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Mary Tyler Moore dies at age 80

Emmy-winning actress Mary Tyler Moore, who brightened American television screens as the perky suburban housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show and then as a fledgling feminist on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on Wednesday at the age of 80.

Moore, who won seven Emmy Awards for her television work, died in the company of friends and her husband, Dr. S. Robert Levine, representative Mara Buxbaum said in a statement.

She had been seriously ill over the past two years, when she was in and out of hospitals and suffered from heart and kidney problems, close friends said. She was a diabetic, and in 2011 she had a benign brain tumor removed.

Moore also was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1981 film Ordinary People, playing a character very different from her TV roles — an icy woman coping with a suicide attempt by her 18-year-old son.

Moore’s eponymous show and The Dick Van Dyke Show were both among the most popular sitcoms of their time, with the former ranking seventh and the latter No. 20 on TV Guide’s 2013 list of best television shows.

Moore, asked by Reuters in 2012 when she was given the SAG lifetime achievement award how she wanted to be remembered, said: “As a good chum. As somebody who was happy most of the time and took great pride in making people laugh when I was able to pull that off.”

Ed Asner, who acted alongside Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, mourned her death on Twitter, writing: “my heart goes out to you and your family. Know that I love you and believe in your strength.”

Longtime interviewer Larry King on Twitter called Moore “a dear friend and a truly great person. A fighter.”

Moore had emerged on television in the early 1960s when many of the women in leading roles were traditional, apron-wearing stay-at-home moms like June Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver.”

Moore’s bright-eyed Laura Petrie character was prone to moaning “Oh, Rob!” at her husband in moments of exasperation on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but she chipped away at that stereotype. For one thing, she wore stylish pants rather than house dresses and styled her hair like Jacqueline Kennedy’s.

Moore’s Mary Richards character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show went even farther. Mary Richards focused on her career as an assistant producer for the news show at television station WJM in Minneapolis and was determined to fulfill the lyrics of the show’s theme song – “You’re going to make it after all” – as she joyously flung her beret into the air in the show’s opening credits.

While she may have had conservative Midwestern values and been a bit naive and prim, 30-ish Mary Richards was, by 1970s television sitcom standards, a budding feminist. She lived on her own, was not hunting a husband and protested that she was not being paid as much as a male counterpart.

“YOU’VE GOT SPUNK”

Asner, playing Mary’s gruff boss, Lou Grant, summed up her character and their relationship in the show’s first episode.

“You know what?” he growled at her. “You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk!”

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, whose seven-year run ended in 1977, had a solid cast and great writers and won the Emmy for best comedy in each of its final three seasons. It was the cornerstone of MTM Enterprises, the company Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker used to launch three spin-offs — Lou Grant, Rhoda and Phyllis — as well as other hit shows such as The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

One of New York-born Moore’s first entertainment jobs was appearing as Happy Hotpoint, a singing and dancing pixie in television commercials for Hotpoint appliances. In 1961 she was cast on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Moore won two supporting actress Emmys for that show and four best-actress Emmys for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

“I’m not an innately funny person,” she told The New York Times. “I find it an almost overbearing responsibility when I think about having to be funny. I like simply standing next to the funny person. Just being part of what caused the laughter is great fun for me.”

Moore won an Emmy in 1993 for the TV movie Stolen Babies, giving her a total of seven for her career, including one special Emmy in 1974 as actress of the year. She was nominated nine other times.

She was given a special Tony Award for her work in Whose Life Is It Anyway on Broadway.

OFF-SCREEN STRUGGLES

Moore’s life was not all awards and perky television characters. She grew up in New York and Los Angeles with an alcoholic mother, a demanding father and many self-doubts. When she became a mother herself, she felt guilty about not spending more time with her son, Richard, when he was young.

Shortly after Ordinary People came out in 1980, Richard, 24, was killed when a shotgun he was handling discharged — a death that was ruled accidental.

Moore’s 19-year marriage to Tinker ended in divorce in 1981 amid what she said was a lot of drinking and too little talking. She eventually went into rehab at the Betty Ford Center.

During her time on The Mary Tyler Moore show, Moore was diagnosed with diabetes, which affected her vision in later years.

