Madrid, Jan. 1, 2024
Another year has come to its close and we have managed to beat last year’s number of entries from the muggs, now totalling 20!
There were a few no-shows, such as the Fainarus, Mike Evans, Bill Grantham, Semantha Stenzel, Paul Rosovsky, and Mike Malak, but we hope that their absences have not been due to misfortunes.
Following is the list of this year’s contributors, in the order in which their submissions were received:
Sydney, December 18
Greetings to all the surviving muggs and special thanks to Besa for keeping Simesite alive and the grand tradition of the annual wraps.
I continue to enjoy retirement, spending quality time with our grandson Banjo, who turns two in April. His mother, Tilda, has just announced that she and her partner Cian are expecting their second child in June, so Banjo will have a baby sister. Banjo is pictured “reading” his Big Brother book. Tilda and Cian are paramedics, one based in St. Ives, the other in Mascot.
Our Melbourne-based daughter Claudie just graduated from RMIT as a Bachelor of Youth Work and Youth Studies, her second degree after completing a Bachelor of Media and Communication at the University of Newcastle.
She did two placements, the second with the North Melbourne Football Club’s community outreach program The Ladder Project Foundation, which we hope will make her well placed for her career in youth work.
In August my wife and I embarked on a 29-night Viking Baltic Jewels & The Midnight Sun cruise, starting in London and encompassing the northern tip of Norway, Denmark, Berlin and Gdansk, finishing in Stockholm. The Viking Star had 930 passengers but it never felt crowded and the all-included food and drinks and service plus one excursion provided in each port were all first-class.
We spent several days in London, coinciding with the funeral in Buckinghamshire of one of my closest Pommie mates, Ken Muller, where we caught up with several other long-standing friends.
Best wishes to all the muggs
Sydney, Dec. 18
My news is not so rosy this year.
As a result of a compromised immune system I have been taking steroids for quite a while and as a result my bones have become fragile. I have had two spinal fractures since June resulting in long stays in hospital. I have been forced to resign as film reviewer for The Australian after 35 years. I have also concluded my stint as lecturer in film history at Sydney Uni, so am now completely retired while I try to get my health back, which mainly means trying to walk on a frame or with two sticks,
Oh for the good old days!
Best to you, as always
New York, Dec. 18
Somehow I missed last year’s missive, but was delighted to hear from Peter again (thanks so much for doing this!) and to learn news of fellow MUGGS.
For the past five and a half years, I’ve been living in a remote Greek village, but my husband and I are transitioning back to Gotham. City girl at heart!
Semi-retirement for me means doing guest professorships around the world in such far-flung climes as Barcelona, the Netherlands, and most recently Bangkok. It’s fun, the commitment level is low, and it’s a wonderful formula for immersive tourism. My field is digital media, an evolutionary step from covering film and TV in days of yore.
I’m also keeping busy as a docent at NYC’s Neue Galerie, and doing volunteer work for Coney Island USA, so perhaps I can count on seeing some of you at the Mermaid Parade.
Everyone gets through NYC eventually – when you do, please drop a line, I’d love to reconnect!
Croton-on-Hudson Dec. 18
All is well at Casa Blickstein. I’ve been doing occasional freelance work for Scientific American and other pubs. The missus is consulting for Wells Fargo, splitting time between the city and the house.
We’re still traveling: Jazz Fest in New Orleans in May, Croatia in September, and the biggie for me — Barbados for my year-end b’day, the big 70!
Say hello to all the other muggs for me.
Traverse City, Michigan, Dec. 19
I am settling in to Traverse City, Mich., drop-dead gorgeous during three seasons of the year and too cold and snowy the rest. I do some public radio consulting work (ethics, best practices and a bit of script editing) and this year have spent many of my working hours helping lead a coalition of news and community leaders who are concerned about the news deserts popping up in our wider northern Michigan region. We are working on collaborative projects and training for young journalists and helping some new digital publications perhaps get off the ground. Satisfying (and challenging) work.
When not working, John and I continue our birding adventures. This year took us to the Everglades, the Texas/Mexico border, the Cascade foothills in Washington, the Colorado mountains and Nome, Alaska, among other places. Nothing fancy, but the birds sure do frequent some beautiful habitats.
