The Original

Sidney Poitier died Thursday at the age of 94.

Those of you who don’t recognize the name, look him up. He was a Big Deal.

He was a magnificent actor, who brought dignity to every role he played, from the schoolteacher in “To Sir, With Love”, to a police detective in “In the Heat of the Night”, to a handyman who builds a church for a group of nuns in “Lilies of the Field” a role for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award in 1964.

The Big Deal? He was the first Black actor to ever receive that award.

Courtesy Associated Press

The Big Deal? He was pretty much the only Black actor working in Hollywood at the time. As he once recalled, “I made films when the only other Black on the lot was the shoeshine boy. I was kind of the lone guy in town.”

In 1967, theater owners named him the Number One movie star, the first time a Black actor was so honored.

Sidney was the trailblazer, the one who paved the way for those who followed, like Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Halle Berry and so many more.

He had a message for all those followers in 1992, in his acceptance speech for the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award:

“Welcome, young Blacks. Those of us who go before you glance back with satisfaction and leave you with a simple trust: Be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey.”

Enjoy some Sidney Poitier movies this weekend; read about his early struggles that shaped him into the actor, and the man, he became.

He truly was a Big Deal.

Refill on that Large Buttered (urp)


Okay, film fans, here are some more favorites of mine:

Big Bad Mama – I saw this movie on my fifteenth birthday. You talk about making an impact…you coulda hung ten hats on me when I walked out of there.

Rocky – I’ve been to only one other movie that had the audience this much into it. We were all cheering for Rocky at the end, and even though he didn’t win the fight, he went the distance, and he had love, and we cheered that.

Halloween – My all-time favorite scare. This was the other movie that had the audience all in. We all SCREAMED at this chick to “Get out of there, HURRY!!!” Why don’t they ever listen?

Airplane! – Unapologetic nonsense from start to finish; I loved it. Steven Stucker, as Johnny, absolutely stole that movie.

Arthur – Sentimental favorite. My wife and I saw this on our first date. The theater we saw it in is long gone. So is the restaurant where we had dinner, and the mall we walked around in until we went to the movie. But we’re still here!

Sophie’s Choice – I can hear my wife exclaiming, “Why?” The only reason I include this one is because it has the distinction of being, by a wide margin, the SADDEST movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Unless you’re really, really happy, don’t watch this one.

The Silence of the Lambs – An up-close look at two horrifying personifications of evil. Anthony Hopkins, at his Oscar-winning best. Same for Jodie Foster.

Schindler’s List – This one’s sad, too, but ultimately, a very uplifting story of one man’s compassion in the face of such unspeakable evil. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.

Saving Private Ryan – Spielberg’s other masterpiece. World War II as we’d never seen it before. Outstanding cast led by Tom Hanks.

Liar Liar – I love Jim Carrey, and I love him best as this manic lawyer forced to tell the truth for a day. Hysterical!

Jerry Maguire – I’m including this movie for just one scene: Jerry’s “You complete me” declaration of love to his wife. The most romantic scene ever, for my money.

One Hour Photo – Best work Robin Williams ever did, in my opinion. It was like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Positively creepy.

Sling Blade – Outstanding writing, acting and directing, all by Billy Bob Thornton. Mm-hmm.

Brokeback Mountain – Yeah, some folks made a big deal of two cowboys in love, but it was a very heartbreaking story, brilliantly acted by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. After watching this and The Dark Knight, I am convinced that Heath Ledger, were it not for his untimely death, could have ended up being the greatest actor ever; he was that talented.

Citizen Kane – As a noted philosopher once said, “Boring beyond belief.” I did sleep through this one. In 1998 (and again in 2007) the American Film Institute listed this movie as the greatest American film ever made. Shows what they know.

Oh, there’s so many others, but you know what? I’d love to hear from you, now. What are some of your favorites, and why? Let’s get a roundtable going here; this’ll be fun!

Oh, and for those of you who observe, Happy Easter this Sunday!

See you at the movies, as they say.

One Large Buttered, Please


It’s occurred to me: one thing I haven’t shared on this blog is my lifelong love of movies.

From the time I saw my first movie at age six, I’ve been a big fan. I appreciate how books allow you to use your imagination more, but it’s more of an investment of time, whereas a movie only demands, on average, a couple of hours.

And, on a huge screen, in a theater with several large speakers, the whole audiovisual experience just overwhelms you. For those couple of hours, you’re totally captivated. You, and an audience of complete strangers, which usually enhances the experience. Together, you laugh, cry, cheer, scream, jump or, in some cases, sleep.

So, here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites; some that I really enjoyed, or that made an impact on me in some way:

Mary Poppins – First movie I ever saw. (first one I remember seeing, anyway) It was magical; live action and animation played together, and I loved it.

What’s Up, Doc? – Still the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, the late, great Madeline Kahn, and plenty of slapstick, laugh-til-it-hurts comedy.

Young Frankenstein – Close runner-up for funniest movie. Director Mel Brooks at his hysterical best. The whole cast is hilarious.

