DGA, HBO pays tribute to Frankenheimer

GOOD MORNING: It was titled “A Special Memorial Tribute to an Extraordinary Director,” and the Directors Guild/HBO program saluting John Frankenheimer on Monday night at the DGA was indeed special. While much was said about him in the two-hour program of live and filmed reminiscences, however, there was much unsaid. Gary Sinise, who masterfully hosted the evening, recalled to me a conversation he had with Frankenheimer the day after the director had undergone 7½ hours of back surgery at Cedars-Sinai. “He asked me to start a film company with him,” said Sinise, who won an Emmy for the Frankenheimer-directed “Wallace.” “Perhaps we, as partners, should take it to HBO. He was so coherent. He said he wanted to produce the films that I would direct. And I knew, having him as a producer, I’d feel safe. He wanted desperately to do features, but there wasn’t that much demand for movies with political importance. But he said nothing was going to stop him. I was so flabbergasted, all I could say was, ‘What’ll we call the company’? There was nobody in the business I would have rather been in business with.” Sinise says if and when he directs again, “I know I’ll have John on my shoulder.” … Angela Lansbury fought back tears as she reminisced about working with Frankenheimer on “The Manchurian Candidate” in 1962. “He gave me a gift — an opportunity that no one in his right mind would have cast me. It is my most memorable role in 60 years in this business.” And she continues on in the biz Thursday as she starts another two-hour “Murder, She Wrote.” The Ireland-set story will be directed by her (and husband Peter Shaw’s) son Anthony, with Fionnula Flanagan guestarring. They will location 10 days in Ireland, where the Shaws have a home near Cork.

EVERYONE AGREED IT WAS ONE of the most remarkable showbiz tributes — both live and on film. John Manulis produced it with Frankenheimer’s widow, Evans. And as film rolled a pictorial history of the director, words of praise from these friends were voiced-over: Walter Cronkite, Frederic Forrest, Michael Gambon, Angelina Jolie, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Donald Sutherland, Bob Weinstein, Stellen Skarsgard, Thomas Milian, Janet Leigh, Ben Gazzara, Lauren Bacall, Sidney Lumet, Norman Jewison, Samuel L. Jackson, Esther Winant, Robert De Niro (who was there), Alec Baldwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Jeff Bridges, Nanette Fabray, Sonia Braga, Jack Klugman, Ben Affleck. Music was by Gary Chang, who had tuned “Wallace,” “Path to War” and “Andersonville.” Cliff Robertson winged in from N.Y. He’d starred for Frankenheimer in the Playhouse 90 “Days of Wine and Roses.” Frankenheimer later became an alcoholic himself. AA member Clancy Imislund was there and spoke of seeing the film and being inspired to bring Frankenheimer out of his affliction. Imislund continues the AA work for others … DGA president Martha Coolidge, who opened the evening, talked of his “depth and diversity and passion.” … Jack Valenti praised Frankenheimer’s portrayal of him and the honesty of the LBJ “Path to War” story. “John will never die — his stories will live on and on,” Valenti said … Kirk Douglas, who starred in “Seven Days in May,” revealed the doctor who operated on Frankenheimer’s spine in Cedars — was the same one who performed the surgery on Douglas following the helicopter crash … Acad president Frank Pierson said, “In the grammar of life, he was a declarative sentence!” He said he’d ask for a moment of silence at the next Acad board meeting … The DGA’s Jay Roth emphasized how much the guild will miss his leadership. HBO’s Colin Callender got a big laugh describing Frankenheimer’s “mathematics” when dealing with studio executives. Gil Cates told of riding in a car driven by Frankenheimer — like a scene in one of his pix! … Charles Champlin told of a “Person to Person” experience of Frankenheimer … Bob Rosen produced 10 pix with him in 30 years — “and it wasn’t enough.” … Harold Hecht Jr. said he was “a second father to me” … His agent Ken Kamins made an impassioned plea “in Frankenheimer’s name” for studio executives — and agents — to “embrace” the older members of the creative community when they think jobs … Doris Kearns Goodwin read the dramatic words of (absent) husband Richard Goodwin on Frankenheimer’s work during the Robert Kennedy campaign — when Frankenheimer was to meet Kennedy outside the Ambassador Hotel the night the candidate was assassinated … Frank Mancuso Sr., who humorously recounted Frankenheimer’s culinary exploits, seriously reminded, “He was a director’s director.” The DGA program noted Frankenheimer’s wish: “I would like to be remembered as being better at the end than I was in the beginning.”

THE DGA NOW PLANS an Oct. 3 tribute to the late George Sidney. He was, per Cates, “godfather to the guild.” He was a giant along with King Vidor and Frank Capra in its beginnings, and he even helped buy its first building on Sunset and was a four-time president. His tribute also will boast music, as his credits include some of the all-time musical film giants. Chuck Workman has been retained to do the video history of his unequaled career. Jack Shea and Gina Blumenfeld are readying this DGA event, and Baz Luhrmann already told me he wants to take part, to tell of Sidney’s influence on his career.

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