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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Gone but not forgotten XVI

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 2007. The good news is that, since last week, I have secured more scotch. The bad news is that it’s a blend rather than a single malt. Anyway, a fond farewell to all of the following.

  • Michael Kidd: You’re one of those easy obituaries. You only need five words: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. You were the choreographer who created a ballet that wasn’t supposed to look like a ballet and which became one of the most famous movie dance sequences ever. You won no fewer than five Tony awards for your work on Broadway, and you also choreographed other movies, like Where’s Charley? (with Ray Bolger) and The Band Wagon (with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse).

  • Laszlo Kovacs: When you need a cinematographer who can evoke beauty with light and shadows, who you gonna call? Sure, you shot Ghost Busters and bunch of other zany entertainments. (Your American career began with flicks like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? and The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill.) But your most lasting images come from epic road movies, perhaps inspired by a bus ride you took from New Jersey to Seattle around 1957. You were recently arrived in the States from Hungary, where you and Vilmos Zsigmond risked your lives shooting footage of the 1956 uprising. Your most emblematic work: Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens and Paper Moon. But your camera work has graced lots of other movies—everything from New York, New York to My Best Friend’s Wedding to Miss Congeniality to Two Weeks Notice.

  • Calvin Lockhart: You were born and died in the Bahamas, but in between you appeared in numerous small roles on TV and in the flickers: Rev. O’Malley in Cotton Comes to Harlem, Irving Amadeus in Myra Breckinridge, Silky Slim in Uptown Saturday Night, the villain Biggie Smalls in Let’s Do It Again, a colonel in Coming to America. Perhaps we will remember you for appearances in a couple of David Lynch films: the bizarre Reggie in Wild at Heart and the electrician in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Or maybe it will be for playing Jonathan Lake in several episodes of Dynasty.

  • Al Mancini: Another one of those actors who showed up in secondary or lesser roles for years and years, you aren’t someone we really remember much. Sorry. A couple of notable roles: Tic-Tac in Miller’s Crossing and the voice of the fish in Babe: Pig in the City. Your last role was apparently Grandpa God in an episode of Joan of Arcadia. Wait, you do have one claim to cinema history fame, as well as providing a morbid benchmark. You may be lesser known than actors like Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland, but you share one distinction with them. You were one of The Dirty Dozen! You and Clint Walker bought the farm together in a climactic battle scene. One reliable source says that, with your passing, one-half of the titular twelve are now gone.

  • Delbert Mann: In your mid-30s you achieved what is perhaps every director’s dream. You won an Oscar for your first feature film. It was Marty, starring Ernest Borgnine, and you had also directed the live TV version, starring Rod Steiger. You went on to direct quite a few movies, mostly made-for-television, but your first one was a hard act to follow. Other notable flicks of yours: Desire Under the Elms (with Anthony Perkins and Sophia Loren), Separate Tables (with Deborah Kerr and Rita Hayworth), The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (with Robert Preston and Dorothy McGuire), Lover Come Back (with Rock Hudson and Doris Day), That Touch of Mink (with Cary Grant and Doris Day), A Gathering of Eagles (with Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor), Quick Before It Melts (with George Maharis and Robert Morse) and Dear Heart (with Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page). The New York Times notes one interesting fact for the trivia books: Your TV movie Heidi became notorious when, in the Eastern time zone, it pre-empted the final minute of a football game between the Jets and the Raiders, causing millions of viewers to miss two touchdowns that changed the outcome of the game. Not only were fans outraged but so were you. In response to a flood of calls, NBC superimposed the score over the scene where Heidi’s friend Klara tries to walk.

  • Marcel Marceau: What can I say? I’m speechless. Wait, no, that was you. You single-handedly made mime a high art form, gave millions hours of pleasure and, probably, inspired all those annoying people who insist on entertaining you while you are waiting in a queue on a street in urban areas around the world. While mainly a live performer, you did appear in a few movies, typically playing characters such as “Old Walker” and “Pantomime.” But you made a couple of particularly notable appearances. You were Professor Ping in Roger Vadim’s Barbarella. And, appropriately, you were in Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie, in which the gag was that you spoke the only line in the whole flick.