After the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore tried two variety shows but neither caught on. Two other shows set in newsrooms – Mary, in which she played a newspaper columnist, and New York News, starring Moore as a newspaper publisher — also were short-lived.

Moore still appeared frequently in one-off television roles and in plays. In 2003 she quit the Broadway play Rose’s Dilemma, however, after playwright Neil Simon sent her a letter shortly before curtain time saying, “Learn your lines or get out of my play.”

In 2013, she appeared on the TV show Hot in Cleveland for two episodes.

Moore, who became an activist for diabetes research and animal rights, wed for a third time in 1983, marrying Levine, a cardiologist who had treated her mother.

Tinker, who Moore described as her mentor, died in November.

(Reporting by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant and David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Review: Damon charms as stranded astronaut in ‘The Martian’

Without Matt Damon, the solitary fight for survival on Mars would be lonely indeed.

Alone on screen for most of his scenes as an astronaut stranded on the red planet, the Oscar-nominated actor is the winning heart of Ridley Scott’s epic space adventure, “The Martian.”

With Damon’s charm center stage, Scott has crafted an exciting, hopeful story about humanity at its best: The brightest minds working together for a common goal that bridges international borders and forges a feeling of unity.

Affable and intelligent, playful and determined, Damon’s Mark Watney is so endearing and entertaining as a narrator and subject, it’s easy to see why the world would want to save him.

The story begins with Watney accidentally left behind during a NASA mission to Mars. When a fierce storm forces an emergency evacuation from the planet, he disappears in the chaos and is presumed dead. He isn’t, of course, and as his fellow astronauts mourn him during their months-long journey back to Earth and NASA officials struggle with how to explain his death to the public, Watney wakes up, injured and alone.

But he’s incredibly optimistic and resilient. He fixes his wound with minor surgery and immediately goes about prolonging his survival, knowing it could be years before a manned spacecraft returns to Mars. He puts his skills as a botanist and engineer to work, devising a way to grow crops in the arid soil and make water by burning hydrogen. He rewires old equipment from a past Mars mission in hopes of communicating with NASA.

Watney is curious and talkative, keeping himself company by narrating his every move. He tracks his obstacles and progress in daily video logs. He chats to himself in footage from the helmet cam in his spacesuit, cracking jokes he knows no one can hear.

Seeing his efforts through various camera perspectives — the helmet cam, a bunk cam inside his sleeping quarters, a dashboard camera inside his space rover and the video diaries where he appears to talk directly to the audience — adds visual interest, though Damon would probably be just as magnetic talking to a hand-held camera in an empty room.

Meanwhile, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels at his most clinical) and Mars mission chief Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) learn through satellite photos that Watney is alive. As NASA spokeswoman Annie Montrose (a miscast Kristin Wiig) scrambles to protect the agency’s public image, the men strategize how to bring the stranded astronaut home.

“The Martian” unfolds in three settings, all spectacularly realized by production designer Arthur Max. There’s life on Earth, set inside NASA’s sterile Houston headquarters and the lively Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and life on Mars, a dusty, red, rocky expanse where nothing lives (which filmmakers actually found in Jordan). Then there’s life aboard the film’s elegant spacecraft, from the rugged rover Watney uses to explore Mars to the Enterprise-inspired ship that carries his fellow crewmembers and their commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). 

Unlike other recent big-screen space trips, the science here is presented simply enough that no suspension of disbelief or quantum leap through the time-space continuum is necessary. It all seems plausible, and author Andy Weir, upon whose novel the film is based, insists it is, calling it “a technical book for technical people.”

“I had no idea mainstream readers would be interested at all,” he said.

With Scott at the helm and Damon leading the cast, “The Martian” is accessible and beautiful, cinematically and intellectually. Even though it’s a big Hollywood production, Watney’s survival really does seem in question, and audiences will want to join the international crowds on screen in cheering for his rescue.

“The Martian,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.” Running time: 141 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Meryl Streep rocks harder than ever in ‘Ricki and the Flash’

She’s become a Hollywood legend for playing great women, mastering accents and generally making her mark as the greatest actress on Earth. But now it seems that Meryl Streep is enjoying a second life as a musical performer.

