Story By: G. H. Harding

Larry Kramer

Ryan Murphy
 A NORMAL HEART --- Ever watch something that just exceeds your expectations on every level? HBO’s A Normal Heart, which premiered this past weekend, was such an exceptional production, that I will go on record right now as saying it’s the best thing I've seen this year. Larry Kramer’s poignant, pounding, play, which first premiered in 1985, created a furor of its own since it denounced everyone from then-NYC Mayor Ed Koch to President Reagan who steadfastly never mentioned the word AIDS. As People magazine said in a great review, “The Normal Heart isn't a period piece or a cautionary tale; it’s a bulletin from the front lines, a heart-stopping report about the terrifying progress of AIDS as it sweeps through and decimates Manhattan’s gay population.”

The pacing from director Ryan Murphy is just superb. Though the play was presented at various times, there’s no question that the fly in the ointment was Kramer himself; volatile, distant, angry … two previous movie incarnations failed because common ground could not be found. Knowing what we do now, it’s hard to fathom that so many people looked the other way. And so many facets of government, from major cities to the White House- were years late in acknowledging the spread of the disease, worsening its impact.

The scene in which Kramer (as Ned Weeks) is confronted by a White House official is just chilling. The aide just wants to know whether you could contract the disease from a hooker … that’s it. The reading between the lines is positively stirring.

As good as the words are (they are, after all based on fact) the performance by Mark Ruffalo is positively stunning. I don't recall him as good as this before. He’s in almost very scene and his performance never falters; certainly the best performance in anything I've yet seen this year. Matt Bomer (as Ned’s afflicted lover, Felix) is a revelation. Also here; Jim Parsons (outstanding); Alfred Molina; BD Wong; Joe Mantello; Denis O’Hare; and a wondrous Julia Roberts, all deliver superior work.

I well remember this time in New York and they were dark days indeed.

A thoroughly compelling presentation; outstanding!

MAD MEN’S WATERLOO --- Mad Men’s season finale Sunday was pretty much par for the course this season; it started slowly, then picked up steam and then ended with a bang.

The one buzz word that kept coming up was vision: be it the marvelous Neil Armstrong moonwalk and landing that captivated everyone; or, Peggy Olsen finally nailing a pitch perfect pitch for herself; or, John Slattery’s Roger Sterling making a deal with the devil to retain control of his company (and, saving Don Draper’s job) and forcing out Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), or, the brilliant song-and-dance exit of Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), singing “The Best Things In Life Are free” that had Don Draper seeing the whole scene in a dreamlike sequence.

It was quite a show and almost-too-neatly tied everything up for a finale run of shows in 2015.

Creator Matt Weiner directed it and really laid it on the line. It was a brilliant episode from start to finish. Several pundits have said that they're overburdened on this show and ready for it to leave. Me? I'd sure love to have another season. Jon Hamm is nothing short of brilliant as Draper and John Slattery, especially in this episode, nailed it perfectly. But, Robert Morse tonight, was the savior. Pitch perfect indeed.

CNN’s SIXTIES --- The Sixties series (on CNN), which previewed its The British Invasion segment in February, begins a full run May 29 with Television Comes of Age. The British Invasion program will be repeated July 10, and the entire series will be seen in a marathon showing July 3.

The British Invasion features the Beatles, of course, but a lot of other music, too. Those interviewed for the show include Michelle Phillips, Micky Dolenz, Dave Clark, Smokey Robinson and Graham Nash. One of the nice things of the show is that the vintage footage is not all the usual stuff. And The British Invasion isn't the only part in the 10-hour series that discusses music. Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll, which premieres August 7, looks at the cultural changes brought about by 60’s music.

The series takes on all sorts of cultural topics of the decade: television, politics, world events, the assassination of President Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, civil rights, the space race, gay rights and the feminist movement. One hour is devoted to the events of the year 1968.

In connection with the series, a special A Look Into the Sixties exhibit opened today at Vanderbilt Hall in New York's Grand Central Terminal. The exhibit includes a Beatles butcher cover album and other 60’s artifacts.

An opening event at Vanderbilt Hall is on for tonight. Details on Friday.

KERNER PASSES --- I was saddened to learn that producer, writer, and my friend, Kenny Kerner passed away Monday in L. A. Amazingly, Kerner was a friend of my fathers who I met along the way, befriended, and then became a close confidant.

Kerner was involved with the seminal metal-band Dust, which went onto too much industry acclaim. He also produced the song “Midnight Train To Georgia” for Gladys Knight And The Pips and “Brother Louie” for the band Stories. He was also involved with Kiss (producing their first two albums), and was a writer for a number of West Coast-music magazines.

Kiss posted this on their web site this morning: "We are shocked to hear of Kenny Kerner's passing. He was an early supporter of the band and co-produced our first two albums. He additionally did some terrific work that produced numerous hits including 'Midnight Train To Georgia' for Gladys Knight And The Pips and 'Brother Louie' for Stories. He remained a friend till the end and we will never forget his contributions to our early years."

He was terrifically knowledgeable, fun and a great hang. He will be missed.

CLOSING NOTES – Jersey Boy’s Donnie Kehr at Hedwig And The Angry Inch and hanging backstage with stars Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall. Jersey Boys, the movie directed by Clint Eastwood opens June 20 …

Speaking of Mad Men; wasn't Harry Hamlin just excellent this series of shows as Jim Cutler. A veteran in every sense of the word, he brought a much needed shot in the arm to the show. Bravo Harry! …

NBC's Hannibal ended their second season with just a stunning episode. Ratings were up; the show's been renewed ... it should be a revelatory third season. All I will say is that has now been revealed as the killer ...

PR-Pasha David Salidor in East Hampton this past weekend, about to pull into a parking spot, was caught off guard by a Mercedes SUV doing the same thing. In the driver's seat? Alec Baldwin ...

From journalist Anne Raso: On this day 50 years ago, Marianne Faithful recorded the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards song “As Tears Go By,”accompanied by future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass.