Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Watch' Her

Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston hits the Alex Theatre Nov. 20 to discuss her memoir ‘Watch Me’

By Carl Kozlowski  11/13/2014

Growing up as the daughter and granddaughter of Hollywood royalty, Anjelica Huston had great expectations placed upon her by the arts world from the beginning of her life. After all, her father was legendary director John Huston, her grandfather was revered film star Walter Huston and her mother was famed ballerina Enrica Soma. 

Anjelica acted in some of her father’s films as a child before becoming one of the most sought-after models in the world. But when she was in a severe car accident at age 29, she found the drive it took to finally succeed on her own terms in Hollywood — fueled by the memory of director Tony Richardson telling her that she would never do anything with her life. 

Seething with inner frustration, Huston thought in reply, “Watch me.” And using that fiery spirit, Huston has gone on to become one of the most exotic film actresses of the past 30 years before pivoting to start a new career as the writer of two critically acclaimed memoirs, including “Watch Me,” for which she will appear next Thursday, Nov. 20, in the prestigious LiveTalksLA series of celebrity discussions held at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

“For me, the crash was very much an epiphany,” Huston says. “I really got away with my life on that one. I was badly beat up from the crash but I had this renewed sense of purpose. It was the first time I thought I need to take things, not wait to get what I wanted. I had to effect change. I turned it around at that point and found people who helped me, including my great acting teacher Peggy Feury. She changed my professional life tremendously.”

Indeed, that shift into being a serious actress and making that decision as a grown adult was a key step in breaking free from the shadow of her father’s towering career. It was her own decision to make, rooted in a childhood in which she was encouraged to think freely for herself. 

“My father didn’t expect me to be a child actress, but to read and be well informed, and those were his emphases rather than imparting that I should be successful,” says Huston. “He was more concerned that I developed my intellect and made good choices.”

While she has made plenty of good choices in her film career, with iconic turns as Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family” films and as Etheline Tenenbaum in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Huston has made some famous choices in her private life as well. She spent four years from age 17 to 21 as the live-in girlfriend of fashion photographer Bob Richardson before counting king of the Hollywood bad boys Jack Nicholson as a longtime paramour and ultimately marrying acclaimed sculptor Robert Gordon in 1992 and staying with him until his death in 2008. 

“How is it to be with Jack? Great, glorious — and tough,” Huston recalls. “It was many things but never boring. And with Bob [Graham], I first saw his work in the 1984 Olympics here in Los Angeles, and I wanted to get to know him. He was a consummate artist, a wonderful man, and a very deep person. 

“You get used to a certain level of brilliance, and my father was definitely brilliant,” Huston continues. “It’s inevitable you seek that same brilliance in other people. I didn’t but I’ve had some extremely interesting relationships with fascinating people, both men and women. I’ve always played across the board and I’m proud to have friends who are preteenagers all the way to folks in their 90s.” 

Applying the life lessons she gleans from across the age spectrum, Huston has always had a thirst for knowledge and new experiences. In fact, the reason she was able to produce two memoirs within two years is that her first shot at a memoir ran 900 pages and her publisher proposed dividing it in two. 

The result is that “Watch Me” picks up with her return to Los Angeles after the richly detailed 1960s upbringing in Ireland and England that she described in “A Story Lately Told.” Displaying a rich command of her writing abilities, Huston grabs readers with her poetically detailed remembrances from page one and carries them through her encounters with the entertainment elite over the next four decades. 

Huston credits her way with words and storytelling skills to her family’s aversion to television during her childhood years. Deep conversation was the norm in her household because Ireland didn’t even have television until she was 12, and Ireland’s tradition of oral history also helped hone her abilities. That love of great writing also carries over into how she picks her roles. 

“Initially, I come away with a feeling from a script,” says Huston. “Whatever it is about feeling, sort of like channeling, will start to influence your perception of a character. How she is, how she walks, what she wears. I build a character from the floor up.”

Huston’s characters often have a stately surface undermined by darker emotions under the surface, and she took a moment to explain that part of her process. 

“I like concurrent emotions, confliction, visually in a movie,” says Huston, who counts her Oscar-nominated role in the 1990 thriller “The Grifters” as her favorite. “I like layering. So much of the time people are either black or white, but I like filling in the black in the white and white in the black. Rodmila in ‘Ever After’ is a great part because you find out why she’s unhappy and cruel — but then we see that the world is that way to her. I like to find the truth in things — which is neither black nor white.”

Having starred in dozens of films, written two memoirs and directed three films of her own — the best advice she learned from her father was “cast well” — at age 65 Huston has plenty of zest left. Looking beyond next week’s appearance at the Alex, she’s excited to star opposite Martin Sheen in the classic two-person play “Love Letters.” 

“Every time I go to work, I think I can’t do it, and when I make it through, I rejoice,” says Huston. “The greatest challenge is always the next thing I’m doing.”

Anjelica Huston will discuss her life, career and memoir “Watch Me” at 8 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Admission is $27 for general admission, $50 for reserved seats and a copy of “Watch Me,” or $95 for premium seats, a copy of “Watch Me” and a VIP reception from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Call (818) 243-ALEX or visit 

On the Move

With a TV game show by day and a Pasadena Playhouse show at night, Wayne Brady is dancing as fast as he can

By Carl Kozlowski 09/18/2014

Wayne Brady is always on the run these days. The multiple Emmy-winning entertainer has been pulling double duty for weeks, hosting the CBS hit daytime game show “Let’s Make a Deal” in the morning before racing to the Pasadena Playhouse for rehearsals of the new musical revival of “Kiss Me Kate,” which opens Sunday.

But after a two-decade career in which he has excelled at improv on ABC’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” the classic musical “Chicago” on Broadway, his own talk show and countless sitcom guest roles, Brady is handling the pressure with ease. In fact, he’s thankful for every challenge that comes his way.

