Archive for the ‘Popular culture’ Category

What I Read, Watched and Ate: Favorites of Summer 2015

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015


I know, I know. I could have posted a pic of late summer tomatoes, which have been luscious here in CT. Or corn on the cob, fish on the grill, a lobster roll or an ice cream cone. Instead, I gave you a Cobb salad. Big deal, you think. But it’s not just any Cobb. The one above was a creation of one of my new favorite places, Kingsley Tavern in Kent. It’s made of really fresh romaine, avocado, blue cheese, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, celery, chicken and – drum roll – the crispiest, most delicious bacon I’ve ever tasted, all dressed in a light, tangy vinaigrette. I craved a salad on a hot steamy night recently, and Kingsley’s Cobb delivered.

But there were many treats of summer of the edible variety: the grilled prawns at Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish in North Salem, the swordfish at Terra Sole in Ridgefield, the chocolate tasting dessert at Arethusa Al Tavolo, the blueberry pie from the Bridgewater Village Store. To say I ate well this summer would be an understatement.

I was a book glutton too. I devoured novel after novel over the past few months, and while I didn’t love every single one, I did love reading in a joyous, leisurely way. Among my favorite novels were: Days of Awe by Lauren Fox, Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet, Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont, Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, Disclaimer by Renee Knight, Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor and Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. I’m looking forward to a whole crop of fall books.

In addition to sports on TV, classic movies on TCM and non-stop news on CNN (it was the summer of Trump, after all), I belatedly discovered Weeds and binge watched the Showtime series with abandon. What great writing, not to mention the performances by Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. I also went back and re-watched The Affair, also on Showtime, in anticipation of the first episode of Season 2 on October 4th.

I only went to a handful of movies in the theaters this summer, and the few I saw didn’t come close to making a favorites list. “Love and Mercy,” the Beach Boys movie that garnered mostly good reviews, was long and meandering, and though Paul Dano was great and the inside-the-studio stuff was interesting, I was less than enthralled. “Trainwreck,” which I expected to adore because of the hilarious Amy Schumer, wasn’t funny. I don’t know how else to say it. I sat there waiting to laugh and didn’t. And “Ricki and the Flash” was fun in the way it’s always fun to watch Meryl Streep do her thing, but was otherwise forgettable.  I can’t wait for the big Oscar-y movies to open. On my must-see list are “Grandma” with Lily Tomlin,  Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” “Black Mass,” the Whitey Bulger story starring Johnny Depp and “Carol” with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, to name a few.

Bring on fall!

Eating (and More Eating) in My New ‘Hood

Friday, May 15th, 2015


I didn’t actually order the above menu item at @ the corner (yes, that’s the name of the restaurant, since it’s right on the corner of the charming town of Litchfield). I ordered the “salmon fricassee,” which was an absolutely heavenly entree consisting of a bowl of perfectly cooked salmon surrounded by a simmered sauce of artichoke hearts, olives, white beans and super ripe cherry tomatoes. I loved this place – the food, the ambiance, the fact that they give you a healthy pour of wine – and am grateful to our friends for introducing us to it.

In between all the house stuff (yesterday we had another visit from the electrician and a delivery of our patio furniture – oh, and our lawn got mowed for the first time – and today will bring the guy who, hopefully, will fix our garage door openers that suddenly don’t work), we’ve been revisiting the area’s restaurants we’ve liked and trying new ones. My waistline is expanding accordingly as is my credit card bill. I must stop the madness or I’ll be forced to eat this.

friskiesSunday night brings the finale of “Mad Men” and there’s no way I’ll be at a restaurant during that. I’ll be in my living room, glued to the TV, probably crying, probably second guessing the ending, probably expecting Matthew Weiner, the show’s creative genius, to tell us it’s all a joke and “Mad Men” is coming back for another season after all. Yeah, like that’s happening. Sigh.

My Other Identity Revealed!

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Blindsided_by_Love cover large

Why am I posting this cover? Because the author, Hilary Rose, is none other than moi!

The details of Hilary and her novella are right here but the long and short of it is that I was presented with a very cool writing project several months ago by my friend Rhonda Friedman, supervising producer of the Emmy Award-winning CBS daytime drama “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Rhonda was one of the first friends I made when I moved to LA in 2001 and since I wanted to see what my new friend’s career was all about, I started watching her soap – and got hooked. It airs here at 12:30 every afternoon so I watch it while I eat lunch. Very steamy stuff and never lacking for drama. What I especially liked about the show was and still is that the stories move along; they don’t get stalled for weeks on end like other soaps.

