Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mary McDonnell (1952- )

Actress Mary McDonnell is a renowned stage and screen actress with two Academy Award nominations to her credit. She has appeared in several critically acclaimed films, Broadway plays, and television series. She was also born in Wilkes-Barre.

Mary McDonnell was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on April 28, 1952. However, she was raised in Ithaca, New York.

McDonnell began her professional acting career in 1980 as Claudia Colfax on the long-running soap opera As The World Turns. She soon moved to film work in supporting roles in such films as Garbo Talks (starring Anne Bancroft) and Tiger Warsaw (starring Patrick Swayze). Her first major film role was in the 1987 independent film Matewan, directed by John Sayles (Sayles would also direct McDonnell in 1992's Passion Fish, which earned her a Best Actress Academy Award nomination).

McDonnell has been nominated for two Academy Awards - - Best Supporting Actress for her role as Stands With A Fist in Dances With Wolves (1990), directed by and co-starring Kevin Costner, and Best Actress for Passion Fish (1992), directed by John Sayles and co-starring Alfre Woodard (Betty Applewhite from the hugely popular ABC series Desperate Housewives) and David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck).

McDonnell's other film credits include 1991's Grand Canyon (directed by Lawrence Kasdan and also starring Steve Martin and Kevin Kline), 1992's Sneakers (starring Robert Redford), the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day (starring Will Smith), and 2001's Donnie Darko (starring both Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal).

McDonnell's most recent work has been on two successful television series - she portrayed Eleanor Carter in the 2001-2002 season of ER, and she starred as President Laura Roslin in the Sci-Fi Channell's reimaging of the television series Battlestar Galactica from 2004-2006.

In addition to her work in film and on television, McDonnell has also appeared in a number of Broadway plays including The Heidi Chronicles (1990) and Summer and Smoke (1996).

Several of McDonnell's films, including Dances With Wolves, Passion Fish, Matewan, Grand Canyon, Independence Day, and Donnie Darko, are available on DVD and VHS from several libraries in the Lackawanna County Library System. Seasons One and Two of Battlestar Galactica (as well as the original 2004 miniseries that kicked off the television series), are available though the library catalog.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

James Karen (1923- )

Have you ever seen an actor in a movie or on TV, then see him again and again in other movies and on other TV shows and think, "Wait a minute! I've seen this guy before...but WHERE?" One of the most prolific of such actors is James Karen, who is a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Karen is a veteran character actor whose work has been seen in numerous films, TV shows, and the Broadway stage.

James Karen was born Jacob Karnufsky in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on November 28, 1923.

Karen began his acting career on the Broadway stage in 1948, and his stage work includes work as a standby for both characters George and Nick in the original 1964 Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Karen would go on to stage work in such plays as Cactus Flower and The Country Girl.

Karen's television and film career began with an episode of Car 54, Where are You in 1962. He made his first film two years later in 1965's Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster. From 1967 to 1970, Karen's image became familiar for soap opera fans in his role as Dr. Burke on the long-running As The World Turns; Karen also became a regular on All My Children in 1970 as Linc Tyler.

Throughout the 1970s, Karen made appearances in episodes of several iconic shows of that decade such as Starsky and Hutch, The Waltons, The Streets of San Francisco, The Bionic Woman, Macmillan & Wife, Eight is Enough, One Day at a Time, and The Rockford Files.

The 1970s and 1980s brought about memorable appearances in films such as Poltergeist, The China Syndrome, Frances, Wall Street, and The Return of the Living Dead.

Karen's TV work continued in memorable episodes of The Golden Girls, M*A*S*H, Dynasty, Seinfeld, The Practice, and Judging Amy. Karen even made an appearance on the Scott Baio sitcom Charles in Charles, whose title character hails from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

His most recent film appearaces include the recently released The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, Superman Returns (his scenes with Eva Marie Saint were cut from the final film, but can be seen in the deleted scenes section of the DVD), Any Given Sunday (directed by Oliver Stone), and Mulholland Dr. (directed by David Lynch).

It's quite possible that James Karen has appeared in everything!

James Karen was recently profiled by Leonard Maltin as one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets on Reelz Channel's Secret's Out.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Remember The Night (1940)

UPDATED 12/2/10

Don McKeon has sent us another Scranton reference from a classic film:

"I had another great surprise hearing the name of Scranton mentioned in an old film. I watched a film called Remember the Night starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. It was broadcast on TCM and it was the first time they every showed this film. By the way this was the very first teaming up of Stanwyck and MacMurray - they made 4 films altogether (their most famous teaming, of course, being the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity).

The film is a romantic comedy and features Stanwyck as Lee Leander, a con artist who steals an expensive bracelet (her third shoplifting offense). She faces trial (the setting is New York City) and is prosecuted by assistant D.A. John Sargent (MacMurray). It is Christmas time and the trial is delayed until after the holidays.

Sargent gets the trial postponed because it is hard to get a conviction at Christmastime, but he feels sorry for Lee nonetheless and arranges to pay her bail. Sargent learns that Lee hails from his home state of Indiana and decides to take her with him to visit her mother for Christmas. Lee hadn't seen her mother in years, but the reunion is anything but loving. Feeling sorry for her, Sargent takes her to his mother's home.

To make a long story short, when Sargent and Lee are leaving Indiana, his mom asks them if they are going back to New York by way of Scranton or Pittsburgh. By now, they are in love and even though Sargent has now changed sides and wants to get her acquitted, Lee decides to own up to her guilt so she can start her life anew.

It's a nice film, I hope you will be able to see it sometime."

Remember The Night had a rare holiday broadcast this past December 17th on TCM. Hopefully, it will air again.

Remember The Night was a very difficult film to get on video. Though never released on DVD, it was released in the early 1990s on VHS as part of the Barbara Stanwyck Collection, but the video is now out-of-print and a used copy typically sells for $40+.

Remember the Night was FINALLY released on DVD during the 2009 holiday season, which you can order directly from TCM by clicking here.

In addition, Albright Memorial Library now has the DVD of Remember the Night in its collection. To place a hold, click here.

Thanks again to Don McKeon for another great reference. Keep 'em coming!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lady Sings The Blues by Billie Holiday with William Dufty (1956)

When legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday published her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues in 1956, she included a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

In Lady Sings The Blues (co-written, though some say ghostwritten, by William Dufty), Billie Holiday (1915-1959) writes in explicit detail of her turbulent childhood, her rise to fame as a jazz singer, her descent into heroin addition, her arrest and conviction of drug possession, and her triumphant return to the concert stage.

The Scranton reference in Lady Sings The Blues appears in Holiday's description of her grueling cross-country touring schedule by bus as a member of Artie Shaw's touring band. It was also a rarity at that period in musical history to have an African-American singer fronting an all-white jazz band as she did. The Scranton reference is on page 75:

"Getting a night's sleep was a continual drag, too. We were playing big towns and little towns, proms and fairs. A six-hundred-mile jump overnight was standard. When we got to put up at a hotel, it was usually four cats to a room. We might finish at Scranton, Pennsylvania, at two in the morning, grab something to eat, and make Cleveland, Ohio by noon the next day."

In 1972, Lady Sings The Blues was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Diana Ross as Billie Holiday.

You can visit Billie Holiday's official website by clicking here.

More excellent information on Billie Holiday can be found at