In its solemn duty to provide daring and courageous coverage of all-things-Oscar, ABC-TV, with fashion model/anchorman David Muir at the helm, will be offering any minute now an “in-depth, insightful,” and not-to-forget “exclusive” interview of an immigrant kitchen worker who is “inspiring America” as he makes pot stickers of edamame and black truffles for tonight’s Academy Awards dinner to which I was not invited.
This might have something to do with my having once suggested to Wolfgang Puck that lima beans and button mushrooms work just as well at four-percent of the cost. His knowing giggle told the story I can’t repeat.
Have I mentioned that I covered—on-site—three Academy Award extravaganzas?
My first assigned coverage of the annual event in which hundreds of movies stars leave their palatial mansions in rented limousines to air kiss, pat each other on the back (unless Harvey Weinstein is in the room), and feign excitement about the “honor of just being nominated” was in 1980. Puck was still on the line at Ma Maison, a wonderful French restaurant favored by music executives with expense accounts. By the time I returned to the Oscar trenches in the mid-eighties, Puck had sold his stake in Ma Maison, met Barbara Lazaroff (behind every celebrity chef is an aggressively adoring publicist) and opened Spago, a pizza joint that specialized in putting stuff on pizzas that no self-respecting pizzaiolo would ever even think of doing.
Actually, Spago specialized in making people feel unwelcome and impoverished.
I like movies, especially those I can watch at home where popcorn doesn’t cost the same as a cab ride from mid-town Manhattan to LaGuardia. Movies are one of the many interests Geri and I share, although we don’t go to them much anymore. Rather, when we see that Wheel of Fortune is a rerun, we pop in Sleepless in Seattle, which we’ve seen in the neighborhood of 278 times, but only the first 30 minutes. And when it comes to the Oscars, Geri likes the Red Carpet stuff and is excited for this afternoon’s figure skating exhibition that will feature Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski skating outside the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard as they critique designer gowns we will thankfully never see again.
I plan on being at the Bozeman Symphony concert during all of that and will mercifully be spared the spectacle. Unless it snows. Later, I’m hoping to stay awake long enough to see if Knife Skills wins for Best Documentary Short Subject. It is the only nominated picture I’ve seen this year, which is one more than Geri.
Roger Ebert, the film critic who I once engaged in conversation at a social gathering at the University of Illinois (he was an alum; I was still a student), let me know that my taste in movies would benefit greatly from some kind of knowledge of the form. Apparently it wasn’t enough that we both admired The Godfather, my favorite movie. My assessment of the film as a historical document—albeit fictionalized, sort of—that depicted an era and its situational morality informed by an immigrant mentality in response to ignorance and prejudice paled in comparison to his being able to name the film’s Key Grip.
He seemed only mildly impressed when, in my best Brooklyn accent, I quoted chef, procurer of mattresses and hit man Peter “Fat” Clemenza: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
I then asked if he had a preference for Jujubes or Milk Duds.
I followed Ebert’s advice and procured a copy of Understanding Movies (Prentice-Hall, 1972). I had read more interesting books, by the way, and stopped reading (and high-lighting significant passages of the book in that yellow high-lighting stuff that I’m not sure is really ink) when I got to the section on “cross-cutting” in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.
I resigned myself to merely appreciating those movies I happen to like for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. My Austrian therapist finds something troubling about some of my emotional attachments to certain films, wondering aloud what it is that leads me to include both Luis Buñuel’s 1929 silent classic, Un Chien Andalou, and Happy Gilmore on my Top-Ten list. However, Dr. Von Schvink and I share in common an undying admiration for John Waters’s Pink Flamingos, the 1972 transgressive comedy that defines the very concept of tasteless depravity.
THERE WERE TOO MANY celebrity-packed limousines around the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the 1980 edition of the Academy Awards for me to get my powder-blue Ford Pinto station wagon anywhere close, so I parked a few blocks away in a seedy part of downtown Los Angeles where cars like mine were sneered at by the resident car thieves. I made my tuxedoed way to the Red Carpet on foot where my first observation as an entertainment journalist was to note that Bo Derek, who surprisingly hadn’t been nominated for her role in 10, appeared to be about four-feet, eight-inches tall and have a waist that measured maybe seventeen inches, which only seemed to exaggerate her other vital statistics. Having barely recovered from that first observation, I made my way through a labyrinth of the almost-recognizable to a press room unlike any I had yet to see in my journeyman years.
