ALAN ALDA

I don’t think I’ve ever disliked Alan Alda in a role, his role in the 1988 film “A New Life” is no exception. But this film has the added advantage of having been written and directed by Alda, so it is shot through with his wit and his sense of timing.

In truth, “A New Life” is a piece of fluff, but the combination of Alda and his art with a cast that includes Hal Linden, Ann-Margret, and Veronica Hamel give the fluff enough substance to keep it interesting.

Alda plays Steve Giardino (who makes up these names?), a Wall Street trader whose gearshift is perpetually in overdrive. Among the things he neglects are his wife, Jackie, played by Ann-Margret. Jackie finally has enough — or, more accurately, not enough — and she and Steve split. Both are disoriented in the single state, and Steve is further confused by his stock-market colleague Mel Arons (Hal Linden), a profligate who tries to prod Steve into a similar way of life. Jackie eventually takes up with a much younger and overly attentive sculptor, Doc (John Shea), who is a waiter in real life. Steve settles in, or so it seems, with a medical doctor, Kay Hutton (Veronica Hamel). The truth in this movie is that stable relationships are not easy to come by, and both Steve and Jackie will have more work to do.

HAL LINDEN

This is a delightful ensemble, as the names of the actors promise. Linden is especially entertaining as a kind of Mephistopheles figure to the confused and somewhat naive Steve.  “What are you making such a big deal about happiness for?” he asks Steve. “Look at me. I trade all day against guys who would cut my heart out of an eighth. I drink too much, I eat rich food, I make love to women half my age. You think I’m happy?”

(He grins) “That’s the advantage of being shallow.”

Fans of such Alda-esque dialogue will find it throughout this film.

Look for Alda’s daughter, Beatrice, in the limited role of Steve’s adult daughter, Judy.

Ann-Margret and Alan Alda on the set of "A New Life"

Amateur night

September 21, 2010

VALENTINE PRINGLE

I stepped into the room the other night long enough to hear Jackie Evancho sing a duet with Sarah Brightman a half hour or so before coming in second on “America’s Got Talent.” I don’t follow the show, so I don’t  know anything about the grown-up male singer who came in first — in fact, I don’t know his name. Whoever he is, I’m glad he won, because I found Evancho’s involvement on that show disconcerting. I worry about the impact all that excitement has on a 10-year-old psyche. When the winner was announced and the child didn’t seem the least bothered by it, I even found that unsettling.

Also, people around me who have formal training in voice tell me that it isn’t a good idea for a child that age to be singing such demanding music. It has something to do with the need for vocal cords to develop gradually. I wondered if Brightman was alluding to that when she remarked that she hoped Evancho would “preserve” her voice.

ARTHUR GODFREY

Since I so often use this blog to date myself — should I say, place myself in historical context — I might mention that I was a fan of broadcast talent shows before they became such extravaganzas. I was a loyal follower, for instance, of Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” show, which began on radio and continued on television. I believe it was “simulcast” for a while — broadcast life on radio and television at the same time. In a way, that technique has made sort of a comeback in the form of radio shows that are simultaneously webcast with video. WNYC radio in New York does that from time to time. Godfrey was preceded in the genre by Major Bowes and Ted Mack, who called his radio and later TV show “The Original Amateur Hour.” Ted Mack graduates included Gladys Knight, Pat Boone, Ann-Margret, and Raul Julia. Major Bowes best-known alumnus has to be Frank Sinatra.

HARRY BELAFONTE

A later attempt to exploit the same concept was “Talent Scouts,” a show on which celebrities brought unknown performers to the public’s attention. Jim Backus was the host of that show, which ran only in 1962. I remember that one of the celebrities was Harry Belafonte, who brought a singer named Valentine Pringle. If I remember correctly, Pringle sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with a bass voice that gave me the shivers. He later made two vinyl albums, and they are among my favorites to this day.

It always surprised me that Val Pringle didn’t become more widely known as a singer. He had an interesting career, though, writing songs — including “Louise” for Belafonte — acting on television and in films, and performing with folks like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Eartha Kitt. He sang the role of Porgy in a recording of George and Ira Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” produced by Readers Digest.

VALENTINE PRINGLE

Eventually, Pringle and his wife moved to Maseru in South Africa where he was murdered in 1999 by burglars whom he confronted after they had entered his home. Pringle was a U.S. Army war veteran. His ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.