The Sting – My all-time favorite. Because it pulled off the neat trick of making the audience members believe they were in on the con, and when they found out at the end they were conned, too, they weren’t mad about it! Slick.

The Godfather, Parts I and II – Part III gets an honorable mention, but it doesn’t approach the quality of these two masterpieces. Even to criminals, family means everything. So many great performances, with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino at the front of the pack.

The Birds – To this day, any time I see several birds congregated together in one spot, I think of this movie. Some images just stay with you.

The Odd Couple – Another great comedy, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau both owning it. Terrific writing from Neil Simon.

Jaws – Waited over an hour in the hot Texas summer sun to get in to see this movie. Absolutely worth it.

Star Wars – Another long, hot wait. Again, totally worth it. This was completely unlike any outer space movie I’d seen before. The special effects were amazing!

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Watching that enormous mother ship rising over Devil’s Tower on a big screen, there wasn’t a jaw in the whole theater that wasn’t on the floor.

The Deer Hunter – The most nerve-wracking and, in the end, moving film about the Vietnam war, and its aftermath, I’ve seen. Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken are incredible. Also, early in her career, a great performance from Meryl Streep.

Platoon – Another Vietnam war movie. You know how, when people walk out of the theater at the conclusion of the movie, you’ll hear them having random discussions – that was great, that sucked, where are we going for dinner, blah, blah, blah?

When I walked out with the crowd at the end of Platoon, I heard…nothing. We all shuffled out like zombies, in complete silence, thoroughly stunned at what we had just witnessed. I’ll never forget that.


Well, there’s many more, but I think we’re gonna have to have a sequel, so this doesn’t stretch out forever. So, be on the lookout, and you can turn your cellphones back on, now.

The Movie Music Man


Watch out, here comes a shark!

Oh, no, and a T-Rex!

And, OMG, Darth Vader!!

Someone please help us!!!

Wait, look! It’s…Indiana Jones! And Luke Skywalker! And Superman!!

We’re SAVED!!!!

Okay, quick, how many movie theme songs just played in your head?

You’ve got one person to thank for that: John Williams.


Recently, I had the pleasure of watching the annual American Film Institute (AFI) Lifetime Achievement Award presentation, given to someone in recognition of his or her outstanding contribution to the movie industry. (As a movie lover, I dig this kinda stuff.)

Usually, this award goes to an actor or director but, this year, for the first time ever, it was given to a composer.

And for John Williams, it’s about freakin’ time.

Here’s but a small sample of the movies for which Mr. Williams composed the soundtracks:

Star Wars. Jaws. Raiders of the Lost Ark. E.T. Born on the Fourth of July. Schindler’s List. Jurassic Park. Superman. Harry Potter. Home Alone. Saving Private Ryan. Hook. Far and Away. JFK. Seven Years in Tibet. Lincoln. Empire of the Sun. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Witches of Eastwick. Amistad. Presumed Innocent.

And that’s just a VERY small sample!

Some of the best known, best loved films of our generation. And a major reason for that is the inspired music that graces them all. We attach that music to our memories of those movies, and they assimilate into our regular lives.

Example: Have you ever been in a pool or a lake and pretended to be a shark, about to put the big chomp on some poor, unsuspecting victim? I dare you to tell me you didn’t start singing, “Da-dum…da-dum…da-dum…dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum…” Yeah, I knew it. You couldn’t resist.

Have you attended or watched a Major League Baseball game, and heard one of the batters stride up to home plate to the tune of “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)?” When pro basketball star Kobe Bryant came back for his first game after an Achilles injury, in 2013, he was introduced to the crowd with “The Imperial March” playing in the background, as he requested.

One other thing: how many marching bands, high school or college, have you heard playing the theme from Star Wars at halftime of a game or in a parade? Or, maybe, some other John Williams tune, instead?

And that music has infiltrated other movies, too. In The Big Chill, before Kevin Kline’s character races heroically to the attic to do battle with a pesky bat, what does he do for inspiration? Sings the theme song for Indiana Jones!

His music stays in our minds because it stirs our hearts. Who can listen to the plaintive theme from Schindler’s List and not get a little teary-eyed? Who hears “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan and doesn’t feel pride and sadness in equal measure for our men and women who have sacrificed everything in war? Who hasn’t been carried back to the wonder and magic of childhood by the theme to E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, longing for the chance to ride a bicycle through the air?

All these unforgettable melodies, and so many more, blossomed from the sublimely brilliant mind of one man. Lucky us.

The AFI Life Achievement Award presentation to John Williams will be rebroadcast Monday, September 12, at 7:00 PM Central time, and on Tuesday, September 13, at 1:30 AM Central time, on the Turner Classic Movies network (TCM). Do yourself a big favor: Record this show, enjoy hearing from the actors and directors who had the pleasure of working with John Williams. Listen, also, to the man himself, and know just what a genuinely humble genius he is.

And sing or hum along to all those terrific movie themes. C’mon, you know them.