Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Gone but not forgotten XIV

I now continue and conclude my seventh annual alphabetical roll call (begun last week) of movie and other entertainment media personalities who passed on during the year 2006. A fond farewell to all.

  • Kyoko Kishida: You were in more than 100 films, but they were Japanese films, so we never saw the bulk of them. But you entered into legend in 1964 playing the title role in a movie that was both poetic and erotic and which got two Oscar nominations. You are, and always will be, the Woman in the Dunes.

  • Don Knotts: A comic icon, who was always there during the entire life of the baby boom generation, you were among that relatively small class of comedians who could make us laugh simply by standing there. Your striving-for-a-swagger body language and hopeless grin had us in stitches before you even opened your mouth. You will always be Barney Fife and, indeed, every character you played was essentially the uproariously cocky Mayberry deputy. Consequently, you will always be twinned in our minds with Andy Griffith, with whom you made your movie debut in 1958 in No Time for Sergeants, two years before the two of you began television history. Sure, you went to other sitcoms (notably Three’s Company), but neither they nor your film oeuvre (such as it is) are what bonded you to our hearts. The names of your film comedies say it all: The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, The Shakiest Gun in the West. They all make us long for Mayberry, where despite being the comic relief, you also occasionally got to show a bit of depth.

  • S. John Launer: A regularly employed character actor, you usually played a judge, including 32 times on Perry Mason alone. You sent Elvis Presley to prison in Jailhouse Rock. Strangely, however, you didn’t play one (or even appear) in My Cousin Vinny, which was written and produced by your son. Other credits: I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Creature with the Atom Brain, I Want to Live!, Marnie and Mommie Dearest (playing the chairman of Pepsi).

  • Mako: As often seems to happen, your first major movie role was your most memorable. In fact, that movie The Sand Pebbles got both you and co-star Steve McQueen your only Oscar nominations. The scene where McQueen has to shoot his friend and engine room comrade is one of the most emotional in a war movie. A post-war immigrant from Japan, you have popped up in various movies for the past three and a half decades, often in ethnic or sci-fi/fantasy roles: The Hawaiians, The Killer Elite, Conan the Barbarian and its sequel (as the wizard Akiro), Testament, Pacific Heights, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Seven Years in Tibet, Bulletproof Monk and the yet-to-be-released Rise, starring Lucy Liu.

  • Hilary Mason: We will take it on faith from your London Times obituary that you were adept at comedy. And we are sure there are Brits who have fond memories of you in various TV productions during your long acting career. But for us Yanks, you will be remembered generally for being cast as creepy old women in movies like The Devil Within Her, Stuart Gordon’s Dolls, Kiss of the Beast (aka Meridian) and Afraid of the Dark. But specifically, we will remember you always for one specific role: the one in which you creeped out Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland (and us!) in a damp, decaying Venice in Nicolas Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now as a blind woman (on holiday with her sister) who claims to be a psychic.

  • Bob Mathias: For us kids in the San Joaquin Valley, you were more than a world-renowned local hero. For years, you were the face on our boxes of Wheaties. Matinee idol handsome with a physique to match, you checked all the boxes of hero-dom: Olympic decathlon gold medal winner, Stanford football star, soldier and U.S. Congressman (back when that was a respectable thing). In between, you were briefly even a movie and TV star. You made only four movies (plus a starring gig on a TV show called The Troubleshooters). They were China Doll (with Victor Mature and Stuart Whitman), The Minotaur, It Happened in Athens (with Jayne Mansfield) and, of course, The Bob Mathias Story (with Ward Bond as the Tulare high school coach). Not bad for a valley boy.

