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December 08, 2004

Chapter Twenty One

A montage of the next year, as told through headlines:

Daily Variety, March 5th


Michelle Beck, wasting no time after her near-death experience during the pre-production of Earth Resurrected, signed today to star in Hard Memories, a biopic of civil right activist and Holocaust survivor Rachel Spiegelman. Spiegelman became famous for her association with Martin Luther King during the late 50s and early 60s. Hard Memories is to be directed by Roland Lanois, and produced by Lanois in association with the Spiegelman family. Compensation package was not discussed, though with a total budget of less than $18 million, Beck is undoubtedly taking much less than the $12.5 million she scored for the ill-fated Earth Resurrected. Filming in the Czech Republic and Alabama is expected to begin in April for an Oscar-look release date of December 19th in New York and Los Angeles.

Beck is repped by Tom Stein of Lupo Associates.


Los Angeles Times Calendar Section, March 11th

Jewish Groups Protest Casting of "Promises."

Decry casting of Michelle Beck as "stunt"; producers, family stand firm behind their star.

BEVERLY HILLS -- Michelle Beck is 25. Blonde. Blue eyed. Gentile. Rachel Spiegelman was brown haired. Brown eyed. Jewish. And at the height of her notoriety, she was well into her fifties.

So how did Michelle Beck get the call to play Spiegelman, noted civil-rights lawyer and Holocaust survivor, in the upcoming Roland Lanois-directed biographical film Hard Memories? It's a question that several Hollywood Jewish groups would like to have answered.

One of these groups, the Jewish Actors Association, went so far as to place a full-page ad in film industry trade magazine Variety on Friday, decrying the movie as "stunt casting" and calling upon director Lanois and the Spiegelman family to drop Beck for a more suitable actress.

"It's not about Miss Beck being Jewish or not," said Avi Linden, communications director for the JAA. "What bothers us is the fact that here is someone who is so clearly cast for box office purposes. She's made $300 million in her last two films, and that's what the producers are looking at -- not how truthful the casting is to reality. The fact is, there are dozens of actresses, Jew and gentile, who are more suited to the role."

Roland Lanois, the Oscar-nominated director and producer, acknowledges that his selection of Beck was bound to be controversial.

"We understand that this casting is not intuitive at first blush," he said, noting that Beck was not the first choice, landing the role only after actress Ellen Merlow dropped the role to take on a television series. "We ourselves were hesitant at first. All we can say at this point is that it was Michelle's performance, not any other consideration, that got her the role."

Avika Spiegelman, spokesperson for the Spiegelman family, which had unusual veto rights on the casting of the role, issued a terse press release. "Michelle Beck is the best person for the role, period," The release said. "She has the full support of the Spiegelman family."


Entertainment Weekly, March 17

Jim Mullen's Hot List


3. Jim Carrey's Poodle: They say you shouldn't work with dogs or children. Well, the poodle was warned.

4. Michelle Beck: 25-year-old beach babe cast as serious, 50ish civil rights crusader. Next up for Beck -- playing Jim Carrey's poodle.

5. Roseanne's Country Album: Stop her before she sings the Star-Spangled Banner!


Variety, March 24


BEVERLY HILLS -- The atmosphere was electric at the Fine Arts theatre on Wilshire avenue, but not for the usual reasons. On Saturday night, the Fine Arts was the scene, not of a movie, but of an unprecedented SRO reading of Hard Memories, the film made controversial by the casting of Michelle Beck in the central role of civil rights activist and Holocaust survivor Rachel Spiegelman. The guest list for the reading included the cream of the film industry and several members of the Jewish groups that had criticized Beck's casting. It was a tough crowd, and Hard Memories director-producer Roland Lanois knew it. "If I were in their shoes, I would have the same reaction that they have had. Absolutely. No doubt," Lanois said prior to the reading. "What this is about is helping them into our shoes. I think they're going to be surprised." Beck, in the center of the storm, waded into the crowd before the reading, thanking folks for coming and chatting directly with those who had opposed her casting, as if to show there were no hard feelings. At 8:30, Beck, co-star and noted legit theater star David Grunwald, and Lanois and producer Avika Spiegelman sat up front on simple stools and read the script, Beck as Rachel Spiegelman, the other three trading off the other roles. By 9, there were already tears. At 10:30, when the reading was finished, Beck and her crew were treated to an ovation the likes of which I have not seen in many a year. It was a tough crowd, but Beck won them over in spectacular fashion. Next up: the audience at large.....


