Sunday, November 13, 2011

The passings parade

It has not been a particularly cheerful time these past couple of weeks for TV fans…because we’ve had to bid a fond farewell to many beloved faces that used to appear regularly on the old cathode ray tube.  Perhaps the most recognizable name to those people who aren’t as preoccupied with nostalgia as I am know who Andy Rooney was—the radio-television writer and 60 Minutes personality who used to close that program every week with the segment “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.”  Rooney, who had announced on October 2 of this year that he would no longer appear regularly on the newsmagazine, experienced complications from surgery (undisclosed) and had to be hospitalized in late October.  He died on November 4 at the age of 92.

When my father watched 60 Minutes on a regular basis (I honestly couldn’t tell you when he stopped making it a habit; I’d probably moved out by then) he was a huge fan of Rooney’s; he even had several of Andy’s books on the shelves at home…and in some ways, reminds me of Rooney in that he’s always kvetching about something or another.  I can’t swear to it, but Dad probably signed off on the news magazine segments (and Rooney’s syndicated column) about the time Andy’s weekly ruminations started veering off in the direction of the controversial; in later years he managed to piss off gays, Native Americans, Latinos, religious groups and fans of Nirvana.  (To be honest, I sort of gave him a pass on that last one.)

While Rooney remains best known for his work on 60 Minutes he should also be saluted out for his contributions to other programs such as The Garry Moore Show, The Twentieth Century and The Great American Dream Machine; he also wrote for Arthur Godfrey’s radio and TV shows (Arthur Godfrey Time) and before his 60 Minutes stint did a series of humorous specials on CBS that included 1975’s Peabody Award-winning Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington and one of my personal favorites, Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner (in 1978).  If there is indeed a life out in the Great Beyond, Rooney is probably complaining about conditions in his typical curmudgeonly fashion.

Two of television’s character actor icons have also shuffled off this mortal coil—and as irony would have it, both on the same day.  Actor Leonard Stone was eulogized in numerous obituaries for his signature role as used car salesman Sam Beauregarde (father of ill-fated gum chewer Violet Beauregarde) in the 1971 feature film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory…but here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, we remember Stone for the fact that he literally seemed to be in every episode of the 1967-70 revival of Dragnet (yes, I realize he only appeared in five installments—but I swear it seemed like more).  He also had recurring roles on such series as Camp Runamuck (as Doc Joslyn), General Hospital and L.A. Law; his film roles include The Mugger, The Big Mouth, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Angel in My Pocket, Soylent Green and Hardly Working.  Stone died one day before his 88th natal anniversary on November 2.

In the 1950s, legions of kidvid viewers knew character thesp Sid Melton as Ichabod “Ikky” Mudd (“Mudd with two d’s”) on Captain Midnight (aka Jet Jackson)…and those who could stay up later than that recognized Sid as Charley Halper, the nightclub owner that employed Danny Williams on The Danny Thomas Show (aka Make Room for Daddy).  Melton’s character of Halper also appeared on the 1970-71 revival series Make Room for Granddaddy, and the actor also had recurring roles on such shows as It’s Always Jan, The Gale Storm Show (Oh Susanna!), Bachelor Father, Gomer Pyle, USMC and The Golden Girls (he played Salvadore Petrillo, the late husband of Estelle Getty’s Sophia Petrillo in flashbacks).

But at the risk of inviting the ire of known Green Acres despiser ClassicBecky—Melton’s best-known role here at TDOY remains Alf Monroe, one-half of the Monroe brothers (the other “brother” being Ralph, played by Mary Grace Canfield) contracting duo on the 1960s bucolic sitcom whose slow and steady attempts to renovate “the old Haney place” now owned by Oliver (Eddie Albert) and Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) still makes me tee hee with unbridled glee to this day.  In fact, a commenter over at Kliph Nesteroff’s Classic Television Showbiz (where Mr. N did a nice photo tribute to Sid before most of the online obituaries came out) remarked, “Looks like the Douglasses will never get that renovation done on the Haney place now…”  It brought a tear to my eye, knowing that we lost a versatile and amazingly talented man at the age of 94 on November 2 (though the always reliable IMDb argues November 3).

