• Vince Gill

    “Thanks Marsala. Amy and I loved the story you did about us. Looking forward to meeting you the next time I come to Las Vegas.”

    Vince Gill
  • Barry Manilow

    “Marsala, your interview is the best I’ve ever read about me in my entire career. It’s my dream interview! You are really something. Thanks so much for this. I’d frame it, but I haven’t got enough wall space. Love, Barry”

    Barry Manilow
  • Lionel Richie

    “Wow, wow, wow, Marsala, these are great questions!” – Lionel Richie

    Lionel Richie
  • Anthony Hopkins

    He extended his hand and said, “Hi I’m Tony,” with a soft, very familiar British accent that was surprisingly warm and friendly.

    Anthony Hopkins
  • Rob Thomas

    “No matter what you do there has to be an evolution so that you become a newer, better version of who you are.” – Rob Thomas

    Rob Thomas
  • Priscilla Presley

    “Marsala, I enjoyed our conversation so much, it was as if I was talking to one of my friends. For me to expose myself to someone I have never met says a lot about you.”

    Priscilla Presley
  • Dave Koz

    “Marsala, my sincere gratitude. You are a wonderful interviewer. I now see why everyone has talked with you.” – Dave

    Dave Koz
  • Cindy & Carlos Santana

    “Dearest Marsala, I feel so grateful and deeply moved by the consciousness in which you wrote this article about us. Thank you from the center of my heart.” – Carlos Santana

    Cindy & Carlos Santana
  • Nate Berkus

    “Marsala, Thank you sincerely for what is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite features. With Love and Affection, Nate”

    Nate Berkus
  • Faith Hill & Tim McGraw

    “Tim and I talked about you after the interviews. It was great! We never talk to anyone in the press as long as we talked with you.”

    Faith Hill & Tim McGraw
  • Suze Orman

    “Marsala, your article is the best one ever written about me!”

    Suze Orman

Wisdom Gleaned from the 83rd Academy Awards

Oscar statueThere are life lessons to be found everywhere, including the 83rd Academy Awards, which took place on February 27, 2011.

I’m not here to pass judgment on who won or who should have won; what gowns I liked or didn’t like; or whether the evening was boring or not. There are enough people critiquing and criticizing the hosts, the presenters, the performers, and the winners.

I’d much rather share with you those Oscar moments that in some way inspired, informed, or touched my heart. Perhaps they will yours too.

1. ANNE HATHAWAY – Co-host of the Academy Awards

How many people could stand in front of the Who’s Who of Hollywood, as well as 37.6 million viewers around the world, and co-host the Academy Awards? Not many I’d guess. If David Letterman made  a list of “The 10 Most Frightening Things,” I’d say hosting the Academy Awards would rank right up there with death.

Yet 28 year-old Anne Hathaway took up the challenge, making her the youngest ever to do so. She did it with style (yes she changed eight times which seems a little excessive, but come on ladies, who wouldn’t love the chance to wear all those gorgeous gowns); and she did it with poise and humor.

On top of that the girl can sing. What she didn’t do was write the jokes or the comedic skits, so if you’re hell-bent on blaming someone because you didn’t like the show, blame the scriptwriters, or better yet, don’t tune in. No matter what you think, I give Anne an A for effort.

LIFE LESSON: I agree. It’s not fair that some people lucked out in the gene-pool department and are endowed with so much more beauty and talent than the rest of us, but instead of slinging barbs and jabs from the safety of the couch, it’s much more productive and rewarding to focus on accomplishing something we can be proud of.

2. KIRK DOUGLAS – Presenter – Best Supporting Actress

When Anne Hathaway introduced Kirk Douglas she said, “We promised you Hollywood stars tonight and it doesn’t get more iconic than this.”

Though the younger generation may not know who Kirk Douglas is, he did earn three Academy Award nominations for Champion (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and his portrayal of the tormented artist Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). He also played the title role in Spartacus (1960) the precursor to movies like Gladiator and Brave Heart.

Like the characters he’s played, Kirk is no stranger to tragedy. In 1991 at the age of 75, he survived a helicopter crash that killed two people. In 1996 he suffered a stroke that left his speech impaired, in 2004 his youngest son Eric died of a drug overdose, and in 2010, he saw his oldest son Michael battle throat cancer.

But at this year’s Academy Awards, 94 year-old Kirk Douglas was basking in the glory of being a presenter. He milked it for all it was worth, and it was great hearing him say, “It’s an evening I’ll never forget.”

Still there were those folks who couldn’t help but make snide remarks like, Why did the Academy chose an old man who can’t even talk to present the award for Best Supporting Actress?