Wishing everyone health and happiness in the New Year. Holler if you get up this way!
Hi Peter! Thank you so much for your email! I loved your memories of the old Variety!! I think so often of that wonderful building – and dear Norma– how I miss her!! While I was working there I was sent to the Wang computer workshop in the late 70s and was able to practice on our first desktop up in the switch board room!! Wow!!! I wish you well and hope 2024 is a good year for you! Best
Paris, Dec. 27
All things come to an end. My 23 year stay in New York has run its course. I returned to Paris three weeks ago, scene of my almost five-year stint as Variety Paris Bureau Chief 1987-1992. I took over from Alan Tillier, who had a brief run in that position. Tillier himself suceeded Bill Grantham. Ted Clark was the Manager. There is reason to believe that Ted is still alive, though there is no proof of that. He would be nearly 100 years old! Last news from him came nearly ten years ago from Lenny Borger, Paris’ film critic. If anyone knows Ted’s whereabouts, so to speak, please let me (us) know. Lenny, by the way, is suffering from an illness that has sidelined him. I just visited him in Paris and he’s witty as usual and in pretty good spirits.
As for my New York run, I am now retired. Thus ending a 17 year-long career at the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office. It ended December 1. The last ten years there had been thrilling. I had the privilege of having one of the best legal jobs in the world. As a member of the Conviction Review Unit, I travelled through the States investigating claims of wrongful convictions. I helped exonerate wrongfully convicted persons, most of whom had been convicted of murder. My last one will go to court soon, and I hope to fly to NY to be there.
Once again, thank you Peter and Ian for keeping the site going! I have fond memories of my time at Variety. Happy New Year. Stay healthy!!
A highlight of my 2023 was reconnecting with Elizabeth Guider, whom I had first met in 1990 when I was arriving at the Variety London bureau (after three years in the Sydney bureau with Dogo and Doch), and she was on her way out, moving back to the New York editorial head office. We met up in LA in February this year, after finding each other on LinkedIn and Facebook, and had a long chatty lunch (pic attached) that turned into me house-sitting for her when I landed back in LA in May and she was off traveling… Once she came home, over the months I remained in LA, we caught up for a few dinners, always so much to talk about in our pasts and presents.
I am back in Sydney for now, plugging the re-release of my book Songwriters Speak (originally published in 2005 and critically hailed as a landmark work in writing about Australian music), and working with an events company until I get an offer too tantalising to refuse that gets me living and working back in LA, where my cultural soul truly belongs.
Also of note: David Stratton (Strat) is retiring from all film writing and this has been a news story here in Australia over the past week.
Happy New Year to all of you!
Atlanta, Dec. 28
2022 was the year of Covid, I feel this year was the emergence of AI. The technology keeps changing so fast it’s hard to keep up. It really had me reflecting on the crazy arc of my career as a graphic artist.
I was in my early 20s when I started at Variety and the tools of my trade were rulers, X-Acto knives, T squares, sketch pads, proportion wheels and wax machines. It wasn’t long before I had to learn a whole new skill set that included this new invention called the computer and mouse. Words crept into my vocabulary such as hard drive, floppy disk and modem. I quickly had to learn software applications, such as Microsoft Word, Pagemaker, Quark Xpress and Adobe Photoshop. I then ditched my film camera for a digital one. Soon after that I had to learn computer code to build websites. Then came cell phones and the need to understand how to build apps. Finally, when I was working at Amazon corporate, I was assigned to work on training AI to recognize photography issues. They originally had a team of over 100 people looking at photos. They could process just a few thousand images a day. After I completed the project the 100 people were let go and AI could process several million images a day. All this made me think about a book I read when I was in high school called Future Shock that predicted change would accelerate in the coming years. I never thought it would impact my career the way it did. It makes me wonder what’s coming in the next 50 years.
Well all that’s behind me now as I settle into retirement. I now spend less time worrying about keeping up, and enjoy spending time with my wife of 33 years and my two grown daughters. Most of my day is spent working on art in my home studio, going to the gym or jumping in my boat for a little fishing. My Irish wife insists that we make an annual trip to Ireland to visit her large family. All in all, life is good!
White Plains, NY Dec.28
Greetings to everyone, and a big thank you to Peter and Ian for keeping Simesite chugging along!
The Mariches are doing fine in Westchester County, outside of New York City. Marie continues to serve on five different community boards. She is still hosting and producing a local cable TV access show “This Blooming City” (TBC). https://wpcommunitymedia.org/blooming-city/07162015-1170 After 10 years, TBC has an archive of over 70 shows (but she is not seeking representation at this time!)
Son Nick is doing very well at his corporate branding job across town. He is following in his grandfather’s footsteps (Syd!) in the printing biz.
Husband Bob freelances for Variety special sections, does other freelance journalism work in media/entertainment and is preparing a fourth edition of his book Marketing to Moviegoers.
Best Wishes to all for a Happy and Blessed New Year!
Suffern, NY, Dec. 29
Greetings, Variety Muggs!
Firstly, thank you again Peter and Ian for keeping the Variety channel opened. And a hearty “Feliz Cumpleaños” to Peter for the very impressive milestone.
The photo attached is my three granddaughters: Harper, Ava and the latest addition Bailey. They are a joy and a blessing.
In April/May of this year, I took my overdue retirement trip,. two week guided bus tour of six countries in Central Eastern Europe: Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. We visited all the capital cities and saw every castle, cathedral, synagogue and museum. The food and beer were grand and we met nice people everywhere. I discovered how little I knew about these countries but got an eye-opening crash course. I was 160 miles from Lviv, Ukraine while in Krakow, Poland. Poland has taken in millions of refugees. How nice is that!
Sidebar footnote: Departing from Frankfurt, Germany on May 6th, the plane was heading towards home, its flight path was directly over London. As we passed overhead — King Charles was being crowned. I waved out the window thinking I was only 20,000 feet from the Coronation.
I had the pleasure of seeing seven well-done stage plays and heard a number of fine musical concerts in various college auditoriums. Also saw three films ( all new premiers ) at the Woodstock Film Festival. They bill themselves as “Fiercely Independent” and the films certainly were.
Variety published a great article on November 1, 2023 re: The Beatles’ new and last song – “Now and Then“. As a lifelong fan this was big and good news. Also Dolly Parton surprised the music world with her new release of ROCKSTAR. A two CD cover of largely classic rock and roll songs, performed with many of its creators like: Sting, Elton John, John Fogerty, Heart, Paul McCartney. to name a few. One song in particular that Dolly wrote was I dreamed about Elvis Last Night. Her lyrics are witty and very funny. At age 77 Dolly shows an energy that is inspiring and hopeful. Similarly, Harrison Ford donning his famous hat again as “Indiana Jones” at age 80 lends further inspiration to real activity in advancing years,
While the non-show business part of today’s world is saddled with wars, politics and even lava flows in Iceland as I write this!
My hopes and best wishes to us all for a very good New Year 2024! That’s all folks!
Malibu Lake, CA Dec. 29
Another year gone by. Had a new shoulder procedure in late January, followed by months of physical therapy, but thankfully it’s now all functioning as it should.
Disheartening to see that basically all that remains of the one-time Bible of Showbusiness is the logo. Things change, I guess, when one corporate entity owns Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Billboard and the focus shifts from journalism (apparently an outdated concept) to other concerns. Ah well, as Confucius said: “S..t happens. Quit complaining, nobody wants to hear it. Shut up and deal with it.” Or something like that.
All in all, things are going well for me, Barbara, the sons and their families. Best wishes to all Muggs for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2024!
New York, Dec. 29
Not much to report for 2023. I’m still working part time on the New York Post copy desk, where I enjoy the camaraderie of a lot of seasoned journalists who (luckily) are still plying their skills to the print publication. I think as long as Rupert Murdoch is still kicking, we are safe.
I still work remotely, which allowed me to spend April and October on Fire Island. (I rent out my house during the summer season.)
My travels were limited to Stateside this year. A November road trip from Palm Springs to New York took me to the Grand Canyon (thus photo). In March, I took another adventure by car to Florida (via Charleston, SC) to visit friends and relatives. The Charleston visit was not only charming but revelatory, as a cousin who lives there took me to see my ancestors’ graves from the 18th and 19th centuries. I never would have found them any other way. I wish you each a Happy New Year and — more than ever– Peace on Earth.
Sayville, L.I. Dec. 30
Another year has passed too quickly. Family gatherings are the highlight of my year. My oldest grandchild just got her learner’s permit for driving (she is the shortest girl in pic). This does not seem possible. No old news to report. However, the Balan ladies (Maryjane Howard, Barbara Bacchi, Carol (Borja) Visco, Jeannine Rinaldi, Janice Partridge and myself) are planning a mini reunion with Tom Gilbert on Fire Island in the spring or early summer. I live in Sayville and it is just a short ferry ride across the bay. We should have lots of news and pictures next year. Wishing everyone a healthy New Year filled with smiles.
Croton-on-Hudson, Dec. 31
Dear fellow Muggs,
I will be 75 in Feb. 2024. That is inconceivable to me, except that some of you…. well, maybe all of you…. are older. That still makes me the kid in the room, or at least one of them. Among giants.
My son, Samson, was location manager on Maestro, the Bradley Cooper/Lenny Bernstein pic that is less a biopic than it is Scenes From A Marriage. Samson and his wife, Ashley, who’s in charge of Netflix studio traffic East Coast, are expecting our first grandchild in March. My middle daughter, Elodie, relocated to NYC from Telluride, where she ran hospitality logistics for the festival, to start work in film locations as well, and her first picture was Maestro. Blaise, my third, is a social worker at a private agency on W 72nd St. Susan, my wife, does development for the Lustgarten Foundation, a pancreatic cancer fund inside Madison Square Garden.
I continue on reviewing on WBGO as below.
Here’s a sample:
Wishing you all a safe and kind 2024.
New York Dec. 31
Season’s Greetings & Happy New Year, everyone! I always like to bedazzle the place big-time for Christmas… It’s fantastic reading up on everyone’s sequels. As you can see in the hallway of my apartment (where we had a Weekly Variety farewell gathering when it was all over in the early 1990s – thanks for mentioning this in your book, Peter!. Always like to bedazzle the place big-time for Christmas, save for a pandemic-downsized year or two. Variety remains a major part of who (or what?!) I turned out to be. It was and is an amazing time in our lives, n’est-ce pas? Ah, that brings back memories of French pic imports, Miss Piggy, the Cannes/Nice/Mifed shuffle, and Ted Clark (do I recall our French bureau chief’s name correctly?).
Okay, so I’m standing in front of my sort-of holiday bulletin board, adorned for the season because the poster under it, a rare one-sheet for Road Warrior, isn’t fittin’. (A then-Warner Bros.-staffer gifted me this ad campaign version; it depicts the road and two warriors, but thankfully no Mel Gibson). So, in addition to the Variety ad with our 1990-ish holiday wishes and the Daily Variety full-pager for “NLCV,” how many other showbiz references can you spot? Hint: Thomas Mitchell on the dollar bill is part of the nostalgic fallout from the likely urban myth that Frank Capra was inspired to base It’s a Wonderful Life on Seneca Falls, NY, where I was born in 1952. That’s the year the Today Show began – I just retook the NBC tour after many decades! And SNL started right on my birthday in 1975. Maybe I should have also worked at NBC! But glad it was Variety, from 1981 to 1993. My sig, Binn, is in some way in all my passwords.
My milestone for 2023 was retiring from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in September. There I edited exam reports, gave writing seminars, wrote procedures and presentations, and maintained databases. I joined in 1994. I went from temp to salary grade 6 to S.G. 15. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying. It illustrates how they kept throwing me promotions and coin just because I could meet a deadline and boil down a messy sentence for clarity and conciseness. I didn’t once have to ever, like a mugg once told me, get down on his hands and knees for a raise!
By the way, it’s good “mugg” caught on rather than “f—ing genius, and vice versa,” as Joe Cohen would say. One more BTW: would it still be okay to call him, “Jose”? I think I saw him in that photograph of the Variety newsroom. I have to find that photo we took when the cranes bashed a hole into it, the newsroom! Next to Klain’s desk, right?! I remember Putzer running away from the crashing and crushing. I still see the ghost of the storefront behind that W. 46th St. parking lot when I go for acupuncture across the street. I miss La Strada (restaurant), too.
