Gary Busey’s a Creep … Shannen Doherty, Aaron Spelling Have a Convenient Reunion … Lolita ‘s Not Bad…

Wednesday, July 29

Is the war over?…

Legendary-ish TV impresario Aaron Spelling and Shannen Doherty were reunited at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on July 25, seated next to each other during the WB Television Network’s presentation of the Spelling-produced Charmed , a WB show scheduled for the fall about three good witches, one of whom is Ms. Doherty. Anyway, Mr. Spelling and Ms. Doherty were très eager to display their public reconciliation.…

Mr. Spelling, the prolific producer behind everything from Johnny Ringo in the 50’s to The Mod Squad in the 60’s to Charlie’s Angels and The Love Boat in the 70’s to Dynasty in the 80’s and on to the twin peaks of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place in the 90’s, was only too glad to offer up a bit of revisionist history on his relationship with the star.…

Mr. Spelling: “Shannen didn’t do anything wrong. It was the end of the fourth year. We were only picked up for one more year. She had some things she wanted to do. And the next thing I know, she’s the ‘bad girl of the world.’… The thing that bothers me is [it] was so blown out of proportion. Of course, she was 22 years old. She was huge–a doll! But going out in the evening and having an argument with your boyfriend or something, to me, is not a crime.”…

Shannen Doherty: “I’m thrilled that we can work together again, especially on this particular project, because it’s really wonderful.”…

[Translation: That career plan of appearing in indie movies on my way to big-time Hollywood stardom didn’t really pan out.].…

A journalist asked Ms. Doherty about an exchange in a clip from Charmed in which Shannen says (oops! Shannen’s character says): “You made me a witch,” and her sister says, “You were born one!”.…

Ms. Doherty (showing a bit of the old moxie): “Unfortunately, there’s quite a few journalists who refused to become more imaginative and go with something else. And if they choose to stick me with that, then that’s fine! But it was definitely not a play on my image at all. It was just written.”…

Someone asked if Ms. Doherty might ever return to Beverly Hills, 90210 . Mr. Spelling said nothing would please him more and Ms. Doherty reluctantly admitted she was into the idea…. [WB, 11, 9 P.M., starting this fall.]

Thursday, July 30

Very special NYTV correspondent Carl Swanson reports: As far as I can tell, the only thing that ever plays on VH1 is Pop Up Video . I’m writing this after having lived with airborne television exclusively for the past five years–a time during which I’m not sure I ever escaped that feeling of personal fiscal emergency. I never wanted to commit those two 20’s a month to Time Warner….

So I’d never seen South Park , except at the gym, which is an environment which forbids irony, or Sex and the City or Singled Out . I missed the entire Larry Sanders era. I finally got cable out of a desire to participate in the normal American community of consumption and now I know what people are talking about at work.…

I got it July 23. I expected to become pleasantly muddleheaded from watching the cable movie canon, Nick at Nite and sharp deadpan shows like Space Ghost . Instead, I just surf heedlessly right on through it all and back to VH1. Back to Pop Up Video .…

I know this is not a revelation for anyone; I know it’s long been VH1’s signature. It has impeccable middlebrow taste–it makes fun of the stuff that it’s supposed to–Michael Bolton, Alanis Morissette, the macarena. Gently, but not obviously; the show’s girded with tangential research, and the Pop Up offices are presumably abuzz with young hard-working interns doing Web searches and combing through old interviews in Spin and Us . It’s not funny, but it’s clever, and the little fact bubbles make a pleasant boop! noise when they appear, which I like. I guess I find it sort of comforting, easy to turn on and easy to turn off … Tonight: A four-hour Pop-Up Video-a-Thon ! [VH1, 19, 8 P.M.]

Friday, July 31

Outside your window, the jaded night people are leaving the after-hours joints, while the up-and-at-’em morning people are working out at Equinox or riding the subway to work. You can see that same clash of cultures on TV in the wee hours: Showtime presents one of its “for mature audiences” movies– Joy of Sex , a 1984 piece of crapola partially based on the Alex Comfort textbook. And just 10 minutes later on the WB, it’s that nutty English kids show Bananas in Pajamas & the Crayon Box –which follows the misadventures of two extremely large bananas who happen to wear pajamas all the time. Their best friends are teddy bears. You’ll think you went mad. [ Joy of Sex : Showtime, 37, 5:20 A.M.; Bananas in Pajamas : WB, 11, 5:30 A.M.]