LIFE LESSON: We’ve become a disrespectful society that doesn’t honor its elders. In other parts of the world, elders are revered for their wisdom, while our culture worships at the Altar of Youth. If we stick around long enough we’ll all get old, and then we’ll know how it feels to be tossed aside and treated as insignificant. I’d prefer not to age, but I don’t have a choice, so I’m working on embracing the journey with acceptance and grace.

I got Up Close and Personal with Kirk Douglas for the November 2007 issue of Luxury Las Vegas magazine. Though he has trouble talking, his mind is sharp as a tack and he had some great stories to share. Check out the interview.

3. DAVID SEIDLER – Winner – Best Original Screenplay – The King’s Speech

When Josh Brolin opened the envelope and said, “The Oscar goes to David Seidler,” a 73 year-old white-haired gentleman came on the stage to accept his first Academy Award. He began by saying, “My father always told me I would be a late bloomer (Laughter from the audience). I believe I’m the oldest person to win this award. I hope that record is broken quickly and often…I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers in the world. We have a voice, and we have been heard thanks to you the Academy.”

LIFE LESSON: David Seidler had his own struggles as a stutterer. He reminds us that it’s never too late, and we are never too old, nor should we let our limitations stop us from realizing our dreams. In order to stay young at heart, feed your mind, and stay active and engaged in life. Challenge yourself to try new things, be willing to step out of your comfort zone, and most of all, believe in yourself.

4. TOM HOOPER – Winner – Best Director – The King’s Speech

It was Tom Hooper’s first nomination. In his acceptance speech, he said, “There’s been a lot of thanking of mums tonight, but this is slightly difference.” Tom told the story of how in 2007 his mom, who is Australian, was invited by some Australian friends in London to see a fringe theater reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play. “She almost didn’t go because it didn’t sound too promising,” he said, “but thank God she did because she rang me up afterward and said, “Tom, I think I found your next film.”

LIFE LESSON: When you wake up each morning, you never know what the day will hold. You never know who you may meet or what circumstances may happen that will significantly alter the course of your life. Stay attune to all possibilities. Magic can happen any time, anywhere.

5. HELENA BONHAM CARTER – Nominee – Best Actress – The King’s Speech

If you’re the type that is always self-conscious about how you look or what you’re wearing, then you can learn a lot from Helena Bonham Carter. Helena is a brilliant actress who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress this year for her role as the future Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. But when it comes to fashion, Helena won’t win any awards for her kooky, wacky style. Prior to the Academy Awards, at the Golden Globes, she startled everyone when she showed up with hair stylishly disheveled wearing one red shoe and one green. When asked about her dress she said it was a combination of mad fairy and black swan. Then she poked fun at herself by saying, “Oh no, I’m promoting the wrong film.”

Helena fared better at the Academy Awards wearing a black gown designed by Colleen Atwood who won the Oscar this year for Costume Design for Alice In Wonderland.

LIFE LESSON: I don’t aspire to dress like Helena, but I do aspire to have more of her self-confidence.  She is obviously very comfortable in her own skin, and not at the mercy of what others think of her. That is something we can all learn from her.

6. OPRAH WINFREY – Presenter – Best Documentary – Inside Job

For obvious reasons Oprah was chosen to present the award for Best Documentary. I loved her speech: “If we’re feeling lousy, if the news is bad and people are hurting, we go to the movies and we escape. But I’m here to present the award to the best movie that did not let us escape – the outstanding documentary.

“This was an incredible year with so many brilliant filmmakers working in all regions of the globe telling their stories, illuminating the human condition; showing us beauty, insights, and the truth. Many do this against great odds, some are even imprisoned for their efforts, but it has never been more important to see these stories to help make some sense of the world we live in.”

The Oscar went to the film, Inside Job which shines a light on the global financial crisis of 2008, which cost over $20 trillion and caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia.

It was the second nomination and first win for producer, director Charles Ferguson who came on stage and said, “Forgive me I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that’s wrong.”

LIFE LESSON: It gives me goose bumps when someone speaks the truth that most people don’t want to hear about until it’s too late. As Oprah said, we go to the movies to escape, but complacency and ignorance don’t solve anything, they only make things worse. Only when we are willing to look at what the greed, the lies and deceptions have cost us will we hold corporate executives and politicians accountable for their egregious actions. I applaud Charles Ferguson and all the other documentary film makers who turn out such important work that tries to wake us up from our deep, self-destructive sleep.

7. NATALIE PORTMAN – Winner – Best Actress – Black Swan

Jeff Bridges introduced the five nominees for Best Actress who all gave amazing performances: Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right; Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole; Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine; Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone; and Natalie Portman for Black Swan.

But it was 30 year-old Natalie Portman who deservedly won. To prepare for her role as a veteran ballerina, she endured five to eight hours of dance training each day for six months and lost 20 pounds. Natalie is inspiring.

LIFE LESSON: Are you willing to put in the time, the effort, the sweat, and the pain that it takes to achieve your goals? If you’re not, don’t knock those who do.

