The 86th Academy Awards were presented on March 2, and if you were among the estimated 43.7 million people watching the event on television you heard Jared Leto give an emotional speech accepting his best supporting actor Oscar and listened to John Travolta mangle the name of singer Idina Menzel.
You also witnessed "In Memoriam," that annual tribute to movie industry folks who had died during the preceding year. In introducing the segment, actress Glenn Close said of the departed, "Because of the great gift of film, they will live forever."
The photo series, backed by the strains of the "Somewhere in Time" theme song, began with James Gandolfini and ended Philip Seymour Hoffman, fine actors both. In between were 45 others, such people as makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, set decorator Stephenie McMillian, animator Frederic Back and producer A.C. Lyles.
I am sure they were fine and talented people. But where the hell was Dennis Farina?
There were a few other glaring omissions — Jonathan Winters — and there were some outraged that Cory Monteith of "Glee" renown was also absent. They and Farina and many others made their way into an extended online photo gallery (oscar.go.com/photos/2014-oscars-in-memoriam), but, c'mon, Farina wasn't good enough to make the final cut?
The Chicago-born and -bred actor died of a pulmonary embolism on July 22 at a hospital near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 69, and in his obituary in the Tribune I wrote that "(he) had the sort of Chicago neighborhood face you'd find behind the tap at a corner tavern, standing at first base on a softball diamond or lugging your new icebox up the stairs."
But the former police officer started acting in Chicago theaters and went on to star in dozens of movies and television shows.
But this story isn't about local chauvinism/insecurity (we did get to see, sadly, the faces of those late local giants, Roger Ebert and Harold Ramis, during the televised "In Memoriam" segment).
This story isn't sour grapes. It is about one of Farina's last movies and the man who wrote it.
The movie is "Authors Anonymous," about a group of unpublished writers who gather regularly to hear each others' works and bolster one another's egos. But when one of the newest members hits it big, the others react with a variety of emotions, none of them pretty. Farina plays John K. Butzin, a rough-edged military vet with ambitions of best-sellerdom for his book "Roaring Lion." (In 2013 Farina filmed a small part in the yet-to-be released "Lucky Stiff").
The man who wrote "Authors Anonymous" is Dave Congalton.
He lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., a city of some 45,000 people midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Born in New Jersey, Congalton grew up in Des Plaines, graduating from Maine West High School before heading off to DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. He then taught college journalism and media courses before taking a dangerous leap.
"I came out to LA in 1987 determined to become a screenwriter," he says. "I wrote six or seven screenplays, but, frankly, they weren't very good. I got nowhere."
He gave up that racket, and he and his wife settled into San Luis Obispo, where he became a newspaper columnist, radio show host and, for a dozen years, director of a writers conference.
In 2005, he wrote another script.
"I wanted to give it one last try, and it was a script that interested a lot of people," Congalton says. "We chased money, financing, all over the world."
Farina signed up, and filming was set to start in Iowa in 2009. But the deal fell through.
"It's hard, very hard, to get a movie made, and, yes, I was really disappointed," says Congalton, who lists among his favorites films such Farina acting turns as "Midnight Run," "Get Shorty" and "Snatch." "I had never met Dennis, but he really like the script and told me to let him know if we were ever able to get up and going."
In 2012, all the pieces (and the money) came together. The cast, which included Farina, Kaley Cuoco, Teri Polo, Chris Klein and Dylan Walsh, gathered with director Ellie Kanner, and filming took place over three weeks in such California locations as Burbank and Canoga Park. It was August, and temperatures often hovered around an almost insufferable 115 degrees.
Farina arrived five days after filming began, wearing the bush vest that was part of his costume and, Congalton says, "all ready to go, thinner and more gray than I remembered."
In a story he wrote last year for CalCoastNews.com in the wake of Farina's death, Congalton recalled, "Dennis knocked off scene after scene without complaint. … (His character) has a bittersweet monologue near the end of the film, and Dennis nailed it word for word effortlessly, making the character his own. … The crew broke out in well-deserved applause for Dennis as we wrapped for the day."
On the final day of shooting, as Champagne flowed and actors and crew exchanged the proverbial "let's keep in touch" hopes, Congalton said to Farina, "You should write your memoir."
"Nah," said Farina. "I'm just a character actor."
That self-effacing remark, so true to form, echoed something Farina told me long ago: "Sometimes I do pinch myself about the life I've had."
The film opens Friday. Unfortunately, and, frankly, idiotically, it is not opening in Chicago but in Tampa, Dallas, Phoenix, Minneapolis and a few other cities.
"I don't know why it isn't opening in Chicago," Congalton says. "I would have thought that there would be a lot of fans there. But that's Hollywood, I guess."
You can view the film's trailer online. It is available at such sites as YouTube, iTunes and Amazon.
Congalton calls the film "a validation of the dream I had" and tells me that he has recently signed a deal for his new screenplay.
He adds: "Every time I think of Dennis, I tear up. He was the nicest guy and a joy to work with. He never got to see his final performance. I think he would have been pleased."
"After Hours with Rick Kogan" airs 9-11 p.m. Sundays on WGN-AM 720.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun