Riveting acting legend Robert De Niro was feted as the debut honoree of the evening during the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors held in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6, 2009.
Meryl Streep, rightly inducted as a member herself some two years later, opened De Niro’s portion of the ceremony by regaling the audience with a story from the set of Falling in Love , their second of three onscreen collaborations thus far: “In a wardrobe test for three hours he tried on 37 identical little windbreakers until he found the right one. Details are important, and Bob knows that. He changed everything for generations of actors.”
A short film highlighting De Niro’s incredible acting career followed Streep’s remarks. Raging Bull mastermind Martin Scorsese, yet another Kennedy Center Honoree, illustrated his buddy’s unique contribution to cinema: “There’s no line between reality and pretend. There’s only truth, and no one finds that truth better than Robert De Niro…there’s still nothing better in the world than making movies with your friends.”
Perhaps the best moment of De Niro’s induction came when Sharon Stone [i.e. Casino], Edward Norton [The Score and Stone], Ben Stiller [Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers], and frequent costar Harvey Keitel appeared on a makeshift theatrical stage to share a few well-intentioned if not always laugh out loud zingers.
Keitel, one of De Niro’s bona fide peers, was the most appropriate choice. Listening to Keitel discuss their initial encounter in the late ’60s was priceless. Long story short: they sized one another up, grunted, and finally grinned.
Later, Keitel related a story where De Niro walked up to him and asked if he knew how actors read a script. When Keitel said he didn’t, De Niro proceeded to show him by flipping through an imaginary script and uttering, “Bulls–t, bulls–t, bulls–t…my part.” De Niro, as well as the audience, seemed to really get a kick out of it.
Norton and Stone opted to focus on their immense admiration for De Niro. Stiller, De Niro’s co-star in 2000’s surprise comedy blockbuster Meet the Parents, entered about midway through to declare his love for Bruce Springsteen, another of the evening’s honorees. Stiller concluded his mini skit by acknowledging, “Bob, you’ll always be my idol and my favorite actor. And I’m pretty sure I’ll always be your favorite Focker.”
Norton decided to unveil his De Niro impression to the world in an exchange with Stone. Each element of De Niro’s widely skewered personality, from the halting words, shy demeanor, and forceful hand gestures, was expertly mimicked.
Keitel’s parting shot, which seemed to touch his colleague moreso than the other presenters, deserved to end the tribute even if it didn’t quite unfold that way. Nevertheless, it will here: “We worked together, laughed, argued together, cried, loved and lost together. We’ve grown together, we became fathers together, and we didn’t even say hello.”
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Unfortunately, acclaimed director Sidney Lumet never worked with De Niro, although he filmed two bona fide classics with the Method actor’s rival, Al Pacino [i.e. Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon]. To read a feature spotlighting the director’s first masterpiece [Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men”], simply click on the link. In it, actor Peter Fonda goes on the record to recall how his father’s collaboration with Lumet led to arguably the former’s best film still analyzed in classrooms to this day.
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Exclusive Interview: Determined actress Lee Purcell was a familiar face to cinema enthusiasts in the ’70s and ’80s, appearing in such esteemed projects as the coming of age drama Adam at 6 A.M. with a wet-behind-the-ears Michael Douglas [Steve McQueen produced the picture], Charles Bronson’s action flick Mr. Majestyk, the cult surfing drama Big Wednesday, the high school dramedy Almost Summer, and Nicolas Cage’s breakout movie, Valley Girl. In a colorful commentary [i.e. “To Jump Off the Cliff Into an Abyss…”], Purcell traces her life’s work. Opening a secret savings account when she was only 13 years old, Purcell brazenly departed for the golden state several years later. Traveling alone, she almost died in an automobile crash on a freeway. Taking up temporary residence in a squalid, junkie-filled apartment complex, the determined young adult worked nights in a disco while taking acting classes. That’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Exclusive Interview No. 2: If World War II battle-scarred Lee Marvin hadn’t stubbornly insisted on taking the lead role in the derided musical Paint Your Wagon,he might have had the opportunity to star in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch with celebrated cult actor Warren Oates. Though not a household name, Oates lit up the screen in a 25-year career cut inexplicably short by a heart attack at age 53 in April 1982. His hardscrabble Depression-era upbringing in the predominantly coal-mining community of Depoy, Kentucky, no doubt influenced his honest characterizations as the voyeuristic deputy of In the Heat of the Night, the psychotic pill-poppin’ villain in Lee Van Cleef’s Barquero, a tall-tale spewing car driver in Two-Lane Blacktop, the sympathetic title role of Dillinger, and Bill Murray’s constantly exasperated sergeant in the comical Stripes. His pre-eminent biographer, Susan Compo, speaks in a fascinating interview [i.e. “That Guy You’ve Seen But Can’t Remember His Name…”] about Oates’ hell-raising and humanity, best and worst movie roles, working alongside the mercurial Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and what she might have said to Oates if their paths had intertwined.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Marshall Terrill has written three captivating Elvis Presley tomes with close friends and a ravishing former flame of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Terrill readily admits, “I’ve always tried to approach the Elvis story from an outsider’s perspective with a lot of common sense and no excuses. Many people in the Elvis World come to the subject matter with their minds made up, lines drawn in the sand, and have pegged everyone as either a hero or villain.” In “Gauging Elvis Presley’s Shakespearean Destiny from an Outsider’s Perspective,” the celebrity biographer scrutinizes how Elvis’ inspired performances often hinged on his level of instrumental commitment, why the artist didn’t compose more material, how lifestyle choices gradually diminished his recording career, the often pointless Elvis vs. Beatles debate, the shocking degree of entanglement degenerate gambler Colonel Tom Parker became mired in with the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel to his client’s detriment, and more.
- Exclusive Interview No. 4: No stranger to retro pop culture, filmmaker John Scheinfeld has written, produced, or directed—sometimes all three—esteemed documentaries over a 20-year period examining The Unknown Marx Brothers, Sinatra: The Classic Duets, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?), The Bee Gees: This Is Where I Came In,Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of ‘Smile’, and Ricky Nelson Sings. Officially hired to helm Fame & Fortune, Scheinfeld was floored when his dream of directing the first theatrical picture exploring the myriad life and times of Elvis Presley was inexplicably extinguished by producers Ricki and Cindy Friedlander over a payment dispute. The documentarian examines exactly what went wrong and offers compelling anecdotes on his appreciation of the bona fide Tupelo, Mississippi Flash in “That Kid Is Destined for Pictures…”
Exclusive Interview No. 5: “Dad taught me to keep going and learn it all. He was capable of doing everything—the epitome of a true entertainer.” Dean Martin’s lovely daughter, Deana, keeps the limelight planted firmly on her family, performing and recording her dad’s material all around the world. Deana recently agreed to explore a side of the country crooner rarely discussed in modern literature: a man of simple tastes versus the cliché-ridden, glitzy Vegas image. In “Deana Martin Can’t Help Remembering the Swingin’ King of Cool,” Dino’s daughter shares heretofore unheard memories regarding John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, family vacations, guitars, horses, watching old Westerns with Sammy Davis, Jr., golf, and their poignant, final Christmas spent together.
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