Cherishing The Elderly

Opinion Piece by Steve Vertlieb: The call a few days ago by a Texas politician for the elderly to sacrifice their lives for the “common good” so that our national economy may return to normal smacks of the origins of barbarism. The horrifying pronouncement by a duly elected leader, sworn to protect and defend democracy for all of America’s citizens, is born of bigotry, ignorance, and fear. It is a deeply troubling echo of a time not so very long ago when the lives of the elderly were considered expendable… in order to preserve the status quo … when those whose ethnicity and color were deemed threatening to the national economy … and when hatred and irrational blame contributed to the mass murder, mutilation, persecution, butchery and genocide of countless millions across the waves.

The American dream is based upon the premise that all men, women, and children are created equal in the eyes of God, and that everyone is entitled to pursue and achieve their dreams and happiness. Selfishness cannot be allowed to replace selflessness in what was once “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It has been correctly stated that people are the same all over … that we are all children of a singular, universal, and loving God. We share our humanity with every soul who dwells upon our planet. No one is better than anyone else, and no one’s right to live, to love, and to pursue their sacred dreams for happiness can be deemed unimportant or insignificant compared to the so called “common good.”

The right to exist is, and has been, a cherished principle wherever freedom and democracy have flourished. It is with the abandonment and willing sacrifice of those ideals that a land of dreams descends into a land of nightmares, and surrenders to the basest desire for merely individual gratification and paltry survival. In times of danger and the threat of persecution, we must embrace the elderly and the fragile with loving arms, protection, and reverence for all that has come before us, continuing to remember that our greatness for generations has been based upon the strong shoulders of those who have loving permitted us to stand upon them.

Reflections of a Loss
of Innocence

By Steve Vertlieb: As I awaken to a frightening new world of ever altering concepts of normality, and challenges to our health and prosperity, I can’t help thinking back to a simpler time when goodness and tranquility seemed self assured, and when both America and the world were safe havens for dreams, happiness, and a bright, sacred future.

The innocence of childhood imagination and fantasy brought with it a comforting reassurance that all would be right with the world and that, despite occasionally troubling appearances and momentary brushes with calamity, that there was in the land of Oz truly “No Place Like Home.” My thoughts wander back this morning to that sweet place so very long ago when peace of heart and of mind enraptured my world, and my perceived reality.

This was the sacred place where my heart and soul were born. My life was shaped in this small neighborhood theater, located one block from where I grew up on Benner Street in Philadelphia. I still dream of it, so influential was this modest building on the course that my life would take.

Sometimes at night when the world is fast asleep, my dreams carry me back still, upon soft wings of rapture, on a miraculous journey to the virtual birth of my fertile boyhood imagination. There was a “fifth dimension” where a joyous lifetime of cinematic influences and memories shaped the very substance of my soul, a magic kingdom joyously remembered in the windswept corridors of my childhood hopes and aspirations.

On these special nights, when my thoughts and my heart transport me back to my beloved Benner Theater where I came of age, I travel back in time to this wondrous palace where my world ascended on wings of fancy and delicately tender imagination. It was, perhaps, “The Stuff That Dreams Are made Of.” Look for it now only in books, and in loving, tantalizing recollection, for it has conjoined with the blissful winds of fragile memory, and has ever so sweetly Gone With The Wind.

Classic Movies With Ron MacCloskey and Steve Vertlieb

By Steve Vertlieb: Ron MacCloskey’s Classic Movies television program has been airing on New Jersey Public Access TV since 2013. Ron is a delightful conversationalist, actor, and comedian whose affectionate weekly look at movie history has become a beloved staple of state-run television.

Ron was kind enough to invite me to join him as a guest on Classic Movies quite recently and, on Thursday evening, February 6 we shared a thoroughly delightful half hour or so talking about special effects legend, Ray Harryhausen, horror/science fiction, fantasy films, comedy teams such as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Charlie Chaplin, Hammer Films star Peter Cushing, Forbidden Planet (MGM, 1956), Forrest J Ackerman and Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, The Monster Times, and the early days of television.

