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Jazz Musician James Moody

Last year, Terry talked to him about his then new CD, "Young At Heart". It is a collection of Frank Sinatra tunes. Just after World War II, Moody joined the bebop big band of Dizzy Gillespie and played with Milt Jackson. His most famous recording is of an improvisatory piece he performed in 1949, now known as "Moody's Mood For Love." (REBROADCAST FROM JULY 23, 1996)

32:43

Other segments from the episode on June 20, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 20, 1997: Interview with James Moody; Interview with Dmitri Nabokov; Review of the film "My Best Friend's Wedding."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 20, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 062001np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: James Moody
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's jazz festival season from Philadelphia to Porto (ph), Portugal. On this archive edition, we have an interview with jazz festival veteran, the great saxophonist James Moody.

What first put Moody on the map was his 1949 recording of "I'm in the Mood for Love." His reworking of the melody was so good it became the melody of a new song, with a lyric by Eddie Jefferson (ph) called "Moody's Mood for Love."

Here's that 1949 recording.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JAMES MOODY PERFORMING "MOODY'S MOOD FOR LOVE")

GROSS: James Moody began his career in 1947, in the early days of be-bop, playing with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. By the end of the '40s, he'd left the band and moved to Europe. Moody returned to the states in the early '50s to lead his own band.

He played with Gillespie again during much of the '60s, but in the '70s, Moody left the jazz scene to work a steady job in a Vegas hotel band. When he returned to the jazz world, critic Gary Giddons (ph) wrote that there were few living musicians he enjoys perform more than Moody.

I spoke with Moody last year, after the release of his delightful recording of songs associated with Sinatra. Here's Moody singing on the title track "Young at Heart."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JAMES MOODY PERFORMING "YOUNG AT HEART")

JAMES MOODY, MUSICIAN, SINGING: Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you
If you're young at heart
Do de be de bo do do be bay
For it's hard you will find to be narrow of mind
If you're young at heart
Be do bop do do day day dap
You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love this fever (Unintelligible) on its way
'Cause you know that it's worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
Do do be be de be be de bay boo

GROSS: James Moody, welcome to FRESH AIR, and I want to say that I think this new album is delightful, and it's really delightful to hear you sing, and to sing a song that's not a novelty song. Are you singing more now?

MOODY: Well, maybe this might be the beginning of something. You know, maybe, who knows? You know, when you have (Unintelligible) like that, it makes you think you can sing, you know.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What do you think of your voice?

MOODY: Well, it's a funny thing is that I'm not as concerned with my voice as I am with my lisp that I have, you know, because I'm partially deaf. And I was born that way, and it doesn't mean that I have a speech impediment, it's just that I don't hear "s's".

So, because my wife always tells when I'm singing "Mood for Love," I'd say "you give me a smile" and it says sounds like you're saying "you give me a mile."

LAUGHTER

MOODY: "When I'm wrapped up in your magic," you know, in the lyric. So anyway, that -- you know, but I guess at this stage of the game, I just say what I say and hope that it comes out.

GROSS: Well, has that held you back from singing? Are you self-conscious about that lisp?

MOODY: No, really not at all, because I say what I say. I've been doing it for 71 years -- talking -- so if I say, you know, "fairy tales can come true," you know, I don't know "too, too" -- "It can happen to you, if you're young at heart. Do do do bee do do we dee."

GROSS: Oh, I love that. Are there tones that you can't hear musically in an instrument?

MOODY: Well, I don't know. I don't know because I can't -- I don't know what I don't hear. Does that make sense to you?

GROSS: Yeah. No, I know what you're saying. I want to ask you a little bit more about your hearing. How old were you when you realized you had a hearing problem?

MOODY: I was born that way, and I never realized it. I never -- I still haven't realized it because I hear what I hear, and that's it. See, if you don't know what you're missing, you can you say what you miss?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOODY: You know what I mean? They were insistent that I wear a hearing aid, because I would hear so much better. And I put this hearing aid on, and I'm telling you, I thought I was going to go nuts with the clanging and banging that I heard -- you know, banging. Click, clack, boom.

And you could hear the tires or the cars -- brubble, brubble, durass. I says: oh my goodness, if people hear this, I mean, it's nerve wracking. So what I did was I turned it off, and they said: oh, isn't that much better? I said: it certainly is. You know?

GROSS: So you've intentionally not worn a hearing aid?

MOODY: Oh, no, no, no, no. And there's nothing that can be done, like no surgery or anything, so like what I do is like: what did they say, honey? What did they say? Honey? Honey? What was that? What was that? My wife, my honey Linda, boy, she tells me, you know, whatever it is, if I feel that I've missed something.

You heard that joke didn't you, Terry, about the guy says: oh, man, if -- boy, I just spent $4,000 on this wonderful hearing aid, you know.

And the guy said: yeah? What kind is it?

The guy said: it's 12 o'clock.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: It took me a second. Right. So did music sound different with the hearing aid?

MOODY: Oh, I wouldn't dare do that. I wouldn't dare put a hearing aid on and play music, 'cause the -- just the way I hear it, that's the way I hear, because if I put the hearing aid in, and then banging and clanging again, and clinking.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOODY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: James Moody, let's take a pause here and listen to more from your new CD Young at Heart -- your new CD of Sinatra-related songs. And let's hear a ballad this time. This is "In the Wee, Small Hours of the Morning."

Do you want to say anything about it?

MOODY: Well, first of all, "In the Wee, Small Hours of the Morning" -- I like the melody -- you know, da, da, de, de, de, di, dah. And I liked it when Frank Sinatra did it. And I just figured, well, like, we'd like to do it another kind of way, and Gil Goldstein (ph), he did a very wonderful job arranging it, and so that's how that came about.

GROSS: Well, here's James Moody from his new album "Young at Heart."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, CD "YOUNG AT HEART")

That's James Moody from his new CD "Young at Heart."

You started to play saxophone in high school, I think. But I think it wasn't until you were in the Air Force that you started playing for real.

MOODY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Tell us the story of the band that you played in in the Air Force, and this was right after you got out of college.

MOODY: Well, the band that I played in the Air Force was an unauthorized Air Force band, because when I was in the Air Force, it was segregated. So three-quarters of the base was Caucasian and one-quarter was Negro. And they wanted to have a Negro band, so they formed one.

And then Linton (ph) Garner, Earl Garner's brother, he was drafted and he came to the base where we were; and then Pop Reeves (ph), he was drafted and he wrote some things for Benny Goodman.

And I never will forget Linton Garner, one day he asked me, he says, Moody, he says, play your scales for me. So I said da, da, da, da, da. And he said: well. I said: well, what? He said: is that it? I said: yeah. He said: my boy, you're in for a rude awakening.

LAUGHTER

You know, so anyway -- but little by little. But you know, I'd like to say one thing, Terry, when I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, I was 18 years old, right? And I was living in Newark, New Jersey. Do you know that the German prisoners of war used to come into town and jump off the truck, you know, with the "PW" on their back and (Unintelligible), and go into the restaurants and eat and we couldn't?

GROSS: Wow.

MOODY: Yep.

GROSS: How did you feel about serving in the Air Force, knowing that your own country wouldn't let you into certain restaurants?

MOODY: Well, what could you do? You see, because in the first place, like, there was nothing you -- when I -- after I left and went to Europe and would live -- was living in France -- I would send my wife. Not, excuse me, not my wife -- I would send my mother a letter. And I've have on there, it had like "the land of the brave," I'd put "the land of the old faith" or something, U.S.A.

You know, and my mother said: "Jim -- don't do that. I mean, you get in trouble." You know. But hey, it was the truth, you know, because like -- like it was their land. You know, not mine.

