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« International Women's Day: "White Material" | Main | Second Take: François Ozon's Ravishing "Frantz" »
Wednesday
Mar082017

Someone pitch a "Beulah" Miniseries. Hear me out. 

Imitation of Life (1934) starred Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers who went into the pancake business

On this day in 1902 Louise Beavers born in Cincinatti. Though she was never as famous as the similarly cast Hattie McDaniel she also had her own big film moments in the studio system including the original Imitation of Life in which Claudette Colbert got wildly rich off of her recipe while she Beavers struggled with her light-skinned daughter. FREE PITCH IDEA FOR WRITERS OF COLOR: Don't you think a prestige miniseries on Black Hollywood throughout the years would be fascinating?

More on Louise Beavers and other "on this day" items after the jump...

from Jet Magazine in 1952

Here's something specific that a fine TV writers room could really make something Emmy-worthy out of: How about a prestige dissection of the making of the early 50s TV show Beulah? It would be a fascinating collision of racial politics, Hollywood history, American culture, and showbiz tropes, with multiple great roles for black actresses even though the role they were playing was the same problematic stereotyped role.

The Beulah sitcom, was about a domestic who kept fixing the problems of the white family she worked for (the dread "magical negro" and "mammy" tropes combined). The series originally starred Oscar nominee Ethel Waters (Pinky). She quit after a season or two and was briefly replaced by Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel who got ill, and was then replaced by Louise Beavers ... as if all full figured black women from the studio system of the 30s and 40s were interchangeable. The series ran for four seasons and in that short time had three leads! To top that off Gone With the Wind's Butterfly McQueen was even in the series briefly. Anyway I would watch this and it would have at least three great roles for plus size actresses.

Other items from this day in showbiz history...

1855 Bill the Butcher died on this day from a gunshot wound. He'd later be resurrected by Daniel Day Lewis for Gangs of New York
1909 Oscar winner Claire Trevor (her performance in Key Largo is a wow) was born in New York. On this same day Paula Strasberg is also born and with her husband Lee Strasberg will help push The Method on Hollywood. She frequently served as Marilyn Monroe's coach (and was played by Zoë Wanamaker in My Week with Marilyn)

1921 The great Cyd Charisse is born in Texas. Do you think her legs were impossibly long even as an infant? 
1935 The Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy musical Naughty Marietta opens. Incidentally it's one of the very first old movies I saw at a repertory house as a kid because my mom loved Nelson & Eddy. It contains the operatic esctasy song "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" which Madeline Kahn will lampoon hilariously in Young Frankenstein
1938 Lewis Teague, who directed several 80s pictures including Jewel of the Nile and Cujo was born in Brooklyn
1941 Russian actor Andrey Mironov (The Diamond Arm) born
1943 The Redgrave Acting Dynasty gets another potent member with Lynn Redgrave
1952 Ron & Nancy Reagan are married in Los Angeles. They're still actors in the early 50s but the White House will be theirs in 29 years.

I can't decide who I most want to be in this photo: Aidan or the cat or the hammock?

1959 Undervalued movie hunk Aidan Quinn born. I think he's on some procedural now (?) but there was no one quite like him in the 80s and 90. Think: Desperately Seeking Susan, Blink, Legends of the Fall, Benny & Joon, etcetera
1960 Jeffrey Eugenides, novelist, born in Detroit. His debut novel The Virgin Suicides provides the starter pack for Sofia Coppola's exquisite directorial career. Strangely his other bestsellers "The Marriage Plot" and "Middlesex" have not yet been adapted to film though HBO optioned the latter for series 8 whole years ago.
1967 The Taming of the Shrew, with 'the battling Burtons,' that'd be Liz and Dick, opens in movie theaters. Don't miss Daniel Walber's piece on Zeffirelli's luscious excess
1974 Sebastian Lelio is born in Chile. Will later direct the great picture Gloria starring Paulina Garcia which is inexplicably denied a Foreign Language Film nod by the Academy. I'm still mad about that one. 
1985 Mask, which we recently discussed, starring Cher, opened. It was a hit... Cher's movies always were in the 80s, but Oscar didn't love it as much as they might have.
1993 Katharine Hepburn is released from the hospital after suffering from exhaustion and scaring her fans globally. She'll live another ten more years but only has two more movies left in her. Anne Marie covered that whole gigantic career here in "A Year With Kate." 
2013 Pedro Almodóvar's  I'm So Excited premieres in Spain. I still maintain that it's better than it gets credit for being despite being so obviously tossed off and "light"

And finally on this day in...