“Things are only as hectic as you make them,” says Brady. “I’m not breaking rocks, working chain gangs or working in McDonald’s. I tape shows, get in my car and go to rehearsal. Plus I’m a producer with other projects happening, and I’m a dad who’s involved in my daughter’s life. Be cool, calm and collected and you can make it work. I live a very blessed existence.”

While the Orlando, Fla.-raised Brady is a long-time veteran of musical theater, he has never performed “Kiss Me Kate” before. He said it was the combination of the show’s status as an American staple and the ability to work with Playhouse director Sheldon Epps that enticed him to jump at the opportunity.

“Sheldon can pull things out of you that maybe you didn’t know were laying around, and it’s great to be able to access certain places in yourself as an actor,” says Brady. “Sheldon is a director I love because not only is he passionate about any project he does, there’s a reason behind every decision, and he’s collaborative. He can rule with a velvet fist, which is great because nobody wants to work with a pushover, and I respect the hell out of him.”

Brady recalls performing in “Oklahoma!” in high school, which set the stage for his frequent musical gigs throughout his career. Aside from “Chicago,” he has also taken the stage in “A Chorus Line,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in which he played Judas.

He defends the current state of American musicals, saying that recent years have helped the theatrical world develop shows that are more truly reflective of American culture than ever before. He notes the hard rock edge of “American Idiot,” as well as other shows’ hip-hop and Latin influences, as signs that theater is truly embracing all aspects of the audience.

At the same time, he makes it clear that revivals will always have a strong share of the musical market.

“There are always revivals when there’s a demand for something,” explains Brady. “You can sit down all day and say ‘I’m going to create a classic.’ But you don’t know you’ve created a classic until the people and time say it’s a classic. People want that connectivity with the things that they love. That’s why we’re nostalgic for old movies, TV Land and classic MTV.”

Much of Brady’s career success has come from his experiences with improv comedy, a skill he recalls learning early in adulthood when an actress he worked with at Walt Disney World suggested he take classes she was teaching with her husband. He had an instant knack for it and scored a plum role in the cast of the British version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” during its final season on the BBC before his popularity there led to him joining the likes of Drew Carey in ABC’s American version.

The combination of his work in classic musicals, the family-friendly comedy of “Line” and his own innocent daytime talk show (“The Wayne Brady Show,” which won four Emmys in its two seasons on the air a decade ago) have combined to give Brady a squeaky-clean image. But as the star of his own Las Vega comedy show called “Wayne Brady Making %@it Up,” he also feels a need to make it clear he has a naughty side.

“There’s almost a reverse stigma to being clean,” says Brady. “I’m not a Boy Scout or a Ken doll, because I have a penis down there. I’m a grown man and I use the language I like. But I use common sense. A lot of what I’ve done on network TV is venue specific.

“A daytime talk show has to be clean, and ‘Whose Line’ cleaner than not,” Brady continues. “But after a few years, because people label folks and because I’m black, then I’m clean to those who stupidly think black comedy needs to involve grabbing your crotch. I never set out to be a clean comedian. I’m just a person with a modicum of class. When you come to see me in Vegas, you may be surprised because I say what I want to say.”

Brady famously torched his clean image on Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” a decade ago, via  a skit in which he picks up the show’s host Dave Chappelle for a night on the town and winds up terrifying him with a night filled with hookers, drugs, shootings and even a cop killing. 

The short film was so well-regarded it is enshrined in TV’s top museum, the Paley Center, as one of the 100 funniest moments in TV history.

“That was so long ago, but it’s referenced every day,” says Brady. “This is a business where you never want to be tied to just one thing. That film came out of a conversation with Dave after [famously controversial black comedian] Paul Mooney said about me, ‘You make Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.’

“I did the show because that joke was so offensive because in one fell swoop one black man says about another black man, that Bryant Gumbel can’t be black because he’s so well spoken, and then says I’m even less black,” continues Brady. “Who’s the arbiter of what’s black? Race shouldn’t matter, but sadly in the real world it does. I try to proceed as though the world is color blind, but sometimes you’ve got to pop your head up and say something.”

Wayne Brady stars in “Kiss Me Kate,” now through Oct. 12 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. EL Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $57 to $125. Call (626) 356-7529 or visit

A Voice From Within

Comic, radio host and author Jimmy Dore uses humor to inspire people to activism

By Carl Kozlowski 08/21/2014

There are lots of things about this country that annoy comedian Jimmy Dore. One is how fat cats always get richer and pay fewer taxes while leaving regular folks holding the bag. Another is how the government pleads poverty when the time comes to repair America’s infrastructure, yet can bail out Wall Street bankers to the tune of $2 billion a week.

But most of Dore’s contempt is for the media. While he is best known as a nationally headlining club comedian with two acclaimed Comedy Central specials, Dore has earned the right to criticize the media because now he is part of it.

As the host of “The Jimmy Dore Show” each week on KPFK-FM and Pacifica radio stations nationwide, and as a member of the highly popular Web-based political commentary series “The Young Turks,” Dore has shown that he has a freewheeling political instinct that owes loyalty to nothing but the truth. He’s now collected his views into a bitingly funny book called “Your Country Is Just Not That Into You,” which the Pasadena resident will discuss and sign at 7 p.m. next Thursday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. 

“The media used to be the watchdogs, but they’ve been bought by the people they’re supposed to be investigating,” says Dore. “NBC didn’t give you the facts about Iraq because they’re owned by defense contractors. You’ll never get the truth, just false equivalency, saying there are two sides to every story like global warming. I say there are not two sides to the truth. Don’t give us talking points. Give us the truth.”

Dore grew up as the youngest of 12 children in Chicago and went through 12 years of Catholic school. This resulted in him abandoning the faith as an adult, although he now has decided that it is more honest to be an agnostic than to be an atheist, “because no one should absolutely presume to know either way.” 

“The book makes fun of religion and I do like to get high and watch faith healers like [televangelist] Benny Hinn,” laughs Dore. “He heals people left and right, yet he has the most wicked comb-over in television. If you could heal people, wouldn’t you take five minutes to heal and straighten out your hair? You never hear about a healer going to a hospital to heal people. So fucking lazy!”

