This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
- An ode to our Lord and savior, Wendy Williams.
- Bowing down to Cloris and Cicely.
- Just some hot actors…
- Mandatory wig play with Zendaya.
- The most cursed Hollywood history.
(Full disclosure: That is an unforgivably terrible line, but I snorted so loudly after I wrote it that I had no choice but to publish it, if for no other reason than to keep myself accountable in never writing something so cheesy again.)
Of course, we’re talking about celebrity deaths, so flippancy and jokes should have no place in the conversation—except in this case, I’d imagine the star would appreciate a wily streak to make the darkness a bit more playful. That was Leachman’s specialty. One of many.
And when it comes to performers that truly earn the right to be called stars, the kind of light that will burn bright long after they’re gone, there are few trailblazers who measure up to Cicely Tyson: her talent, her ferocity, and her grace.
It struck me after the sad news of these screen legends’ passing this week that we have become so accustomed to the social-media age cycle of public mourning—quote tweets of “oh no!,” retweets of esteemed co-stars’ remembrances, and then an all-about-me anecdote of your favorite performance or that one inconsequential time you met them in line at an airport—that we’ve started to autopilot through the grief-tweeting and onto the next task at hand.
There’s rarely a breath to reflect on what the person’s work meant. In other words, are people properly understanding what a genius Cloris Leachman was? Do they truly get what Cicely Tyson has contributed to our culture?
Leachman’s was an astonishing career, evidenced by an Oscar win and a record-setting eight Primetime Emmy wins (a feat that still holds, tied with Julia Louis-Dreyfus). It encompassed a breadth of almost implausibly varied performances that different fans with different tastes can point to as their favorites.
There’s the way she springs from quietly devastating to dramatic fireworks in her Oscar-winning Last Picture Show turn. (Watch the money scene here.) That, just a few years later, she delivered one of the greatest absurdist comedy creations in film history as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein. There’s almost a decade as Phyllis in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the Phyllis spin-off, the most endearing narcissist there’s ever been.
You can hop-scotch through the rest of her career to pick personal highlights: the underrated gravitas she brought to a scene-stealing role in Spanglish; the ribald grandma parts she perfected in Malcolm in the Middle, Raising Hope, and You Again; memorable to certain millennials as the terrifying aunt in that Olsen twins Halloween movie; and, even after her death at age 94, more projects yet to come down the pipeline.
When you think of Tyson, how do you even decide what to praise? The work she did and the talent is overwhelming, even before you consider the path she forged for Black women in Hollywood.
Sounder, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, King: The Martin Luther King Story, Fried Green Tomatoes, A Trip to Bountiful, The Help, How to Get Away With Murder: That’s just a highlight reel. When you get into the humility, generosity, and gratitude with which she shared her journey and her life with her Black Hollywood contemporaries, you lose yourself in the praise. To wit, she just released a memoir this week, doing press in support of it and sharing stories about her life.
Both are women who worked right up until their last days. That’s why I cherish this video clip that was shared this week in memoriam, in which The Hollywood Reporter asks Leachman if she ever thinks of retiring. Her response: “Fuck you.”
The Hottest a Star Has Ever Looked
Earlier this month, people on Twitter got wrapped up in discourse over “What's the best a human being has ever looked on film? Answer with pictures,” prompted by this tweet.
I was disturbed to learn that there were people engaging in this conversation with any answer besides Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a kind of chiseled, tanned beauty so dangerously perfect it’s akin to staring into the sun—if the sun was actually Law’s green eyes, a gaze through which I am certain is the passageway to the fountain of youth, eternal life, ultimate salvation, and constant orgasm.
People got very testy at the joking certainty of this opinion. Yes, obviously Brad Pitt is hot in Thelma and Louise, Marlon Brando is hot in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Paul Newman and Robert Redford are hot in everything. Chill.
The point of bringing up any of this is that this week Film at Lincoln Center tweeted this photo of Newman and Redford playing table tennis shirtless while on a break from shooting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As my friend Esther Zuckerman eruditely observed: “Lol this is porn.”
It’s Showtime at Zendaya’s
There are few young actresses working today whose work is as electric and thrilling, whose public-facing persona is as hip and fashionable, and whose activism is as immediate and trailblazing as Zendaya. But as I learned in her Variety Actors on Actors conversation this week with Carey Mulligan, the coolest ones in Hollywood are damn weird.
This sounds like hell.
An Important, Cursed Bit of Hollywood History
Twitter user Wyatt Duncan celebrated a Hollywood anniversary this week that we, frankly, have all egregiously ignored. As he wrote on Monday, 10 years ago the Hollywood Wax Museum held an auction and sold off many of its figures, some fetching thousands of dollars. He curated the most cursed of those in the week’s one true must-scroll thread.
And so it is in the spirit of how this new year is going thus far—my current emotional state is that I began crying while recording a pop-culture podcast predominantly focused on the song “drivers license”—that I leave you with this photo of wax Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine from Seinfeld.
What to watch this week:
Palmer: Justin Timberlake is very good and you will cry. (Now available on Apple TV+.)
Supernova: Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth are very good and you will cry. (Friday in theaters.)
Wendy Willams: The Movie: I truly believe the world would be a better place if everyone watched the Wendy Williams Lifetime movie. (Saturday on Lifetime.)
What to skip this week:
The Little Things: The big thing about this Denzel Washington movie is that I can’t recall ever being so bored. (Friday on HBO Max.)