  • Kevin McClory: You were assistant to the legendary John Huston but, as far as I can tell, you yourself directed only one film, something called The Boy on the Bridge, which was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 1959 Venice Film Festival. But you deserve a footnote in cinematic history because, thanks to you, we got one last movie with Sean Connery playing James Bond. You collaborated with Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham on an 007 script that did not get produced. Consequently, Fleming used the script as a basis for his novel Thunderball, which you got the rights to (as well as a producer credit on the movie) as part of the settlement of your lawsuit. This provided the loophole that allowed you to executive produce its remake 1983 Never Say Never Again, which brought Connery back to the Bond role after a 12-year absence and which was the only Bond movie not produced by the Cubby Broccoli-Harry Saltzman franchise.

  • Darren McGavin: You were on TV forever. In fact, it’s easy to forget just how many shows you were on. You were Mike Hammer, the captain of the Riverboat, The Outsider and even a recurring character on Dr. Kildare—not to mention the recurring role of Murphy Brown’s father. You also had endless guest appearances on every show from Route 66 and Rawhide to Grace Under Fire, Touched by an Angel and The X-Files. You also had a respectable movie career, memorably playing the pusher who keeps Frank Sinatra supplied with heroin in The Man with the Golden Arm. Other roles included The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole (Susan Hayward’s last movie), an uncredited part in The Natural and as Adam Sandler’s dad in Billy Madison. Most people, however, will remember your movie career for playing the Everydad in the season perennial, based on Jean Shepherd’s childhood memoir, A Christmas Story. You directed one movie yourself, the 1973 multiple murder mystery Happy Mother’s Day, Love George, featuring Ron Howard, as a youth searching for his birth parents, and Bobby Darin in his last film role. But I’ve been talking all around the one character we will really remember you for. You were Kolchak, the fashion-challenged newshound with a knack for unearthing supernatural scoops. You played the character in two Dan Curtis TV movies (The Night Stalker, set in Las Vegas, and The Night Strangler, set in Seattle), followed by the series (Kolchak: The Night Stalker). For good or ill, we will never be able to conjure up your image in our minds without seeing that ugly hat.

  • Jan Murray: I mainly remembered you as a game show host. I think it was Treasure Hunt. And I knew you were a standup comic, of the borscht-belt variety. But imagine my surprise when I found out you had an acting career as well. And your films were not exclusively the goofy comedies that one would have expected. Some of your flicks had names like Thunder Alley, The Angry Breed, Day of the Wolves and Fear City. Sure, there were comedies too, like The Busy Body (Richard Pryor’s first movie), the spy spoof A Man Called Dagger and the Jerry Lewis vehicle Which Way to the Front? Heck, there was even a Tarzan movie. But the weirdest one has to be your first, Who Killed Teddy Bear?, in which you played a cop with an unusually high interest in sexual deviancy. I still have never resolved in my mind for sure whether it was meant to be a parody or not.

  • Philippe Noiret: Mon Dieu! In my holiday travels, your passing nearly slipped past me. You weren’t a household name outside your own country like, say, Yves Montand. But you earned the respect and affection of arthouse cinema-goers everywhere for a large and solid body of work and of mainstream audiences for performances in two popular films set in Italy. You were love-of-cinema incarnate as the old small-town projectionist, who passes on his passion to a young boy, in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. And you were the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, befriending the local postman, in Michael Radford’s Il Postino. Fans of French cinema remember you for movies like Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Métro and an impressive series of collaborations with director Betrand Tavernier: The Clockmaker, The Judge and the Assassin, A Week’s Vacation, Coup de Torchon, Round Midnight (an homage to blue-toned jazz, starring Dexter Gordon) and Life and Nothing But. A sentimental favorite of mine: Philippe de Broca’s Tendre Poulet (Dear Inspector), a comic policier in which you played the boyfriend of detective Annie Girardot. I really cannot believe that we will not see your hang-dog face and woe-filled eyes again.

  • Buck Owens: You’re another music personage who has slipped into this list. Why? Possibly for all those years you spent playing a grinning yokel (and singing your legendary country-western songs) on Hee Haw? Maybe, but here are a couple of other (equally tenuous) reasons. You wrote and sang a song (later covered more famously by Ringo Starr) in which you sang, “They’re-re… going to put me in the movies…” And, more importantly (to me), you used to lend your considerable support to a major charity event in my hometown when my dad was the mayor. And now, it has finally paid off for you.

