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Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Famous ‘Goddess of Good Sex,’ Talks Frankly About Surviving Holocaust at Gold Coast Arts Center Screening of ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

Dr. Ruth Westheimer answers questions from the audience at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex therapist, claims to have a rule against commenting on politics “someone who talks about sex as much as I do can’t tackle politics.” And yet, positions on sexual freedom, AIDs, abortion rights and reproductive freedom, and more recently, drawing upon painful memories as a Holocaust survivor, on the rise of anti-Semitism and how migrant children are being snatched from their families at the southern border.

She claims not to be a feminist, but when her granddaughter prods her on her views on abortion, on equal pay, on whether men and women should be equal in their relationship, and insists she is the text-book definition of a feminist, Dr. Ruth relents and says she is a feminist supporter, not a radical (she doesn’t hold with burning bras).

She also stood stalwartly for same-sex relationships and was an early advocate for research into prevention and cure of AIDs. She has consistently championed a philosophy of respect for individuals, that there is no such thing as “normal,” but that two consenting adults should do what brings both joy and satisfaction.

She claims to have a rule against commenting on politics “someone who talks about sex as much as I do can’t tackle politics.” And yet, positions on sexual freedom, AIDs, abortion and now, anti-Semitism, invariably bring her into that realm.

She has come to the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island, on May 8, for the screening of a documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth.” The connection to these issues is Michael Glickman, a former president of the Arts Center and  President & CEO,  the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York’s Holocaust Museum), where Dr. Ruth is also a trustee, and presently has an important exhibit, “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away” which opened May 8.

Michael Glickman, president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, chats with Dr. Ruth Westheimer at the Great Neck screening of the documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The documentary of her life focuses considerable attention on the Holocaust and how it shaped her life – beginning as a 10 year old, packed up on a train with other Orthodox Jewish children to Switzerland, forced to leave her mother and grandmother at a train station in Frankfurt (her father had already been taken by Nazis to a labor camp). She never saw her family again, but describes how she felt in those years living at an orphanage.

Her son and daughter say how she never really discussed her experience in the Holocaust nor fully mourned the loss of her family, but we see – through old photos and animation and diary entries – what she experienced. And it was only relatively recently that she brought herself to Yad VaShem in Israel to search the database to find out what happened to her parents. In the movie, she realizes that something is wrong when letters stop coming from her parents, and after years go by, she accepts that she is an orphan. She learns that her father was murdered in 1942 in Auschwitz, and her mother was simply “disappeared.”

But what we see throughout is an unbelievably positive, optimistic personality who was able to get the other children on that train to sing away their fear.

Dr. Ruth, as she delights in being known (the first tv/radio host to be known just by the first name), is turning 91 years old now, and on her 90th birthday, she reflected how 80 years before, she was on that train bravely waving goodbye to her family (her parents gave her life twice – the second time when they sent her away); 70 years before, she nearly lost her legs when a bomb went off in Israel, where she was a sniper in the Haganah.

While in the orphanage in Switzerland, the girls were being trained to become housemaids and weren’t allowed to attend high school, but her father always prized education. Her first boyfriend would sneak into her room at night with his textbooks, and hide under her bed while she read that day’s lessons.

After the war, she emigrated to Israel (Palestine) with some friends, changing her name from Karola, which sounded too German, to her middle name, Ruth (and hoping that her family, if they were still alive, could find her).

She’s been married three times – the first time to a very good-looking Israeli soldier; who took her to Paris with him when he attended medical school, affording the opportunity for her to study psychology at the Sorbonne; they divorced when he decided not to become a doctor and to return to Israel and she stayed to finish her studies.

In 1956, with $1,500 in restitution from the West German government, she and her boyfriend sailed to New York, traveling fourth class on the Liberty but sneaking up to first class in order to be able to view the Statue of Liberty as the ship came into New York harbor. They married after she got pregnant, but the marriage didn’t last.

She was a single parent and a working mother when that was still a rarity and an oddity. “We were very poor. There were no other single mothers…“I was on the forefront.” (One of my favorite parts of the movie was the clip of her talking with Gloria Steinem.)

She worked for Planned Parenthood in Harlem, where she found herself participating in frank discussions about sex.  By 1967, she was project director. She worked towards her doctorate in family and sex counseling at Columbia University, working with Helen Singer Kaplan, a pioneer in the field of sex therapy.

On a ski trip in the Catskills, she met the love of her life, Fred Westheimer who was the head of the Jewish Ski Club, 35 years old, an engineer and never married. From the first time she saw him, she was determined they would marry. They were married for more than 40 years before he died, in 1997, after a heart attack.

Dr. Ruth displays the sense of humor and optimistic outlook that no doubt helped her get through the tragedies in her life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. Ruth, a 4 foot 7 inch tall woman famous for saying “Size doesn’t matter,” got her doctorate at the age of 42 and set up practice as a sex therapist.

A lecture she delivered in 1980 came to the attention of Betty Elam, community affairs manager of the New York radio station WYNY-FM, who offered Ruth $25 a week to make Sexually Speaking, a 15-minute show every Sunday that would air shortly after midnight. The show became a hit, expanding to two-hours, and by 1984 was nationally syndicated.

Her influence as the “Goddess of Good Sex,” as one called her, expanded with a syndicated newspaper column, television shows, appearances in movies and even commercials and a website.

She continues to live in the same Washington Heights apartment she has lived in for more than 54 years, saying that she feels comfortable among other immigrants.

The movie is expertly done – telling the story of a life that is even more dramatic and worthy of a movie than most people, who knew of Dr. Ruth only as someone breaking down barriers of frank talk about sex, realized. Who knew she was a sniper with the Haganah in the early days of Israel, who was caught in a bomb blast and almost lost her legs? Who knew she was married three times (the first two were legalized love affairs, she jokes, the third was the real thing). And who knew of the tragedy she suffered as a Holocaust survivor.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She expresses her absolute surprise (and delight) in becoming a radio, then TV host (“I’m not tall, blonde, gorgeous”), but notes that being an older, mature woman (grandmotherly), she was able to get away with talking explicitly about sex, using such words as vagina, clitoris, masturbation. The fact that the Sexual Revolution (the Pill is 50 years old) was underway, with women beginning to demand their rights and identity, also was a factor. Still, as the film notes, there were censors standing by, protests, even a man who came up on stage where she was speaking to make a citizen’s arrest.

