There’s No Business Like Show Business

by Susan Kelly

In 1995, my non-fiction book about the Boston Strangler case was published and, as a result, I got invited onto a lot of television shows to discuss the premise of the book. The premise was that Albert DeSalvo, who confessed to the series of murders that took place in eastern Massachusetts between June 1962 and January 1964, didn’t actually commit any of them.

One of the first things I learned about television was that you can run from it, but you can’t hide from it. If a producer wants to find you, the producer will find you. It doesn’t matter if you’re ice-fishing in Baffin Bay without a cell phone. Somebody will dispatch a carrier pigeon from a rooftop on West 57th Street.

In the early summer of 1999, Good Morning America tracked me down at a seafood restaurant in Salem, New Hampshire, where I’d gone with my parents and my brother and his daughter. The waiter had just deposited a plateful of fried oysters before me when the hostess hustled up to the table and said, “Is there a Susan Kelly here?”

I acknowledged that there was.

“You have a phone call.” She pointed at the front desk. “You can take it there.”

I took the call. When I returned to the table, everyone looked at me with raised eyebrows, except for my ten-year-old niece Marie, who had embarked on the demolition of a fried clam platter bigger then she was. I sat down and blinked at them.

“That was Good Morning America,” I said. “They want me to be on their show tomorrow morning.”

My mother looked bemused. “How are you going to get to New York?”

“Well, they’re sending a car to your house and picking me up there tonight. The car will take me to Logan, and there will be a ticket waiting for me at the airline desk.”

“Suppose you told them you didn’t want to do it,” my brother said.

“I don’t think they take no for an answer,” I said.

“No business like show business,” my father said. “Shall I sing it?”

“No,” my brother, mother, and I screamed.

“May I please have some more tartar sauce?” Marie asked.

Later that evening, a uniformed guy driving a dark-blue Lincoln solid as a tank picked me up in Andover and drove me to Logan Airport. I flew to New York, got a cab at La Guardia, and took a ride into Manhattan that lasted longer than the flight because of some unspecified but dire mess on Queens Boulevard. The hotel where I was booked was apparently where GMA lodged all its guests, or at least those who didn’t demand and get the Plaza or the St. Regis. I was given a suite and a key to the V.I.P lounge, which I was too tired to use.

The next morning a guy in casual clothes driving a nondescript Chevy picked me up and drove me to West 57th Street. I entered the studio through a side door that looked like the emergency exit to a paint factory. Someone swooped down on me and grabbed my handbag and suitcase and strolled off with them. Another person appeared and hauled me off to hair and make-up.

The coiffing got done first. A gum-snapping brunette plopped me in a chair, surveyed me narrowly, and said, “This the way ya always weah ya haih, hon?”

I admitted that it was.

She pushed at my hair and nodded judiciously. “Great bounce, hon.” Bristling with combs and brushes, she set to work. It took her about two minutes to give me side wings, flips, curls, and bangs that defied gravity. Then she sprayed the whole sculpture into rigidity.

I moved to another chair so the make-up woman could weave her magic spell. The first thing she did was trowel pancake onto my face and throat. I wondered if I’d be able to move my facial muscles. Barely. Having created the background on the canvas, the woman set about painting the foreground. I stared at the mirror, fascinated by the change my face was undergoing. Suddenly I had the cheekbones of Katharine Hepburn. A moment later, I had the cut-glass jawbone of Vanessa Redgrave. My eyes and lips enlarged. I still looked like me…but a really good me.

“Can I hire you to do this to me every morning for the rest of my life?” I said.

The make-up woman laughed and dismissed me to take on her next customer.