Interspersed between ongoing conversational exchanges was a presentation of Kid Dynamite featuring Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabe Dell, and “The Bowery Boys.” Here is a window to the program. Simply click on the Edison TV link below, then upon the large promotional photograph of Classic Movies With Ron MacCloskey.

You can, should you wish to, watch the feature length film in its entirety … or, should you prefer, watch only the book ended conversation both preceding and following the film. In any event, I’d like to thank Ron MacCloskey for a wonderful, and wonder filled, television interview.

John Williams Wins Four IFMCA Awards, Plus One for Lifetime Achievement

John Williams and Steve Vertlieb

By Steve Vertlieb: The International Film Music Critics Association announced the winners of the 2019 IFMCA Awards on February 20.

As a proud voting member of The International Film Music Critics Association, it is my special pleasure to announce that “America’s Composer,” Maestro John Williams, has won the award for Best Film Score of the Year for his work on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, as well as a very special Life Achievement Award for his inspiring body of work.

The winners are:

FILM SCORE OF THE YEAR

• STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, music by John Williams

FILM COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

• BEAR McCREARY

BREAKTHROUGH COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

• NAINITA DESAI

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DRAMA FILM

• LITTLE WOMEN, music by Alexandre Desplat

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A COMEDY FILM

• JOJO RABBIT, music by Michael Giacchino

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER FILM

• 1917, music by Thomas Newman

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION/HORROR FILM

• STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, music by John Williams

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ANIMATED FEATURE

• HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD, music by John Powell

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DOCUMENTARY

• OUR PLANET, music by Steven Price

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR TELEVISION

• CHERNOBYL, music by Hildur Gudnadóttir

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A VIDEO GAME OR INTERACTIVE MEDIA

• REND, music by Neal Acree

BEST NEW ARCHIVAL RELEASE – RE-RELEASE OR RE-RECORDING

• DIAL M FOR MURDER, music by Dimitri Tiomkin; The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by William Stromberg; album produced by Douglass Fake; liner notes by Roger Feigelson and Douglas Fake; art direction by Kay Marshall (Intrada)

BEST NEW ARCHIVAL RELEASE – COMPILATION

• ACROSS THE STARS, music by John Williams; The Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles and Anne-Sophie Mutter, conducted by John Williams; album produced by Bernhard Güttler; liner notes by Jon Burlingame; art direction by Büro Dirk Rudolph (Deutsche Grammophon)

FILM MUSIC RECORD LABEL OF THE YEAR

• LA LA LAND RECORDS, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys

FILM MUSIC COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR

• “The Rise of Skywalker” from STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, music by John Williams

THE ROBERTO ASCHERI SPECIAL AWARD

• JOHN WILLIAMS, for career achievement

Remembering “The Ragman’s Son”

By Steve Vertlieb: Legendary Hollywood screen star Kirk Douglas has died. His Ace In The Hole was his Lust For Life, and live he did for 103 years. Born Issur Danielovitch on December 9th, 1916, Douglas was born to poverty as “The Ragman’s Son,” vowing to overcome his humble beginnings, and escape the challenge and limitations of an ordinary life. He was the very last of the male superstars of what has come to be known as The Golden Age of Hollywood.

Douglas was an extraordinary actor, possessed with a burning intensity to achieve and overcome his humble Jewish beginnings. He was, at times, perceived as angry in his all-consuming quest to achieve respect and admiration by his peers. It was his inner rage, however, that inspired performance after performance of mounting intensity and commitment to his chosen craft.

As Rick Martin in Young Man With A Horn, based loosely upon the life of jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, Douglas portrayed a lonely, isolated musician whose only friend was his horn, and whose only joy was the music born of his soul. His self-destructive ways and behavior, often in conflict with his musical genius, nearly destroyed him but, in the end, gave birth to a Phoenix rising from the ashes of emotional despair, to play amongst the stars.

In Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole (alternately known as The Big Carnival) Douglas played an embittered newspaper reporter, using the tragedy of a small town man trapped in a mine to cynically ride to the top once more in a big city paper. In Vincent Minnelli’s The Bad And The Beautiful, as film producer Jonathan Shields, Douglas uses any device he can to achieve respect and success within the film industry, inspiring both hatred and admiration along that troubled journey.

It was with Vincent Minnelli’s Lust For Life, however, that Douglas revealed his inner torment most effectively, as Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. His anguish as the lonely artist, fighting emotional demons, as well as his personal struggle to achieve recognition and respect, is at times difficult to watch, but remains among the greatest performances of postwar cinema. Lushly conceived by both Minnelli and Douglas, Lust For Life is blessed with a torrid, rapturous score by Oscar winning composer Miklos Rozsa which musically illustrates the actor’s intense, impassioned performance.

As an activist for social change and democracy, Douglas fought for civil rights and, with director Otto Preminger who offered screen credit to the writer on Exodus, ended Joseph McCarthy’s notorious blacklist in America by giving Dalton Trumbo full screen credit for writing the screenplay for Spartacus.

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to meet Kirk Douglas and spend ten minutes with him in 1974 on the set of The Gene London Show in Philadelphia during his cross-country tour promoting Scalawag, and was impressed by his culture and civility. I asked him about his impressions of working with director Michael Curtiz on Young Man With A Horn, and he appeared intrigued by their remembered collaboration. When his publicist urged him to end our conversation and leave the station for their next interview, Douglas raised his hand and said “Wait a minute. I’m talking to this gentleman.” He had become a mensch.

I shall always love Kirk Douglas for, along with Spencer Tracy and James Mason, he will ever remain among my life long favorite actors. He overcame his humble beginnings and, as with many of the characters that he chose to play, achieved the respect and admiration that he fought so valiantly to achieve. Actor, producer, writer, social activist, and philanthropist, Kirk Douglas shared his lust for life and living with all of us and, in so doing, elevated the popular culture to artistic heights never before imagined, and made our world an infinitely better place in which to live.

Remembering Gene London

Steve Vertlieb and Gene London in 1981.
  • Gene London: June 9, 1931 – January 19, 2020

By Steve Vertlieb: Gene London was one of the most beloved children’s television hosts in Philadelphia broadcast history. Gene hosted “Cartoon Corners,” and “The Gene London Show” on WCAU TV, the owned and operated CBS affiliate for decades here in the City of Brotherly Love. Born Eugene Norman Yulish on June 9, 1931, this sweet, gentle soul became an integral part of Philadelphia broadcast history, and a pioneer of children’s television, enriching young, impressionable lives and minds with his soft, endearing manner and tender persona. He was, perhaps, as cherished a television personality locally as Mister Rogers was nationally. Gene, however, was ours. He belonged to Philadelphia, and we adored him. Generations of children grew up in the light of his subtle wisdom and infinite compassion.

Early in 1981, Gene produced and hosted a four-week series at the prestigious Philadelphia Art Museum on The Parkway, exploring filmdom’s rich cultural history. Titled “Hollywood Screen Fantasies,” the series entertained a live audience on four successive Sunday mornings, and presented such Hollywood luminaries as Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz), and acclaimed puppeteer Bill Baird who operated Julie Andrews’ marionettes in The Sound of Music. One of Gene guests during that cherished series was myself. Gene invited me to appear with him in front of a live audience to discuss the making and production of the original King Kong. We appeared on stage together for an hour discussing the ins and outs of the classic 1933 fantasy classic, and the experience remains one of the happiest memories of my seventy-four years.

Gene and I remained in touch, ever friends, for nearly forty years. He would periodically invite me to join him for some new live appearance or project. I last saw Gene at The Philadelphia Flower Show several years ago when he graced the halls of the large convention center with his gracious affection and remembrances. Children of all ages stood in line for hours to say hello to the little boy who had helped to shape their hearts … for Gene was, in truth, a little boy himself. He could relate to his many thousands of children because he was, in his heart, a gentle innocent, a loving, inspired child. Gene never entirely grew up and it is for this reason that we were so blessed by his goodness.

