Is there a shortage of black male actors over 70?

Last week I blogged about the slim job opportunities for black actresses (or maybe I should be P.C. and say "female actors").

I'm watching Law & Order SVU, and there was a middle-aged black man playing a Catholic priest. The storyline establishes that he was an Episcopal minister before change denominations and was able to stay married. But in the next scene when they showed his wife, she looked like - well, his mother. I don't know the actor's name who played the priest, but I'd put his age at somewhere in his 50s. His wife is played by Cicely Tyson, who clearly appears to be in her mid 70s.

Come on, people. Is this supposed to fly? It is very rare for a woman to be that much older than her husband (and there's usually money involved). Just because the actor playing the husband has gray in his beard - certainly not uncommon for any man over 45 - doesn't make him look like a senior citizen.

In a similar vein, I enjoy watching the CBS drama Cold Case, and when they do a storyline featuring a crime from the World War II years or before and the present-day characters look much too young I overlook it, because, let's face it, there's not a lot of 90-ish actors around (maybe they should give Ernest Borgnine a call - he's 92, and I just saw him on an episode of ER). But this is ridiculous. I don't believe for one minute they they couldn't find one actor closer to Cicely Tyson's age. Thank God they didn't have any love scenes; I think that would make me lose my dinner.

It occurs to me that I might be on the wrong track, that the producers may have felt that Ms. Tyson could pass for a woman in her 50s, kind of a reverse Miss Jane Pittman. Or maybe they just wanted her; getting an actress of Ms. Tyson's stature is a coup for any network show. Well, let this woman in her 50s be the first to say that I don't buy it. I'm glad to see Ms. Tyson still active. But next time, give her a part that calls for a character who's at least 65.

The Week in Review

The highly respected historian John Hope Franklin passed awaythis week. I can't say this was sad - he was 94 years old and lived longer than most people do - but it is a definite loss. Mr. Franklin was a member of the group of people for whom the election of Barack Obama meant the most - Black people over 90 who were born and raised in the South, whose memories of discrimination and indignity go back the furthest. In addition to an improvement in the quality of life for black people everywhere, Mr. Franklin also saw many technological advances in those 94 years and a ton of history, including U.S. involvement in two World Wars (although even he would have been too young to remember the first one). He will be missed.

I haven't seen the magazine yet, but the RT update for May shows that A New Kind of Bliss only got 3 stars. Bummer. (Yes, I know we writers are only supposed to talk about the good stuff, but I've never been shy about admitting that my work isn't boing to be universally popular.) Three stars doesn't mean the reviewer really hated the book, just that they weren't all that thrilled. Still, I do hope that other readers will share the enthusiasm that my editor and I had (and since she's not my editor anymore, she probably doesn't count!)

Finally, I might not be around that much in the coming weeks. I was invited to participate in a writer's event taking place in July, and I'd like to have my special project wrapped up by then. This means really putting the pedal to the metal, since I have other things to do as well (including finishing a book that's under contract, making sense out of the mush of a proposal I have for a new contract, and polishing a romance proposal to my agent's satisfaction). Mr. Underwood is going to Washington tomorrow and will be gone all week, so my plan is to barricade myself in my office and work, work, work, to the point where I don't even half realize he's gone!

Have a great weekend, and a good week as well, everyone!

Mothers, don't let your daughters grow up to be actresses

The airwaves have been promoting what looks like a new reality show hosted by Vivica A. Fox. I felt rather sad to see this. Ms. Fox has talent that should be grasping a meaty part in television or film . . . but there aren't many of those to go around.

It's always been difficult for black actresses to get decent parts. It wasn't unusual for a black actress to get one plum role that made people predict stardom for her, and then fall back into near obscurity. The late Dorothy Dandridge couldn't possibly have known that her Oscar-nominated performance in Carmen Jones would be the high point of her career. Most, if not all, of the few movies she made after this were supporting roles.

