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Archive for May, 2012

End of the Rainbow

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I had the good fortune to see the Broadway show End of the Rainbow last week when I was in New York. Ellis Goodman, my film executive producer, is a producer for the show, so I had the privilege of getting not only a best seat but also an opportunity to meet the stars on backstage afterward. I was thrilled.

With Tracie Beneett

End of the Rainbow is a story on Judy Garland‘s last performance in London shortly before her death. She was struggling with drugs, debts, and personal relationships. Tracie Bennett, a British actress, sang eight of Garland’s songs and gave a superb performance. Sitting close to the stage, I was able to observe her every move, including her facial impression. I was mesmerized by her dynamic performance and found it hard to imagine how she could do this seven times a week, including a matinee and an evening show on Saturdays! She has been nominated for Tony Award for her role in this show. Well deserved.

With Michael Cumpsty

Michael Cumpsty, who performed Anthony, Garland’s kind, gay pianist, brought the character vividly to life. He looked just as lovely in his casual golf-shirt. He stopped by to Tracie’s room on his way out after the show, carrying a big bag across his shoulder. I took the chance to take a photo with him.

The other key character in the play is Mickey Deans, Garland’s fiancé played by Tom Pelphrey, a very handsome young man. When he came over to Tracie’s room, I told him he did such a good job on stage that he was a person the audience would “love to hate but couldn’t.” He laughed.

With Tom Pelphrey

I had never rubbed shoulders with Broadway stars, chatting with them as if we had known one another. I also took a picture with Tom and Tracie. I was grateful they didn’t say no since they had changed to their casual clothing and were no longer having the glamorous appearance as they had been earlier on stage.

Watching the wonderful show and meeting the stars in person were the highlight of my trip last week!

If you have a chance to go to NYC, don’t miss seeing End of the Rainbow. You’ll love it. It’s at Belasco Theatre at 111 West 44th Street.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bissett.

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Chicago: Back to Normal

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Barricades at Roosevelt Ave.

The NATO Summit held in Chicago from Sunday, May 20th to Monday, May 21st got everyone nervous, with fear of terrorist attacks and chaos by demonstrations. Many sections of the highways and city streets were blocked and many people didn’t come to work in their downtown offices on Monday.

I came back from a trip to New York City last Friday and was prepared to spend the night in my new loft office, which is near a Blue Line subway station in the city. But the tranquility on the train eased my worries and I changed my mind and got on to a south bound Red Line train at Grand/Lake and walked on to Roosevelt Ave., where the road was supposed to blocked. It was right after 10 p.m., and I was surprised that, despite the heavy presence of police, the traffic was moving as usual. I got home without any problem.

Entrance to Museum Campus

Next day at about 5 p.m., the curiosity of a writer got over me. Against my husband Francis’ objection (coming all the way from China via Skype), I rode my bike out along the lakefront trail, armed with a camera. Overnight, all the barricades were up—concretes blocks, metal fences, and surprisingly, a long line of heavy-duty snowplows—stretched from Roosevelt Ave. all the way to the trails in Museum Campus and the Lake Michigan. It looked like a war zone!

The sidewalks were still open, however, so after some hesitation, I took off on my bike, moving carefully through the narrow metal gate to the Museum Park and headed—the south path, my usual route, leads to the back of the McCormick Place where the Summit meeting was to be held and was completely blocked.

Snowplows used as barricade!

It was a beautiful day, but the usually packed lakefront trail had few people. I had to carry my bike to a lower level by the lake to pass the snowplows that blocked not only Balbo St., Columbus Dr. and Lake Shore Dr., but also the trails and the lawn! As I continued north, however, more people appeared. The further I went, the more scenes of normal life in sight, with young people playing soccer, families relaxing by the beach, and pedestrians/joggers/bikers moving along the trail. I breathed a sign of relief and rode much further north than I intended.

