Monday, April 18, 2022

Media: Helen O'Hara, the lonely typist

Every now and then someone presumes that they're doing the world a favor by writing a book.  Then the world reads the book and realizes they did the author the favor by picking it up in the first place.  

We were reminded of that when we read Helen O'Hara's book -- when we made the mistake of reading it.  That's time we will never get back.  Who is Helen?  To read her book, you wouldn't know it but she's a British journalist who writes for EMPIRE.  EMPIRE's a UK film magazine.  So, with Helen writing the history of film, you might expect her to focus on the UK.  She doesn't.  She focuses solely on the US.  Maybe if she'd written about her own country, she might have known what she was talking about?

Probably not.  WOMEN VS HOLLYWOOD: THE FALL AND RISE OF WOMEN IN FILM makes it clear that Helen can't handle much of anything.  

Women vs Hollywood: The Fall and Rise of Women in Film: O'Hara, Helen:  9781472144430: Books

It also makes clear that, when not at her keyboard, she has no life.  

It's not just that a publisher appears to have been missing in reviewing rough drafts, it's also that she has no friends.  If she had a single friend, the chapters would not contain serious errors over and over and over.  A friend glancing over a draft would've advised her of how many errors she was making.

For example?

Well Elaine May was never a "radio star" and you have to be pretty stupid to type that she was:


Director Elaine May was already established thanks to A NEW LEAF in 1971.  Her stellar career as a radio star and screenwriter extraordinaire had enabled her to make the leap to directing; her comedy collaboration with Mike Nichols had made legends of both.

She was never a radio star.  She met Mike in college and the two became an improv duo on the stage. Her steller writing career stars with . . . A NEW LEAF.  So, no, her writing career did not allow her to land A NEW LEAF since she'd not written a script prior.   We hope Helen thanked her dealer for whatever he sold her because she was obviously tripping hard.  She then wants you to know that Elaine didn't just have success with A NEW LEAF, she also had success directing THE HONEYMOONERS.


We checked, maybe THE HEARTBREAK KID was known as THE HONEYMOONERS in the UK?  Nope.  It's known as THE HEARTBREAK KID even there (check this EMPIRE obit on Charles Grodin for one example).  Even if it had been, her focus on the US should have dictated her using a US title. 


And by ignoring A NEW LEAF, her superficial take on MIKE & NICKY is only sadder.  Why did Elaine refuse to hand over the negatives?  Well, golly gee, remember A NEW LEAF, the film Helen didn't want to discuss?


Elaine's contract for that film guaranteed her final cut.


But the studio, Robert Evans at PARAMOUNT, took her final cut and cut it.  She should have sued them for breach of contract (not to take her name off the project) and she would have won.  What's in the contract is in the contract.  You either follow it or you are in breach.  


Having suffered that on her first film, Elaine grew much more protective of how her films were cut.


And, help us out, Helen, what man was legally promised final cut on a film and the studio went back on it?  Isn't that just another example of how a studio trampled across a woman's legal rights?  There was a story but Helen couldn't find it.


She misses so much.


She spends two paragraphs on Eleanor Perry but still manages -- as she always does -- to make a huge error.  Eleanor did not write BLUE BOOK.  She wrote a book entitled BLUE PAGES.  There is a difference.  

And there's a difference in portraying her as losing her career because she divorced Frank Perry and the reality of what actually happened.  THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING was her script and the script to MGM's biggest budgeted film for 1973.  That film was plagued with problems -- including a death during shooting that questions still linger over (then and now, most fingers pointed to Burt Reynolds as the murderer).  But Eleanor didn't help her case.

A screenwriter gets screwed.  That's reality.  Want respect?  Write for theater and not for screen.  Robert Towne is a genuine genius of scripts.  His career has been one screwing after another.  THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING needed to make money -- too much had been poured into it -- and Eleanor going to the press to complain about how another writer had been brought in after shooting started and changes were made was not helping.  Especially not helping when she was framing it as sexist move -- THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING was supposed to be a romantic movie and was counting on women to be significant ticket buyers.  

We're not shaming the late Eleanor Perry for speaking out.  We are noting that speaking out often comes with a cost.  And if Helen thinks her book is covering the harm to women yet she's not covering this story then why the hell is she even mentioning Eleanor?  

Her judgment is as off-putting as her fact mangling.  The early 70s, in American films, did not offer a wealth of opportunities for women.  This was noted in real time.  In fact, PSYCHOLOGY TODAY made a cover story in 1977 out of the release of JULIA (Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave) and THE TURNING POINT (Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancfroft) since they two films featured women in four prominent roles.  (All four actresses would be nominated for an Academy Award -- Vanessa would win for Best Supporting Actress while Shirley, Anne and Jane would see Diane Keaton claim the award that year for Best Actress.)  


Helen doesn't cover those two films, by the way.  They are the two films that proved that women could make money at the box office and that led to the return to prominence of women in films in the late 70s and 80s but Helen's not interested.  Sure, she's interested in noting when women vanish from the screen prior to this.  But when women return, she's not there.  In fact, her previously chronological book not only skips past the mid-70s, it skips all around at that point losing the only coherence it previously had which was a linear timeline.


