Thursday, January 13, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly

Here’s why making New Year’s resolutions are ultimately an exercise in futility: I’m not even halfway into the month of January and already my resolve to get more posts up on the blog has pretty much fizzled out.  Blog inactivity is never a good thing because when you stay away from the blogosphere too long your friends begin to organize search parties…and after the events of last year this is not necessarily an alarmist reaction, you understand.  Stacia at She Blogged by Night was among those concerned, and her efforts to track me down resembled those of a wife calling a husband’s regular haunts to get a fix on his whereabouts (“It’s the wife…should I tell her you’re not here?”).  I’m not trying to be snarky about this, by the way—I really do appreciate someone watching my back.

But while we are on the subject of Stacia, I should also point out that her prolific blog insights have slowed down to a slight trickle of late due to some complications from illness.  She was laid up a few times with various mean ol’ viruses (as well as a none-too-pleasant reaction to morphine, aka “God’s mellow”) which have since resulted in an urgent need to put nose to grindstone and devote her spare blogging time to catching up with her medical bills.  Because Stacia has always been an enthusiastic supporter of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and a true blue friend and confidante I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt (and you have to remember that I’m Catholic) in asking that if you happen to find a few spare shekels in your couch cushions you might want to consider dropping them into her tip jar in order to prevent what she describes as “selling everything that's not nailed down and pawning the cats and offering to lick people for money.”  (Yes, I know that my dislike of felines is known throughout the length and longth of the Internets but licking people for money?  Is this how America became Number One, people?  I think not.)

Here at Rancho Yesteryear, I’ve been engaged in a game show I like to call “How Lazy Can You Get?”  It all started when I discovered that over at Hulu.com you can sign up for a free trial week of something they like to call HuluPlus, and in doing this I was able to catch up on watching those episodes of the sitcom The Office that I had not seen…which in this instance turned out to be quite a lot.  This activity was also coupled with spending a generous amount of time watching TCM’s Laurel & Hardy marathon Tuesday night and most of Wednesday, which allowed me in theory to record those Stan & Ollie shorts missing from my collection.  I say in theory because the second half of Below Zero (1930) disappeared during the telecast, an event that, suffice it to say, did not make me happy and in fact nudged me close to the chasm of crankiness.  This is, of course, not the most egregious example of shoddiness that I witnessed while watching these shorts; my favorite has to be the print of Laughing Gravy (1931) used by the channel, which contained the inserted “breaks” for commercials.  (They also used the “Laurel & Hardy Show” version of Pack Up Your Troubles [1932]—you need to ride herd on these people, Bobby Osbo!)  There are a great many things in this wide, wonderful world that I do not understand but the one that continues to baffle me is why the greatest comedy team in the history of cinema continues to be treated like red-headed stepchildren in the country where their films were produced while being feted like royalty in nations abroad.

Okay, rant over.  It’s not been an easy time here at Castle Yesteryear; Athens was visited by a rare snowfall occurrence (close to half a foot) a few days ago—more precip than we got at Christmas, I might add.  As such, the city and most of the state of Georgia sort of ground to a halt and I never thought I’d hear myself saying this (especially after a lifetime of winters in the Mountain State) but I’d kill for a snow shovel right now.  The driveway outside my residence is still blanketed with the white stuff and to amuse myself I started a pool to see how long it would be before my next-door neighbor crashes into my father’s van, which he keeps parked over at my place.  The city was so stymied by the snow that they’re a little behind with the trash pickup so I set aside my utility room for storing the excess bags of trash.  There’s supposed to be warming trends come Friday and Saturday, and mi madre is hoping to make a pilgrimage to Publix to replenish the rapidly-depleting larder soon.

Lastly, I want to remind TDOY readers and fans that if you’re interested in winning one of two Radio Spirits CD collections of The Great Gildersleeve broadcasts (sixteen episodes that comprise the “Abandoned Baby” story arc of the 1948-49 season) you need only to send me an e-mail at igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com by midnight EST tonight; I’ll pick two winners tomorrow morning and get those prizes out to those lucky people hopefully sometime before the spring thaw.  There’s some really first-rate radio comedy in this collection, so it would be a shame to miss out on a chance to win.

