Sunday, February 28, 2016


The Annual Academy Awards Ceremonies falls on Sunday, February 28, 2016.  Who will win that coveted statuette?  Who will be taking home an Oscar®? This year's nomination list has generated a lot of controversy.

But setting that aside, there are many people in the movie industry who are considered legends, those who were nominated and deserved the Academy Award but never received that elusive prize.  Some of the names will even strike you as What? That can't be true. He/She must have won at least once.

So, in no particular order, here is a cross-section of very deserving movie legends who, over the years, were often nominated but missed out on the grand prize of the movie industry's top awards.

1)  Alfred Hitchcock
With a string of directorial masterpieces to his credit, he never won one of the prized statuettes for directing.  However, in 1968 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

2)  Cary Grant
He made it look easy which sometimes prevented people from realizing just how good he was—adept at drama and light comedy (and even slapstick, after all he started his career as a vaudeville acrobat in England which certainly equipped him with the dexterity and coordination to do physical comedy).  Considered by many to be the epitome of the romantic leading man.  However, in 1970 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

3)  Peter O'Toole
He holds the record for the most Best Actor nominations (8) without a win with his most famous role probably Lawrence of Arabia.  My personal favorite of Peter O'Toole's films is My Favorite Year, one of his few comedy films.  However, in 2003 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

4)  Deborah Kerr
With many outstanding roles, certainly From Here To Eternity and also The King And I, she was nominated six times but no wins.  However, in 1994 she was presented an honorary Oscar® for her lifetime body of work.

5)  Richard Burton
Many outstanding performances including an exceptional one in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe. Six nominations, five of them for Best Actor, but no wins.

6)  Albert Finney
The British actor is probably best known for Tom Jones, one of his earlier films.  He garnered five nominations but no wins.  My favorite Albert Finney film is Murder On The Orient Express, show casing his marvelous portrayal of Hercule Poirot (with an incredible cast including several Oscar® winners and nominees, among them multiple Oscar® winner Ingrid Bergman who won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in Murder On The Orient Express).

7)  Angela Lansbury
Today she's best known for her award winning role of Jessica Fletcher, the retired school teacher turned mystery novelist and amateur sleuth in the long running television series Murder, She Wrote.  In addition to television, she has an impressive award winning string of Broadway performances.  But oddly enough, even though she started her career in films and received three Oscar® nominations, it's the acting award that has remained elusive.  One of her Oscar® nominations was for a riveting performance in the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey (she played Laurence Harvey's mother even though they were only a few months apart in age).

8)  Fred Astaire
Although best known for a stellar career in a long string of very successful musicals (many with his long time partner, Ginger Rogers), his one and only nomination came for a dramatic role in Towering Inferno.

9)  Charlie Chaplin
He is one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood.  Even though he never won for either acting or directing, I wasn't sure whether to add him to this list of never won an Oscar® because he did win one for Best Original Musical Score in 1952 for Limelight.  However, in 1972 he was presented with an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work and received the longest standing ovation in Academy Awards history (over twelve minutes).

There are, of course, many more nominated actors/actresses/directors who deserve but haven't yet had their name engraved on an Oscar®.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chocolate—The Food Of Love

Valentine's Day is when the chocolate industry happily counts its profits.  Certainly other items also come to mind such as flowers, cards and jewelry.  But chocolate reigns supreme for the holiday.

The history of chocolate goes back more than two thousand years.  Cocoa has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  It's a concept that traces to the ancient Aztecs, with archaeological records indicating that before them the Mayans were consuming cocoa as long ago as 600 B.C. and possibly even earlier than that.

The Aztecs believed it was a source of spiritual wisdom, energy, and sexual power.  It was widely served at wedding ceremonies.  The ancient civilizations of Central and South America did not know chocolate as we do today.  They consumed cocoa as a drink, its naturally bitter taste possibly altered by adding chili peppers to the water and cocoa.

When the Spanish explorers first brought cocoa home with them in 1585, they experimented by mixing it with sugar and vanilla to make a sweeter tasting drink.  The result was a type of hot chocolate popular among the upper classes who were the only ones who could afford it.  Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor.  By the first half of the eighteenth century cocoa production had increased and the price had fallen so that it became affordable to the general population of Europe and also the European colonies in the New World.

By the nineteenth century things were moving along nicely for those involved in the manufacture of chocolate.  In 1828, Conrad van Houton of Holland invented a process to make a refined cocoa powder which increased the output of the usable powder from a given crop of cocoa beans which further lowered the price.

The first chocolate candies as we know them today were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, a British candy maker, who was also the first to sell them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day.

Another big advance came in 1878 when a Swiss chocolate seller, Daniel Peter, invented a process for making candy out of milk chocolate—a process picked up by Nestle.  In 1913 Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolate maker, created the first chocolate candy with cream and other fillings and the modern soft centered chocolate candies were born.

And thus chocolate candies joined the ranks of flowers and jewelry in the courtship ritual.

Chocolate, including chocolate candy, is liked by most people, but women tend to have a somewhat greater affinity for it than men.  Chocolate is more than food.  It not only fills your stomach, it also makes you feel good.  Many people believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  While it is true that chocolate does contain organic substances which have a physical feel good affect on the body, the amounts are not that great.

Critics claim the benefits of eating chocolate are small compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar.  However, the best chocolate—dark chocolate with high cocoa butter content rather than milk chocolate—has no added fat with a high percentage of cocoa solids and correspondingly less sugar.  Dark chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, but it is still good for you.  It's good for your heart, relieves stress, and makes you feel good.  What more could you want?
Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  This association goes all the way back to the Aztecs.  Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance.  Chocolate is both an everyday pleasure and a token of love.  Valentine's Day and chocolate make a perfect match.  Men have long known in dealing with women that chocolate is almost always a safe gift. Chocolate is given as a token of love and is equally viable as a peace offering when he has done something to anger his love.

Chocolate—the all purpose taste treat that's good any time of the year.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Valentine's Day—The Good And The Bad

The Good:
Valentine's Day is that time of the year when cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, and other tokens of affection are given to loved ones in the name of St. Valentine.  But who is St. Valentine and why do we celebrate his holiday every year?

One legend says Valentine was a priest in the third century in Rome.  Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage for young men.  Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  Claudius ordered him put to death.

Another story has Valentine killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured.

And yet another story says Valentine was the one who sent the first Valentine greeting while he was in prison.  He fell in love with a young girl, possibly the jailor's daughter, who visited him while he was imprisoned.  Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed it From your Valentine, an expression that has transcended time to continue as a common expression for the holiday.

St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, is a combination of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.  One theory says we celebrate Valentine's Day in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial which probably occurred around 270A.D., while others believe that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card sending holiday, surpassed only by the exchange of Christmas cards.  Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia in addition to the United States.

The Bad:
The St. Valentine's Day massacre—the most spectacular gangland slaying in mob history.

Al Capone (known to be the mastermind, but never charged for the crime) had arranged for his chief rival, Chicago mobster George 'Bugs' Moran and most of his North Side Gang, to be eliminated on February 14, 1929.  The plan was simple and deviously clever, yet Capone's primary target escaped any injury.  Capone distanced himself from the execution of the plan (and the execution of his rivals) by spending the time at his home in Florida.

A bootlegger loyal to Capone was to draw Moran and his gang to a warehouse to receive a shipment of smuggled whiskey, the delivery set for 10:30AM on Valentine's Day.

The morning of February 14 was cold and snowy.  A group of Moran's men waited for Bugs at the red brick warehouse at 2122 North Clark Street.  Moran was running late.  When his car turned the corner onto Clark Street, he spotted a police wagon pulling up to the warehouse.  Assuming it was a raid, he watched as five men, three of them dressed in police uniforms, entered the building.  Moran and the two men with him, immediately left the area.

Inside the warehouse, the hit men, disguised as police, confronted Moran's men.  Assuming it was a routine bust, they followed instructions when ordered to line up against the wall.  The hit men opened fire with Thompson submachine guns, killing six of the seven men immediately.  The seventh man, with twenty-two bullet wounds, survived the attack but died after arriving at the hospital.

The newspapers instantly picked up on the crime, dubbing it the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.  The story appeared on front pages around the country, making Capone a national celebrity.  But to his dismay, this new found celebrity also brought a new level of attention from federal law enforcement culminating in his conviction for tax evasion and incarceration at Alcatraz.