Saturday, July 2, 2011

The passings parade

In putting together this week’s memoriam to certain celebrity notables from the world of film, TV, music and other areas of interest I was convinced (at first) that we seemed to be bidding a fond farewell to a large number of individuals who made noise in the acting profession…but upon checking their dates of death realized that I was just several weeks late catching up with the news.  The best example of this was learning only just this week of the death of actor Art Balinger, who started his career as a radio announcer before befriending actor-director-producer Jack Webb and landing a recurring role as Captain Glavas on Webb’s landmark TV crime drama Dragnet during the show’s late 50s run.  Webb would use Balinger again when the revival version of Dragnet started up in 1967 (playing the semi-regular role of Captain Hugh Brown) and then frequently on Webb’s hit series Adam-12 and Emergency!  Balinger did an occasional bit of film work (usually appearing as a radio or TV announcer) in such features as The Towering Inferno and The Swarm…and potted down the volume on his mike on June 10 of this year at the age of 95.

Growing up as a coach spud, afternoons before 4pm meant my mother ruled the roost when it came to TV—and she was a major CBS soap opera junkie; a faithful viewer of the likes of such shows as Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns and Guiding Light.  It was here that I became acquainted with the small screen villainy of GL’s Roger Thorpe (Michael Zaslow), whose only competition in the daytime drama rat bastard sweepstakes was James Stenbeck, As the World Turns’ resident stinker.  Like Thorpe, Stenbeck displayed an awesome resiliency to appear to be vanquished via death only to return Phoenix-like from the ashes several years after people believed he had be taken the permanent dirt nap.  Before ATWT’s cancellation in September 2010, actor Anthony Herrera appeared and re-appeared on the old TV sudser warhorse off-and-on between 1980 and 2010 before his medical condition (a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called mantle cell lymphoma) curtailed his appearances on the program.  Herrera, who passed away at the age of 57 on June 21, had also played parts on such TV soaps as The Young and the Restless and Loving.

Her best known role is that of the mysterious Emma Spool in the long-delayed sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film Psycho—what else? Psycho II   But character actress Claudia Bryar was a busy little beaver in Hollywood before that breakthrough role; among her other notable feature film appearances: I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, The True Story of Lynn Stuart, A Big Hand for the Little Lady, Angel in My Pocket, Bad Company and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.  She appeared in a ton of TV episodes in small parts in everything from Bonanza to Bob Newhart to Barnaby Jones.  Bryar passed away on June 16 at the age of 92.

Actress Shelby Grant was also a TV fixture in the 1960s/1970s like Bryar, and appeared in guest roles on a good many series like Bonanza, Burke’s Law, Batman and The High Chaparral—while also landing bit parts in such films as Our Man Flint and Fantastic Voyage.  She also made a few appearances on the 1970s MD drama Medical Center—and the reason for this is because Hollywood is rife with nepotism…and Grant’s husband just happened to be the series’ star (Chad Everett).  Shelby Grant Everett gave her final curtain call on June 25 at the age of 74.

Actress and singer Alice Playten enjoyed an amazing stage career appearing in such productions as Henry, Sweet Henry (a 1968 musical that garnered her a Tony Award nom as Best Featured Actress), National Lampoon’s Lemmings and First Lady Suite (these last two off-Broadway plays landing her a pair of Obie Awards).  Her film appearances include Ladybug, Ladybug and Legend, TV guest roles on Frasier and Law and Order, and voice work for such animated films as Heavy Metal and TV cartoon series like Doug.

You see where this is going, don’t you?  Because I am the twisted individual you’ve come to know and pray that I don’t move in next door, I will always remember this talented lady for two things: a classic 1970 Alka Seltzer commercial in which (as a newlywed) she bakes her hubby (Terry “Weekend at Bernie’s” Kiser) the world’s most gi-normous dumpling…and Saturday morning TV’s wacky The Lost Saucer, in which she played the babysitter who, along with moppet thespian Jarrod Johnson, was whisked away to other galaxies by alien beings Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi.  I’ll miss you terribly, Alice…the fabulous Ms. Playten left this world (though not in am alien ship) for a better one on June 26 at the age of 63.

Perhaps the two biggest names we said auf wedersehn to this week begins with the news of the passing of actress-model Elaine Stewart, who died on June 27 at the age of 81.  First things first: when I was a kid, Elaine was the lovely lady who turned over the cards for Wink Martindale on the game show Gambit…and rolled dem bones on the nighttime edition of High Rollers, hosted by Alex Trebek before he was in Jeopardy!  (Once again, it pays to know the boss—both of these shows were produced by Merrill Heatter of Heatter-Quigley fame…and she just conveniently happened to be Mrs. Merrill Heatter, having married the would-be game show mogul in 1964.)

But that was before I was bitten by the classic film bug.  And in drinking in the wonderfulness that is old movies, I would discover Stewart in such films as Night Passage (she was peroxide blond in that one, which really threw me for a sec) and Brigadoon, in which she played the gabby socialite Jane Ashton.  Other movies that Elaine made an impression in include The Bad and the Beautiful, Code Two, Young Bess, Take the High Ground, The Adventures of Haji Baba, The Tattered Dress and The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.  Before her game show days, she also made appearances on such television chestnuts as Bat Masterson, Burke’s Law and Perry Mason.

The other favorite of classic movie fanatics who sadly has left us a lifetime of celluloid memories was former moppet actress Edith Fellows, who died June 26 at the age of 88.  As my Facebook chum and resident expert on all matters Charley Chase Yair Solan pointed out, Fellows’ first screen credit was in the comedian’s final silent two-reeler, Movie Night (1929)—and after that she made appearances in such films as The Rider of Death Valley, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, She Married Her Boss and Pennies from Heaven.  Fellows also appeared in a handful of the Our Gang comedies in the early 1930s and by the end of the decade established a presence at Columbia Studios by appearing in several family-oriented B-pictures (four in all) originally based on Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

Fellows’ film work tapered off around 1942—it was a profession that she didn’t necessarily choose for herself, but was pushed into by a domineering grandmother who fought Edith’s real mother in court for custody of Edith at the height of Fellows’ popularity in the mid-1930s (she ended up getting as badly reamed as Jackie Coogan after the dust had settled).  Fellows later went to have a fairly respectable career on stage and then later in life began to turn up in small parts on episodes of such shows as St. Elsewhere, Riptide, Cagney & Lacey and Mr. Belvedere.  She gave a standout performance playing costume designer Edith Head in the 1983 biopic Grace Kelly and plans for a film based on her own career (a rocky journey that included messy divorce and a nervous breakdown) were made by fellow former child star Jackie Cooper in 1985 but the project never got off the ground.  We say a fond farewell to the movies’ “Polly Pepper” and we wish to acknowledge these other notable deaths as well:

Patricia Merbreier (June 23, 86) – American actress and television personality best known among legions of local Philadelphia TV fans as “Mrs. Noah” on the WPVI children’s series Captain Noah and His Magic Ark (1967-1994); her husband W. Carter created the show and played the titular seaman

George Ballas (June 25, 85) – Inventor of the Weed Eater

Margaret Tyzack (June 25, 79) – British stage, screen and TV actress whose feature film appearances include a pair of movies directed by Stanley Kubrick—2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange; she’s best known for her role as Winifred Dartie on the Emmy Award-winning BBC drama The Forsyte Saga in the 1960s but also appeared on such programs as The First Churchills, Cousin Bette, I, Claudius, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and EastEnders

Benton Flippen (June 28, 90) – Mount Airy, NC native who was one of the last “Round Peak”-style fiddlers

Perry Jordan (June 29, 62) – Rock ‘n’ roll guitarist with the Chicago-based group Heartsfield, who had a minor hit with Music Eyes in 1974

Ron "Byrd" Foster (June 30, 61) – Rock ‘n’ roll vocalist and drummer best known for his work with the New Wave group The Silencers

Jimmy Roselli (June 30, 85) – Italian-American vocalist whose attempt to become a rival to Frank Sinatra fell short of the mark despite some minor chart success in the 1960s with songs like There Must Be a Way and Mala Femmena

Ruth Roberts (July 1, 84) – Singer-songwriter whose competitions were recorded by such artists as the McGuire Sisters, Buddy Holly and Teresa Brewer (Roberts wrote Brewer’s duet with Mickey Mantle, I Love Mickey)…but whose main claim to fame resides with her having penned the iconic New York Mets anthem (and Vince Keenan mantra) Meet the Mets

Phil Shepardson (July 1, 76) – Massachusetts college professor who became a popular local TV celebrity first with a children’s show called The Wicky Wacky Cloud and then a quiz program, As Schools Match Wits—seen on stations WWLP and WGBY since 1961

Finally…news that Randall Adams, the subject of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’ landmark The Thin Blue Line (1988), was reported that Adams died at the age of 61 on October 30th of last year in anonymity in Washington Court House, OH.   Adams spent 12 years on death row before being set free as a result of Morris’ film, which raised serious questions as to whether Adams was actually responsible for the shooting death of a Dallas police officer in 1976.

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1 comment:

ClassicBecky said...

I am just distraught that the inventor of the Weed Eater has left us! (You are so strange..yet I am strangely attracted to you..yes, it's becoming an obsession -- I've never been a stalker before...

Yours always and forever, llq