Someone appeared and led me to the green room. On the way in, I passed civil rights icon James Farmer being escorted to do his segment on the show. (Sadly, he would die on July 9 of that year.) The green room was about the size of my bedroom in my house in Cambridge: not large. Against the far wall was a table set up with a coffee urn, jugs of fruit juice, and platters of pastries. No one went near it, including me. The other walls had chairs lined up against them. I found an empty chair and took it. Two very casually dressed young guys, apparently too fidgety to sit, hovered by my chair. We exchanged pleasantries. Afterward I found out they were the writer/directors of The Blair Witch Project. A moment later a short dark-haired man appeared in the doorway. He glanced around at the occupants. As he entered the room, he gave me a brilliant smile. (Perhaps he mistook me for someone cool.) It was George Stephanopoulos, one-time press secretary to Bill Clinton and now an ABC commentator. He sat on the arm of my chair, back to me, and chatted with the person sitting next to me. His left buttock nudged my left breast. I was tempted to pinch him but resisted the urge. I stared at his behind till someone (there were endless someones) came to fetch me for the show.

When I was a young teenager my father had worked in the financial end of a company that produced and distributed theatrical movies and television programs, so I was well aware at an early age how literally shabby showbiz was behind all the glitz. And of how the tawdry and commonplace could be made magical by the right lighting and the proper camerawork. (And make-up: Witness my transfigured face.) Still, it was interesting to see first-hand how jury-rigged the infrastructure of a top-rated morning news show could be. We walked through a maze of shaky partitions, on scuffed and worn floors, over piles of cable duct-taped in place, past a set that was supposed to look like a living room and furnished totally in simulated wood, and onto the GMA set. There was a commercial break. Diane Sawyer looked up from her desk and gave me a vague, harried smile. She was lovely, but a bit less dewy and radiant than she appeared through a camera lens. A make-up person darted from the wings and applied a brush to Sawyer’s face. I got put into a chair facing Charles Gibson.

I did my five-minute segment, most of which entailed arguing with F. Lee Bailey, who was being satellited in from Rhode Island. Bailey had always maintained that DeSalvo, whom he represented, was guilty of the Strangler murders. The high moment of the debate occurred when Bailey insisted that DeSalvo knew that one of the victims had been wearing a tampon, and this knowledge proved DeSalvo’s guilt. I pointed out that the murdered woman had in fact been wearing a sanitary napkin, and stolidly recited the dimensions of the stain on it as given in the autopsy protocol. Afterward I found it difficult to believe that I’d gotten involved in a dispute about feminine hygiene and menstrual discharge on national television. Oy.

My segment ended. Gibson shook my hand and thanked me. Someone led me from the set, returned to me my handbag and suitcase, and put me in a car to the airport. When I landed in Boston, I got a car back to my parents’ place.

When the hired car pulled into the driveway, Marie was waiting.

“Hi, sweetie,” I said, emerging from the car and tipping the driver.

“ I didn’t see you on tv,” she said. “I was sleeping. But Daddy taped it on Grandpa’s VCR.”

“Oh, good. I guess.”

She inspected me. “Your face looks different.”

I drew the index finger of my right hand down the side of my face. Beneath the nail collected a gob of make-up the size of a wad of well-chewed gum. I flicked it into the juniper hedge bordering the driveway.

Marie followed the movement with her eyes. “Eeeuuu,” she said.

“You do have a way with words.”




I’ve written about the Showtime program Homeland a number of times with my last comment (I think) a couple of years ago. A new season has begun and, as most of the show’s other seasons, it’s high quality and anxiety producing. Although I’ve only seen the first three episodes, the series is once again a plot driven spy versus spy versus double agents drama. And once again it has raised questions for me. In our present era when every Muslim is often seen as a potential enemy and threat, it’s complicated to look forward every week to a terrific TV series that is built around a world view I detest.

Well, I just doubled down on that conundrum. Prisoners of War (original Hebrew title being Hatufim, (which translates to “Abductees”) is the threadbare low budget Israeli show upon which Homeland is based. In fact, after Hatufim won Israel’s Academy Award For A Television Series was sold to 20th Century Fox, some of the program’s creators and cast have been directly involved with the US show. We brought the dvds home from the library and have barreled through most of Season One. Gotta say, so far it’s a much better series, focusing intently upon the two ex-prisoners of war and the effects their release after seventeen years has upon themselves, their families, and everyone in close contact. Especially the Israeli intelligence community.

