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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Gone but not forgotten VIII

I now continue my annual alphabetical roll call (begun last week) of movie and other entertainment personalities who passed on during the year 2003. Farewell and thanks.

  • Michael Jeter: You were one of those faces that popped up regularly, but many people probably didn’t even realize it was the same actor behind all the faces. You’re probably best known as Burt Reynolds’s assistant coach on the sitcom Evening Shade, but you had parts in films ranging from Hair to Tango & Cash to Miller’s Crossing to Waterworld to Patch Adams to The Green Mile to last year’s Open Range. Your shining cinematic moment had to be as the homeless cabaret singer in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. But in my house your claim to immortality lies with your continuing role on the “Elmo’s World” segment of Sesame Street, as Mr. Noodle’s brother Mr. Noodle.

  • Michael Kamen: Your music didn’t exactly have the same impact on the movies it graced as, say, that of Elmer Bernstein or Ennio Morricone. But it embellished a fair few films. You followed composing for the Joffrey and La Scala with writing songs for David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Kate Bush and the Eurythmics. Your scores of film scores include Between the Lines, Brazil, Highlander, Mona Lisa, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Licence to Kill, Circle of Friends, Don Juan DeMarco, X-Men and last year’s Open Range. Admittedly, none of those titles immediately makes us start humming a classic melody (like, say, The Magnificent Seven), but your music did its work well and you deserve recognition for the impressive width and breadth of your work.

  • Keiko: What is it about the age of 27 for whale movie stars? Frankly, I didn’t even know whales could get pneumonia. In an effort to make reality imitate a juvenile movie, a foundation paid $20 million to set you free, but you seemed to prefer human company and being fed. If I had ever gotten to Iceland and if I could speak whale (like Dory in Finding Nemo), I would have asked you what you thought of the whole thing. I guess we’ll never know for sure. Anyway, you made your mark in movie history by having the title role in a movie that probably gave more smirks to adolescent boys than any other. Free Willy, indeed.

  • Rachel Kempson: Okay, let’s face it, I might not even be mentioning you, if not for whom you married (Sir Michael Redgrave) and your children (Vanessa, Lynn and Corin Redgrave) and grandchildren (Natasha and Joely Richardson). Still, you were a respected actor in your own right and would have certainly had an even more celebrated career if you hadn’t been such a devoted wife and mother. A player with the Royal Shakespeare Company and other respected theater troupes, your film and television c.v. consists of mainly highbrow productions: The Captive Heart, Tom Jones, The Jewel in the Crown, Out of Africa. You appeared with your daughter Lynn in Tom Jones and Georgy Girl, and with your husband in The Captive Heart. What a dynasty, my lady.

  • Kay E. Kuter: Why am I including you in this list? Well, you had bit parts in important films like the original Sabrina and Guys and Dolls, and small to medium roles in a series of small to medium films over half a century, including An Enemy of the People, The Last Starfighter and Warlock. But that’s not it. No, I have to mention you because of a supporting part you played in two corny latter-1960s sitcoms. You were Newt Kiley on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

  • Hope Lange: You had a strong start in your mid-20s, playing a girl who befriends Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop. You were nominated for an Oscar for the movie Peyton Place. But I’ll mainly remember you for playing the Gene Tierney part in the TV sitcom version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. A less noticed sitcom role was in The New Dick Van Dyke, which did not match the old Dick Van Dyke Show and was eclipsed by the new Mary Tyler Moore Show. You still continued to pop up from time to time over the years, in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, as Laura Dern’s mother in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, in the adaptation of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Tune in Tomorrow), and as a senator in Clear and Present Danger. Your key to pop culture immortality, however, may be from playing the wife of Charles Bronson, who gets murdered by criminal weirdoes thereby setting him off on a violent rampage, in Death Wish.

  • Dorothy Loudon: Primarily a stage actor and a fairly renowned one at that, you made an impression on me, as a kid, when you appeared on TV’s The Garry Moore Show. Your film roles were minor (Garbo Talks, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and your TV show (Dorothy) was short-lived. Known for your wacky sense of humor, you replaced Carol Burnett as the resident comedienne on Moore’s show, but it was Burnett who replaced you (as the villainous Miss Hannigan) in the film version of Annie. The Tony you got for that role on Broadway was but one of many awards in your storied career.

  • Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg: Partners until the end, you died 29 days apart. I’m too young to remember you myself, but I along with everyone else in the world sees the fruits of what you pioneered every time we switch on the telly. On radio and TV in the 1940s and 1950s, Tex and Jinx was, as far as I know anyway, the world’s first “talk show.” The chatter hasn’t stopped since.

  • N!xau: In a film comedy from South Africa that seemed to come out of nowhere, you went looking for the edge of the world, and darned if you didn’t find it. The scenes of you finding a Coke bottle and bringing it to the most spectacular cliff in the universe are images that stick in the mind two decades on. They gave tremendous weight to what was essentially a silly, slapstick comedy with the wonderful title The Gods Must Be Crazy. You and your movie proved that “foreign” films actually could be blockbusters in the American market, consequently (and ironically) selling a lot more Coke.

  • David Newman: Not to be confused with the prolific composer/film scorer of the same name, you were a screenwriter. In the 1960s you were partners with fellow Esquire editor Robert Benton when you wrote the seminal Bonnie and Clyde. Your follow-up was the very different screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?. But as a pop-culture-studying kind of guy (you and Benton were good friends with François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard), your main contribution to movies may actually be in helping make us believe a man can fly. You wrote the book for the stage musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman and followed that (working with wife Leslie) with scripts for the first three Superman movies, directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester and starring Christopher Reeve. Up, up and away.

  • Gene Anthony Ray: I know it was Irene Cara who sang “I’m gonna live forever” and not you, but still you seemed to have so much energy and life that we thought you would. Born in Harlem, you were kicked out of New York’s High School of the Performing Arts, but you made it into the film version of that school in the film (and later TV series) Fame as Leroy. Appropriately, you skipped class to go to the audition. You were basically playing yourself, weren’t you? Which is why we never really saw you play anyone else. You died too young, but we’ll do our best to remember your name.

  • Madlyn Rhue: If we remember you at all, it may be more for your courageous fight against multiple sclerosis than for your three-decade acting career. A frequent TV guest star and occasional regular, you will be recognized by people according to their entertainment tastes: Lt. Marla McGives on the “Space Seed” episode of Star Trek, Jean O’Neill on Murder, She Wrote, Daphne DiMera on Days of Our Lives. Twice you played women named Schwartz: first as a secretary in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, then later on the TV series Fame. As the 1988 public service ad (showing you in a wheelchair) proclaimed, “Even with MS, Madlyn Rhue Is On A Roll.”

  • John Ritter: After my father had finally watched each and every rerun of I Love Lucy 268 times, he switched to another nightly syndicated series. It was Three’s Company and he laughed at that show as much or more as he did at Lucy. That’s certainly what you will be remembered for (the guy living with two jiggly female roommates, an idea that seemed to capture America’s titillated fancy in the late 1970s/early 1980s) as well as for the sitcom you were starring in when you died so suddenly. Your best sitcom (or dramedy, as was the fashionable term) was probably Hooperman, and you were the executive producer for the very funny Anything But Love, with Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis. I’ve also just learned that you were the voice for Clifford the Big Red Dog. But you weren’t just a TV guy. You were in quite a few films, including the TV-satirizing comedy Stay Tuned and the Problem Child movies. But your shining moments in film came in 1981’s They All Laughed and in 1996’s Sling Blade, followed by respectable outings in Tadpole and your last movie, Bad Santa. Not bad for a guy whose first TV appearance was as a contestant on The Dating Game.

  • Fred Rogers: I never saw more than a few moments of your TV show, and my daughter has never seen it, so I know the parodies better than what you actually did. Still, I thought I should mention you, since I had already made a point of highlighting the children’s TV work of Lynne Thigpen, Michael Jeter, Gregory Hines and John Ritter. Hope it’s a beautiful day in your new neighborhood.

