Cicely Tyson; Hank Aaron; Hal Holbrook; Cloris Leachman

Also, Larry King

The first time I ever saw the very brilliant performer Cicely Tyson, it was opposite George C. Scott in East Side/West Side back in 1963. Her work was always mesmerizing. I wrote about her here in 2013.

Ms. Tyson was the first Black woman to win a leading actress Emmy for the 1974 TV movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She received a Tony for A Trip to Bountiful n 2013 at age 88, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Variety called her a Pioneering Hollywood Icon.

The CNN piece noted that she “embodied African American women who demanded attention — and more than that, respect.” She was “bringing a sense of depth, nobility, and grace to every character.”

Cicely Tyson was highlighted in How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement, a 2013 book turned into a segment of American Masters on PBS in January 2021.

She had just released “Just as I Am: A Memoir” on Jan. 26. Here’s an interview with Gayle King, which you should watch if you can. It was taped on January 22, and she still had plans for the future.

Hammerin’ Hank

You may have heard about all of the hate mail Henry Aaron received, a black man pursuing Babe Ruth’s home run record, which he eclipsed in April 1974.

I only heard recently about a member of his security detail who wondered if the people running onto the field when Hank hit number 715 were exuberant fans or folks out to do the slugger harm. Would he have to shoot someone to protect the ballplayer?

And Hank had to put up with a lot of crap in his relatively brief minor league career, as explained here. “The Deep South circuit’s eight teams rigidly adhered to Jim Crow segregation laws; racist abuse from fans and exclusionary business practices were commonplace.” Yet he always dealt with this stress with dignity.

After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including as a senior vice president. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. I wrote about him in 2015.

Hank Aaron still holds the MLB records for runs batted in, extra-base hits, and total bases, and is second in home runs. He got into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 with 97.8% of the vote. Who were the nine sportswriters who left him off the ballot?

He was one of the greatest players of all time, possibly undervalued because he started playing in relatively small market Milwaukee when Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were working in New York City.

Samuel Clemens

Hal Holbrook has played John Adams, Abraham Lincoln (more than once), and the guy who helped bring down Nixon – Deep Throat – in All The President’s Men.

Of course, he was best known for playing Mark Twain for so long that he didn’t need the makeup in later years. Here’s a short video of Mr. Holbrook with actor James Karen. 

I watched him in Everything from Designing Women to Evening Shade. But my first favorite role of his was as the title character in The Bold Ones: The Senator, one of those rotating NBC shows in 1970-71 that lasted only one season, which was eight episodes. Yet it won five Emmys, including one for Hal.

Phyllis Lindstrom

Cloris Leachman won a best-supporting actress Oscar for The Last Picture Show, which I probably saw close to its 1971 release. She also was in arguably my favorite movie comedy, Young Frankenstein; here’s a clip.

Cloris won a total of seven Emmys, including two for Malcolm in the Middle, and a pair for appearing in one of my favorite TV shows of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was a voice actor on Phineas and Ferb. And most recently, I saw her on the Mad About You reboot in 2019. My wife would note that, at age 82, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars (2005).

Gregory Sierra  I knew from SOAP, Sanford And Son, and Murder, She Wrote. But mostly from playing Chano on Barney Miller, another of my favorite shows.

I tended to watch Larry King only when he was interviewing folks I was really interested in. While that was a small percentage of his prodigious output, that turned out to be several dozen times. Here are some highlights.

Ken Levine remembers baseball’s Don Sutton and The Mary Tyler Moore Show co-creator Allan Burns

I’m working on more pieces about death. Oh, joy…

Kennedy Center Honors 2015

I remember buying my copy of Tapestry somewhere in Binghamton, NY, along with Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones.

Rita Moreno bookAs I’ve noted over the years, I LOVE the Kennedy Center Honors. The event generally takes place in DC the first weekend in December and is broadcast on CBS-TV at the end of the month. The celebration of the honorees’ Lifetime Artistic Achievements took place on Sunday, December 6, and will be aired on CBS on Tuesday, December 29 at 9:00 p.m., ET/PT. This year’s honorees are Carole King, George Lucas, Rita Moreno, Seiji Ozawa, and Cicely Tyson.

Rita Moreno – if she were in nothing but the movie West Side Story – a pivotal film in my life – I’d be a big fan, but she accomplished so much more and, as she indicated in this interview, had to fight the Latina actress stereotypes.

She’s won the EGOT:
OSCAR: Best Supporting Actress (1961) West Side Story (Anita del Carmen)
GRAMMY: Best Album for Children (1973) Electric Company
TONY: Best Featured Actress in a Play (1975) The Ritz
EMMY: Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program (1977) The Muppet Show; Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series (1978) The Rockford Files

Even though I was in college by then, I was a huge fan of The Electric Company, and she was a big reason.