Hollywood Reporter, April 30th

Young Ankles Lupo Associates

Elliot Young, star of the mid-rated ABC series Pacific Rim, has dropped agent Ben Fleck of Lupo Associates in what insiders call an acrimonious split. Young was apparently disappointed in Fleck's inability to transfer Young's moderate television stardom into a film career.

"Fleck had come in promising Elliot the moon," said Pacific Rim director Don Bolling. "Then he of course experienced trouble delivering. Elliot dropped him and, I think, rightly so."

Young is currently being repped by Paula Richter of Artists Associated.


Daily Variety, May 22nd


Dish hears that the already legendarily tense set of Good Help is Hard To Find has had the tension cranked up another notch, when two-time Oscar winner-turned-would-be-sitcom-comedienne Ellen Merlow jetted back to her Connecticut horse farm during the middle of taping, placing the show in jeopardy of making its series debut September 9th. This latest flare-up follows last month's standoff between Merlow and co-star Garrison Lanham (who played Weezix, the alien butler), that resulted in Lanham's replacement by Bronson Pinchot, and by last week's mass crew walkout, protesting their treatment by Merlow and her entourage. The Dish hears that Merlow's latest act might have placed her in violation of her $20 million contract, giving exasperated producers Jan and Steven White the excuse they need to bounce her from the show....


Daily Variety, June 16


Tom Stein, 29, of La Canada married Miranda Escalon, 28, of Manhattan Beach, on Saturday, June 14th at the Vivian Webb Chapel in Claremont. He is an agent at Lupo Associates. She is also an agent, newly-promoted, at the same firm. Stein's best man was Lupo boss Carl Lupo; Escalon's maid of honor was Michelle Beck, who flew in from the Czech Republic for the wedding.....


Ad in Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter, July 10

Lanois Productions


Century Films

Are proud to announce the completion of principal photography on


Starring Michelle Beck and David Grunwald

Written by Connie Reiser & Larry Card

Directed and Produced by Roland Lanois




Entertainment Weekly, August 8

Stingless 'Scorpion'

Mindless Summer Explode-Fest Rings Hollow

......Inquiring minds want to know: in this utter loss of a movie, does anything work? Well, the explosions are pretty. Apologists may note the presence of Michelle Beck, whose upcoming performance Hard Memories is one of the most intensely awaited of the Oscar season. Maybe some of that alleged intensity rubs off here? No such luck. This Michelle Beck, at least, is scene decoration, hardly onscreen before her helicopter is blown out of the sky by a preposterous string of coincidences. Don't worry, this revelation won't ruin the plot for you: there'd have to have been a plot at all for that to happen.

Rating: D


Daily Variety, August 11


$19.7M takes tops BO report; 'Gold Master' takes silver at $6.2M

Scorpion's Tail proves that some films are critic-proof; the widely panned action flick stung the competition with a $19.7 million take, injecting a boost in the severely lagging summer box office......


Entertainment Weekly, September 22nd


....Oscar-nominated director-producer Roland Lanois (The Green Fields) may have another contender on his hands with Hard Memories. Insiders at a Century Pictures rough cut screening say the film caused notoriously thick-skinned Century head Lewis Schon to cry into his trademark Goobers. Of special note is Michelle Beck's performance, which those at the screening labeled "revelatory". Century's marketing department is already getting in high gear for the Award season....


The Arizona Republic, September 25th


Sarah Rosenthal, of Scottsdale, of complications from a stroke, at 3:15 pm, September 23rd. Mrs. Rosenthal born in Hamburg, Germany on April 3, 1911 and emigrated to the United States in December of 1945. She is survived by daughter Elaine Stein, also of Scottsdale, and grandson Thomas Stein, of La Canada, Ca.


The Chicago Sun-Times, October 8

Hollywood Star, Agents to Endow U of C Chair

CHICAGO -- The University of Chicago, normally the most staid of places, received a little Hollywood sparkle on Tuesday as Michelle Beck, star of the smash hit Summertime Blues, and the upcoming Hard Memories, arrived on campus to announce a $3 million gift to endow a chair in Holocaust Studies.

Speaking in the University's cavernous Mandel Hall, Beck alluded to her experience working on the Holocaust drama Hard Memories as a motivating factor in the gift.

"We must not be so worried about history repeating itself as simply rubbing itself out of existence," she said. "Each year that passes rubs off a little more of the memory. This is a way to keep the memories fresh, and to refresh the story for each generation of students that walks through these halls."

