Seinfeld Battles Actor Danny Hoch … Party of Jive … Ally McShut-Up-Already! … A Decadent S.A.G. Show

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

The 1941 Academy Awards are often denigrated as the year Orson Welles’ maverick Citizen Kane didn’t win best picture, and usually overlooked, therefore, is the movie that did win-one of the finest classic American films, though it’s about a Welsh coal-mining family, John Ford’s profoundly touching visualization of Richard Llewellyn’s best-selling novel, How Green Was My Valley [Friday, March 6, Turner Classic Movies, 58, 7:20 A.M. and Tuesday, March 10, 10:30 A.M.]. Coincidentally, both Kane and How Green are about the dissolution of family, but while Kane, in a modern way, seems to throw that part of the story away until the end, it is the essential plot of How Green . Both films were also made with the war in Europe about to expand into World War II, and the impermanence of the time is reflected in these two stories of impermanence and loss. It was Ford’s last commercial film for five years-all those spent on active duty in the Navy and with the Office of Strategic Services-and, because it is so personal to Ford and so typical of his main themes (numerous Ford pictures are loss-of-family stories), How Green Was My Valley could easily have served as an indelible swan song had Ford been killed instead of wounded at the battle of Midway (a record of which was Ford’s first of several war documentaries). For his work on How Green , Ford won the best director Oscar for the second year in a row, his third in seven years. As Ford pointed out to me, he was the youngest at a table of 13 children born to his Irish immigrant parents in Maine, and he clearly empathized with the character of the coal miner’s youngest, whom Roddy McDowell as a child of 10 so eloquently played. The heart-rending emotions of the boy growing up in a family and a way of life that is falling apart are often conveyed in the simplest of moments, as in the one where Roddy is left alone at table with his father (a superb portrayal by Donald Crisp) after a family argument, and the boy clears his throat to get an acknowledgment of his presence. No other American picture-maker had the poetic temperament or the innate humanity to so movingly vivify the past, as well as the losing of it. That Ford and Katharine Hepburn had fallen deeply in love less than five years before and, because Ford was already a married father of two, the romance was never taken to the depth that both wanted, must have heavily contributed to the director’s treatment of the forbidden love in How Green between the coal miner’s only daughter (Maureen O’Hara, both incandescent and earthy) and the town’s minister (Walter Pidgeon, played with great dignity). The degree of passionate feeling generated in the film for this relationship helps to reveal the intensity of Ford’s feelings at that time. In fact, according to Barbara Leaming’s recent biography of Ms. Hepburn, Ford put himself on active duty immediately after hearing that Hepburn had begun an affair with Spencer Tracy (also a married Irish father). Beyond that, the picture is a metaphor of man’s loss of the Garden, as the war threatened to end the entire human family. I think How Green Was My Valley , superbly adapted by screenwriter Philip Dunne, is the best film ever to win the Oscar for best picture, which also makes the disparagement of the Academy’s choice over Citizen Kane such a poor case. If these two films went up against each other today in the heart of the country, I believe the Academy vote would reflect the public’s reaction for two basic reasons: Kane is about the rich and privileged, while How Green is about everybody else. As Welles himself-an ardent Ford admirer-said to me once, “With Ford at his best, you can feel what the earth is made of.” The other reason why is hope, which Welles’ film doesn’t give, but which Ford’s does. At the end of How Green , the final devastating loss of the father is reprieved from utter gloom by a belief in the survival of the spirit, and then memory-images take us back through the entire story in what is probably the most devastatingly moving finish in pictures. But this was at the peak of the sound era, which saw the greatest number of lasting works released between 1939 and 1942. If there was ever a serious picture to see with your family and friends you love, it is How Green Was My Valley ; my immigrant parents adored it, introduced it to me when I was about 10, and it has continued to hold a treasured place in our family’s shared experience. Bring plenty of Kleenex.

Wednesday, March 4

With Party of Five , Fox whips out a few cheap TV tricks tonight. First of all, it’s a “cliffhanger” episode, and that’s never good. Give no credence to whatever seems to be happening (Charlie’s gonna die!) in the last few minutes of the show; the first few minutes of the next Party of Five will make it clear (Charlie’s not gonna die!) that what you thought happened was a bunch of jive, dig? Second cheap trick: On tonight’s episode, the Salinger kids will reminisce-meaning we’re sure to get lots of old Party of Five footage. Third cheap trick: The reminiscing takes place in the family’s winter cabin, and winter cabins are never a good TV plot device (see almost any episode of Perfect Strangers ). Fourth cheap trick: Party of Five goes on hiatus after tonight’s show, giving Fox a chance to try to hook you on some more prime-time junk-in the form of a show called Significant Others -in the coming weeks. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

Thursday, March 5

Did you happen to catch that Seinfeld episode this season in which a young performance artist, played by Kathy Griffin, does a monologue calling Jerry Seinfeld “the devil”? Well, it looks like Obie Award-winning actor Danny Hoch, 27, was the basis for that one. He’ll be doing a solo show starting March 30 at Performance Space 122, directed by Jo (“Don’t Call Me Mrs. Eric Bogosian”) Bonney, and in it he does a long monologue calling Jerry Seinfeld “the enemy.” Mr. Hoch performed the Seinfeld-as-enemy bit in Los Angeles in November of last year and believes that word got back to the target of his rant, leading to the Kathy Griffin spot.…

Now why would Mr. Hoch hate America’s Beloved Entertainer? He said it goes back to the time when he couldn’t bring himself to play the part of a Latin pool boy in the stereotyped manner demanded by the Seinfeld star. It was a show from 1995 that involved Jerry and Newman swimming at a health club. Mr. Hoch was supposed to play an unsavory pool boy with a heavy Spanish accent; at the end of the episode, the pool boy has drowned, and neither Jerry nor Newman is willing to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.…

Mr. Hoch’s experience gives a nice glimpse of how the show’s cast, including Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and its ex-head writer, Larry David, work together in a minor backstage crisis.…

“I normally don’t do sitcoms because they really have no substance and are about passivity rather than activity,” said Mr. Hoch, beginning to explain why he originally took the gig, “but I had just gotten back from Cuba, and I was disoriented. I had never watched a whole episode, but my honest logic was that if this is the most watched thing on TV, and if I’m on it, more people will come see my theater. When I read the script, I saw what the part could possibly be, and so I called up and said, ‘This isn’t your stereotypical Spanish-speaking pool guy, is it?’-because otherwise, I wasn’t getting on the plane. And they said, ‘Not at all, it can be whoever you want to be.’ But when I got there, I found out it was the stupid one-dimensional role that I didn’t want to do.…

“During the table read-through, I did the part as a higher-strung version of me. And everyone laughed, and I think they were maybe embarrassed to ask me to do it in a Spanish accent with, like, 30 people sitting around. Once you finish the read-through, you get up and block it, and then it was just me and Jerry and Jason and Julia and Michael and the director, and I think they felt like they could ask me then. It’s what they had in their mind, but it came as a surprise to me. When they asked me, I thought, ‘Aaaah, I should have followed my instincts.’ …

“We got into a discussion, which got into an argument. Jerry and the director Andy [Ackerman] came up to me, and they were like, ‘Why not?’ And I was like, ‘The role is stupid and it’s a clown and I have no problem doing it and it’s funny, but I can’t do the Spanish accent because it’s one-dimensional.’ I said, ‘Why does it have to be in Spanish? Why can’t it be Israeli?’ And Jerry said, ‘Because it’s funnier that way.’ Which is when it became obvious to me that there was nowhere else to go with the discussion. So he called Larry David on his cell phone, and 10 minutes later he came down and said, ‘Why did you fly all the way across the continent for this? It’s just a half-hour comedy show, what’s the big deal?’ And I said, ‘It’s a big deal to me because there’s too many friends of mine who are highly trained actors that are Cuban and Puerto Rican and Dominican, and all they get asked to do are one-dimensional roles and here I am, not even Latino, and you’re asking me to play a clown and I can’t.’ …