I jogged along the same trail early Sunday morning. Besides the ugly roadblocks and the presence of more police, everything appeared peaceful. I ventured out of the lakefront trail and came up to the street at Michigan Ave. and Wacker Drive. There were more people walking in black coats in the street than regular pedestrians, and groups of policemen were at many cross sections, mostly chatting among themselves. When I passed the Art Institute of Chicago where Obama was to host a dinner that evening, I saw more people, some wearing T-shirts with “Peace” printed in the front or back.

A restaurant on Michigan was all boarded up against potential damage.

“We are from Rockford,” I heard a young couple waving to two couple passing by.

“We are from Philadelphia!”

“All right!”

They cheered for one another and moved on. They must be protesters—thousands of them were expected during the Summit.

I watched the day’s events on TV and was relieved for the most part, the demonstration was peaceful.

Monday morning, I had to work on a presentation at my producer’s office in the Prudential building, which is next to Aon, a major site of demonstration. By the time I got there, my producer and his assistant Lana were both there and neither of them encountered any problem coming in, though the office building was quite empty.

Policemen in front of the Cultural Center

Most of the roadblocks were removed by 10 p.m. on Monday. On the news, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proudly praised Chicago’s police force, saying their conduct during the NATO Summit was a lesson of what should be done in such situation.

I recalled that during the day, I saw two tourists approach a group of police with a map in their hands. A policeman raised his hand with a gesture of “stop.” The two women froze in shock, only to see the armed policeman broke into a smile and beckoned them to come forward. They laughed and proceeded to ask for directions. I was impressed by the humor and warmth demonstrated by both sides.

As the news continued on TV, I suddenly heard the fainted humming of traffic from Columbus and Lake Shore Drive. I looked out from the window and saw all the roads were open. Opening the sliding door, I let the sound of the traffic came through. For the first time, it sounded like music to my ears.

Cheers, Chicago!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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Vacation in France (2)

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Avignon

We took the fast train from Paris to Avignon on day 3 and were amazed how much difference a few couple of hundred miles made in temperature: Avignon was in the mid 80s and sunny! We would soon discover that the food and wine were as lovely as the charming narrow streets and ancient city walls and old churches. Mary and Francis enjoyed a bottle or half a bottle of wine over every lunch and dinner. Occasionally I savored a sip for the fun of it, for I had zero tolerance for alcohol. (I boasted to Lisa that I had a couple of glasses on her behalf when she wrote to say she was jealous and missed the good wine in southern France.)

Natural wine cooler/Aix de Provence

We stayed at a hotel in the center of town and once again, walked over town. In addition to the historical palace, church, and city wall, The three dinners we had at local restaurants recommended by the hotel were amazing: the three-course meal left us marvel and satisfied. While Mary enjoyed her fish and shrimp entries; Francis had his duck and steak; and I relished on my favorite foie gras and lamp chop.

Mary and I in Arles

We took the train for two short day trips while staying in Avignon, one to Arles and the other to Aix de Provence. While Arles, with its famous Amphitheatre and aqueduct and the site of the “yellow house” where Vincent van Gogh did many of his paintings, was very charming, I liked Aix de Provence better—the streets more open and pleasant and the atmosphere much livelier. Like in Paris, every street corner had a “café.” At one small square—there were plenty of them in the city, a café was using the water sputtering out of a fountain to chill its wine!

We visited southern France at a great time: while the temperature was in its upper 70s and lower 80s, with plenty of sunshine, it was not the peak of tourist season yet. We enjoyed the lush colors of spring flowers, the history and sceneries each city offered, and the slow pace of life and wonderful food!