  • Gordon Parks: When you died last March, National Public Radio noted your passing with a fair amount of air time. I guess they figured that NPR listeners would be natural fans of Shaft and its sequel, Shaft’s Big Score! (You scored the music for the latter, in addition to directing.) No, they were honoring you for being what one commentator called “the African-American Renaissance man par excellence.” You were not only a filmmaker but also an accomplished photographer, journalist, novelist, poet, composer and librettist. Your most respected movie was The Learning Tree, based on your autographical novel, about growing up in Kansas. Your best one, however, was certainly 1976’s Leadbelly, starring Roger E. Mosley (better known as T.C. on TV’s Magnum P.I.) as the legendary blues singer, master guitarist and chain-gang member Huddie Ledbetter.

  • Chris Penn: In the shadow of your older brother Sean, you were sort of the Clint Howard of edgy cinema. Once you and Sean actually played brothers, well half-brothers, in 1986’s At Close Range. You’ll be remembered for playing Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, but your c.v. is a virtual catalog of non-charismatic everymen, who sometimes get their spirits lifted by the movie’s star. Like the hick kid who gets taught to dance by cool Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Other early roles: All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise and Rumble Fish with Matt Dillon. As you matured, your physical heft virtually guaranteed that you would also play villains. As in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider or as the homophobic sheriff in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Or sidekicks, as in Starsky & Hutch and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

  • Renato Polselli: Not as well known as fellow Italian horrormeister Dario Argento, you were around first. In cases like this, titles say it all: The Vampire and the Ballerina, The Vampire of the Opera, Delirium, The Reincarnation of Isabel, The Truth According to Satan and Revelations of a Psychiatrist in a World of Perverse Sex.

  • Gillo Pontecorvo: Your films are not exactly what might be called escapist entertainment. A politically engaged leftist, former foreign correspondent and documentarian, you made movies with a definite message. Kapo was a concentration camp melodrama. Burn! was an epic, starring Marlon Brando, about the evils of colonialism. Your best known film was The Battle of Algiers, chronicling, in documentary style, the struggle of Algeria’s National Liberation Front against the French. It earned you three Oscar nominations.

  • Ingo Preminger: Brother of director Otto, you were an agent who helped blacklisted Hollywood writers Ring Lardner Jr. and Dalton Trumbo find work during the McCarthy era—through the use of “fronts,” who lent their non-sullied names for credit purposes. Then you became a producer and hired Lardner to adapt the novel M*A*S*H for a film directed by Robert Altman, thereby earning Lardner a screenwriting Oscar and getting a nomination for Best Picture for yourself.

  • Dana Reeve: This one is really too sad for words. Your career as a singer and stage-and-TV actor was postponed indefinitely when your husband Christopher became paralyzed from a horseback riding accident. The foundation that the two of you founded has provided scores of millions of dollars for paralysis research, and you were compelling advocates of government funding for stem cell research. Then a year and a half after Christopher died from an infection, you were dead from lung cancer. Sometimes life really is not fair. Our hearts go out to your son.

  • Candice Rialson: You were one of those rare actors who somehow managed to bridge the gap between respectable mainstream movies and what are politely referred to as “exploitation” or “drive-in” movies. As always, the titles tell the story. You had small appearances in such well-known and/or admired films as The Eiger Sanction, Logan’s Run, Silent Movie, and Winter Kills. But your c.v. also included titles like Moonshine County Express, Candy Stripe Nurses, Summer School Teachers, Hollywood Boulevard and Mama’s Dirty Little Girls. Reportedly, you died of cancer at 54, unaware that your fan base was still going strong.

