The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on October 6, 1976 · 67
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 67

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Wednesday, October 6, 1976
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Cos Angeles (Tunes PART IV WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1976 CRITIC AT LARGE Gays and Gags in The Ritz' BY CHARLES CHAMPLIN Times Arts Editor There is nothing like a year's run on Broadway to polish comic characterizations to a full, rich perfection of timing and nuance. By some miracle of simple common sense, the original cast of Tcrrence McXally's "The Ritz" was hired, with two exceptions in lesser roles, for the movie version that Richard Lester has directed. Accordingly, the strength and chief attraction of "The Ritz" is that it centers on two of the most flamboyantly entertaining and skillful comedy performances of the year, with another two or three supporting roles of nearly equal zest and brilliance. Jack Weston is a bumbling Brooklyn boob trying to find refuge from a murder-minded brother-in-law in a homosexual bathhouse in Manhattan. Rita Moreno is an off-key but fanatically determined Puerto Rican singer and dancer hoping to be discovered in the bathhouse nightclub, just as Bette Midler was at the real-life Continental Baths. Weston, overweight and underbright. his perceptions dawning so slowly they might have come by mail, eyes widening in horrified shock, fat fingers grasping feebly at his own face as if to be sure it's still there, is a klutz of heroic proportions, dream-walking through a nightmare. Rita Moreno, bearing a Latin accent that does extraordinary things to her primarily Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, is every stage-struck hopeful who ever was. tone deaf to her own tone deafness, unfazed by rejection, ready to try-out for anything from "Oklahoma!" to "Waiting for Go-clot." supremely confident that her day will come. It is a show-stopping creation, bawdy, brassy and hilarious, but also sympathetic and in its zany way tender, because there is never any doubt that she is some swell, good-hearted person, vulnerable and likely to be wounded more often than not (although she'll always survive to audition again). Among the supporting players, F. Murray Abraham as one of the gay habitues is right out of "The Boys in the Band." outrageously outspoken and self-indicting and, beneath the campy flair, sad and unable to conceal the fact. Like Moreno, he is funny but more than a joke. To finish the scorecard. Dave King has some good sardonic scenes as the desk clerk who has seen it all. Paul B. Price is the kind of able character actor who in an earlier age of comedy would have played a funny kleptomaniac but who here is a member of the bathhouse gang with a penchant for potty types like Weston. He sustains as mildly amusing what could have been staggeringly offensive, which is something. Much less successful is Jerry Stiller as the lethal brother-in-law. though the problem is with the cartoonish role and the one note, long held, of rasping nastiness. Kaye Ballard, recruited for the movie, plays Weston's wife but the role, like Stiller's. offers little chance to be more than shrill. Treat Williams, the soprano detective, is also struck with a one-joke role. It is one of those bizarre and unsought coincidences of movie planning that successive weeks should bring comedies involving homosexuality. "Norman ... Is That You?" played its material at the level of suggestive sitcom, somehow trying to make the gay life-style as trivial an option as the vinyl top. "The Ritz" is properly and uncomplainingly rated R for both language and theme, and it makes no coy attempts to deny that it is an adult farce. It also plays its gay world straighter, so to speak, echoing "The Boys in the Band" in its mixture of the bizarre and the forlorn. The invasion by Weston of a steamy and special world provokes the humor, though paradoxically "The Ritz" is less concerned to. deal with being gay or straight than "Norman" pretended to be. I'll take "The Ritz" for its candor as well as its skills, but I also have no doubt that the basic material will be found offensive by many in both the straight and gay communities. The subject matter in fact clouds the question of how well "The Ritz" succeeds as a farce translated from the stage. The answer is surprisingly well, given the odds. The trick always in making the shift of farce from play to picture is that farce is an art of the impossible and in the movies absolutely anything is possible. The split-second comings and goings, the collisions, escapes and hurried concealments, the insanity of a dozen things happening simultaneously are spectacular when seen in the frenzied flesh. The camera makes it look too easy. McNally's farce is brilliantly plotted, achieving confrontations of crazy but logical complication. The stage set was three levels with dozens of doors. The movie has some (few) slow patches, when the close-up defeats the lovely sense of simultaneity a staged farce has. But the funniest moments are deliriously funny, and those star turns are caviar. "The Ritz" opens today at the Bruin and Mann's Chinese. Jack Smith has dropped behind the Iron Curtain. THE VIEWS INSIDE BOOKS: Nicholas Mosley's "Julian Grenfelh His Life and the Times of His Death, 1888-1915" by Robert Kirsch on Page 20. MOVIES: "Tarnished Lady" at the Vagabond Theater by Kevin Thomas on Page 14. MUSIC: Organist Martin Haselboeck at All Saints Church, Pasadena, by Richard Slater on Page 14. STAGE: "To See the Elephant" at the Odyssey Theater by Sylvie Drake on Page 15. "Of Mice and Men" at the Matrix Theater by John C. Mahoney on Page 12. TELEVISION: "How to Break Up a Happy Divorce" by Kevin Thomas on Page 18. AND OTHER FEATURES Dear Abby Page 4 Jody Jacobs ....Page 2 Bridge Page 4 On Fashion Page 8 Comics Page 19 Television ...Pages 16-18 Film Clips Page 9 Things Page 3 Art Seidenbaum is on vacation. ..IU.K III II MMUHIW.. m " '!" i I - tzi III ?. 