Retirement is nice, though it’s still new. Anyone not like their retirement?! Although my managers shunned some of my efficiencies (e.g., they didn’t like me to use “biz” for “business”), I did like working at the Fed; no drama, no politics, and it’s good to all its employees. The Fed’s watchdog role in the industry in which it works appealed to me, too, because it is a lot like Variety and Daily Variety’s role in their industry. Or was a lot like? Though I scan the Variety headlines sent to my spam folder every day, I can’t tell: Is real journalism still kinda happening there? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Okay, I better wrap this up; I thought I’d be more succinct. Stay well, and thanks for, you know, the memories.
Sparta , NJ Dec. 31
Hello from Sparta NJ, feeling good about next year! To keep my mind active I always keep my daze full of new projects. Last year I was not thrown out of doing NYC street fairs (for my antics) but it rained almost every weekend. The year before I was banished for a month or two for being too annoying to my neighbor booths, and using space beyond my booth (when they put me over a smelly sewer on Bleecker Street). During my banishment I came up with the idea of creating cool bags to attract customers to my 10 x 10 street store. Last year I created bagsgab #1 around the You Tube release of my eight years of high times Amsterdam Cannabis Cup footage. During my goldmine I called Video Oyster I spent a few weeks in Amsterdam during Thanksgiving being a videographer for High Times magazine.
Bagsgab #2 will promote my tellitales.com site where I took the most noted children’s picture books and broke them down into virtues, themes and traits. I’ve distributed hundreds of these books locally into related businesses (mostly on main streets) in three towns here in New Jersey. I’ve linked most of these kids’ books to You Tube storytellers as well. Now with bagsgab #2, NYC Kids book parties (no not weed on this project) will be held at mostly Uptown street fairs where there are kids galore. Storytelling and classic picture books will be read and sold by traits and virtues to help parent tackle misbehavior. Bag #2 will be featured with approved art broken down by virtue and trait by the 80 publishers I’m working with.
Today my mind needs a bigger project to create bag #3 around. My first pot bag was very successful and I distributed them to budtenders from hundreds of cannabis dispensaries on the East Coast as well as at Cannabis conventions and events. So #3 must be cannabis oriented to keep the mojo going strong. Before Ken Terry introduced me to Paul and I became a Variety messenger I was doing PR for a NYC band called Spaces that was touring Poland . Before that I wrote Seperated States of Amerika which was a futuristic warning I created. Before that I was a human vegetable performing at Fisherman Wharf in Frisco. Before that I befriended Jean Michel Basquiat when we worked together at Unique Clothing Warehouse (714 Broadway). An hour before Harvey Russek hired me at Unique, I was offered a job selling lectures for New Line Cinema (Broadway just south of 14th Street).
I got my Rider College advisor a job at New Line the year before, and I was hoping for a film job like hers. New Line had crappy lecturers so the job didn’t seem interesting to me. Starting with New Line would have been a great career move but I can’t ever admit to being Business bright. So after all these decades I’m thinking about pushing lecturers to college audiences. I ran the student entertainment council for most of my college life. I ran the film series for 3 1/2 years, but also booked concerts and most of Rider Colleges lecturers.
Living in NYC I met many people who would be ideal speakers to motivate college students. So bagsgab #3 will feature this crazy assortment of revolutionary thinkers and stoners. My new project is called GoatsOG (greatest of all time stoners & original gangsters). I’ve gathered the old manager of Jimi Hendrix’s recording studio called Electric Lady to talk about classic rock stars. I have Keith Moon’s old live-in girlfriend who witnessed tons of stories including driving into his swimming pool. I have the owner of the Psychedelic Solution who had a crazy dual life. I have so many others in mind that I can’t talk about yet, but you get the idea.
Trying to travel more to hit more Cannabis, natural food, book and toy conventions this year to push my bagsgab.com and other sites. NYC street fairs was always good to promote my sites. Now the bags and their events have supercharged these street fairs. Hopefully 2024 weather will be more adaptable to my book and weed parties. I’ve bought a timeshare with Hilton to make traveling easier now that I don’t have Variety to pay for my conventions.