Saturday, August 1

Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music . TV concert from 1965. [AMC, 54, 8 P.M.]

Sunday, August 2

NYTV correspondent Peter M. Stevenson reports: Close your eyes tonight during Showtime’s much ballyhooed broadcast of Adrian Lyne’s Lolita –the film that’s been in mothballs for a few years because (a) the sex scenes between graying Jeremy Irons and 14-year-old Dominique Swain were too hot for any distributor to handle, or (b) the movie just wasn’t very good–and you’ll zero in on what’s best about the picture, namely, Mr. Irons reading Vladimir Nabokov’s gorgeous prose in his melancholy accent. It may be a cliché to say so, but Nabokov is simply too good for film–even Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 version failed to capture the novel’s blend of the comic and horrific. That said, Mr. Lyne and his cast thrust themselves at the material gamely, resulting in a highly entertaining two-and-a-quarter-hour costume drama: Mr. Irons as Humbert Humbert buttoned tightly, agonizingly, into his itchy tweeds, Ms. Swain as Lolita Haze, slipping in and out of various halters and shorts, flashing her red toenails in poor Humbert’s face as he steers their carload of sin across America….

For those who have seen Mr. Kubrick’s version, this film starts badly: Melanie Griffith as Charlotte Haze, Lolita’s suburban single mom, cannot touch Shelley Winter’s fat, blowsy, whiny and, ultimately, sympathetic performance–Roseanne Barr would have been more inspired casting. When Ms. Griffith ends up under a car’s tires, the viewer merely shrugs….

But all is forgiven with the choice of Ms. Swain. Fortunately for Mr. Lyne, these are the 90’s–given the times, Mr. Kubrick had to instruct Sue Lyons to play Lolita as over 16, sexually aggressive, slutty, bombshell-like. Ms. Swain is pure young teen, half sex and half lamb–you expect to see a Spice Girls poster in her bedroom. From Mr. Irons’ first glimpse of Ms. Swain–she’s lying on the grass under a lawn sprinkler wearing basically just underwear–we know we’re in for some fun. Ms. Swain brilliantly inhabits that brief spell of time when a young woman first realizes that when she licks an ice cream cone, it means something not only to her taste buds but to the world of men around her. Hers is a nuanced portrait of a young woman coming into power, and liking it. When she sits on Mr. Irons’ aroused lap in her pajamas, first reading a comic book and then tilting her head back in orgasm, she actually keeps the scene this side of parody….

Mr. Irons matches James Mason’s 1962 performance. Mr. Irons lusts beautifully; his obsession is so convincing that you realize very quickly he is beyond all help or redemption. And their cross-country jaunt is filled with gaudy diners, cheap motels and other Raymond Carver touches. But like any reader of Nabokov, Mr. Lyne and screenwriter Stephen Schiff have a hard time deciding whether this middle-aged man’s lust for a teenage girl is tragic and soul-destroying, or uproariously funny in a wink, wink, nudge, nudge sort of way. So they give us both….

Humbert’s foil, Clare Quilty, the Other Dirty Old Man in Lolita’s life, is played by Frank Langella, who has the distinction of being given a full-frontal nude scene as he runs in a silk dressing gown, paunch wobbling, from a murderous Humbert near the film’s end. But that sight, while priceless in its way, won’t erase Peter Seller’s over-the-top, superb Quilty from Mr. Kubrick’s film…. [Showtime, 37, 9 P.M.]