Because bills have to be paid, sometimes actresses have no choice but to take lesser parts (does anybody remember a movie called Gone Fishin' that was a low point in the career of Lynn Whitfield, as well as the film's male stars, Danny Glover and Joe Pesci) or go the reality TV route (Ms. Fox had competed in Dancing with the Stars a few years back).

One actress who seems to be staying busy is Alfre Woodard, who seems to have avoided the slump that comes with being an actress past 40 by sliding into mother roles (she's played the mother of Sanaa Lathan in at least 3 movies). And Angela Bassett, to my knowledge, has never appeared in a less than A-quality production (even if she had a smaller role, like the one she had in the recent critical and commercial hit Akeelah and the Bee) and is currently headlining ER for its final season.

I first became aware of Ms. Fox's talent in the well-done but unsuccessful Frankie Lymon biopic, Why Do Fools Fall In Love. She had a wonderfully meaty role as the first of the singer's three wives, easily the best part of the picture, showing off both toughness and tenderness.

Another actress I feel hasn't been able to get good parts, in spite of showing what she can do, is Jackee Harry, yes, the Jackee who started out in comedy in the sitcom 227. She gave a wonderful performance in the TV miniseries The Women of Brewster Place as a woman who never gave up looking for love. She just about broke my heart. (Ms. Harry is currently starring in a touring gospel play, having done a turn on TV's The Biggest Loser.)

Anyone who goes into the arts can tell you that it's a crapshoot. Good work doesn't guarantee that you'll go to the top. But I honestly don't see anything that Meryl Streep or Sally Field have that Ms. Fox and Ms. Harry do not. I do hope they get an opportunity to strut their stuff in good parts soon.

Here are clips of these actresses' stellar performances in Why Do Fools Fall in Love and The Women of Brewster Place, respectively. Enjoy!

Vivica A. Fox in Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Jackee Harry (and others) in The Women of Brewster Place, part 1

part 2

Preparing to leave the 'ER'

I stopped watching the megahit ER some years ago. It just seemed to be more and more of the same illnesses, accidents and that ridiculous revolving bedroom door. But I was intrigued at the promos heralding the return of many of the actors who've departed as the show wraps up its long run.

Speaking of departed, I didn't mean it in the sense of the dearly departed, but if you're familiar with the show you'll know that the writers managed to kill off at least five of the main characters over the years, rather high odds, considering that most of the unfortunates were in their thirties. I understand they this pesky little detail didn't stop them from bringing back Anthony Edwards' character of Dr. Mark Greene, in a flashback episode I didn't see but I understand was tied in to the development of Angela Bassett's character.

But I caught the latter two-thirds of last week's show, curious to see where the characters are today. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a number of established relationships are continuing. I'm not sure what's up with John Carter (Noah Wyle) and his African wife (Thandie Newton), who wasn't at his side when he needed a kidney transplant, but he certainly gave me the impression that he's still in love, and as I said I missed part of the episode.

Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle), sporting a wedding ring, told Carter that his son was "home with Cleo," meaning that he and Cleo Finch (the unseen Michael Michele) are still together and likely married (with the onscreen deaths of Michael Gallant [Sharif Atkins] and Greg Pratt [Mekhi Phifer] and the offscreen death of Al Boulet [Michael Beach], Benton may well be the show's sole surviving black male character).

Another still-happy couple are Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross (Juliana Marguiles, George Clooney), although I didn't see their twin girls.

It gave me the warm fuzzies to see that these relationships are continuing. I wanted to see more, but last night's show had no familiar faces. I did learn that the long, tumultuous relationship of Abby Lockhart and Luka Kovac (Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic), now married, walked off into the sunset together on an earlier episode with their little boy. So at least four couples on the show are living the happily ever after.

Ah, love. Isn't it just . . . lovely.

Do you watch the show? Have you been a viewer since the beginning, or, like me, did you stop watching somewhere along the way?