  • Ken Richmond: Anyone who has watched many movies from the 1950s has likely seen you, although they would have had no way of knowing your name. A Londoner by birth, an amateur wrestler, a bit part actor, and a devout Jehovah’s Witness who went door to door as a missionary, you are an unlikely candidate for cinema immortality. But you are the muscled he-man who bared his chest and greased his body and took a swing at a big gong at the beginning of movies out of England’s Arthur J. Rank Studio. You got 100 quid for the gig, and if the hammer had actually made contact with the gong, it would have gone right through. It was made of papier-mâché.

  • Kasey Rogers: You have also gone by the names Casey Rogers and Laura Elliot, so your c.v. is a bit tricky to run down. But a bit player in the movies and a regular guest actor on TV, you were busy enough during the late 20th century. While not a familiar name (or names), you did play parts in one movie classic and one TV classic. You were the unfortunate wife of Farley Granger in Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train. And on TV you were another wife, that of obsessive adman employer Larry Tate (Louise) on Bewitched.

  • Herbert Rudley: I always thought your name would be a good one for a sitcom character. We certainly remember you for playing one. You had a lengthy career on Broadway, a few movies and lots of TV guest appearances. But your claim to fame is definitely playing Herb Hubbard in the late 1960s Desi Arnaz-produced show The Mothers-in-Law. You were the one who was married to Eve Arden and who did not get recast after the first season.

  • Pablo Santos: While every death is tragic, it is especially sad to see a talented life snuffed out at 19. You died in a small plane crash in your native Mexico. In your short life, you were a regular on a sitcom on the WB (Greetings from Tucson), appeared in a few movies and had guest appearances in shows like Alias, The Shield, American Family and Boston Public.

  • Leonard Schrader: Brother of writer/director Paul, you were a screenwriter in your own right. Your writing credits include Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza, Blue Collar (directed and co-written by your brother), Old Boyfriends and (the one that got you an Oscar nomination) The Kiss of the Spider Woman.

  • Johnny Sekka: Now here is sad irony. In the pilot movie for the best TV sci-fi series ever (Babylon 5, of course), you were the titular space station’s chief doctor. Due to health reasons, you were unable to join the series when it was picked up and were replaced by Richard Biggs. (The switch was cleverly explained as a mysterious Vorlon plot.) Sadly, Biggs died suddenly two and a half years ago. Now you are gone too. Born in Senegal, you had a career even before B5. Movie roles include Khartoum, The Last Safari, Things Fall Apart, Uptown Saturday Night, Mohammed, Messenger of God, Ashanti and the TV miniseries Roots: The Next Generations.

  • Moira Shearer: A Scottish ballet dancer, you appeared in a handful of films from 1948 to 1960, mainly exploiting your dancing ability, e.g. The Tales of Hoffmann and Black Tights. You also appeared in Michael Powell’s notorious Peeping Tom, that was shocking not only for its story of a serial killer who photographs his victims at the moment of death but whose behavior is given a psychological rationale. But what everyone remembers you for is another Powell film (co-directed and co-written with longtime collaborator Emeric Pressburger), the stylized dancing fairy tale, The Red Shoes. For years, young women have seen it and signed up for ballet lessons.

  • Adrienne Shelly: Another heartbreaker. Fans of independent cinema were captivated by your performances in the Hal Hartley films The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. Nothing you did since really eclipsed that first impression, although you showed up from time to time in flicks like Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Sleep with Me and, most recently, Factotum. But you were working away in your native New York, out of a Greenwich Village office, on a new movie called Waitress. It was there that you were murdered by a 19-year-old construction worker. Your husband and young daughter are left to mourn this tragedy.

  • Vilgot Sjoman: Here is something I never knew before. The notorious (for America in the 1960s) Swedish film I Am Curious—Yellow had a sequel. It was called I Am Curious—Blue. You directed both of them, as well as several other films. More a political statement than a skin flick, I Am Curious—Yellow got a major publicity boost when U.S. customs seized the first print to arrive in the country. But, as an object of notoriety, it was soon eclipsed by the much less political (aside from the infamous Watergate connection) Deep Throat.