Late last year, Rhonda told me that B&B was partnering with Pan Macmillan Australia (the show is spectacularly popular overseas) for a series of novellas that would be inspired by the show and available all over the world. The gist was that she and Brad Bell, B&B’s exec producer and head writer, would give the authors the two characters they wanted to see paired up in a romantic relationship and the authors would create original stories for them. She said, “Would you be interested in writing one of these?” I said, “Sure. Sounds like fun.” And it was – total fun. The characters I got were Caroline Spencer and Ridge Forrester, played by Lindsey Godfrey and Thorsten Kaye, so I’d watch them every day and let my imagination fly. I came up with a story, wrote it in three months (a speed record for me) and everybody loved it.

Now Blindsided by Love is coming out later this month and I’m jazzed. (I’ll provide bookseller links as soon as the publisher sends them.) The how’s and why’s of the Hilary Rose pseudonym are spelled out in the above link. What’s especially great about the book is that the show is actually airing a storyline with Caroline and Ridge right now that’s close to the one I dreamed up for the book. Talk about art imitating art!

Here’s a taste of Caroline and Ridge. They get way, way hotter in my book. (I’m fanning myself just thinking about those scenes.)

I hope Blindsided by Love will appeal to fans of the show, fans of romance novels and fans of mine, even though the genre is different. A good story is a good story and Hilary Rose enjoyed every minute of it.


Mad Men Finale Part 1

Monday, May 26th, 2014
Photo: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Photo: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

I still can’t believe last night’s “Mad Men” finale was all we’ll see until next year. It feels like such a tease to have the last season split into two years’ worth of episodes. But those are the vagaries of television, so we have no choice but to spend a year pondering last night’s show and what it might mean going into the last round of episodes before we say goodbye forever to Don Draper and the gang.

I, for one, think Don’s fortunes are looking up. Megan’s gone? Good riddance. Roger Sterling’s re-energized and re-focused on business? That can only work in Don’s favor. The question is what does Don really want now? Does he even lust for success in the ad business anymore? Judging by the starry look in his eye during his hallucination of Bert Cooper singing and dancing to “The best things in life are free,” it’s hard to tell.

Here’s what The Daily Beast made of last night’s show. Food for thought….

Mad Men’s Game-Changing Midseason Finale, “Waterloo”: One Door Closes, Another Opens
There was plenty of moving and shaking at SC&P during the final episode of the AMC series ’til 2015. [Warning: SPOILERS]
Before we do anything, let’s pour out a glass of Canadian Club for good ol’ Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse). The curmudgeonly co-founder of SC&P is no more.

Though he resembled a spooky plantation owner, with his Colonel Sanders facial hair and seemingly endless array of bowties, Bert was a gentle, eccentric soul whose cunning only bubbled to the surface when the future of the company was at stake. He was the man who, when Pete attempted to blackmail Don about his deserter past, brushed it away like a gnat—only to shove it back in Don’s face to close the Conrad Hilton deal. He was the man who, after Don impulsively wrote the post-Lucky Strike New York Times op-ed “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco,” told the macho ad man what everyone was thinking: “We’ve created a monster.” He was the man who, yes, had his testicles unnecessarily removed.
Bert, you’ll be missed.

Now let’s get down to business. The midseason finale of Mad Men, titled “Waterloo,” opened with Apollo 11 taking off toward the moon. Then we cut to Ted, mid-midlife crisis, who abruptly decides to cut the jets while piloting Sunkist clients over NorCal. Apparently, the marginalized SC&P partner, who’s been operating on an island in Los Angeles, still harbors resentment with the rest of the SC&P gang—Don Draper, in particular—for torpedoing his Ocean Spray deal in favor of an $8 million ad package from Sunkist. Ted wants out of the ad biz.

Things then transition to the women. One of the many fascinating things about the AMC series is the way the plights of Sally and Peggy mirror one another—two fighters who refuse to be restrained by the iniquities of the time. Here, both gals are momentarily sidetracked by a couple of hunks—Sean, an oft-shirtless meathead with a pending scholarship to Rutgers catches Sally’s eye (who begins dressing Valley of the Dolls-y to impress him), while Nick, a sweaty fill-in super, leaves Peggy fumbling for words. But both are set straight by Don. First, he calls out Sally for being “cynical” when she echoes Sean’s critique (“…it cost $25 billion!”) of the moon landing. She sees the error of her ways and plants a kiss on his nerdy, astronomy-obsessed brother, Neil (like Neil Armstrong, duh). Peggy’s intervention comes a bit later.