  • Kerwin Mathews: When we (well, I) think of swashbuckling heroes (especially Sinbad) of 1950s and 1960s effects-laden adventure movies, the name that comes to mind is, well, Guy Williams. After all, he was Captain Sindbad (as the 1963 epic spelled it). But, if there was any justice, we would think of you. The last three decades of your life were spent as a seller of antiques and furniture in San Francisco. But before that you were a fixture in movies featuring the special effects of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Boyishly handsome and agile, you swashbuckled through such flicks as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Jack the Giant Killer, Battle Beneath the Earth, The Warrior Empress and The Pirates of Blood River. You were so good playing the dashing hero that it was pretty much impossible for you to get cast as anything else. But you did play a few other roles: your 1955 debut in 5 Against the House, which foreshadowed Ocean’s Eleven’s casino heist storyline; the WWII drama The Last Blitzkrieg; The Devil at 4 O’Clock, in which you and Spencer Tracy played priests; and, in a change of pace, your role as composer Johann Strauss in a two-part episode of TV’s Disneyland.

  • Bobby Mauch: Were you and your brother Billy the Sprouse twins (i.e. Zack and Cody) of your time? Well, not quite. But you had a good run in the 1930s. Billy was cast to play the younger version of Frederic March’s character in Anthony Adverse, and you were his stand-in. But the two of you kept switching places, without being detected, something the two of you would do throughout your careers. Other twin roles you played include Penrod and His Twin Brother, Penrod’s Double Trouble, Sons of the Plains (in which one of you was kidnapped and raised by Indians) and the one you are best known for, the 1937 version of The Prince and the Pauper. (You played the prince—at least officially.) As an adult, you became a film editor, and Billy, who died in 2006, became a sound editor.

  • Lois Maxwell: “Oh Moneypenny, the story of our relationship: close, but no cigar.” That quip by James Bond pretty much sums up not only Bond’s relationship with Moneypenny but also the audience’s. It was delivered by Pierce Brosnan in The World Is Not Enough, after Moneypenny has thrown the cigar he has just given her into the rubbish bin. And yes, I know he didn’t deliver it to you but to your successor in the Moneypenny role, Samantha Bond. But you were and are the definitive Moneypenny. You played the role from the first Bond film, Dr. No in 1962, to A View to a Kill in 1985—playing opposite no fewer than three Bonds (Connery, Lazenby and Moore). By the time the 1985 film came along, both you and Roger Moore were looking a little long in the tooth to be spouting naughty banter at one another, suggesting that the franchise was holding on to its acting ensemble a wee bit too long. But never mind. Of course, you had a bunch of other acting roles in your life, but… who cares? You were Moneypenny. Okay, it’s worth noting that you were in Powell & Pressburger’s classic A Matter of Life and Death—although your part wound up on the cutting room floor. But it is also worth noting that you also appeared in Kubrick’s Lolita (as a nurse) and Robert Wise’s The Haunting, as Richard Johnson’s unfortunate wife.

  • Barbara McNair: For some reason, I mainly think of you as a singer and the host of your own TV variety show back at the end of the 1960s. But you were also a regular acting guest on every TV show from I Spy to Hogan’s Heroes to The Mod Squad to Mission: Impossible to The Jeffersons. But you also had a couple of movie roles worth mentioning. You were a nun, along with Mary Tyler Moore, in the Elvis vehicle Change of Habit. And you were Sidney Poitier’s wife in the In the Heat of the Night sequels, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! and The Organization. Your last role was in the little seen 1996 road picture Neon Signs.

  • Tom Murphy: In your short life (dead at 39 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma), you managed a pretty good acting career, culminating in a Tony for your role in The Beauty Queen of Leenane on Broadway. Dublin theater goers will have known you for your stage work, and the rest of the country will recognize you as Shamie in the TV series Pure Mule. Your best film role was as one of a pair of hapless junkies on the streets of Dublin in Leonard Abrahamson’s Adam & Paul. You also had small roles in a slew of Irish films like The Snapper, The General, Mystics, In America, Intermission and Man About Dog. You were particularly moving as a grieving father in Small Engine Repair.

  • Stu Nahan: What are you doing here? You were a longtime Los Angeles sportscaster. But you did show up on TV and in the movies, playing yourself, where they wanted an air of authenticity for a sports match. Examples: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Brian’s Song, Private Benjamin, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island and every one of the Rocky movies, including 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

  • Barry Nelson: Speaking of James Bond, lots of people are sure they can name all the actors who have played 007—especially the ones who don’t forget about George Lazenby or who can even name the various actors who played him (Peter Sellers, David Niven, Woody Allen, Terence Cooper) in the 1967 tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale. But you’re the one everyone forgets about. The very first 007 adaptation, also drawn from Casino Royale, was an installment of an American TV series called, um, Climax!. And they made Bond an American agent! And you played him! With Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre! Word is that you didn’t have your martini shaken or stirred. You drank scotch! (Hmmm, I like it…) Oddly, we don’t remember you for playing Bond but for a long list of TV and movie appearances over five decades. Where to begin listing them all? I won’t. But here’s a sampling: The Shadow of the Thin Man, A Guy Named Joe, Bataan, The Luckiest Guy in the World, Airport, half of a couple who find themselves trapped in a town with no people and which they can’t leave on The Twilight Zone, three episodes of Dallas, etc. And, in another bit of trivia: you were the hotel manager who warns Jack Nicholson and family that they will be totally on their own for the winter in The Shining.