Warm wishes to all muggs out there reading Simesite! The world is in the biggest mess during my lifetime. My grandmother was from the Odessa area of Ukraine and hid in truck haystacks to escape to France and the USA. Pitchforks in her leg didn’t make her scream. The ravers in Israel who were attacked by Hamas were tripping on psychedelics like all rave party attendees I imagine. I can’t comprehend this very bad trip, and I’m amazed that no news medium is talking about this fact. Crazy world we need to fix anyway we can. I’ll be trying for sure. This will be the 7th year I’ll have no prices at my street fair. My 6th year of caretaking and being a home aide. And my 13th year of being with my love Sharon. Her oldest was married this year. My oldest graduated and is working in NYC at a salary over $100,000, more a year than Syd ever paid me. All three of our other kids are in college so we have a four-bedroom empty nest. Plenty of room to store all my Hawaiian shirts that I’ll try to sell at the street fairs this year. Happy New Year once again
New Canaan, CT Dec. 31
Scary to think it’s been 30 years plus since I ankled the Weekly in New York in April 1993, a full year past my my 5-year contract, at the “tender” age of 36. (Even scarier is my year-long posting to the London bureau 42 years ago, 1981!) I’m now eligible for Social Security, but I’m going to keep working at Merrill Lynch until 70, give or take a decade. One thing Simesite does is help me keep perspective about how the age in your head has nothing to do with the age of your body, witness all the muggs staying viable, active, and engaged with new gigs, old hobbies, and fond memories of days gone by.
I’m impressed by Besa.’s 90 years on, you would never know it by looking at him, but it’s probably genetics and his ability to bend technology to his will; who woulda thunk Pedro would be adapting AI and Chat GPT to come up with another translation channel, or for his history of stagecoach travel across Spain in the 1800s? Go figure.
Although still working, Pam and I manage to sneak away a couple of times a year to play golf, and much to the chagrin of my many and varied golfing amigos, she had her first hole-in-one in her 3rd year of playing the game. There will be no turning back, now, I’ve created the monster. Our #3, daughter Melanie, got married on the 4th of July, and my eldest Carolyn had our 2nd grandchild, Daphne (Sime’s great-great-great granddaughter). I will join my brother Mike (the retired twin) out in Arizona in May for his annual golf invitational tournament, and tick off a bucket list item to see the Rolling Stones live, before either they or I are not.
In October, we did our first ever trip to Portugal, hitting Lisbon, Porto and the Douro River valley as well as the touristic Sintra, Cascais etc. I decided that learning to speak Portuguese was akin to learning Martian, so thankfully most of the citizens have a reasonable grasp of English. Like Barcelona and Madrid, everything west of France is just as scenic, epicurious and delightful as the Cote d’Azur, but a lot less fussy. My sad realization is despite my 6 handicap at my age, I only have so many trips to Scotland, Ireland, Italy, and the Danube to juggle before having to contemplate the Spanish Steps in a walker. I play lots of squash doubles when it’s not golf season to stay flexible until the grass starts growing under my feet again.
Again, muchos gracias to Peter and Ian for keeping the Flame of 46th Street alive for another year, and wishing everyone who posts, or justs reads these updates, a healthy and happy 2024. See you next year!
Elmwood Park, NJ Dec. 31
I started 2023 with a medical problem that should have been resolved the previous year but because my insurance plan included my doctor but NOT any of the facilities in which he performs operations I had to wait until I could sign a new insurance policy for the next year.
The difficulty was a benign tumor on the sole of my right foot. It was removed in early March and subsequent tests confirmed that it was indeed benign. I’m grateful that the recovery period went fairly quickly and within a couple of months I was back to doing my daily indoor jogging.
I did have a few other distractions including the painting of my apartment which necessitated weeks of moving stuff around.
But though a bit slowed down I did stick to my doing research for my fictional writing project. I am in the process of completing the seventh book I read during the year in that regard. After that I intend to start the writing.
I already know the whole trajectory of the story, all its twists and turns and even the final lines of dialogue and final images that will appear. But that still leaves a lot of work for refining, providing connective tissue between different story strands, developing a couple of emerging scenes and getting all the dialogue and imagery right. The research has not only helped me obtain valuable information about the characters but has helped inspire some scenes. I may continue to read a couple of more books on the subject as I proceed on the writing.
After that it’s just a question of exactly how good it will be and whether or not it will sell. So I’m hoping for good luck for myself and for all my fellow muggs and their families in 2024.