Having sung in Postcards From the Edge and Ironweed, Streep again wowed critics and audiences alike with her singing in 2008’s hit musical, Mamma Mia! Last year, she displayed her vocal agility in Into the Woods, where she pushed her voice “beyond all my expectations.” Now she’s playing hard-rocking singer/guitarist in Ricki and the Flash, a feel-good comedy directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme. 

Streep stars as Ricki, a gifted musician who neglected her family to pursue rock ‘n’ roll stardom and returns home to attempt a belated reconciliation. Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer plays Ricki’s daughter Julie while Kevin Kline plays Pete, Ricki’s long-suffering ex-husband. Real-life rocker Rick Springfield and former Gossip Girl player Sebastian Stan also co-star. 

“This film was so much fun to make and I was so happy to work again with my former screen husband, Kevin Kline (in Sophie’s Choice),” Streep says. “Ricki is an old-school rocker who sings in bars and belts out songs of famous bands. I spent six months working on my guitar technique and I had such a great time doing covers of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty hits.” 

Now 65, Meryl Streep is in the middle of a career renaissance that began with her Oscar-nominated performance in The Devil Wears Prada in 2006 and continued with roles in Julie and Julia, The Iron Lady (which earned Streep her third Academy Award), and August: Osage County. Streep and her sculptor husband Donald Gummer live in the Tribeca area of New York. Two of their four children are actively pursuing acting careers: daughters Mamie (Side Effects) and Grace Gummer (Margin Call, Frances Ha).

At the April Women in the World Summit in New York, Streep had the following observation about how women have been historically short-changed in literature and film: “From the time we’re little girls, we read all of literature, you know, all of history. It’s really about boys, most of it. But I can feel more like Peter Pan than Tinkerbell. …I wanted to be Tom Sawyer, not Becky.” 

Ricki and the Flash opens in wide release on Aug. 7.

Meryl, would you say your singing career seems assured with films like Into the Woods and the upcoming Ricki and the Flash? (Laughs) I’m not so sure. But I’m trying hard to hold my own. It’s funny how things have worked out this way because my mother had ambitions of being a lounge singer and my father composed music and played the piano. I had a great singing teacher, Betsy Parrish, in graduate school and that’s where I understood a lot about how profoundly your emotions connect to your breathing and to music. She was a huge inspiration to me and enabled me to appreciate that singing and acting are very similar in that singing makes you reach into your deepest feelings. Singing is an extension of everything that you do when you’re acting. 

You also get to work with your daughter Mamie in Ricki and the Flash? That’s such a delight for me. I’m so proud of Mamie and of Grace, who were willing to follow in their mother’s profession despite all the pressure and attention that comes with being Meryl Streep’s daughters. They’re very strong-willed and determined young women. I only want them to be happy in life and I’m very supportive of their work because they made their decision knowing that they would always have to deal with that added burden. 

Although you’ve made your mark in the history of cinema for playing great women and historical figures, you changed gears later in your career and started doing comedies. And lately you’re been doing more musical and lighter roles? Doing serious drama was something that grew out of the fact that when I graduated from drama school, there were a lot of very good, very serious films being made and those were the best roles that were available or were being offered to me. I never did those kinds of serious roles in drama school but after I played in The Deer Hunter and Sophie’s Choice I was locked into playing very serious women and I never had a chance to do any comedies. I didn’t have a choice. But later on, when I was raising my children I became tired of only playing certain kinds of very dramatic roles and I wanted to play in lighter kinds of films. Now I’m simply amazed that I’ve been able to find so much work and play many different kinds of characters at an age when this industry tends to forget about women. I’m thrilled!

You’ve earned every honor and accolade that any actor could ever hope to win in the film business. Do you ever feel that you had to sacrifice too much of your family time for the sake of maintaining such a legendary career? I think there’s a bias against women when it comes to discussing the idea of making sacrifices. That question doesn’t arise when it comes to men — a man has always been seen as someone who works hard and has a full-time occupation. 

I think women should have the same opportunity and not have any stigma attached to them if they choose to pursue their careers. Life is all about making choices and I’m very happy with mine. I have had a wonderful time raising four children and I’ve also been lucky to have the support of a wonderful husband.

You did relax your workload when your children were teenagers, though? It started even before that. When my children were younger, I turned down any project that involved my having to be away from our home for long periods of time. That was just out of the question for me. I wanted to enjoy my life at home and I would only do a film which wouldn’t last longer than two months and where I would still fly back on weekends to be with my children.