2019 Marvel Studio's Captain Marvel will supposedly open starring Brie Larson. I'll believe this movie being made only when I'm sitting in theaters watching it. I firmly believe they're not committed to female superheroes and it'll only be a year before it's pushed back and third time and by the time she's 30 they'll deem Brie too old and recast (even though Robert Downey Jr is still playing Iron Man in his 50s)

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Reader Comments (14)

Yes yes yes for that TV show idea. Let's get Octavia Spencer that Emmy. (Other picks for the cast: Chandra Wilson and Danielle Brooks)

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterV.

Mo'Nique
Mo'Nique
Mo'Nique

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Interesting mini-series idea. And the 3 leads casting is easy if you don't even try and just start with the lauded and bankable trifecta of Queen Latifah, Octavia Spencer, and Mo'Nique. I would love to watch these actresses play off each other (as Latifah and Mo'Nique have done recently) and offer a meta-critique (you don't need to pick just ONE of us for your movies, Hollywood!)

And you bring up another good point which is that as much as Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, diversity in those films tend to white-wash, making otherwise good films into misremembered nostalgia trips. Films that reflect the fraught diversity of the times are sadly rare, despite the richness of the subject and context.

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

Oh my god, yes yes yes!

At least a movie if not a series!

There are so many interesting, fascinating black actresses with astounding charisma and intelligence unfairly pushed to the movie sidelines all through the 30s and 40s and seemingly all but disappearing (to TV land?) in the 50s. So many great stories there for sure.

I also get similar thoughts when I watch classic-era musicals and see a pair of corn-fed leads dancing against an ocean of gay-face. So many stories in those back-up choruses...


Meantime I hope Brie Larson returns to indie cinema sometime soon. I don't quite love her as much as others do (that Oscar made absolutely no sense to me last year, and it makes even less and less sense as time passes). But I do love her enough to see more of her.

Is there some way she could replace Rooney Mara in every film Mara has lined up the next few years? Also could she perhaps retroactively replace Mara in several of the films she did in the last few years? (Yes, including - sacrilege - Carol.)

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Camryn Manheim turns 55 today. She may be a TV actress primarily, but she should have been an Best Supporting Actress contender for 'Happiness' (not like the Academy would ever have come close to nominating that film in any category).

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

Oh, Aidan! He had a frontal and a steamy sex scene with Daryl Hannah in a movie called Reckless. And what about An Early Frost? I watched that one in a state of absolute terror.

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Would rather watch a documentary on Beulah than be subjected to the social media outrage at it being dramatized.

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

/3rtful -- i think i have finally come to grips with there being outrage any time any minority group is represented in any way whatsoever -- especially at it pertains to the past (which is disheartening because if we don't understand our past our present will never get much better).though it's not much better in the present (think of the way the gays freaked over Looking which was actually a really good show)

It's never enough for some people. It's too much for other people. It's "problematic" for everyone. etcetera. Since you can't make everyone happy and outrage is the primary response mode to everything ever in the 21st century -- why not just make interesting material with a point of view that accepts this and just let the outrage feed off itself and do good work?

I would love to see stories about under or never represented people who worked in Old Hollywood. I mean we're ALWAYS going to get Old Hollywood stories (Hollywood has never tired of them) so why not expand what we're looking at?

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Aidan Quinn is currently seen in Elementary, the Sherlock Holmes series on CBS starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson.

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRick Schoen

To paraphrase Dune (1984) ..."We're in a very delicate time."

Black actresses should avoid period pieces to mine for quality material.

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I'd see this miniseries. But I'd want to see a Mark Harris movie about it first. Why don't you pitch this idea to him?

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

With Anika Noni Rose as Butterfly McQueen...

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Cal -- it seems like a topic that a black writer should take on since these stories are so underrepresented.

/3rtful -- I 1000% disagree. only bad actors should avoid period pieces (if, for instance, they just can't be believable in them) because great stories can be found in any era and humanity cannot afford to ignore its past. I mean do you honestly believe that no black people lived interesting lives worth hearing about until recently? I mean that's crazy!

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

RE Aidan Quinn I think I'd be the floor looking upwards.

I also don't understand the Oscar for Brie or how she will mine a career out of it,she seems so bland but easily cast,didn't do McAdams much hard or Mara.

March 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

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