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Bogdanovich channels TCM's 'The Essentials'

| Friday, March 11, 2005

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The new host of Turner Classic Movies' "The Essentials," Peter Bogdanovich, first saw many of the films he'll be showing 40-plus years ago.

When he came to Hollywood in 1961 as a respected film scholar, Bogdanovich recalls he was "allowed to look at some classics on the big screen at Fox. I can't remember who arranged it, but I actually saw virtually all their silent pictures and classics.

"Then Jerry Lewis arranged for me to see films at Paramount, until he called and said, 'That's enough. You saw 82 pictures. I can't pay for any more!"'

The Oscar-nominated director of "The Last Picture Show" is taking over as the third host of TCM's best-of-the-best series "The Essentials,"

And like directors Rob Reiner and Sydney Pollack before him, Bogdanovich is an actor -- most notably as the shrink's shrink, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, in "The Sopranos."

He's also a whiz at impressions of Hollywood celebrities, many of whom he's interviewed and befriended. He enjoys evoking the voices and personality of those he admires because it's "like channeling."

Once on Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show, he told an anecdote about James Stewart, which included his impression of the actor.

"This will give you some idea of my moxie," he says in an interview. "I called (Stewart) the next day and asked if he'd seen it. He said, 'Pretty good, Peter. Pretty good,"' he says, laughing and reproducing the star's famous stammering inflections.

Stories like these -- impressions included -- of time spent with stars such as Cary Grant and directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Orson Welles will be part of his introduction and closing comment on the 27 classic movies he's chosen for the series.

These are movies you ought to see if "you want to know anything about the golden age of movies, from 1912-1962 ... the foundation of everything," Bogdanovich said.

His "Essentials" list includes many comedies "because I think comedies are harder to do, and I always think laughter is essential."

Tom Karsch, TCM's executive vice president and general manager, says Bogdanovich's choices will resonate with audiences "because they don't feel like pieces in a museum, but instead something that's vibrant and that could live on our screens today."

Despite being third in line with his picks, Bogdanovich didn't feel denied a good selection, though he parodies George Orwell's line in "Animal Farm" with the quip, "They are all essential, but some are more essential than others."

His selections, which include "Vertigo" and "Arsenic and Old Lace," also feature a silent and a foreign film, genres not chosen on previous "Essentials."

The silent movie is the 1928 comedy "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," starring Buster Keaton, a star he "adores." He recalls seeing it at a film festival years ago and hearing "800 people screaming because there is no comedy as funny as silent comedy."

The foreign film is the "greatest pacifist film ever made," the 1937 World War I drama "Grand Illusion" by Jean Renoir, his favorite director, whose films he calls "so pure."

As a director, the 65-year-old Bogdanovich had spectacular success in 1971 with "The Last Picture Show," a drama about the passing of a way of life in a small Texas town.

"What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon" were praised, but "Daisy Miller" and "At Long Last Love" were duds. After that, his career veered off track, exacerbated by personal problems.

Success returned in 1985 with his direction of "Mask." More recently, he helmed "The Cat's Meow," TV movies about Natalie Wood and Pete Rose, and the "Sentimental Education" episode of "The Sopranos."

The first movie Bogdanovich ever saw• Disney's animated feature "Dumbo," about a baby elephant teased for his huge ears.

"I was about 3.5 and just know that I had to be taken out of the theater because I was screaming," the director recalls. "Probably some infantile precognition of the horrors of the movie business." Additional Information:

Details

'The Essentials'

8 p.m. Saturdays & 6 p.m. Sundays, TCM

Upcoming films:

  • Saturday-Sunday: 'Adam's Rib'

  • March 26-27: 'The Band Wagon'

  • April 2-3: 'North by Northwest'

  • April 9-10: 'His Girl Friday'

  • April 16-17: 'Grand Illusion'

  • April 23-24: 'Out of the Past'

  • April 30-May 1: 'Swing Time'

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