Being with my husband and my children always brought me the greatest joy and happiness in life. I love acting, of course, but I had already achieved a lot of success by the time my children were growing up so I didn’t have the urgency I had to prove myself. I was also very exhausted by the grind of studio meetings and the pressure to keep finding the best films. It left me feeling miserable at times. So I decided to cut back and do different kinds of films. Also, when you reach 40, at least in my day, it was considered the beginning of the end of your career playing leads. So that was another factor.

What do you account for your career renaissance over the past decade or so? I don’t really know but I’m not complaining. I think that once my children were all grown up and didn’t need mommy to look after them anymore, it was the right moment to go back to work with as much passion and dedication as I ever had. Except maybe I don’t stress myself as much before every film!

What’s the secret of having a long and happy marriage, as in your case with Donald Gummer? We’re kind of the perfect odd couple. Don is a man of few words — I’m the one who keeps up a constant stream of chatter in the house. He listens very patiently and then goes back to his work. He also loves me as I am, eager and overactive, even at my age. He’s the definition of the introverted and introspective artist. I’m very expressive and more exuberant. We complement each other beautifully that way. 

Do you still get a kick out of acting? Yes. The best thing about it is when you’re playing a scene and you actually become your character and lose yourself in that moment. That’s when you know you’ve been successful at what you’ve worked very hard to accomplish in your profession. Those are the truly thrilling moments.

Cara Delevingne gets her miracle in ‘Paper Towns’

She’s Britain’s most famous model since Kate Moss. But unlike her predecessors, she‘s about to become a major Hollywood star. 

Born into a posh London family, Cara Delevingne quickly graduated private school and stepped onto the catwalk, becoming the face of Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.

Accumulating as many magazine covers as she does famous friends, she’s besties with Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and Taylor Swift, appearing in the video for her pal’s latest song “Bad Blood.” But a small role in 2012’s Anna Karenina piqued interest among movie producers, leading to other small roles that built her resume.

Delevigne has since been cast in the upcoming big budget supervillain flick Suicide Squad, as well as in dramas Kids In Love and Tulip Fever. But her biggest coup was landing a lead role as Margo Roth Spiegelman in the upcoming YA novel-turned-blockbuster Paper Towns, opening in wide release on July 23. Delevigne, 22, tells us about her amazing life and drops names of her A-list besties.

You’ve come a long way from the catwalk. Do you care a lot about fashion? No.

But you’re the face of many fashion houses. Doesn’t mean I care about it.

You don’t? No, of course I do. I care enough. I know a lot more people who aren’t in the fashion industry who care about fashion a lot more than I do. I like clothes, just not all the time. I prefer to be naked, what can I say?

In the beginning of Paper Towns it says that everybody gets a miracle. What’s your miracle? My life, generally. Being able to act. Being able to do the things that I love as my job, and get paid for them, which is weird, because I would pay to do this, generally. Yeah, those are my miracles. I’ve got a couple, yeah.

Would you say your career in movies is better than your careers in modeling or singing? I think I have two loves of my life, maybe three, this is definitely one of them. The first time I ever went on stage I fell in love. So yeah, the fact that I’m able to do this now is really the biggest, best thing in the world.

Can you talk about the first day you were on the set? Do you get nervous or are you very confident now that you’ve done so much? I’m never not nervous whenever I start anything. Probably modeling, I’m not actually nervous anymore, I mean unless I’m doing a catwalk or something. 

And how do you handle the nerves? I don’t. I’m super nervous. I’m a super nervous person, I can’t stop speaking, and I get all weird, and I start doing stupid things.

Such as? So like performing on stage at the MTV movie awards, I just like fidget and I start eating loads of candy and start trying to think of things that I’m going to do, which are really weird, like throw things at people. I just kind of go off on a tangent to try and hide the fact that I’m nervous, but actually it’s very blatantly obvious that I am.

You play a really popular girl in Paper Towns, one that knows how to lure a guy out of his shell, and is this contagious, adventurous persona. Do you see any of yourself in this character? Oh yeah, sure. Not in that sense. I mean at school, I wasn’t that person at all, I was probably the opposite. 