Two gentlemen who started their show business careers during Radio’s Golden Age have also gone on to their greater rewards: radio and TV announcer George Ansbro, a man who holds the record as the longest-tenured employee of any network in broadcast history (58 years, 3 months and 12 days with ABC), passed on at the age of 96 on November 5.  He began his career in the ether as a boy soprano on Milton Cross’ Children’s Hour in 1928; three years later he was working for NBC as a page and he started announcing for General Sarnoff’s network three years after that.  He worked on soap operas, quiz shows and various other broadcasts but he’s best known as the man who informed Dr. I.Q. “I have a lady in the balcony, Doctor…” and announced the day-to-day trials and tribulations of Young Widder Brown.  Securing a job in television, he soon became a familiar voice on ABC during their daytime lineup doing voice-overs and bumpers (often heard during the sudser One Life to Live).

And one of my comedy heroes, Emmy Award-winning writer-director-producer and Savannah, GA native Hal Kanter, said goodbye at the age of 92 on November 6—I did a birthday shout-out to Mr. Kanter last December and mentioned that he wrote for such radio programs as Amos ‘n’ Andy, Beulah and Bing Crosby’s Philco Radio Time.  But he also got in on TV’s ground floor, starting out on Ed Wynn’s 1949 comedy-variety series and later creating The George Gobel Show, Valentine’s Day and the landmark sitcom Julia in addition to working on Chico and the Man and All in the Family.  In his later years, Kanter served as the co-writer of the annual Academy Awards ceremony telecast…though sadly, none of his directorial efforts like Loving You (with Elvis Presley) and Once Upon a Horse (with Rowan & Martin) carted off any Oscar gold (but it’s where he was awarded his Emmys).  It’s truly sad when the great “funny men” leave us…and he will be fondly remembered here at TDOY.

A special fare-thee-well goes out to cartoonist Bil Keane, creator of the panel comic strip The Family Circus, who has presumably gone to join that creepy dead grandfather that used to turn up in the strip every now and then.  I don’t mean to make light of his passing, but that comic was a little unsettling at times; this obituary (Keane passed away on November 8 at the age of 89) makes mention that Bil was a big fan of The Far Side and Zippy the Pinhead (Zippy even made an appearance one time in Circus) but the wackiest thing I ever saw in Circus was a Sunday panel where creepy dead Granddad was playing fetch in the Great Beyond with the recently expired dog from For Better or Worse.  (I swear I’m not making that up.  When I brought up the news of Keane’s passing to World O’Crap’s Scott C. he joked that Keane can now finally look for his missing “L.”).  Parents of young children who are concerned as to what they’ll stick on their refrigerators now that Keane is gone can rest assured—his son Jeff (the inspiration for “Jeffy”) will insure that the adventures of the family continue.

R.I.P. to all of these talented individuals…and we won’t forget the following as well:

Georgina Cookson (October 1, 81) – Stage, screen and television actress whose film credits include Your Past is Showing and Darling; also appeared in episodes of such TV series as Citizen James, The Prisoner, UFO and Steptoe and Son

Alan Fudge (October 10, 77) – Film and television character actor who scored regular gigs on such TV series as The Man from Atlantis, Eischied and 7th Heaven; his films include Bug, Capricorn One, Chapter Two, Brainstorm and The Natural

Wyatt Knight (October 25, 56) – Film and television actor best known for his appearances as “Tommy Turner” in the Porky’s trilogy; also had guest roles on such TV series as The Waltons, T.J. Hooker, Family Ties and Chicago Hope (the date of Knight’s death has also been reported as October 26 due to the actor’s committing suicide)

Tom Donovan (October 27, 89) – Television director-producer who oversaw many of TV’s live anthology productions during its golden age; also worked on many daytime dramas such as Another World, Love is a Many Splendored Thing and Ryan’s Hope (the link is to Stephen Bowie’s fine tribute at The Classic TV History Blog to Donovan as well as an equally eloquent nod to the passing of Robert Collins, a film and TV writer-director best known for creating Police Woman who passed away on October 21 at the age of 81)

Reese Palmer (October 27, 73) – R&B vocalist who was front man for the doo wop group The Marquees, who back up Chuck Berry on Back in the U.S.A. (along with Etta James)

David Wicks (October 27, 31) – Actor-stuntman who was killed during the filming of Expendables 2, proving once again that irony can be quite ironic sometimes

Beryl Davis (October 28, 87) – British vocalist who performed alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman; later appeared in the quartet The Four Girls (with Jane Russell, Rhonda Fleming and Savannah native Connie Haines)

Dave Donnelly (October 28, 69) – Rochester, NY-based country music musician

Dolores Duffy (October 29, age unspecified) – Film and television character actress recognizable in her role as Iris Puffybush on the sitcom Strangers with Candy

Phyllis Love (October 30, 85) – Stage, screen and television actress whose film credits include Friendly Persuasion and The Young Doctors; her TV work includes episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The F.B.I. and Bonanza

George Rountree (October 30, 61) – Longtime musical director for the Four Tops who also worked with such music legends as Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Temptations

Liz Anderson (October 31, 81) – Country music singer-songwriter who penned (My Friends are Gonna Be) Strangers and The Fugitive for Merle Haggard in addition to having solo hits like Mama Spank and The Game of Triangles (with Bobby Bare and Norma Jean); mother of Lynn Anderson—she wrote Lynn’s Top Ten hit If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)

Richard Gordon (November 1, 85) – British motion picture writer-producer whose specialty was horror and sci-fi B-films—among his credits are such classics as The Haunted Strangler, Fiend Without a Face, Corridors of Blood and Devil Doll

Lou Maletta (November 2, 74) – Broadcast executive who founded the Gay Cable Network, which established the groundwork for the 24-hour cable channel Logo

Cory Smoot (November 3, 34) – Guitarist for the costumed heavy metal band Gwar

Annabelle Lyon (November 4, 95) – American ballerina who danced with some of the most prestigious ballet companies of the era, including George Balanchine’s American Ballet

Cynthia Myers (November 4, 61) – Former Playboy Playmate and film actress whose best known role is that of “Casey Anderson” in the 1970 cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Theadora Van Runkle (November 4, 83) – Oscar-nominated costume designer whose credits include Bonnie and Clyde, Bullitt, The Reivers, The Godfather Part II, Nickelodeon and Peggy Sue Got Married

Gordon Beck (November 6, 75) – British jazz pianist and composer

Margaret (O’Mahoney) Field (November 6, 89) – B-picture actress who appeared in such films as The Man from Planet X, Captive City and Inside Detroit; also had long career doing guest roles on such shows as Lawman, The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone…but couldn’t land a gig on either Gidget or The Flying Nun, which starred her daughter Sally

Joe Frazier (November 7, 67) – “Smokin’” ex-heavyweight boxing champion best known for his three epic fights against Muhammad Ali, including the infamous “Thrilla in Manila”; also appeared in films (Rocky, Ghost Fever, Home of Angels) and TV (The Jeffersons, Movin’ On, Frank’s Place) as a result of his fame

Hal Bruno (November 8, 83) – Veteran ABC News journalist whose expertise was the field of political journalism

Heavy D (aka Dwight Myers) (November 8, 44) – Jamaican-born rap/hip-hop artist who also dabbled in acting, appearing in such films as Life and The Cider House Rules and regular roles on TV shows like Roc, Boston Public and The Tracy Morgan Show

Jimmy Norman (November 8, 74) – R&B/jazz musician and songwriter who co-wrote the extended lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ Time is On My Side and charted with tunes like I Don’t Love You No More (I Don’t Care About You)

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Page said...

Very nice tributes for those we recently lost.
I have to say I was very saddened upon learning of Andy Rooney's passing. 60 Minutes is a show I've watched regularly for years and even when the segments weren't of interest I never missed Rooney's commentary. It's heartbreaking that someone who gave his life to his career wasn't able to enjoy his retirement.

Stacia said...

in later years he managed to piss off gays, Native Americans, Latinos, religious groups and fans of Nirvana. (To be honest, I sort of gave him a pass on that last one.)

It's not about being a fan of Nirvana or Kurt Cobain, it's about believing people should act in a basically decent manner. It's unbelievably rotten to use your large public pulpit to pass harsh judgment on someone who was so ill (in one way or another) that they killed themselves. Just because Cobain was a celebrity who lived a life Rooney didn't approve of didn't mean his surviving family and friends needed to hear Rooney's judgmental rants, or the inevitable chorus of agreement from Rooney's fans.