Friday, December 16, 2005

Otto Lang

Reached many a peak on skis

Otto Lang left a voice mail seeking my help in finding actress Stefanie Powers. She was in Seattle to star in "The King and I," and had left word with him that his free tickets would be at the door. But he was fuzzy on the details and wondered if I knew where she was staying.

I certainly didn't know, but I was curious how Seattle ski legend Otto Lang, who turns 98 next month, got on her comp list.

"Oh, we are dear old friends," he said with his Austrian accent. "She went to Hollywood High School with my son. I saw her in a school production of 'Oklahoma' and identified her as a coming talent and cast her in a TV series."

Lang is so synonymous with skiing in these parts and across the country that you forget his full life involved producing, directing and acting in film and television, from high-brow documentaries such as "Beethoven: Ordeal and Triumph" to the All-American diet of "Daktari," "Cheyenne" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

He traveled the world and wrote two thick books. One, "Around the World in 90 Years," features his beautiful photographs. "A Bird of Passage" chronicles his life, from coming to America to his career in Hollywood and hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

These days, Lang walks with creaky knees. It takes him a bit to tilt back to erect, but he seems as sharp and engaging as ever. He owes it all, he says from his West Seattle home, to skiing.

Emigrating from Austria in 1935, Lang soon decided to head west to Mount Rainier, where he established his own ski school at Paradise Lodge. Skiing in the U.S. was in its infancy, but Lang was a tireless promoter of it. He was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.

Frustrated with bamboo poles, Lang went to the golf industry to design one with a steel shaft. The 1937 prototype was strong yet flexible, but manufacturing and marketing got shelved when World War II put deep demands on steel production.

Of course, that wasn't the end of it.

Now, three of his early films are part of a four-DVD set featuring classic ski films developed and marketed by Topics Entertainment of Renton. One is the first theatrical movie about skiing filmed on Rainier and Mount Baker, which premiered at Radio City Music Hall in 1938.

It all goes back to skiing.

"I know it is a broad statement, but it is true. Skiing is responsible for everything in my life. It connected everything."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Star Studded Cast Sends Help For AIDS

A remarkable cast performed on Dec. 4 for a spectacular evening of music, comedy, and dance—“Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation Presents Help is on the Way for the Holidays VII”—where 100 percent of the ticket sales went directly to the beneficiaries: Maitri, Project Inform, and Pediatric HIV/AIDS Program of Children’s Hospital Oakland. The Herbst Theatre stage was festooned in holiday décor—including four, large, snow-laden, lit-up Christmas trees upstage; the apron of the stage trimmed with garlands of greens and tiny rainbow lights; dozens of live poinsettia plants; and a larger-than-life snowman. Sharon McNight was honored that night as a hero in the fight against AIDS with the Peggy Ermet Memorial Award. McNight has been active in the fight against AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. Whenever she has been asked, she has stepped forward to perform, speak, or otherwise join in the fight. Like so many of us, McNight has lost many dear friends to this terrible disease and it’s a personal battle that truly comes from her heart. She has performed in seven “Help is on the Way” events. Kechia Ley received the Outstanding Volunteer Award. Ley has been an invaluable resource in supporting REAF’s live and silent auctions. In her position at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, a long-time sponsor of REAF events, she has acted as a lead liaison in soliciting many auction items.

Tia Riebling (Grease/Les Miserablés) and Michael Lynch (Les Miserablés/Fiddler on the Roof) began the program with a love duet of “Just in Time for Christmas” (“You came along and showed me what Christmas is about”). Then out came diminutive Leslie Jordan of TV’s Will & Grace and Boston Legal, as well as film’s hysterical Sordid Lives, as a large elf for his “I Swish You a Merry Christmas” set. He removed his big elf hat so we could see his face and he could expound on his woes as being labeled a sissy with a sibilant setback—a child whose pronunciation of words with “s” in them came out hissing all silly and nelly.