I'll leave you with a little medical humor. I was transcribing a consult on a comatose, non-responsive patient the other day, and the doctor concluded with, "Thank you for asking me to participate in the care of this very pleasant patient." Duh . . . I know this is the standard line, but the patient is in a coma, Doc! How can they possibly be pleasant?

Have a great weekend!

I'd like to fly away

It's happened again. A woman in the earliest years of middle age has died suddenly, leaving behind a heartbroken husband and two young sons without a mother.

I'm referring, of course, to the actress Natasha Richardson . . . but I'm thinking of the author Katherine D. Jones, who passed away suddenly nearly two years ago. Does anyone else see a parallel here?

About 15 years ago I remember reading how the matriarch of the famous Redgrave family of actors had passed away, not in a hospital, not at the homes of any of her children, but at the home of her granddaughter, Natasha Richardson. A haunting photograph taken by her granddaughter just hours before the woman passed on accompanied the obiturary, showing a 93-year-old woman lying in bed, ravaged by old age and unable to do anything else but simply wait for death. I never forgot that stark depiction of extreme old age. I remembered being touched that the granddaughter took over the care of her grandmother in her last days. And now, sadly, that granddaughter will not be here to see any grandchildren she might one day have when her sons are grown.

Celebrities often use their fame bring the spotlight to areas of their personal interest, whether it be genocide, famine, disease . . . but the way celebrities die often raises awareness. It happened just last year, when Tim Russert's sudden death made everyone want to know more about heart disease. It happened about 10 years ago, when Sonny Bono and one of the Kennedy family died within weeks of each other after skiing head-on into trees (which will probably be mentioned again, since Ms. Richardson's head injury occurred during a ski lesson). The famous anti-smoking ads Yul Brynner and the director John Huston made that aired after their deaths from tobacco-related illnesses had everyone talking back in the 1980s. Look for all the news shows to feature segments on head injuries, and perhaps learn something. It will be Ms. Richardson's last gift to us.

Rest in peace, Ms. Richardson. And Katherine, you have not been forgotten.

P.S. When I left work a little while ago and turned on the car radio for the 6-minute drive home, they were just beginning to play the Commodore's classic, Zoom. I took that as a personal message. Whatever you may do with your life, make sure you enjoy it.

Feels Good

I got my author copies of A New Kind of Bliss today. It's always a great feeling to hold a new book in your hands. For me it's a thrill that has not diminished, even though this is my 15th book.

If you haven't done so already, please check out the podcast of me reading from A New Kind of Bliss on the sidebar.

It's Not Your Mother's Dentist

Earlier this week I had a route canal, an experience I've had to have more times than I care to remember. But this was by far the most pleasant time I've ever had.

This was my first visit to a new endotontist in the area (moms, if your kinds are interested in dentistry, tell them there isn't an endotontist to be found between Gurnee, Illinois, clear up to Milwaukee, a distance of about 40 miles!) and, considering I picked someone who accepts our insurance, I think I hit the jackpot.

What a pleasant surprise for me when the dental assistant handed me a stack of DVDs and asked me which movie I wanted to see. I'd been wondering what that mobile overhead screen was for. I thought maybe the doc would insert my x-rays in it or something. So, feeling absolutely nothing that was going on inside my mouth, I leaned back with the headphones they provided and watched a romantic comedy called Fools Rush In that I'd always managed to miss when TBS shows it. What a marvelous concept. Before I knew it, it was time for me to get up and swallow some Tylenol . . . and hand over $400 for a 50% dental copayment (now, that hurt).

I go back next week so she can take another look at my roots (at least the entire procedure is paid for, and I'll worry about the crown later). I'm already thinking about what movie to watch. It's an expensive way to watch a movie, but it's sure better than just sitting there thinking about how silly I must look with all that apparatus in my mouth.

Have any of you ever experienced a relaxing experience while receiving medical or dental care (other than anesthesia, I mean). Tell us about it!