  • Carlo Ponti: Sure, you were a big-time Italian movie producer who had a career that spanned six(!) decades. But we knew who you were because of one thing. You married Sophia Loren. You met her when she was 15 and you were around 40, and you guided her career forever after, even providing her the chance to win an Oscar, in the 1961 film Two Women. By marrying her (by proxy in Mexico), you risked excommunication since you were inconveniently already married, but it didn’t seem to matter—and you henceforth became fodder for the tabloids (and even the so-called respectable press). You worked with Rosellini, Fellini, Antonioni, Vidor, Godard and Polanski. The titles of movies you produced are Olympian: La Strada, War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, Blow-Up, The Passenger… it goes on and on and on.

  • Tom Poston: Speaking of game show panelists… (cf. Kitty Carlisle last week) Now I understand why you always seemed to get cast in Bob Newhart’s sitcoms. You were trying to get close to Suzanne Pleshette. You finally married her six years ago at the age of 80. While others may think of you as a sitcom second banana or deadpan comic actor, to me you will always be a game show panelist—specifically on To Tell the Truth, but you were on lots of other ones through the years. You got your start on The Steve Allen Show, where one of your gigs was being a confused man on the street getting interviewed. Your movie career wasn’t much to write home about (Zotz!, The Old Dark House, Cold Turkey), but you were long a small screen fixture, not only on three Newhart sitcoms, but also in recurring or guest spots on everything from Coach to Murphy Brown to Home Improvement to Dharma & Greg to That ‘70s Show. Even my daughter knows you—as the hermit on an episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. IMDB says you were lined up to play Maxwell Smart. Wow, that sure would have been different.

  • Charles Nelson Reilly: Speaking of game show panelists… Not only were you a fixture on Match Game and Hollywood Squares but you were an extremely frequent guest on The Tonight Show during the Carson years. As The New York Times put it, “In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Reilly, with his ascots, oversize spectacles and over-the-top penchant for double-entendres, was a regular on television.” But you also had a career on the stage that many of us didn’t even know about. You won a Tony for your role in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. And you directed Julie Harris in The Belle of Amherst as well as (along with Charles Durning) The Gin Game. Your last work was a one-man show called Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly, in which you recounted your childhood in The Bronx, as the only child of a Swedish mother and an Irish father.

  • Percy Rodrigues: Let it be noted that you played the starbase commander who court-martialed Spock in an episode of Star Trek. But you mostly seemed to play doctors. You played one in the film The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and in an episode of Ben Casey. You also had a recurring role as Judge Harper in sitcom Benson. But you are best known for playing a doctor on the grand-daddy of primetime soap operas, Peyton Place. Ruby Dee played your wife and Glynn Turman played your son. Your best attribute was your voice, which we have heard on many commercial voice-overs and, notably, in the trailers for Jaws.

  • Alex Romero: Not as well known as Michael Kidd, to whom you were an assistant on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, you also worked under other greats, including Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, Busby Berkley and Gene Kelly. You did choreography for such films as The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (Bob Fosse and Debbie Reynolds), Fastest Gun Alive (Russ Tamblyn), Love Me or Leave Me (Doris Day) and Love at First Bite. You also choreographed four Elvis Presley movies, including your most memorable work in Jailhouse Rock.

  • Stuart Rosenberg: You directed a lot of TV before you made a little flick with Paul Newman called Cool Hand Luke. You pretty much stuck to the big screen after that. Your oeuvre is a pretty interesting mix: The April Fools, Pocket Money, The Laughing Policeman, The Drowning Pool, Voyage of the Damned, Love and Bullets, the original Amityville Horror, The Pope of Greenwich Village. You may be the director of the most movies with the most Oscar nominations who never got nominated yourself.

  • John P. Ryan: Another character actor with a lengthy list of screen credits, you were frequently the bad guy. And that meant you frequently met a nasty end. Examples: John Milius’s Dillinger, Arthur Penn’s The Missouri Breaks, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club. Other supporting movie roles (a fraction of a very long list): Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, The Right Stuff and, memorably, as the father of a killer mutant baby in It’s Alive.