The funnyman doesn’t believe that either party is willing to help people, because, in his opinion, “Democrats have become Republicans.” A fervent and proud progressive, Dore has loudly expressed disappointment that President Obama has not gone far enough to the left to solve the nation’s problems, pointing out that the Republicans have given up criticizing Obama’s banking and war plans because he feels they are essentially the same as their own.

“I will say I voted for Nader in 2000 instead of Al Gore,” says Dore. “The Democrats are proving Al Gore right, that there is not enough difference between the two parties. An example is that people get mad with immigrants and teachers when the economy goes south. If Wall Street crashes, we blame teachers. These fat-cat teachers are sneaking sacks of money into their Tercels. Worst of all, Obama wants to tie teacher pay to their performance, even though we put our hopped-up kids on the bus at 6 in the morning and basically wish them good luck.”  

And yet, despite all his frustrations and his belief that the country’s fundamental economics have not improved since the financial meltdown of 2008, Dore holds out some hope for America. He knows that the corporations and the banks are still making bad financial decisions and “treating our savings accounts like an Indian casino,” and he believes that the recently completed World Cup soccer matches were just an extended excuse to distract people worldwide from very serious problems. 

“But we do have the Constitution, which is a great thing,” says Dore. “We have a history of standing up for freedom, liberty and an even playing field. That’s what I like about America: there’s a hope of equality, rewarding hard work and judging by their character and not the color of skin. [NSA whistleblower] Edward Snowden was willing to give up life and liberty to help save our country, and that leaves us hope. I say thanks to him.”

Jimmy Dore discusses and signs his book “Your Country is Just Not That Into You” at 7 p.m. next Thursday, Aug. 28, at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit

High-energy Hilarity

Bobby Lee finds humor in his escape from the middle class

By Carl Kozlowski 08/07/2014

Growing up in San Diego as the son of Korean immigrants, Bobby Lee was expected to take over the family business. His parents owned a five-store chain of clothing stores known as Fashion Gal, and while he appreciated the comfortable life their hard work afforded, he felt certain that working for them would eventually kill him.  

“The stores catered to fat ethnic women, like an ethnic Lane Bryant,” he recalls, a mix of anguish and laughter still mingled in his voice 20 years later. “Just being trapped inside all day and having to deal with that. Standup comedy saved my life.” 

Indeed, Lee found salvation in developing his own fearlessly energetic and brash form of comedy at the Comedy Store in La Jolla. And after two decades filled with successes including “Tonight Show” appearances and a long-running stint on FOX’s late and lamented “MAD TV,” the 41-year-old jokester will be bringing his high-energy hilarity to Pasadena’s Ice House Comedy Club this weekend. 

His appearance comes at a prime moment in the club’s history. Famous for being the nation’s oldest continuously running comedy club and heralded as the location where more comedy CDs have been recorded than any other location on earth, the Ice House has also been named one of the five best comedy clubs in the nation (the only California club on the list) by the new book “The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.”

With four shows coming up on Friday and Saturday, Lee will be enjoying the intimate energy the club offers between its compact crowds and performers. While he’s also a frequent performer at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, Lee holds a special place in his heart for Pasadena’s comedy jewel. 

“The Ice House is a historic comedy club, much like the Comedy Store,” says Lee. “The owner is an amazing man and I’m privileged to play there.” n

Bobby Lee will perform at 8:30 and 10:30 Friday and 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday at the Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $24 for general admission and $31 for VIP seating. Call (626) 577-1894 or visit 

Success hasn't spoiled him yet

Rocker Rick Springfield trades pick for pen with ‘Magnificent Vibration’

By Carl Kozlowski 05/07/2014
op 40 hits, and as an actor who hit heartthrob status playing Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital,” Rick Springfield was one of the hottest stars of the 1980s. Yet, even as he was riding waves of success with his dual career, Springfield was secretly engaged in a life-threatening battle with depression. 

Springfield finally came clean with that struggle in 2011, when he wrote his memoir “Late, Late at Night,” a starkly honest take on his experiences that was so harrowing Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 25 greatest books ever written about rock and roll. Finally unburdened of his secret and emboldened by the reception to his prose, Springfield went on to spend the past two years working on a novel, “Magnificent Vibration,” which he will discuss and sign at Vroman’s Bookstore on Wednesday. 

Springfield’s debut novel follows the surreal misadventures of a guy named Bobby, who steals a mysterious self-help book from a bookstore and winds up calling the 800-number scrawled inside the front cover. It turns out he has dialed a direct line to God, launching Bobby on a quest — alongside a smart and sexy gal named Alice — to find spiritual and carnal salvation while possibly saving the planet. 

That sense of whimsical fantasy stems from Springfield’s childhood roots, in which the Australia native dreamed of becoming a fiction writer before discovering rock and roll. And as such, he is thrilled to be finally working on this side of his creative spirit. 

“As a kid I thought I’d be writing fiction, but then music took over my life,” says Springfield. “Suddenly two years ago at Christmas I started finding time to write and it just took care of itself. The original idea came from an idea I had of a guy who had conversations with God. That’s always been a really strong driver in my mind. It’s all something we love to do and started writing from that perspective. It wasn’t planned in any way. I just followed a path.”

That path became filled with unique characters and situations because Springfield believes that the key to his writing — fiction and nonfiction — is getting plenty of sleep and finding inspiration in the dreams that emerge. 

He has also found strength in coming to terms with his depression, which he had hidden since he was a teenager. He chose to write “Late” the hard way, forcing himself to sit down and do the actual work rather than reciting high points of his life to ghost writers, as many celebrities do, because he hoped that dealing with harsh truths would help 
him move past his demons. 

