Helen Mirren is 70 (tomorrow)

Mirren’s paternal grandfather was in the Imperial Russian Army and fought in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War.

helen-mirrenIn June 2015, Dame Helen Lydia Mirren won the Tony Award for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. Here is her acceptance speech.

I had forgotten that she had been nominated for Tonys twice before. In her win for The Audience, she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II. Playing the same personage, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2006 in The Queen. Like much of her stage work, the role was developed in the West End, London’s equivalent to New York City’s Broadway.

She had won the first of her four Emmy Awards in 1996, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special, for Prime Suspect: The Scent of Darkness, making her a Grammy shy of an EGOT. I’ve watched her in much of her seven seasons of Prime Suspect.

She’s done a great deal of voice work. On TV, she was Becky’s Inner Voice on Glee and a caller on Frasier; in the movies, the dean in Monsters University (2013), and the queen, per usual, in The Prince of Egypt (1998).

I think of her primarily as a film actress, but I’ve not seen as many movies as I would have thought. On-screen, I’ve seen her in:
2014 The Hundred-Foot Journey
2006 The Queen
2003 Calendar Girls
2001 Gosford Park
1999 Teaching Mrs. Tingle
1994 The Madness of King George (playing Queen Charlotte)
1985 White Nights
1973 O Lucky Man! – here’s the O Lucky Man! trailer

From the Wikipedia:
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“Mirren was born Helen Lydia Mironoff in … London. Her father, Vasily Petrovich Mironoff (1913–1980), was Russian…and her mother, Kitty (née Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda Rogers; 1909–1996), was English.

“Mirren’s paternal grandfather, Colonel Pyotr Vasilievich Mironov, was in the Imperial Russian Army and fought in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War. He later became a diplomat and was negotiating an arms deal in Britain when he and his family were stranded during the Russian Revolution. The former diplomat became a London cab driver to support his family and eventually settled down in England.

“Helen’s father… anglicised the family name in the 1950s and changed his name to Basil Mirren. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II, and later drove a taxi cab… before becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport.

“Mirren’s mother was a working-class Londoner… and was the 13th of 14 children born to a butcher whose own father had been the butcher to Queen Victoria… Mirren was the second of three children; she was born three years after her older sister Katherine (“Kate”; born 1942), and has a younger brother…named Peter Basil…

“Mirren married American director Taylor Hackford (her partner since 1986) on 31 December 1997, his 53rd birthday…. The couple had met on the set of White Nights. It is her first marriage, and his third (he has two children from his previous marriages). Mirren has no children and says she has “no maternal instinct whatsoever.”

“On 11 May 2010, Mirren attended the unveiling of her waxwork at Madame Tussauds London.”

Her Bio piece.
CBS Sunday Morning February 2015 (updated in June 2015).

Mike Nichols

I found out about Mike Nichols’ death because my TV was possessed.

Mike NicholsI don’t what surprised me more: that our college undergraduate intern knew who Mike Nichols was (he’s a film buff and LOVES The Graduate) or a guy I know in this thirties who knows a lot of stuff but didn’t recognize the name.

When I was growing up, it seemed that Mike Nichols and Elaine May were on the TV talk shows and variety shows all the time. This followed 306 performances on Broadway of An Evening with… for nine months in 1960 and 1961. “The LP album of the show won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.” Here’s Nichols and May on the Jack Paar Show.

Nichols then got into directing plays on Broadway, winning several Tony Awards for Best Director of the original productions of Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, among others. He also won Tonys for producing Annie, and later, for directing Spamalot and a revival of Death of a Salesman.

He got into directing movies, and his first attempt was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Watch the dance scene. His second directing attempt was The Graduate, for which he won his only Oscar. I’ve seen that movie, plus Catch-22, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Charlie Wilson’s War, plus Silkwood, Heartburn, and Postcards from the Edge, the latter three which he also produced. Here’s the hit song from Working Girl, Let the River Run by Carly Simon. Read Mike Nichols’ five rules for filmmaking.

Nichols’ two Emmys came from fairly serious fare: the TV movie Wit (2001) starring Emma Thompson, and the TV miniseries Angels in America from 2003. This means he is one of a dozen people to win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003.