GROSS: My guest is saxophonist James Moody. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back to our interview with James Moody recorded last year after the release of his CD Young at Heart.

You joined the Gillespie big band after you got out of the Air Force.

MOODY: Yep.

GROSS: And if was a very innovative band. It was one of the first big bands, really, playing the new music of be-bop. What was it like for you to be in this band? What were the most exciting parts of it for you?

MOODY: Well, the most exciting thing about that band was when I grew older and found out where I was when I first was in that band, because like I've said before, when I joined the band, Thelonius (ph) Monk was the piano player, Ray Brown was the bass player, Milton Jackson was the vibra-harpist, and Kenny Klugaman (ph) Clark (ph), he was the drummer.

That was the rhythm section, along with Howard Johnson, Cecil Paine (ph) and all the people like that. Now, if I had known where I was, like, I would have fainted, you see?

GROSS: Sure.

MOODY: So I'm glad I was naive -- I didn't -- I wasn't that hip, so I didn't know where I was. I mean, I knew, but I didn't. You understand what I'm saying?

GROSS: Yes, I do.

MOODY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And what was Dizzy Gillespie like as a bandleader? I think you've called him your "musical father."

MOODY: Oh, yeah, he -- Diz was a wonderful man. Like then, like we knew each other and it was all right, you know, but I got to really know him better when I played in the quintet, and -- but musically, he was, I mean, he was bad, boy. He was bad.

And then Diz was always studying, too. Like he would always -- you know, he'd sit down at the piano and "look at this, look at that one -- oh, look at this." And he'd stop me, he said: Moody, this is where everything is. See the piano?

I don't care what the instrument is. That's where it is -- the trombone, violin, trumpet, saxophone, flute. This is where it is. You look at it and see everything. When you play the piano, all the notes are laid out there for you, you know. And all those notes on every one of the instruments.

So Diz said: you want to really know what's happening, you learn the piano.

GROSS: Did you?

MOODY: Yeah, that's what he did. What? Pardon me?

GROSS: Did you learn it?

MOODY: Well, I can play the changes, yeah, yeah, yep. I can sit down and I can pick out what I have to do. Yeah. Before, I used to have to call a friend: hey, could you play the changes for me? So I can hear what they sound like? But I don't have to do that -- I can play them myself now.

GROSS: Your first solo was recorded with the Dizzy Gillespie band, the tune is called "Emanon" which is "no name" spelled backwards. This is, I think, in 1947. Do you remember your solo in that record? Could you sing it?

MOODY: Yeah, I remember it. Yeah. I remembered it, because I wasn't supposed to take the solo. The baritone player was suppose to take it, and he didn't show up or something. And the solo was: bo, do, do, do, deedle, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, doe, do, di, doodle, do, deedle, do, deedle dee. Something like that.

GROSS: Now, how come you remember it? Do you remember it from actually playing it? Or from listening to the record?

MOODY: No, because a lot of times when we see each other, like, sometimes I'm talking to Jimmy Heath (ph) -- section -- we called each other -- because he -- wonderful saxophonist. Some of the guys, and we'll talk, and somebody says: "oh, yeah, man, you remember Emanon? With Dizzy?" Yeah, bo, do, do, diddle, dee, dee, wee, deedle, dee, dee, dee. And we'd all sing it for a moment together, you know.

GROSS: Now, the most famous solo that you've ever taken was on your first recording of "I'm in the Mood for Love."