Alcohol is one of those demons, as evidenced by Springfield’s 2011 arrest for DUI while driving recklessly on Pacific Coast Highway. According to published reports, he threatened to kill the arresting deputy and his family if his car was towed. He was arrested again in 2013 for failing to appear for a court date related to his probation on those charges. 
Despite the fact it might seem that writing lyrics is vastly different than writing books, Springfield reveals that there are many similarities. 

“You’re just trying to find a slightly unique way of saying familiar emotions,” says Springfield. “We all feel the same things, we all have the same issues no matter where we are in our lives. The fact that someone’s a musician, or someone works at a bank, doesn’t change the human condition. One of my favorite writers when I was a young musician was Jackson Browne, because I thought it was amazing how he could write a single line that would sum up a whole emotion.” 

Of course, Springfield is no stranger to writing about emotions in his own songs. His most famous song, “Jessie’s Girl,” seethes with barely controlled rage as it depicts the thoughts of a man who is dangerously jealous of a friend because of his girlfriend. But while he laughs when the song is described as “one of the nastiest kiss-offs in rock history,” Springfield points out a couple of surprising facts about the song. 

“First off, the guy’s real name was Gary, but it didn’t have the right ring to it as ‘Gary’s Girl,’ so I kept trying dozens of names until we finally settled on Jessie,” Springfield calls. “And second, the real-life girl never knew I wrote it about her. I lost touch with them before it was even released, and Oprah herself couldn’t track her down years later when she tried to find her for a special episode about the women who inspired rock songs.” 

Springfield has a truly busy summer to look forward to, with three tours to juggle: the book tour, a full-band tour opening for Pat Benatar, and a solo acoustic tour called “Stripped Down,” which will feature him telling the stories behind his greatest songs. He has managed to stay popular with new generations due to the inclusion of “Jessie’s Girl “ in the best scene of the modern classic movie “Boogie Nights,” and the fact that Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl called on him to write a song with the Foos last year for the documentary “Sound City” gave him fresh street cred. 

These are heady times for the ageless rocker. But he isn’t above finding time to reflect on all that he’s done and the changes he continues to go through nearly 40 years into his career. 
“As you get older, you know your views change, and when I wrote ‘Jessie’s Girl’ it was all about sex and getting laid,” says Springfield. “I take a wider view getting older, as everyone does. I still write about sex, thankfully, but there are other things as well. The book ‘Vibration’ is an outgrowth of my thoughts on where the world is, and your writing reflects your view of the world.” 

Rick Springfield discusses and signs “Magnificent Vibration” at 1 p.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit 

Hustle and heart

NPR’s Davy Rothbart brought his street game to small town America while making the new documentary ‘Medora,’ showing tonight at Crawford Family Forum

By Carl Kozlowski 04/23/2014

Davy Rothbart spent part of the 1990s hustling Chicago Bulls basketball tickets on the streets of the Windy City at the height of the Michael Jordan era.

Nearly 20 years later, that passion for basketball has paid off for Rothbart, who today is an author and a star on National Public Radio, but only in an entirely different way than one might think.
Since his days as a ticket scalper, the multitalented Rothbart has enjoyed a thriving career with countless appearances on NPR’s popular show “This American Life,” the publication of several short-story and essay collections, and the explosive growth of his annually published Found magazines. His latest venture is co-directing the new feature-length documentary “Medora,” about a small town with a losing high school basketball team that’s been devastated by the Great Recession.

Rothbart will be presenting “Medora,” and hosting a question and answer session afterward, tonight at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena. 

The film follows a year in the life of the small Indiana town of Medora, which has been rocked so hard by harsh economic times that it lost 1,500 of its 2,000 residents since its local factory shut down. Its high school basketball team hasn’t won a game in years, but the film shows the amazing effort that the team puts forth to finally stop losing and boost the town’s morale. 

“I read an article in The New York Times by the great writer John Branch, a short piece that still showed their fighting spirit,” recalls Rothbart. “Many documentaries are about teams trying to win championships, but this was just about the desire to win even once. My co-director Andrew Cohn and I went down from our homes in Ann Arbor, Mich., and we checked out the town and met the coach and players. 

“We fell in love with the town and wanted to tell about small town America and how rural communities are being battered,” Rothbart continues. “We came back a year later with friends and cameras and embedded ourselves for a year in a nearby town. It’s a really raw and personal documentary about four kids trying to find their place in the world and dealing with challenges at home and school.” 
Rothbart believes that a common thread weaves its way throughout all of his work: an innate curiosity about ordinary people and their private lives. 

That curiosity inspired him to hold onto countless notes that he’d find during his nationwide travels, scraps of paper with both hilarious and despondent tones that seemed to reveal everything about the psyches of strangers. Eventually he decided his collection was so fascinating that he compiled them into a magazine, Found.

“You feel you’re in that person’s mind and heart, and they’re revealing themselves in a way they never expected,” explains Rothbart. “The note that sparked it was on my windshield but addressed to some guy named Mario, saying ‘Mario, I hate you! You said you had to work and your car is here at her place! I hate you I hate you! Page me later!’ It’s full of hope and love and desperation all at once.”

At first, Rothbart published his own personal collection of notes that he thought would be popular solely among his friends as a zine, or a blog with an extremely limited audience. He intended to print just 50 copies, give them away at a party and see how well they caught on with strangers there. 

“But the Kinko’s guy printing them said ‘This is awesome. Make 800,’ and at a party a week later we sold 100 copies for five bucks each, leaving us 700 copies lying in boxes in my apartment,” Rothbart recalls. “I left on a trip for a couple weeks, came back and they were gone. He said they sold out, because so many people spread the word and were coming to buy two, three or four copies, and cops were coming by thinking we were selling drugs. Now it’s an annual edition with thousands of copies, and each day, 25 to 30 people send us weird notes they’ve found.”  

With a play based on his “Found” experiences heading to the New York City stage in the next year, and numerous other documentary and fiction-film projects in the works, Rothbart has his hands full. But he’s never too busy to reach out and help people whose lives have touched him.