No surprise I’d find Prisoners the better show. People who have read any of my Matt Jacob novels or even my Just sayin’ series Interviews With The Dead (King Richard lll, Truman Capote, Martin Luther King, Norman Mailer and more to come) know my writing is character driven. Although I’m sure there will be more spy versus spy as Prisoners progresses, fact is, the characters are already more fleshed out and complicated than those in Homeland. The truthfulness of the relationships between each of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves feels true to the bone. And more. This is a particularly smart show where the unexpected occurs at exactly the right moment with writing and acting I just love.

But here’s the rub. Prisoners of War has raised even more misgivings inside than Homeland. Anyone who knows me knows my feelings about the overwhelming abuse and injustice the Israeli government exacts upon the Palestinian people. And while Prisoners has yet to identify the kidnappers, it doesn’t take a weatherman to imagine who they were.

So here I am, once again, praising a show whose politics sicken me.

Pablo Picasso was a misogynist his entire life—using women then kicking them to the side once he was done with them. Yet it’s impossible to ignore that he was arguably the greatest artist of the twentieth century who created Guernica, the most important anti-war painting many of us have ever seen. Even Diego Rivera, whose murals closely reflect my own political point of view, was often questionable when it came to his personal life. And, of course, there’s always the Ezra Pound dilemma.

Music, theater, and literature are also overloaded with artists who created great work but I wouldn’t invite to dinner. (Actually, there are some on my list who disgust me as people, but I’d love to engage in conversation.)

Firesign Theater’s album title, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All, only half describes my plight. I am somewhere. Stuck between my values about humanity and art I enjoy or even love, at the same time made by people who make my skin crawl. Hell, it’s hard enough to bridge the contradiction about individual artists, but when two television shows I consider art (ok TV haters, take your shots) present attitudes and behavior I abhor, that interior contradiction becomes even more difficult to transcend.

But in for a dime bag, in for a pound. Throughout my own artistic life I’ve maintained that it’s essential to separate people’s creations from the individuals themselves. I’ve always believed to not do so would lose too many important, thought-provoking, often beautiful experiences.

For all the agita these two series raise, that’s my belief and I’m sticking to it. If a creation merits consideration as art, then I’m going to view it as such—despite its content or creator. To be otherwise would undercut my convictions about freedom of speech. And just as I won’t judge a person simply by their politics or beliefs, neither will I judge creative expression only by the person who created it or the content it presents.

So how to recommend a television series that triggers serious internal conflicts? For those who don’t share my ideas about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it’s easy. Rent or borrow Prisoners of War and enjoy great television.

For those that do share my Middle East politics, I’d say grit your teeth and, for this series, allow art to trump.

“What is life without incompatible realities?” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin


I never jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon when it first turned up on television. After the first season was released on DVD, however, Sue borrowed it from a friend but said it made her too tense to watch. Since I still hadn’t gotten into it, I was fine about her returning the set.

Then the series began coming to its conclusion and it seemed as if the only interviews on radio and TV were of the cast, director, and creator. Even Charlie Rose did his annoying gushing about the program, but what caught my attention was the focus creator/writer/producer Vince Gilligan received. Sure, there was an avalanche of accolades heaped on Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White the main character, Anna Gunn, Water’s wife Skyler, and Aaron Paul as his youthful sidekick Jessie Pinkman, but the amount of consideration given to Gilligan surprised me. Few people in his position garner the raves he received as the show’s end drew near. He was the creative force and wrote many of the scripts (and oversaw the others) like David Chase of The Sopranos.

About the same time my son Jake gave me Apple TV as a present and I decided to spring for  Netflix Streaming and give Breaking Bad another shot. Well, I’m very glad I did. It is a damn good series with exceptional acting and writing, though I don’t believe it in any way, shape, or form surpasses The Sopranos or even the best years of The Wire. Still, it’s certainly a “contendah.” In an age where you have 180 channels and still find nothing to watch, that’s an impressive do.

But I’m not writing this column to compare television series, or even to analyze Breaking Bad as a whole. I’m writing about Season 3, Episode 10 called Fly. I don’t know if Fly more closely resembles a short story or a one act play, but I do know it was 47 minutes that could easily stand alone outside the series.

