Life's busy if you're a student, star and sorority sister

My own college-years jobs involved the usual things -- scraping dishes, sweeping floors and such; they did NOT involve co-starring in a TV show. By comparison, there's Greer Grammer, an A-student and MTV actress. Then again, little about her life has followed the usual patterns; here's the story I sent to papers:


Here’s a clue about TV scheduling: It’s good to have “Teen
Mom” as your lead-in – unless you want to be anonymous around your sorority

When Greer Grammer reached the University of Southern
California, she didn’t talk about her acting. “I just said I had to work.” Alas,
her Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters liked “Teen Mom”; it was followed by “Awkward,”
with Grammer playing a naïve teen. “All of a sudden, I had people asking why am
I on TV?”

Until then, Grammer may have blended in. “I’m so normal, as
far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Well as normal as someone can be after growing up in Malibu,
winning beauty pageants and having a father with five Emmy awards.

Her dad is Kelsey Grammer, the actor-producer; her mom is
Barrie Buckner, a make-up artist. Her half-siblings include Spencer Grammer, who
starred in the “Greek” series. Now Greer, 22, is in her fourth season on “Awkward”
(as Lissa), while reportedly getting straight A’s in school.

She had been onstage (as a “Wizard of Oz” Munchkin) at 5, but
her parents were hesitant about show business; instead, she did pageants. “My
friend had done some; I made fun of her until I tried it myself.”

Three times, she was in the top 10 for Miss California Teen
USA. She spent two years at an arts-oriented boarding school and another being
home-schooled, somehow achieving bits of normality. “I got to go to prom and
graduate with all my friends.”

She seems to have dodged the Hollywood-type troubles at her
roots. In “So Far” (Dutton, 1995), Kelsey Grammer said Buckner was his long-time
friend and (during a stormy part of his marriage) his occasional lover. “With
her, there was no torment, no expectation – only kindness and affection.” Then
came her pregnancy. “I had reservations …. In retrospect, I am delighted Barrie
chose to have our little girl.”

That’s Greer, who said she has avoided her dad’s addictions.
“I grew up knowing that drugs are a big problem and that was never something I
got into …. I had so many friends that went to rehab.”

Instead, she went to auditions. Grammer landed a few TV
guest roles, before trying out for “Awkward,” a high school comedy. “I showed
up in leggings and a T-shirt and everyone else was in sundresses. I thought, ‘Well,
I’m not going to get this one.’ I kind of laughed it off – and then MTV called

She was entering college and a TV series at the same time, a
juggling act that seemed reasonable at first. “As time went on, my classes got
harder,” she said.

Now she’s down to her final three classes and 12 credits,
nearing her theater arts degree. Life is fine – unless she reverses the usual
pattern. “I have joked that I would be the one who has a job all the way
through college and the show would be cancelled as soon as I graduate.”

“Awkward,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, MTV, with the
previous episode rerunning at 9:30.

The season’s third episode debuts April 29,
rerunning at 7 and 11 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday
(preceded by the second episode at 12:30 p.m.).


Salazar symbolized a transforming Los Angeles

(TV story about Ruben Salazar, subject of a very interesting
PBS documentary Tuesday.)


As Los Angeles quaked in the 1970s, Ruben Salazar’s image

“He became an icon for the left in this town,” said Phillip
Rodriguez, director of a PBS profile. “He was being portrayed in kind of
crudely drawn portraits under freeway underpasses and things.”

Much of that came after he was killed, at 42, by a tear-gas canister
during a day of protests. Soon, he seemed to have martyr status. “I was always
perplexed by how people were in awe of him …. People wanted to be near me
because I was Ruben Salazar’s daughter,” Stephanie Salazar Cook said.

Still, there were gaps. Salazar was “ubiquitous, but at the
same time, very unknown,” Rodriquez said. The documentary sketches someone who reflected
changes in a city and in an era.

“Salazar was a member of the silent generation,” Rodriguez
said. He had “the values of that generation, which was stoicism and wait your
turn, like many immigrant groups had done.”

Born in Mexico, he grew up in El Paso. “He always liked to
write,” Cook said. “He was an avid reader …. He wrote for his high school
newspaper and his college newspaper. I think it was a calling.”

By 31, he was a reporter for the prestigious Los Angeles
Times; by 37, he was a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, Mexico City and more. He
assimilated, marrying a non-Latino and living in Orange County. “He was urbane,
ambitious, capable,” Rodriguez said, comparing him to a “Mad Men” character from
that era. “He was a Don Draper and he was a guy who enjoyed his cocktails and
had a more complicated sense of self than we might think.”

Then the Times re-assigned him to cover its city’s growing
Latino community. Salazar was not happy, Rodriguez said, “to be called to be a
Mexican again, (covering) the taco beat.”

