Sunday, October 10, 2010

Death be not proud

As of this posting, Turner Classic Movies is running a 24-hour cinematic tribute to Tony Curtis, the veteran film star who passed away on September 29 at the age of 85.  Practically every classic movie blogger and his/her brother/sister made notice of “Bernie Schwartz’s” demise, but the only reason why I didn’t get something up is because I was knee-deep in several outside projects and couldn’t find the time to sit down and write something fitting for one of the last veterans of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

My father made a pilgrimage over to Rancho Yesteryear at about the same time the news came out and he asked me if I had heard about Tony Curtis’ death, to which I responded in the affirmative.  This prompted him to give out with “Yondah lies the castle of my faddah,” a mythical line attributed to Curtis that he supposedly said in the film The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)…which in fact, he does not.  And I reminded Dad of this, but he swears that Curtis did because he saw the movie when it came out—I have a feeling that if I took the time to show him the film he’d still stick to his story.  (“When the legend becomes fact…”)

I can’t say I was a huge fan of Tony Curtis even though several of the films that he appeared in are among my favorites: The Lady Gambles (1949), Criss Cross (1949), Winchester ’73 (1950), Operation Petticoat (1959), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Boston Strangler (1968) and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970), to name a few.  If I had to pick a favorite Curtis film it would be probably be Sweet Smell of Success (1957), though The Defiant Ones (1958) and Some Like It Hot (1959) would make it a tight three-way race.  One of the problems with Curtis is that in the 1960s he had a reputation for making—according to Leonard Maltin’s blurb for Don’t Make Waves (1967) in his Movie Guide—“nine million bad comedy vehicles.”  (For the record, I agree with Maltin—Waves isn’t one of them.)

I think my first exposure to Tony Curtis was in the 1971-72 TV series The Persuaders!, in which he co-starred with former Simon Templar/future James Bond Roger Moore.  When I think about it, I probably saw more of Curtis in television than I did in movies at the time—he starred in a series called McCoy that appeared on the NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie for a season in 1975 (my mom watched it) and he was a semi-regular on ABC’s Vega$ (1978-81) as casino owner Philip Roth who, when he wasn’t writing novels like Portnoy’s Complaint (yes, I am kidding about this) would ask the show’s star, Robert Urich (as detective Dan Tanna) to do a little investigative work.  (As I have stated previously, I did not watch the show religiously but when I did it was for the smokin’ hot Phyllis Davis and the always-a-class-act Greg “Barney Collier” Morris.)

The last time I attempted to do a “passings parade” of notable celebrities who have taken their final bows at life’s curtain, a handful of TDOY regulars helpfully pointed out (and rightfully so) that keeping up with the Grim Reaper’s itinerary is like carrying coals to Newcastle.  For example—I just noticed this morning that R&B/soul singing great Solomon Burke, whose hits included Just Out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms) and Got to Get You Off My Mind, died in Amsterdam at the age of 70—Burke also did a bit of acting, notably a nice turn (as Daddy Mention) in one of my favorite films, The Big Easy (1986).  So with that in mind, here’s a list of folks who had since left this world for a better one:

Andy Albeck – Albeck, a former president at United Artists who greenlighted Raging Bull (1980)…and Heaven’s Gate (1980), the colossal financial flop that ended up scuttling UA, died September 29 at the age of 89.  Albeck also had a brief bit as a studio executive (based on himself) in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980).

Marilyn Baker – Baker’s maiden name was Cantor—as in Eddie; she was one of the five daughters of the legendary entertainer whom he often joked about on his and everyone else’s radio program during that medium’s Golden Age (and she occasionally appeared alongside him on TV’s The Colgate Comedy Hour).  But she was also an actress-comedienne and writer-producer; in addition to becoming WNEW Radio’s first female disc jockey, she wrote the story that was adapted as the TV-movie Sidney Shorr: A Girl’s Best Friend (1981)—which later became the Tony Randall-Swoosie Kurtz sitcom Love, Sidney.  Ms. Baker passed on September 17th at the age of 89.

Roy Ward Baker – The legendary British film director passed away October 6th at the age of 93, and though many will remember him for highbrow fare like The October Man (1947) and A Night to Remember (1958) he’s held in particularly high regard around here for helming my all-time favorite Hammer Studios offering, Quatermass and the Pit (1967; aka Five Million Miles to Earth).  His other vehicles include TDOY faves Don’t Bother to Knock (1952—Marilyn Monroe as a psycho babysitter!), Scars of Dracula (1970) and Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), as well as episodes of such cult TV faves as The Avengers, The Saint, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Danger: UXB and Minder.  (He also directed four episodes of the previously mentioned Tony Curtis series The Persuaders!.)

