Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The passings parade

The classic movie blogosphere is abuzz this morning upon learning that actor Farley Granger, who starred in such films as Rope (1948), They Live by Night (1949) and Strangers on a Train (1951), has taken his final bow at the curtain at the age of 85.  Granger died on March 27th of natural causes at his home in Manhattan.

I’ll go on record as saying that while I liked many of the movies Granger appeared in—in addition to the ones mentioned in the first paragraph I’m also a fan of Side Street (1950) and Edge of Doom (1950)—he always seemed to me to be more of a matinee idol than as an actor.  If this seems a little harsh, Granger himself thought the same thing and walked away from the height of his fame in films to focus on learning his craft, studying in NYC with such greats as Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner.  At the risk of being booed and hissed in the comments section, however, it should be pointed out that despite this teaching Farley didn’t really do anything on the big or small screens that matched his earlier success; I used to see him as Earl Mitchell on TV’s As the World Turns (he also worked on such sudsers as The Edge of Night and One Life to Live, the last one for which he received a Daytime Emmy nom) and wonder if daytime drama is what Stella and Lee had in mind when they took him on as a student.  (Okay, Pam—stop shaking your head…I know, a man’s gotta eat.  And he did do an impressive amount of work on stage, appearing in such productions as Deathtrap.)  The last thing I caught him in was an episode of Wagon Train on the Encore Westerns channel, “The Charles Avery Story.”

My favorite Granger movie is probably Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night; I think he was aces as the bewildered, frightened fugitive whose love affair with Cathy O’Donnell (they would later re-team for Anthony Mann’s Side Street, my other favorite of Farley’s films) is doomed pretty much from the get-go; I’ve often told people (there goes that booing and hissing again) that I’d much rather watch Night than the overrated Bonnie and Clyde any night of the week.  Granger’s work in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Strangers on a Train isn’t quite as impressive because he sort of comes across as wooden in both venues…though this could also be due to the fact that he’s upstaged by the more flamboyant (and I mean that in a positive sense) John Dall in the former and Robert Walker in the latter. 

We also bid a fond fare-thee-well to these other celebrity notables who passed on within the past two weeks:

Warren Christopher (March 18, 85) – Former Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, lawyer, diplomat and Bela Lugosi look-alike

Jet Harris (March 18, 71) – English rock ‘n’ roll bass guitarist who before forming The Diamonds with drummer Tony Meehan was a member (along with Meehan) of The Shadows (formerly The Drifters, though not the famed R&B group of the 50s/60s), the backup band for teen idol Cliff Richard

Lanny Friedlander (March 19, 63) – Publisher and founder of the libertarian magazine Reason

Dorothy Young (March 20, 103) – Actress and the last surviving member of magician Harry Houdini’s touring show (she was his assistant)

Ralph Mooney (March 20, 82) – Nashville session steel guitarist (ask your parents what a steel guitar is, kids) who was one of the architects of “the Bakersfield Sound,” helping to create the signature audio stamp of artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard; Mooney also co-wrote the country music standard Crazy Arms, a #1 hit for Ray Price in 1956 (and for many other artists afterward)

Loleatta Holloway (March 21, 64) – R&B/soul vocalist who achieved a great deal of success on the dance/disco music charts with hits like Hit and Run and Love Sensation

Joe Wizan (March 21, 76) – Former 20th Century-Fox executive who headed up that studio’s motion picture division between 1983 and 1984 and who produced and/or executive produced such films as Junior Bonner, Jeremiah Johnson and …And Justice for All

Joseph William “Pinetop” Perkins (March 21, 97) – Legendary Mississippi blues pianist and musician who shortly before his death became the oldest living artist to win a Grammy Award (beating out the previous record holder, TDOY comic idol George Burns)

Helen Stenborg (March 22, 86) – Stage, screen and television actress who was married to TDOY actor fave Barnard Hughes and occasionally worked alongside him in stage productions like Waiting in the Wings; among her vehicles are the films Three Days of the Condor, Starting Over and a stint on the TV soap Another World (as evil housekeeper Helga Linderman)

Leonard Weinglass (March 23, 77) – Criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist whose clients at one time included the Chicago Seven (along with William Kunstler), Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, Angela Davis and Detroit, MI White Panther Party chairman John Sinclair, whose trial resulted in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision (United States v. U.S. District Court) that prohibited the government’s use of electronic surveillance without a warrant

Richard Leacock (March 23, 89) – Documentary filmmaker and one of the pioneers of the Direct Cinema and Cinema vérité methods of documentaries; worked on such films as Louisiana Story, Toby and the Tall Corn, Primary, Crisis and Monterey Pop

Lanford Wilson (March 24, 73) – Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a major force in Off-Off-Broadway stage productions; his plays include Burn This, The Hot L Baltimore (which was adapted into a TV sitcom in 1975 by Norman Lear) and the “Talley trilogy” of Talley’s Folly, Fifth of July and Talley’s Son (which won the aforementioned Helen Stenborg an Obie Award for her performance)

Geraldine Ferraro (March 26, 75) – Former U.S. Congresswoman from New York (and later U.S. Ambassador) who in 1984 became the running mate of Democratic Party Presidential candidate Walter “Fritz” Mondale and as such the first female veep candidate on a major political party ticket (there have been a number of nice tributes written about Gerry but I really liked this one by former ABC News correspondent and author Lynn Sherr)

Harry Wesley Coover, Jr. (March 26, 94) – Inventor of Super Glue

Paul Baran (March 26, 84) – Inventor and engineer whose work was responsible for your being able to read this right now (he laid the foundation for the Internet)

Roger Abbott (March 26, 64) – Canadian writer-comedian who co-founded the CBC Radio and Television comedy troupe The Royal Canadian Air Farce

James M. Roberts (March 28, 87) – Longtime executive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; he served as AMPAS’ executive director from 1971 until his retirement in 1989

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