Rest Well, Sweet Prince. You shall remain forever vital, alive, and beloved by all those whose lives you so wonderfully touched and enriched.

[The family obituary is here.]

Frank Capra, The Man Who Saved Christmas

By Steve Vertlieb: Spending a quiet afternoon with one of cinema’s greatest, most distinguished motion picture directors, the brilliant Frank Capra. A memorable afternoon in which Frank and I sat together at the home of a mutual friend…just the two of us…watching a 16 mm print of his Oscar-winning classic. “It Happened One Night.” This cherished afternoon with the acclaimed director of It’s A Wonderful Life, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Meet John Doe, and A Hole In The Head, among so many other classic motion pictures, was absolutely sublime, and a wondrous remnant from a lifetime of cinematic memories and unforgettable experiences.

Steven J. Vertlieb and Frank Capra.

During a particularly sad and lonely Christmas for my friend and hero, I wrote Frank Capra a few ineffectual words of hope and inspiration. His nearly heart breaking response remains one of my most treasured letters. This poignant note from the man who offered hope to so many year after year with his Christmas masterpiece, It’s A Wonderful Life, is a cherished remnant of true humility, and all too common human frailty… a tender personal document for this holiday season.

Together with “The Man Who Saved Christmas,” the great Frank Capra … one of Cinema’s most influential pioneers, and the director of the quintessential Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.

“Star Wars…Nothing
But Star Wars”

By Steve Vertlieb: The moment that I’d dreamt of and imagined for decades had at last arrived. Nicchi Rozsa, Miklos Rozsa’s lovely granddaughter, said that she’d never seen me look so happy. Here was the moment that I’d longed for … to meet my last living, life-long hero at last. When he smiled at me, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, I thought that I’d died and gone to Heaven. It was so unforgettably sweet.

John Williams, at the tender age of 87 years, remains the most important motion picture composer on the planet. This weekend marks the release of his final score for Star Wars, and it is truly a momentous event.

Simply one of the greatest moments of my life… Meeting John Williams for the very first time in his dressing room at The Hollywood Bowl in late August, 2010.

Among the many highlights of my pilgrimage to Hollywood in 2017 was an entirely unexpected, nearly miraculous, accidental “close encounter” with the current star of one of the most lucrative and beloved movie franchises in motion picture history. I’m still amazed, two years after this most astonishing occurrence, that our meeting actually occurred, as this remarkable photograph will happily attest to.

While waiting backstage to speak with composer John Williams at the venerable Hollywood Bowl, I noticed that Daisy Ridley’s name was posted on one of the dressing room doors. She hadn’t appeared on stage with Maestro Williams during the Star Wars concert selections, and so I wondered why. I turned to my brother to mention the strangeness of the occurrence when I inwardly gasped at the realization that the young star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and, currently, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, was standing just inches in front of me.

Listening to her British accent in conversation with the director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, I nudged my brother Erwin, and whispered “I think that Daisy Ridley is standing right in front of me.” Hearing my admittedly excited observation to my little brother, she turned toward me with a big smile and said “Hello.”

She was as delightfully adorable in person as she is as “Rey” on the big screen in the spectacular continuation of the cherished science fiction franchise. I couldn’t help but recall John Williams’ own wonderfully charming admission, upon receiving his A.F.I. Life Achievement Award in 2016, that he didn’t want any other composer but himself writing music for this lovely young actress. I completely understood his feelings upon meeting Miss Ridley.

“The Thin White Line” Premiered 58 Years Ago Tonight

By Steve Vertlieb: The “Golden Age Of Television” lasted from the late 1940s until the early 1960s where it thrived and flourished, presenting mostly “live” dramatic and musical presentations that captured the exhilaration and essence of fresh theatrical Broadway productions, staged and created expressly for the newly experimental format of the small home tv screen.

