Monday, July 06, 2009

Kass 333

This morning I thought of Carole Kass, longtime movie critic at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who died at the age of 73 in 2000. To read the obituary I wrote then for, click here.

During my nearly 12-year stint as the manager of the Biograph Theatre I spoke with Carole nearly every week, often more than once. She came to the theater regularly to review first run pictures and to see movies she liked on her own time. Plus she was there for various social occasions and occasional publicity stunts. In the process, over the years, we learned to trust one another.

Truth be told, Carole was the best friend the Biograph had in the mainstream media.
One of the Biograph owners, Alan Rubin, with Carole Kass (1974)

About a year-and-a-half before she died, I delivered a video tape to her at her home. It was a tape I had shot of her appearance at the Carpenter Center with Joan Rivers, which was part of the local Jewish Community Center’s forum series (there's more on this in the obit). At the time it was generally known that Carole was battling cancer. After her retirement she had even written about it for the newspaper.

The tape included Rivers’ talk to the audience and what followed, which included a Q and A session in which Carole asked Joan questions from cards from the audience. At the end of the tape there was a surprise tribute to Carole that I had staged, shot and edited without her knowledge.

The R-TD’s then-executive editor Bill Millsaps helped me with the stunt by asking all the writers to come outside for about 20 minutes. Others from the local film buff community, including former staff members at the Biograph, were also asked to be on hand.

The cast was directed to walk around, then stand applauding in front of 333 W. Grace St., an entrance to the newspaper’s building that no longer exists. I had help shooting the scene from Jerry Williams and Ted Salins, who manned two of three cameras I used.

Later I edited the three tapes' footage into a short piece, using music from the movie “8½” for sound; the imagery also imitated it, somewhat. That particular Fellini flick was one of her favorites. No one told Carole anything about it; it was beautiful teamwork.

When she saw the tribute footage, watching it with pain as her only companion, Carole couldn’t believe all those people has been assembled just to give her a standing ovation. She thought I had somehow found the footage, somewhere, and spliced it onto the tape. She recognized the music, of course. Carole thanked me warmly, but added a gentle scolding for trying to trick her about the mysterious scene shot for some reason in front of the old entrance to 333.

Carole called then-television critic Douglas Durden, only to hear from her old friend (they sat at desks next to one another for years) that it all had been just as I said.

After talking with others at the newspaper, Carole called me back to laugh, cry and apologize for not believing me. She went on to say that what had started out as a rather “bad day” for her -- coping with the indignities of her situation -- had been changed into a “good day.”

As my mother died of cancer in 1984, I could grasp what Carole might have meant by "good days" and "bad days."

Eleven years ago it began with an idea for a gesture to lift an old friend's spirits and let her know how much her colleagues, and the rest of us, appreciated her. The finished product and Carole's reaction actually turned out better than I had envisioned, which is rather unusual for my bright ideas.

Back in the summer of 1998, I gave a print of the tape to Saps, to say, "Thanks."

Naturally, the JCC (the original client) got a tape. Except on YouTube, no one else has seen it, as far as I know. Note: what is shown in the YouTube video above is just the 90-minute tape‘s last two minutes and 39 seconds.

And, dear reader, a good day is wished to you.

-- Photo Gary Fisher

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