Madrid, Dec. 31
Having reached the hoary age of 90 last June, I have now stowed away my travel gear and about the only trip I took was a three-day jaunt up to San Sebastian on the Basque Coast last August, with a quick sortie over the French border to Bayonne for a day. The mere idea of the long lines, controls, crowdings and hassles at airports suffices to convince me that I have travelled extensively enough in my life — 30 years of bopping around to the film and TV markets around the world and a yearly month-long jaunt to Latin America for Variety — as well as countless vacation trips from Maine to Frisco, from Oslo to Athens, as well as annual pleasure trips to London and New York.
Much of the past year has been spent in putting the final touches, correcting and seeing through the press my latest book, Diligencia a Madrid (Stagecoach to Madrid), a 430-page tome about stagecoach travel in mid-19th century Spain, with many first-hand descriptions from a wide variety of travellers, mostly British, French and German. The book hit the Madrid bookshops in mid-December. The original English-language edition is due out early in 2024.
Meanwhile I have kept myself busy researching and writing about a subject that I find fascinating: Tranlation Theory. Ranging from Cicero and translations of the Bible up to modern theories espoused by, among many others, Vladimir Nabokov and Umberto Eco, I delve with the help of Google, Wikipedia and Chat GPT into the World of Translation over the cenuries, coming up with delightful anecdotes and information – quite a learning processs for me.
I have no particular plans for the coming year: just trying to remain in reasonably good health, regularly meeting up with my son, granddaughter and a few acquaintances, and keeping intellectually and physically busy, which I am convinced are two of the most important factors in “staying young at 90”.
Los Angeles, Jan. 2
To begin, happiest of New Years to all former Variety vets. Trust everyone is well and thriving.
Arguably, the highlight of my year in 2023 was a long-delayed trip back to Europe where I managed to spend a week or two each this fall in the places I had lived and worked in for almost two decades. Think London, Paris, Rome and a few other venues.
You all know how it is: at certain moments, it seemed like I was there yesterday and other times everything seemed very much changed. London was as vibrant as ever and I did walk by the old Variety office there on St James’ Street—what a great address that was—on my way to Fortnum & Mason. I even had lunch with old journo friends in Mayfair. (The prices there never go down, and, given the givens, we had to pick up our own tabs!) Also had a fabulous meet-up with old friends from the biz at the newly inaugurated Raffles Hotel, which used to be, of all things, the British War Office. Think MI-3 to MI-6.
As for Paris, it never grows old, does it? Went to the opera, a couple of concerts and a long walk in the Bois de Boulogne.
The city of Rome is of course eternal, and it would seem the film biz there appears alive and well. I stayed in the apartment where I used to live on via Panisperna, which is an old stone’s throw from where our colleague Deborah Young still lives. She and I did manage to get together, and she brought me a copy of her novel. (I read it on the plane back to NYC and it was, not surprisingly, first-rate: suspenseful, fun and affecting. Kudos to her! (My own sixth novel is scheduled to come out this April—it’s set on the home front in New Orleans during WWII. I channeled some family lore in writing it, but there’s also a scene where the main characters take in Casablanca, which went wide in the winter of ‘43.)
Back in Hollywood, the biz only gets more complicated and fragmented and is now menaced by artificial intelligence (as well as by occasional but predictable executive stupidity). There are a number of challenges upcoming despite the uplift from Barbenhammer. Most all the streamers are (still) losing money while box office receipts are lackluster. Too many dull derivative superheroes, for one thing, and a dearth of movies for grown-ups for another.
Meanwhile, on the TV front, cablers are reeling from cord-cutters and rising production costs. The recently ended writers’ and actors’ strikes were great for worker creatives (and in my view justified) but the new contracts will clearly squeeze the studios’ margins. I’m guessing too that we’ll soon see a pick-up in merger mania—Warner Bros Discovery and Paramount being the latest behemoths to be cozying up. Not that anyone (other than those, like lawyers and top execs, who stand to make a mint out of the proceedings) seems excited about yet another Tinseltown roll-up. Especially since so many of these conglomerations have been fizzles over the past several decades.
Whatever happens, fingers crossed for some good movies, perhaps a little shorter than Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer but hopefully as compelling. A really good TV series or two to fill the holes left by The Crown, Succession, White Lotus, Yellowstone and/or The Handmaid’s Tale would also be a plus.
That’s it. All best to all.