Television was a brand new medium, daring in its provocative concepts and artistic explorations, while revolutionary in its groundbreaking originality. Everything was fresh and new, as this voracious, visionary monolith consumed original productions as rapidly as they could be produced. Into this ravenous mix, and at the tail end of the medium’s legendary golden age, came a weekly television series produced by CBS (the famed Murrow “Tiffany” network) concerning two friends (played by Martin Milner and George Maharis) from the often cruel streets of New York, seeking meaning, value, and definition in their ongoing dramatic sojourn across the highways of America.

 Route 66 launched nationally on Friday night, October 7, 1960, taking the country by storm. Filming on location in virtually every state of the union until its final episode on March 20, 1964, the powerful series introduced some of the finest anthology drama that television has ever witnessed, while showcasing stunning conceptual poetry by principal writer Stirling Silliphant, original music by composer Nelson Riddle, and ensemble guest performances by many of the finest actors and actresses in Hollywood, and from the New York stage.

The weekly series effectively changed the course and direction of my life when the program filmed two episodes in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1961. I was there on location with my brother Erwin, along with George Maharis and Marty Milner, as a seminal episode of the beloved series was filmed atop The Ben Franklin Bridge. “The Thin White Line” made its debut over the CBS Television Network on Friday evening, December 8th, 1961, at 8:30 in the evening. This is the bittersweet story of the cultural evolution and significance of the iconic series, as well as its profound, transformative effect upon my own life, direction, and career.

Read Steve Vertlieb’s extended tribute to the show at The Thunder Child: “Two For The Road: Traveling Route 66”,


“Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” premiered over the CBS television Network on Friday evening, October 26th, 1962. Featuring guest stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr., this beloved episode of the classic television series “Route 66” starring George Maharis and Martin Milner would be the last time that Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. would ever reprise their signature performances as Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolf Man.

George Maharis and Marty Milner with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr. posing for publicity shots for “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing,” their memorable Halloween episode of Route 66.

George and Marty from a publicity still from Route 66. My favorite episode of my favorite television series aired tonight … 58 years ago.

Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

By Steve Vertlieb: I had the great pleasure of seeing Sony’s new release, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood last evening. This sweet, lovely trailer both previews and promises faithfully that this new film, based upon an incident occupying the later years of Fred Rogers, will become the feel good movie of the year. Tom Hanks is, as ever, a magical presence on the screen. It is, indeed, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood when spiritual goodness is shared, honored, and cherished by both film maker and audience. 

 However, this lyrical and wondrous motion picture is so much more than I could ever have imagined. It is loosely based upon the friendship between journalist Tom Junod and television’s most beloved children’s host, after a jaded, embittered magazine writer is assigned a purely “fluff” assignment to interview Public Television’s “Mr. Rogers” for Esquire Magazine.

Convinced that the character of “Mr. Rogers” is merely a scripted persona, the writer goes about his work with both cynicism and restrained contempt … until events in his own life force him to look inward toward the scarred, unhappy soul that he has, perhaps, unknowingly, become. Rogers, a former Presbyterian minister, gently pierces the bitter facade of his interviewer, subtly forcing the writer to believe in his own inherent goodness, and in the deceptively hidden beauty of the world and people around him.

Directed with deep sensitivity by Marielle Heller from a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman Blue and Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood features sweet, lovely performances by Matthew Rhys as the troubled journalist, Chris Cooper (in what’s sure to become an Oscar-nominated supporting performance as his troubled father), Susan Kelechi Watson as his wife and, of course, Tom Hanks in the role that he was, perhaps, born to play as Mister Rogers.

 A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a tender, sweet parable about fathers and sons, and about the absolute power of goodness. Heller’s direction of the film plays with children’s perceptions of love and strength, while softly interweaving them with the sadness, distrust, and cynicism which often, sadly, replace the innocence of youth with the jaded wisdom of maturity. In these deeply divisive and conflicted times, we truly need this sweet story of faith, spiritual goodness, and the remarkable beauty and consequence of love and forgiveness. To that end, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a both a revelation, and a miracle.