Don, meanwhile, has apparently hit rock bottom. He receives a letter alleging “breach of contract” over his sabotaging the Commander Cigarettes deal. Don confronts his bespectacled nemesis, Cutler, who issued the letter, and the latter makes clear what we’ve known all along: he hates Don. “You’re just a bully and a drunk,” he says to him. “A football player in a suit.” But Cutler jumped the gun, filing the breach paperwork without the other partners’ knowledge. Don convenes all the partners in the middle of the office to tell them the news, and Roger and Pete won’t have it. Neither will Bert, who was blindsided by the move. Joan, however, votes to oust Don. “I’m tired of him costing me money,” she tells Roger. Grudges don’t vanish easily in the cutthroat world of Mad Men, and Joan still has it out for Don over Jaguar, while Pete still worships him in part due to the time he “fronted” his $50,000 cut to the late Lane Pryce to keep the firm afloat.

And if things weren’t bad enough for Don, after he breaks the “breach” news to Megan, she decides to dump him by phone—while lounging in a bikini sipping white wine. “You don’t owe me anything. Goodbye, Don,” she says, teary-eyed.

Everyone gathers at their respective homes to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. It’s an interesting about-face since technology, which has long divided the firm (Cutler and the IBM), can also be a force for good, bringing people together. During the moon landing, Roger receives some sad news: Bert Cooper passed away. So, Roger, Joan, and Cutler convene at the agency—Roger to pay his respects at Bert’s office, Joan to draft an obituary, and Cutler to… bury Don once and for all.

“Well, as tragic as this is, I for one am happy that we have a chance to have a conversation with the clients about the future of this company, and to give Don Draper his send-off along with Burt,” says the callous Cutler, adding, “Roger, I know what this company should look like: computer services, media buys pinpointed with surgical accuracy… it’s the agency of the future.” Roger and Joan stare at each other in shock and disbelief, with the latter finally realizing just how heartless and Draper-obsessed Cutler is.

Realizing his days are numbered, Don pays a visit to Peggy’s hotel room the night before the gang’s Burger Chef presentation and tells her she’s going to take the lead. “You must have heard that they’re trying to get me out,” he says. “If I win this business and I go, you’ll be left with nothing… You win this business, and it will be yours.” Don has long served as Peggy’s Virgil, guiding her up the ranks of the patriarchal ad biz and here, when all is lost, the main thing on his mind is securing his mentee’s future, and assuring her that the glass ceiling doesn’t apply to her.

“Well, I can’t just say what you’ve been saying. I’m a woman. I’m the voice of ‘moms,’ remember?” says Peggy.

“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t know you could,” replies Don.

Taking her inspiration from Don—and poor Julio, her cute 10-year-old apartment-mate who’s leaving town—Peggy exploits the men’s excitement over the moon landing and uses it to her advantage, selling them on the idea that Burger Chef offers a respite from the “chaos” of the news, and dubbing the campaign: “Family Supper at Burger Chef.” She knocks it out of the park.

For weeks, Don has been mobilizing his troops—Harry, Pete, and Peggy—for a fight with Cutler. After all that maneuvering, however, it was sneaky ol’ Roger who saved the day, convincing the McCann Erickson exec he met at the NYAC steam room to purchase the company and insert Rog as el presidente:

“I think you should buy the whole company because I have a vision: all our accounts, our cutting-edge computer, and the employees I know to be worthy as an independent subsidiary of McCann. You just lost Burger Chef, we may win it, and you’d still have it—and I’d still have my company without Jim Cutler and all that baggage from CDC.”

They’ll also have Buick, which means Ted needs to join Team Roger/Don in order for the deal to work. It’s a tough position for Don, since Roger is essentially making him choose between his future and the future of SC&P, and Peggy’s happiness. But Roger convinces Don that Cutler is hell-bent on liquidating the company until there’s nothing left but “Harry and his computer,” so Don makes his final pitch to an over-it Ted:

“I know you. I know the man I walked into Chevy with. You don’t have to work for us, but you have to work. You don’t want to see what happens when it’s really gone.”

Ted takes the leap, and the future of SC&P—and Don Draper—is secure (for now).

“Waterloo” closes with a predictable ode to Robert Morse, the 83-year-old actor who played the late Bert Cooper. Don, exiting the office, hallucinates and sees Bert doing a song-and-dance, flanked by a gaggle of secretaries, to the tune “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”

The moon belongs to everyone

The best things in life they’re free

The stars belong to everyone

They cling there for you and for me

It may seem random, but in addition to the song referencing the moon landing, Roger also called Don earlier in the episode experiencing regret over the fact that the last words he said to Bert were the lines of an old song. The outro was a tribute to Morse, who’s best known as the lead in the Broadway and film versions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which won him the Tony in 1962, and contains the famous line: “So you are now a vice president… You have done beautifully. Unless you are vice president in charge of advertising. In that case, you are in terrible trouble.”