  • Aaron Spelling: If I wasn’t so tired and drunk, I would look up that quote that I am pretty sure I read once that you were the ugliest person to make TV shows about the most beautiful people. Or something like that. Anyway, something good came out of your passing. It got the original three Charlie’s Angels together on TV one more time. Uh, yeah. Your list of hit TV shows (The Mod Squad, Beverly Hills 90210 and 5,472 others) establishes you as the most brilliant genius who ever embarrassed an entire culture. But all that aside, thanks for Burke’s Law. It almost makes up for Tori.

  • Mickey Spillane: Not only did we lose TV’s Mike Hammer (see Darren McGavin, above), but we lost the guy who invented the character. (Others to play the detective include Stacy Keach, Armand Assante and Ralph Meeker.) Movies derived from your copious supply of mystery novels include I, the Jury, Kiss Me Deadly, The Girl Hunters, The Delta Factor and (my personal favorite title) My Gun Is Quick. By all accounts, you were as tough as the tough guys you wrote about.

  • Richard Stahl: Another supporting player who has shown up in endless numbers of TV shows and movies, in roles like “Judge” and “Priest” and “Shoemaker” and “Hospital Psychiatrist” and “Bank Executive” and “Archbishop.” Your training was in comedy in San Francisco’s The Committee improvisation troupe. Movie credits include Billy Jack (as the city council chairman), Slaughterhouse-Five (as a military psychiatrist), Hearts of the West, High Anxiety, Nine to Five and The Flamingo Kid. Most lasting cultural impact? Possibly playing lounge singers (with your wife Kathryn Ish) in the TV pilot movie of The Love Boat.

  • Simonetta Stefanelli: Okay, now I’m just getting anal. The only reason for including you on the list is that, at the age of 16, you played the doomed first wife of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. You made several other films in your native Italy, including Francesco Rosi’s Three Brothers, starring Philippe Noiret (see above).

  • Joseph Stefano: Your screenwriting career spanned four decades. Most of your movies and television work are respectable if not eye-popping. With one notable exception. You adapted a novel by Robert Bloch for Alfred Hitchcock, and the rest is history. It was your idea to change the focus of the narrative in Psycho from Norman Bates to Marion Crane and the result was a classic suspense shocker. So, did you get paid again when Gus Van Sant re-used your script with no changes in 1998?

  • Robert Sterling: You were in quite a few movies during the 1940s. Some were The Story of Charles Goodyear, Yesterday’s Heroes, The Gay Caballero and The Sundowners. But your obituaries only seemed to mention one role: that of George Kerby on the TV version of Topper. You and your real-life wife Anne Jeffreys played the ghosts of the fun-loving couple (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in the movie version) who haunt banker Cosmo Topper (Leo G. Carroll in the sitcom). Before marrying Jeffreys, you were wed to another sitcom star, Ann Sothern.

  • William Styron: Aside from being the president of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival in 1983, your main contribution to the movies was doing something you did often and successfully: you wrote a novel. In this case, it was called Sophie’s Choice, and the film adaptation by Alan J. Pakula earned an Oscar for Meryl Streep, as well as four other nominations. You also had one movie role. You played yourself in Naked in New York.

  • Alida Valli: Such was your beauty and allure that, during your heyday, you were credited in movies simply as Valli. Your personal life was sometimes more fascinating than your movies. (Mussolini was one of your most ardent admirers, and you were linked to the suspicious death of young woman in 1953.) Working in your native Italy and elsewhere, your films included The Miracle of the Bells, Georges Franju’s The Eyes Without a Face, Dario Argento’s Suspiria and three Bernardo Bertolucci films: The Spider’s Stratagem, 1900 and Luna. But the role that has etched you in our memories forever is the one you played in Carol Reed’s The Third Man, as the slavishly devoted girlfriend of one Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna.