I took many pictures during the trip and would love to share a few here. Enjoy!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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Norman Mark Memorial

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

My wife and I recently attended a moving memorial service for Norman Mark, the journalist, author, TV anchor, film critic and wine aficionado. Norman died suddenly at the age of 72 in Palm Desert, California, his home for the past decade. I can’t really say that I knew Norman well or was a close friend of his.  He was born and raised in Chicago, and I had met him in the mid-1990s when I was Chairman of the Chicago International Film Festival. He was the MC for our Gala event in 1995, when the honoree for the evening was the actress Faye Dunaway. To say that Ms. Dunaway had been difficult, was an understatement. Changing limos and hotel suites was the tip of the iceberg, and so I was anxious about the highlight of our event and how things would turn out. I remember explaining to Norman the difficult couple of days we’d had, and expressing my concern as to how the honoring ceremony and speeches would go for that evening.  He put his hand on my shoulder clearly seeing my concern and said, “Don’t worry.  She’s just a big pain in the —.”  He then laughed, making me feel comfortable and less anxious, and of course the evening and his introduction of Ms. Dunaway went very smoothly.

Although we saw each other from time-to-time when he relocated to Palm Springs, my wife and I found ourselves seated next to Norman and his lovely wife Grace at the opening night event of the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival, where our movie “Mulberry Child,” of which I am the executive producer, was being screened. He promised to see the film and expressed much interest in the subject matter of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the impact even today on families that went through that trauma. As it happened, he gave the Movie a great review, and named it one of the 5 best “must-see” movies of the Festival.

My wife and I were leaving for Europe, and would not return to the Palm Springs area until April. We agreed that we would phone upon our return and make a date for dinner. What a lesson! In our daily lives we all assume, that we can make simple arrangements like dinner dates weeks or months into the future, without of course, ever giving a thought that fate might take a hand. We were shocked to hear of Norman’s sudden passing, and found ourselves with our good friend Chaz Ebert, attending his memorial service in Palm Desert, instead of arranging to have dinner together.

The memorial was held in the pretty garden of the Mark’s delightful home, and was attended by close friends and family. It was a celebration of Norman’s life, with commentary from his dearest friends and his children. I learned that Norman was first and foremost a man of humor. A person who throughout his career had endeared himself to all that had worked and socialized with him. He loved his work, and found humor in everything. He had a passion for show business from his boyhood years and following his education at Northwestern, he pursued a full and enjoyable career in TV and journalism. Speaker after speaker told stories and anecdotes, about his pranks, jokes and sense of humor. A person who always saw the glass half full, and went through life with a perpetual smile on his face. It was a wonderful sendoff from those that loved him the most. I was deeply conscious, that leaving a footprint on this Earth, based upon humor and a love of life to the full is probably the most rewarding thing we can do. Norman’s Memorial in Palm Desert was repeated in Chicago a couple of weeks later, with a large crowd of friends, former colleagues, and admirers.

My wife and I were so sorry, that we had not made it to that restaurant date, which would have led to a closer friendship with Norman and his wife Grace, two people that we and many others would have liked to have known better.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

Vacation in France (1)

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Notre Dame

The weeklong vacation in France passed too quickly!

I’ve been to Paris four or five times before, but never visited southern France. The three of us, Mary, a close friend, my husband Francis, and I walked over to Notre Dame near our hotel the day we arrived, and checked out the Latin Quarter. Whenever we felt thirsty or tired, we sat down at a corner café to relax and gaze at all these smart-looking people passing by in the street. The cafes, or brasseries, seemed to pop up at every street corner, and each of them has a line or two of small tables in the front, with all the chairs facing one direction: toward the street. No matter what time of the day, there are plenty of people sitting these places, chatting, reading, smoking, drinking a cup of coffee. Sitting among them, drinking a bottle of water (me) and sharing a pitcher of wine (Mary and Francis), we let the relaxed feeling wash over us.

