A Jeopardy! Secret … WB Family Values …Web Fans Come to Aid of Gillian Anderson

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

One of the hardest-to-see, most personal, least commercial and least known of quality pictures to come from the American studio system is Leo McCarey’s profoundly touching 1937 drama (with comedy) about a loving old married couple and their thoughtless grown-up children, Make Way for Tomorrow [ Wednesday, Feb. 4, AMC, 46, 7:30 A.M., and Saturday, Feb. 7, AMC, 46, 7:30 A.M. ]. It was among Orson Welles’ favorite films, and he used to say, “It would make a stone cry.” He went on to exclaim that he usually always hated character actor Victor Moore-“a professional Irishman”-and never especially liked character actress Beulah Bondi, but that in this extraordinary movie they were both absolutely wonderful, and he would credit director-writer McCarey (1898-1969) for their brilliant turns here. Indeed, McCarey was famous for drawing out fresh, seemingly improvised, always surprising and unusual characterizations from his actors. The very same release year as this lovely, heartbreaking film, which, as Orson also noted, “Nobody ever saw!” McCarey scored a huge critical and popular hit with perhaps the definitive screwball romantic comedy The Awful Truth (starring Irene Dunne at her scintillating best and Cary Grant in his first real Cary Grant performance) and the Oscars voted McCarey best director for his work on it. Accepting the award, Leo thanked the Academy members, then added, “But you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” In the last year of his life, I asked McCarey if he still felt that way and he said Yes: “It was the saddest story I ever shot; at the same time very funny.” The merging of funny and sad, in fact, became a McCarey trademark, most popularly achieved perhaps in his 1939 Love Affair (with Charles Boyer and, again, Irene Dunne) and his own 1957 remake An Affair to Remember (with Deborah Kerr and, again, Cary Grant). The idea for Make Way for Tomorrow (which to date has never been available on home video) sprang from McCarey’s reaction to the death of his father: “We were real good friends,” Leo told me. “I admired him so much.” The scripts for both Make Way and Awful Truth were written by McCarey with Viña Delmar, whose Cosmopolitan short story about old people first prompted the director to contact her. “Old age is a subject audiences hate,” Welles used to give as one reason why this very special, guileless film was never popular. But it perfectly exemplifies the comment Jean Renoir once made about Leo: “McCarey understands people,” he said, then added, “perhaps better than anyone else in Hollywood.” See this movie with people you care about.

The Renoir Watch: When I mentioned Renoir’s remark about him to McCarey, he told me of the tremendous respect he had for Jean: “He’s too good for the business,” he said. The saintlike Frenchman’s last film was made for French television in 1969 and consisted of four separate vignettes, including a song from Jeanne Moreau, under the collective title Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir [ Sunday, Feb. 8, CUNY, 75, 3 P.M. ]. Each of the very different little sections has a separate theme and approach, from stylized fantasy and stylized satire to a final humanist piece-a most unusual look at a country love triangle-as beautiful, forgiving and transcendentally simple yet profound, as any of his finest works. That Renoir himself, at age 75, introduces each of the four adds to the extremely personal nature of this poetic treasure.

A Jeopardy! Secret

Alex McNeil is the author of the best reference work on TV, Total Television . But the book arose out of his avocation; he makes his living as a court administrator in Boston.…

“During college, I started keeping a card file about TV shows I was interested in,” said Mr. McNeil, who is 50. “I was a history major, but I was interested in programming. There’s other people with pastimes as strange as that! There weren’t any reference books back then, and I got more and more systematic about updating it and got a book deal with Penguin in 1977. It took me 18 months of nights and weekends and the first edition came out in 1980 and has been updated three times. Each takes about nine months. I don’t know if I’ll do the next edition, because I sort of O.D.’d doing the last edition.…

“The river of programming is getting wider and wider. When I started, there were only three networks, syndicates and PBS. Now you have six , plus syndication and PBS and all these cable services providing serious stuff. In the fall of ’96, there were 42 new sitcoms and a ton of midseason replacements-it’s getting to be a gargantuan task!” …

Mr. McNeil inevitably ventured to the other side of the camera in 1995, when his love for Jeopardy! (not to mention his systematic mind) got him a guest appearance on the game show.…

You know how you sometimes see contestants going crazy because they can’t seem to “buzz in”? Mr. McNeil found out the awful truth about that problem firsthand.…

“There are two fluorescent red tubes on either side of the game board and when Alex finishes reading a question, a technician turns them on. So that’s why you see people frantically hitting their buzzers-because they may have rung in too early and from where the contestant stands, you can’t tell if your opponents rang in. The most frustrating thing for me is, if you’ve read the question to yourself and you know the response and you have to wait and you’re not the first person. It’s really two games: It’s quick recall, but it’s also hand-eye coordination .…

“I actually ended up in the worst possible situation, against a guy who had won $50,000 and was going up for his fifth time, Jonathan Groff.”…

Wait a minute. You mean Jonathan Groff who’s now the head writer of Late Night With Conan O’Brien ?…