“Everyone was laughing when I was doing it as me, but it seemed to be a Jerry issue-he really believed it was funnier in a Spanish accent. And the sad thing is, maybe it would have been funnier to people in a Spanish accent. And what does that say about the American people? I don’t do the work that I do to make fun of the people that I play, but to make fun of the audience. They tried to give me a guilt trip like ‘You’re just a kid from New York and we’re Seinfeld ,’ and, basically, they were like, ‘You’re ruining our lunch.’ …

“Jason and Julia were really cool about it. They were very supportive, and they both said, ‘If that’s what your instincts tell you to do, then you shouldn’t do it.’ But Michael Richards was like, ‘Just do it or else they’re going to replace you.’ And I was like, ‘Who gives a shit! My life doesn’t revolve around this shit!’ I think Jerry thought I was challenging his position, like who the hell am I to question him. It was almost as if he was doing me a favor because every actor in the world wants to be on Seinfeld . But not me. So the next thing I knew, I got back to the hotel and they said the rehearsal the next day was postponed while they found someone else, and then they told me I could fly home as soon as I liked. And I never got paid for the day’s work.” …

Mr. Hoch’s show at P.S. 122 has the very un- Seinfeld -esque title of Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop . A Seinfeld publicist said the Kathy Griffin episode may have been based partly on Mr. Hoch’s experience on the show, but also included Ms. Griffin’s own experience from her first time as a Seinfeld guest.…

On tonight’s episode, Jerry goes on a “revenge” date. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]

Friday, March 6

For the rest of March, the kind people at Turner Classics go Oscar-crazy. Stay home tonight for a few best pictures from the 60′s: In the Heat of the Night (1967), West Side Story (1961), The Apartment (1960) and Midnight Cowboy (1969). [TNT, 3, 8 P.M., 10 P.M., 1 A.M., 3:30 A.M.]

Saturday, March 7

All-Star Party for Aaron Spelling ? That’s right. NTYV’s Spelling correspondent Wendy Marston reports: Aaron Spelling has a special place in television and in our hearts. He created the floating singles club (a.k.a. The Love Boat ), revitalizing the career of Charo, as well as keeping Sonny Bono in the public eye during his darkest years when Cher was in ascendance and Chastity was in the closet. He showed us that a midget like Hervé Villechaize can spot an aircraft just as well as less vertically challenged people (see Fantasy Island ). Mr. Spelling helped young girls all over the country understand when a beautiful, braless woman holds a handgun, she must do it with two hands (see Charlie’s Angels ). He made it O.K. for ladies who lunch to kick the living daylights out of one another ( Dynasty ). He showed us that if you find the right apartment complex, you can always get laid in Los Angeles ( Melrose Place ). But his finest moment-perhaps a burst of Jewish self-loathing-was casting his daughter as a cross-wearing Catholic on Beverly Hills 90210 . To Mr. Spelling’s credit, he did keep Tori’s character a virgin for many, many seasons.…

Honor him, America, and join Jennie Garth, Heather Locklear, Jaclyn Smith and other luminaries who owe him their careers. [WABC, 7, 8 P.M.]

Sunday, March 8

Here’s just what Hollywood needs: another awards show. It’s the Fourth Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards . Subtitle: Another Empty Display of Decadent Western Culture. I mean, what’s next, a tribute show to Aaron Spelling? [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]

Monday, March 9

All self-proclaimed History Channel lovers are in for a treat: The Great Depression , tonight and every night this week, with host Mario Cuomo. [History Channel, 17, 9 P.M.]

Ah, David E. Kelley, a simple television craftsman, brings us more enchanting adventures of a kooky, sexy lady lawyer in Ally McBeal . Last time, Mr. Kelley’s script made Ally say she loved her fingernail polish so much that she “had foreplay with the mirror.” What unintentional idiocies will Mr. Kelley have her spout on tonight’s episode? There’s only one way to find out. Watch it-with gritted teeth and one hand on the remote-but watch it you will! [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

Tuesday, March 10

Watch Sharon Stone manhandle Leonardo DiCaprio in The Quick and the Dead (1995), a crisp-looking Western from director Sam Raimi that is plenty dopey. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]