In the film, she revisits people from her childhood – her first boyfriend when she was 13 from the orphanage in Switzerland where she was sent by her mother to escape the Nazis (“My parents gave me life twice, the first time giving birth, the second time sending me away so I could live”); her childhood friend who lives in Israel; her earliest radio producers.

It shows her dogged determination to get an education – something her father, who owned a notions shop, valued so highly. She earned her Masters, then her PhD.

Media regulations at the time required radio stations to do community-oriented broadcasting and a producer appreciated how different Dr. Ruth would be, so put her show, pre-taped on a Thursday, on Sunday at midnight. Her show became more popular than most of the morning drive shows and they put her on live. She notes that she never previewed what questions the callers would be asking, so she could respond spontaneously (on the other hand, on TV, the people posing the questions were actors, though she still did not know what issues they would raise).

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When asked her greatest experience, she replies “My 4 grandchildren… You know, Hitler is dead and I and my grandchildren are alive.”

Asked about her reaction to the movie, she said she had trepidation about the device of using animation to show her early life, but the two Israelis who did the animation “did it brilliantly.”

She reflected on the scene they re-created at the railroad station in 1938, when she was 10 and being sent away by her mother and grandmother. “You know, there were all the other mothers and grandmothers – the fathers had been taken – but they did something brilliant [in suggesting there were only a few on the platform]: you could feel the loneliness of a mother and grandmother saying goodbye, not knowing what would happen, but sending their only child to safety. When I saw this – and I didn’t see it before it was done – I was very happy with the film.”

She jokes, “I promise good sex for anybody who gives this film an [Oscar] nomination.”

She acknowledges that she had not spoken much in the past about being a Holocaust survivor, but that the new exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away,” has brought that aspect of her life out. “My work has been about how to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

 “You have to go twice to the exhibit,” she says. “The first time you will be very upset. Go again to learn something about the history of Nazis coming to power.

“In the front [of the museum] is a cattle car –it is upsetting because I know parents, other grandparents- all of them went on a car like that – very upsetting – that makes me feel like I felt January 5 1939. On the other hand, you have to stand up to be counted, especially these days.

“As you have heard, I don’t do politics, but these days, I have to talk about anti-Semitism, to stand up and say all of us have to fight so this will not happen again.”

Also, “as you have seen in the film clearly, to stand up that abortion must remain legal and family planning needs funding.”

Though she does not “do politics,” she won an Oxford debate defending abortion and family planning. “I’m going again –I probably will be the oldest at age 91.” This time she will be debating pornography.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island with Joseph Gil, GCAC VP Fundraising, Regina Gil, Founder & Executive Director, Michael Glickman, past president and President and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked about her opinion of dating apps like Tinder, Dr. Ruth says, “I did not plant that question – but this summer, I have a book coming which warns about apps. It’s not that you shouldn’t use, but you have to use your brains not to meet in a secluded place – to meet in hotel lobby, movie, some place safe.

“Another thing that worries me – in my new book, is that the art of conversation is being lost. Everyone is looking at their phone as if world will crumble if not constantly looking. It’s difficult to have conversation. But the best sexual relationship is also when you have a good relationship.”

In another book that Dr. Ruth is coming out with this year, “Crocodile You’re Beautiful,” she says, “I am telling a little ant to be happy to be an ant – because if you cooperate, you can build bridges.”

Asked if she has been back to Frankfurt, where she was born, she says she goes each year to the Frankfurt book fair, and “every year I am back with a new contract. I also taught a seminar at Heidelberg. I have no problems with people my age or younger – it’s older people I didn’t want to know – like Fiddler. On the other hand, the Adenauer from Germany was instrumental in getting money to Israel when it was just being born. And even today, I go to Israel every year and even today there are young Germans who go for the summer or year to volunteer in old age homes. I appreciate that.”

But, she adds, saying, “Thank you for question – I never came near to that railroad station –it’s too painful – so whenever I had to go some place, I went around not to go to railroad station where I saw my mother and grandmother for the last time.”

She says that for her Masters degree, she did a longitudinal study of 50 children “who came with me to orphanage in Switzerland. I found them all, I went to archives in Switzerland and was in touch with many. They all made it – none of them committed suicide, none became drug addicts or alcoholics. The reason is the early socialization –their  early years of childhood. I was 10 ½ – the youngest was 6  – so the early socialization, all had in loving home with parents. That helped them all to overcome becoming orphans. They should do more studies about early socialization, how important early childhood years are.”

She adds, “I do say I am not involved in politics, except these days I have changed my mind – I am very upset when I see children being separated.”

She closes by urging people to visit the “Auschwitz” exhibit at the Museum for Jewish Heritage. “it’s the most remarkable Holocaust exhibition in this country.”

The groundbreaking exhibition, on view through January 3, 2020, brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world.  “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away” is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz – a complex of 48 concentration and extermination camps where 1 million Jews and tens of thousands of others were murdered – and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil—one that arose not long ago and not far away. (Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, New York, NY 10280 https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/)

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast International Film Festival Announces 2018 Winners

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Regina Gil, executive director of the Gold Coast International Film Festival and Gold Coast Arts Center, at awards luncheon © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

After 10 days and 80 films from 22 countries screened, many the United States or Long Island premiere, the 2018 Gold Coast International Film Festival came to a close and declared the winners:

The Audience Award Winner for Best Narrative was “The Lost Suit,” a bittersweet story made in Argentina and Spain by Pablo Solarz about an 88-year-old Jewish tailor who embarks on a long, transcontinental journey to try and find the man who saved him from certain death during the Holocaust. Heartfelt and charming, with a wonderful comedic flavor, the film reminds us of the importance of family, friendship, and keeping your word. Out of 230 audience-goers, 212 gave the film the highest ranking. “People were obsessed with it.” The Gold Coast arts center, which stages cinema series throughout the year, is hoping to bring it back.

