#TCMFF – a social affair

Ben Mankiewicz said it best during the press conference the day before this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF) – there is no other network that yields the loyalty that TCM does.  Fans of TCM feel they own the network and its programming because we’re so attached to the films.  These attachments, which often relate to family history are personal and that fact creates a sense of community you can find nowhere else.

While many of us have gotten to know each other 140 characters at a time on Twitter for four days on or about Hollywood Blvd., four days during which we laugh and cry about the movies and share stories about the journeys that got us to that place at that time, our connection is real.  While we all look forward to sitting in a dark theater and experience films we love in a personal way, TCMFF is (undeniably) a social affair.

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It’s the last day of TCMFF 2015, Day 4 – I’d just attended Leonard Maltin‘s interview with Shirley MacLaine at Club TCM and was rushing to get in line for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  By that point the line was way up on level two, past the mall connecting Grauman’s Chinese (officially the TCL Chinese Theatre) with the cineplex.  As I rushed past the people on line my name was called every few seconds – “Hey, Aurora!”  “AURORA!” and so forth.  I felt like a politician on the stump.  I waved back, I hugged a few and I would’ve kissed babies too if I’d seen any.  When I got to the end of the line the woman in front of me turned and asked, “um…who are you?”

In truth the social frenzy that is TCMFF starts well in advance of the red carpet or first movie screening.  Those who make up my circle, assuming I have a circle, are loyal to social media and begin to gather on associated, fan-created pages on Facebook and Twitter almost as soon as the previous year’s festival concludes.  On Facebook there are two groups I follow closely –  the first is Going to TCM Film Festival created and managed by film publicist Kelly Kitchens Wickersham on which you get everything from festival advice and recommendations to passionate opinions about the movies.  Then there’s Sue Sue’s TCM Festival Friends created and managed by Christy Putnam, writer, editor and blogger at Christy’s Inkwells.   Next is the #TCMFF twitter tag, which I might add trended for three consecutive days during the festival, testament to how we are all prone to share each and every screening and event.  Finally, there’s #TCMparty, the tag that’s become a staple in so many of our lives.  Following that tag we gather daily in varying numbers and tweet along to the movies that air on TCM.  If you’re not already doing so be sure to follow the main account at @TCM_Party managed by Paula Guthat (@Paula_Guthat), Trevor Jost (@tpjost) and Joel Williams (@joelrwilliams1).  The “we” who talk movies on #TCMparty are celebrities, experts, historians, enthusiasts, fans or novices of all ages and varied backgrounds who have at least two things in common – a love for classic movies and TCM.

Having already met a good number of the members of these online communities the event that officially kicks off the festival each year for media types is in many ways a reunion.  I sit at the press conference among fellow bloggers whose work I admire and put faces to those I’ve never met.  The panel is made up of Senior VP of Programming, Charlie Tabesh, GM Jennifer Dorian, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy who usually sit behind the curtain of TCM not unlike the Wizard of Oz, but now they lend insight to the festivities and share movie memories just like the rest of us.

Charlie Tabesh, SVP of Programming of TCM, Jennifer Dorian, General Manager of TCM, Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Host, and Genevieve McGillicuddy, Managing Director, on Wednesday during the press conference at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival In Hollywood, California. 3/25/15 PH: Edward T. PioRoda Photographer: Edward T. PioRoda TM & © 2015 Turner Classic Movies.
Charlie Tabesh, SVP of Programming of TCM, Jennifer Dorian, General Manager of TCM, Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Host, and Genevieve McGillicuddy, Managing Director, on Wednesday during the press conference prior to the 2015 TCMFF on 3/25/15 PH: Edward T. PioRoda
TM & © 2015 Turner Classic Movies.

Worth noting from this year’s press conference:

  • Charlie Tabesh discussed the fact that the momentum for the festival keeps building, which proved true as even those who’ve attended all six years claimed to have had a fantastic time when it was over.  Ben Mankiewicz praised the WatchTCM app, a relatively new delivery system, which he mentioned in response to a question about the possibility of TCM offering a streaming service, which according to Jennifer Dorian the network is not ready to comment on.
Tabesh and Dorian
Tabesh and Dorian
  • On the question of “what makes a classic” and whether there’s a cut-off year, an issue that got lots of buzz in our communities prior to TCMFF, Tabesh said that in the right context the year of production plays no role in whether a movie is a classic .  He discussed the decision to screen OUT OF SIGHT, which was the “newest” film screened at this year’s festival chosen by editor, Ann V. Coates who was paid tribute.  As Charlie explained, TCM programming often follows a theme and will continue to do so.  When Ms. Coates suggested OUT OF SIGHT as an example of editing techniques used that encompass the entirety of her career then screening such a contemporary film at the festival makes sense.  He went on to say that given that there’s approximately 120 years of film history to feature most of what you will continue to see both on TCM and at TCMFF will be older movies, but if an important, more contemporary film fits a particular theme or tribute it will be spotlighted.  Without hesitation.