The chair, formally known as the Sarah Rosenthal and Daniel Stein Chair for Holocaust Studies and Jewish History, will be filled in the next year, following a nationwide search. The chair is named for Sarah Rosenthal, a survivor of the Holocaust, and her son-in-law Daniel Stein, who graduated from the University of Chicago in 1962.

Besides Beck, other endowers of the chair include Carl Lupo, CEO of Lupo Associates, a talent agency in Los Angeles, and Tom and Miranda Stein, also agents at Lupo Associates. Tom Stein is the son of Daniel Stein.


Entertainment Weekly, November 17


December -- Hard Memories

What a difference a year can make. Last year at this time, no one would have predicted that Michelle Beck, of all people, would be whispered as the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar. Best Beach Bunny, maybe. Best Actress, no way.

One year later, though, Beck's performance in Hard Memories is the talk of the town -- even with those who haven't seen the performance yet. They talk of the protests when Beck was cast in the role. They talk of the now-mythologized reading at the Fine Arts theater which quelled all complaint. They talk about Century Pictures prez Lewis Schon blubbering uncontrollably into his snack food. Some theorize her miraculous recovery from her coma earlier this year did something unexpected -- kicked her acting centers into gear, perhaps......


Premiere Magazine, December

Michelle Beck, Resurrected

Michelle Beck nearly died in February when a freak accident during the ramp-up to Earth Resurrected sent her spiraling into a coma. Since then she's been in the center of the Hollywood storm with her new film Hard Memories. Beck just doesn't know how not to get in trouble.

To begin, Michelle Beck sympathized with the people who hated her getting Hard Memories.

"Who are we kidding?" she says. "The woman is an icon, Jewish, older, and intellectual. I'm not any of those things. I don't think I would have cast me, and if I had, I'd probably have claimed temporary insanity afterwards."

But a funny thing happened on the way to the flogging: Michelle Beck stood up to the critics and turned them around. Now the actress, just turned 26, looks like the closest thing to a lock in the Best Actress race. All it took was one reading.

"Arrrgh, the reading." Beck says, and scrunches up her face. "It's becoming like Woodstock, you know. Everybody who was actually physically in Los Angeles says they were there that night. I mean, come on! What does the Fine Arts sit? 300? 400 at most."

Beck leans forward as if to confide. "The fact was I was terrible that night. I was nervous as hell -- I just about spotted my panties in fright. I would have been happy just to get out of there alive."

Instead, she got a thunderous ovation. Not bad for a woman who a month earlier was in a coma, hooked up to life support.

"Yes, yes, yes," Beck waves off the coma story. "You want to know what the coma was like? It was dark, mostly. That's it. I didn't see God when I was in my coma. I didn't even see Elvis. And when I came out of it, nothing had changed -- most people forget that I had read for Hard Memories before I went into the coma. It wasn't like I came out of it with a gift. I was just following the plan I had set for myself long before."......


Daily Variety, December 16

Review: Hard Memories

It's been a rumor for so long it's become almost mythical -- Michelle Beck's transformation from beach blonde to serious actress with her role in Hard Memories. Her performance has been so built up for so long that it's finally a relief to have seen it, and to be able to say that it's everything it has been claimed to be -- and even more, if that's possible. Guided by Roland Lanois' sure directorial hand, Beck hands in a performance that not only rockets her to the top of the Oscar nomination list, but perhaps also into the first rank of our nation's actresses. Following what is sure to be a record-breaking limited engagement, this picture should do solid business in wide release, possibly flirting with the $100 million mark if public opinion gets behind it....


New York Times, December 20

"Hard Memories", "Pocket Change" Lead Golden Globe Nominations

Hard Memories, the story of Jewish civil rights activist Rachel Spiegelman, lead the pack at the Golden Globe nominations Friday, garnering seven nominations, including Best Picture (drama) and Best Actress. The Tom Hanks comedy Pocket Change followed, with six nominations, including Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actor.

The Golden Globes, given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are less prestigious than the Academy Awards, but are often viewed as a bellweather for that more prestigious award. The Academy Awards are to be announced February 16th.

NBC-TV will broadcast the Golden Globes ceremony January 18.