Regina Gil, GCIFF founder, and Caroline Sorokoff, Festival Director, present GCIFF 2018 award for Best Narrative to “The Last Suit” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Audience Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature Film went to “Heading Home,” by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger, a stirring underdog chronicle of the unexpected triumph of Israel’s national baseball team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. With their Mensch on the Bench mascot by their side, the team laughs and cries as they discover the pride of representing Israel on the world stage. The screening featured a Q&A with Co-Director Jeremy Newberger.

The Audience and Jury Award Winners for Best Narrative Short Film went to “Stems” and Best Documentary Short Film award was won by two films, “Wendy’s Shabbat” and “One Small Step.”

Regina Gil, GCIFF founder, and Alexandra Gil, curator of the festival Shorts, present GCIFF 2018 awards for Best Short Documentary Film to “Wendy’s Shabbat” and “One Small Step” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A new award this year, Best Family Short Film, went to Rag Dolls.

Shorts film curator Alexandra Gil viewed some 2,000 submissions before making the selections for the festival.

The winner of the new Gold Coast International Film Festival 2018 Award for Best Family Short Film went to “Rag Dolls” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The awards winners for the 8th annual festival were named at a gala lunch at the NM Café at Neiman Marcus Roosevelt Field, a major sponsor of the festival, which also supports youth arts programs. Other major sponsors included the Town of North Hempstead and Douglas Elliman Real Estate, which provided important seed money “when we were just an idea” and have kept up. Hofstra University is also a major supporter, offering film programs including internships.

Some 4,000 tickets were sold; audience goers came from 180 zipcodes. Audience goers get to see films that are rarely screened outside of independent theaters in New York City – the festival brings films to the suburbs. Many of the documentaries, like “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” an astonishing documentary about Steve Young’s quest to collect Industrial Musicals which sets him on a journey to meet the makers; and “Happy” Academy Award® nominated director Roko Belic’s film explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion, traveling from the bayous of Louisiana, the deserts of Namibia, the beaches of Brazil and the villages of Okinawa to a communal home in Denmark; and short films are only seen at festivals. There are also opportunities to hear from filmmakers and historians and engage in question and answers. One special program gives Young Filmmakers, from K-12, a chance to shine (and shine they did).

Here are more highlights from the festival:

A musical-comedy-documentary! Comedy writer Steve Young’s assignment to scour bargain-bin vinyl for a Late Night with David Letterman segment becomes an unexpected, decades-spanning obsession when he stumbles upon the strange and hilarious world of industrial musicals in this amazing, revelatory and entertaining film, “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” by Dava Whisenant. The film’s star, Steve Young, participated in a Q&A after the GCIFF screening © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Paul Lieberstein, best known as Toby from “The Office,” plays nice-guy Fred in “Song of Back and Neck,” this charming romantic comedy which Lieberstan also directed. Fred rarely gets through the day without falling to the ground with crippling back and neck pain, and is not taken seriously by anyone at work. But as he discovers unexpected love and a rather unique talent, it is just the start of the unpredictable happenings coming his way. Lieberstein joined an audience Q&A via Skype following the Long Island premiere of his film © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Howard,” an intimate and insightful tribute to a once-in-a-generation talent, the legendary lyricist Howard Ashman by Don Hahn, revealed the incalculable impact Ashman had on Broadway, movies and the culture at large even beyond his ingenious lyrics. The audience gets to see much of his creative process behind such stellar hits as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Little Shop of Horrors.” Howard’s sister, Sarah Ashman Gillespie and his partner Bill Lauch were on hand after the screening, which was sponsored by AARP Long Island, for a Q&A and to share their personal reflections © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What makes you happy? Money? Kids and family? Your work? Academy Award-nominated director Roko Belic’s documentary, “Happy” explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion. From the bayous of Louisiana, the deserts of Namibia, the beaches of Brazil and the villages of Okinawa to a communal home in Denmark, Belic goes in search of what really makes people happy. The GCIFF presentation was sponsored by Katz Institute for women’s Health at Northwell Health, and a panel of experts from the Center for Wellness and Integrative Medicine and Katz Institute were on hand to discuss the role of mindfulness and innovations in integrated, holistic approaches: Tina Conroy, Director of Energy and Healing; Bella Grossman, Clinical Psychologist, Marissa Licata, Registered Dietition, Deborah McElligott, Cardiac Nurse Practitioner and Lucy Gade, Medical Director © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Filmmaker Andrew Toscanao, who is in fifth grade at Northside elementary in Plainview, NY, discusses his film, “The Lego Agent: Dr. Evil’s Revenge” at the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s Young Filmmakers Program. Young Filmmakers are also invited to participate in a free day of hands-on filmmaker workshops for filmmakers in grades 7-12, Saturday, March 16, at Hofstra University, a festival sponsor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eliad Lienhardt came from Switzerland to discuss the making of his film short, “Alison”after the screening at the Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Famed director Peter Bogdanovich has created a love-letter to Buster Keaton, one of Hollywood’s most prolific, influential and innovative filmmakers, Buster Keaton. “The Great Buster,” is a celebration of Keaton’s life, career and legacy. The story told with stunning restorations of archival works that bring Keaton’s magic to life on the big screen, plus interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and a broad array of artists influenced by his singular vision, including Mel Brooks, Bill Hader, Cybil Shepherd and Quentin Tarantino. Professor Rodney F. Hill, film scholar, was on hand for a Q&A after the screening of the documentary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 2018 festival kicked off with a Gold Coast Arts Center gala in Great Neck, Long Island honoring film and television star Robert Wagner with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career that began in 1950. (See story.)

Actor Robert Wagner, honored with the Gold Coast Film Festival’s second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center’s gala, discusses his career with film historian, author, and professor Foster Hirsch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast Film Festival Kicks Off With Gala Honoring Film & TV Legend Robert Wagner with Hollywood Golden Era Award

Actor Robert Wagner, honored with the Gold Coast Film Festival’s second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center’s gala, discusses his career with film historian, author, and professor Foster Hirsch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The stars shone over the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island as film and television star Robert Wagner was honored with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career that began in 1950 with his film debut in The Happy Years The award was presented at the center’s annual gala which also helped raise funds for the nonprofit Arts Center and its Gold Coast International Film Festival, which starts on Friday, November 2, 2018 on the storied Gold Coast of Nassau County’s North Shore, once home to entertainment legends including W. C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Oscar Hammerstein, Alan King, Francis Ford Coppola, George Segal, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Joining Wagner at the gala were such luminaries as his wife, actress Jill St. John; his daughter Courtney Wagner, who co-hosts Boulevard, their new cable program about the movie stars of Hollywood; actress Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey) and her husband, producer Barney Rosenzweig; and Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, whose mother, the late Rita Hayworth, posthumously received the first Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in 2017.