Grace Bradley Boyd – Grace Bradley started out in films as a “bad girl” actress and appeared in such movies as Six of a Kind (1934), The Cat’s-Paw (1934), The Gilded Lily (1935), Anything Goes (1936), Wake Up and Live (1937) and The Big Broadcast of 1938.  But upon crossing paths with William Boyd—known to legions of Saturday matinee-goers as “Hopalong Cassidy”—she married him in a whirlwind courtship in 1937 and retired from the screen in 1943.  Upon Boyd’s passing in 1972, she devoted herself tirelessly to keeping the Cassidy brand alive, and working in a volunteer capacity at the hospital where her husband spent his final days.  She died at age 97 on September 21st.

Geoffrey Burgon -  A British film composer who worked on such TV series as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Brideshead Revisited and Doctor Who, Burgon also composed music for such films as Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), The Dogs of War (1980) and Turtle Diary (1985).  He also died on September 21, at the age of 69.

Jackie Burroughs – British-Canadian actress Burroughs passed away on September 22nd at the age of 71, leaving behind a wealth of television memories from her roles in such series as Avonlea (as Hetty King), More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City (both as Mona “Mother Mucca” Ramsey).  Her movie appearances include The Kidnapping of the President (1980), Heavy Metal (1981), The Grey Fox (1982), The Dead Zone (1983), A Guy Thing (2003) and Willard (2003).

Stephen J. Cannell – Even as a kid I knew who Stephen J. Cannell was—his name was usually on the best episodes of The Rockford Files, which I never missed watching with my father on Friday nights when normal individuals my age were at the football game.  Cannell transcended his career as a television scribe by becoming an independent TV producer, creating some of my favorites as Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, The Greatest American Hero, Riptide, Hardcastle and McCormick, Wiseguy and The Commish…and not some not-so favorites, like The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Renegade and Silk Stalkings.  Other programs from his production stable include Baa Baa Black Sheep/Black Sheep Squadron, Richie Brockelman, Private Eye, Stone, The Duke, Hunter, Stingray, J.J. Starbuck, Unsub and Cobra.  Thought he’s probably going to have to do a short stretch in Purgatory for making Johnny Depp a household name, his work on Rockford (and Baretta) might get him off with time served.  Cannell died on September 30th at the age of 69, and he will most assuredly be missed.

Gary Corry – The name is probably not familiar to anyone outside of the Peach State; Corry was a longtime broadcaster over Atlanta’s WQXI who wrote for the station’s popular morning jock Gary McKee.  In 1979, Corry created his famous alter-ego, “Red Neckerson,” a comedic commentator who soon became famous on over 300 stations (including Charleston, WV’s WQBE, where I used to hear him) and recorded several comedy albums.  He later became a regular on “Capt.” Herb Emory’s weekly NASCAR talk show on WSB in 1997, and both he and Emory were inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2008.  Corry passed away September 14th at the age of 74.

Eddie Fisher – Mark Evanier at newsfromme Twittered in tongue-in-cheek fashion that Fisher was one of those celebs who, when you learned of his passing, you thought had already died.  He’s not entirely incorrect—that was my mother’s reaction when she learned that Fisher had sang his last chorus of Oh, My Papa.  Fisher had a reputation for being a real schmuck in the business (yes, people still haven’t forgotten he dumped Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor...but his rep even goes further than that) but nevertheless scored a number of best-selling pop records like Anytime, Wish You Were Here, I’m Walking Behind You and I Need You Now.  On television, he hosted the popular quarter-hour program Coke Time with Eddie Fisher (1953-57) before graduating to an hour-long self-titled series that alternated with George Gobel’s show from 1957 to 1959.  His film appearances include Bundle of Joy (1956, with then-wife Debbie) and BUtterfield 8 (1960, with then-wife Liz).  The father of actresses Joely and Carrie Fisher, Eddie passed away on September 22nd at age 82.

Marshall Flaum – Documentary filmmaker Flaum won three Emmy Awards producing docs for Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall, and was twice nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Yanks are Coming (1963) and Let My People Go: The Story of Israel (1965).  He died October 1st at the age of 85.

Irving “Mickey” Freeman – As Mickey Freeman, this actor-comedian cemented his place in television history by playing Private Fielding Zimmerman on The Phil Silvers Show (aka Bilko or You’ll Never Get Rich).  He also guested on such series as The Lloyd Bridges Show, Naked City. Lancer and The Equalizer; according to this post at Kliph Nesteroff’s Classic Television Showbiz Freeman died around September 21st (several sources say the 28th, which can’t be right—there is also disagreement on his date of birth; with some saying February 12, 1917 and others arguing it was three years later.).