In the world of crime and politics (note how I make no differentiation?) barely tepid coffee was served in waxed cardboard cups to the press, whose collective dress would seem amusing even to the color-blind. At the Academy Awards we all wore tuxedos. We were required to. Although my rented tuxedo was suitably well-tailored, its sartorial effect was somewhat diminished by the dozens of plastic-coated credentials hanging from stretchy lanyards around my neck. Whatever.
Once inside the press room I looked at the gently arced rows of tables, a typewriter and telephone in front of each of the plush armchairs lining each row. Huge television screens hung from the room’s walls like so many grandiose, albeit flickering, paintings. There was a buffet table whose inviting offerings would have rivaled most hotel wedding receptions and the gratis bar was stocked with top-shelf brands.
Johnny Walker Red on the rocks sloshed gently against the sides of my Oscar-etched glass as I scanned the room and noticed Irv Kupcinet sitting quietly by himself in the middle of this fabricated Wonderland that would serve as a “news” room for a few hours.
Irv Kupcinet chronicled the comings and goings of the rich, the famous and the infamous for the Chicago Sun-Times. Unlike today’s journalistic preoccupation with celebrity, his columns told brief stories that seemed to have some depth beyond their inherent lack of substance. (What is it that makes me want to say something about the Kardashians here?) Anyway, there weren’t as many stars during his pre-reality entertainment era as there are today and those fewer stars seemed to have burned more brightly and for much longer. Publicists, whose jobs required them to do whatever was necessary to ensure their clients’ immortality, were called press agents back then and the bad behavior of their clients provided pretty tame fodder by today’s standards: Sinatra is seen with dark-suited Italians; Sinatra has drinks with a busty starlet; Sinatra punches somebody; Sinatra does more of whatever Sinatra did. All of it was pretty genteel. I grew up listening to my mother read “Kup’s Column” to the family over breakfast. This was TMZ for the timid, the tame, the literate, as there were no photos or illustrations, save for the occasional black-and-white head shot. When Kup wrote of a low-cut gown, one had to imagine both it and the starlet who was wearing it.
Kup led a pretty glamorous life (I don’t recall his reportage ever taking place at a diner in a bad part of town; his well-tailored tuxedo was not rented) and we, my family, although perhaps not as a family unit, aspired to sit at the best tables he regularly occupied at the best restaurants, clubs and showrooms in the Windy City—the Empire Room, the Ambassador East, the Chez Paree, the Scotch Mist.
I was mere moments away from learning that Irv Kupcinet was not the friendliest guy I would ever meet, but then again, I was young. It’s not that he was mean or anything; he just didn’t seem to have the time nor the interest to make small talk with some kid, by now camped next to him, who was somewhat in awe of his new-found surroundings. He didn’t mind my refreshing his drinks, however, and he became friendlier as I became more jaded. And we both grew more cynical as the night wore on and on and the liquor wore heavier, and we were sharing guffaws at the crap we were filing about stuff that didn’t matter. (I saved the Bo Derek item for here, by the way. Thirty-eight years I should wait.)
By then, I was on a one-third-of-his-last-name basis with him.
“What does matter then, Kup?” I slurred, perhaps seeking some secret insight to the human condition that might be revealed in the context of an awards show.
“How the hell would I know?”
He raised his glass.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
I had yet to see Casablanca. I had no idea what he meant.
There are countless recipes on-line for cannoli shells and if you’re interested in the rather arduous process of making your own, go for it. Commercially made shells are just fine and are generally available in better grocery stores.
The filling is what matters and this is the simple recipe I’ve been using for longer than I can remember.
Slowly mix one pound of drained ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup of baker’s sugar (superfine) until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, the zest of one orange, and 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips. Blend together and fill a pastry bag with the mix. Fill cannoli shells. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Buon appetito!
Photography by Courtney A. Liska