Monday, January 30, 2012


My niece Kristina Valada-Viars just opened in her first play at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Reviews were posted last night in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and elsewhere, and I am just so proud of her. The play is Time Stands Still and it runs until mid-May. She's wearing the blue scarf in the photo below. Yes, that's her natural hair (just like her mother's.)

Kristina was an understudy for Steppenwolf's New York production of August: Osage County, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best new play and garnered a bunch of other Tony Awards. She made her Broadway debut in that show, performing at various times in the three different roles she understudied.
She worked with Austin Pendleton, her director in Time Stands Still, in an off-Broadway play by Romulus Linney called Punch Drunk Love at the end of her run in August: Osage County. In the photograph above, you can see why reviewers call her "leggy" or, sometimes, coltish. She's got legs that go from here to there and back again.

The photographs are publicity stills I pulled down from the Internet. If I knew who took them, I'd be happy to give credit. If the lower one was shot by Joan Marcus, "Hi, Joanie. Do you still have that picture of me with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in your files?"

HE Himself

I first photographed Harlan Ellison about 10 years before we were actually introduced. It was at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston in 1980. I had started shooting for the Washington Post only a few months earlier and I ran into the illustrious Michael Dirda who was planning an article for the Sunday book supplement. We hooked up and the WP ran several of my photographs, including one I got of Harlan talking to a small group of people after his full-house performance.

I've seen Harlan in action many times since then, usually from a much better vantage point because we've been close friends ever since I photographed him in 1989 and the photograph rather knocked his socks off.  You can find it--illegally and in poor resolution--on the Internet when you do a Google Pictures search under his name. It is usually among the first that come up. He's sitting on the back of a chair in strong directional lighting. Somebody scanned it from the back of the Harlan Ellison Hornbook. I had a dispute with the LA Times when they illegally used it one day, proving the value of an actual copyright registration when you want a quick resolution to copyright infringement.
Harlan hasn't been doing too many appearances lately, but he recently did two evenings at the Cinefamily/Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles for an SRO crowd. One was in November, the other was last week. Screenwriter Josh Olson (see, Josh, I spelled it right this time) "interviewed" him, which means Josh occasionally got to say something so Harlan could go off on a tangent. In theory, both nights were about Harlan's work as a television writer, and a very fast research in the projection booth managed to get things up on the screen to illuminate the "discussion." Another theme of the more recent evening was the publication of a spectacular reprint of "The Glass Teat" and "The Other Glass Teat," two collections of television (and, frankly, political) commentary articles Harlan wrote for the Free Press many years ago. Read it. The issues haven't changed.

A bit more than halfway through the evening, there was a commotion as this guy came up to the stage muttering and using his cell phone to record things. For a moment I thought it was a fan with a lack of manners, and then I realized it was Patton Oswalt doing a great turn as a fan with no manners. Patton took over "interviewing" duties from Josh for a bit, and for whatever reason, I can't seem to upload the four minutes I caught on video. Trust me, it was hysterical.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Proud Kiva Plug

I've reached a point where I have no idea how long it has been since I've posted a blog. This has gotten so bad that I didn't even check to see that I had comments awaiting action. So I apologize to Mike Garrett, who wanted advice about appearing on Jeopardy! I hope he had a great run on the show. According to the J-Archive, his episode(s) (which shot in mid-December), has (have) not yet run, so I can at least look forward to watching him compete.

And congratulations are in order for Amy Stephenson,  a fellow member of the Friends of Bob Harris lending group on Kiva, who had a three-day run on Jeopardy! earlier this month. She'll be contributing some of her earnings to our worth efforts when her check shows up late this spring. Thus far, our group has loaned over $1.5 million and Bob himself has loaned over $100,000.

Bob Harris himself is on the down-hill side of finishing his book about micro-loans called The First International Bank of Bob. I highly recommend his previous books Prisoner of Trebekistan and Who Hates Whom.  While I sometimes feel I've known Bob forever, we met only about four years ago. Before that I "knew" him from his many appearances on Jeopardy! as a regular contestant, a Tournament of Champions contestant and a contestant on two different special Jeopardy! championship series and from the radio commentaries he used to do for KNX radio that may have been syndicated around the country. Bob and I also both have degrees from Case Western Reserve University (his is an undergrad degree and mine is from the law school) but we were there about 10 years apart. Should he ever appear in your area to do a talk or a book signing, go.  He's very, very funny.

Because of Bob, I joined Kiva and talked about it when I appeared on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions in 2010. I've made 80 loans so far, all of them to women who are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their families in something in excess of 30 countries. It's a great way to remind myself that I am helping to improve the world $25 at a time with money that can then be re-loaned upon repayment.  Feel free to join me.