The plot revolved around catching or killing a fly that threatened to contaminate Walter’s meth lab. As a play (which is how I think of the episode) the actual plot had very little importance. It was just a vehicle to shine a light on the mostly contentious relationship between Walter, the older mentor, and Jessie his much younger, often sleazy, partner and mentee.

In an act of desperation, but mostly kindness, Jessie slipped some drugs into Walter’s coffee hoping to make him sleep after Walt’s continuous 24 hour obsessive hunt for that fly. But what the drugs actually did was allow Walter to talk about who he’d been, what he had become, and why. He talked about the importance “family” in his life and how it dictated many of his choices, despite a bushel full of regrets. And within the course of his confessions and conversation, his underlying affection for his mentee became increasingly clear.

Although Jessie didn’t verbalize his emotional reactions to Walter’s intimacy, his behavior (risking his neck to kill the fly, despite believing the entire effort completely idiotic) indicated his real concern for Walt, despite their relentless arguments and on and off again partnership. As the frantic fly hunt continues, layers of top skin are stripped from both participants. Although Walt and Jessie’s relationship has a much more complicated history, in many ways this episode reminded me of Mamet’s Duck Variations. In that play, two strangers sit on a bench and these old men start making assumptions about the ducks swimming nearby. Even though they know nothing about ducks or each other, their comments reveal more and more about who each of them are and an intimate connection develops before they go their separate ways.

And, of course, by the conclusion of Season 3, Episode 10, the fly has been killed, Walter has slept off the pills and, as they get into their cars, their tenderness has receded into the typical antagonisms.

Just a great 47 minutes and well worth trying to find whether you’re interested in the show as a whole or not. It’s not often an ongoing series produces a one act play as in depth as this episode.

Flipping through other channels:

Homeland, which I’ve written about before, has regained its footing this season. The acting has been strong (Claire Danes isn’t always crying or about to) but what has really been fun are the plot twists. Back in the day, I read a lot of spy novels, mostly favoring the intricate betrayals John Le Carrie wove through his early books. (I still believe both the novel and the movie of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are classics.) This season’s plotting of Homeland is very reminiscent of those early works. Folks who have cable television and On Demand might want to consider watching this season from the start.

And, of course, it was baseball’s play-offs, which meant hours upon hours glued to the set. Given the outcome, all those late nights and tired days were more than worth it. The Red Sox won! The Red Sox won!

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. C.G. Jung


I was intrigued when I first read about The Bridge, adapted from a 2011 Scandinavian series of the same name. Although the drama would have been a very different one if located on the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, (which was first suggested) I was pleased it was half in El Paso, Texas, and then on the other side of the bridge and border Juárez, Mexico.

The show follows two detectives—Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) of the El Paso Police Department and Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir), a Mexican homicide detective from Juárez—as they search for the killer of a body spanning both sides the border on the bridge.

I was especially pleased to see that when events took place in Mexico, Spanish would be used with English subtitles—something the movie Traffic pulled off with great success. Something that implies everything isn’t all white USA, all the time.

The other detail that caught my attention, though never explicitly stated, was the knowledge that critics had almost universally accepted that the U.S. detective, Sonia Cross, has Asperger’s Disorder, a condition that interferes with social interaction and non-verbal communication.

In Law & Order: Criminal Intent actor Vincent D’Onofrio played a detective that many people believed had Asperger’s, though the show or major television critics never mentioned it. So the notion that The Bridge would deal with this a bit more directly piqued my interest.

Thanks to cable’s “On Demand,” I’ve been able to binge on the first season for the past two weeks and, at first, was pretty disappointed. The plot seemed clichéd, albeit with occasionally a bit more subtlety. We discover, for example, that Marco Ruiz, the Mexican detective, slept with one of the other major characters because she returns his forgotten wallet to Sonia instead of watching them writhe around in a bed. But high ranking Mexican police officials are portrayed as completely indifferent to the multitude of missing woman in Juárez, only interested in closing the book and getting rid of the U.S. detective.

How many television shows have that one good detective up against an uncaring bureaucracy? Women as bloody victims are, in and of itself, a major cliché.  Even the oddly complicated shotgun partnership between Sonia and Marco learning to work together is something we’ve seen before. Many times.

Furthermore, at first, Sonia’s “Asperger” character was so over the top it defied belief—not that someone on the spectrum would behave as she did, but that she could have managed to become a detective. As a mitigating factor, the police chief was also her rabbi, so to speak. As time goes on, we realize that the gentle coaching he gives as supervisor and mentor is the result of some mutual history.

Perhaps, though, my biggest annoyance was what I was initially most interested in: the use of the Tex/Mex border town as the locale. Rather than allowing viewers the opportunity to actually experience and realize the changing demographics of our country, I wondered if the show permitted people to write off the socio-economics and changing demographics as limited to only where the rubber meets the road. That is, just the towns directly on each side of the line.

But I was caught up in my binge so I kept watching. And ended up very, very pleased that I did.

The second half of the season turned The Bridge around. The writers softened Sonia’s symptoms to a place where it was actually possible to imagine her as working her way up the ranks while still struggling to solve both the mystery at hand along with the mystery of human interactions. At the same time, Marco’s easygoing, but virtuous cop became more complex in the face of his imploding marriage and family. Despite a few missteps, Demián Bichir’s acting and compelling face has jumped from the screen and has been superb.

Even more importantly, for me anyway, I’ve come to see the real value in using the Tex/Mex border towns. Imagine if you will two giant funnels, each located in one country and tubed together with the other. Mexico’s funnel gives the viewer a realistic look at those who have gone through the torturous travel of crawling toward its skinny pipeline—defying dessert heat and unscrupulous bribed “transporters,” only to arrive in a town that cares nothing for their well-being. We all know the sentiments and attitudes that waft through our funnel, even though we try to block it as best we can. And woe to those who manage to squeeze through the tube. I find it passing strange that we diligently work to jail or deport people who risk everything imaginable and survive hell to simply better their lives and those of their children while, at the same time, we barely slap the wrists of those who have actually crippled our economy and the day-to-day lives of millions of our fellow citizens. Really, who are the “illegals” living here?

Bottom line: I’ve re-learned a lesson that I should have remembered. Sometimes it takes more than a show or two, or even a season or two, for an ambitious attempt at a series to find its legs. Art ain’t art with one stroke of a brush. (Unless you’re already really, really famous.)

I recently read that FX (the show’s network) has signed up for a second season of 13 episodes. If The Bridge continues its creative development and doesn’t regress into stereotypes or overly traditional plot lines, the view has the potential to be really special.

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview – nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty. Stephen Jay Gould





ME:  Has a mani-cam which allows celebrities to show their fingernails.  Why discriminate against foot folks?  Where is the pedi-cam?

Tristan ?@TristanAriel:  Bradley Cooper mom is a real philly chick talking bout “hi philadelphia” on the red carpet lol.

Vulture ?@vultureThe @fuggirls: “The nipple darts on Hathaway’s dress are INTENSE.”Henry Schulman ?@hankschulman:  If I were on the red carpet and was asked “whom I was wearing” I could honestly say, “Why, this is from the house of Kirkland.”

Adam Goldenberg@adamgoldenberg: The #Oscars are about to be overrun by millions of dogs, all drawn to the sound of Kristin Chenoweth’s voice.



ME:  This ain’t your father’s Oscars. Which actresses showed their boobs in movies? A flying nun tonguing Sally Fields??

@HuffingtonPost: “I got a bottle of wine and some Boniva..” Seth MacFarlane as Flying Nun hits on Sally Field #Oscars” Funniest line so far.

Beth ?@thecoolbeth:  My mom just called me and asked “who is Seth MacFarlane.”

Thomas ?@thoscarpenter:  Tommy Lee Jones’s face looks like a relief map of the ocean floor.

Diane Sharp ?@DSharpie:  Bob DeNiro for pretending to be an Eagles fan. Even Philadelphians can’t do that anymore.