Have a great weekend! I'll be going to the post office this weekend (or maybe Monday, since I have off until Wednesday) and mailing some prize books (and also a gift certificate to another winner, since I'll finally be getting up to Racine to the bookstore the winner requested a certificate from).

Time Flies

Can you believe we're halfway through March? I've been uncomfortably aware that I've been neglecting my writing for two and three days at a time. At this rate my deadline date will pass me by before I'm ready, but I promised my editor . . . and reiterated my promise to my new old editor (I refer to her that way because I've worked with her before) that I will absolutely be on time with this manuscript.

I'm happy to say that I've been working at a steady clip. Even with a visit from family this past weekend I've devoted a few hours to this facet of my life most days in the last week. I also carved out time for a special project I've been dying to do just for the heck of it (I'll tell you more about that when it's ready, which won't be for several months at the soonest). I've kept distractions to a minimum . . . which raises a question I've always been curious about.

How do writers manage to find time to host Yahoo groups, maintain pages at Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Shelfari, and all the other Internet networking sites out there and still write? I usually receive several invitations each month, which I have to turn down because of time restrictions. I have a web site and a blog, and I visit other people's blogs, and that's all I can handle.

Are you an aspiring writer, or an avid reader? What are your distractions, and how do you deal with them?

English is the language of America . . . isn't it?

I'm all for people for whom Spanish is their first language to have access to services. However, it makes me roll my eyes when, after dialing customer service phone numbers, I am sometimes asked to press a key on the telephone pad - usually 1 - if I want to continue in English. I do feel this should be automatic and not require action for any American company. If someone wants to continue in Spanish, let them hit a number. But the last time I checked, our country's official language was still English. What's wrong with assuming that we speak English unless otherwise noted?

Have you ever encountered a phone line where you had to do this? How did you feel about it?

And the winner is . . . .

#2, which is BlackRoze37. Email me (bettye at with your mailing address, and I'll get The People Next Door out to you!

LadySilver, I believe you won a prize last week that you haven't claimed yet, so I'll need to hear from you as well.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! We've got family visiting and are enjoying them immensely.

Mass Market Edition (and a chance to win an autographed copy!)

Today is the day that the mass market edition of my novel The People Next Door officially goes on sale. I wasn't blogging when this book was published as a trade paperback back in 2005, so I have no character sketches . . . so I will give you instead the quote in the front of the book, which perfectly describes what this story is about:

"Your basic extended family today includes your ex-husband or wife, your ex's new mate, your new mate, possibly your new mate's ex, and any new mate that your new mate's ex has acquired." - Delia Ephron

And now for some reviews (only the good ones, of course):

"Author Bettye Griffin melds an unbelievable scenario full of nosey neighbors trying to out-do each other, arguments between the new wife and the old, lessons on unruly children, and situations revolving around social status. She also touches on some major issues dealing with blended families. Through the crazy incidents, the author's wit, and the various characters with all their flaws and misgivings, THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR is an enjoyable read. It showcases lessons on familial love, dealing with others, and learning from the lessons of the past." - RAWSISTAZ

"The People Next Door is not only a very entertaining blend of drama and comedy but it also deals with family issues and makes you aware of how things are in dealing with blended families. I give this book 4 stars!!!!" - People Who Love Good Books

"Interesting storyline and plot and I think Ms. Griffin did a great job with the storyline and the characters. This isn't a book full of drama so if you are looking for tons of crazy family issues and drama, this is the wrong book and you will be disappointed. If you are interested in a good read about a family dealing with a crazy and probably not so unique situation, than this is the book for you. " - A Reader

So if you haven't read the book, pick one up at your favorite book merchant.

I'd like to share something interesting that happened to me last week. UPS delivered a carton of books, the outside of which said The People Next Door. This puzzled me; I'd received another shipment a couple of weeks before that I assumed were my author copies. I immediately went up to my office and opened that box, which I'd stuck in a closet on top of all my other author copies. It was a box of ARCs of A New Kind of Bliss. My editor had told me she could only spare a couple of copies. In hindsight, I think she was thinking I was asking for additional copies beyond those she'd already sent. Such confusion is to be expected during editor changes.