Los Angeles Times, January 5

Hard Memories Takes Top Critics Prize

The Roland Lanois film narrowly beats Dust and the Moon; Beck wins second Best Actress award

NEW YORK -- After a particularly contentious voting process, Hard Memories beat the Vietnamese film Dust and the Moon to win the best film award from the National Society of Film Critics on Sunday. The award joins the Best Picture citation awarded by the Los Angeles Film Society; The New York Film Circle gave its award to Dust and the Moon.

Michelle Beck, whose narrow loss to Eleni Natavsaya of the Russian film Wolfhounds with the Los Angeles critics precluded an expected sweep of the critics awards, nevertheless garnered her second Best Actress award from the National Critics....


Daily Variety, January 19


Biopic Wins Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor, three others; 'Pocket Change' Wins Best Comedy


Los Angeles Times, January 26

Hard Memories Rises to the Top

Buoyed by its Best Picture and Best Actress win at the Golden Globes, Hard Memories opened strongly in its first weekend of wide release, with $13.4 million at the box office. The week's other new release, Walt Disney's Natty Bumppo, did poorly with its core children's audience, grossing only $1.1 million...


Daily Variety, February 17


Best Picture, Director, Actress and Screenplay nods; Hanks nominated for 'Pocket Change'.


Nominations for Hard Memories:

Best Picture (Roland Lanois, Avika Spiegelman, producers)

Best Director: Roland Lanois

Best Actress: Michelle Beck

Best Screenplay (Adapted): Connie Reiser & Larry Card, from the book Hard Memories by Rachel Spiegelman

Best Cinematography: Januz Kandisky

Best Score (Dramatic): Julian Ruiz

Best Editing: Roland Lanois, Cynthia Peal

Best Makeup: Nguyen Trinh


Daily Variety, March 4


Best Actress Nominee Michelle Beck will join the Oscar broadcast as an announcer, director Lars Giles said today. Ms. Beck will introduce the fifth and final Best Picture clip, to be shown just after the Best Actress award is to be announced. The Oscars will be broadcast on ABC-TV March 23 starting at 6 pm Pacific......


"Stop squirming," Miranda said.

"I can't help myself," I said. "Michelle's my first client to get nominated for an Oscar. I'm nervous."

"Is that the only reason?" Miranda said.

"Well, no," I said. "But that's the reason I'm going public with. Also, my cummerbund itches."

Miranda and I were at the Academy Awards.

We weren't in the good seats, of course. The good seats are saved for the nominees, their guests, other really big stars, and studio heads. Carl Lupo had a good seat. Michelle had a good seat. Our seats were in the back of the balcony. Miranda brought a pair of opera glasses. We needed them. At least we weren't as bad off as Van Doren. He was stuck in the press room. "It's like a cattle pen," he told me, "except that instead of cows mooing next to you, you have Roger Ebert."

Things were going well for Hard Memories; so far it had won Best Makeup, Best Cinematography and Best Editing (the last of which greatly relieved Roland -- at least he wouldn't be going home empty handed). Best Score got away, which I thought was fair; Julian's score was good but not all that good.

"It's time for the screenplay awards," Miranda said.

Best Original Screenplay first. Keanu Reeves read off the nominations, which struck me as mildly ironic. The winner was Ted Fletcher, who wrote Pocket Change. Ted, hyped up on too much caffeine and nicotine, started on an extended riff about Nietzsche. The orchestra leader, clearly not impressed, cut him off after thirty seconds.

"Good call," Miranda said, as Ted was manhandled off the stage.

"Well, you know," I said. "It's probably the only time he'll be in front of a billion people," I said. "You can see why he might get a little excited."

"All the more reason to get him off the air quickly," Miranda said. "I'd hate to go through life with people pointing at me and saying, 'Hey, aren't you the idiot that made a fool of yourself on the Oscar show?' Rob Lowe has never lived down that dance with Snow White, you know."

Keanu was back, mangling names for the Best Adapted Screenplay. He appeared to give himself a papercut opening the envelope. Sucking on his finger, he announced the winners: Connie Reiser & Larry Card, Hard Memories.

"Bingo," I said.

"Four for five," Miranda said. "We're not doing too bad. I think Michelle actually has a chance."

"Oh, God," I said. "I wish you hadn't said that, Miranda. My stomach just dropped down the Marianas trench."

Miranda patted my hand. "Relax, Tom," she said. "It's been covered, remember. Even if she doesn't win Best Actress, she'll be on stage right after to show the Hard Memories nomination clip. It'll be fine."

"I know, I know," I said. "But it's not optimal, you know. It would be better if she won."