Before that takes place, she makes no effort to cover the start of Elaine May in film, she just says it was natural after Elaine was a radio star (again, she wasn't).  She makes no effort at all as she rushes to shoe-horn in her previous book on film superheroes.  It's not a cute fit.


 She's challenged on so many factual levels as when she throws out this notion of "directors jail" and insists that women are thrown in there all the time (true) but insists that when men get tossed in that are quickly pulled out.  Really?  Is it true just because you typed it, Helen?  It's actually not true.  Frank Pierson got in there in 1977 (he was already set to direct KING OF THE GYPSIES) and, from 1978 until his death in 2012, never directed another feature film.  He directed some great TV movies including A SOLDIER'S GIRL and LAKOTA WOMAN: SIEGE AT WOUNDED KNEE. He's far from the only man to land in director jail and never leave.  (John Waters is currently serving a very long sentence and we wish someone would spring him.)

Helen thinks just saying something makes it true and, repeatedly, it does not.  She talks "TV mega-hits" like LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.  It wasn't a mega-hit.  It was a HULU original that got very little attention and had a dwindling audience.  The only initial excitement over the series was due to Joshua Jackson wearing BVDs in the first episode.  Videos, articles, GIFs, etc  of that populated the internet and brought the so-so series the only real attention it ever received.  






 ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT filed a story, "Joshua Jackson's Underwear Scene in 'Little Fires Everywhere' Was His Idea, Producer Says (Exclusive)."  PEOPLE magazine went with "Joshua Jackson on His Little Fires Everywhere Underwear Scene: 'I Enjoy Getting Objectified'." POP SUGAR offered "Joshua Jackson on That Tighty-Whitie Scene in Little Fires: 'Not a Lot Left to the Imagination!'" -- which also featured a video of Joshua discussing the underwear scene on KELLY & RYAN. ACE SHOWBIZ titled their article "Asked to weigh in on the unexpected attention he received for his role in the new series, the former 'Dawson's Creek' star admits on 'Live with Kelly and Ryan' that he 'enjoys getting objectified'."  Industry publication THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER headlined their piece "Why Joshua Jackson Spent So Much Time in His Underwear With Reese Witherspoon."  Rebecca titled her post about Joshua in his BVDs "the only reason to watch 'little fires everywhere'."  MY PLAID PANTS featured four GIFs of Joshua moving around in those briefsREDDIT's TIGHTY WHITIES community posted about it and he was featured on other REDDIT posts including "Actor Joshua Jackson Bouncing Around."  Joshua's bouncing bulge upstaged everything else about LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.


And not even HULU tries to pretend it was a hit even though Helen wants to call it a mega-hit.

And she wants to call it that because a woman produced it -- a woman she wants to celebrate -- while ignoring so many others.

It's interesting what she wants to focus on.  Jane Fonda is largely dispensed with in a paragraph.  Does she not know that Jane Fonda produced COMING HOME, 9 TO 5, ON GOLDEN POND, ROLLOVER, THE DOLL MAKER and OLD GRINGO?  Or that she co-produced THE CHINA SYNDROME?  Somehow the actress-producer doesn't appear to exist until Reese Witherspoon shows up with LITTLE LIES EVERYWHERE.  That leaves out Jane, it leaves out Goldie Hawn (PRIVATE BENJAMIN, PROTOCOL, WILDCATS, SWING SHIFT, MY BLUE HEAVEN, SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, CRISSCROSS, OVERBOARD and THE MATTHEW SHEPARD STORY, among others), Sally Field (PUNCHLINE, DYING YOUNG, MURPHY'S ROMANCE), Jessica Lange, Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc.  

But Helen's not really interested women.  She makes that clear with six pages in this book on women and film devoted to tongue bathing Brad Pitt, for example.  He's not the only man popping up for no reason.  

And while she makes room for all those men, she ignores a number of women.

After pretending to be interested in women directing films, she reduces Barbra Streisand's directing career to a single-sentence shout out for YENTL (no mention of PRINCE OF TIDES nor THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES) while completely ignoring Penny Marshall.  Penny was the first woman to direct a film that topped $100 million at the domestic box office (BIG) and she also had huge success with AWAKENINGS.  The other big box office hit female director of that period is Nora Ephron.  

Helen does mention Nora.  She notes Nora was a friend of Dawn Steel's.  So much for writing WHEN HARRY MET SALLY . . . and for directing YOU'VE GOT MAIL and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE and MICHAEL and JULIA & JULIA and . . .

Again, when you start reading the book, she promotes women directing as the ultimate.  Later on, however, she's more determined to talk about what a great guy Brad Pitt is then to note -- let alone explore -- the work of women directors.  In a book where Brad Pitt gets six pages, director Gillian Armstrong gets none.  Director Nancy Meyers gets none.  But men like Brad get plenty of attention.