“I was nervous how the people in the movie would react because it was so intimate and I wondered if they were too exposed?” Rothbart says of “Medora.” 

“We showed them the film for the first time in the town library. They were laughing, and there were some tears, but the overall reaction was understated. Then one giant farm kid named Robby jumped up and said ‘I loved it!’ and the rest followed suit. They said it was honest, true and fair and really celebrates them as people with very little, living in desperate circumstances, who find a way to move on. The Washington Post called it one of the top movies of 2013, which was pretty wonderful company next to ‘12 Years a Slave.’” 

Davy Rothbart screens “Medora” and discusses it at length afterwards in an evening program starting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Crawford Family Forum, 474 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Admission is free. RSVP at

Life after Leno

Jimmy Fallon visits Pasadena to talk about his ascendancy to ‘The Tonight Show’ 

By Carl Kozlowski 01/23/2014

Growing up in the town of Saugerties, NY, Jimmy Fallon never dreamed of being a TV talk show host. Instead, he focused with laser-like precision on breaking into the cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” by locking himself in his room during each new episode. He would also tape those shows for later additional viewings, where he would study the comedic angles, memorize lines and practice impressions of both the show’s fictional characters and real-world celebrities.  

That effort would pay off at age 24, when he was signed by the show’s legendary producer, Lorne Michaels, to be a cast member. It’s been a rocket ride ever since, with Fallon gaining stardom during his six years on “SNL” before  taking the reins of NBC’s “Late Night” franchise from Conan O’Brien for five successful seasons in which he revitalized the tired talk-show format with viral videos and the most innovative house band in television, The Roots. 
On Feb. 17, Fallon, now 39, will take over the throne from Jay Leno and become just the sixth host — after Steve Allen, Jack Paar, the immortal Johnny Carson, Leno and O’Brien — in the 60-year-run of the hallowed show that invented late-night talk. Caught in the middle of his frantic transition period, in which he is still hosting “Late Night” while overseeing every aspect of his new show, Fallon came to Pasadena’s Langham Huntington Pasadena hotel Sunday along with his “Late Night” replacement Seth Meyers to discuss the seismic shift his life is experiencing with the Television Critics Association. 
“As early as I can remember I was watching Carson, so there was familiarity with him through my parents having him on,” recalls Fallon, whose first “Tonight” guests will be Will Smith and U2. “I thought he came with the TV, and you’d turn him on at night time.  I’d beg my parents to let me watch that, because I knew I was getting away with something. 

“But it wasn’t at all my dream job, because I didn’t even know it was a job,” Fallon continues. “I thought if I worked at IBM like my dad and had a house and family like him that was a dream. So if kids today ask to stay up and watch my show, I’m proud of that and hope to deliver.” 
Despite his relative youth, Fallon has a deep sense of history about “Tonight” and has taken some bold steps to not only bring innovation to the institution, but also maintain a strong sense of its history. Most notably, he insisted on bringing the show back to New York City from Burbank, where Carson moved the show in 1972. 

Fallon’s version of “Tonight” will be set in the show’s original home, Studio 6B at Rockefeller Center, albeit with a state-of-the-art overhaul that expanded the number of audience seats and made its acoustics the best in the business. Fallon also made the show’s official logo a full moon with the show’s title superimposed on it, and also made the program’s full title “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” 

“Not since ‘The Honeymooners’ in the ’50s has anyone been using a full moon in their show’s art, but always crescents, even though the full moon is the jam,” explains Fallon. “Also, it was always ‘The Tonight Show Starring’ all the way through Johnny Carson, and then Leno changed it to say ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.’ But this is show business, and it’s glamorous, Hollywood, fun, so saying ‘Starring’ is an homage, a little tip  of the cap to the origins of the show and I thought it’d be perfect.” 

The transition from Leno to Fallon appears to be going more smoothly than the last time Leno was scheduled to leave his esteemed perch, back in 2009. After announcing in 2004 that he would give the show to then-“Late Night” host Conan O’Brien in 2009, Leno and NBC very publicly stabbed O’Brien in the back by giving Leno a prime time talk show nightly that destroyed the network’s ratings and sent the “Tonight” ratings into a tailspin that was beyond O’Brien’s control. 

After just seven months, O’Brien was sent packing and Leno was back in charge, where he is still the top late-night show host despite the fact his ratings never returned to their former levels. Fallon stayed quiet and neutral during the entire dustup, and says that Leno has been nothing but helpful in his own preparations for the job. 

“Jay has spoken to me weekly ever since I was named the new host last April, and he advised me to work on my monologue,” says Fallon. “I used to do just three or four minutes of monologue jokes each night, and he told me I’d need 10 minutes on ‘Tonight’ because a lot of people these days get their world news from watching late-night jokes, so I’ve been amping up to 10 minutes a night to be ready.” 

Considering the fact that both Carson and Leno retired in their 60s, with Carson leaving after 30 years and Leno after 22, this could be the job that takes Fallon all the way to his golden years. That could be daunting for some, but given the fact that he already took his “Late Night” show to far greater creative and ratings success than anyone including himself ever imagined, it is an opportunity and a challenge that he is eager to face.

“I was born and raised in New York and I live there with my wife, and we have a 6-month-old baby now, so aside from the historical aspect I had to have the show there,” says Fallon, who nonetheless promised to bring “Tonight” tapings to Los Angeles at least one or two weeks each year. 
“It’s a beautiful city, especially at night with the lights of Times Square, and everything there has a sense of glamour. And ‘The Tonight Show’ should always have glamour. If it lasts five years or 25 for me, I just want to bear down and do the best job I can.” 

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” debuts at 11:35 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17 on NBC.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Kiss and tell

Notorious Hollywood producer Robert Evans brings his latest tell-all memoir to Vroman’s Friday night

By Carl Kozlowski 01/08/2014
There have been thousands of colorful characters to emerge from Hollywood in the past century, but few who manage to command a mystique for more than a few years at a time. Yet, producer Robert Evans has been an icon for nearly 50 years, both as a purveyor of Oscar-winning films including “The Godfather” and box-office blockbusters such as “Love Story,” and as a legendary lothario whose high-style life has served as the inspiration for younger generations of show-business players hoping for a life filled with wine, women and song. 