As for Don Draper, we’ll have to wait ’til 2015 to see if that’s the case. And as for poor Betty, well, she’ll be fine. She speaks Italian.

My Mad, Mad, Mad Men Love

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

 Mad Men cast

After the last “House of Cards” season wrapped, I took a breather and then dove head first into “Mad Men,” and now the characters are haunting my dreams. My waking moments too. That’s what happens when you binge watch one episode after another, six seasons worth. (Thank you, Netflix.) Last Sunday I was primed for the Season 7 premiere on AMC and made sure I was planted in front of the TV with zero distractions. I forgot there would be commercials this time around – ugh – but I was so happy to have Don, Ted, Peggy and the gang back in my life that I didn’t whine too much.

What an amazing show. Such brilliant writing. Such nuanced acting. Such a fascinating look at the ’60s through the lens of politics, fashion, music and social mores.

Jon Hamm is Don Draper, a brooding, screwed up, smart ass ad man, and yet Hamm is so versatile he can do comedy too (as in “Bridesmaids”). I find him endlessly drool-worthy as well as riveting to watch. The show is his – will he completely self-destruct? redeem himself just a tiny bit? make peace with his past? connect with his kids? – and I can’t even imagine how “Mad Men” will end his story next year when the show is over.

In the meantime, Sunday nights at 10pm are must-see TV for me.


My Current Obsession

Thursday, March 6th, 2014


Now that I’ve finished watching Season 2, I’m feeling bereft, lost, hungry for more. “House of Cards” is addictive that way. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of the show but instead I read and re-read everything I can get my hands on about it – interviews with the writer and the cast, reviews from the critics, articles about the similarities between the fictional characters and real-life members of Congress.

What makes the show such irresistible television? Part of it is that in this era of stalled government, it’s a kick to see bills actually get passed. Another part is the snappy writing and fast pace. And then there’s Frank and Claire Underwood, two of the most nakedly power crazed people ever. Kevin Spacey is wonderfully droll and conniving as Frank, but it’s Robin Wright’s Claire who is the more complex of the two. She’s loyal and smart and sexy but the coldest thing since the North Pole. And let’s face it: she’s a gorgeous fashion icon. I mean seriously. Take a look.

There’s her haircut…

Claire's haircut

Her clothes…

Robin Wright dress

Her glasses…

Claire's glasses

Even her cashmere bathrobe is to die for…

Claire's bathrobe

Every now and then she gives us a peek at her softer side, but mostly she cleaves to an agenda and it doesn’t matter who’s caught in the crossfire. I can’t wait to see what she and Frank will do next, but that won’t happen FOR A YEAR. How will I survive until Season 3?

I’ve been watching and loving “True Detective” thanks to Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle.


But there’s only one more episode to go and then the season’s done – and so is McConaughey, apparently. He announced after the Oscars that he’s not continuing with the show. Bummer.

So I’ll have to throw my affection elsewhere. Friends have told me to check out “Nurse Jackie” and “Orange Is the New Black.” But right now I’m not in the mood to dip into a new set of characters on the small screen.

Now the screen on my Kindle is another matter. I’m still reading like a maniac.

Movie Night: “Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight”

Sunday, October 6th, 2013


If I hadn’t read an interview with Christopher Plummer in yesterday’s Daily Beast, I might not have known this HBO original movie was on last night, but I’m glad I did because the movie was utterly fascinating.

Based on a book of the same name and directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen” with Helen Mirren and many other great films), it takes place in 1967 when Ali was convicted of draft dodging. He’d changed his named from Cassius Clay after joining the Nation of Islam and refused to be inducted into the military because he was opposed to the Vietnam War on religious grounds. I remember it well. I  was a big boxing fan in those days and watched all the Ali-Frazer/Ali-Foreman fights and Ali was just about the biggest sports story on the planet in those days.

Stripped of his world heavyweight championship title, he spent four years fighting his conviction, embarking on a college tour to make money. At the time he found a sympathetic audience, since campuses across America were in a state of protest against the war. In 1971, his case finally reached the Supreme Court and it’s in the Court that this movie resides.

What a cast. Frank Langella plays Nixon’s pal Chief Justice Warren Burger. Plummer plays Justice John Harlan. Danny Glover plays Justice Thurgood Marshall, the only black man on the bench. Barry Levinson, Fritz Weaver, Ed Begley Jr. play other justices. The real co-star to Plummer is Benjamin Walker, who plays Plummer’s clerk, Kevin Connolly, a liberal who didn’t agree with his boss’s positions, particularly his decision to join the Chief Justice’s opinion that Ali’s case should be upheld, not overturned.