West Side Story-America
Electric Company – STOP!
Muppet Show – Fever
Rockford Files
George Lucas – the writer/producer/director made a bunch of movies I enjoyed tremendously. The first was American Graffiti; a couple of the movie’s actors ended up in 1950s-based sitcoms, Ron Howard (Richie on Happy Days), and Cindy Williams (Cindy on Laverne &…) The film also featured some carpenter-actor named Harrison Ford, who later starred in Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, and the Indiana Jones trilogy, all of which I enjoyed (except Indy 2, which I’ve never seen).

All that hate for Star Wars 1: I didn’t enjoy it, but it was just a movie. All that nerdy nuance about the films, some brought on by Lucas himself – Han shot first! – is beyond my interest. Oh and he likes Star Wars 7.

I see Lucas’ wife, Mellody Hobson, on CBS News frequently.

American Graffiti (1973) – Original Trailer
Star Wars (1977) Original Trailer
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Theatrical Trailer
The Other Side of The Other Side of Midnight
Cicely TysonI wrote about her at length only a couple of years ago.

The Bold Move That Left Cicely Tyson’s First TV Director Speechless And Sparked A National Movement
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Cicely Tyson on Roots, Grief and Strength
The Marva Collins Story (1981)
Seiji Ozawa – Though he had been the conductor for the San Francisco Symphony early in his career, I know him best from him leading the Boston Symphony. I’d see him on TV fairly often, and as he got older I recognized him as much for his style, and his coif as anything.

What’s My Line? – Seiji Ozawa (1963, TV Show)
Tchaikovsky Overture 1812
Beethoven Symphony No 5
Seiji Ozawa’s 80th Birthday
Carole King – Her life was so amazing that they turned it into a hit Broadway musical, Beautiful, which will be going on a national tour shortly. She is a songwriter, early on primarily with her then-husband, the late Gerry Goffin; they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I found this list of 17 Popular Songs You Never Knew Were Written By Carole King, with links, but mostly, I DID know.

If you went to college in the US in the early 1970s, either you had a copy of her massively successful album Tapestry, or your roommate did; it may have been mandated by Congress. I remember buying my copy somewhere in Binghamton, NY, along with Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones. Tapestry was number one on the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks, and on the charts for over five years in a row.

Her Jazzman was covered by Lisa Simpson in an early episode of the TV cartoon The Simpsons. Where You Lead was the theme song of the TV show Gilmore Girls, sung by one Louise Goffin, daughter of Carole and Gerry.

LISTEN to Carole King:
It’s Too Late
So Far Away
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, with the Mitchell-Taylor Boy-and-Girl Choir

The Everly Brothers -Crying In the Rain (1962)

T is for Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson starred in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the story of a woman born in slavery who lived long enough to be part of the civil rights movement.

I had mixed, though mostly positive, feelings when I saw the 2011 movie, The Help. However, I was unabashedly thrilled to see Cicely Tyson as one of the older maids. I’ve been watching her for nearly 50 years.

The first time I knew her by name was in the 1963 television series East Side, West Side. It was, as I vaguely recall, a gritty and realistic show, which starred George C. Scott (Emmy nominated) as social worker Neil Brock, and Tyson as the secretary Jane Foster. The series lasted only 26 episodes, but my recollection was that it was great having a black person, a black woman, no less, in a significant role that was in a drama, and she WASN’T a maid, or a caricature. Before Greg Morris on Mission: Impossible or Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, there was Cicely Tyson.

Subsequently, I saw her in episodic TV shows. Her next big role was in her Oscar-nominated role in the movie Sounder (1972). Then she played the title character in the 1974 television movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the story of a woman born in slavery who lived long enough to be part of the civil rights movement. The film won nine Emmys, including two for Tyson.

Cicely was Emmy nominated for playing Kunta Kinte’s mother in Roots (1977), Coretta Scott King in King (1978) and the title educator in The Marva Collins Story (1982). She was nominated four additional times, winning for The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994).

She was married to jazz legend Miles Davis from 1981 until their divorce in 1988.

Cicely Tyson appeared on CBS Sunday Morning in April 2013. What I did not remember is that, before her acting career, she appeared as a model in Ebony magazine, though when I saw the images, they were oddly familiar to me. Her decision to model meant her mother didn’t speak to her for two years.

The new television piece was about her first acting on Broadway in 30 years, to appear in a stage version of The Trip to Bountiful, based on Horton Foote’s story. Her research included visiting Foote’s daughter and seeing the places that inspired the story.

She is actively involved in Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey.

There is some argument about Cicely Tyson’s age. The IMDB suggests that she turns 80 in December 2013, while the story, and Wikipedia, suggested she may be as old as 88. Regardless, she has been a beacon as an actress who only took roles she thought enhanced the portrayal of her people.

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

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