Marc Scott Zicree

Me And Mark Twain Tonight!

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

The other night Elaine and I got a rare treat – to see Hal Holbrook perform his incomparable one-man show as Mark Twain at the Thousand Oaks Civic Center.

Marc and Hal Holbrook

We were third-row center and it was a phenomenal performance, with Twain as timely as ever, speaking out against corporations, bank fraud, unemployment and war.

Twain has long been one of my favorite writers and I actually own both the American and British first editions of HUCKLEBERRY FINN from 1885.

I’ve loved Hal Holbrook’s performance as Twain since I first saw it on TV when I was a kid in 1967.  Elaine saw him onstage in the role around then, during the Vietnam War.  It was such a blistering and controversial performance that one man in the audience stood up and yelled, “Piss on you, Mark!” and stormed out of the theater.  Holbrook said nothing until the man departed, then – still in character – made a rejoinder about some people getting too hot in the kitchen, a quote directly from Twain.

Holbrook started performing as Twain when he was in his twenties, and it took three hours to apply the makeup to transform him into the seventy-year-old writer (who died in 1910 at age 75, one hundred years ago).

Now Holbrook is 85, actually ten years older than Twain, so no age makeup is needed (just a prosthetic nose, eyebrows and a moustache).

Mark and Dick Smith

Mark and Dick Smith

During the 1967 CBS telecast, Holbrook was made up by the legendary makeup genius Dick Smith, who also made up Dustin Hoffman as a centenarian for LITTLE BIG MAN (I guess with my friend Norman Corwin’s 100th birthday this past Monday it’s my week for writing about centenarians).

Incredibly, the man sitting next to me the other evening at MARK TWAIN TONIGHT was Dick Smith himself, now 88 and still fascinating and utterly charming.  He told me he took up makeup because he had an unhappy, friendless childhood and figured makeup would help win him friends – which it did, in spades.

After the show, we went backstage to talk with Hal Holbrook.  I was so impressed with him and moved by the fact that he’d just lost his beloved wife Dixie Carter.  Many of his dear friends were backstage to congratulate and comfort him, including Delta Burke, with whom he and his wife had acted on DESIGNING WOMEN.

Even after hours on stage, Holbrook was courtly and clear-minded as ever, taking time to speak to the many well-wishers.  I told him that when I was researching THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION years ago, the show’s brilliant cinematographer George Clemens told me he was a relative of Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Clemens) and that he recalled when he was a boy meeting Twain, who gave him a signed complete edition of his works.

What an honor and a pleasure to witness one of the greatest actors of our time bringing alive one of the greatest writers who ever lived.

And Holbrook’s no slouch as a writer, either.  Check out his book MARK TWAIN TONIGHT!  AN ACTOR’S PORTRAIT, first published in 1959.  I brought my copy along with me and got both Holbrook and Dick Smith to sign it.  What a wonderful time!

To read more about Holbrook and his performance, log onto http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/05/hal-holbrook-speaks-out-against-republican-party-leaders.html

And to watch Holbrook perform Twain from the landmark 1967 broadcast check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_rTMNnxwSE

All good thoughts your way,

Marc

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Me And The Moon Landing

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

Went to the Los Angeles Festival of Books last week at UCLA, my alma mater (now that’s a story for another time…) and spent the day browsing through wonderful tomes old and new, checked out a fun exhibit on Huckleberry Finn at the Powell Library, bought a Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt for the gym (I try to stand out when I can).

Also spoke to the editors of McSweeney’s, who’d wanted me to write a piece on THE TWILIGHT ZONE a couple of years back, which I never got around to doing.  If you’re not familiar with McSweeney’s, they publish truly distinctive and delightful magazines and books, all for the love of it.  I highly recommend them.  I’ll be emailing them shortly to see if they’d like to excerpt or publish in its entirety the memoir I just finished on my mother.  I think they’d be great fun
to work with.

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin

I also took time out at the Festival to talk with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon (had he thought about it at the time he might’ve said, “This is another small step for a man…”).  We talked about an issue close to both our hearts – sending men to Mars.  Buzz is lobbying for a permanent manned station there – hell, I’d be happy starting with just landing a small group of scientists there for a short duration.

Given the recent discoveries about liquid water – a key requirement for life – and methane releases from under the surface – a strong marker for life – I think it’s vital we go there as soon as possible.  Several keen-eyed men and women could accomplish a great deal more than a long-distance robot in this case.  Not that I’m against the probes we’ve sent, they’re great, but imagine how much harder it would have been to find fossils of early hominids in Africa had we only been able to look for them with slow-moving long-distance machines.

