Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy birthday, June Whitfield!

Because of her long recognized identification with the British television public as the archetypical housewife, writer-comedienne Jennifer Saunders cast today’s birthday girl to play the part of her disapproving mother (“Gran”) in the Britcom Absolutely Fabulous.  June Rosemary Whitfield was born on this date in Streatham, London, England eighty-five years ago and has a show business resume that would make a great many veterans look like pikers.

Whitfield, like most performers of her generation, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and graduated in 1944—and soon found work on “the wireless” opposite actor-comedian Wilfred Pickles, the star of the Beeb’s Have a Go.  In 1953, she replaced comic actress Joy Nichols on the popular Take It from Here, a radio comedy show written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden and starring Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley.  Her exposure on that series led to jobs in television, where she worked alongside some of its leading lights—Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Benny Hill, Ronnie Barker, Dick Emery, Wilfrid Brambell & Harry H. Corbett (Steptoe and Son), Eric Morecambe and Richard Briers.  She also made appearances in three of the films in the Carry On series: Carry on Nurse, Carry on Abroad and Carry on Girls.

June’s longest lasting partnership, however, began when she appeared as a regular on the series Scott On…, headlined by comedian Terry Scott.  The two formed what was essentially a “double act” by appearing as husband and wife in a 1972 movie adaptation of the sitcom Bless This House, and then as spouses in two iconic Britcoms: Happy Ever After (1974-79) and Terry & June (1979-87).  I’ve been afforded the opportunity to see quite a few episodes of the latter series and while it’s not something I could call particularly groundbreaking June was always first-rate—an actress with undeniable charm and appeal.

Whitfield continues to practice her craft even today, with recurring roles on The Green, Green Grass and the Britcom warhorse The Last of the Summer Wine.  As one the last surviving members of the golden age of radio and television comedy in the UK, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is only too pleased to wish her the happiest of natal anniversaries…and naturally, these special individuals as well!

Dorothy Vernon (1875-1970) – Stage and screen actress who usually appeared in bit and uncredited roles but is best remembered as the mother of Mickey Daniels in the Our Gang comedies; real-life mom of silent comedian Bobby

George S. Patton (1885-1945) – “Old Blood and Guts”…and a reminder of the commemoration of the day in which we pay respect to those who serve and served

Roland Young (1887-1953) – Peerless British stage and screen actor best remembered for his role as the titled hero of the Topper films; other Young vehicles include David Copperfield, The Man Who Could Work Miracles and The Philadelphia Story

Rene Clair (1898-1981) – French motion picture director whose films include Le million, A nous la liberte and I Married a Witch

Pat O’Brien (1899-1983) – Stage, screen, radio and television actor whose vehicles include The Front Page, Angels with Dirty Faces, Knute Rockne All American and the TV series Harrigan and Son

Sam Spiegel (1901-1985) – Legendary motion picture producer of such films as The African Queen, On the Waterfront and The Bridge on the River Kwai

Paul Borofsky (1901-1965) – Motion picture film editor who worked primarily on the two-reel comedies and B-westerns cranked out at Columbia

Joe Penner (1904-1941) – Puzzlingly popular radio and film comedian of the 1930s who got big yuks with the catch phrase “Wanna buy a duck?”

Alger Hiss (1904-1996) – U.S. State Department and UN official accused in 1948 of being a Soviet Spy and convicted of perjury in connection with the charge two years later

Brother Theodore (Gottlieb) (1906-2001) – Avant-garde actor-comedian who first achieved notice as a cantankerous guest on David Letterman’s show; his early work in movies includes the 1947 Republic serial The Black Widow

Robert Ryan (1909-1973) – TDOY actor fave whose oeuvre includes Crossfire, The Set-Up, On Dangerous Ground, Bad Day at Black Rock and Odds Against Tomorrow

Al Simon (1911-2000) – President of Filmways (“This has been a Filmways presentation”) and executive producer of such television classics as Mister Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies

Patric Knowles (1911-1995) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include The Adventures of Robin Hood, How Green Was My Valley and Kitty

Jess Oppenheimer (1913-1988) – Veteran radio comedy writer who penned scripts for Jack Benny, Fanny Brice and Edgar Bergen before becoming head writer and producer of My Favorite Husband, the Lucille Ball sitcom that led to Jess’ creating I Love Lucy; also created the sitcoms Angel, Glynis and The Debbie Reynolds Show

Howard Fast (1914-2003) – Emmy Award-winning scriptwriter and author whose novels were adapted into such films as Rachel and the Stranger, Spartacus and Mirage

William Proxmire (1915-2005) – U.S. Senator from Wisconsin (1957-88) who established The Golden Fleece Award, a monthly tribute handed out to those individuals or groups participating in the excesses of governmental waste of money

Stubby Kaye (1918-1997) – Stage, screen and television performer whose vehicles include Guys and Dolls, Li’l Abner, Cat Ballou and Who Framed Roger Rabbit…and who slept soundly every night I played Marryin’ Sam in my high school production of Abner

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) – Humanist author whose novels include Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions…and so it goes

Jonathan Winters (1925-     ) – TDOY comedy god whose vehicles include It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The Loved One and The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming

John Guillermin (1925-     ) – British motion picture director whose oeuvre includes Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, Shaft in Africa and The Towering Inferno

Mose Allison (1927-     ) – Legendary jazz-blues pianist and singer

La Vern Baker (1929-1997) – R&B/pop music vocalist

Walter Louis “Hank” Garland (1930-2004) – Legendary guitarist and studio musician who played alongside the likes of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, etc.

Suzanne Lloyd (1934-     ) – Film and television actress who did a great many guest shots on TV shows in the 1950s/1960s but is remembered here for her appearance in one of my favorite Twilight Zone installments, “Perchance to Dream”

Bibi Andersson (1935-     ) – Swedish actress who appears in scads of Ingmar Bergman films including The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Persona

Susan Kohner (1936-     ) – Film and television actress whose brief career included such vehicles as To Hell and Back, Imitation of Life and Freud

Denise Alexander (1939-     ) – Film and television actress heavily associated with roles on soap operas like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital

Barbara Boxer (1940-     ) – Junior U.S. Senator from California whose win over failed CEO Carly Fiorina proves there’s some sanity in the Golden State

Jesse Colin Young (1944-     ) – Folksinger-songwriter and former Youngblood

Vincent Schiavelli (1948-2005) – TDOY character fave whose vehicles include Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ghost and The People vs. Larry Flynt

Jim Peterik (1950-     ) – Lead vocalist of Ides of March who later was a member of the rock group Survivor

Marshall Crenshaw (1953-     ) – Rock ‘n’ roll musician/music historian

Donna Wilkes (1959-     ) – Film and television actress best known as the first thesp to play the oldest daughter on the sitcom Hello, Larry* (replaced by Krista Errickson) and the star of the 1984 film Angel—a movie I still haven’t forgiven Roger Corman’s New World Pictures for enticing me to pay good money and see

Stanley Tucci (1960-     ) – TDOY character fave whose films include The Pelican Brief, Big Night, Conspiracy and The Devil Wears Prada

Demi Moore (1962-     ) – I can never remember if it’s pronounced “dem-mee” or “duh-mee”

Phillip McKeon (1964-     ) – Moppet actor who eventually outgrew his cuteness, becoming a sixth-season Beaver Cleaver-ish freak on the TV sitcom Alice; brother of TV mainstay Nancy

Calista Flockhart (1964-     ) – Starved stage, screen and television actress best known as TV’s Ally McBeal and becoming Mrs. Harrison Ford in June

Oh, and happy birthday greetings to the inestimable Peter Nellhaus of Coffee Coffee and More Coffee...who turns (mumble mumble) today.

*And if you’re wondering why I would ever watch something like this…hello?  Kim Richards?  I think that’s all that needs to be said.

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Scott said...

I met Kim Richards in the hosiery department of Saks Fifth Avenue, and believe me when I say it was not nearly as exciting as it sounds. It was right around Christmas, 1985, and the place was packed. I was waiting in line with my girlfriend who was buying stockings for New Years Eve, and I made some joke -- can't remember what. The young woman behind me laughed and said something, and I turned around and found myself face to face (well, face to scalp -- she's a wee little thing) with Kim Richards.

She was very friendly and chatty, and was in New York visiting her sister (Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris), after finishing Tuff Turf. I don't remember much else about the conversation, except she was cute as a whole notions shop full of buttons, and for two days after I couldn't get the theme song from Nanny and the Professor out of my head..

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I met Kim Richards in the hosiery department of Saks Fifth Avenue

Oh...uh...sorry, Scott--I didn't hear a word you said after this...