MOODY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And then Eddie Jefferson (ph), a singer who was working with you wrote a lyric to your solo, and that became the song known as "Moody's Mood for Love." Let's hear the Eddie Jefferson version of "Moody's Mood for Love" -- his lyric to your solo.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EDDIE JEFFERSON PERFORMING "MOODY'S MOOD FOR LOVE")

SINGER: Stay racko, racko, racko
Racko there, racko (ph)
Pretty baby you are the soul that snaps my control
Such a funny thing but every time you're near me, I never can behave
You give me a smile and then I'm wrapped up in your magic
There's music all around me -- crazy music
Music that keeps calling me so very close to you
Turns me your slave
Come and do with me any little thing you want to
Anything, baby, just let me get next to you
Am I insane? Or do I really see heaven in your eyes?
Bright as stars that shine up above there in the clear blue sky
How I worry about you -- just can't live my life without you, baby
Come here -- don't have no fear
Oh, they wonder why -- I'm really feeling in the mood for love
And tell me why -- stop to...

GROSS: Now, what impact did "Moody's Mood for Love" have on your career?

MOODY: Well, if I don't do it to this day, people said I haven't been there. I mean, that goes to show you. Like, no matter how much I practice, if I don't say "There I go, there I go" or play, you know, "do, do, do, dee, dee, dee," then it's like I haven't been there.

But, like, I'm not -- it doesn't make me feel like, oh, I don't want to be doing this, but, I mean, I love doing it. And it's been very good to me, that solo, and I'm honored and privileged, I believe, you know, to be able to do it.

GROSS: You were living in Europe when you recorded I'm in the Mood for Love.

MOODY: Mm-hmm. Paris.

GROSS: In Paris, and then after it took off in the states, you moved back...

MOODY: Yeah.

GROSS: ... to the states, and sort of leading...

MOODY: Reluctantly.

GROSS: ... your own band hit. Why were you reluctant to move back?

MOODY: Because of what I had told you before.

GROSS: Racism.

MOODY: Racism, yeah.

GROSS: And that's why you moved to Europe in the first place?

MOODY: No, I didn't move to Europe for that. I moved to Europe -- I didn't move to Europe. What happened was -- I'm being honest with you -- was that my uncle lived in Europe. He lived there and he was working for the government -- my uncle and my aunt.

And like, I had a problem, you know, with alcohol and I -- so I kind of over -- I cut that loose and my uncle said: sis, send him over here for a couple of weeks, said, and just let him relax and cool out, and things will -- you know, he'll be all right.

So I went to Paris to stay for two weeks and stayed three years. You see, and while I was there, say, wow -- said, man, this is altogether different. You could go wherever you wanted to go, you know, and things were just different. And -- but the only thing that drug me about Paris was that they treated the Arabs that way.

GROSS: You mean they were racist toward Arabs?

MOODY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: After you got back to the states, you started leading your own band...

MOODY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ... and I think it was in 1958 that your -- there was a club that burned down in Philadelphia, and...

MOODY: I think it was the "Blue Note," wasn't it?

GROSS: That's what I'd read.

MOODY: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you lost a lot of -- I guess...

MOODY: I lost everything.

GROSS: The band's instruments; the band's arrangements -- the whole book for the band.

MOODY: Yeah.

GROSS: You must have been in shock after that.

MOODY: No, I just -- we -- picked up one of the bottles of alcohol and drank it.

GROSS: Mm. Right.

MOODY: And said: "to heck with it." Yep. But then, that really wound up where I drank and drank, and finally I went to Overbrook (ph), which is a place for -- a mental institution for mental things and for alcohol. And I went for alcohol.

GROSS: Did you go yourself? Or did somebody else take you there?

MOODY: Yep, I went myself.

GROSS: It was your idea?

MOODY: Yeah, I said :"I'm sick of this. I can't do this." So I said I'm going to go over and do something about it. Yep, so I did.

GROSS: And did you play while you were there?

MOODY: Play where?

GROSS: While you were in the hospital, did you play music?

MOODY: No, no, no, no. I didn't want to look at a horn. No. I just started going in, thinking like, looking at astrology and trying to find the reasons why, you see, because I had been married -- because I was married in France too, and so I was just trying to -- and I was -- we were separated and getting a divorce and I was just trying to find out the reasons why for a lot of things, so I looked at astrology and I started looking at the bible, you know.

