the previous Last Man on Earth iterations, some may appear concurrent with the last real man as “medicated zombies” (as in the The Omega Man).

Still, the trailer makes it all look kind of bleak. Maybe that’s why it took so long for this series to find a place in the Fox lineup. The trailer was posted almost a year ago and there are thousands (millions maybe?) of cat videos which have garnered more views. It looks like the series was originally planned for the 2014 fall season, or maybe a mid-season replacement.

Alas, just because I am looking forward to it doesn’t mean I don’t think this quirky genre-bending series is doomed. Mark my words, this is a one season show. It will be cancelled. But cancelled schmancelled, think of it as a one season mini-series and a great experience to watch and share with your Snackdish buddies. I know I’ll be there! Watch the first official trailer here.

The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth (Photo credit: FOX)

This article was originally published on the Snackdish blog. Snackdish is a social platform for TV and movies.