'ij ... jl ,. f f&Mmm I J feu qm f i" L .. AFRICAN WELCOME-Henry Kissinger, Ambassador Jean Wilkowski and then- Foreign Minister Rupiah Banda talk during Kissinger's April visit to Africa. HER EXCELLENCY A Diplomat-in-Residence BY URSULA VILS Times Staff Writer In 1944, when offered a State Department job in Trinidad, Jean Wilkowski asked, "What's a vice consul?" Now, having put in nearly four years as U.S. ambassador to Zambia the first American woman ambassador to an African nationshe is in Los Angeles as a State Department diplomat-in-residence at Occidental College. Ambassador Wilkowski says she's delighted with the assignment. As a visiting professor of diplomacy and world affairs, she feels she will have an opportunity to "re-Americanize myself" after service overseas. But she can't contain her excitement over Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's recent shuttle diplomacy in Africa much of which she helped lay the foundation for. It was Kissinger's visit in April to seven African nations that set up the recent negotiations to initiate the machinery for majority black rule in Rhodesia within two years and hoped-for black participation in establishing an independent Namibia (South-West Africa). Political Solution Ambassador Wilkowski played a key role in arranging Kissinger's visit to Zambia's capital of Lusaka, where he chose to announce a 10-point plan for a Rhodesian political solution in two years. This plan was the basis for the black rule implementation to which Rhodesian Prime Min ister Ian Smith last month agreed in principle. She showed photos of Kissinger, Zambia President Kenneth Kaunda and herself, including one autographed to her by the Secretary of State, as she chatted in her home near the Occidental campus. A tall woman of 57 with a warm, outgoing personality and a fine sense of humor, she told marvelous anecdotes about the foreign service but was diplomatic enough to put them off the record. She spoke first of her tour of duty in Zambia, a republic with a population of almost 300,000 on the northern border of Rhodesia. She served there as ambassador from September, 1972, until last July 24. 'A Moderate, Pragmatic Man' "I was there during the period of some of the most important and significant developments in the evolution of independence in southern Africa Mozambique, Angola, the build-up for Rhodesia and Namibia," she said. "Lusaka was really the hot seat of the region's independence movements. Kaunda (elected the country's first president in 1964) is one of the outstanding leaders in Africa, a moderate, pragmatic man. Never a month would go by without important African leaders coming to Lusaka." Please Turn to Page 5, Col. 1 OPERA REVIEW Torza' Tempts Destiny in S.F- BY MARTIN BERNHEIMER Times Music Critic SAN FRANCISCO One approached the War Memorial Opera House with trepidation Sunday afternoon. The bill was Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" in an elaborate new production conducted by Kurt Adler, staged by Alberto Fassini and designed by Pierluigi Samaritani. It was to be the fifth "Forza" of the season and advance word had been less than encouraging. Destiny, it seemed, had not dealt kindly with this specific venture. The troubles began last June when Vladimir Atlantov, the formidable tenor of the Bolshoi, sent word from Moscow that he planned to be indisposed in September and thus would be unable to fulfill his contract. Adler, who serves this vehicle as maestro as well as impresario, then turned to a little-known Italian named Renato Francesco-ni (he had rescued Zubin Mehta's "Otello" in Israel this ' fx i i il i in .m'.i . I in i ANNA TOMOWA-SINTOW ... a satisfying Leonora. summer). Francesconi came, but failed to conquer in rehearsals. At the premiere, Don Alvaro fell to Barry Morell, an all-purpose Met tenor hastily summoned to the breach. But by the fourth performance, Morell found himself occupied elsewhere, and was himself replaced by Bruno Prevedi. (Abbott and Costello would have loved it.). The troubles didn't end there. For the new production. Adler had decided to restore several large chunks of music traditionally missing from "La Forza del Destino." The chunks included a big duet for tenor and baritone that closes Act II. Signor Prevedi proved either unwilling or unable to learn the duet on short notice. Ergo, to accommodate his latest ersatz-hero. Adler reshuffled the scenes of the act. This damaged dramatic continuity. But the other alternatives would have been worse: to omit the entire scene preceding the duet, or to end the act with an anticlimac-tic, soft chorus. Please Turn to Page t . Col. 2 Cocaine: Scientists Take Sides BY WILLIAM OVEREND Times Staff Writer "Considering the extravagantly high price of cocaine, the slim chances of procuring anything resembling a quality product, the special attention given it by narcotics officers, and the fact that its devotees are not, like herion users, in bondage to their drug, it is obvious that unless cocaine afforded very marked pleasures its current popularity would be inexplicable." Richard Ashley, "Cocaine: Its History, Uses