  • Martha Scott: What was it with you and Charlton Heston? You were his mother twice (in Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments) and his wife twice on stage. You made your first and most lasting impression as Emily Webb in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, first on the stage and then in the 1940 film. You often played good-hearted and self-sacrificing women from the American heartland, as in Three Cheers for Miss Bishop and One Foot in Heaven. Other films included The Desperate Hours, Sayonara, The Turning Point and Doin’ Time on Planet Earth. Inevitably, trivia-minded people like myself will remember you mainly for two other, completely less important roles: appearing occasionally as Bob’s mother on The Bob Newhart Show and as the nun who didn’t sing (along with Helen Reddy, who did and who was brilliantly parodied in 1980’s Airplane!) on an endangered airliner in Airport 1975, again co-starring with Charlton Heston.

  • Penny Singleton: You have not one but two major claims to pop culture immortality. You were, of course, the titular Blondie in more than 20 (that’s right) movies based on the classic comic strip (as well as on radio), from 1938 to 1950. In the 1960s you were the voice of Jane Jetson, Hanna-Barbera’s futuristic animated housewife. Your hair wasn’t actually blonde until you became Blondie, and your name wasn’t actually Singleton until you married Dr. Singleton. But it’s just as well, since Hollywood probably couldn’t have handled a star named Mariana Dorothy Agnes Letitia McNulty (although your first few screen credits were as Dorothy McNulty). Off-screen, you were something of an activist, leading the first strike of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and becoming the first female president of an AFL-CIO union (American Guild of Variety Artists).

  • Florence Stanley: Naturally, all I need to know about you was that you provided the voice of the sobbing ghost of Josette at some point in the classic daytime gothic serial Dark Shadows. While this will draw a blank with most normal people, they can better place you by having it pointed out that you played Bernice Fish, the television wife of Abe Vigoda, on the sitcom Barney Miller and on a short-lived spin-off. A decade later you played the judge on My Two Dads and, strangely, seemed to play the same character on a guest spot on Night Court. Your big-screen career seems to consist mainly of voice parts in animated Disney movies, notably Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and as Warren Beatty’s secretary in Bulworth. Oh yeah, and the dry cleaner’s wife in Down with Love.

  • William Steig: I’ve always loved New Yorker cartoons and, while yours weren’t the ones that necessarily made me laugh the loudest, they were thought-provoking. Their anthropological nature probably comes from being married to the sister of a famous anthropologist (Margaret Mead). When your drawings started appearing in greeting cards (and other paper paraphernalia), which had been pretty bland up until then, they first gave the cards the edge that we now take for granted when browsing through the Hallmark store. I don’t really know your children’s books, but I know one of your books was the source for a movie I really liked a lot. Thanks for giving us Shrek.

  • Peter Stone: Sometimes you used this name. Sometimes you used Peter Joshua, and sometimes you were Pierre Marton. For the stage you penned such shows as 1776 (as well as the film), Will Rogers Follies, Woman of the Year, and Titanic (but not the film, which was unrelated). For the big screen, your work included The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and a couple of Cary Grant movies: Charade (and its recent remake The Truth About Charlie) and Father Goose, for which you won an Oscar. Added to your several Tony awards and your Emmy for writing an episode of The Defenders, that made you first writer ever to get all three statuettes.

  • Daniel Taradash: Another writer, you left the law after winning a playwrighting contest Your specialty was adapting big books for the big screen. Your screenplays included Picnic, Bell Book and Candle, Hawaii, Castle Keep and The Other Side of Midnight. Your real biggie, however, was the one that won you the Oscar: From Here to Eternity. So, was the famous beach scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr just like you saw it in your head?

  • Leon Uris: As far as I know, you wrote just two screenplays, both in the 1950s: Battle Cry (based on your own novel) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Your real contribution was writing novels that other people adapted into big movies, mainly the spy thriller Topaz, which Hitchcock filmed, and Exodus, the epic about the war for Palestine, which Otto Preminger filmed. To this day, I can’t hear your name without having Ernest Gold’s theme from that movie run through my head.

  • Philip Yordan: What it must have been like to be in your basement in Paris during the McCarthy era! The place was filled with blacklisted writers, turning out scripts, which you put your name on so that they could get produced. But you managed to turn out one or two of your own screenplays as well. Ranging from the 1940s to the 1990s, they included nothing less than the likes of Dillinger, Houdini, Johnny Guitar, The Man from Laramie, The Harder They Fall, King of Kings, El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire. Your last ones were something called Dead Girls Don’t Tango and Too Bad About Jack.

    -S.L., 15 January 2004

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