Iconic talent agent, Budd Burton Moss, the award’s namesake, also attended the event in tribute to his childhood friend.  Moss, the most respected and admired talent agent of Hollywood’s Golden Age, attended elementary school in California with Wagner, forging a relationship that has endured since.

Actress Diane Baker and noted radio and television personality Larry King sent along their best wishes via video. Also in attendance were Harriet Fields, granddaughter of the late W.C. Fields, and renowned film historian and film professor, Foster Hirsch, who moderated a candid, lively and informative discussion with Wagner before the presentation of the award.

Wagner may well hold the record for longest continuous career – he has been acting for 70 years, a fact acknowledged by tributes from Larry King and actor Diane Baker.

During the conversation with Hirsch, Wagner spoke of his mentors, who bolstered his career: actor Spencer Tracy, who “changed my life,” and film producer Darryl Zanuck, who basically discovered him, developed him and said of him, “You will be a big star.”

Clark Gable got him a screen test at MGM, but that didn’t work out, and got a contract with 20th Century Fox ($55 a week), where he stayed for 20 years, a part of the studio system.

“The studio system worked well for me. People at 20th Century Fox looked out for their people.”  His departure coincided with the collapse of the studio system.

“I owe my career to Darryl Zanuck,” he said. “He knew scripts, stories, believed in the people around him. He really cared about me.. Darryl was watching me. When he left [the studio], it was a different situation.”

Actor Robert Wagner, honored with the Gold Coast Film Festival’s second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center’s gala, discusses his career © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He joked that he wasn’t happy doing “Prince Valiant,” revolutionary for being one of the first movies filmed in Cinemascope. “It was the wig – it got in the way. Dean Martin talked to me for 10 minutes; he thought I was Jane Wyman.”

He reflected on his transition from film to television – something that wasn’t done at the time. “Lou Wasserman said to me, ‘I want you in this magazine – TV Guide. I think this medium is for you.” Wasserman proposed making a pilot for “It Takes a Thief,” and promised that if it wasn’t picked up, he would make it into a movie. It wasn’t picked up; he made the movie, and then it was picked up.”

“It started mid-season,” Wagner related. “That’s death. I thought my career was gone. But the audience liked it.”

Fred Astaire was his co-star. “There was nobody like him. A meticulous man. I asked him to play my father. I knew him when I was a kid – I went to boarding school with his son. Who asked me over for the weekend at his house. Astaire picked me up, put me in the back seat of his convertible – I was 7 or 8 years old. I didn’t know who Astaire was at the time. I spent a lot of time with him over the years.”

Hirsch pressed him on how his mentors seemed to all be father figures because his own father was “rather difficult.”

“My father was a product of that era. He did things his way. I was programmed to go into his business – steel. I always wanted to be actor in movies, from time I saw my first movie.”

Gold Coast Arts Center/Gold Coast Film Festival Executive Director Regina Gil with actor and gala honoree Robert Wagner and professor Foster Hirsch at the Gold Coast Arts Center gala. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He spoke of the many “marvelous leading ladies” he worked with: Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, to list but a few,” writing about them in his book, “I Loved Her in the Movies,” one of three Hollywood memoirs he has published.

“You can’t be a leading man without a leading lady.”

And he spoke lovingly and admiringly of his wife, the actress Natalie Wood, whose real name was Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, a child of Russian immigrants. She made her debut before she was five years old in a 15-second scene in the 1943 film, “Happy Land,” and at the age of seven, played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in “Tomorrow is Forever” (1946).

“They dyed her hair blond and taught her a German accent… She had God-given talent.”

He said that he doesn’t believe “West Side Story” would have been made without Wood. “She was so good at accents. She was good at everything.”

Among the stars in attendance at the Gold Coast Arts Center Gala honoring actor Robert Wagner with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award, were actor Jill St. John, his wife; Sharon Gless and her husband, Barney Rosenzweig, the producer of Cagney & Lacey; and Hollywood agent Burton Moss © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the audience was his wife, Jill St. John, “the first Bond girl,” with whom he performed “Love Letters” on the stage, criss-crossing the country for nine years.

“The performances had to be different, otherwise they would have had to take me away with a net. We had to keep it different.”

Wagner’s numerous film credits includes With a Song in My Heart, Broken Lance with the legendary Spencer Tracy, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Pink Panther, The Curse of the Pink Panther, Midway, The Towering Inferno, Banning, Harper, Prince Valiant, The True Story of Jesse James, and All the Fine Young Cannibals. He re-created his role of Number Two, the villainous henchman to Dr. Evil, the archenemy of Mike Myers’ title character in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

On television, Wagner has starred in three long-running hit series, It Takes a Thiefwith Fred Astaire, Switch, with Eddie Albert and Sharon Gless and Hart to Hart, with Stefanie Powers.  He also starred in the top-rated miniseries Windmills of the Gods, based on Sidney Sheldon’s best-selling novel; with Joanne Woodward in A Kiss Before Dying; and with Elizabeth Taylor in There Must Be a Pony. He also appeared in the memorable Seinfeld episode, “The Yada, Yada, Yada,” as Dr. Abbot.

Edwina Sandys, the sculptor (and Winston Churchill’s granddaughter); actor and honoree Robert Wagner; Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, daughter of Rita Haywood, the award’s first recipient and spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association; and Hollywood agent Burton Ross at the presentation of the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coat Arts Center gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Named for the man who has represented some of Hollywood’s finest stars, the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award pays tribute to film legends who may not have been honored adequately during their lifetimes, and whose names and legacy are in danger of becoming forgotten by newer generations of filmgoers.  The award itself, an original work of art, was created by celebrated sculptor Edwina Sandys, who also attended the event, is a granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill.

