Moraga on stage for inaugural Classic Film Hall of Fame event
By Lou Fancher Contra Costa Times
On May 10, the New Rheem Theatre officially became the Classic Film Hall of Fame, marked by a weekend-long celebration including many film screenings and well-attended Q-AND-A sessions with inductees Cloris Leachman and Mickey Rooney and the daughters of Lou Costello and Boris Karloff.
Although the first Classic Film Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday night was sparsely attended -- perhaps proving Mother's Day as the only thing powerful enough to temporarily circumvent Hollywood -- the evening presented compelling moments.
Before radio/TV host and comedian Brian Copeland joined the hand-picked musicians accompanying the celebration to present the awards, the red carpet and meet-and-greet possibilities brought wonder to the face of 12-year old Tommy Diamantidis.
"I've been a fan for as long as I can remember," the seventh-grade Joaquin Moraga student gasped, clutching a poster Rooney had signed. "I'm a horse rider and when he did 'National Velvet,' I fell in love with his movies."
Diamantidis is one of the reasons Derek Zemrak's most ambitious endeavor as president and founder of the California Independent Film Festival Association matters. Meeting Rooney was, the star-struck fan said, "the most important moment in my life so far." And support from Hollywood is why the theater's plan to preserve classic films and honor the industry's royalty has a chance to blossom from seed to full flower.
"Cloris, Mickey, and Carl (inducted director Carl Reiner sent an "I can't tell you how excited -- yes I can: I'm very excited!" video acceptance speech) are very supportive. With these legends legitimizing and believing in this -- it's slow to start, but it will take off," Zemrak said.
A preshow interview with Leachman provided evidence of the rocket fuel on which the little town of Moraga might catapult itself into prominent film history.
At 86, Leachman's language is sprinkled with good humor, sly assertions and a considerable number of expletives, just to shake up the grandma expectations. There's fire in her eyes as she takes command of the LA makeup artist applying foundation.
"I need cream first -- oh, what's it called?" she demands. "Moisturizer! That's it." Momentarily satisfied, Leachman explains why she chose to accept Zemrak's invitation to attend the event.
"I just go where they feed me," she jokes. "When I did 'Dancing with the Stars,' we'd cut out of rehearsal early and go have dinner. I gained a pound a day."
With more Emmys than any other actress and numerous films under her belt, Leachman says she hasn't even seen all of her own movies. Her favorite film is one she'd watch over and over: "The Last Picture Show."
"Remember the line, something about heifers?" she asks, referring discreetly to the film's sexual underpinnings. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Rooney, more sedate but no less opinionated at age 92, said in an interview he was "honored to be invited" and even had suggestions for the next semiannual induction ceremony.
"Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino should be invited," he said, declining to name female actors.
Rooney doesn't watch the 368 films in which he has appeared, saying they're made for other people, not for himself. And he proclaimed current films too full of special effects and void of "talking about meaningful things."
Accepting her award, Leachman remained true to her gustatory promise and said, "I'm going out to dinner and then I'm going home to think about what a lovely time I had." Rooney said the award meant appreciation and thanked the audience. Sara Karloff said her father's fans extended "the long legs of his legacy" and recalled his repeated claims of being "the luckiest man in the world."
Moragan, author and classic film expert Larry Swindell was the festival's local awardee, earning the accolade for his biographies of Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper and John Garfield. "Somewhere," from "West Side Story," won the song award: "The Sound of Music" was honored as the first film in the Hall of Fame.