Children racing in Luxembourg Garden

The following day, we walked all over Paris—we must have covered 8 or 10 miles. The interesting part, aside from the impressive churches, old statues and buildings, the beautiful Luxembourg garden, the lively Avenue des Champs-Elysees, was the first time experience of using an iPad or iPhone to guide us when we got lost in the maze of Paris streets that spread to all directions at all angles. It felt funny to hold an iPad and watch the small dot indicating our location moving in the right direction or off the high-lighted route, but it sure gave me a sense of comfort and relief that paper map never did. With my sense of direction, even when I stood in front of a large map that showed “You are here” with a red circle, I couldn’t figure out which direction I should turn. Fearful as it was realizing the “big brother” could locate my exact spot no matter where I was on this planet, I was glad to have this modern gadget to find our way whenever we needed it.

Mary and Francis navigating Paris with a map and an iPad

Paris was chilly when we got there, but we were grateful it didn’t rain as forecast. We spent a long time in Luxembourg Garden where tulips of various colors were still in full bloom, people were jogging or playing tennis or walking their dogs, children were playing, and at one corner, a few musicians and singers were giving a performance on a “stage”. A lovely sight every direction we turned.

Our two-day stay in Paris ended with a nice meal each day, accompanied with plenty of wine, which was cheaper than bottled water.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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“Power: Opening Doors for Women”

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Carla Harris

At the invitation of my friend Jing, I attended the women’s network conference “Power: Opening Doors for Women” at the Merchandise Mart on May 3rd. It was the 8th Power Chicago meeting, but the first for me.

It took a while for the attendees to get their nametags and locate the room where their registered session was held on the vast space on the 15th floor. But once settled, I found the dynamics of the speakers and their talks, at least for all the sessions I attended, powerful and inspiring.

Ginny Clarke

Four sessions went on simultaneously in the afternoon, with topics from leadership, resilience, negotiation to global career. I attended the negotiation session, hoping to get some tips in business deal negotiations. Ginny Clarke, a career consultant, focused her talk on women’s negotiation for jobs, compensations, and promotion in corporate America. A roomful of women were fully engaged and resonated with her tips. I was expecting a different type of negotiation, but found myself drawn to her talk. “Define your competencies,” she emphasized. The information and approaches she covered were quite practical and helpful. The audience gave her a hearty applause when she was done.

We rushed to Carla Harris’ keynote speaking session. I must say Carla was one of the most dynamic and inspiring speakers I had ever met. She paced on the stage as if it were her living room, her voice booming and eyes engaging. She asked the audience to use three adjectives to describe who they are, gave tips on how to change your image, and encouraged women to get an advisor, a mentor, and a sponsor in their career. She shared three of her ten “Carla pearls”, which were addressed in her book Expect to Win: 10 proven strategies for thriving in the workplace. She left the stage with a loud statement: “If you expect to win, you will.”

Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Illinois. Designed ...

Merchandise Mart. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was an hourlong reception/networking after the keynote speech, which passed too quickly. I soon found myself on a trolley to Baker & McKenzie where dinner and a panel discussion titled “Women in the C-Suite” would take place. I watched five other trolleys fill up and pull away, realizing at the last moment that my friend Jing was a speaker at a different dinner! I had no idea about the format and agenda in advance.

The new Baker & McKenzie’s offices on the higher levels of the Blue Cross Blue Shield building were spectacular. Regine Corrado and Sarah Harris, hostesses from the law firm, were both gracious and smart. There were more than 30 women in our group. We introduced ourselves and chatted over dinner at four large tables. When dinner was over, we listened to three top women executives, Julie Howard, CEO of Navigant, Michele Colemand Mayes, Executive VP and General Counsel, Allstate Insurance, and Ann Ziegler, Senior VP and Financial Officer, talk about their experiences—steps/risks they took, and advices they had for other women. It was a wonderful session, well orchestrated by Regine and Sarah. The top executives were down to earth, eloquent, straightforward in addressing all the questions from the audience.

I walked away at 9 p.m., feeling empowered and inspired. Thank you, Jing and a big thank you to all who organized and supported the networking event.

Learn more about Power Chicago at http://www.womensnetworkingcommunity.org/chicago.html

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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