Arthur “Art” Gilmore – This veteran radio-television actor announcer worked on such classic Golden Age programs as Amos ‘n’ Andy, Dr. Christian and Stars Over Hollywood—and among his television appearances, Mary Tyler Moore and the Jack Webb programs Dragnet (both the 1952-59 and 1967-70 versions), Adam-12 and Emergency!  (He also served as Red Skelton’s announcer on the comedian’s comedy-variety series on both CBS and NBC, and worked with the aforementioned George Gobel.)  He narrated many a movie trailer and also commented on the weekly adventures of Chief Dan Matthews (Broderick Crawford) in the TV classic Highway Patrol.  But not one of the obituaries I’ve read has given Art credit for his narration (and sometimes participation) in those wonderful Warner Brothers Joe McDoakes comedies starring George O’ Hanlon.  Gilmore passed on September 25th at the age of 98.

Greg Giraldo – A one-time lawyer who quit the profession to become a stand-up comedian (one who specialized in celebrity roasts), Giraldo appeared on such TV shows as Comedy Central Presents, Late Show with David Letterman, Root of All Evil and Common Law.  Greg died from complications due to a drug overdose on September 29th at the age of 44.

Mark Gordon – I apologize for the facetiousness in this obit…but it would appear that Chuckles really has bit the dust.  Stage, film and television actor Gordon played WJM’s kiddie-show clown host in “Son of ‘But Seriously, Folks’”, an episode of Mary Tyler Moore; the character later met a bizarre fate in the classic “Chuckles Bites the Dust” installment (though Chuckles expired off-camera).  Gordon appeared in two films written by Woody Allen: Take the Money and Run and Don’t Drink the Water (both 1969), and his TV work includes The Edge of Night, The FBI, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O and Day by Day.  Gordon, who died August 12th at the age of 84, is the father of Keith, an actor-director whose films include The Chocolate War (1988) and A Midnight Clear (1992).

Pierre Guffroy – An Academy Award-winning art-set decorator and production designer for Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979), Guffroy’s other films include The Bride Wore Black (1968), Rider on the Rain (1970), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Phantom of Liberty (1974), The Tenant (1976), That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and Valmont (1989).  He passed away on September 27th at the age of 85.

Stuart Hample – Hample would get a mention here if the only thing he had done was edit the marvelous book All the Sincerity in Hollywood: Selections From the Writings of Fred Allen.  But he was also a television writer (Kate & Allie), actor (he played "Mr. Artist" in the early years of Captain Kangaroo), playwright (he wrote a play about Allen, All the Sincerity in Hollywood) and comic strip artist (he worked with Al Capp and created the strip Inside Woody Allen [1976-84])…and he got to meet Allen and Kenny Delmar, aka “Senator Claghorn” when he proposed an idea for a Claghorn strip and wound up working as a stand-in on Delmar’s It’s a Joke, Son! (1947).  Stu passed on September 19th at the age of 84.

Marjorie Henshaw (aka Anabel Shaw) – Actress Henshaw appeared in such cinematic outings as Here Come the Waves (1944), Shock (1946), Mother Wore Tights (1947), Secret Beyond the Door… (1947), the Bowery Boys romp Hold That Baby! (1949) and the cult noir classic Gun Crazy (1950).  According to this blog, she died on April 16th at the age of 88.

Joe Mantell – “Forget it, Jake…it’s Chinatown.”  My father wouldn’t know this actor’s name if you put a pistola to his temple, but he’s always quoting this character great—especially Mantell’s other classic line: “Well, what do you feel like doin’ tonight,” which comes from the TV and movie classic Marty.  Joe’s movie and television resume is as long as the Publix checkout line on Wednesdays; he had regular roles on such TV shows as Pete and Gladys and Mannix, and guest starred on the likes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, The Twilight Zone (in two of the show’s classic outings, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” and “Steel”) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  He also played the unfortunate salesman in The Birds (1963) who gets croaked after bad-mouthing our fine-feathered friends.  Mantell died on September 29th at the age of 94.

Sally Menke – Film editor Menke was associated with many of director Quentin Tarantino’s films, including Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997) and Inglorious Basterds (2009).  She died on September 27th at the age of 56; her body was found in L.A.’s Bronson Canyon and the details of her death are currently being investigated by the L.A.P.D.