Presenting the award to Wagner, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, who had received the first award on behalf of her mother, Rita Hayworth, said she had devoted her life as a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, working for a cure, andnoted that among the many programs offered at the Gold Coast Arts Center (programs “from womb to tomb” in art, music, performance) are Making Memories a program that serves those with Alzheimer’s and memory impairment.

Gold Coast Arts Center/Gold Coast Film Festival Executive Director Regina Gil with actor Jill St. John, sculptor Edwina Sandys, honoree actor Robert Wagner, and his daughter, Courtney Wagner and Jon Kaiman, co-president of the Arts Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Proceeds from the benefit support the Arts Center’s outreach projects including Making Memories, as well as ArtReach, a program that brings Arts Center faculty and programs to underserved schoolchildren and others, to enrich their curriculum with arts education in the areas of ceramics, painting, music, dance, and chess.

The gala kicks off this year’s Gold Coast International Film Festival, taking place November 2 – 13 at various venues in North Hempstead, Long Island. The festival this year features 80 films over 10 days. (Tickets and information at www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org).

Since 2011, the Gold Coast International Film Festival has brought the latest Hollywood hits and Indie favorites to standing-room-only audiences throughout the fabled Gold Coast of Long Island and beyond. Add A-list celebrities and unforgettable events to the mix, and it’s easy to see why the Gold Coast International Film Festival has become the “go to” festival for film buffs and the public; (it is also the last major film festival on the East Coast before Awards season). The Gold Coast International Film Festival is produced by the not-for-profit Gold Coast Arts Center.

The Gold Coast Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting the arts through education, exhibition, performance, and outreach. Located on the North Shore of Long Island, it has brought the arts to tens of thousands of people throughout the region for over 20 years. Among the Center’s offerings are its School for the Arts, which holds year-round classes in visual and performing arts for students of all ages and abilities; a free public art gallery; a concert and lecture series; film screenings and discussions; the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival; and initiatives that focus on senior citizens and underserved communities. These initiatives include artist residencies, after-school programs, school assemblies, teacher-training workshops, and parent-child workshops. The Gold Coast Arts Center is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education program, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. More information can be found at www.goldcoastarts.org.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

‘Darkest Hour’ Wins Best Picture Award at Gold Coast International Film Festival

Artist Edwina Sandys, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, discusses her grandfather at the Long Island premiere of “Darkest Hour” at the 2017 Gold Coast International Film Festival, Long Island, with Festival Founder and Executive Director Regina Gil and Diane Masciale, VP & GM of WLIW21 and Executive Producer of local productions at WNET © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The results are in: Darkest Hour, a new film starring Gary Oldham as Winston Churchill, is the winner of Best Narrative Film at the 7th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival. Best Documentary award was a tie: Underfire: The Untold Story of PFC Tony Vaccaro, the World War II soldier turned war photographer, who attended the sell-out screening, and the Long Island premiere of Dare to Be Different, about WLIR 92.7, the influential Long Island radio station on the cutting edge of music in the 1980s.

In all, the festival, now in its 7th year, screened more than 80 films from 12 countries – 36 of them Long Island premieres – with Q&As with dozens of visiting artists including directors, producers, and grandchildren of famous film subjects: Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, the artist Edwina Sandys; Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter, AJ Lambert who attended the 60th anniversary screening of the movie musical Pal Joey, and David Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon Ben-Gurion, after the screening of an extraordinary documentary based on six-hours of recently uncovered candid conversations with Israel’s founding father.

A record 15 of the screenings were sell-outs; the film-festival drew 4500 audience goers of all ages and backgrounds, from all over Long Island and the metro area – 175 different zipcodes.

“People think film festivals are elitist – but that’s not what we’re about,” said Festival Director Caroline Sorokoff. The festival featured “Free Film Friday,” with presentations of the movie classic “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper; family short films at the Great Neck Library, and film shorts at the Port Washington Library (with a Q&A with Israeli filmmaker Yaniv Segalovich, director of An Average Story, Letiferet, who joined Alexandra Gil, curator of the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s short films; the film won an audience award).

“Hundreds of people took advantage.” And this year, veterans could come to any screening for free, thanks to a grand from GEICO.

The Gold Coast International Film Festival is distinguished by the fascinating events that are organized with the screenings – Q&As with producers, directors, actors, experts and people associated with the films.

Indeed, a highlight of the festival was the Long Island premiere (two weeks before general release) of Darkest Hour, featuring Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman’s brilliant performance as Winston Churchill and the terrifying early days of his appointment as Prime Minister as Hitler’s forces were taking over Europe and threatening an invasion of the British Isles. It was Britain’s darkest hour. And like the movie “Lincoln”, and “Thirteen Days” about John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which shows the backstory of a key “moment” in pivotal history, we learn of how he had to overcome intense opposition from political rivals, and the diabolical choice he faced: negotiate with Hitler to save British lives at a terrible cost or rally the nation and fight on against incredible odds. Gary Oldman brilliantly portrays the first dark days of Churchill as Prime Minister. Directed by Joe Wright, the screening at the Soundview Cinemas in Port Washington, featured a Q&A with Churchill’s granddaughter, the artist Edwina Sandys, a young child during this time, who spoke nostalgically and lovingly of her grandfather and grandmother, Clementine.

Edwina Sandys, a renowned sculptor, at the Gold Coast International film Festival to talk about her grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill, after the screening of “Darkest Hour” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro is the remarkable story of WWII infantryman and legendary photographer Tony Vaccaro, who created one of the most comprehensive, haunting and intimate photographic records of the war using a smuggled $47 camera while developing the negatives in his helmet at night. Tony Vaccaro, himself, along with Director Max Lewkowicz and Producer Valerie Thomas participated in a post-screening Q&A session, followed by the opening reception of Tony Vaccaro’s acclaimed, wartime and celebrity photography at the Gold Coast Arts Center Gallery in Great Neck (on view through February).