Like how the opposite? Shy? A wallflower? OK, no I wasn’t shy, that’s for sure. But I definitely wasn’t someone who would lure anyone out of their shell. Actually, I’m all about making people feel comfortable. If someone out of the group is the most shy person, I’ll be with them kind of making sure that they’re having a good time. I like everyone to have a good time, that’s my attitude and spirit.

I don’t know if Margo’s completely aware of the power that she has over (her friend) Quentin. I think she doesn’t really like to think about it. I think she just is generally that person, and I don’t think she’s trying that hard to be that person; I just think that’s the way she is. I don’t know, maybe I’m like that, I’m not sure.

You have 10 million followers on Twitter. How does it feel to be young and to have that many people looking up to you as a role model and to have people following your every move? I’m so lucky because there are so many things that I think, there are so many people I want to help, and especially in terms of like kids and the youth, and generations to come, I really want to make a difference, and make a good one, and I want to be a good role model. I don’t think I understood the importance of being one, or what that really meant when I was younger, because I didn’t know I was one until probably quite recently, but I just want to be a girl that girls can look up to. I’m a big believer that when I was younger there weren’t enough, I think, female strong women role models that I had looked up to, so I kind of want to be that.

Who were your role models as a girl that you looked up to? When I was a little girl I had more men as my role models … because I was a tomboy and I liked to play with cars and building things, and that kind of stuff, and action men. I loved the Spice Girls.

So, which men were role models, I mean, do you remember characters, or actors? All the superheroes. I loved superheroes. I don’t think I had any real life — apart from the Spice Girls — I don’t think I looked up to anyone in real life, I think. it was more like fictional characters.

Fantasy? Fantasy, yeah for sure. Now, though, like as an artist I guess, you know, mostly actresses I think, like Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie — I would love to emulate (Jolie’s) career. I think it’s amazing what she does now, especially being a director as well. I would love to be able to do that. I have a bunch of my friends who are role models to me, like Taylor (Swift) and Rihanna, those hard working ladies who are completely independent and are amazing.

Paper Towns is a lot about really strong friendship. How important is that to you, and how easy is it to have in this industry? I love people, and I love my friends more than anything. Friends are family to me in so many ways. I still have all my old best friends I’ve had since I was at school, but I think along the way I’ve managed to meet a lot of amazing, incredible, inspiring people who again, yes are as busy as me, but it’s the nicest thing in the world where you kind of can find time in the busiest of schedules to kind of meet up, and we understand each other. We go through the same thing, we have our private lives, public, and it’s nice to have that — people to rely on.

What friend do you call if you’re having a really bad day? Again, I speak to a bunch of people every day. From my oldest friends like Georgia (May Jagger) and Suki (Waterhouse), to like, Jordan (Dunn) to Dakota (Johnson), or Kendall (Jenner), or you know, any of them, like I’ll call pretty much every day. I FaceTime Taylor every week. FaceTime is the best thing in the world, it really is.

How about Karl Lagerfield (head designer of Chanel)? Karl, I text Karl a lot. Yes, he sends me pictures of his cat a lot. I love Karl.

He really is such an amazing man, and I’m so lucky that he includes me so much in what he does. I think the first couple times I met him I was terrified of him, but he just seems so intimidating just because of his … I think it’s his knowledge, or just the air about him, but he’s the opposite of that. He is one of the kindest, loveliest, loyal people who’s taught me so much, and knows so much, and has the best stories in the whole world. He’s really the best person to sit next to.

Mickey Rooney: 5 memorable roles

Mickey Rooney might be best remembered for his ceaseless ups and downs, his dramatic failures and his many comebacks. But Rooney’s roller-coaster melodrama – he was married eight times and quickly spent the fortune he amassed – wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t also had genuine, enduring talent.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, while under contract for MGM, Rooney was one of the most popular stars on the planet. At just 19, he was the top box-office draw.

In Rooney’s subsequent decades, things would rarely come as easily as his early stardom. But across movies, Broadway and television, his manic energy rarely flagged. Rooney, who died Sunday at age 93, remained working into his 90s, still driven to “put on a show.”

Here are five of Rooney’s most memorable movie roles:

– “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1935) – The production of Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle’s Shakespeare adaptation had to be rearranged after Rooney broke his leg while skiing, enraging Warner Bros. head Jack Warner. But as the mischievous sprite Puck, Rooney (who did the play on stage before the movie) excelled in the dreamy film and it remains one of his finest and enchanting performances.

