Monday, September 12, 2011

You betcha, Paul Williams Is 'Still Alive'


Paul Williams, the ever-talented if tiny actor/singer/composer, is most popular with fans in Paris and Winnipeg (well, at least his key role in Brian De Palma's cultish "Phantom of the Paradise" certainly is.)
The prolific writer of such memorable songs as "Out in the Country," "The Rainbow Connection" (for his Muppet buddies, at left), "Rainy Days and Mondays" and his Oscar-winning "Evergreen" (co-written with Barbra Streisand for "A Star is Born"), to name only a very select few, originally penned "We've Only Just Begun" for a bank commercial before it was made an immensely famous No. 1 tune by The Carpenters.
These lively tidbits and scores of other fascinating information can be found in the wonderfully compelling "Paul Williams Still Alive," perhaps the most purely entertaining film I viewed during the crowded opening weekend of the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival.
I mean, where else can you see clips of a man who was a mega-celebrity just about flameout before your eyes, as he did when he guest-hosted "The Merv Grifin Show" or, more hilariously, in co-hosting "The Mike Douglas Show" during the same era?
On the latter, Williams was able to help pick his own guests. Such largesse from nice-guy Douglas, whose syndicated Philadelphia talk show was daytime's highest-rated program at the time, thus allowed Williams to bring in actor and Kennedy clan brother-in-law Peter Lawford, who was just dying to visit Philly to try some of the city's allegedly legendary cocaine. Naturally, he shared the drug with pal Paul, and director Stephen Kessler's grand documentary shows a brief clip of their buzz-eyed pairing.
Obviously, there's much more, too, including what the personable Williams is doing now. One impressive answer is that he's been sober for 21 years and extremely happy, though the little guy was appropriately teary-eyed when Kessler introduced him to a standing ovation after last night's TIFF world premiere.
"Steve went from stalker to a brother," Williams said about Kessler, whose efforts to get Williams to go along with the doc were not exactly met with open arms by its star. "Now I love and trust him with my whole heart."

For more on the Williams film and the rest of my 19th straight festival visit, check out Sun News in a few days.

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