Michael J. Listner ?@ponder68@MarsTweep:   Better to watch #thewalkingdead. At least the zombies are fiction unlike those at #oscars.

Roger Ebert@ebertchicago:  My four stars for the breath-taking vision of “Life of Pi.”

erica@futt:  who decided it would be a good idea to play off the “life of pi” team with the “jaws” music?

Tom Storch@TomRStorch:  Best Bond: George Lazenby. So good he only needed to do one.

Anuya J@boozeandshooze:  Wow that Bond montage was as long as Les Mis.

Sabrina Kalliope@SawBreeNah:  I want to be a Bond Girl. I’m doing lunges right now.

jess.@JessWolfy:  is it sad that i only like watching the #oscars for all the #prettydresses?

michael epps@michael_epps:  Dame Shirley in the house!

Mark Estano@mje1986: The Bond retrospective just proved that Daniel Craig is the sexiest Bond girl ever.

Ben Bavalia@ben_bav:  Enjoying the use of #Jaws soundtrack to force the winners off!

mazie jacoby@mazmaxjac:  I’m only alive to watch the #oscars and Olympic gymnastics. And listen to Bob Dylan.

El Jefe@jefesural  Best Doc or ‘life is far more horrid than you know so we’re making a movie about it’.

Brit Tait Kellogg@BTaitKellogg RT @WINonline: RT @WSJ:  The median age of an Academy voter is 62. They are 94% Caucasian and 77% male. 

Gregg Pavone@LimelightSignCo:  If he doesn’t win best director, Ben Affleck should get an honorary Oscar for overcoming the J-Lo years.

Alex Fitzpatrick@alexleefitz:  I’m an asshole and even I think the Jaws playoff music is a little much.

Steve Hofstetter@SteveHofstetter:  Sacha Baron Cohen went from Borat and Bruno to kicking ass in Les Mis. I’d like to see Larry the Cable Guy try that.

George-Anne A&E@GeorgeAnneAandE:  Poor Marky Mark was in “The Departed” a few years ago and is now having to pretend to be standing next to a teddy bear.

Shelby Taylor@ShelbyxPwns:  Not gonna lie, Ted is fucking my mind right now.

Love My Ice@harglo123:  Jesus, couldn’t get a tux to fit, Wahlberg??

Tyler Vivian@tylervivian:  even Bud Selig is appalled that the #Oscars can have a tie.

Brendan Andrew@BrendanDarr:  Dudes with long hair haven’t gotten this much run since Almost Famous.

Joy Noelle@JoNoSo:  Soooo if you have a long speech you get eaten by a shark?

Konrad Johnson@KonradJohnson:  The last #oscars tie was in 1969, when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for Best Actress.

Mitch Kinard@mitchkinard:  One day, Tarantino will be 80 years old, and there will never be a more terrifying underbite to receive such acclaim.

Charles Mayaka@TheMayaka:  Are we that sensitive to our history that we can’t even have a clip of Django?

Jordana Stein@jordanastein:   All the old people at our oscar party just died over Babs performance.

On The Red Carpet@OnTheRedCarpet:  That was the first time Barbra Streisand performed at the Oscars in 36 years.

MT @waitwait:  I know there’s probably a rule or something, but don’t you wish the tiger from Life of Pi was there in a tuxedo?

Zandile Blay Amihere@zandile:  i will always be profoundly confused by renee zelleweger’s face. always.

Dennis Lawson@gr33nazn:  Just 2 more Botox injections and Renee Zellweger’s eyes will disappear forever.

Tom + Lorenzo®@tomandlorenzo:  Chicago is now the frontrunner to win Best Picture.

Tom Bodett@TomBodett:  I’d like to go up to bed, but my legs are asleep all the way to my ears.

nick kroll@nickkroll:  Ladies and gentlemen, the academy would like to recognize one of everything!

Well folks, my legs are working but, in my attempt to bring you an overview of pop culture, I was able to watch this mind-numbing exercise until 11 P.M.–one hour longer than last year.

Must have been the naked breast song at the beginning of the show.