Gradually, however, he began to agree with the young Chicano
rebels he was covering. Salazar criticized officials and police … especially
after leaving the Times in January of 1970 to become news director of KMEX, one
of the nation’s first Spanish-language stations.

Eight months later, while covering a protest march, he
stepped into a bar for a drink and was killed by a canister. It was “probably
just … a stroke of bad luck,” Rodriguez said. Still, the prevailing police
attitude was a “cowboy kind of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ …. The
problem was they happened to kill a celebrated Mexican (and) brought attention
on themselves.”

The martyr/icon years followed. A decade after Salazar’s
death, his daughter moved to Hawaii, where her family symbolizes a blended
era. “My kids are Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian” and Hispanic, Cook said. “I
feel so grateful this documentary (shows who) their grandfather was.”

“Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle”

9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS (check local listings)

She baked herself back from the brink

OK, I admit there are much bigger things happening right now. The wonderful "Orphan Black" is back (9 p.m. Saturdays, BBC America); Easter weekend ranges from "The Bible," "The Ten Commandments" and an ABC romance movie to a bloody good "King of Thrones."

Still, let's pause for a moment to consider a little movie Sunday. "Apple Mortage Cake" is a fairly good film, but it's real-life story is terrific; so is its star (Kimberly Elise) ... and its cake. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Like many people, Angela Logan hit bottom in 2009. Jobs were
scarce, bills were piling, foreclosure was near; she had three sons and no

“We had absolutely no money at all,” Logan said. “We didn’t
have a dime and did not know which way we were going to turn.  I had already cried; I had already been

Then she baked. The result is told in the movie “Apple
Mortgage Cake,” described by director Michael Scott as “a very uplifting,
inspiring story.” Appropriately, it debuts on Easter, on the network called UP.

Logan was already familiar with show business. She was a
model and an actress who had small roles in a few episodes of shows shot on the
East Coast. She was also a substitute teacher and a student.

For a time, she said, money was easy to get. “There was a
lot of predatory lending …. Everywhere you went around 2007, ’08, they were
giving money away, until the bubble burst.”

Two businesses – the agency handling her acting, the
contractor fixing her storm-damaged house in Teaneck, N.J. – folded or
disappeared. She needed $2,500 in 10 days to save her home.

Other solutions – hair-styling, studying nursing at
community college – were long-term. She needed something quick; if she could
bake and sell 100 apple cakes, at $40 apiece, she could net the $2,500.

“It’s not an easy thing to say to your friends and to your
family,” Logan said. “Especially after you’ve been on TV and you’ve been in
modeling and doing all that stuff and then all of a sudden you have no money
and you have to ask people for help.”

But people did help, quickly. The local newspaper printed a
story and others followed. A local Hilton loaned its kitchen; a non-profit
group (Bake Me a Wish) helped with shipping. The house was saved.

Now Logan sells her cakes at farm markets, at specialty
stores and for special events, including the VIP party when the Super Bowl came
to New Jersey. She has a Web site (
and has a small role in the movie.

Upbeat stories are common for UP, for Scott (“Mrs. Miracle”)
and for Kimberly Elise (“Ditchdigger’s Daughter”), who stars. “I cook a lot,”
Elise said. “I’m a vegan and so I make a lot of my own food.”

And yes, Logan did make one vegan cake, so Elise could have
the apple-mortgage-cake experience.

“Apple Mortgage Cake,” 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Easter
Sunday, UP.

Repeats the following Saturday (April 26) at 9
and 11 p.m.

Freeman's "Fargo": The quiet eloquence of "Minnesota nice"

During a busy blur of new cable shows, "Fargo" is the one that seized my attention. The series (which starts at 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 15) is good in every way -- beautifully written, filmed and -- with Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton playing opposites -- acted. And as someone who has spent a lot of time in Minnesota, I can attest to the fact that it captures that region's quiet and quirky charm. Here's the story I sent to papers:


British actors quickly become masters of big words, long
sentences, grand speeches.

Starring in the new “Fargo” series, however, Martin Freeman
goes the opposite way. “You have the so-called ‘Minnesota nice,’” he said.

These are Northern folks who don’t spend much time
lecturing. They were created in the 1996 movie by Minneapolis natives (Joel and
Ethan Coen) who know the turf.

“It’s a much more stoic culture,” said Noah Hawley, who
produces the TV version. “People don’t like to talk about their feelings.” It’s
a culture another Minnesotan (Garrison Keillor) captures on radio, Hawley said,
complete with “a lot of sentences started and abandoned.”

It’s a quiet and trusting world, creating fierce contrasts when
grisly murders appear. It’s also light years from the New York City where Hawley
grew up or the Texas where Allison Tolman (who plays a cop) grew up. “Southern
women (are often) lying about how great everything is,” she said.

And it’s a jump for Freeman, who has conquered British
classics – Hobbit, Holmes and Hitchhiker.