Even the best-lived lives have their low points, however, and Evans is no exception. He has divorced seven times and suffered three strokes, in addition to being convicted on a misdemeanor for cocaine trafficking and publicly implicated, though not charged, in a notorious murder. 
Evans combined those emotional peaks and valleys inside a hugely popular bestselling memoir called “The Kid Stays in the Picture” in 1994. His deep voice and frequent use of hipster slang made his audio-book, “Kid,” a collector’s item that both amused Hollywood greatly and inspired several fictional characters, including Dustin Hoffman’s producer character in “Wag the Dog” and international superspy/ladies’ man Austin Powers. 

Two decades later, Evans returns with a follow-up tome called “The Fat Lady Sang,” which deals with the strokes that occurred in 1998 and his battle to survive and return to the moviemaking world. He’ll be discussing and signing the new book at Vroman’s on Friday night in what should be one of the more colorful author visits ever to grace that hallowed store. 

Evans was born Robert J. Shapera in 1930 in New York City. His mother was an independently wealthy housewife and his father was a dentist in Harlem. He first acquired his flair for promotion while working for the fashion company Evan-Picone and later developed his distinctive speaking tones by doing voice work on radio shows. 

After moving to Hollywood in 1956, Evans was quickly discovered by actress Norma Shearer while lounging poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She had him cast as her late husband, legendary producer Irving Thalberg, in “Man of a Thousand Faces” before producer Darryl F. Zanuck insisted he star in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” over the objections of the author himself. 

Despite that lucky streak, Evans realized he didn’t have the talent to sustain a career as an actor and jumped into producing movies. Within a decade, he was named head of production at Paramount Pictures, which thrived under his guidance by moving from ninth place among studios to become the industry leader within just a few years. 

It’s no wonder that Paramount experienced such a boom, for Evans’ tenure unleashed an amazing array of time-tested favorites that include “The Odd Couple,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “True Grit,” “Love Story,” and “The Godfather.” In fact, he attained so much power that he managed to negotiate an unheard-of new deal with the studio that allowed him to both be the studio’s head and work as an independent producer, an arrangement that yielded “Chinatown.” 

But when criticism of that deal swept through Hollywood, Evans stepped down from his powerful post while continuing to show everyone how it’s done by producing many more hits including “Marathon Man” and “Urban Cowboy.” But it was his involvement in the notoriously troubled production of 1983’s “The Cotton Club” that nearly destroyed him. 

That movie had a complicated financing agreement that included a $50,000 finder’s fee to a cocaine dealer who brought Evans together with another producer named Roy Radin, who was brutally murdered before production began. While the cocaine dealer Karen Greenburger was eventually convicted for hiring a contract killer, Evans was called to testify — and pleaded the Fifth Amendment — in what was quickly dubbed “The Cotton Club Murder Trial.” 

Despite his vast film-business successes, Evans has had his share of flops on the marital front, with an aforementioned seven marriages each lasting less than three years. Among those marriages was actress Ali McGraw, whose starring role in “Love Story” made her an international superstar. 

Between the tales of his epic career, his glamorous ex-wives and even more glamorous friends, including Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola, Evans’ memoirs have been considered among the greatest showbiz tell-alls ever written. So if you’re a fan of great movies or great personal storytelling, Vroman’s Bookstore is the place to be Friday.

Robert Evans discusses and signs “The Fat Lady Sang” at 7 p.m. Friday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit 

Talk about luck

Storyteller Dylan Brody gets the chance of a lifetime opening for humorist David Sedaris at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium

By Carl Kozlowski 11/13/2013
The 3,000 people expected to fill the Pasadena Civic Auditorium Friday night will hear  David Sedaris — one of the most popular humorists of our times — discuss some of his seemingly endless stream of humorous essays and stories. 

But theatergoers will get an added treat as well that night, with Dylan Brody, one of LA’s top professional raconteurs, warming up the audience before Sedaris takes the stage.

Brody has been writing and performing standup comedy and comedic storytelling since he was in college, enjoying a rather successful career with five CDs to his credit, along with three novels, as well as appearances on A&E’s “Comedy on the Road” and Showtime’s “The Green Room with Paul Provenza.” Even after a few decades in show business, Brody was thrilled when Sedaris made the offer to open for his act.

“David and I have been corresponding for five or six years now,” says Brody. “I met him a couple times at readings, and he has advised me via mail and email over the years. I recorded a new piece and posted it at the [National Public Radio show] ‘Snap Judgment’ Web site, and in sending an email to him I said, ‘Check out this piece I wrote.’

“He said, ‘As long as you’re coming to the show, want to come up and do the piece from ‘Snap’?” continues Brody. “And I said, ‘Yes, a thousand times yes.’ His agent told me he never has openers. It’s an enormous honor and it’s literally a fantasy come 
true. Now it’s happened and I’m a little choked up and excited by it.” 

The essay Brody intends to read is called “Not Actual Goats,” which he describes as being about “generational confusion and a conversation with my mother as I’m driving.”  He notes that in recent years, his mother has become his “Gracie Allen, the foil in which I’m the straight man. I’m utterly baffled and she’s utterly delightful.” 

Brody grew up in New York City and started performing stand-up on the city’s thriving comedy scene during the summer between high school and college. Just a year later, he was accepted as a regular performer at the world-famous Improv comedy club there, and continued to perform what he calls “machine-gun, left-leaning political comedy” for the next 15 years.

However, Brody was afflicted with severe depression and dropped out of performing for 10 years as he sought treatment and reshuffled his life after moving to San Francisco. When he felt ready to start performing again, he was invited to tell stories on a show on KYCY, a radio station there.

