Sunday, July 10, 2011

The passings parade

This week’s edition of TDOY’s roundup of celebrity notables who’ve left this world for a better one will be a day later—and a bit shorter—due to the fact that I nearly forgot about the Vivien Leigh-Laurence Olivier Blogathon taking place this weekend at Viv and Larry.com.  So I’ll be devoting time to getting my entry in for today but I did want to get the obits up because…well, I’ve been doing them for nearly a month now and it’s not like me to maintain a regular feature in such a consistent manner.

Although the substance abuse clinic she founded in Rancho Mirage, CA in 1982 was often used as a show business punchline, there was nothing funny about former First Lady Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren Ford’s commitment to helping those kick the same habit she herself had struggled with four years earlier.  Betty Ford will go down in U.S. history as one of the most splendid individuals to ever take up residence in the White House, which she did beginning in 1974 when husband Gerald Ford became the 38th Commander-in-Chief following Richard Nixon’s resignation.  Before the Republican Party was taken over by the Tea Party faction (or what my father and I often refer to as “the Hezbollah wing of the GOP”) both Mr. and Mrs. Ford were textbook moderates—but Betty was an original and free thinker, supporting abortion (pro-choice) and women’s rights (she actively campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment) and unafraid to speak her mind on hot button topics like drugs, gun control and premarital sex.  (Interviewed for McCall’s in 1975, Ford later related that the magazine had asked her about every topic with the exception of whether or not she and Jerry had sex.  “And if they had asked me that I would have told them ‘As often as possible.’”  You go, girl!)

Betty was certainly one of the most telegenic of first ladies, appearing as herself in a 1976 Mary Tyler Moore outing and an episode of Dynasty in 1983.  It seems only fitting, as she was a longtime supporter of the arts, even lobbying for choreographer Martha Graham’s Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976.  In 1987, a TV-movie was produced entitled The Betty Ford Story, based on her book The Times of My Life…and she would go on to author two more tomes including 2003’s Healing and Hope: Six Women from the Betty Ford Center Share Their Powerful Journeys of Addiction and Recovery.  Activist, advocate and survivor, Betty Ford passed away Friday (July 8) from complications from a stroke at the age of 93.

The other big name celebrity who took their final bow at the curtain this week was British actress Anna Massey—who here in the House of Yesteryear is always remembered as Babs Milligan, the doomed girlfriend of Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) in the 1972 Alfred Hitchcock-directed classic Frenzy.  But Massey can also be seen in such feature films as Peeping Tom, Bunny Lake is Missing, The Vault of Horror, A Little Romance, The Little Drummer Girl, Mountains of the Moon, Angels and Insects and The Machinist.  Massey earned a great many critical kudos for her stage work as well, and excelled in roles on TV in such vehicles as The Pallisers, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Mansfield Park, The Diamond Brothers and Nice Day at the Office.  Massey won a BAFTA Award in 1986 as Best Actress for her turn as a lonely spinster in “Hotel du Lac,” a production on the series Screen Two.  Anna Massey succumbed to complications from cancer on July 2 at the age of 73.

We also said goodbyes to these notable people:

Martin Woodhouse (May 15, 78) – Novelist and inventor who got his creative juices flowing early in his career by penning episodes of such British TV series as Supercar and The Avengers

Mel Berns, Jr. (June 23, 71) – Son of legendary RKO makeup man Mel, Sr. who followed in his father’s footsteps and worked on such TV series as The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family, Charlie’s Angels, Hotel and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Ewan “Sudsy” Clark (June 23, age unspecified) – Canadian film and TV character actor who made guest appearances in such TV shows as Highlander, The Commish and The Sentinel

Billy Beck (June 29, 86) – Character actor and accomplished clown whose feature film appearances include Irma la Douce, The Fortune Cookie, Stir Crazy, Micki + Maude and the 1988 remake of The Blob; also did a great deal of TV work and even had recurring roles on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Lou Grant

Charlie Craig (July 1, 73) – Country music songwriter whose best-known tunes include Alan Jackson’s Wanted, Janie Fricke’s She’s Single Again, Shenandoah’s Leavin’s Been a Long Time Comin’, Travis Tritt’s Between an Old Memory and Me and this Johnny Cash hit from 1978 that’s one of my favorites from The Man in Black:


Jane Scott (July 4, 92) – Influential rock music journalist (dubbed “The World’s Oldest Rock Critic”) who worked for The Cleveland Plain Dealer for fifty years beginning in 1952

Robert Sklar (July 5, 74) – Film historian and influential professor of cinema (also taught history at the University of Michigan) whose books include Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies and Silent Screens: The Decline and Transformation of the American Movie Theater; also wrote a particular favorite of mine—City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield

John Sweet (July 5, 96) – American Army sergeant who became an unlikely thespian when he was selected by filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to appear as one of the “three pilgrims” in their 1944 production of A Canterbury Tale

Gordon Tootoosis (July 5, 69) – Canadian character and activist who appeared in such films as Leaving Normal, Legends of the Fall, Lone Star and Reindeer Games; voiced the character of Kekata in the Disney animated feature film Pocahontas

Barry Bremen (July 7, 64) – Businessman and professional prankster whose stunts included accepting actress Betty Thomas’ 1985 Emmy Award for Hill Street Blues...despite the fact that she was present to get the trophy during the telecast

Fred Scialla (July 7, 56) – Nephew and longtime stand-in of actor Danny DeVito who also had occasional bit parts in films like Hoffa, Living Out Loud and Death to Smoochy

Kenny Baker (July 8, 86) – Superlative “long-bow” fiddle player and musician who enjoyed a long association (twenty-five years) as a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys

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