I guess the Grim Reaper has issued a decree that Death, Inc. employees must work mandatory overtime, because he’s arranged for a couple of individuals from the show business world to join him in the Great Beyond as of this posting. I just read at Salon.com about the passing of Mary Travers, one-third of the successful folk-music trio Peter, Paul and Mary, who’s finally succumbed at the age of 72 to the leukemia that was her bete noire for many years.
During the 1960s, Travers—with companions Peter Yarrow and Noel “Paul” Stookey—was responsible for a catalog of folk tunes that consistently charted in the Pop Music Top 10, among them If I Had a Hammer, Puff the Magic Dragon, Blowin’ in the Wind, Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right) and I Dig Rock and Roll Music. They were among the first performers to achieve success with songs written by Bob Dylan (Blowin’, Don’t Think Twice) and many of their hits were characterized by their on- and offstage liberal politics…particularly Hammer, which was adopted as an anthem for racial harmony. Their only #1 hit came in 1969 with Leaving On a Jet Plane, a tune written by a former member of another popular folk music group, The Chad Mitchell Trio—who would later carve out a successful career in the music world in the 1970s…John Denver.
Peter, Paul and Mary officially disbanded in 1970, but reunited on many occasions for benefit concerts—all of which seemed to run on PBS at about the time local public television stations needed to hit viewers up for money. I remember some time back moseying out to the living room one night to find my father watching one of these concerts and asking him in a somewhat sardonic manner: “You’re actually watching this?” This is when I learned that he was a huge fan of not only Peter, Paul and Mary but the other folk music performers of that era who had something to say not only through their public political stances but their music as well. Truth be told, I was tremendously proud of my father when I became aware of this, because I had always had him pegged as a conservative old fuddy-duddy.
Audiences who flocked to Peter, Paul and Mary concerts in the late 1960s might also have been aware of another famous “hippie” who appeared on television screens each week, reciting poetry while holding a large flower. The program was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and the comic actor cast in this role was Henry Gibson, who has left behind an incredible legacy of both comedic and dramatic roles since he died this past Monday at the age of 73.
Laugh-In may have been Gibson’s best known tube showcase, but he also appeared regularly on series like The Joey Bishop Show, F Troop (as Cavalry jinx Wrongo Starr), Sabrina the Teenage Witch, King of the Hill (as the voice of sardonic reporter Bob Jenkins) and Boston Legal. In addition to that part of his resume, he guest starred on a glut of television classics: The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Love, American Style and Newhart, just to name a few of the many.
A facet that I always admired in Henry’s performances was that he was living proof of the cliché “There are no small parts, only small actors” (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun). Gibson’s presence in any movie left an impression on you hours after you viewed it, and he’ll be treasured for roles in films like The Nutty Professor (1963), The Outlaws Is Coming (1965, as the “hip” Indian), The Long Goodbye (1973), Nashville (1975, his finest moment on the silver screen), The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), The Blues Brothers (1980, my personal favorite), The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), Monster in the Closet (1986), The 'burbs (1989) and Wedding Crashers (2005).
A few of my blogging colleagues who got wind of Gibson’s demise have assembled their own thoughts and tributes as well—so I consider it a privilege to link to posts by Mark Evanier, Hal at The Horn Section and Ed Copeland.
R.I.P, Henry and Mary—you’ll both be sorely missed.