“I recorded a story of mine that I wanted to get on [the NPR show] ‘This American Life,’ but they rejected it,” recalls Brody, who now lives in Sylmar. “I heard of a man named Steven Page, who basically started the first all-podcasting station in that he aired audio uploads that he liked from surfing online. He got back to me a couple days after uploading my [“This American Life”] story and asked how often I could post.”

After recording 26 weekly stories for Page, Brody started burning his own CDs, filled with his WYCY recordings, and selling them online. When New York City radio station WBAI aired one of the tales, the orders for his CDs soared. He hired a manager who encouraged him to perform in “classier environs.” 

A studio recording of his work was released as “Brevity,” while a live-audience performance was recorded as “True Enough.” The well-established Provenza helped Brody land a deal with Stand Up Records in 2009, which released those two CDs, and a new one each year since then. Once he scored an endorsement blurb from Sedaris for the recordings, Brody’s work became part of the regular airplay rotation on Sirius XM satellite radio’s comedy channels. 

“My creative approach varies from piece to piece, but mainly my wife has accurately noticed that even as events are taking place, I’m internally writing them for greatest impact, whether it’s for comedy, pathos or shock value,” says Brody. “It’s not as much that bizarre things happen to me as everything that happens to me I’m running through my literary filter.”

Brody also notes that he often structures his stories to tell two tales at once. He will start with a present-day story, then reach back to a childhood tale that has a similar point and tell that in full before returning to his adult tale. As such, he notes that he uses multiple events to make a larger point. 

While his highly supportive wife cracked the code for how Brody accesses his creativity, she also is a big influence on the rare tales he refuses to tell. 

“It’s interesting that if my wife asks me not to talk about something, I won’t,” says Brody. “There are certain sexual fetish things that I’ve started to hint at that I won’t discuss fully. Some things, I’m still a little lost in shame over. 

“I will not say on stage anything I disagree with, because I feel that if I am talking to a room full of people, I have to take responsibility for everything I say,” continues Brody. “A lot of people will do jokes that come from a stereotype or disrespect or misogyny or any number of emotional states, and when confronted on them say ‘It’s just a joke, why do you want to censor me?’ I feel if your only defense is, it’s just a joke, then it’s something they shouldn’t be saying.  The things I will not touch and say are anything I don’t believe is true or right.” 

Dylan Brody is the opening act for humorist David Sedaris at 8 p.m. Friday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $42 to $97. Learn more about Brody at 

A New Deal

Ed Asner returns to Pasadena as ‘FDR'

By Carl Kozlowski 10/16/2013
Veteran actor Ed Asner has remained both highly political and widely respected for his work and his anti-war views in a career that has spanned six decades. But on Saturday, the legendary thespian will be bowing to a man he and many others worshipped during his time - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt - in the one-man show "FDR" at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium.
"What appeals to me is the fact that the man was a god to me," says the now 83-year-old Asner, who grew up during Roosevelt's time in office, from 1933 to 1945. "So I'm presuming to play God. He strongly affected my life and affected the lives of every American and most of the people in the world."
Asner, a former two-term Screen Actors Guild president, has been portraying America's only four-term president for the past four years, touring the US to deliver 30 to 40 performances annually. The show is based on Dory Schary's Broadway hit "Sunrise at Campobello" and explores FDR's life and the events and decisions that shaped a nation. In it, the president reflects on his years in office - from inauguration to the trials of World War II.

This isn't the first time Asner has brought the show to the Crown City, with a multi-show run at the Pasadena Playhouse in October 2010. He found that experience unsatisfying, however, as the then-troubled theater was lacking in its promotion of the show amid the throes of recovering from years of financial hardship before its remarkable current renaissance.
Asner notes that he's been trying to keep audiences entertained with a little more humor. "The show is fairly set, except I try to bring more comedy into the performance than in the past," says Asner, who notes that he hasn't seen Bill Murray's portrayal of FDR in the 2012 film "Hyde Park on Hudson." "You can't afford to have too many laughs, and it wakes them up, believe me. I may ad lib, but don't worry, I don't do pratfalls."
One thing that longtime liberal activist Asner is serious about is the current political stalemate that's threatening the nation in Washington, DC. He feels FDR "would have found a faster way to boot the rascals out if he were in power now," but while he empathizes with the struggles President Obama is currently facing with Congress, he expresses deep disappointment with some aspects of a presidency he hoped would mark a return to progressive ideals after a near-decade of disaster with President George W. Bush.

"Most of the time, Obama's had to react rather than act," says the outspoken actor. "After the debacle of George Bush, there couldn't be too much for Barack Obama to do. No matter what he did with his power, it wouldn't be too much. He was hesitant and minimal in many of his efforts.

"At the same time, for a constitutionalist, he didn't observe the constitution as often as he should have," Asner continues. "They've gone after seven whistleblowers, which is more than Bush did, plus he's still in Guantanamo. He hasn't been forceful in directions on torture, we're still all over the world and he was quite willing to pursue or initiate another war. I'd say he's acting more like George Bush than I ever expected, though I absolutely feel hope about how people fought back against getting into Syria, and I think that it's a wonderful sign that the body of the American people isn't a corpse yet."
Asner is more concerned with the way in which the Republican lawmakers are holding the nation hostage with the shutdown in the battle over the Affordable Care Act and the debt ceiling. With the government staring down the rabbit hole of insolvency at the time of the interview on Oct. 7, Asner noted his belief that "our government is skewed in a very bad way."

