Thursday, January 1, 2009

R.I.P. Donald E. Westlake and Bernie Hamilton

In recent comments, both Scott C. and Erica have pointed out that judging from the number of good people going to their greater reward of late, it would appear Death has no plans at present to take a holiday. The Grim Reaper’s even working overtime on New Year’s with the news of mystery novelist/screenwriter Donald E. Westlake’s passing at the age of 75.

Since I’ll plead guilty to the charge of not reading as much as I should, I’ll confess my only familiarity with Westlake’s prolific output lies in the screenplays he wrote and the films based on his books. Among his works in the movies: Cops and Robbers (1973; Westlake wrote the screenplay based on his novel), Slayground (1983, screenplay written under his nom de plume, Richard Stark), The Stepfather (1987), Why Me? (1990) and The Grifters (1990)—which earned him an Oscar nom for his adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel. In addition, classic (and not so classic) movies were adapted from his novels: The Busy Body (1967), Point Blank (1967), The Hot Rock (1972), The Outfit (1973) and Bank Shot (1974), to name a few of the better-known.

Vince Keenan, Bill Crider and Craig Zablo have all jotted down personal reminisces about Westlake and his work—I encourage you to give them a read.

Bernie Hamilton, a talented character actor whose film roles include appearances in Carmen Jones (1954) and The Organization (1971), has also passed on at the age of 80.

Hamilton started out in films in 1950, with bit parts in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and The Harlem Globetrotters (1951)—he’s even a member of the cast in the 1951 cliffhanger serial Mysterious Island (1951). His work became even more prolific by the 1960s, with roles in noteworthy films like Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960), Underworld, USA (1961), One Potato, Two Potato (1964), Synanon (1965) and The Swimmer (1968). He was also a familiar TV face, doing guest parts on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ben Casey and The Twilight Zone—among many, many others.

But Hamilton will probably be best remembered for his four-year stint on the 1970s crime drama Starsky and Hutch, on which he played Captain Harold Dobey—a no-nonsense, by-the-book cop who had constant reason to light into Detectives Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Ken Hutchinson (David Soul). And believe me…no one administered an ass-chewing like Dobey. (The character was later parodied in the short-lived sitcom Sledge Hammer! with Hamilton Page in the role of Captain Trunk.)

R.I.P., Messrs. Westlake and Hamilton. You will be missed.

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

I have to admit that I've never read a word of Westlake under any of his aliases, but I've seen many of those movies, and on the strength of those alone his passing has to be treated as a major loss for our popular culture.