I found out about Mike Nichols’ death because my TV was possessed on Thursday morning. Usually, I watch two minutes of the CBS Morning News at 7 a.m., but the DVR was stuck on the ABC affiliate. The lead was about the death, a story that didn’t show up on my New York Times and LA Times news feed until a half-hour later. The news was released, after the story on the air, by the ABC News president. Diane Sawyer, former GMA and World News anchor, and Nichols’ wife of 26 years, apparently arranged an exclusive for her network, noted not as criticism but just an observation.

The GMA folks – heck, EVERYONE who knew him, such as Meryl Streep – said he was always “the smartest and most brilliant person in the room,” rather like his Nichols’ third cousin twice removed on his mother’s side, scientist Albert Einstein. But he also a wonderful raconteur, and I feel as though I would have enjoyed being in his presence.

Mike Nichols died of a heart attack a couple of weeks after his 83rd birthday.

Cultural engagement

I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.

The cover of the September 20/27, 2013 Entertainment Weekly, its Fall TV Preview, says “get the scoop on 119 shows, PLUS the best new series.” If I need a reminder that the medium has diffused, that’ll do it.

Yet on two successive episodes of the Bat Segundo Show podcast, host Ed Champion declares that there is an “American epidemic of gravitating to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice.” He and guest Kiese Laymon discuss “why America is terrified of rich and variegated cultural engagement.” Then Champion and Alissa Quart dissect “how outsiders and iconoclasts have been appropriated by institutional forces. Why have we shifted to a culture hostile to original voices? Why is it all about being liked?”

I found myself arguing and agreeing with the dialogues in about equal measure. On one hand, there’s no doubt that a lot of the “outsiders” get co-opted. And there’s the “you’re an idiot if you’re not watching this” meme that Jaquandor discussed, in this case, about Breaking Bad. He’s seen two episodes more than I have and is disinclined not to see any more, which SHOULD be OK, but apparently is not, at least for some tastemakers. (Hey, I haven’t seen either Game of Thrones (and won’t) or Downton Abbey (Bought the Wife the DVDs, so I probably will – eventually).

On the other hand, when there are so many movies, so many TV shows, and I have a finite amount of time and money, why CAN’T I at least look at Rotten Tomatoes, and get a sense of the critical mass of movie reviewers? Maybe I WILL go see that movie with the 12% positive reviews, though probably not.

There was this whole argument on one of those podcasts about finding the obscure films, it seems, for the sake of seeking them out, proving one is “cutting edge” or “outre”; it all felt a bit affected to me. I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin, and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.

Speaking of Mr. Byzantium Shores, he called BS on the Louis CK rant about smartphones. He may be correct about the inauthentic specifics, yet I found it oddly affecting theater. I think a commenter describing smartphones enabling “a sort of rude, in-the-bubble behavior” feels right. Or maybe it’s just my reaction to the people on the bus I see every day, about 2/3s of which are totally detached from the person sitting three feet from them makes me more than a bit melancholy.

Going back to that EW issue, one of the “best new shows” this season is supposed to be the FOX comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Our local social media maven posted one of those flippant comments on Facebook, “Where have all the sitcoms gone?” to which a guy noted that he was watching one at that moment, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote back, “Isn’t that a drama, and an hour?” Well, no, a simple Google search would reveal that was a new “ensemble comedy about what happens when a talented, but carefree, detective [Andy Samberg] and his diverse group of colleagues get a new captain [Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life on the Street] with a lot to prove.” I thought his information (which I augmented) required an acknowledgment at least to him, but I guess that’s just my projection.

Oh, and I can tell you that many of the sitcoms are now on the Disney Channel. I’ve seen several, none of which are particularly good.
Lots of folks are upset that the Emmys had an individual tribute for, as one person put it, “that filthy drug addict Cory Monteith” by “that no talent Jane Lynch” (I actually read that, naturally on Facebook) while not doing so for Jack Klugman, who was one of my favorite actors, or for Larry Hagman. I thought Mark Evanier addressed this rather well, which is that these things are never “fair.”

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