  • Alan Vint: Another all-around character actor with lots of TV and movie credits, your c.v. spans a quarter-century. Notable bits: a narcotics cop in The Panic in Needle Park, a psychotic Vietnam vet in Welcome Home, Soldier Boys, the cop who captures Martin Sheen in Badlands, one of a trio to get terrorized by rednecks in Macon County Line, and Marjoe Gortner’s roommate in Earthquake. You also appeared in the cult classic Two Lane Blacktop.

  • Jack Warden: For some reason, I always tend to associate you with romantic comedies starring Warren Beatty—like Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait. But you were in movies way before those. You were one of the Twelve Angry Men as well as in From Here to Eternity, Run Silent, Run Deep and Wake Me When It’s Over. You were one of John Wayne’s carousing buddies in Donovan’s Reef and Coach Halas in Brian’s Song. You were in All the President’s Men, …And Justice for All, Being There, The Verdict, Mighty Aphrodite, While You Were Sleeping and another Warren Beatty flick, Bulworth. Hmmm, maybe the reason I always associate you with those two early Beatty movies is because those are the ones you got Oscar nominations for. Too bad you didn’t win.

  • Dennis Weaver: Here’s a case where your persona is definitely in the age, if not in the eye, of the beholder. Really old farts will remember you as the limping Chester (predecessor to Festus) on Gunsmoke. Slightly younger people will remember you as Tom Wedloe in Gentle Ben. Younger people still will instantly identify you as McCloud. And those people are also likely to remember you as the businessman terrorized on a highway in Steven Spielberg’s early made-for-TV classic Duel. And mere children will know you as Buffalo Bill Cody in Lonesome Dove: The Series, while infants will recognize you as Henry in Wildfire. With all this TV work, it comes as a bit of a surprise that you were actually in quite a few movies. These include lots of westerns and titles like Horizons West, The Lawless Breed, Law and Order, The Nebraskan, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Seven Angry Men, Ten Wanted Men, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil and Duel at Diablo. At the risk of giving my age away, when I hear your name, I also hear your nasal twang intoning, “Mr. Dillon…”

  • Jack Wild: Another bittersweet end to a story of a child actor. For a while you were a sensation in the silver screen version of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! Dynamic and ebullient next to prettier Mark Lester in the title role, your Artful Dodger stopped the show with a rousing rendition of “Consider Yourself.” It earned you an Oscar nomination and led you to a starring role in the Sid and Marty Croft psychedelic children’s show H.R. Pufnstuf. And then you were gone. Well, not gone, just off the radar. You continued to act, made a few other movies, including a bit part as a Merry Man in the Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. As mouth cancer (apparently caused by cigarette smoking) killed you, you campaigned for cancer charities and still (according to London’s Independent) “took to the stage in Cinderella, as a mute but touching Baron Hardup.”

  • Margaret Ruth Wood: The most heartwarming moment of the ceremony in which the Academy Awards were handed out for 2004 came when Clint Eastwood accepted an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. He used the occasion to introduce his date for the evening, his mother, who was then 95. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he praised you and recalled that you had been his date back in 1993, when he picked up his previous directing Oscar, for Unforgiven—and you were only 84. On that occasion, he called you the most important woman in his life. Reportedly, it was your suggestion that your son cast Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County. Being the mother of a Hollywood star certainly had its perks—but only to an extent. For example, you were cast in a bit part in Unforgiven. But your performance wound up on the cutting room floor.

  • J. Madison Wright: One more sad story. Born Jessica, nicknamed Maddie, you had a brief career as a child actor. You had appearances on the sitcoms Grace Under Fire and The Nanny, as well as appearances in the series ER and the movie Shiloh. Most people will remember you as 10-year-old space colonist True Danziger in the short-lived sci-fi series Earth 2. As your grandmother would note later, you played the first child to actually die on ER, and life grimly echoed art. You received a heart transplant at 15, and you died of a heart attack a few days before your 22nd birthday and 13 days after getting married.

    -S.L., 11 January 2007

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