The Long Island Premiere of Dare to Be Different had three sold-out screenings, and featured a Q&A with Director Ellen Goldfarb and Executive Producer and former WLIR Program Director Denis McNamara, plus a host of other special guests, including artists and DJs featured in the film. It was an event that could only happen on Long Island, where WLIR brought new wave music to America. WLIR helped launch the careers of U2, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Blondie, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, The Clash, and The Cure, among others. Special guests attending the premiere include Larry “The Duck” Dunn, Michael “Eppy” Epstein, Max Leinwand, Steve North, Carol Silva, Donna Donna and “Malibu Sue” McCann.

Alon Ben-Gurion, grandson of Israel’s former Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, speaks with audience after the screening of the documentary, “Ben-Gurion Epilogue,” based on six hours of newly discovered conversations with Israel’s founding father, at the 2017 Gold Coast International Film Festival, Great Neck, Long Island © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Ben-Gurion: Epilogue, a stunning documentary compiled from six hours of never-before-seen footage, of newly discovered conversations with Israel’s founding father presents  a rare and fortuitous piece of cinematic archeology – it’s as if film was found of candid conversation with George Washington. Watching, you realize you are seeing a work of undeniable historical significance with prophetic implications for Israel’s future. Presented in Partnership with American Friends of Soroka Medical Center to a standing-room-only audience at the Bowtie Cinema in Great Neck, the screening featured an extraordinary Q&A with Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon, who spoke personally of time spent with his grandfather.

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” a documentary about the gorgeous actress focuses on her role as inventor of secure wifi, Bluetooth and GPS communications and how her arresting beauty stood in the way of being given credit for her brilliance, screened at the Gold Coast International Film Festival, featured a panel discussion moderated by Diane Masciale of WLIW21 and WNET (right), with Alexandra Dean, Director (second from left), Fleming Meeks, Journalist and Dr. Christine Metz of the Feinstein Institute. © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

An extraordinary documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, was the first of a new “Science on Screen” series funded by a hard-to-win grant to the Gold Coast Arts Center to better communicate science to a general audience. The documentary finally credits the dazzlingly-beautiful actress as a brilliant inventor responsible for the innovation that made possible secure WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS communications (her intent was to make the Navy’s torpedoes more effective in order to win World War II, but the Navy put the patent away in a drawer until it was rediscovered by another inventor devising military weapons). The Long Island premiere, featured a Q&A (sponsored by Edelman financial Services, LLC) with Director Alexandra Dean, Fleming Meeks, the Forbes journalist who scored amazing interviews with the reclusive actor late in life, and Dr. Christine Metz of the Feinstein Institute and was moderated by Diane Masciale of WNET.

Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image, Long Island Premiere at the Gold Coast International Film Festival of the documentary examining the industries and obstacles responsible for the body image crisis and showcasing the dynamic leaders fighting for more diversity of size, race and age, featured a Q&A with Director Jenny McQuaile and Producer Yael Melamede and a panel of distinguished experts from Northwell Health: Dr. Gabriella Farkas, Dr. Bonny Patel and Nancy Farber, ND. The Q&A was sponsored by the Katz Institute for women’s Health at Northwell Health.

“Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image,” Long Island Premiere at the Gold Coast International Film Festival of the documentary examining the industries and obstacles responsible for the body image crisis and showcasing the dynamic leaders fighting for more diversity of size, race and age featured a Q&A with Director Jenny McQuaile and Producer Yael Melamede and a panel of distinguished experts from Northwell Health: Dr. Gabriella Farkas, Dr. Bonny Patel and Nancy Farber, ND moderated by Festival Director Caroline Sorokoff © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The 60th anniversary screening of Pal Joey, an Academy Award-winning musical gem, with famous classics by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, and Kim Novak, featured a Q&A with AJ Lambert, Sinatra’s granddaughter (Nancy’s daughter) and Raj Tawney, a multi-media journalist/producer. Lambert spoke about her warm and loving grandfather.

Supergirl, the story of Naomi Kutin, an Orthodox Jewish pre-teen girl with an extraordinary talent – holding a world record in powerlifting, featured a Q&A with the film’s director, Jessie Auritt and “Supergirl” herself, Naomi Kutin and her family.

The delightful documentary Hummus! The Movie, was followed by “The Great Gold Coast Hummus Taste-Off” at Lola restaurant next door to the BowTie Theater in Great Neck Plaza.

The 60th anniversary showing of “Pal Joey,” a movie musical with classics by Rogers & Hart, starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novack, at the Gold Coast International Film Festival featured a Q&A with AJ Lambert, Sinatra’s granddaughter (Nancy’s daughter) and Raj Tawney, a multi-media journalist/producer © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The seventh anniversary of the not-for-profit Gold Coast International Film Festival featured over 80 films and dozens of filmmakers at screenings and events at North Shore venues, including Soundview Cinemas in Port Washington, the Bow Tie Cinemas in Great Neck, Port Washington, Manhasset and Roslyn, and the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck.

Films presented this year showcased major Hollywood actors, include Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Arquette, Burt Reynolds, Isabelle Huppert, Rainn Wilson, Bill Nye, Rosemarie DeWitt, Imogen Poots, and Shahab Hosseini, star of the 2016 Oscar-winning film, The Salesman, which premiered at last year’s festival, featured in the East Coast premiere of the Iranian film Gholam this year.

This year’s festival included more than 40 premieres, including French movie-star Isabelle Huppert’s new film Souvenir; Burt Reynold’s new film Dog YearsBombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story; Yellow Birds, starring Jennifer Aniston, Toni Collette, Alden Ehrenreich and Tye Sheridan, and the timely Bill Nye: Science Guy. Award-winning feature films from the world’s most prestigious festivals (Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Tribeca, Hamptons) were screened, along with dozens of excellent short films.