I’d be remiss not to mention a question I posed to Mr. Tabesh on behalf of our friend Karen Noske (@KayStarStyle) who decided not to attend the festival at the last minute due to a classic movie-hating virus.  The gist of the question was “what comes first – do you secure a film and try to match related celebrities who can appear, or do you secure a celebrity and match the film?”  The answer:  “It’s about seventy percent film first.”  I followed up by asking how much input a celebrity has about choosing the films they are associated with at TCMFF.  His answer:  “a lot.”  Mr. Tabesh used the Shirley MacLaine example.  Paraphrasing, “we were lucky Shirley MacLaine agreed to introduce both of the films we planned to screen, THE APARTMENT and THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, but if she’d said ‘I want to introduce TERMS OF ENDEARMENT,’ I can assure you we wouldn’t say no.”

Mankiewicz and M
Mankiewicz and McGillicuddy

Missed at the press conference and the entirety of the TCMFF was the face of TCM, host, historian and movie fan extraordinaire, Robert Osborne.  I don’t think anyone would dispute that much of what TCMFF has come to signify, the family atmosphere with which so many greet each other comes from the top as no one is more welcoming and warm than Robert Osborne.  His presence was felt throughout the festival even though he was unable to be there physically.

A few hours after the press conference the group from the Going to TCMFF FB page gathered in the patio near the Roosevelt Hotel pool.  It was lovely putting faces to names and catching up with old friends.  The highlight of the afternoon, however, was the appearance of Cora Sue Collins, former child star with an impressive resume who at age 88 (and fabulous) agreed to share some of her stories of her days in classic Hollywood.  It was magical and although the crowd that held onto her every word wasn’t huge, we were all transfixed as she talked about how Greta Garbo personally selected her to play Queen Christina as a child, her subsequent friendship with the elusive star, working with the likes of William Powell and Myrna Loy and a mention of Judy Garland that warmed my heart.  I couldn’t stay for the entirety of Ms. Collins’ visit, but the interview was taped so be on the look-out for the details on the FB page.  I can’t wait – she talked for about two hours!

Ms. Collins appeared, by the way, thanks to her long-time friend, actor/producer Woolsey Ackerman who you’ll note is sitting next to her in the pictures (below).  Assisted by Ackerman, Cora Sue answered questions and shared classic keepsakes to enhance the stories.  Among those items was a gorgeous, wooden scrapbook that had autographs of all the stars she’d worked with, pictures of her time in Hollywood and a self-portrait sketch by Norman Taurog. We must also thank author Martin Turnbull and Kelly Kitchens who curated this visit.  Here are pictures of our time with Cora Sue:

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I rushed away from the Core Sue Collins visit to attend the pre-TCMFF Citi private event/interview with Ben Mankiewicz and Angie Dickinson, which was fantastic.  Genevieve McGillicuddy introduced Ben who was greeted with an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday.” We were then treated to a saucy, funny, honest look back at Dickinson’s career.

A few highlights…

  • Of meeting Frank Sinatra Dickinson said something to the effect of:  “He asked me if I was available.  I said no, but call me anyway.”
  • On working with Howard Hawks on Rio Bravo (1959), her first big movie – “Hawks was patient.  I didn’t knock it out of the park so he worked with me, but how he worked with me was by not telling me a damn thing except…ok, let’s do it again.”  She also said, “It was frightening to work with all those guys and Hawks.  It was a big movie.”
  • “(John Wayne) was a major star and showed not one ounce of impatience with me.”

Ms. Dickinson went on to discuss how she’d signed a seven-year contract with Howard Hawks and found out he’d released her contract to Warner Bros. when she showed up to work on The Bramble Bush (1960).  She said that “(apparently) he was a nice man just not in my corner.”  Ben corrected, “well, he was a great director, but that’s not a nice man.  He could’ve called.”  Or something like that.

Dickinson also talked about Ocean’s 11 (1960) saying that despite her relatively brief appearances in the film it seemed that movie had a bigger impact on her career than did Rio Bravo.  She also mentioned Richard Burton, how proud she is of her work on “Police Woman,” her marriage to Burt Bacharach and talked about Johnny Carson from her many guest appearances on “The Tonight Show.”  Ms. Dickinson was entertaining and open and everyone had a blast listening to the stories, including Ben Mankiewicz who we believe actually blushed during the interview thanks to Angie’s recollections.

