March 11, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
What could be more fun than sunny Los Angeles days with visits to the Huntington Museum with camellias in full bloom, and hikes in Griffith Park? Getting to sit down and talk shop with some more Chicagoans who have made their way west to pursue their passion for the arts.
Thank you to Alice Mathias, David Stassen, Blair Kilcollin, and Charlie Andrews for letting me share my conversations with them last week. I hope you enjoy reading about Hayes MacArthur, Annika Iltis, and Chris Kuhn this week. Our Los Angeles Dispatches will conclude next week with four more talented transplants.
Starring in Angie Tribeca, Steve and Nancy Carell’s comedy on TBS, which follows in the tradition of madcap spoofs like Leslie Nielsen’s Naked Gun, Hayes MacArthur is having a great time and quickly becoming known as one of Hollywood’s funniest television actors.
Hayes took time out from filming with Angie Tribeca co-star Rashida Jones to talk about the show and and his family’s Hollywood history.
“I started as a guest star on the first season and continued to get parts each week. As we start season two, I am a regular. I have found that, in this business, most good stuff happens by accident, and I try to be in as many accidents as possible.
“I see the show as a way to treat the most ridiculous stuff on different levels. Steve and Nancy Carell are always tweaking things, frequently directing. The show is really about an hysterical collection of weirdos.”
What most of his fans watching this hilarious satire of police procedurals don’t realize, however, is that this comic actor has far-reaching roots in Tinseltown. His first name was his parents’ tribute to his great aunt Helen Hayes, known by many as the “First Lady of the American Theater.” The son of celebrated cabaret singer Shelley MacArthur Farley (pictured above) and Bruce McArthur, Hayes is proud of his entertainment legacy.
Although Hayes admits that not too many people ask him about his famous aunt, Helen Hayes was one of only 12 people to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award in her 80-year career. Her romance and marriage to Charles MacArthur, Chicago Tribune and Daily News reporter and co-author with Ben Hecht of Twentieth Century and The Front Page, was legendary.
“My father was very close to my great aunt Helen and we visited her at her house in Nyack. I saw her shortly before she died in 1993. She was a very vibrant yet humble lady. She didn’t know that I was considering a film career, but I did talk about it with her son James MacArthur, who was in a stage play in Chicago. I recently saw a retrospective of Aunt Helen’s films and she is magnificent in The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won the first of her two Oscars. It was made in 1931, but dealt with a woman having an illegitimate son, something that would have been very controversial at that time.”
A graduate of Deerfield Academy and Bowdoin College, Hayes moved out to Los Angeles after college. He has appeared in several films and TV shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Mad TV, and several others on Comedy Central.
“I did some standup comedy in New York, but I love LA. It is fun to see producer David Stassen – we went to kindergarten together at the Latin School. Chicago is still the home in my heart and having city roots makes LA a great place to live.”
Another factor contributing to his love of Los Angeles? That is where he met his beautiful wife, actress Ali Larter, now filming the latest in the wildly popular Resident Evil science fiction film series, due out next year. The couple, married in 2009, balance their busy careers with their two children, son Theodore, and daughter Vivienne.
Camerawoman and Old Town native, Annika Iltis, worked on the set of Mad Men from its first day of filming throughout its five seasons.
“We had no idea of the success it would have, we just knew that it was a great show. My business partner Tim Kane and I were the first and second camera assistants. Our jobs dealt with the technical aspects of the show and working with the crew on set ups.”
Today Annika and Tim are traveling to film festivals across the country showing The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young, which they co-wrote, filmed, edited, and produced.
“Our documentary is about a 130-mile race that is at the edge of human possibility, where at times your body might be up to it, but your mind is not. Done without trail markers, maps, compasses, or first aid stations along the way, the race course is through the mountains of Tennessee, northwest of Knoxville, where the elevation can vary by 120,000 feet. Runners have a 60-hour time limit to get around the looped course five times. In the 25 years that the race has been run, only 10 people have ever finished.”
Annika won’t reveal the film’s ending but says that they captured a record-breaking year. The Barkley Marathons won awards at the Austin and Kansas City film festivals, and was a sold-out success at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago last month.
“One of the most fun parts of that Chicago visit was speaking informally with students at the Latin School, my alma mater, about the film business. It was part of a series called ‘life after Latin’ and I got to thank my former teacher Betty Lark Ross, who encouraged my love of photography.”
Annika moved to Los Angeles after graduation from Bates College in 2001.
“Mad Men was very structured, well-rehearsed, and everyone stood on their marks when we shot the show. All aspects were very defined. The Barkley Marathons is the exact opposite. Tim Kane and I filmed, edited, chose the music, and did absolutely everything. We learned so much! It was definitely a stretch and a challenge. It took us three years. Making the documentary was our own personal Barkley Marathon.”
The Barkley Marathons was released digitally on December 8th and is selling briskly on Amazon, iTunes, and in other markets.
After the marathon that was making The Barkley Marathon, Annika returned to a filming last fall on Fox’s New Girl, with Zooey Deschanel and Megan Fox, and hopes to keep documentary filmmaking as a creative destination in her future.
As a toddler, Chris Kuhn could work any jigsaw puzzle set before him. As a Los Angeles artist who shows yearly in London, Chris discovers puzzle patterns in his vividly colored works.
“It’s like putting pieces into a cohesive image and, like a puzzle, you can’t fit something into a wrong spot. People sometimes say that my colors are so LA, so 1980s. I tell them paints come in colors.”
Large canvases filled with abstract designs fill his studio in a converted masonic building in the West Adams neighborhood. Mansions from the 1920s, now being gentrified, are on either side of his Arlington Avenue workspace. He lives near what is called the Miracle Mile on Wiltshire Boulevard.
“The architecture there is called both Streamline Moderne in addition to Art Deco, because it was the first area where buildings were designed to be seen from a car window, not by pedestrians. They are bold and big, without a lot of detail. The May Company and other shops were founded there as people moved out from downtown.”
Chris majored in art history at the American School in Paris prior to studio art studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
“I have a traditional view of painting and am not trying to break boundaries or rules. I am trying to make things current using the same tools as the past. I like to balance the spontaneous and chaotic elements of stains, spills, and drips which are slightly out of control with formulas I employ. Sometimes I will put the canvases on the floor and smoosh around acrylics, other times I work applying paint thickly with a palette knife. I often use a brush no bigger than the nail on my pinkie finger and the process can take 40 to 50 hours in all.”
The results have caught the attention of collectors both local and international, as well as a yearly London show at the Ronchini Gallery in Mayfair.
In addition to the quickest jigsaw puzzle solver around, Chris was known as an artist from his early days at the Latin School. When he moved from his Crilly Court home in Old Town to Nashville, with sister Katherine and their parents Jeanne and Paul Kuhn, he continued to develop his talents while in high school there. Chris gives much credit to his family for continuous encouragement of his painting.
Chicago will never forget his mother, Jeanne Kuhn, and her leadership at the Latin School of Chicago, United Way, the Old Town Art Fair, and many other organizations. When Jeanne was very ill, before her untimely death in 1996, Chris painted many canvasses for her and they worked jigsaw puzzles together just as they had done when he was a little boy in Chicago.
Having known her and Paul dating back to our Vanderbilt days, it has been such a privilege and joy to watch Chris’ tremendous talent develop and have the chance see his extraordinary paintings, which I know Jeanne would have been enchanted with.