Buddy Morrow – A former trombonist who graduated to headlining his own big band (and scoring a big hit in 1952 with Night Train), Morrow had worked with the likes of Artie Shaw, Bunny Berigan and Tommy Dorsey.  It was Dorsey’s trombone style that inspired Buddy to try and play just like it, and in the twilight of his career he fronted Dorsey’s “ghost band” beginning in 1977.

I saw Morrow with the Dorsey orchestra during my studies at Marshall University in Huntington, WV in 1981—and then had the pleasure of meeting him and shaking his hand in person when ten years later he and the band played an engagement in Savannah and stayed at the Best Western Central, where I was working as a night auditor.  A classy gent, and a man I will not forget, Morrow played his last solo on September 27th at the age of 91.

Edwin Newman – A respected newsman and journalist who also acted as a part-time drama critic, symphony music host and grammar scold, Newman worked at NBC from 1952 to 1984 and in a time when the people whom we’re supposed to trust consist of individuals like Rick Sanchez, it’s sad to consider that we’re not likely to see the likes of anyone near the caliber of Edwin again.  Newman was jocular enough to poke fun at his image in TV shows like Newhart, Mr. Belvedere, The Golden Girls, Wings and Murphy Brown—and do brief bits in Spies Like Us (1985), The Pelican Brief (1993) and My Fellow Americans (1996).  We lost a television icon on August 13th when Mr. Newman left this world for a better one at the age of 91.

William W. “Bill” Norton – An American feature film scribe whose best-known works include The Scalphunters (1968), Sam Whiskey (1969), The McKenzie Break (1970), White Lightning (1973), Big Bad Mama (1974), Brannigan (1975) and Gator (1976), Norton also wrote several scripts for the TV western The Big Valley.  Norton passed away on October 2nd at the age of 85.  (His son is Bill [B.W.L.] L. Norton, a television director who also helmed the 1972 cult classic Cisco Pike.)

Arthur Penn – An iconic stage, film and television director whose classic works include Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and TDOY faves Alice’s Restaurant (1969), Little Big Man (1970) and Night Moves (1975), Penn was nominated three times for an Oscar (for Bonnie, Alice and 1962’s The Miracle Worker) but never won.  Arthur cut his teeth in the days of live TV drama, working on such anthology shows as The Gulf Playhouse, Goodyear Playhouse, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and Playhouse 90.  His feature film debut was the revisionist Western The Left-Handed Gun (1958), which starred a young Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, and Penn would also go on to helm such movies as Mickey One (1965), The Chase (1966), The Missouri Breaks (1976), Four Friends (1981) and Dead of Winter (1987)…which boasts the distinction of being one of the few films my father and I actually saw together in a movie theater once I outgrew his taking me to Disney films.  Penn passed on September 28th, the day after he turned 88.

Irving Ravetch – I was very saddened to learn of Ravetch’s passing because he scripted so many of my favorite movies (many with his wife, Harriet Frank, Jr.; the following were also directed by Marty Ritt unless otherwise noted): Hud (1963), Hombre (1967), The Reivers (1969, directed by Mark Rydell), The Carey Treatment (1972, directed by Blake Edwards), Norma Rae (1979) and Murphy’s Romance (1985).  Ravetch wrote the screenplay for Carey as James P. Bonner and also served as producer on Hud, Hombre and ReiversIrving died on September 19th at the age of 89.

Virginia (Cruzon) Sanders– Chosen as a “Goldwyn Girl” in 1941, Sanders—who was billed as Virginia Cruzon—appeared uncredited in such films as Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Up in Arms (1944), Having Wonderful Crime (1945), A Thousand and One Nights (1945) and One Sunday Afternoon (1948).  Her obituary says she also appeared in the Elvis Presley film Charro! (1969) but this is not noted at the always reliable IMDb.  Sanders died on August 21st at the age of 89.

Beatrice Sinclair – Ms. Sinclair was not an actress, singer, director, screenwriter or any kind of noted celebrity—she ran a small hotel called the Gleneagles in the United Kingdom tourist town of Torquay with her husband, Donald and continued to run it with him until his death in 1981.  It was during a 1970 stay that writer-comedian John Cleese of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus comedy troupe encountered the Sinclairs (describing Donald as “the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met”) and was inspired to create one of the most brilliant television situation comedies of all time, Fawlty Towers.  That’s why she’s here; she passed away on September 13th at the age of 95.