The drama of the legal battle involving these giants of acting, expertly interwoven with archival footage of Ali, boxing, student protests, Nixon, etc. make this a must-see movie. I’m sure HBO will repeat it throughout the month. Plummer, in particular, as a conservative justice who values fairness – and who’s dying of cancer and has a wife with dementia – is superb.


Movie Night: “American Masters/Billy Jean King”

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


I was really looking forward to this documentary and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve been a tennis fan and a Billie Jean fan since I was old enough to hold a racquet. I remember going out to my neighborhood courts and hitting against the backboard for hours, wishing I could play like she did. And when she spearheaded the women’s tour and fought for equal prize money for women, she became a larger-than-life heroine for me (although I admit it was Chris Evert whose clothes and hair I tried to copy).

Tonight’s PBS American Masters doc covers her childhood in SoCal, how her father encouraged her to play sports, how a girl at school invited her to play tennis at the country club, how she bought her first racquet and practiced on the public courts, how she married her college sweetheart. It moves into her career, both as an amateur and pro player, and there’s lots of great footage of her athleticism and shot making. It explores the feminist movement’s affect on her and vice versa, how she was outed after an affair with her secretary became a public nightmare for her, and of course how she beat Bobby Riggs in the match of the century.

With testimonials from everyone from Hillary Clinton, Elton John and Gloria Steinem to fellow tennis stars like  Evert, the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova (where were Martina and Steffi?) to her ex-husband, her brother and her longtime partner, the doc gives us an adoring portrait of King but not a white-wash job either. I came away thinking I wish I could meet her. Her energy and drive are still as contagious as they were back in the day.

Movie Night: “Blue Jasmine”

Friday, August 9th, 2013


I ran to see this one on its first night in Santa Barbara, partly because the reviews have been uniformly great and partly because I love Cate Blanchett and partly because I was starved for movies after being away for a month. I wasn’t disappointed.

Although “Blue Jasmine” isn’t a typical Woody Allen film in that it’s not really a comedy – social satire, yes, but laughs, not so much – it’s mesmerizing entertainment thanks to a brilliant performance by Blanchett, who’s in almost every scene. She plays a young Ruth Madoff type – a woman with a financial cheat of a husband who loses everything when he goes to prison. Through flashbacks, Blanchett takes us into her opulent life and she’s burnished in tones of gold – her hair, her clothes, the glow of her skin. She falls apart without the safety of money and lands on her sister’s less-than-opulent doorstep popping Xanax and guzzling vodka and talking to herself on street corners.

Sally Hawkins, the gifted British actress, plays Blanchett’s sister and she’s wonderful. Andrew Dice Clay does a nice job with his small part as the sister’s ex-husband and Alec Baldwin plays yet another cad. Some of the writing is sharp and timely and some of it is lazy and lacking bite. (An early scene in the airport as Blanchett is getting her luggage and saying goodbye to the woman she yammered to for the entire flight comes to mind.) But it’s a showcase for Blanchett, pure and simple, and she takes full advantage. Woody’s always been a master with his female characters and “Blue Jasmine” is no exception.



How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Lois & me

Yesterday I spent the day with my old friend Lois Juliber. I hadn’t seen her in years because I live on the west coast and she lives on the east coast and we lead very different lives these days. When I was a New Yorker, she and I played tennis every weekend in the summer and spent memorable evenings with our husbands and other friends and it was great fun. Now I’m holed up in my home office in California writing and she’s traveling the world. The former VP of General Foods and Vice Chairman of Colgate-Palmolive (we’re talking about one of the highest-ranking women in corporate America), she now either chairs or sits on multiple boards. In between trips to Uganda, she plays a mean game of golf and has played the world’s best courses. Yesterday we met up and caught up and talked for hours. At times she was making me awestruck with tales of moving in circles I couldn’t fathom. At other times she was “just Lois,” telling me with pride that she has all the hardcover copies of my books displayed at her house. It was a lovely day.

As have been so many other days during my month in Connecticut. I’ve had laughs with old publishing pals and have reunited with one of my closest friends from summer camp. I’ve seen cousins I rarely get to see. And I’ve spent time with my mother, who came to California for her 96th birthday but rarely ventures out of New York.

So with only a week to go on my summer vacation, it’s with a wistfulness that I go about the rest of the trip. The weather has turned cool – kind of strange for July – and I slept with all the covers on for the first time since I got here. Maybe it’s telling me it’s time to go home. Or am I home? Hard to tell right now.