Monday, January 21, 2008

When the lights go down in the California town

I noticed on my Bombast web page this morning that singer-songwriter John Stewart has passed on at the age of 68. Stewart was a favorite of mine, having recorded one of the best pop singles of the 1970s (Gold, which he sang with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks) and written countless others, notably Daydream Believer—a mega-hit for the Monkees and later Anne Murray. (He also wrote a #1 for Roseanne Cash, Runaway Train.) Stewart’s style—kind of a country-rock with some folk mixed in (he was a member of the musical group The Kingston Trio)—was a welcome tonic to the noxious musical period dominated by disco, and he most certainly will be missed.

I was also saddened to learn of the deaths of two television icons, the first being Allan Melvin—whose passing at age 84 generated a billion television and internet headlines that read: "‘Brady Bunch’ Actor Dies.” Yes, Melvin did play Sam Franklin, the butcher boyfriend of Brady housekeeper Alice, but this consummate character actor left such an amazing television legacy that many folks will fondly remember him for a variety of roles: Cpl. Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show, Sgt. Charley Hacker on Gomer Pyle, USMC, and the luckless Barney Hefner on both All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. He will also be remembered for his contributions to animation, as the voice of not only Drooper of The Banana Splits and Bristle Hound (in the It’s the Wolf! segments) on The Cattanooga Cats but Hanna-Barbera superstar Magilla Gorilla. (He also voiced Punkin’ Puss on that show’s supporting segment, Mushmouse and Punkin’ Puss.) R.I.P., Allan—yours is a loss that will be felt by all.

In closing, I must also pay tribute to one of my favorite actresses, Suzanne Pleshette, who completes the “bad things happen in threes” trilogy by going to her rich reward at the age of 70, just days before she was to be celebrated with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Her TV-icon status was established between 1972 and 1978 as Emily Hartley, the schoolteacher wife of psychiatrist Bob Hartley in a sitcom that’s become the yardstick by which classic TV comedies are measured, The Bob Newhart Show. She would later figure in large part in the series’ finale of Newhart’s other comedy classic, Newhart, and even though everyone in the universe should know how that plays out I won’t be a spoiler and give away the ending. (I innocently made a comment one time about the ending of Citizen Kane on an e-mail list and got reamed by someone with a stick up his ass because I revealed this apparently confidential information, even though—again—it’s a good bet that people who haven’t seen the movie knows "Rosebud" is his goddamned sled. Uh...sorry about that.) Pleshette also appeared in a self-starring sitcom, Suzanne Pleshette is Maggie Briggs, and made regular appearances in shows like 8 Simple Rules and Good Morning, Miami. It would, of course, be unfair not to mention that she also did some first-rate work in movies; she’s best known as the ill-fated schoolteacher in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) but she also made an impact in films like Rome Adventure (1962), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), The Power (1968) and my personal favorite, Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971).

The obit for Pleshette says that she passed on due to respiratory failure, and while I mean no disrespect I can’t say that surprised me all that much. She always had a pretty throaty voice but it was obvious that by the time she did Miami years and years of cigarettes had transformed her pipes into a Lucille Ball baritone. Nevertheless, it’s heartbreaking to see the icons of your youth depart, and all I can say is that I will miss her presence tremendously.

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