EXTRA! EXTRA! PASSINGS: Irwin Rosten Dies at 85; Documentary Filmmaker: Connections (#20)

Irwin Rosten, shown in 1977

Irwin Rosten, an award-winning documentary filmmaker perhaps best known for “The Incredible Machine,” which took PBS viewers on a revolutionary voyage inside the human body in 1975, has died. He was 85.  Rosten died May 23 at his Hollywood home after a brief illness, his family said.

He was the writer, director and producer of “The Incredible Machine,” an early National Geographic special that had “extraordinary impact,” said Nicolas Noxon, a documentarian who was Rosten’s longtime business partner.

“It was very, very popular and sort of opened people’s eyes to what could be done with a documentary,” Noxon said.”It was groundbreaking for its time.”

Medical researchers had been making inroads in taking pictures inside the human body — such as sending cameras into the digestive system or taking microphotographs of blood — but Rosten was perhaps the first “to collect all that data and put it together” for public viewing, Noxon said.  “The Incredible Machine” remained the highest-rated show in the Public Broadcasting Service’s history until 1982. It was nominated for an Academy Award, the second of two nominations that Rosten received. “The Wolf Men,” a 1969 documentary that he produced about the hunting of timber wolves in North America, also had been nominated. Rosten would go on to create such programming as “Mysteries of the Mind,” an Emmy-winning documentary for PBS about the human brain, and “Elephant,” one of many projects that featured animals.

The rising popularity of documentaries in the early 1960s “was simply a question of television catching up with the public,” Rosten told The Times in 1963 as he cited the popularity of nonfiction books and magazines.

In the 1960s, Rosten worked for David L. Wolper, a major independent producer of documentaries, and made a number of National Geographic specials. They included an early Jacques Cousteau documentary and another about the grizzly bear.

When “Grizzly” was nominated for an Emmy, Rosten’s friends and colleagues placed an ad in Variety that his family said included this disclaimer: “This space paid for by the admirers of Irwin Rosten, a modest man who cannot be trusted to blow his own horn.”

He was born in 1924 in Brooklyn to immigrants from Russia and Poland who owned a drugstore.

After working for the DuMont Network in New York, Rosten moved to Los Angeles in 1954 and joined CBS affiliate KNXT. One of his highly regarded projects was “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” a 1958 documentary that examined capital punishment.

Writing in 1959, The Times’ Cecil Smith described Rosten as a “young man with magic in his pen.”

Two years later, he moved to KTLA-TV Channel 5 to become a writer-producer of documentaries and special programs. One of his final documentaries for the station was 1963’s “Split Image,” which was about Camarillo State Hospital’s patient-operated closed-circuit TV.

While working for Wolper, Rosten met Noxon, and the pair eventually jumped to MGM and set up the studio’s documentary unit. Their first venture was a 1968 documentary on Clark Gable.

As early as 1963, The Times referred to Rosten and Noxon as “one of the finest young teams of documentary makers.”

Rosten was known for mentoring others and was a terrific cook — Chinese food was a specialty, said his son, Peter, a former movie and TV producer.

The elder Rosten traveled the world in pursuit of his subjects, going to Japan to film parts of the 1970s National Geographic specials “Gold” or to Russia to record “The Volga” about the major European river.

As was often the case, Rosten returned with a story that amused him. A Soviet news agency official had proposed arm-wrestling to decide whether a Soviet or American film crew would be used on “The Volga.” Rosten’s heftier National Geographic colleague took the challenge, but the match ended in a draw. Crews from each country were used.

In addition to his son, Peter, of Darby, Mont., Rosten is survived by his wife of 23 years, Marilyn Ryan.  Services were private. © 05/29/2010 L.A. TIMES

I worked with Irwin Rosten and Nick Noxon at David L. Wolper Productions in the early ’60s. Two of the nicest and most talented men a young filmmaker could ever meet.  I was Film Librarian and had lots of daily contact with both of them.  In later years, I would occasionally run into Irwin Rosten at Writers Guild of America Film Society screenings.  I have screen credits with Irwin on Wolper’s “The Immortal Jolson,” “How to Succeed as a Gangster,” “The Funny Men Parts One and Two,” “The Angry Screen,”  “The Oscars Moments of Greatness Parts One and Two.”  He was a triple threat man serving as Writer and Producer, and occasionally Director.  I, along with many others, will surely miss Irwin Rosten.  God Bless.