– “A Family Affair” (1937) – It’s the film that birthed Rooney’s most famous role, Andy Hardy. Rooney would play Hardy, an all-American trouble-making boy, 14 more times over the next decade and again in the attempted revival “Andy Hardy Comes Home” in 1958. The films were hits. But while Rooney was portraying an idealized American home – chasing girls (Judy Garland in three films) and getting lectures from his judge father (Lionel Barrymore in “A Family Affair”) – the young actor was leading the more tempestuous life of a child star.

– “Boy’s Town” (1938) – Spencer Tracy starred as the kindly priest Father Edward J. Flanagan, who ran a home for underprivileged boys. But Rooney shared top billing with Tracy, playing the school bully and pool shark, Whitey Marsh, who – with maximum corniness – is reformed in the end. For his performance, Rooney won a special Juvenile Oscar, an honor that was given to performers under the age of 18 from the 1930s to the 1960s, starting with Shirley Temple.

– “Babes in Arms” (1939) – This big-screen version of the Broadway musical also paired Rooney and Garland. Rooney earned his first lead actor Oscar nomination for the film, which showcased his song-and-dance talent with numbers like “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Good Morning,” (later done in “Singin’ in the Rain”).

– “National Velvet” (1944) – As a former jockey (a common role for the diminutive Rooney), the actor starred opposite an 11-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in her screen debut. The adaption of Enid Bagnold’s tale was Rooney’s last film before heading to war, a rare two-year gap in his otherwise constant output.

Cracker Barrel returns ‘Duck Dynasty’ products to stores

Cracker Barrel late last week removed some “Duck Dynasty” products to avoid offending some customers, the company announced on its Facebook page.

But then the company returned the products to its stores after getting hit with complaints, including one Fox News celebrity Mike Huckabee and another from right-wing Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins.

Cracker Barrel, in a statement to customers, said, “When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain ‘Duck Dynasty’ items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done. You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.…We listened.”

The company apologized for removing the items amid the controversy over homophobic, racist and sexist statements Phil Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty” made to GQ magazine. Cracker Barrel then restated a commitment to respecting “all individuals” and their “right to express their beliefs.”

Cracker Barrel was long the target of a boycott by LGBT consumers and allies — and many people have yet to return to the restaurants with the faux-country atmosphere. In 1991, Cracker Barrel instituted a short-lived policy banning the hiring of gay people and allowing for the firing of some employees. Not until 2002 did shareholders force the company to adopt a policy banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The company also has been in trouble for racial discrimination and sex discrimination.

Today Cracker Barrel Old Country Store/Wholesome Fixin’s has a rating of 45 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality guide.

The company earned 15 points for a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, five points for some spousal benefits,  15 points for engaging in “appropriate and respectful advertising” and 10 points for having an LGBT resource group.

The company does not have a policy that includes gender identity, domestic partner health insurance or equal health coverage for transgender individuals.

Career of Hollywood’s ‘normal girl’ is catching fire

It’s not always easy being an Oscar-winner.

When Jennifer Lawrence returned to the set of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire after winning the best-actress Academy Award for last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, she was treated to a round of applause.

Then the teasing began.

“I kind of wish just the Hunger Games’ group didn’t know about (the award) because anytime I mess up my lines, Woody (Harrelson) is like, ‘Ya better give that Oscar back!’” said Lawrence.

“But when I got back, I told everybody that things were going to be very, very different,” the actress said, puffing out her chest before bursting into a bout of laughter. “The applause was sweet, but really it was like, ‘Let’s move on.’”

And move on she did, back in theaters as heroine Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Although the role isn’t traditional Oscar material, playing a bow and arrow-bearing fighter in the screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy also isn’t hurting Lawrence’s established Oscar track.

“I don’t really look for something (like Oscar potential) when I sit down to read a script,” Lawrence said in a recent interview at a Catching Fire media event. “There is not really a lot of thought. It’s a bizarre instinctual and emotional thing that just hits me.”

Able to tackle dramatic and comedy roles with ease — both in studio blockbusters and smaller independent films — Lawrence says her continued universal success wasn’t by design.