"I have no idea how it will end," says Asner. "Many people are talking about how as long as state legislatures create voting rules, lines and districts, we'll continue to allow creeps to become members of Congress. The tragedy is now that Obamacare has come into being, the majority of Americans aren't even covered by it because the states they live in are Republican and refuse to join; 48 million people have no coverage."
With seven Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes so far, Asner is staying highly active these days playing his annual array of roles as Santa Claus in TV movies. But he's more excited about an episode of the new CBS sitcom "The Crazy Ones," which he recently shot with its star Robin Williams. He keeps his stage chops sharp by doing play readings at the Actors Studio in North Hollywood.
Of course, his definitive role was playing the irascible TV and newspaper journalist Lou Grant in both sitcom form on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and drama on "Lou Grant." With over a decade of faux newsroom experience via that role, Asner offers a few thoughts about the state of real-world journalism today.
"I think the big time journalists are trying," says Asner. "Print has become so diverse, as has TV news, and with the various electronic media of the Internet and Google, people are subject to a great deal of diversity. In the one sense that's good because there's not one controlling factor, even though people who listen to FOX News probably don't listen to anything else.
"But there are many venues out there to offset that if they had an open mind," Asner continues. "I certainly don't think we've become any smarter and whistleblowing has become even harder, which is on Obama. I'd like to see Bradley {now Chelsea] Manning and [Edward] Snowden treated as heroes rather than criminals. There are more means of information, but no guarantee that people are being educated."
Ed Asner performs in "FDR" at 8 p.m. Saturday at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $22 to $32 for adults, with tickets for high school age and younger attendees $10. Call the Caltech Ticket Office at (626) 395-4652.

Laughter for life

Comic Elayne Boosler performs two So Cal shows this week for animal rescue groups

By Carl Kozlowski 10/02/2013
During an era in which women comics are nearly as prevalent in clubs as men, it’s hard to imagine a time in which women were not given a fair shot in the comedy business. But Elayne Boosler remembers, because she was a trailblazer who in 1986 became one of the first woman comics to have her own one-hour comedy special. 

While Boosler continues to perform frequently in shows nationwide, she has placed her focus in recent years on raising money for small animal adoption shelters that are often struggling to get by through her own charity, Tails of Joy. Most of her hectic show schedule is devoted to fundraisers for animal rescue groups, including a show this Sunday with the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra in which she will read her original story “Rescue — A True Story” while backed by the ensemble. 

Sunday’s show will feature Boosler reading to an original score written by Carol Worthey. She will also perform a full stand-up comedy show on Oct. 12 for the Escondido Humane Society. 

“I had been to see the Glendale Philharmonic perform several times and last year my friend Emo Philips, the great comedian, did ‘Peter and the Wolf’ there,” says Boosler. “It was a huge success, and a great balance of comedy and music. I think that’s when Ruslan Biryukov, the forward thinking creative director of the Phil, decided to try an original comedy/music piece. He said, ‘What would you think about writing an original story about children?’ I said, ‘Why yes, brilliant, I’d love to write about dogs.’ Ha! Luckily, the composer he hired, Carol Worthey, is as dog crazy as we all are.” 

“Rescue — A True Story” is the imagined story of the last rescued dog Boosler had, named Annie. “It’s really the story of most rescued dogs,” she notes.

Since Annie came to her at a very old age, Boosler imagined numerous scenarios from earlier in its life that would reflect the reality of many homeless animals’ lives before coming to Tails of Joy. 

While she is debuting the story in Sunday’s performance, Boosler hopes it will be received well enough to merit being performed at other similar benefits around the country. She grew up having a Boxer dog from the age of 5 and credits the experience with teaching her “kindness, compassion and love,” and that she felt destined to spend her life working with animals ever since. 

“I’ve always loved animals of all kinds,” says Boosler. “I’ve been a road comic for 40 years. After my shows I always met rescuers, saw their needs, their challenges, and decided I could do more than just write small checks. Tails of Joy’s ‘Little Guy Grants’ fund rescue organizations nationwide, helping dogs, cats, wildlife, bunnies, rats, sea life, horses, burros, farm animals and more. If I ever win the lottery I have a blueprint for how to do great things around the world.”

Boosler first entered the world of comedy in the early 1970s, when she worked as a doorperson for the Improv comedy club in New York City. It was there that she met legendary comic Andy Kaufman, who became her boyfriend for a few years and remained her best friend for years afterward until his untimely passing. 

Boosler vividly remembers the struggles that she and other women comics faced at that time, as audiences were open to newly emboldened female voices but the club owners made it difficult to succeed due to old stereotypes that women couldn’t be as funny as men. She will compile her favorite memories of that prime era of comedy — in which she was surrounded by the likes of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin at the peaks of their live-performance careers — in a book called “Big Fun” next year. 

“You’ll be relieved to know it’s not an autobiography,” she says. “No childhood stories. Just the great, hilarious stories I witnessed being around during what I call ‘the second golden age of comedy,’ and none of these stories have been told. I was the ‘doorman’ in the club and I’m the one who witnessed them. The book is a very funny love letter, and I think people could use a laugh these days.”

While her book is coming out in 2014, Boosler’s focus right now is on her two upcoming shows. She selects the local rescue organizations her shows benefit, and allows their rescuers to attend for free while also introducing them to the audience to help spread word of mouth for their efforts. 

Boosler also allows the groups to collect donations and sell their merchandise, and all of her after show merchandise is sold for their benefit. In each city, she leaves behind 100 percent of the after show sales to benefit local rescues in the communities in which she performs.

“My greatest joy is that now, my bond with my audience is so much deeper because it’s rooted in our mutual love for animals,” says Boosler. “I love the passion in people’s eyes after my shows when they tell me about their rescued pets. Yes, I look at a thousand pictures a night, but everyone is so proud to have rescued and not bought. I am so happy that my real voice helps those who cannot speak for themselves. I’d just like to say, please visit Rescue, don’t buy. And people, learn to work your damn phone cameras. I can’t stand here all night.” n

Elayne Boosler performs with the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra Sunday at 4 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Glendale, 209 E. Louise St., Glendale. Tickets are $15 to $100. Call (323)663-3601 or visit 

She performs for the Escondido Humane Society from 5 to 9 pm Oct. 12 at Vintana at Lexus Escondido, 1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido. Tickets are $125 to $225. Call Development Director Jean Russo at (760) 888-2240 or e-mail