"Duh," Miranda said. "But, unfortunately, we couldn't bribe the accountants from Price, Waterhouse. We'll just have to hope the voters don't decide to give it to Meryl Streep again."

"Meryl Streep," I muttered. "She oughta be disqualified from future nominations."

Miranda patted my hand again. "Tom, you're just so cute when you're agitated."

Last year's Best Actor winner stepped on the stage to announce the Best Actress award.

"He wears a wig," I said to Miranda. "I hear it's one of those ones with the snap-on titanium screws."

"Oh, hush," Miranda said.

The usual lame patter, then he stared intently into the teleprompter to read names. They started with Michelle's. They ended with Meryl's. Alphabetical order works that way, I suppose.

Miranda's hand found mine again. She squeezed it so tight I thought a bone might pop. I would have complained, but I was squeezing hers just as hard. Our mutual pain was so intense that we barely heard our former Best Actor begin and the Oscar goes to......

"Michelle Beck."

We heard that part.

The room erupted into applause and a standing ovation. They loved her. It was her moment. They had no idea just how true it was.

Michelle stood up. She was sitting next to Carl Lupo. Carl stood up with her, kissed her on the cheek. He was crying. Only four other people in the building knew exactly why.

Michelle made her way to the podium like a queen. She was wearing a golden dress of a design that no one had ever seen before. Joan Rivers had asked her about it up out on the red carpet before the show. Michelle responded that the designer was no one that anyone around here would know. Joan remarked that it fit Michelle like a second skin. Others agreed. They had no idea how true that was, either.

Michelle accepted her award and a peck from the former Best Actor. Then she plopped the Oscar down on the podium and, beaming, waited for the applause to die down. It took a while. Then she began to speak.

"Oh God," Miranda said. "This is really it."

"Before I do anything else," Michelle said, "I need to thank one person, my agent, Tom Stein. He's way up there in the balcony. Hi Tom!" She waved enthusiastically, which got a big laugh. I waved back.

"Shut up and get to it before the orchestra cuts you off," I muttered under my breath.

"Tom's probably muttering at me to get to it before the orchestra cuts me off," Michelle said. "He always did look out for me.

"This award means more to me than you could ever know," Michelle continued. "It's not just my award. It's the award of Rachel Spiegelman, who saw hatred of the demonized 'Other' destroy her world, and dedicated the rest of her life to making sure that we saw men, all men, as brothers, regardless of their color or their creed.

"It belongs to Avika Spiegelman, who looked beyond my physical appearance to allow me to take the role of a lifetime. It belongs to those who initially protested my getting this role, because they came and gave me a chance to perform it, and realized that while I did not match Rachel's appearance, I did match her heart. Over and over again, I have seen people of all stripes look beyond the appearance, look beyond the otherness, and see what it was that truly connected us all.

"And now I'm wondering if you, all of you, every one of the billion people worldwide who are watching this show, can take one more step.

"You see," Michelle said, "I am not who you think I am. I am not what you think I am. This face is a mask. This body is a pose. Who I am and what I am is something you have never experienced before."

At this point, people had begun to start whispering. Some of them were worried that Michelle was about to launch into some odd New Age screed about togetherness. Still others began to wonder if Michelle was going to use this worldwide podium to announce she was a lesbian or a Scientologist. But some noticed that the bottom of Michelle's dress had suddenly gone crystal clear. And so, for that matter, had Michelle's legs.

"I'm wondering," Michelle said. "This award tells me that you believe I have reached into myself and touched some fundamental humanity, some common bond that ties us all together. But could I reach into myself and find this fundamental humanity if I were not human?"

By now it was unmistakable; from toe to armpit, Michelle had gone totally clear.

"What if I told you that that which makes you fundamentally human is something that you share with another people, a people so different from you that they might appear strange or frightening at first glance. A people who might terrify you from appearance alone. Could you make the jump, and understand that inside, they are not so different at all?"

Michelle was now completely clear. As if she had been replaced by an indescribably delicate and beautiful figurine of hand-blown, iridescent glass. She moved away from the podium and stood in full view of a billion speechless members of the human race.

When she spoke again, her voice rang out, amplified not by electronics but by her own crystalline body.

"Could you accept that another people, so unlike you, and yet not unlike you at all, would offer you their hand in friendship? Because, my friends, we are here."

We never did find out who won Best Picture that year.

Posted by john at December 8, 2004 11:52 PM