And that's how that went.

GROSS: James Moody, recorded last year after the release of his CD Young at Heart. We'll hear more on the second half of our show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR. And here's Moody's recording "Last Train from Overbrook" which he composed and recorded shortly after leaving rehab.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JAMES MOODY PERFORMING "LAST TRAIN FROM OVERBROOK")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with saxophonist James Moody, recorded last year after the release of his CD "Young at Heart," featuring songs associated with Frank Sinatra.

Moody has been recording since the early days of be-bop in the late '40s, when he joined the Dizzy Gillespie band. But in the '70s, he took an extended leave of absence from jazz. You spent about, what, seven years in Vegas, during the 1970s.

MOODY: Mm-hmm. Yep.

GROSS: It must have been so interesting to be in the middle of show business, as opposed to, you know, playing straight-ahead jazz at a club. What did you think of all the show-bizzy-ness of it all? Did -- was that entertaining for you at all? Or just very crass and commercial?

MOODY: You know what it was? What it was for me was a heck of a lesson, because, like, when I was in Dizzy's band, we'd play something, and if it was, like, Things to Come, we would say duh, do, de, ba, dit, da, da, da, da, da, du, dab. And we'd get it down and then we'd take it up and play it.

In Las Vegas, they'd play it just like it's supposed to be played. That's it. Bam. You know, da, dit, do, ba -- it's gone. That's it. And you got to play it, you know. So that was a good lesson for me, and that and tuning up -- being in tune.

It was -- like I said, you know, God works in mysterious ways and God just showed me, like, in his way, how I should do things. I mean, he just put me in situations that I had to, you know, do or leave -- you know what I mean?

GROSS: What were the songs you had to play all the time, no matter who was singing?

MOODY: Oh, well, in Vegas, whatever it is -- whatever the pop song of the day is, you can rest assured that when the artist -- whoever's coming in to headline for the week or two weeks -- they'll be doing that song, you know?

Like dom, bo, be, de, de, de, de, de, de, de, do. That song, I mean...

GROSS: "Close to You," yeah.

MOODY: Close to You -- I mean, whatever the year was, and whatever the pop song was, I mean, they just -- you played it to death.

GROSS: Now, have you added any of those songs to your own repertoire?

MOODY: Nope.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Right. Now, I want to take a pause here and play something that's basically an outtake, but it's such an entertaining outtake. And this is a -- this is something you recorded in 1958. The tune is called "The Moody One," and you stop...

MOODY: I goofed...

GROSS: ... yeah ...

MOODY: ... on the record date.

GROSS: Well, let's play the outtake and hear the goof.

MOODY: I goofed. I goofed. I goofed on the record date, and they left that in there. Yeah, I remember that.

GROSS: That's right. Here it is.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JAMES MOODY PERFORMING "THE MOODY ONE")

MOODY SINGING: You better do it again -- I goofed
Yes?
I goofed on the record

UNKNOWN: Imagine, going to be in the LP

GROSS: Were your outtakes usually as entertaining as this one?

MOODY: Oh, sure. That's like the bloopers, you know, like that's just my blooper. That was my way of doing it, you know. But anybody when they do something like that, they always say something that's a little comical, you know.

GROSS: Were you surprised that this actually ended up on the record?

MOODY: Well, yeah, because, like, you know, finally he says: yeah, we're going to leave it on there, too. I say: what? Yes I said well, go ahead, I don't care.

And then I'd go and play, play it -- the people says "I goofed; I goofed" on the record -- they...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: I want to ask you something else about Dizzy Gillespie.

MOODY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You were very close with Dizzy Gillespie. Were you close to him when he died?

MOODY: Yeah. Yeah, we were with him. I had him in my arms. There was -- John Faddus (ph) was there.

GROSS: The trumpeter.

MOODY: Yeah, Jock Mudell (ph) and his son; John Motley (ph) and myself. Yeah. There were five of us in there with him when he passed. And you know what's funny? I told John, I said: John, you mark my word -- 10 years from now, they're gonna be 50 people in the room with Diz when he died. You know.

You know, and there was no music playing. There was nothing. I mean, Diz was just sitting there, but, you know, trying to breathe deep; trying to get his breath. And his eyes were closed, you know, and he never opened them and finally, he took the last one, and that was, you know. So, yep, that was it, man.

GROSS: Was he conscious toward the end? Did he know that you were there?

MOODY: Well, the night before, he knew that we were there -- the night before, because Mike Lungo (ph) and myself, we went to see him and we said: "ooh, pop, pa, dah. Gee, ah, do, bee, bah, bee." And he tried to mouth "ooh, pop, pa, dah."

And then the thing he did was he took his finger and put it up to his lips and made his -- tried to make his jaws go out like he usually did. You know, how he would do?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOODY: You know, and, but he was too weak, but we smiled, you know, and all like that. And I said "Mickle (ph), let's go now. We'll come back tomorrow." I said that to Mike Lungo, you know, and so, you know.

Then when I went back the next day, like 'cause he was in bed that night, and then when I went back the next day, he was sitting up. They had him in the chair sitting up, and he was trying to breathe.

So, anyway, that -- yeah, but I mean it -- it's not the same. Nothing is the same anymore without Diz, man. You know.

GROSS: You must feel like you owe so much of your career to him because he gave you your first job, and then you played with him off and on for so long.

MOODY: That he did, when I was 21 years old. First gig. Yep. Yep. And even now, like I tell people, that when they ask me, they said: well, what do you remember of Diz?

You know, I mean, there are many things, and what happens is sometimes I'll say: ah, that's what he meant. You know, it might be because everywhere that I've gone in the world, no matter where it was, I was there first with Diz.

Diz took me everywhere first, man, you know. I go to Africa, to Sweden, Germany, France -- all except Paris. I went there first, alone, but then after that, everywhere else it was with Diz. And now when I go to those places and I'm going, boy, I say: oh, man, you know.

And for the longest time, I used to call my wife -- I used to call Linda, my honey, and tell he, says: honey, I called you and you weren't home. You know, she says: honey, I've been home all day. I said, well, I -- but I called, and then I'd say the number, and she'd say: honey, that's Dizzy's number.

GROSS: Oh, wow.

James Moody, recorded last year after the release of his CD Young at Heart. His next CD is due out in September. This summer, he'll play at jazz festivals around the world.

Our thanks to drummer and record collector Kenny Washington (ph) for making us a copy of his rare 1949 James Moody recording.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: James Moody
High: Jazz musician James Moody. Last year, Terry talked to him about his then new CD, "Young At Heart." It is a collection of Frank Sinatra tunes. Just after World War II, Moody joined the bebop big band of Dizzy Gillespie and played with Milt Jackson. His most famous recording is of an improvisatory piece he performed in 1949, now known as "Moody's Mood For Love." In this CD, Moody performs as vocalist, tenor/alto/soprano saxist and flutist. Some of the selections include "Love and Marriage," "Nancy," "Only the Lonely" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning."
Spec: Music Industry; Jazz; People; James Moody
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: James Moody
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 20, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 062002NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: My Best Friend's Wedding
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Hollywood has certainly been cranking out a steady stream of summer action films, with more to come. As a change, this week Julia Roberts returns to the big screen in a romantic comedy called "My Best Friend's Wedding."

Our film critic John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: In the old days, studios used to exercise complete control over their stars. They told them how to behave in public, covered up their peccadillos, and most important, decided what roles they would play. These days, the stars have the power, and frankly, many of them don't have a clue about how to nurture their career.

Take Julia Roberts -- seven years ago, "Pretty Woman" launched her as the great natural comedienne of her generation -- beautiful, high-spirited, and blessed with an infectious, moving laugh.

And what did Roberts do with her sudden success? She stopped doing comedy and tried to become serious. Boo-hooing her way through picture after picture, and reaching rock bottom as Irish country girls in "Mary Reilly" (ph) and "Michael Collins," two period dramas that seemed designed to prove that she can't do a brogue.

Happily, Roberts is back on form in My Best Friend's Wedding. She stars as a food critic named Jules, who has a deal with her best friend Michael, a sportswriter played by Dermot Mulroney. If neither is married by their 28th birthday, they'll marry each other.

They're about to turn 28, when Michael calls to say that he's getting married. The panicky Jules suddenly realizes that she wants Michael for herself, and jets off to Chicago to deep-six the wedding. But there are a couple of problems: Michael's fiance Kimmy (ph), played by Cameron Diaz, is genuinely likable. Even worse, Michael clearly loves her.

Still, this doesn't stop Jules from trotting out all sorts of hair-brained shenanigans, even fobbing off her gay friend George, played by Rupert Everett, as her own fiance.

Naturally, the stolid Michael is taken aback.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING")

DERMOT MULRONEY, ACTOR, AS MICHAEL: Well, ah, I guess it's just the way that you've always talked about George. It always seemed -- seemed like -- it sounded like George was gay. Actually, yes...

RUPERT EVERETT, ACTOR, AS GEORGE: So, ha, ha, ha, ha -- total misconception.

LAUGHTER

JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS, AS JULES: It is, because George likes to pretend that he's gay.

LAUGHTER

MICHAEL: Why would you do that?

GEORGE: Oh, I find it attracts women.

JULES: Indeed. Yes. Worked for me. Big time.

LAUGHTER

MICHAEL: Right.

POWERS: The movie was directed by P.J. Hogan (ph), the Australian whose first film "Muriel's Wedding" started off as a breezy, broad comedy laced with ABBA songs, then turned doleful.

The same thing happens here. My Best Friend's Wedding opens with Jules veering between her exuberant schemes to pry Michael loose from his fiance, and her equally flamboyant despair when the innocent Kimmy unwittingly thwarts her at each turn.

This is enjoyable stuff. Roberts and Diaz are both terrific. But just when the comedy should become faster and funnier, Ron Bass's (ph) script turns inexplicably moralistic. One of Jules' plans backfires in a nasty way, and she spends most of the rest of the movie being punished for her selfishness in trying to steal Michael back.

We often hear that movies are more cynical than they used to be. But are they? Fifty years ago, "His Girl Friday" could take a similar plot -- an editor played by Cary Grant tries to stop the impending marriage of his ex-wife -- and play it strictly as farce. The movie's pleasure lay in Grant's merry amorality, as he did whatever it took to prevent his star reporter, Roz Russell, from marrying Ralph Bellamy.

His unscrupulousness was the joke. These days, Hollywood is terrified that the audiences will be turned off by any comedy whose major character isn't likable and nice. And so Jules, the career woman, must spend the second half of the movie sobbing and feeling guilty, to prove she's really a good person.

But the audience doesn't want goodness from a comedy. It want to laugh, which is why the movie is dominated by Rupert Everett, a crack farceur whose George is the apotheosis of that current movie cliche, the heroine's gay friend.

Because he's homosexual and therefore an outsider, George is allowed a wicked sophistication. Not only is he more worldly about love than everyone else, he's also sardonic and playful. Next to the scene-stealing George, the straight, unimaginative Michael is about as charismatic as a stalk of celery.

Although the filmmaker's clearly didn't intend this, My Best Friend's Wedding is the first movie in Hollywood history where the audience starts thinking: wouldn't it be great if the heroine could wind up with the gay guy?

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Dateline: John Powers; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: John Powers reviews "My Best Friend's Wedding.
Spec: Movie Industry; My Best Friend's Wedding
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: My Best Friend's Wedding
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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