Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy birthday, Bill Erwin and Milton DeLugg!

Stage, screen and television character great Bill Erwin turns ninety-six today.  Oh, believe me, I just heard practically everyone out there in the blogosphere saying: “Who?”  But if you’ve seen the classic Seinfeld episode “The Old Man” you’ll know to whom I’m referring—the one where Jerry, George and Elaine volunteer to spend time with some senior citizens and Jerry is stuck with a irascible, cranky old codger named Sid Fields, who ends up losing his dentures in a garbage disposal in a comedy of errors involving Kramer and Newman’s moneymaking scheme to sell vintage vinyl records.  Erwin received an Emmy Award nomination for his falling-down funny portrayal of Fields—a character whose name was inspired by the real-life comic actor-writer who enjoyed a long association with Bud Abbott & Lou Costello (he was “Professor Melonhead” on radio and their landlord on their TV series).

Born in Honey Grove, TX, Bill graduated from the University of Texas in 1935 with a journalism degree, and then completed his Master of Theatre Arts in 1941 at California’s Pasadena Playhouse.  One of his first show business jobs, believe it or don’t, was serving as Edgar Bergen’s stage manager when the famous ventriloquist toured in 1941 with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd (“I was in charge of the dummies,” Erwin once quipped).  After serving a stint in the U.S. Army as a captain briefly in WW2, Bill was ready to make his film debut…in the ironically-titled You’re in the Army Now, which starred Phil Silvers.

Erwin’s cinematic resume includes such films as The Velvet Touch, Battleground, Man from Del Rio, Fight for the Title, The Night Runner, The Cry Baby Killer (as the father of Jack Nicholson’s character), Terror at Black Falls, Candy Stripe Nurses and Somewhere in Time.  He’s also been a noticeable presence in several films by the late John Hughes: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, She’s Having a Baby, Home Alone and Dennis the Menace are the first titles to come to mind.

On the small screen, Bill has been everywhere from A (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) to Z (Zane Grey Theater).  He was in quite a few Gunsmoke outings according to his stats at the always reliable IMDb; in fact, I just happened to catch one of them—an episode called “The Squaw” (11/11/61)—the other day as I was staring at some random reruns.  (I must reluctantly admit, however, that I didn’t recognize him right off.)  His last IMDb credit was an episode of My Name is Earl—and though he’s been idle since then a man with nearly 250 movie and television credits is entitled to a little downtime, I guess.

Our other nonagenarian celebrating a birthday today—number ninety-two, to be precise—is bandleader Milton DeLugg, born in the City of Angels on this date, and an individual who was pretty much the “Doc Severinson” of his day.  DeLugg, a talented accordionist who made appearances in “soundies” and the occasional feature film (It’s Great to Be Young), was also a regular on radio’s The Abe Burrows Show before being hired as the bandleader and musical director of TV’s Broadway Open House, the precursor to what would later become The Tonight Show.

It was on Open House that DeLugg introduced a tune that received so much exposure on the show it eventually became a pop hit (Orange Colored Sky), no doubt one of the first instances of using the new medium to do so.  DeLugg composed other songs, including Hoop Dee Doo and Roller Coaster—both of which were used on game shows like Masquerade Party, What’s My Line? and The Gong Show.  Milt is also famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—for composing and conducting the music in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians…so whenever you’re unfortunate to have Hooray for Santa Claus trapped in your head, think of Mr. DeLugg.

Happy natal anniversary to Messrs. DeLugg and Erwin—and to these fellow celebrants as well:

Charles Ringling (1863-1926) – Impresario who, in tandem with his six siblings, created one of America’s largest circuses in the 19th and early 20th centuries…which later merged with other circuses to become Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus

Frank Reicher (1875-1965) – Stage and screen actor-director best known for his performances as Captain Englehorn in King Kong and its sequel, The Son of Kong

William Gaxton (1893-1963) – Stage and screen singer-dancer whose films include It’s the Old Army Game, Fifty Million Frenchmen, The Heat’s On and Best Foot Forward; also appeared as a regular on the Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy for a brief period in the 1940s

John G. Blystone (1892-1938) – Motion picture writer-director-producer (and one time actor) whose oeuvre includes Mr. Lemon of Orange, Hot Pepper, Swiss Miss and Blockheads; brother of serials/B-western villain Stanley

Warren William (1894-1948) – The silver screen’s cad-in-residence (and sometime Perry Mason) until George Sanders arrived on the scene; his films include The Mouthpiece, Skyscraper Souls, Three on a Match, Employees’ Entrance, Lady for a Day and Gold Diggers of 1933

Alfred L. Werker (1896-1975) – Motion picture director whose oeuvre includes The House of Rothchild, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Reluctant Dragon, Repeat Performance, Lost Boundaries and Three Hours to Kill

Donald Woods (1906-1998) – Bland stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Fog Over Frisco, A Tale of Two Cities, Charlie Chan on Broadway, The Girl from Mexico, Watch on the Rhine and TV’s Craig Kennedy, Criminologist, Damon Runyon Theater and Tammy

Peter Carl Goldmark (1906-1977) – German-Hungarian engineer who played a pivotal role in the invention of both LP vinyl records and color television…so praised be his name

Robert F. Simon (1908-1992) – Stage, screen and television character actor who had regular roles on such TV series as Saints and Sinners, Bewitched, Custer, Nancy, The Streets of San Francisco and The Amazing Spider-Man

Hy Gardner (1908-1989) – New York Herald Tribune columnist who also headlined his own talk show; also played himself alongside Mickey Spillane in 1963’s The Girl Hunters

Rufe Davis (1908-1974) – Comic-singer who excelled at being the comedy relief in B-westerns (notably the Three Mesquiteers series); later appeared as Cannonball conductor Floyd Smoot on TV’s Petticoat Junction and Green Acres

Robert Paige (1910-1987) – Bland stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include There’s Always a Woman, Flying G-Men, Hellzapoppin’, Pardon My Sarong, Son of Dracula, Abbott & Costello Go to Mars and Split Second

Virginia Carroll (1913-2009) – Film and television actress whose métier was B-westerns and serials; married Ralph Byrd (serialdom’s Dick Tracy) and even appeared in one of his serials (Dick Tracy Returns)

Ray Walston (1914-2001) – My favorite Martian

Adolph Green (1914-2002) – Lyricist and playwright who often worked in tandem with Betty Comden on such cinematic projects On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon and It’s Always Fair Weather; late husband of Phyllis Newman*

Ezra Stone (1917-1994) – Radio (and television’s) Henry Aldrich of The Aldrich Family who eventually became a respected television director, helming episodes of I Married Joan, My Living Doll, The Munsters, Lost in Space and Julia

Leo Gordon (1922-2000) – Stage, screen and television character actor-writer whose vehicles include Gun Fury, Hondo, Riot in Cell Block 11 and TV’s Maverick (as Big Mike McComb); also penned a number of episodes of TV series like Tombstone Territory, The Case of the Dangerous Robin and Adam-12

Maria Callas (1923-1977) – Celebrated soprano considered one of the finest opera singers of the 20th century

Jonathan Frid (1924-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who became a cult figure as a result of his role as vampire Barnabas Collins on the TV gothic soap opera Dark Shadows

Jack Davis (1924-     ) – Celebrated MAD magazine cartoonist who also drew art for more movie posters and TV Guide covers than you’ve had hot dinners

Julie Harris (1925-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Member of the Wedding, East of Eden, The Haunting, Harper, You’re a Big Boy Now and TV’s Knots Landing

Jimmy Sangster (1927-     ) – Motion picture director-writer-producer who enjoyed a long association with Britain’s Hammer Studios with films like X: the Unknown, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Dracula and Taste of Fear

Ed Meese (1931-     ) – At his listing at it reads “prude”; even my father—a man not prone to using profanity—would consider him un dickhead formidable

Arch Hall, Jr. (1943-     ) – Cult movie icon who appeared in some of the worst films ever committed to celluloid including Eegah!, Wild Guitar, The Sadist and The Nasty Rabbit; his film work was generally due to being on good terms with the director (Arch Hall, Sr.)

Cathy Lee Crosby (1944-     ) – Film and television actress best known as the original boob tube Wonder Woman and as a host on ABC’s That’s Incredible

Penelope Spheeris (1945-     ) – Motion picture director whose oeuvre includes The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia, The Boys Next Door, Wayne’s World and Black Sheep

Gianni Versace (1946-1987) – Italian fashion designer

Bill Bragg (1946-     ) – Radio and TV announcer who founded The National Museum of Communications and Yesteryear USA

Dan Butler (1954-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known for his role as obnoxious sports guy Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe on the sitcom Frasier

Stone Phillips (1954-     ) – Television reporter-correspondent and former host of Dateline: NBC

Dennis Christopher (1955-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Breaking Away, Fade to Black, Chariots of Fire and TV’s Profiler and Deadwood

Steven Bauer (1956-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Scarface, Thief of Hearts, Running Scared, Raising Cain and Primal Fear

Lucy Liu (1968-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known for her roles on such TV shows as Pearl, Ally McBeal, Cashmere Mafia and Dirty Sexy Money

Britney Spears (1981-     ) – Pop music diva whose trainwreck of a personal life often seems to take precedence over other items of interest on television…news, for instance

*As she reminded viewers nearly one hundred times on a TV talk show appearance I watched back in the 1980s

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Tom McMahon said...

Bill Erwin was also one of the diner customers in "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?" on the Twilight Zone. My favorite.

Scott said...

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians ("Thanks for the spoiler alert!" -- Frank Conniff) is the only movie so bad it's good enough to have been riffed on MST3K and Cinematic Titanic, so DeLugg's Delousy music is subjected to two wholly separate streams of richly deserved abuse.

We watch both every holiday season.

Stacia said...

It took me years to get the IMDb to permanently remove Jamie Farr as an actor in "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." Also, my husband said his grade school sang the S-A-N-T-Y C-L-A-U-S song for a winter concert back in the 70s. Spooky.

And you know, Donald Woods IS bland.