He stars in the “Hobbit” movies, starred in the 2005
“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and is Watson in PBS’ “Sherlock” series. In
each case, he says, he had a big respect, but not a superfan background. “If you’re
too close to something, too invested, it can be difficult to play.”

And he entered into “Fargo” with a respect for the movie. “You’re
in a world between humor and drama, which is a beautiful set-up.”

Like many Englishmen, he grew up around clever comedy. “I
remember loving ‘Monty Python’ when I was 5, holding my sides laughing, because
it was so silly.’”

The next year, he moved (with his mother and four siblings) from
the military town of Aldershot to a London suburb. There, his life had little
in common with that of Lester Nygaard, the bullied “Fargo” guy.

“I was always a small kid,” Freeman said, but “with the
tough guys, I was always the mascot …. I could make them laugh.” He managed to
co-exist with nerds and jocks. “I liked the kids who could talk about (actor)
Peter Sellers, but also liked the ones who gave the nuns a hard time.”

He joined a theater group at 15, went to acting school at 17,
got OK roles in theater, movies and TV, then drew attention at 30, in the British
version of “The Office.” A decade later, his hot streak began.

“You get too busy,” Freeman said. “But as an actor, if you’re
not doing something you start to worry.”

There hasn’t been much time with long-time partner Amanda Abbington
(who plays Miss Mardle on PBS’ “Mr. Selfridge” series) and their two children. The
best time came when “Sherlock” cast her as Watson’s wife. “I think I got it
because Martin and I have quite good chemistry,” she joked.

Mostly, Freeman has been gone. He raced from New Zealand
(doing “Hobbit”) to Calgary, a Canadian province facing one of its toughest winters.
“I’ve never seen that much white,” he said.

It was a fiercely cold place to film “Fargo”; it was also a
reminder of why Northerners can be so stoic.

“Fargo,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, FX; debuts April 15,
rerunning at 11:37 p.m.

Opener then has latenight reruns on Wednesday
night (12:21 a.m.), Thursday night (1:02 a.m.) and Saturday night (1 a.m.)

Oinks and all, Chris P. is a charming star

TV critics meet a lot of stars during their trips to California, but few match the personal appeal of Chris P. Bacon. Yes, he's a pig (a small, two-legged one), but he has accepted his fate with a sense of grace and joy. He'll be part of a charming PBS special Wednesday (April 9); here's the story I sent to papers:


Chris P. Bacon should be used to the complications of fame.

He’s a two-legged pig with a three-book deal, occasional TV
appearances and a key spot Wednesday in a feel-good PBS special. He’s used to
traveling … but not used to changing time zones.

“He woke me up at 3 this morning,” Dr. Len Lucero said after
they met with TV critics in Pasadena. “He’s still on Florida time.”

Still, he’s a cheerful traveler. “He has a lot of body
movements that mimic happiness,” Lucero said. “But for the most part, we assume
if (pigs are) quiet, they’re happy.”

Bacon’s colleague onstage was more visible in his joy.
Roofus, a golden retriever, is blind and lame (with non-functioning front legs),
yet upbeat. “He’s a very happy guy,” said Kathy Weir, his human.

He has, after all, survived an awful start. Roofus and his
brother, who is also blind, were abandoned in a park. They were taken to a
golden-retriever rescue agency, where Weir and a friend decided to take turns
caring for him … and to provide part of the $1,500 needed for prosthetic legs.

Such critter-prosthetics are becoming more common, said
Martin Kaufman, a Denver man who specializes in them. “If you can do it for a
two-patient, let’s do it for the four-legged,” he said.

Dogs are the biggest winners; the PBS special has Roofus and
others, but also includes a pony’s new foreleg, plus a beak for a swan and a
tail for an alligator. And it includes Bacon, in a category of his own.

With all sorts of troubled animals in his veterinary
practice, Lucero still noticed Chris. “Looking at this otherwise healthy animal
just crawl across the exam table, it didn’t seem right to put (him) to sleep.”

So he took him home. “I come walking in with this box and this
squeaky little pig inside, and everybody thought that they heard a bird …. I
told my family that we needed to find a home for this pet. And without batting
an eye, my wife stands up and says, ‘Well, you just found one.’”

Their kids, then ages 15 and 17, also approved. One of their
old toys was re-purposed, providing wheels in lieu of hind legs. Soon dubbed
Chris P. Bacon (after an old videogame character), he began making the rounds
in the passenger seat of the truck. Lucero calls him “my veterinary assistant.”

Soon, people noticed. A video quickly drew more than a
million views; Chris became one of the world’s best-known Bacons, alongside
Kevin, Canadian and Sir Francis. His story became an amiable children’s book.
He did TV appearances pleasantly … as long as he didn’t switch time zones.

“Nature: My Bionic Pet,” 8 p.m. Wednesday, PBS
(check local listings)

“Chris P. Bacon: My Life So Far,” Hay House