“It just sort of happened and everybody complimented me on it,” said the actress. “I started out in indies and I always imagined myself being in smaller movies for the rest of my career. Then Hunger Games came along and I was in a big pickle. I would have done it in a heartbeat if it were an indie, but it was giant! I had to take a few days to think about it.”

Lawrence accepted the role largely because of her fondness for the strong-spirited lead character. “The stakes are high for her,” said the actress. “It’s exciting to have a female hero like this. It says a lot about our society.”

Though she was already on Hollywood’s radar after starring in the acclaimed 2010 drama Winter’s Bone, which gained her an Oscar nomination, Lawrence said Hunger Games raised the bar. “It took everything to a different place that I could have never imagined. And the (Oscar) did wonderful things for my career. I’m just rolling with it.”

Deemed Hollywood’s “normal” girl, Lawrence’s accessible personality contributes to her demand. She endearingly stumbled while accepting her Oscar in February. She refuses to starve to fit the entertainment industry’s ideals of beauty. And at the Nov. 11 premiere of Catching Fire in London, Lawrence averted from the red carpet to embrace a teary-eyed fan in a wheelchair.

“It’s refreshing,” said Lawrence’s Hunger Games co-star Liam Hemsworth of the actress’ disposition. “She’s not trying to be anything she’s not and she’s got one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever met.”

Adds Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence (no relation): “Jen is such a down-to-earth goofball that she sets the bar for everybody. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s able to do an intense scene. Then she’ll stop and joke. It’s pretty rare to be able to do it to the level that she can.”

Does she take pride in being so relatable? “Not really because I never really meant to,” said Lawrence, who’s ditched her skirt and heels and has changed into a pair of sweats for her late afternoon interview. “A girl can only take so much!” she sighed.

Returning to theaters Dec. 18, Lawrence will share the screen with veteran actors Robert De Niro and Christian Bale in David O. Russell’s 1970s corruption tale American Hustle.

She admits working with the seasoned cast made her nervous. “But Christian is the nicest and made me feel so normal and welcome,” said Lawrence. The film was also a chance to again work with Russell, her Silver Linings director. “He’s like creative epinephrine,” she said.

Next up for Lawrence will be appearances in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dumb and Dumber To.

And as if she wasn’t busy enough, Lawrence will soon go behind the camera as producer of the adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ 2005 bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle. “I don’t know if I will be any good,” Lawrence said, “but I’m trying it.”

Feeling “very satisfied” with the course of her career thus far, Lawrence said she’s yet to reach her professional sweet spot. “I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I am like ‘Oh, yes!’” said the actress. “But I’ve always just had, fortunately, a very relaxed way about all of it.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater returns to stage as Billie Holiday

Dee Dee Bridgewater might have been a Broadway star were she not so successful as a jazz singer. She won a Tony Award in her Broadway debut as Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz.” But she later rededicated herself to her jazz career, touring the world, winning three Grammys Awards and hosting NPR’s nationally syndicated “Jazz Set.”

Now the 63-year-old Bridgewater has put her jazz career on hold to return to the New York stage for the first time since 1979 in the off-Broadway musical play, “Lady Day,” about legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. The role not only involves more than 25 musical production numbers but also 16 monologues, or “regressions,” that look at the brilliant singer’s troubled life.

“It’s just a very difficult and demanding role,” said Bridgewater. “You have to call on so many different emotions and different periods in her life: you have to play a 10-year-old girl, a young Billie and then your present Billie,” said Bridgewater, interviewed at Sardi’s restaurant in the theater district.

Writer and director Stephen Stahl sketched out the play on a solitary Christmas Eve in 1979 while listening to Holiday’s music which evoked his own feeling of loneliness and being an outsider as a gay, Jewish man who had started drinking at age 8 and dropped out of school.

“I understand what addiction is and what it is to feel different,” Stahl said. “Billie expressed to me all of that desertion, fear and the need to be loved through her music. I also believe Billie was a survivor and saw her as a very strong human being who was giving out her love continually.”

The play premiered in 1980 at the Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5 in Philadelphia and was staged at regional U.S. theaters but not in New York. Stahl cast Bridgewater for the European production after hearing her perform at a New York club.