“Yes, and not only was he really good, but through his good graces he played for a tie and he didn’t have to. He had 9,900 bucks and I had $4,500, and I’m thinking to myself, Jesus Christ, I spent a year prepping for this show, I got out here, bought a new tie, and I’m not even in a factor of two of this guy, and I thought, What a pain. It was his fifth time on and he couldn’t come back, so he could have bet nothing and kept his $9,900 or he could have bet nothing and kept his money. But he bet $900 and lost and I bet it all; I bet $4,500, and got it right.”…

Mr. Groff spoke to NYTV about the battle: “It seemed like it wasn’t a big thing to do; I just had to remember to do it. I figured we might as well take 9,000 more dollars of Merv Griffin’s money.”…

Mr. McNeil lost his second time out. “I was beaten fair and square by a sewage-treatment plant engineer from somewhere in New Jersey named Art,” he said. [Thursday, February 5,WABC, 7, 7 P.M.]

Web Fans Come to Aid of Gillian Anderson

There are 1,649 links to Gillian Anderson-related Web sites. The biggest and most comprehensive, G.A.W.S. (The Gillian Anderson Web Site), has been maintained by Web mistress Cynthia Schmidt since 1996 …

Recently, the Webbies have been delving into the Gillian Anderson-Joan Rivers feud. It seems Ms. Rivers and her daughter, Melissa Rivers, have been mercilessly criticizing the actress for her demeanor and clothing at recent award shows. Catherine J. Blatz laid out the history of the feud and all its ramifications in a recent posting on an “alt.tv” newsgroup on the Net. Ms. Rivers’ most obnoxious attack, Ms. Blatz reported, was in her E! channel commentary on Ms. Anderson’s appearance at the 1997 Golden Globes awards ceremony. Here we quote from Ms. Blatz’s report.…

Early in the preshow, Joan snipped, “Frost warning-Gillian Anderson has just arrived,” and then said something incomprehensible about how she had known Gillian “back when she was Gilligan.”…

Joan opened her Golden Globes Fashion Review by describing the Golden Globes as (and everything from this program is an exact quote, as I was anal enough to take them down at one point): “a dazzling display of talent and grit and Gillian Anderson’s breasts.” Later, Melissa mentioned that Fran Drescher and her husband were trying to get back together, and Joan offered up this witty rejoinder: “Something you can’t say about Gillian Anderson’s breasts.” When they finally got around to actually reviewing Gillian Anderson’s fashion, this charming exchange took place:

“Joan: ‘Oh, God. I wanna explain to you about Gillian Anderson. She claims she looks like that because aliens flattened her breasts, stole her real dress and make off with whatever charisma she had. Looks like two pigs in a blanket on a third pig. [Melissa snorts] Terrible.’

“Melissa: ‘I don’t like this dress.’

“Joan: ‘Look at her ass.’ [Editorial comment: G.A. must weigh 110 pounds, tops.]…

My opinionated conclusion: G.A. is uncomfortable at award shows. She gets nervous, forgets her speech and is less than polished. Joan and other jaded H-wood types don’t care for her ill-at-ease-ness and unwillingness to suck up and play the game. Joan’s response to this is to call her a bitch and a pig and say that everyone, including her co-star, hates her and she has no friends.…

When NYTV called Gillian Anderson, she had no comment, but Joan Rivers was happy to talk: “Everybody’s into it! You see one happy face after another, and I’m talking about the big ones! Mel Gibson is happy and laughing, and in comes this lucky bitch who is sullen and angry and not gracious. Crazy! And stupid! Because fame comes and goes and if you’re not enjoying it, you should get out! To have reached the stage that you’ve reached and to be attending these events and to hit the jackpot! Let’s have a smile for the limo driver!”

Do you watch The X-Files , Ms. Rivers? “I’m not into all of that,” she said. “I live with aliens. My life is surreal as it is, I don’t need this.” Tonight on X : A little girl’s doll is behind a bunch of weird incidents. Written with the help of Stephen King by fax. [Sunday, February 8, WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

NYTV correspondent Alexandra Zissu filed this report on that new WB family soap opera, Seventh Heaven .…

Monday night, bedridden again. My boyfriend found me watching Seventh Heaven on WB, and I was ashamed. The show is about a big family à la The Brady Bunch , but this time around Dad is a preacher. The first time I watched it, Dad found a joint and it was the oldest son’s, and the mother went through this whole “Honey, I never wanted to tell you, but one time when I was young, I smoked marijuana and I thought we would never reach the point in our marriage when I [with bad blonde housewife hair] would have to tell you [good upstanding American preacher husband] that I puffed the devil.” Blonde Mom goes on to tell her son that the one time she smoked, a boy died in a car accident. I peed in my pants. Then I motivated out of my bed to my bong. The next time I ran across this horror of a show, the eldest daughter was getting sexually harassed by her basketball coach and she didn’t even know it, the middle daughter was wearing blue eye shadow, and the youngest boy developed a golf obsession. Tonight, Mary has her first basketball game since the coach harassed her. Now that’s riveting TV. [Monday, February 9, WB, 11, 8 P.M.]