Cabaret singer Wesla Whitfield, for her sixth REAF appearance, gorgeously sang a cappella the sacred “Some Children See Him” (the savior, differently, as black, white, yellow, etc., but all love him). Cabaret, recording star Shawn Ryan was hilariously haughty with “My Simple Christmas Wish,” which was not world peace as one might expect, but rather landing a gig without auditioning and ass-kissing, that made big money and allowed him to be a real bitch! He wanted “to be rich, famous, and powerful.” Yeah, don’t we all?! And his comic bit dishing Oprah and Barbra was simply sidesplitting. Then changing the mood back to serious, singer/actor Adam Lambert (Hair/Brigadoon/The Ten Commandments/Wicked) gave us “O Holy Night” with an amazing high tenor and brought us to our knees when he sang, “Fall on your knees” with a rock beat. But the highlight of the first act was surely Sharon McNight doing her classic “Wizard of Oz Medley,” which this reviewer can recall from the old Fanny’s Castro cabaret club days. To the accompaniment of the veteran Joan Edgar on piano, McNight managed to imitate the voices and mannerisms of almost all the characters from the scene of Dorothy’s fateful landing in Munchkin Land—from Miss Gale herself to the wicked witch to Glinda to both baby and mature munchkins, complete with McNight’s sound effects. Just awesome!

The second act began with the Barbary Coast Cloggers, an all-male Appalachian-style troupe, looking like they came right off the set for Brokeback Mountain with their jeans, suspenders, flannel shirts, and cowboy hats. They whooped it up with line dances and partner dances to “Bucket to the South” and “Banjo Buck,” getting the audience to clapping and stomping along with them. Cabaret and blues artist Tim Hockenberry sang “Christmas by the Bay” in that sultry, smoky voice of his with its composer, Nolan Gasser, on piano. The song referred to the landmark attractions of SF and what a magical, romantic city it is by night. Gaines returned to sing the inspirational “We Can Be Kind” in his sweet lyric tenor: “Together we’ll weather whatever tomorrow may bring.” Stefanie Powers of TV’s Hart To Hart and 28 feature films sang the musical question: “What Are You Dong New Year’s Eve?” with the timely lyrics “Maybe it’s early in the game, but I thought I’d ask you just the same,” hoping she’d “stand a chance to have a dance.”

Recording star and founding member of The Supremes, Mary Wilson, sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with my favorite homophilic line: “Make the yuletide GAY!” and the bittersweet lyrics that certainly apply to this fundraiser against AIDS: “Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow.” Adams and Lambert returned to sing Carole King’s upbeat “You’ve Got a Friend,” just like REAF is such a friend to those in need. Their voices were the perfect blend, especially when the duo really boomed out. Susan Anton of Broadway (Will Rogers Follies), TV (Baywatch), and film (Cannonball Run II) showed off her powerful, rich, sexy, belt-out voice with a very bluesy, torchy “Since I Fell for You,” desperately clutching a Santa’s hat as a prop, indicating the love of her life was gone. But not to fear, because Santa showed up at the end to take her in his arms. American Idol finalist La Toya London showcased her flawless phrasing in her jazzy version of “Silent Night,” and then began “White Christmas” as a lead-in for the entire cast to walk on stage and sing along. The house gave a standing, stomping ovation to a stellar show that truly entertained and raised lots of money for the three deserving AIDS beneficiaries.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Help Is on the Way for the Holidays VII

The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation is happy to announce two new cast members. Mary Wilson and Catte Adams join the cast of "Help Is on the Way for the Holidays VII." They join a cast of Grammy, Emmy, Tony, & Oscar winner, Rita Moreno, American Idol finalist La Toya London, TV/film stars Stefanie Powers and Leslie Jordan, Broadway stars Susan Anton, Lisa Vroman, Davis Gaines, and local favorites Sharon Mcnight, Wesla Whitfield and Tim Hockenberry as well as principal dancers from San Francisco Ballet. Tickets for the performance and Gala dessert reception with the cast start at $100. Show tickets, $45-$65. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., SF. 415-392-4400.