and Effects." "Coke isn't as bad as heroin, but it's still bad. It makes ixople more violent, and that's the last thing we need in this society. The laivs aren't enforced by the judiciary, and they should be. The way things are going I think rape's going to be legal in 10 years." John Van Diver, regional director, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Millions of Americans have a favorite drug. All drugs, whether they are pain killers, tranquilizers or stimulants, can be abused, and frequently are. Yet society tolerates the use and abuse of some drugs while outlawing others. The classic examples are alcohol and cigarets, both judged by medical experts to have far more devastating social and medical side effects than many of the drugs that remain illegal. Frequently, drug researchers say, it's little more than a numbers game. So many people smoke and drink that it simply isn't feasible to think of a ban on alcohol or cigarets. Marijuana is another example. When it was associat- The last of three articles. ed primarily with minority groups, there was little talk of legalizing it. But after the white middle classes began using it widely in the '60s, the laws were modified. Today the high fashion illegal drug in America is cocaine. Once associated with minority groups, its use spread fast among the white middle and upper classes in only a few years. Predictably, some lawyers already are seeking to reduce the criminal penalties for its use, and the researchers and drug experts are debating whether it is truly dangerous or relatively harmless. Dr. Forest S. Tennant Jr. is one such expert. He is the former chief physician for the U.S. Army's special action office for alcohol and drug abuse in Europe, and now runs a private drug treatment program in West Covina, also serving as an advisory member to the county's methadone program for heroin addicts. Dr. Tennant believes cocaine is less harmful than many other legal and illegal drugs popular in America, but he questions whether it will ever be as widely accepted as marijuana. "Most of the evidence is that there aren't any adverse effects to normal cocaine use," he says. "It looks to be much safer than barbituates and amphetamines, and there's no evidence it has the body effects of cigarets or alcohol no way even close. If I were going to go out and sell a drug to the public, it would probably be cocaine. We might be better off using it as a recreational drug than marijuana. But we have a cultural bias against routes of administration. As long as you can drink it or smoke it, it's OK in our society. That's why marijuana is making it.'But using it in the nose or with a needle just isn't accepted. That may prove to be the biggest obstacle for cocaine." Cocaine is used by people for the same reasons most il-Please Turn to Page 6, Col. 1 M J COCAINE SNIFFING A model, using sugar and a tiny spoon, shows how cocaine is used. Times photo by Kathleen Ballard DIARY OF A DRUG BUST Life, Death of a Dedicated Narc Mike Ryan is nursing his second Bloody Mary. It's early afternoon on a weekday, and Ryan's sitting in a downtown bar telling what it's like to be an undercover narcotics investigator. Ryan (not his real name) is one of the best. So was his former partner, Blackie Sawyer, until he was shot to death during a narcotics investigation three years ago. "Me and Blackie were a team that were just unbeatable," Ryan says. "He was the kind of guy who could walk in this bar, and if there were three people in here he'd be friends with all of them in 20 minutes." Ryan and Blackie were partners for three years, working hundreds of major drug cases together as members of the administrative narcotics division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The last one ended in a motel room in Santa Monica on Nov. 6, 1973, when Blackie, posing as a major dealer, was shot to death while attempting to buy five kilos of cocaine. "We worked a lot of everything," Ryan says. "A lot of heroin and coke and major weed cases. It's kind of hard to remember them. They all blur together after a while." He remembers one case when the two of them went after a ton of marijuana. There was nothing particularly special about it, he says. It was fairly typical. "One of our informants put Blackie in touch with a Mexican dope dealer from Phoenix," Ryan says. "Blackie was passing himself off as a big dealer. He met with the guy here and bought a couple of kilos as a sample. Then we made arrangements to buy the rest in Arizona." Ryan and four other officers flew to Phoenix and met with agents of the Arizona Department of Public Safety! Blackie, the marijuana dealer and the informant took a later plane. Ryan met them at the Phoenix airport. A Gun for Blackie "I sneaked Blackie a gun after they cleared airport security, then we had a drink and talked over how we were going to do the deal," he says. "We drove the crook to his hotel and told him we'd pick him up in two hours for dinner." Still sipping his Bloody Mary, Ryan suddenly begins laughing. "Oh, yeah," he says. "I remember now. If you can imagine this, we're all at dinner that night. The crook's talked to his people and we're really down to business. All of a sudden the informant stands up, his face gets all twisted up and he goes into an epileptic fit right there in the restaurant. "We're all carrying guns and we've got other agents in there recording the conversation. All of a sudden, we've got everybody in the place coming over to us. An ambu- Please Turn to Page 6, Col. 1

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