Gary Busey has been pretty creepy in movies like Hider in the House and The Client . He showed up in New York July 22 to plug the profile of him for the E! channel’s True Hollywood Stories series. Mr. Busey hit stardom with The Buddy Holly Story in 1978, only to degenerate into a sad tabloid case (cocaine, helmetless motorcycle crash, nose tumor); but the tale wouldn’t be fit for True Hollywood Stories without a happy ending, and this the E! channel provides, with a conclusion that focuses on Mr. Busey’s supposed “spiritual awakening.”…

The publicity tour started off all right for Mr. Busey, in a tabloid sort of way. He made for a lively guest on The Howard Stern Show . ….

The next afternoon, the self-described born-again Christian was preparing for a more mainstream media moment–a segment on Late Night With Conan O’Brien . But then Mr. Busey got a call from Conan’s bookers saying he was being bumped from the show to make room for comedian Louis C.K. (a funny guy who lives in the city). NYTV paid Mr. Busey a visit at the Essex House Hotel just after he learned he had been bumped. Did Mr. O’Brien know something NYTV didn’t?…

“I would just like to set the record straight,” Mr. Busey said, grabbing the NYTV tape recorder, “on some things that have been going on. My Uncle Zane Arnett, a World War II veteran, in those days, well, what happened, the soldiers would die, and the wives wanted to get pregnant, so Uncle Zane figured out a method of getting these bodies when rigor mortis sets in and their erections are very stiff”–Mr. Busey made a hand gesture– “and they would roll them over in the side and take a Hoover vacuum cleaner and suck out bags of spermatozoa, and that’s what expanded the population of middle Texas. I have a lot of kinfolk down there, so it’s something that should be understood by everybody–like the Lord said, Be fruitful and multiply.”…

Mr. Busey, who was wearing white Guess jeans and a white T-shirt, posed for a photographer while NYTV admired the view of Central Park from the 20th-floor window. Also in the room were Mr. Busey’s assistant and a publicist for the E! channel….

After the photos, Mr. Busey got up, walked over, all friendly, and proceeded to lean his crotch into NYTV’s body. He started to pet my head, then stepped back and began extolling the virtues of pepper on ice cream. “I would really like you to try vanilla ice cream with pepper on it,” he said.…

Why?…

“There’s a kick in your eustachian tube, there’s a kick back in there, it’s a feeling that your body function does, when pepper is on the ice cream–and that touches your taste buds. At the same time, there’s a real slight abstract pepper taste in–what’s that little thing that hangs down? I want to say vulva, but that’s a female body part. Clitoris?”…

I told Mr. Busey I had seen the E! show and liked it.…

“You’re going to have to come closer to me,” said Mr. Busey. “So I can hear you.”…

I spoke louder and repeated that I liked the show.…

“You’re going to have to come closer, so I can hear you.”…

I expressed doubt that Mr. Busey could not hear me….

“No,” said Mr. Busey, “you talk real fast and low.”…

I said I was not inclined to join Mr. Busey on the couch.…

“Why don’t you want to sit next to me?”…

I said I just didn’t want to.…

“Uh, that’s weird,” said Mr. Busey, “O.K., the interview’s over.”…

O.K. I headed for the door….

“What did I do?” asked Mr. Busey. “Where are you going?” …

I replied I had felt harassed.…

“Well, it was all completely unconscious,” he said. [E! 24, 8 P.M.]

Monday, August 3

96.3 FM Years and years ago, when this column began under the all-knowing, all-seeing Ronald Stewart–a brilliant reporter who loved a good media story but despised his editors (and who, last we heard, was working as a manager-owner of a Radio Shack franchise after stints at Media Week and Newsday )–it was called “New York Television and Radio Reporter.” Indulge us a moment as we return to our roots (apologies to Ronald) and ask our readers to turn on the radio this morning….

Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein, hosts The Joy of Bernstein , today through Aug. 25, to celebrate the work of her father (who would have been 80 this year)….

