Movie critic and owner of Old Friends discusses movies and horses

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2014 

Michael Blowen posed with Afternoon Deelites.

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

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  • Old Friends

    Old Friends equine retirement and rescue facility: Call (502) 863-1775 or visit Oldfriendsequine.org. It is at Dream Chase Farm, 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown. Tours are available; reservations are encouraged.

GEORGETOWN — Before he began caring for the equine stars of yesteryear, Michael Blowen interviewed many movie stars and film directors.

From 1977 to 1993, the Scott County resident reviewed movies for The Boston Globe. Today he is founder and president of Old Friends, a farm that recently marked its 10th anniversary of caring for retired Thoroughbreds.

"The movie business and the horse business are almost identical," Blowen said. In both, "There's a lot of money involved. It's very glamorous and people are jetting around and the horses are performers and the jockeys are performers. There are a lot of similarities."

Blowen, 67, said he finds more fulfillment running Old Friends. Nevertheless, during an interview last week before Sunday's Academy Awards telecast, Blowen sat down to tell stories about his days reviewing movies and visiting stars and directors on movie sets.

Blowen covered the Oscars show a couple of times but said he was more interested in talking with the losers than the winners. In doing so, he learned a little about the character of Burt Lancaster, who lost the 1981 Best Actor award to a dying Henry Fonda at the March 29, 1982, ceremonies. When Fonda was announced as the winner for his perfomance in On Golden Pond, Blowen went looking for Lancaster.

"So I pay the parking attendant $20 to tell me where Burt Lancaster's car is," Blowen said. "I get over to the car, and here comes Burt about a half hour later. He's got one of those Irish snap-brim caps on. I go, 'Mr. Lancaster, I'm sorry to bother you. I interviewed you a couple of times....' 'Oh, yes, Michael, how are you?' I said, 'I just wanted you to know, I thought your performance in Atlantic City is one of the best things of the year.' And he goes, 'Well, thank you very much. But I'm really glad Hank got it, So I'm going to get in my car right now, and I'm going to drive up to his house, and I'm going to congratulate him.'"

Fonda died five months later, on Aug. 12, 1982.

Horse racing allowed Blowen to salvage what could have been a disastrous situation with legendary director John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre).

"I show up at 7 o'clock in the morning and I call up his hotel room and there's this voice: 'Yes?' 'Mr. Huston, I'm Michael Blowen and I've come to spend the day with you.' There's this pause and he goes, 'Well, Michael, I don't see anything on my paper (an itinerary schedule). Why don't you come up and we'll sort this out.' When I get to the room, he opens the door and he's in yellow pajamas."

It wasn't until after Huston invited him in that Blowen realized he had shown up a day before the scheduled interview. "I was so embarrassed."

After Blowen apologized, the two sat down for a chat. Huston noticed that Blowen had a Daily Racing Form. Unaware that Boston had a horse racing track, Huston rearranged his entire schedule, and Blowen wound up spending not one day but two days with the director at Suffolk Downs in Boston.

They got along so well that, with Huston's encouragement, Jack Nicholson agreed to do an interview with Blowen when Prizzi's Honor was released in 1985.

A movie review led Blowen to meet his wife, Diane, who was a columnist at The Globe. Blowen initially was a second-string critic at the paper who was assigned to review only lower-tier fare such as Hot Lead and Cold Feet, a 1978 slapstick Western with Don Knotts. But he finally got a chance to review something meatier when he wrote the review for a foreign movie called Slave of Love.

"So I wrote a review of this Russian movie directed by this guy named Nikita Mikhalkov," Blowen said. "It's a movie about the making of a movie during the transition from silent films to sound films, and it was set in Russia. So I did this whole thing about how it was really a metaphor about going from the czars to the Bolsheviks and on and on and on.

"So on Tuesday, Diane's column came out and she wrote, 'I went to see a movie called Slave of Love at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge. And this movie is a primary example of why you should never trust movie critics...'"

"So I went to her and I said, 'What do you know?' I had wanted to meet her. She was brilliant, gorgeous, smart. There wasn't anything not to like about her."

They have been married for more than 30 years.

Blowen said this year's crop of Oscar-nominated movies was particularly strong. On the other hand, "There are so many fantasy movies now and so many movies based on comic books and toys. Look at The Lego Movie! Who came up with this brilliant idea? It's making a fortune. That's why I'm not doing it (writing reviews) any more. I would sooner we make a Monopoly movie so we could have a theme."

Besides, there's more satisfaction in caring for horses, he said. People like actress Angie Dickinson, composer Burt Bacharach (whose horse Afternoon Deelites is at Old Friends) and actor Jack Nicholson have contributed generously to the operation, Blowen said.

"I just look at these horses and I'm in love," Blowen said. "I love being around them. You know, with a few exceptions, I never really got excited about meeting movie stars. But to me, these horses are huge stars. I saw them race at Saratoga, and the idea that they're now in my yard and I can go out and feed them carrots is just unbelievable to me."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @heraldleader

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