8. JENNIFER HUDSON – Presenter – Best Original Song

Life has been full of extreme highs and lows for Jennifer Hudson, who looked gorgeous in a tangerine Versace gown with a three-foot train. Jennifer has come a long way from the girl who was voted off American Idol. No one, not even Jennifer, could have predicted she’d go on to win an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for best supporting role in Dream Girls, as well as a Grammy.

For all the good that she’s received, Jennifer has also experienced tremendous loss. In October 2008 her mother, brother, and nephew were tragically murdered by her sister’s husband. But the sun was shinning once again in August 2009 when Jennifer gave birth to a baby boy. Since Idol, Jennifer has lost 80 pounds and is a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. Soon to be married, Jennifer will make a beautiful bride. It’s been amazing to what her evolve.

LIFE LESSON: Don’t envy anyone. You never know what challenges they will face. Walk your own path. Focus on making your life the best it can be. Jennifer Hudson shows us that it can be done. With hard work and perseverance you can achieve anything you set your mind on.  Don’t let setbacks, hardship or tragedy deter you from your dream.

9. CELINE DION – Performed “Smile” during the Memoriam Tribute

While Celine sang “Smile,” I peered into the eyes and faces of composers, agents, actors, writers, cinematographers, directors, editors, publicists, producers, animators, art directors, costume designers, and visual affects designers who passed away this last year.

LIFE LESSON: I’m always deeply touched during the Memoriam Tribute. Each one of those peoples’ lives touched many others, each person left behind an indelible mark. I think about the day that I pass away. Who will remember me and for what? Make your life count. Touch the hearts of those around you, perform random acts of kindness, give of yourself in some way every day. Small gestures can change the world.

10. GWYNETH PALTROW – Performer – Nominated song – Country Strong

Talk about stretching beyond your comfort zone. Imagine the courage and self-confidence it took for Gwyneth Paltrow, an accomplished actress married to musician, Chris Martin of Coldplay, to take on the role of a country singer in the movie Country Strong.

LIFE LESSON: No one wants to look like a fool. I’m sure Gwyneth Paltrow was worried that people might ridicule her for thinking she was a singer. But Gwyneth was willing to take the risk. What are you willing to risk? I’ve done some daring things and I continue to challenge myself. Despite tremendous fear I went sky diving. I’ve climbed to the summit of a mountaintop nearly 12,000 feet high, sang karaoke badly in a bar, forced myself to try scuba diving, and walked on fire – and I’m not the adventurous type! Stop limiting yourself. What have you always wanted to try? Do it! Let Gwyneth Paltrow singing “Country Strong” inspire you.

11. HALLE BERRY – Narrates tribute to Lena Horne

I loved what Halle said about Lena Horne, an elegant lady who I had the pleasure of meeting years ago when she performed at Caesars Palace. Halle said, “Lena Horne blazed a trail for all of us who have followed. In 1943 she became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major studio like MGM. But that was a very different time in Hollywood and trail blazers rarely walk an easy path. Lena paid the price for leading the way, both professionally and personally. Yet with guts, grace, and beauty Lena Horne survived all the Stormy Weather that came her way. She forever paved the way for many of us to walk in the sun today. We love you and will never forget you.”

LIFE LESSON: Blaze a trail, go against the grain. Be a Rosa Parks or a Lena Horne. Speak up in defense of what is right. Equality is a God-given right. Speak up if you see someone being discriminated against or bullied. Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, speak for those who are afraid to speak.

12. SANDRA BULLOCK – Presenter – Best Actor

If ever there was a case of life imitating art it would have to be Sandra Bullock who won the Academy Award for Blindsided in 2010. From the high of winning to the lowest of lows a few days later when she was blindsided by the news that her husband Jesse James had cheated on her with multiple women.  Sandra went into seclusion to deal with what happened away from prying eyes. Following along the lines of the movie, when Sandra emerged from hiding she had her newly adopted son, a beautiful African-American baby boy she named Louis.

For the past year Sandra has taken on the role of stay-at-home mom. It was so good to see her back on stage presenting the award for Best Actor in her tongue-and-cheek style humor that I find so appealing.

Here is a video from last year’s Academy Awards. It shows the five nominees for Best Actress. Sandra Bullock is sitting next to Jesse James, unaware of the storm that is coming. After her name is called and she gets up on stage, she thanks everyone. Toward the end, she thanks her mother who is no longer living for helping her become the woman she is today.

LIFE LESSON: Sandra may be an A-list movie star, but she knows the same pain and heartbreak that any women feels who has been cheated on. While she enjoys fame and fortune, she’s also had to endure public humiliation at the hands of the paparazzi and the tabloid rags. Through it all Sandra handled herself with dignity and grace as she built a new life for herself and her son. Learn from Sandra Bullock. Reclaim your power. Don’t give it away to anyone.