“Every weekday morning at 10 o’clock, there’s a piece of music conducted by my dad that we play and talk about,” said Ms. Bernstein. “One of the things about my father that was so cool was that he was one of the first guys to figure out how to use television for music and for conveying what’s cool about music to a large number of people in the broadcast medium. He was the right guy at the right time, because along came television and they were perfect for each other. It’s just amazing to think that they would put a young person’s concert on in prime time back then. Like when CBS broadcast the Philharmonic from 1957 to the 70’s.”…

What were his favorite pieces?…

“He loved everything. He was bursting with enthusiasm, not just for classical music–he loved rock-and-roll and jazz and blues. He and I discovered the Beatles together. I was 11. My father thought their songs were great, and he would listen to the songs and he taught me a ton of stuff, like blues progression and modes in ‘And I Love Her’ … I actually dragged him to the Stones in the Garden, Michael Jackson, the Who. He thought Michael Jackson was fantastic.”…

Today: “Prelude Fugue & Riffs.” “Some jazz purists complain that it isn’t ‘real’ jazz, because the parts that sound free and improvised are actually all carefully written down. But who cares? The music is great and this performance with Benny Goodman really jumps. If I were you, I’d turn the volume up just a little.” [WQXR, 96.3 FM, 10 A.M.]

Tuesday, August 4

Check out Media Shower , the king of all public access shows. Great tape (Bill Maher getting decked by Erik Estrada on Pictionary ; William Shatner singing “Rocket Man”; porno movie outtakes) and great commentary. [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 16, midnight.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

The tricky thing about musicals is that if they’re really good they look easy, yet there is nothing tougher to pull off, as such contemporary filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and, notoriously, yours truly have learned to our (and our backers’) considerable cost. Just the right balance between musical numbers and dialogue must be found, the right songs, their correct integration, the suspension of disbelief required to get away with singing and dancing in non-backstage stories; and above everything, the performing talents to make it all work effortlessly. It’s no coincidence that the best and the most popular picture musicals have clustered around a precious few gifted personalities like Maurice Chevalier, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli.

So many song and dance numbers–especially in the finest musicals of the past, starting with the first great one, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Love Parade (1929) starring Chevalier and a sweet, sexy Jeanette MacDonald, and onward through the Astaire-Rogers series of the 30’s, to the various Gene Kelly collaborations of the late 40’s and 50’s–were done in long continuous takes, and only performers with chops at their tops can do that. And this was still true after the late 30’s advent of post-synchronization. All the earliest musicals were done with the orchestra right off camera, recording singers, sound effects and all the instruments at exactly the same time, which gives the five Lubitsch musicals a great part of their charm, their absolute sense of true immediacy. Unfortunately, there is only one of these currently available on video, though it is the best one, the last one, the culmination, his divine 1934 version of The Merry Widow , probably my own personal favorite musical.

While the Lubitsch musicals set the standard for quality, the more proletariat Astaire and Rogers shows were far more popular, though only two of the 10 they made really work any longer all the way through (the 1936 George Stevens-Jerome Kern Swing Time , and the 1935 Mark Sandrich-Irving Berlin Top Hat ). Though, as Stanley Donen (who had a major hand in some of the best musicals) once said to me, most of the Astaire-Rogers dance numbers in all the pictures are “pure honey.” And, in our video era, wonderfully fast-forwardable to. But Gene Kelly was at the heart of what became known as the modern movie musical, both setting the standard and achieving great popularity.

At the time, the apogee was thought to be the 1951 Academy Award winner as best picture of the year, An American in Paris [Sunday, Aug. 2, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 6 P.M.; also available on home video] , achieved by an amazing group of now legendary musical talents: director Vincente Minnelli; choreographer and star Gene Kelly; screenplay (known in theater circles as the book) by Alan Jay Lerner; producer Arthur Freed; co-star and new discovery Leslie Caron, also starring Oscar Levant and Georges Guétary; lyrics by Ira Gershwin; and all music from the works of George Gershwin, for God’s sake! The subject matter: An American painter in Paris has two loves–one his patron (a quality nonmusical performance by Nina Foch), the other his soulmate (Ms. Caron), who has a patron lover, too (Mr. Guétary). And featuring a 20-minute ballet at the end as a kind of grand Impressionist period daydream, with paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin coming to life.