I didn’t get to take a picture with Angie Dickinson because she didn’t linger after the interview was over.  I did, however, rush over as she exited Club TCM, told her how much I enjoyed the interview and shook her hand.  Lovely, warm woman.  Here are some pictures of the evening:

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And as is always the case the event was made better by my being in the presence of friends…

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At the Angie Dickinson interview:  Elise Crane-Derby, Paula & Tim Guthat, Lou Lumenick, Kellee Pratt and not pictured, Will McKinley and Alan Hait (photo courtesy of Will McKinley)

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The morning after the Angie Dickinson interview a group of us met for an early lunch at the historic Hollywood eatery, Musso and Frank Grill

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Beth and Joel Williams, Paula and Tim Guthat, Alan Hait, Me, Kimberly Truhler, Will McKinley and Jeanelle Kleveland. (Photo courtesy Mr. McKinley)

Now…this is Thursday and TCMFF will officially open in a few hours.  Although only in its second year, our Musso and Frank’s lunch has become a must gathering for the group – or those of us who could make it.  It has also been a learning experience.  For instance, Kimberly Truhler of @GlamAmor introduced me (and I believe others) to the Arnold Palmer, a delicious and refreshing drink that’s half lemonade and half iced tea.  I was so taken with the concoction I ordered it again in 25 Degrees a few days later.  Or tried to, actually, as I got Palmer confused with another golfer and ordered a Jack Nicklaus instead.  You know what they say, you can take the girl out of the hood, but…

Anyway, a special shout out must go to event planner extraordinaire, Alan Hait (@alanhait) for putting the lunch together.  It wasn’t a simple endeavor given everyone’s  busy schedule.  If you’ve never been to Musso and Frank’s, by the way, the menu includes its Hollywood story with mention of the famous players who frequented the place in years past.  A few days before the lunch I got a shot of what was once Charlie Chaplin’s booth:

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Straight from Musso and Frank’s we headed to Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel, the TCMFF hub where the powers that be at the network gathered for the “Meet TCM” panel Q & A with festival attendees.  We cooled off in the air-conditioning for just a bit before heading out to the pool area for a gathering of #TCMparty regulars, which was a blast despite the Africa-hot conditions.

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#TCMparty tweet-up by the Roosevelt pool (photo courtesy @WillMcKinley and @BeesKnees_pdx)

And…that pretty much sums up the entire day (and some) leading up to the official opening event of TCMFF 2015, THE SOUND OF MUSIC red carpet and screening at Grauman’s Chinese.  If my TCMFF had ended at that point I’d have been richer by the company I kept.  But it didn’t.  Lots of great moments, films and presentations were still to come made extra special by these social faces…

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It’s worth noting that when the festival started the social game went into high gear.  I had the pleasure to spend a lot of time with both Kellee Pratt (@Irishjayhawk66) and Annmarie Gatti (@ClassicMovieHub).  Kellee and Annmarie were two of the Social Producers who worked the lines giving out festival buttons in expert style.  Their enthusiasm was palpable and served to fuel my own.  Because I associated with them, officially helping Kellee with her trivia in a way my “popularity,” if you will was no surprise.

So…I jump forward again – it’s the last day of TCMFF, Day 4.  As I was rushing to get at the end of the line for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY I could hear my name called every few seconds – “Hey, Aurora!”  “AURORA!” and so forth.  I felt like a politician on the stump.  I waved back, I hugged a few and I would’ve kissed babies too if I’d seen any.  When I got to the end of the line the woman in front of me turned and asked, “um…who are you?” I replied, “I’m nobody.”  Then I looked down at my phone to see this FB message –

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I looked up to the balcony and met – albeit from afar – Richard Kirkham of Kirkam A Movie A Day blog.  We waved enthusiastically and when I noticed his line started to move I tapped the woman in front of me and said… “I take that back. I’m everybody.”  She looked at me as if I had a synapse problem, but what I meant was that these cool, social experiences are not unique to me.

Thank you TCM.

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ADDENDUM!

We just received this fabulous picture from Noralil Fores, guru of TCM Entertainment Marketing and Social Media.  Although my presence in the picture is by way of a shameless photobomb I must share these social media fantastics…

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Pictured are Paula, Kimberly, Anne Marie, Elise, Iba and Danny

 

Still to come – a recounting of the films I saw, plus other pre-fest memories.

17 thoughts

  1. Hi! Thank you for the kind comments about Cora Sue’s appearance and giving me credit too! I am so glad you loved the festival and so happy to see you and others writing blogs about it. Thanks for all the pictures too. I have sent it all on to Cora Sue.

    1. Hello! I can’t tell you how excited I am that you stopped in and left a comment. Cora Sue was one of the highlights of the week for me and many others. I’m only sorry I didn’t get the opportunity to get her autograph. When she mentioned her birthday at the beginning of her visit I was ecstatic to learn we share it, April 19th! Please let her know how excited we still are to have had the opportunity to be near her and hear her wonderful stories. If there is a way for me to get a signed photograph I will do whatever it takes.

      Thank you!

      Aurora

    1. Same goes! BTW, I was going to reach out to you and Kellee. I don’t have a copy of the picture we took together and wanted to include it.

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