Her judgment is as laughable as her relationship with facts.  She insists that THE GODFATHER "isn't exactly overflowing with rich female roles . . . Nor are THE FRENCH CONNECTION or MEAN STREETS or CHINATOWN."  Did she miss Faye Dunaway in CHINATOWN?  Did she miss Faye delivering her Academy Award nominated performance in CHINATOWN?

Has Helen even seen the movies she's supposedly weighing in on?

She whines about women not getting their deserved credit.  We agree with her that this isn't fair.  But it's also not fair when you write a book about that and reduce the most commercially successful female director of the 20th century to a friend of Dawn Steel.  She never names -- let alone discusses -- a single film Nora directed.  Or, when discussing a controversy at Cannes involving the director of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR and its two lead actresses, she does get that she names the director (first and last name) but only mentions the actress's last names (for the record, the actresses are Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos), right?  Did Helen mean to side with the director the two women were speaking out against because it certainly comes off that way?  And stupidity is the only reason why she 'forgets' that Ida Lupino directed 1966's THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS -- the most commercial film Lupino ever directed -- one that was the 24th biggest film of 1966 and brought in $9.2 million at the box office on a $2 million shooting budget.  The system screwed over a lot of women.  It's a shame that Helen O'Hara screws over a lot in her book as well. 


Correcting the record: Natalie Wood (Ava and C.I.)

Box office wasn't always known.  It's really ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, when it starts up (1981), that introduces the country to the notion of weekend box office figures.  Prior to that, you had to read the industry trades.  

And biographies on actors and actresses prior to that didn't deal reliably with box office.  A lot of films have been called bombs that were not.  And a lot of bombs have been presented as successful when they were not. Penelope [Blu-ray] : Natalie Wood, Ian Bannen, Dick Shawn,  Peter Falk, Jonathan Winters, Arthur Hiller: Movies & TV

About a year ago, we were noting that PENELOPE was a hit when we were speaking with films.  You may know the film. It stars Natalie Wood.  She's delightful in this comedy and she has one of her best looking male co-stars -- of feature films or TV movies -- Ian Bannen.


Penelope Blu-ray (Warner Archive Collection)

We were told the film was (a) a bomb and (b) a disappointment.  Hmm?  Where did this information come from?

Disappointment came from CRAPAPEDIA.  Big surprise. Well, we guess all films that don't end up the number one film of their year can be considered a "disappointment."  But the film was the 25th biggest film of its year and made $9 million domestically on a $4 million budget.  

CRAPAPEDIA tells you that THE FORTUNE COOKIE was a hit, "The film, grossed $6,000,000 at the North American box office,[9] making it the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1966. The film earned $6.8 million worldwide.[2]"

It's CRAPAPEDIA so you know there's a lie.  Can you spot it?

It's the "making it the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1966."  


And they knew it was a lie.  The link they put in?  It's a CRAPAPEDIA page and it doesn't say that it's the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1966.  No, it only lists the top ten in terms of box office (the page also notes nominations and release dates, but the only box office is the top ten).  They lie so often and they hate women.

Click here for a real box office list.  You'll see PENELOPE at 25th and you'll see THE FORTUNE COOKIE at 27.

CRAPAPEDIA tells you Cary Grant's final film, WALK DON'T RUN, was a hit, "The film grossed $7,500,000[1] at the box office, earning $4.5 million in US theatrical rentals.[4] It was the 22nd highest grossing film of 1966."  Again, they lie.  The link is the same link that we've already noted doesn't give you a list of the box office for 22 or 23 films -- it's only a top tend.  They lie.

The 25th highest grossing film is rated a "disappointment" but the films below it -- THE FORTUNE COOKIE and WALK DON'T RUN -- films that star men -- are called hits.

Now we agree that THE FORTUNE COOKIE was a hit film.  But we also point out the reality that Natalie Wood's PENELOPE outgrossed THE FORTUNE COOKIE and WALK DON'T RUN.

PENELOPE was not a bomb.  Disappointment at the box office?   It took in over twice as much money at the box office as it did to make the film.  That's generally seen as a hit film.  MGM only had two films in the top thirty that year and PENELOPE was one.  (MGM co-produced BLOWUP with PREMIER PRODUCTIONS, CARLO PONTI PRODUCTIONS and BRIDGE FILMS which cut into its profit; in addition, MGM refused to release it in the US due to the MPAA rating it would be given, they farmed it out to PREMIER PRODUCTIONS for distribution cutting into MGM proper's returns on the film further).  

For years, the lie has been that PENELOPE was a bomb.  We're not surprised when Ben Mankiewicz repeats that lie on TCM -- we're irritated but it's Ben and we know he never knows what he's talking about.  But it is appalling that this film is called a bomb by so-called reputable web sites.  For the record, in 2019 (the last pre-pandemic year) FORD VS FERRARI, DOWNTON ABBEY, ROCKET-MAN and SPIDER-MAN INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE were among the films ranked lower than 25th for the year but are considered hits.  


Penelope (1966)

We meant to write about this over a year ago and then got distracted.  Better late than never and people need to give Natalie Wood the credit she deserves and stop lying about her box office.

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