Even my father–a European painter and concert pianist born in the last year of the last century (like Alfred Hitchcock), very much influenced by the French, and an intellectual of the Parisian 20’s, who only listened to the finest classical music and therefore generally had no interest or affection for American musicals–liked An American in Paris . He also used to say Gershwin was a true musician, the one great American popular composer. Certainly his tunes seem to wear the best, and his brother Ira’s lyrics are at the summit of a medium in which Americans excelled. When I was younger, while I liked An American in Paris , I preferred Kelly’s, Donen’s, Betty Comden’s and Adolph Green’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and On the Town (1949; with music by Leonard Bernstein), and the Astaire-Minnelli The Band Wagon (1953), and I still love them. But I must say, on repeated, more recent viewings, An American in Paris is looking awfully good. Just Kelly’s choreography and his own dancing are at their classiest, yet most poignantly exuberant, and those songs–every one a classic of its kind–”I Got Rhythm,” “By Strauss,” “Stairway to Paradise,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”

Yes, Oscar Levant was no great actor, and his one number, where he plays all the instruments in the orchestra (a bit stolen from Buster Keaton’s two-reeler, The Playhouse , where Buster was every actor and even the audience, a light metaphoric send-up of Charlie Chaplin’s taking credit for every aspect of his films), is not the best; and, yes, the script is short on laughs. But there is, on the other hand, a knowing air of melancholy about the compromises of love that brings an unexpected depth to the lyric passages, like the pas de deux under the Seine bridge for “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” which is transfixing in its romantic loveliness. The concluding ballet is the absolute best of its kind in pictures, better than any of the others Kelly did that preceded it (starting with On the Town ) or followed, including one satiric imitation by Astaire (in The Band Wagon ). A large plus here, naturally, is Gershwin’s constantly surprising music, but Kelly’s choreography is really terrific.

Anyone who contributes to musical comedy hits in the Broadway theater on the level Gene Kelly did, could have lived off his royalties forever. But I remember Gene in his last decades (he died only two years ago) telling me when I asked how it felt to have been a part of pictures with such continuing appeal as Singin’ in the Rain or On the Town or An American in Paris , he answered with the saddest eyes, that it was great but did I realize that he received not one red cent from any of the video or television sales his classics generated. All he ever got was that weekly M-G-M salary while he was working.

This is one of the reasons why the star system ended and why the stars took their vengeance out on the studios that had hopelessly exploited them, to the result we are living with now where their pay has become obscene and the studios are at their total mercy. Well, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Nevertheless, Gene’s spirit will always be with us, and in An American in Paris he dances out for us the beauty and heartbreak behind great love and great loss; specifically, being an American artist who had been a soldier or sailor (which Kelly had played popularly in On the Town , and to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and helped to liberate Paris from the Nazis, saved its beauty for the world, but at what a price.

An American in Paris is the climax of American postwar optimism with a sense of tragic recent events so that to sing or dance in freedom by the river Seine meant more than a clever number. And this feeling, which was in the air of the times, is here immemorialized in movement: when Gene Kelly dances the polka with a rotund, happy old French lady in an indoor-outdoor cafe or tap-dances out on the free sidewalks of lovely Paris to the visible utter delight of 20 adorable French children.

In romantic-movie terms, or the mythological aspect, this was the same Paris of love that only eight years before Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman had said they would always have; and Gene helped to save it, and dance for them, too! See the all-positive American aura that America and the world embraced in 1951, and see from what a high we have fallen. But pictures bring its spirit back, which is a big deal, and should be on the big screen, where its mythic size can properly counteract the pygmy dynamites of today. Nevertheless, in the meantime, sit close to the largest big-screen TV and enjoy two hours of American happy times, just a breath away from the encroaching darkness of Korea, the sexual revolution, drugs, the victory of TV, at least three earth-shattering assassinations and Vietnam. In fact, all the most enduring postwar musicals starting with On the Town through The Band Wagon were made in exactly this brief five-year period, ending sometime in 1954 with Donen’s and Michael Kidd’s delightfully boisterous Seven Brides for Seven Brothers .

Gary Busey’s a Creep … Shannen Doherty, Aaron Spelling Have a Convenient Reunion … Lolita ‘s Not Bad…