13. COLIN FIRTH – Winner – Best Actor – The King’s Speech

To everything there is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn) and a time to every purpose under Heaven.

Last year Colin Firth was nominated for an Academy Award for A Single Man and he lost to Jeff Bridges who won for Crazy Heart. This year Jeff Bridges, who was nominated for True Grit, lost to Colin Firth who won for his brilliant performance as the stuttering King George VI in The King’s Speech.

Here is a great interview Katie Couric did with Colin Firth where he talks about King George VI. I think it’s fascinating learning about people and moments in history.

LIFE LESSON: When Colin Firth lost the Oscar in 2010 to Jeff Bridges, he had no idea that he would win the following year. Just as nature has an ebb and flow, so too opportunities things come and go, and it’s important to trust that things have a way of working out for the best. Sometimes we want something so badly we can taste it; and when it doesn’t happen, we feel rejected and dejected. When things seem bleak and impossible, that’s the time when it’s more important than ever to keep working toward the goal doing everything possible to achieve the dream. Maybe we weren’t ready before; maybe we needed more experience. Maybe it wasn’t the right job or the best girl or guy for us. Sometimes the loss of something we really wanted brings something better in its steed.


Ten movies were nominated for Best Picture. The psychological thriller Black Swan; the boxing drama The Fighter;  the Science Fiction action-packed, Inception; the comedy-drama, The Kids Are All Right; the adventure-drama based on a true story, 127 Hours; the historical drama The King’s Speech; the Cohen Brother western remake True Grit; the animation Toy Story 3; the drama Winter’s Bone; and the biography-drama Social Network.

In the end the winner was The King’s Speech, a movie without violence and without sex that tugs at the human heartstrings. For those who haven’t seen the movie it’s about the man who reluctantly become England’s King George VI (father of the present day Queen Elizabeth II) after his brother abdicated to be with the twice-divorced woman he loves, Wallis Simpson.

Suffering from a stammer from the age of 4 or 5, young Prince Albert, as he was named at birth, dreaded public speaking. History shows that his speech at the closing of the 1925 Commonwealth exhibition in London was difficult for both him and everyone listening that day. Over the years he tried many different therapies, but it was only after his wife introduces him to Lionel Logue, an unlicensed speech therapist, that he begins to overcome his impediment. Through a variety of techniques and hard work, he learns to speak in such a way that minimizes his problem so that at the end of the movie he is able to deliver a faultless speech over the radio heard around the world just as England declares war on Nazi Germany in 1939.

The King’s Speech is an inspiring movie.

LIFE LESSON: All of the movies nominated both in the past and present are winners. There are no losers. So too we are all winners. There are no losers, only a loser mentality. Don’t buy into negative self-talk that has you doubting your worth. We’ve all seen movies about the underdog who wins against all odds. Those are the people we root for and cheer on. Well it doesn’t just happen in the movies, up on the big screen, it holds true in real life.

15. Public School 22 Chorus

It was a special moment for the choir of fifth graders from Staten Island who were invited to close the Academy Awards with the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Though I think the kids should have appeared earlier in the show rather than at the end, it was sweet to see how excited they were. It sent a positive message to other children that wonderful, unexpected things do happen.

Unfortunately the next day lots of folks were shocked by the mean-spirited comments made by Andy Cohen, director of programing development for Bravo when he said “It was just awful. A public school chorus singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow?” Literally, if I wasn’t going to go out to some parties, I would have slit them right then. It was the worst. I was looking for a knife to stick in my eyes. It was so terrible.”

Andy did apologize afterward, but his initial response was so completely the opposite from the one the kids received from Oprah who invited the choir to come and perform on her show along with special guest Katy Perry.

LIFE LESSON: With so much turmoil and war going on in the world do we really have to pick on young children who are enjoying a shining moment? We all have a choice about who we are and how we show up in life. We can chose to be jaded, arrogant, egotistical, critical people or we can choose to be compassionate, loving, accepting, supportive people.

Well that’s my take on the 2011 Oscars. If you’ve stuck around to read this rather long post, you’re probably a sensitive soul like me.

I’d love to hear your comments. Remember there are lessons to be learned all around us, even at the Academy Awards.

Did You Know?

Many of my interviews, including Up Close and Personal and feature articles, can be found on the Interviews page.

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  1. Stacey Byham says

    Love the life lessons…and the clip of Colin Firth/Katie Couric. Brilliant! It’s inspiring to read your words, and I’ll take some away with me, too.

  2. Stacey Byham says

    I’d also like to see that Andy Cohen guy try and teach a roomful of kids to sing as beautifully. I guarantee you, his job at Bravo doesn’t take as much energy…and clearly not very much grace.