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HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY

You don’t have to be a movie buff to fall in love with the story of Harold and Lillian Michelson. Their sixty-year marriage—with more than its share of ups and downs—would be compelling enough. Their long involvement with Hollywood is icing on the cake, as we learn about Harold’s career as a storyboard illustrator and concept artist and Lillian’s work as a research librarian. They almost never received screen credit, yet without their input films as diverse as The Ten Commandments, The Birds, and Rosemary’s Baby wouldn’t be the same.

Harold Michelson visualized entire films scene by scene, shot by shot. Directors ranging from Cecil B. DeMille to Mike Nichols followed his artful compositions like a blueprint. Nichols’ work on The Graduate is great, but it was Harold who thought of Mrs. Robinson bending her knee and then framing a shot of Benjamin as seen through her sexy limbs. This is just one example of many in his extraordinary career, which led to him becoming a full-fledged production designer.

Lillian Michelson was restless while raising three children—one of them autistic, at a time when that condition was little understood and didn’t even have a name. When she met the woman who ran a full-time research library at the Samuel Goldwyn studio she volunteered to help and ultimately acquired the library, which migrated several times. When directors needed to know the look of a period, from ancient Rome to a contemporary working-class house, they turned to Lillian for answers. She provided Roman Polanski with everything he needed to know about witchcraft.

Lillian is warm and articulate to this day…and fortunately, director Daniel Raim found vintage interviews of Harold talking about his career. This material and archival footage is augmented by testimonials from Francis Ford Coppola, Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito (who also served as the film’s executive producer), and a new generation of art directors and production designers who were inspired by Harold and Lillian. Raim ingeniously uses charcoal sketches that look like Harold’s (but are actually drawn by Patrick Mate) to tie these pieces together.

Harold and Lillian is subtitled A Hollywood Love Story and appropriately enough, I fell in love with it while watching it with my wife. Be warned: you may tear up, as I did, toward the end of this affectionate tribute.

Harold and Lillian opens today in New York and May 12 in Los Angeles. For further information on upcoming playdates, or to watch the trailer, click HERE.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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