Michael Blowen shares more of his memories

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2014 

The following are a few more anecdotes told by Michael Blowen that were not included in the story for print.

Actor Jimmy Stewart (Harvey, It's a Wonderful Life, Vertigo) was among Blowen's personal Top 10 list of people whom he wanted to interview when he was a movie critic for The Boston Globe. In Stewart's latter years, Blowen finally got the chance to have lunch with the actor, and then they went back to Stewart's office.

"It's tiny," Blowen recalled. "He has no movie stuff. It's all pictures of airplanes put up with thumb tacks.

"So I'm sitting in front of him and there's a whole stack of red envelopes on the end of the desk. And I said, 'Mr. Stewart, if you don't mind me asking, what are those red envelopes?'

"And he said, 'Well, those are thank-you notes.' And I said, 'Thank-you notes for what?' He said, 'Thank-you notes for people who send me birthday cards.' I said, 'Wait a minute: You're telling me everybody who sends you a birthday card gets a thank-you note?' He said, 'That's right.'

'He said, 'When I came here in the mid-30s, the head of publicity at MGM said, 'These people (movie fans) are your friends and you better treat them that way. And if you treat them well, they're going to treat you well.'

"So about eight months later it's his birthday and I found this beautiful book on aviation. Big color pictures and paintings. It was like a Playboy for people who like airplanes.

"So I sent it to him for his birthday. So about two weeks later, I get a note in the mail — in a red envelope — and it said, 'Are you testing me? I loved the book. Thank you very much.' That was the last note I got from him."

Blowen said Old Friends has a policy that "we're not putting the donation in the bank until the thank-you note is in the mail."

Otto Preminger, director of Exodus and Anatomy of a Murder, realized every movie director's fantasy: He got the chance to review a film made by a movie critic.

Blowen said he'd made a movie "about two folk singers, one a native Irishman and one an Irish-American, and they go to Ireland. And the idea of the movie was that the Irish-American saw this real romanticized view of Ireland, and the Irish guy saw the rougher parts."

Blowen got the idea of having Preminger look at this movie. Preminger had come to Boston University to talk about directing, and had emphasized the importance of being persistent. Blowen, taking a cue, decided to be persistent and called Preminger's office in New York to see if the director would take a look at Blowen's Irish movie.

Two hours later, Preminger called back and said (Blowen mimics the director's thick Austrian-Hungarian accent), "If you come to New York I'll look at your picture." So they made arrangements to meet at Preminger's residence in New York.

On the appointed day, Blowen arrives at Preminger's place: "His apartment is all black and white," Blowen said. "There is no color. The butler wears black and white. The walls are white, the table is black. Totally black and white, right? The butler says, 'Mr. Preminger will be with you momentarily.'"

So when Preminger comes into the room, he fixes a drink for Blowen and they sit.

"Mr. Blowen," Preminger begins, "I've asked you into my home because I have to ask you one question."

"I say, 'Okay, what's that?'"

"What exactly did you have in mind? This is the worst picture I have seen in my life,"

As bad as that meeting went, Blowen had an encounter with director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Nashville) that did not end any better.

"This was the Robert Altman whose career was gone. He had not made a successful movie in a long time. It looked like he was never going to be able to make another movie. So he bought the rights to this play called Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

"Cher was in it and it was a really nice cast. I really liked it and I raved about it. So Altman called me and told me he liked the review, and I was flattered.

"So about a year later he comes out with the movie version of Streamers, a David Rabe play. And so he arranges for me to see it and then we're going to go have dinner.

So after seeing the movie, Blowen meets Altman and his publicist at a restaurant on Harvard Square. This was Blowen's first face-to-face meeting with Altman.

"I sat down and we exchanged pleasantries. I said, 'Mr. Altman, here's what I have to tell you: I really didn't like this movie. So what I'd like to do is, I'll write my review and you can tell people why you think it's a good movie, and we'll run them side by side (in the newspaper)."

Altman wouldn't have any of it, began calling Blowen "you son-of-a-bitch," and then proceeds to throw dinner rolls at Blowen.

"That was it. That was the end of the interview. He was just throwing rolls," Blowen said.

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

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