Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Holiday Dance Party

In keeping with the holiday theme announced last week, please enjoy the clip below. After watching it, you may wonder what the hell it has to do with the holidays. It actually has nothing to do with the holidays, but as it appears in the film White Christmas, I feel justified in presenting it.

I really don't know why I enjoy that movie so much; it's hugely bloated with production numbers which have absolutely nothing to do with the slender plot of the film. I am not a big fan of Bing Crosby or Danny Kaye, and the piece is a good half hour too long. But Rosemary Clooney is beautifully cast, and one of my favorite character actresses of the period, Mary Wickes, contributes another scene-stealing performance. But best of all, the movie's music is from the Irving Berlin songbook, which makes the many extraneous musical numbers enjoyable.

It's also fun, when watching the big production numbers, to pick out young George Chakiris in the dancing chorus. This film was shot only a few years before he rocketed to stardom (and the Oscar) in West Side Story, and only a few years more before his star waned. I understand he's now a jewelry maker. Ah, the dancer's life. The chosen clip below does not feature our future / former star, however, but a young hoofer named John Brascia.

At any rate, this short clip is indicative of most of the numbers in White Christmas: it has nothing to do with the plot, or with Christmas. But it is another opportunity to show off dancer Vera-Ellen's disconcertingly long, slender legs, and another opportunity to see some first-class tap-dancing.

White Christmas - Freaky Legs

Paul Benedict

Certainly best known as the British neighbor on the long-running sitcom The Jeffersons, Benedict played a variety of comic characters on stage and screen. He spent time on Sesame Street as the Mad Painter who painted numbers everywhere, and he's fondly remembered as the loony stage director in The Goodbye Girl, insisting that Richard Dreyfus play Richard III fey. His deadpan reactions in the final moments of Waiting for Guffman are priceless.

He had a substantial theatrical career, beginning his onstage work in Boston in a troupe which included DeNiro, Hoffman, and Pacino. He re-teamed with Pacino on Broadway in the two-character O'Neill play Hughie in 1996. He was respected as a director as well, and he helmed two off-broadway productions which became sleeper hits. In 1989, he guided Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney in The Kathy and Mo Show: Parallel Lives.

Two years earlier, he directed the original production of the two-hander Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, bringing the exceptional Kathy Bates to the world's attention.
Here's a shot of the cast and crew of that landmark production:

Benedict's elongated facial structure was a clue that he suffered from acromegaly, a pituitary disorder that was first diagnosed by an endocrinologist who saw Benedict in a theatrical production. He died this week at the age of 70.