EXTRA! EXTRA! A Film So bad, It’s A hit! Connections (#19)

Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. But “Troll 2” — a 1990 schlock smorgasbord of filmmaking ineptitude combining inexperienced actors, an English-deficient Italian director and a generally ill-conceived looniness — is one cinema foundling with a healthy foster care existence.

"Troll 2" is not actually a sequel, a dentist had the lead role, and there are goblins but no trolls.,

A Film So Bad It's Good

The so-bad-it’s-good love it gets from trash cultists spurred the documentary Best Worst Movie, directed by Michael Paul Stephenson as an act of good sportsmanship for having starred in “Troll 2” himself as a child. We’re shown fan-rabid screenings (including at West L.A.’s NuArt), testimonials, key participants re-creating scenes, even a peevish defense of its merits by director Claudio Fragasso. But the main focus is square-jawed Alabama dentist George Hardy, whose acting bug led to one regrettable outbreak, playing “Troll 2’s” dad hero.

Hardy vacillates between enthusiasm for his newfound idoldom (re-creating his cheeseball line-readings to anyone/everyone) and, during a snit at a convention, open disgust at horror obsessives. Sometimes the effect is a little too mercenary, as if Stephenson were a victim working too hard to buddy up to his persecutors. (“Troll 2” mom Margo Prey, now a shut-in caring for her mother, comes in for especially pointless freak show-gazing.)

But in its more amusing and accepting moments, “Best Worst Movie” captures the geek-joy fizz when fame morphs into notoriety, and artlessness becomes its own art.  Copyright ©  2010 Los Angeles Times

In 1962, while attending USC Cinema Evening School, my professor Herbert L. Strock asked me to work on a feature film he was going to direct. That feature was “The Crawling Hand,” shot on 35mm in B&W, and cost $99 thousand dollars.  My credit is Production Assistant.  It has been shown continually on TV, home video and DVD since its initial release almost 50 years ago.  Some years ago, it played along with “Santa Clause Conquered the Martians,” with Pia Isadora, on an ersatz TV film festival, “The Best of the Worst, which I believe was on KHJ-TV, sponsored by Dr. Pepper.

In my future Blogs, I will write more about the very talented Herbert L. Strock, who taught me much that I know today about the art and technology of film editing, and who would become my partner in the film business in my formative years that prepared me for the long creative journey that would lie ahead.

EXTRA! EXTRA! EXTRAS: Bret Michaels Out Of Hospital: Connections (#18)

I intend for this to be my last update on Bret Michaels, for now

Michaels was released yesterday from Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ, and is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a brain hemorrhage last month.

Barrow is among the world’s leading neurological centers and is the home of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.

Dr. Joseph Zabramski, chief of cerebrovascular surgery at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, said he recommended that Michales wait at least four to six weeks before resuming normal activity. He declined to say when Michaels could resume touring. Doctors will examine Michaels every two weeks until he’s recovered.

This seems to end the speculation about whether or not Bret will put in an  appearance at the “Celebrity Apprentice” finale on May 23.  Whenever Bret’s able to come back, I’m sure that his loyal fans will celebrate the occasion.

As a teenager I had a summer job parking cars in the Clubhouse section of Garden State Race Track in Delaware Township, New Jersey, later to become Cherry Hill.  A big black Cadillac stopped and the Driver looked me up and down. “Have you ever been in a boxing ring,” he asked.  I said, no.  He gave me his business card: “If you want to become a professional boxer I can make you The Champion of The World.”  The name on the card was Angelo Dundee.  He was a Boxing Trainer and a few years later became the Trainer of “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali.

Lured by the glamor and promise of the Motion Picture Industry, I came to Hollywood. Here, you step into the ring every day and fight for ten or twelve hours, not rounds.  Your opponent has multiple faces and is an unrelenting adversary.  You cannot tire, or run, it is a fight to the finish.   All, so you can produce that really special motion picture you believe in.

For more on Bret Michaels,  see my Blogs:

EXTRA! EXTRA! EXTRAS: Bret Michaels in Critical Condition at Hospital: Connections (#17) Published 04/23/10.

EXTRA! EXTRA! EXTRAS: Bret Michaels Recovering From Surgery in Facility for Diabetics: Connections (#14) Published 04/15/10

EXTRA! EXTRA! Back into the Limelight: Connections (#7) Published  03/12/10.