Israeli filmmaker Yaniv Segalovich, director of “An Average Story” (Letiferet) which won an audience award, joins Alexandra Gil, curator of the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s short films, for a Q&A, at one of the Free Film Friday events © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The festival featured films from 12 different countries – most that you cannot otherwise get to see – including 1945, from Hungary about a remote Hungarian town preparing for the wedding of the village magistrate’s son, when two Orthodox Jews arrive at the village train station with two coffin-shaped wooden crates, supposedly filled with soaps and perfumes. Is this a harbinger of the return of more Jews? Led by the boorish village magistrate, the townspeople fear that these strangers may be heirs of the village’s denounced and deported Jewish neighbors and have come to claim their family’s stolen property. Paranoia runs rampant, leading to tragic events and a potent, unexpected ending. “While there have been many films about the Holocaust, there are few about its immediate aftermath, when greed and material gain from the Jewish peoples’ demise was pervasive. Director Ferenc Török cleverly captures this often overlooked moment in history where one town’s actions become a metaphor for the moral decay of the whole country. Shot in elegant black and white with an eye for exquisite composition and a minimal evocative score, 1945 is a subtle and nuanced study in the collective guilt and enduring anti-Semitism of postwar Hungary,” wrote Jay Rosenblatt, San Francisco Jewish Film.

The Long Island premiere of The Insult, provided a rare look at modern-day Lebanon. The intelligent, rivetting and politically charged drama focuses on how a minor disagreement between a Christian Phalanges Party supporter and a Palestinian construction foreman sparks an unforgivable insult, which ignites a confrontation of national importance. Celebrity lawyers, TV news, and political leaders get involved in a trial that rips open raw memories of Lebanon’s violent past

Paris Opera, from France, provided a  fascinating, candid behind-the-scenes view of a season at the Paris Opera, following the array of personnel – management, performers, costumers, cleaning crew – even choreographer Benjamin Millepied – who work night after night to bring breathtaking spectacle to this legendary setting.

The New York premiere of Back to Burgundy, from France, is a story of wine, family, family business, and more wine is set amid the gorgeous backdrop of Burgundy, and told with an assured mix of drama and humor. Jean, who had left his childhood home more than ten years ago, returns after his father’s death to reconcile the future of the business with his brother and sister.

This year, GCIFF again presented the work of talented young filmmakers in grades K-12 in its Young Filmmakers Program, presented in partnership with Hofstra University, a festival sponsor.

Alexandra Gil, curator of the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s short films, and Regina Gil, Festival Founder and Executive Director, present awards for short films at a gala luncheon at Neiman Marcus Garden City © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The festival finished on Wednesday November 15 with a Closing Awards Lunch at the cafe at Neiman Marcus Garden City (in Roosevelt Field). Neiman Marcus was a major sponsor of the film festival.  The lunch also launched the Neiman Marcus ”Love to Give” Collection, where 10% of the proceeds from the sale of the ”Love to Give” items goes back to the Gold Coast Arts Center, based in Great Neck, Long Island, which organizes the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival.

For the past 110 years since Neiman Marcus’ founding, said Doris Wilshere, Vice President and General Manager, supporting the arts has been a priority. “It has been of particular interest to the founders. That’s why our partnership with the film festival is important to us. It’s the one budget we are encouraged to spend every $1 of, every year.”

David Kirschenbaum , Neiman Marcus Garden City Director of Public Relations, Regina Gil, Gold Coast International Festival Founder and Executive Director, and Doris Wilshere, Vice President, General Manager of Neiman Marcus Garden City, announce launch of ”Love to Give” Collection, which gives back a share of the purchase to support Gold Coast Arts Center’s programs © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In addition to Neiman Marcus Garden City, sponsors and partners of this year’s Gold Coast International Film Festival included: founding partners, the Town of North Hempstead and Douglas Elliman Real Estate; major partners, Hofstra University and the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency; GEICO; Deluxe Entertainment Services Group; AARP Long Island; A.L. Sarroff Fund; Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; The Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health; St. Mary’s Kids; Jet Blue; Biener Audi; LVR Rental; The Inn at Great Neck; The Andrew Hotel; WLIW21; Altice; New York Women in Film & Television; Anton Publications; Blank Slate Media; LI Pulse; Edelman Financial Services, LLC; and LOLA of Great Neck.

More information at www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org; facebook.com/gciff.

The Gold Coast International Film Festival is produced by the Gold Coast Arts Center, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the arts through education, exhibition, performance and outreach. Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021, 516-829-2570, www.goldcoastarts.org.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

‘Monkey Business’ Documentary Paints Touching Portraits of ‘Curious George’ Creators Hans & Margret Rey

Poster for new documentary “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” which uses animation to tell the story of Hans and Margret Rey (courtesy of The Orchard, film distributor).

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Unlike Ema Ryan Yamazaki, the director of the new documentary “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” who became enchanted with Curious George as a child in Japan, I only became a fan of that impish monkey whose curiosity always gets him into trouble, when I saw an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City that showed how his adventures actually mirrored the real-life adventures of its creators, the artist Hans Rey and his wife Margret, who made a harrowing escape from the Holocaust by bicycle, just steps ahead of the Nazi invasion.

Yamazaki’s documentary engagingly and cleverly incorporates animation that blends seamlessly into Rey’s own drawings along with traditional documentary techniques – newsreels, artifacts, interviews – to tell their story, which is on one level, a story about their devoted relationship and the creative process but also one of survival.

Newsreels show the context of Hans and Margret’s lives as German Jews born to upper middle class families in Germany, how dire and entrenched the economic depression became after World War I, a war that Hans, still a teenager, was recruited into as a medic. But most chilling were the images of the rise of Nazism in Germany as a response to rampant desperation, the bombing of Paris, the tanks rolling into the city, the storming of Nazi soldiers, and the long lines of people desperately trying to leave.

Hans and Margret Rey fleeing Paris on their bicycles, a scene from the documentary “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators” which merges animated images with archival footage (courtesy of The Orchard, film distributor).

The film uses an animated images of the couple fleeing Paris on the bicycles that Hans built out of spare parts (because none were available), and traces their harrowing journey to get to a train, then a port in order to flee to Portugal, a neutral country, and ultimately the United States. You see them passing by the Statue of Liberty, and their words (from interviews) of reaction: that they were finally free, in a country where everything is possible, the Land of Opportunity.

Without being preachy or hitting you over the head, the scenes are chilling echoes of what is happening today, with the greatest flight of refugees from genocide, terrorism, violence, economic deprivation, and famine since World War II.

And yet, the scenes are done without horror and brutality; instead, there is emphasis on the strangers they would call upon to give them a place to sleep and food to eat on their journey.