In checking out my CharredHer webpage I was saddened to learn of the passing of David Nelson, son of Ozzie and Harriet and the last surviving member of the quartet that entertained radio and television audiences from 1944 to 1966.  David had the thankless job of playing straight man to his wiseass younger brother Ricky on the long running family sitcom; one of the funniest remarks ever uttered by Harriet was something along the lines of “it’ll be a miracle if David doesn’t murder Ricky in his bed one night.”  In addition to his Ozzie & Harriet activities Nelson appeared in such films as Peyton Place, Day of the Outlaw, The Big Circus, Up in Smoke and Cry-Baby and also functioned as a director-producer, helming episodes of both his family’s show and O.K. Crackerby!  Nelson died January 11 as a result of complications from colon cancer at the age of 74 and will most assuredly be missed here at TDOY.

Motion picture and television director Peter Yates is perhaps best known for helming the 1968 police thriller Bullitt starring Steve McQueen…but my personal favorite of the films he directed is The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a 1973 crime pic starring Big Bad Bob Mitchum and Peter Boyle, based on the novel by George V. Higgins.  (I think TCM ran this one a few Sundays back.)  I’m also a fan of The House on Carroll Street, a 1988 guilty pleasure starring Kelly McGillis and Jeff Daniels that blends McCarthyism with Hitchcockian suspense (and features the appropriately slimy Mandy Patinkin as a Roy Cohn clone).  Yates’ other works include Murphy’s War, The Hot Rock, For Pete’s Sake, Mother, Jugs & Speed, The Deep, Breaking Away, Eyewitness, The Dresser and Suspect.  The four-time Academy Award nominated director passed away on January 9 at the age of 81 after a long illness.

Actress-singer Margaret Whiting also left this world for a better one on January 10 at the age of 86; during the 1940s and 1950s Whiting was a popular recording artist with such hits as Guilty, Now is the Hour, A Tree in the Meadow (a #1 chart topper), Far Away Places and Baby, It’s Cold Outside (sung with Savannah’s own Johnny Mercer).  She had a lengthy string of country-pop duets with vocalist (and B-western cowboy) Jimmy Wakely, notably Slippin’ Around (and its “answer” song, I’ll Never Slip Around Again), Broken Down Merry Go Round and Let’s Go to Church (Next Sunday Morning).  Margaret was the featured vocalist on radio’s The Bob Hope Show (she also traded wisecracks with Bob in the same manner as the earlier Doris Day and Frances Langford) and then later made inroads on television by starring in a short-lived sitcom (in 1955 and 1957, as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy) entitled Those Whiting Girls with her sister Barbara (also an actress-singer; she’s best known in OTR circles for multiple roles on The Great Gildersleeve) and Mabel Albertson (who played their mother).

But the passing that really threw me for a loop was hearing that actress Anne Francis is no longer with us, having succumbed to complications from pancreatic cancer on January 2 at age 80.  On the small screen, Anne was the magically babelicious Honey West, a female butt-kicking gumshoe who lasted but a single season on ABC-TV from 1965-66 but is still fondly remembered by myself and other TDOY fans (notably Mr. Clevenger of World O’Crap fame); the character was introduced in an episode of Burke’s Law and then spun-off into a separate series.  (Francis would reprise the West role for an episode of Burke’s 1994-95 revival, “Who Killed Nick Hazard?”.)  She later landed semi-regular roles on such series as My Three Sons (she played the cocktail waitress who marries Laird Fergus McBain Douglas), Dallas and Riptide.  Anne also made a number of guest appearances in memorable episodes of such series as The Twilight Zone, The Virginian, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote.  Movie-wise, Francis is probably best known for her role opposite Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen and Robby the Robot in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet…but she also appeared in such films as Dreamboat, A Lion is in the Streets, Susan Slept Here, Rogue Cop, Bad Day at Black Rock, Blackboard Jungle, The Rack, The Crowded Sky, The Satan Bug, Brainstorm and Funny Girl.

Other notable passings in the music, film and television worlds include:

Gil Garfield (January 1, 77) – Singer-songwriter who was a member of the 50s rock ‘n’ roll group The Cheers (which also included future actor-game show host Bert Convy); their hits included (Bazoom) I Need Your Lovin’ and the Top Ten Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots

Patricia Smith Lasell (January 2, 80) – Motion picture and television actress whose film roles include The Bachelor Party, The Sprit of St. Louis and Save the Tiger; her small screen gigs include playing Charlotte Landers on The Debbie Reynolds Show and Margaret Hoover on The Bob Newhart Show

Margot Stevenson (January 2, 98) – Motion picture and television actress who appeared in such films as Invisible Stripes, Smashing the Money Ring and Castle on the Hudson; she’s known primarily for her extensive stage work but will also maintain a special place here at TDOY for her brief OTR stint as “friend and companion” Margo Lane on The Shadow

Miriam Seegar Whelan (January 2, 103) – Silent and sound motion picture actress who later became a well-known interior designer; her vehicles include Valley of the Ghosts, When Knights Were Bold, Seven Keys to Baldpate, What a Man and False Faces

Pete Postlethwaite (January 2, 64) – English motion picture, stage and television actor whose vehicles include Distant Voices, Still Lives, In the Name of the Father, The Usual Suspects, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Constant Gardener and Inception

Jill Haworth (January 3, 65) – English-born motion picture, television and stage actress best known for originating the lead role of Sally Bowles in the hit musical Cabaret; her feature film appearances include Exodus, The Cardinal, In Harm’s Way and It!

Grady Chapman (January 4, 81) – Rock ‘n’ roll vocalist who fronted the doo-wop group The Robins (My Heart’s the Biggest Fool, How Would You Know)

Gerry Rafferty (January 4, 63) – Scottish singer-songwriter who fronted the 1970s pop group Stealers Wheel, whose biggest hit was Stuck in the Middle with You; later became a successful solo act with such charted tunes as Baker Street, Right Down the Line and Days Gone Down

Aron Kincaid (January 6, 70) – Motion picture and television actor who also did quite a bit of voice work on such animated cartoon series as Batman and Transformers; his other vehicles include such films as Ski Party, Beach Ball, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, The Happiest Millionaire and TV’s Bachelor Father (he was Warren Dawson, fiancé of niece Kelly Gregg [Noreen Corcoran])

Bobby Robinson (January 7, 93) – Record producer who was responsible for such rock ‘n’ roll classics as Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City, Dave “Baby” Cortez’s The Happy Organ, the Shirelles’ Dedicated to the One I Love, Gladys Knight & the Pips’ Every Beat of My Heart, Bobby Lewis’ Tossin’ and Turnin’ and Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya

Peter Donaldson (January 8, 58) – Canadian motion picture and television actor best known as Reverend Leonard on TV’s Avonlea and Ian Bowles on Emily of New Moon

Del Reisman (January 8, 86) – Television writer-producer who worked on such series as Hotel de Paree, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, The Lieutenant and Rawhide

Christopher Trumbo (January 8, 70) – Motion picture and television writer-producer who penned scripts for such TV series as Ironside, Quincy, M.E. and Falcon Crest; son of Hollywood Ten member Dalton

John Dye (January 10, 47) – Motion picture and television actor best known as Andrew on the series Touched By an Angel; his other boob tube gigs include Tour of Duty and Jack’s Place

The final item on today’s agenda concerns a passing that’s not celebrity-related but carries a great deal of weight here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear; my high school chum and BFF (we pronounce it “biff”) the Duchess suffered a tragic loss recently when her mother succumbed to an aneurysm about a week ago at the age of 69 and was removed (according to her wishes) from life support on Tuesday of this week.  Nancy Wilson was an amazing individual—a mom, an educator, a politician and a woman whose accomplishments were nothing short of tremendous; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop tearing up thinking about all the good times that I experienced with her and our respective families (she even shared the same birthday with my Dad).

My fondest memory of Nancy is that she was always the best audience for my jokes; I moved in with her daughter and her then-husband in Morgantown in the winter of 1992 and after she noticed me observing the craziness that often ran rampant in that household challenged me by asking: “How do you plan on dealing with this insanity?”

I smiled and responded: “Nance, life’s a carnival and I have an all-day hand stamp.”  She rewarded me with one of the loudest guffaws it’s ever been my experience to enjoy.  But because I’ve lost a very special person, it’s no fun going on the Ferris wheel anymore.  R.I.P. Nance…you will be sorely missed.

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1 comment:

Scott said...

Deepest sympathies to the Duchess. Nancy (also my mother's name) sounds like a treasure, and the best bequest anyone can leave behind are fond memories and laughter.