I don’t think our government will ever be sending men to Mars, there’s no short-term political advantage (and the corporations don’t want it).  I think there’s only two ways we might have a chance of getting there – either China will do it for the prestige (and I’m thinking of writing the Chinese premier to suggest it) or private citizens will fund and mount a Heinlein-style by-our-bootstraps kind of mission.

I’ve actually thought of proposing the latter to some billionaires and other like-minded spirits.  I plan on calling it Wiki-Mars, and it would require a small number of folks to each donate a big bunch of money or a big number of folks to each donate a small bunch.  (Hopefully, it would be both.)

I want to see Man on Mars in my lifetime, and I’m not getting any younger.  I’ll bet you do, too.  We don’t want to revert to a point where there are no humans in space, no drive to move outward.  The best part of our race is our curiosity, our desire to know.  (The worst part is that we kill each other, and everything else we can get our hands on.)

One thing I didn’t mention to Buzz Aldrin was my experience of the Moon landing, which proved quite memorable for unusual reasons.

I grew up in the Beverlywood neighborhood of west Los Angeles, just south of the Fairfax district, and all the white people I knew until I was a teenager were Jews.  I was thirteen on the day of the Moon landing, and for some reason I was in the Toluca Market at the corner of Robertson and Pico, a cavernous grocery store that has been gone for decades.

I have no idea why I wasn’t sitting in front of a TV; given my passion for science fiction you’d think that’s where I’d have been.  But no, I was standing in this market, in line with my groceries.  All the other habitués were the regular clientele of the Toluca, Jewish old ladies who spoke Yiddish as their first language, many of whom still bore the tattooed numbers on their forearms given them in the camps.

The Toluca was piping in the audio from the Moon mission over their speaker system.  And as the Eagle touched down we all fell silent, listening to this miracle, myself and these women who had survived the Holocaust to hear two men land on the Moon.

Had my grandfather not escaped Poland before the Nazis moved in, I knew I would not have been alive to hear this, as I’m sure many of these women had lost countless loved ones in the ashes.  But there in that moment we had survived the worst of Man to be part of the best, amongst the cabbages and grapefruit and chicken breasts.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

All good thoughts your way,
Marc

Me And Ray Bradbury Part Two

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2010 at 7:17 pm
Marc & Oscar

Marc & Oscar

Wanted to chime in with some more fun details about my visit with Ray Bradbury a few weeks back.

One of Ray’s great friends was the brilliant actor Charles Laughton.  Ray recalled that the first time Laughton came over to his house, he towered over one of Ray’s young daughters.

“I’m very fat!” Laughton said to her.

“Yes, you are!” she replied.

Ray told me that one time he was over at Laughton’s house, soaking in the swimming pool with him.  Laughton was about to play King Lear, and he asked Ray’s opinion on a number of questions relating to the play.

“Why are you asking me that?” Ray asked.  “I’m not an expert on Shakespeare.”

“I know,” Laughton replied, “but you’re my ricochet board.”  He was using Ray to test some of his own thoughts and ideas.

Laughton is a phenomenal actor, and if you’ve never seen his performances I urge you to check out such films as RUGGLES OF RED GAP, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS and THE CANTERVILLE GHOST.  Then of course there’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, the only film Laughton directed, which is just spectacular.

Ray and I first became friends, by the way, when I made an audio version of MOBY DICK comparing the best performances from the film of it Ray wrote for John Huston in the Fifties, the miniseries of the Nineties, and an amazing LP recorded in the Fifties with Laughton doing a phenomenal turn as Ahab.  You can hear it on www.zicree.com

When I saw Ray that day a few weeks back it was around the time of the Oscars.  Ray and I generally meet in the back room of his house that serves as his office and meeting room.  It’s crammed with all manner of items from his fabulous career – original art from his books, numerous editions of his work from around the world, other magpie accretions from his storied life.

Sitting smack-dab in the middle of all this is the Emmy he won for the television adaptation of his book THE HALLOWEEN TREE.  But at one point I also noticed an Oscar sitting within arm’s reach.

“What this for?” I asked.  I didn’t remember his winning the Emmy, although he has snagged any number of Pulitzers, National Book Awards, Hugos and even is a Commander in the French Legion of Honor.

“Oh, a neighbor gave me that.  He won it years ago.”

I asked Ray if he’d mind me getting a photo with it.  “Be my guest.”

What great fun… and what a wonderful friend (with a wonderful neighbor!).

All good thoughts your way,
Marc