As a young singer, Bridgewater considered Ella Fitzgerald to be the epitome of a virtuosic jazz singer, but regarded Holiday more as a song interpreter. She came to appreciate Holiday when her then-husband, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, encouraged her to read the singer’s ghostwritten autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues.” Bridgewater found that she shared experiences from Billie’s life: encountering strict discipline from nuns at a Roman Catholic school, being molested at age 11 and raped at 18, and falling into abusive relationships with men.

“My experience wasn’t as bad as Billie’s, but I can take different points in my life and find some kind of similarity to what Billie went through,” she said.

In 1986-87, Bridgewater performed “Lady Day” (in French) in Paris, and then in London where she received an Olivier Award nomination for best actress in a musical. Bridgewater felt “possessed” by Billie’s spirit and months after the show closed she still found herself singing in Holiday’s voice at her own concerts.

Bridgewater had optioned the play, but her plans to bring “Lady Day” to New York in 2009 fell through amid the global recession. She also had to relocate to Nevada to care for her mother who has Alzheimer’s. Instead, she produced a CD “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee” (using the singer’s original name) on which she sang modern arrangements of Holiday’s songbook, including such classics as “Lover Man” and “Don’t Explain,” which won a Grammy in 2011.

Stahl lined up new financing and waited until Bridgewater was free to take the role. He added multi-media effects with video clips for the flashback scenes. He also revamped the book to enhance the role of the singer’s road manager Robert (David Ayers), who in the first act gently but firmly coaxes a reluctant Holiday through a rehearsal for a comeback concert in Britain in 1954. In the second act, he helps a somewhat inebriated Holiday pull through the concert.

This time around Bridgewater is confident that she can avoid being possessed by Billie’s spirit.

“I don’t have the same fear that I did before of going to those dark places that I needed to go in order to put the right emotional impact into a particular scene,” she said. “I’m very secure with who I am. I’m a totally different woman now… I’m ready to share my body and space with Billie, but I’m not going to allow her to take over.”

In her singing parts, Bridgewater says she’s “trying to stay a little closer to Billie’s styling without imitating her,” performing arrangements by music director and pianist Bill Jolly that reflect the mid-1950s era. In the rehearsal scenes, she displays a bit more of her own vocal style, engaging in some energetic scat singing in “Them There Eyes,” which Holiday rarely did. But in the second act concert, Bridgewater says she goes more into Billie’s voice on such numbers as “God Bless the Child” and the more obscure “Violets for Your Furs.”

Bridgewater says the show’s most emotional moments for her come when she performs the anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” with a sparse chordal piano accompaniment – after a monologue about Billie’s humiliating experiences touring the segregated South, and “Good Morning, Heartache,” where Billie breaks down after recalling how her mother abandoned her as a child.

Bridgewater hopes audiences will come away from the show with “a whole new take on Billie” and not see her as some tragic figure.

“The show is a celebration of the woman,” said Bridgewater. “I want people to go, `Wow, what an amazing woman, what strength she had to endure all the things that she did before she died.'”

On the Web…

 HTTP:// WWW.LADYDAYTHEMUSICAL.COM 

Liza Minnelli joins NOH8 campaign

Liza Minnelli is the latest celebrity to support the acclaimed NOH8 campaign.

Her NOH8 portrait was unveiled May 4 by the organization whose mission is to promote equality through visual protest.

The campaign is a photographic silent protest created in direct response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 which amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Photos feature subjects with tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with “NOH8” painted on one cheek in protest.

When Minnelli was asked her message for the LGBT community she responded, “Here’s what I believe … no shame, no blame, no guilt. Be happy. And be who you are. I love you.”

DeGeneres gets star on Hollywood Walk

Comic and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres on Sept. 4 received the 2,477th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The openly lesbian celebrity invited a large audience to the event, tweeting on Tuesday: “I’m getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today at 11 am. Come watch me! Also, I’d love a ride home. 6270 Hollywood Blvd.”

In her speech at the celebration, eonline.com reported, DeGeneres said, “It is amazing. I spent my entire career trying to conduct myself in a certain way making sure no one walks all over me only to get to a point where people are going to walk all over me. It means so much to me that everyone showed up.”

Season 10 of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” begins on Sept. 10.

On the show’s Facebook page, DeGeneres describes herself as “a comedian, an animal lover and a talk show host. Which means I tell jokes about cats to celebrities.”