Van Snowden – One of Hollywood’s premier puppeteers, Snowden brought to life such iconic characters as Chucky in the Child’s Play movie series and the Crypt Keeper on HBO’s Tales From the Crypt—and even served as the head puppeteer on the Saturday morning cult fave Pee-wee’s Playhouse.  It is, in fact, Saturday mornings for which Van will be remembered—he started his career with the brothers Krofft (Sid and Marty), working their classic kid shows like H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Land of the Lost and Sigmund & the Sea Monsters.  Snowden died of cancer on September 22nd at the age of 71.

Gwen (Gaze) Steinhart – The obituary for this Australian-born actress credits her with appearances in twenty films, some of which were alongside the likes of John Wayne and William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd.  The always reliable IMDb isn’t quite as generous, but does note the Cassidy film (1938’s Partners of the Plains—as well as Bar 20 Justice [1938]) and John Wayne outing (1937’s I Cover the War) in addition to a few oaters featuring The Range Busters.  She also appeared in the 1938 Columbia cliffhanger The Secret of Treasure Island.  Steinhart passed away on August 29th; from the info at the IMDb she would have been in her nineties at the time of death.

Gloria Stuart – Every obituary on this Oscar-nominated actress mentions that she was “Old Rose” in the 1997 Oscar-winner for longest freaking film, Gigantic Titanic, so I guess I’m just following all the other lemmings.  We here at TDOY prefer to remember her wonderful work in movies like The Old Dark House (1932), Air Mail (1932), Sweepings (1933), The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933), The Invisible Man (1933, Roman Scandals (1933), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Island in the Sky (1938), The Three Musketeers (1939), The Whistler (1944) and, of course, My Favorite Year (1982).  Gloria reached the century mark before leaving this world for a better one on September 26th…and she will be sorely missed.

Robert Trachinger – For those of us who ever shouted: “I missed it!  Let’s see that again!”—we have this man to thank, a television pioneer who developed the concept of slow motion sports replay technology.  Trachinger died on September 19th at the age of 86.

Sir Norman Wisdom – I stated in a post several months ago that I was dreading having to write an obituary for this man, an actor-comedian revered in the U.K. and whose respect was second only to that of Charles Chaplin.  On this side of the pond, we remember Sir Norman for his scene-stealing turn in the 1968 film The Night They Raided Minsky’s—but in England, his hit “telly” programs included The Norman Wisdom Show, Norman, Nobody is Norman Wisdom and A Little Bit of Wisdom (not to mention several appearances as “Billy Ingleton” on Last of the Summer Wine).  His film resume includes such hits as Trouble in Store (1953), One Good Turn (1955), Just My Luck (1957), The Square Peg (1959), Follow a Star (1960), On the Beat (1962), A Stitch in Time (1963) and What’s Good for the Goose (1969).  This British comedy institution has gone off to make others laugh at the age of 95, having passed on October 4th.

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Toby O'B said...

Thanks for all of those obits, Ivan - so many of them I missed! If it weren't for you, Bill Crider and the Boot Hill blog, if I only had the NY and LA Times to depend on, my end of year list would not be quite so complete......

Stacia said...

Ah, no way, I hadn't heard about Roy Ward Baker. I was just thinking about how he was still with us, but he isn't.

I also had not heard of Jackie Burroughs' passing, and I recognized her name immediately because when I recently watched "Kidnapping of the President," she was so familiar she caused me to pause and look her up online.

Aaaand I had no idea about Edwin Newman, either, who was someone I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember watching him during a presidential debate, probably Reagan and Mondale, and then later on PBS. At some point I saw his interview with Andres Segovia, probably when I was in high school and still imagining I would be a Spanish/classical guitarist. I'm sad to hear that he's passed.

And don't even get me started on Greg Giraldo's passing...

Bill Crider said...

The first movie I saw Tony Curtis in was SON OF ALI BABA back in the early '50s. I always claimed that was the one with the famous "castle of my foddah" line since nobody else seemed to remember that movie. I loved it when I was a kid. Haven't seen it since.

Scott said...

Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans will remember Roy Ward Baker from the 1969 British sci-fi film Moon Zero Two, which was riffed in Season 1. Or perhaps they won't; MST3K writer and performer "TV's Frank" Conniff said no one he'd ever met had retained a single memory of the movie, including himself, and he'd seen it four times. (For the record, it's one of my favorite episodes.)

Art Gilmore also deserves a shout-out from MSTies, since "...and now here's Red in The Silent Spot" is a frequently recurring gag on the show.

hobbyfan said...

Gary Corry's Red Neckerson commentaries played in my neck of the woods on WTRY back when I was in high school. I used to think ol' Red was a local creation. Thanks for clearing that little mystery up for me.