Anyhow, I've got all these books, so I figured I'll give one away (Sorry, but this offer is for U.S. residents only). Reply to this post and share with us what type of fiction genres (or, in the case of romance, sub-genres) you prefer: contemporary romance, historical romance, women's fiction, street lit, urban lit, thrillers, paranormal romance, medical or law-related dramas, mystery, western, etc. I'll draw a name on Saturday, and that winner will receive an autographed copy of the mass market version of The People Next Door.

Year of the Bettye

For months now I've been indulging myself in a way I haven't done in years.

Don't get me wrong. I do get my work done. I'm not calling in sick or anything like that. But I'm taking time, and plenty of it, to smell the roses. I've become incredibly laid-back. I learned about lake effect snow on the news this morning, and when I looked out the window my jaw dropped to see everything covered in white. I had a dentist appointment in Illinois this morning (we do have dentists in Wisconsin, but the specialty I need is pretty rare in these parts; it was either drive to Milwaukee or drive to Marlon Brando's hometown of Libertyville and the latter is closer) that I ended up canceling. I've got a stack of ARCs to send to my Oscar Trivia contest winner and some of the bookclubs that have been sitting here since Saturday, and I'm not sure if I'll make it to the post office today. But I'm cool. It'll all get done. My appointment has been rescheduled for next week, and even if I don't get to the P.O. until tomorrow, the deliveries should be made by the weekend. And I'll just allow extra time to clean off my car, which is in the driveway rather than in the garage because I didn't watch the forecast. No big deal.

Even my writing has been at a minimum (although I am on schedule). Writing usually slows up in months directly preceding a new release anyway. I am limiting my signings for A New Kind of Bliss to four: One in downtown Chicago, one in a South Chicago suburb, one in Zion, Illinois, and one in Milwaukee. I think I set up four in previous years, but I'm eliminating two sites where I sold less than 15 books (Merrillville, Indiana and the 95th Street Borders in Chicago) as not being worth the drive. I'm perfectly content to lounge in the Jacuzzi, covered with bubbles and oblivious to the frigid weather outside, my tub rack holding a glass of wine, a razor and a Ped Egg, and somebody else's book in my hand.

I was tickled when a co-worker commented on how much reading I do. I think I've read four books so far this year, which is probably the same number I read all year in 2008. I've forgotten how much joy there is to be had in reading a good book. I still don't spend large amounts of time reading - it is, after all, March already and I'm only on my fourth book. But I'm also indulging my domestic side in the kitchen. Last week I made a scrumptious shrimp and crabmeat bisque that warmed us up on cold days. Just last night I fixed a pecan-crusted walleye filet (I do like to cook some nice dishes on the weekends and my day so my husband has something good to eat those days I'm at work). I've baked muffins, and I can whip up homemade biscuits in about ten minutes (I timed myself yesterday, and preparing dinner took about an hour). I'm exercising regularly, too, either on the treadmill, with a DVD, or a combination of both and some good old-fashioned bends and crunches.

Speaking of health, I'm getting caught up on that today, too. Scheduled all my checkups and labs.
Other things are coming together, too. We finally reached a settlement with the moving company for lost (more like "stolen;" how the hell do you lose an unboxed exercise stepper?) and the Illinois people finally unraveled the mess they made with our car title, which can now be moved to Wisconsin.

I think a large part of my attitude is my change in living conditions. For two years we were terribly cramped in an apartment with one bedroom and one bathroom (which we used to knock each other over trying to get to after coming home from long drives). Living amid a lot of clutter can (and did!) get depressing after a while.

If I followed the Chinese calendar, this would be the Year of the Bettye. The more I relax, the more likely it seems that everything will get done.

What about you? Are you indulging yourself, not with expensive activities but with the little things?