During the Reys’ flight, they were able to carry out only what they could fit into a bicycle basket, but they brought out the completed manuscript of the first “Curious George” book ( the character was named Fifi then) and they had the check for an advance for future books, which financed their journey.

In one scene, recreated in animation, they are stopped by thuggish police who go through their possessions, then, coming upon the book with the adorable monkey, they soften and let them pass through.

Curious George saves their lives.

And the character gave them new life in the United States.

They contact a sister who lives in Long Island who knows a book editor who turns out to be a refugee from Europe, as well, who knows their work, and immediately contracts for four books, with an advance of just $1000 (probably the best deal Houghton-Mifflin ever made).

The movie is absolutely charming and frank in describing the two different personalities, from interviews with the children, now Baby Boomer senior citizens themselves, who knew them from Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, where the couple spent summers.

An interesting note: the 1950s, we are reminded, was a period of intense anti-Semitism in the United States and Waterville Valley was not exactly welcoming to the German Jewish couple. But because of the children, who played and swam with Hans (he would play turtle with them) and watched Hans draw his character and were completely enchanted by him (Margret was described kindly as standoffish and severe, “to put it kindly”), the parents warmed up as well.

We get to know them – Margret as an independent minded, nontraditional, no-nonsense woman who was a calculating businessperson (she launched herself in advertising), who wrote the text for the books and was the “curious” one; and Hans, the “mischievous” one, who was good-humored, easy-going, and loved being with the children. He was the one who would feed squirrels (digging a tunnel so they could reach his house without crossing a road), who built a bird-feeder that the squirrels couldn’t get to and a squirrel-feeder the birds couldn’t get to. At one point, Lay Lee Ong, library executor of the Rey Estate, notes that their relationship was not based on love, and yet, they completed each other and were devoted to each other and indeed, the sum of the duo was greatly more than each one alone.

As Margret says, Curious George’s curiosity gets him into trouble, but his ingenuity gets him out of it.

Anyone who grew up loving Curious George, loves the process of making art and creating children’s books, would be fascinated, but it is also a study in relationships and a genuine drama, an adventure that resonates so strongly today.

Monkey Business is narrated by Sam Waterston (“Grace and Frankie,” “The Newsroom,” “Law And Order,” whose sister was one of the Reys’ neighbors in Waterville Valley) and is the directorial debut of filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki, and animated by Jacob Kafka.

Jacob Kafka, the chief animator of “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curios George’s Creators,” with Rodney Uhler, programmer of the Gold Coast Cinema Series takes questions from the audience after a screening the documentary © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the screening as part of the ongoing Gold Coast Arts Center’s International Film Festival at the BowTie movie theater in Great Neck, Long Island, discussed the film in a Q&A.

Kafka, the son of a rabbi and a seismologist who has been making movies since he was five years old, in addition to making animated short films, developed the animation software for ROUGHANIMATOR for mobile devices which has been used by animators worldwide, was for a full year the only full-time animator.

Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of the film biography is the animation, so novel for a documentary, but so appropriate for telling the Reys’ story. It is remarkable how Kafka was able to reproduce Hans Rey’s own style so seamlessly, literally animating Hans’ drawings.

“I tried as best I could to copy his style.” Indeed, the still characters take on movement and life because of his animation.

He said that the film utilizes some 15,000 individual drawings – each one hand-drawn (rather than computer-animated) – averaging 10 per second of film. Hans Rey would typically insert Margret and himself into the drawing, so he based his images of them on Hans’ own depictions.

“Each is hand-drawn, frame by frame. We ultimately had a team of 8-9 people – but only two were full time, and for the first year, it was just me. The background designer drew anything that doesn’t move; anything that moves, I drew. After a kickstarter campaign last year, we were able to bring on other animators.”

Jacob Kafka, the chief animator of “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curios George’s Creators,” says some 15,000 images, each hand-drawn, were created for the documentary © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

It was decided early on to use animation in the documentary because there was very little actual footage of the Reys. Though they did many television interviews in the 1960s and 1970s, at that time, nothing was saved.

Among the interesting elements that were discovered, was overturning the myth (which Hans enjoyed perpetuating)  that while Hans was in Brazil, working for his brother-in-law’s import/export business, that he went up and down the Amazon River selling bathtubs. Though Hans traveled on the Amazon to see the jungle life (capturing images of monkeys, no doubt that figured into his Curious George creation), it wasn’t to sell bathtubs which would be absurd. That was a common truth that Hans indulged, and appears in many biographies, but was completely untrue, Kafka said, but only discovered well into making the film (there are scenes of Hans selling bathtubs to the tribal people along the Amazon).

But what they never uncovered was the origin of the character of the Man in the Yellow Hat.

Production on the documentary began three years ago and was finished in January. Asked whether the current refugee crisis figured into the making, he said it was coincidental timing, but became more and more relevant, especially because of director Ema Ryan Yamazaki, who grew up in Japan, had her own immigrant experience.

In an interview at the Nantucket Film Festival, she said, “I read Curious George growing up in Japan. I just assumed he was a Japanese monkey, and it was only many years later when I realized he was so international. I didn’t know anything about the authors of Curious George – I think we rarely get the chance to ask, ‘who wrote our great children’s books?’ and once I asked, what I found was incredible.”(See more of her interview at http://nantucketfilmfestival.org/blog/2017/6/22/five-questions-with-ema-ryan-yamazaki-director-of-monkey-business-the-adventures-of-curious-georges-creators and more about the director at www.emaexplorations.com)

Lay Lee Ong, library executor of the Rey Estate, has been successful in keeping alive and reviving Curious George – with movies, PBS, and a new generation of artists carrying on the tradition.

“Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” which had its Los Angeles premiere in June and has been making rounds of film festivals (has been an official selection of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, and Rooftop Film Series before coming to the 2017 Summer Gold Coast Cinema Series), will be available online and on demand August 15 on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Comcast, TWC and others (see curiousgeorgedocumentary.com).

The 7th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival will take place November 7-14, 2017 at venues across the town of North Hempstead, on Long Island’s fabled North Shore. (goldcoastfilmfestival.org).

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures