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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Gone but not forgotten V

You didn’t think the year 2003 would progress any further without me doing my annual collection of sound bite farewells to the movie and other entertainment folk who left us during the previous twelve months, did you? I’ve already penned tributes to the following:

  • Durable American comedian Milton Berle
  • Veteran Hollywood director John Frankenheimer
  • Irish-born film/stage actor and singer Richard Harris
  • Beloved Irish playwright John B Keane
  • British-born funnyman, actor and pianist Dudley Moore
  • Late-blooming TV and film actor Peg Phillips
  • Intense Hollywood actor Rod Steiger
  • Legendary director Billy Wilder

    As for the rest, here we go. As always, we’ll go alphabetically and in two installments. (See the second half next week.)

  • Parley Baer: There should be a seat in the halls of immortality for the mayor of Mayberry, but that’s not the only character bit part you had. Your portly southern persona appeared in scores of movies over five decades. Everything from 1950’s Comanche Territory and Union Station to 1993’s Dave (as the Senate majority leader).

  • Billie Bird: Another veteran character actor whose career ran from the 1950s the 1990s. John Hughes gave you work playing dotty oldsters in Sixteen Candles, Home Alone and Dennis the Menace. Your bits in a Police Academy movie and an Ernest movie mean you ran the entire lowbrow comical gamut.

  • Eddie Bracken: You were the epitome of the hapless comic hero. A bit player most of your life, your shining moment was in 1944 with two Preston Sturges films, The Miracle of Morgan Creek (which strangely foreshadowed The Playboys) and Hail the Conquering Hero, which still makes Jim Carrey’s turn in the similarly plotted The Majestic pale by comparison.

  • Rosemary Clooney: Lately, you were merely “George’s aunt.” Before that, you were known for mental health problems. But in your time you were one heck of a singer. We’ll still get a tear every year watching you be coy, then getting angry and finally warming up to Bing Crosby in White Christmas.

  • James Coburn: You were a great villain and a great hero. There was a time when I actually got you confused with Lee Marvin, but that was a long time ago. Definitely a real man’s man, your filmography is like a roll call of cool adventure flicks: The Magnificent Seven, Our Man Flint, Fistful of Dynamite, Cross of Iron. Glad you got the Oscar for Affliction.

  • Jeff Corey: From sewing machine salesman to stage actor to film actor to acting teacher and back to film actor, your career actually spans eight decades. You were in everything from a Frankenstein movie to a Superman movie (the George Reeves pilot) to a Planet of the Apes movie to a Conan the Barbarian movie. Heck, you were even in classics like My Friend Flicka, Miracle on 34th Street, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  • Brad Dexter: A burly guy, you were usually the villain. Starting with 1947’s Sinbad the Sailor, you were a fixture in such flicks as The Asphalt Jungle, Run Silent, Run Deep, The Magnificent Seven, Invitation to a Gunfighter, and Von Ryan’s Express. For a nice change of pace, you were a senator in Shampoo.

  • John Entwistle: Only a couple of members of The Who left who forgot they wanted to die before they got old. I know you were a rocker and not really a film guy. But, with the rest of the band, you had a hand in the documentary The Kids Are Alright and the not-quite-a-rock-opera flick Quadrophenia. And then there was that other movie, with Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed. Tommy, can you hear me?

  • Adolph Green: Rest easy, your words and music will be immortalized in moviedom forever. It would be enough to have written the stories and/or screenplays for Singin’ in the Rain, Auntie Mame and Bells Are Ringing, but all those songs! You and Betty Comden wrote a whole slew of songs that will be standards forever. Thanks for the insider’s peek you provided in The Bandwagon, the backstage musical in which Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant played thinly veiled versions of Betty and yourself, as second bananas to Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. A song from that flick, “That’s Entertainment,” became a virtual anthem for movie musicals of all time—not to mention a series of self-congratulatory MGM big-screen retrospectives.

  • George Roy Hill: Sorry, you should have had a whole column to yourself. There was always something special about your movies. Your films with Paul Newman (Slap Shot) and Robert Redford (The Great Waldo Pepper) were okay, but when you used the two together, it was magic. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Need I say more?) But you had a similarly enchanting touch when working with Peter Sellers (The World of Henry Orient) or an overacting Laurence Olivier and a teenage Diane Lane (A Little Romance). Or when you were bringing tricky cult novels to the screen (Slaughterhouse-Five and The World According to Garp). Not bad for a Yank who studied at Dublin’s Trinity College.

  • Peter Hunt: The action yarns you directed weren’t particularly memorable (Gold, Shout at the Devil, Wild Geese II) but, hey, at least you edited quite a few classic James Bond movies (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice).

  • Kim Hunter: Your story is a familiar one. Years of fine acting work lead to a deserved Oscar (for Supporting Actress as Marlon Brando’s wife “Stella!!” in A Streetcar Named Desire). And what will most of us actually remember you for? That’s right, monkey woman Dr. Zira in the original Planet of the Apes movies. (That 1950s blacklist stuff didn’t help.) But that’s all right. Some of us will also remember you as the romantic lead in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven).

  • Chuck Jones: Anyone who’s ever said or thought that cartoons can’t be pure art hasn’t paid attention to your work. You were the last of the Warner Brothers golden age animation giants. Now, that era is closed for good. For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, a few phrases should suffice. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Bugs Bunny in What’s Opera, Doc? Daffy in Duck Amuck and Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century. (I was well into adulthood before I learned that the word is actually “amok,” not “amuck.”) Anyway, we’ll remember you every time we flip channels to the WB, since the TV network’s mascot is your famous singing frog from One Froggy Evening.

    To be continued…

    -S.L., 9 January 2003

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