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(February 2003)

Conan The BarbarianFrom Conan to Chicago

Robert E. Howard was a pulp writer with an uncommonly gifted imagination. Before he died at age 30 (by his own hand), he had created one of the most thrilling and enduring characters in American fiction- Conan The Barbarian. In the movie of the same name, from 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger got his second-best role. His best role, of course, was The Terminator in the original movie.

Robert Howard was born in Texas in 1906. His father was a country doctor. Renée Zellweger was born in Texas in 1969. Her mother was a nurse and midwife. What’s the connection, you say? In 1996 Renée was wonderful co-starring in a charming little movie, along with that most under appreciated of character actors, Vincent D’Onofrio. The movie was The Whole Wide World.

Renée Zellweger & Vincent D'Onofrio in The Whole Wide WorldThe Whole Wide World was based on the memoir of Novalyne Price, an aspiring young writer who had a friendship and budding courtship with Robert E. Howard. D’Onofrio was Howard and Renée was Ms Price. The movie was directed by Dan Ireland and was not widely seen but was way above average.

When this movie came out, Cameron Crowe was busy casting the female lead for his next film, Jerry Maguire. He had been considering Cameron Diaz, Bridget Fonda or Marisa Tomei but when her heard about Zellweger’s strong performance in The Whole Wide World, he brought her in for an audition. And the rest, as they say, is history. Jerry Maguire was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar © of 1997 and Renée was On-Her-Way

Renée ZellwegerShe went on to terrific performances in The Bachelor in 1999 (a San Francisco movie), Nurse Betty (2000), and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) in which she totally won over the English (who had not believed that a little-ol’-gal from Texas could do any justice to what had become a British icon). Oh, and she was nominated for an Oscar © for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Renée in "Chicago"Which brings us to Chicago –“A flash of leg, the taste of gin, the smell of corruption, and things that go bump in the night. Anywhere else it would be a crime, but this is Chicago.” Nobody here at The Toast has yet seen this currently running musical but the media is giving it rave reviews. And more important, the buzz is afire with praise for both the movie and the performances of Richard Gere (‘he sings, he dances’), Catherine Zeta-Jones (‘so luscious to behold’), and most of all Renée Zellweger as the ambitious Roxie Hart who strives for fame at any cost. “With the right song and dance, you can get away with murder.”

Our favorite reprobate sitting over there in the corner sucking his thumb was recently in a coffee shop having his morning brew when he overheard some old guy taking about the movie Chicago. I mean, this guy must have been close to 70 and he was blathering on and on about what a special film this was. “The best movie I ever saw! The movie was so special, I’ve never seen anything like it.” For a fellow who has been seeing movies for half a century, this is high praise. Buzz for sure. “Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, treachery. And all that jazz.” Any movie musical that uses the choreography of the immortal Bob Fosse has gotta' be top drawer indeed.

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