  • Gordon Scott: If Barry Nelson was the 007 you forgot about or never heard of, then you are the comparable Tarzan. Somewhere between Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller and Miles O’Keeffe (plus a TV version featuring an actor with the all-time greatest name, Wolf Larson), you played the King of the Apes in a series of movies from 1955 to 1960. (The run lasted about the same length of time as your marriage to Vera Miles.) With the requisite he-man body (you were discovered working as a lifeguard at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas), you went on to play other muscular or heroic figures in Italian productions during the 1960s: Zorro, Goliath, Buffalo Bill, Hercules. In one movie, you played Remus opposite your friend Steve Reeves’s Romulus. What’s unclear is what you were doing since your last movie in 1967.

  • Sidney Sheldon: Mostly we (well, I) associate you with all the chick lit you wrote, i.e. novels with titles like The Other Side of Midnight and If Tomorrow Comes. But you had a couple other careers before you became a novelist more than halfway through your life. You wrote six Broadway plays and won a Tony for Redhead, starring Gwen Verdon. In Hollywood, you wrote screenplays for movies like Annie Get Your Gun and Easter Parade, winning an Oscar for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. You then went on to television, where you created such series as I Dream of Jeannie (for which you got an Emmy), The Patty Duke Show and Hart to Hart. Were you versatile or what?

  • Joel Siegel: Is there a cookie cutter mold that they press morning TV film critics out of? I could never tell where Gene Shalit left off and you began. An activist in the 1960s, when you weren’t naming flavors for Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, you wrote jokes for Robert F. Kennedy and were on the scene when he was murdered. You will be remembered for two decades of movie reviews on Good Morning America and also for rousing the ire of director Kevin Smith when you walked out of Clerks II after only 40 minutes at Cannes.

  • Brett Somers: Speaking of game show panelists… I wouldn’t even know you existed if my mother hadn’t been addicted to daytime TV game shows and I was exposed to you for what seemed like decades on Match Game, hosted by Gene Rayburn. Apparently, you had something of an acting career and did make the occasional guest shot on TV shows (you played Rhoda’s Aunt Rose on an episode of Mary Tyler Moore), but Match Game (bolstered by appearances on Hollywood Squares) is your legacy. Born Audrey Johnston in New Brunswick, you ran away to Greenwich Village and named yourself after one of the main characters in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. You married Jack Klugman, and it was his recommendation that got you the Match Game gig. You had a recurring role as his ex-wife on The Odd Couple—before the two of you separated for real. Your last gig was a one-woman cabaret show called An Evening with Brett Somers. I can see you now, there in the afterlife, with your caustic wit and oversize glasses, continuing to spar with Charles Nelson Reilly.

  • Iwao Takamoto: Born in Los Angeles, you spent WWII interned with your parents and siblings in Manzanar. That’s where you learned to draw. You got a job at Disney and later moved to Hanna-Barbera. You worked on various shows, including The Flintstones, and created a dog for The Jetsons called Astro. And creating dogs was apparently your gift. Your real claim to fame was rooted in an idea you got for a group of kids who go around solving mysteries, which you called Mystery Five. You decided to give them a Great Dane for a mascot, and his name was taken from the lyrics of the Frank Sinatra song, “Strangers in the Night” (“Scooby dooby do…”). Scooby Doo, where are you? You are freakin’ everywhere. And have been for nearly four decades. On the TV screen, on the movie screen, everywhere. And it shows no signs of ending.

  • Miyoshi Umeki: Someday we will be able to talk about Oscar winners without qualifying them as being the first of this or that ethnicity. But until that day, your claim to fame will be being the first Asian actor to win. Born in Japan, then a New York-based singer and then a member of the Arthur Godfrey family, you got the job of playing the tragic bride of Red Buttons in the drama Sayonara. Roles followed in Cry for Happy, Flower Drum Song and The Horizontal Lieutenant—as well as guest spots in various TV shows. But, in the end, your on-screen career was relatively brief. Your swan song was playing that quiet pillar of strength, Mrs. Livingston, in the TV series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

  • Sigrid Valdis: With a name like yours and your Nordic blonde beauty, I just assumed your were an import from Scandinavia. So, imagine my surprise upon learning that you were born in the same place I was: Bakersfield, California (originally christened Patricia Olson). You pursued a modeling career in Europe and New York and got roles in a few movies (Marriage on the Rocks, Our Man Flint) and appeared on a couple of episodes of The Wild Wild West as Miss Piecemeal. But what we really know you for is 1) playing Colonel Klink’s secretary Hilda on the WWI POW sitcom Hogan’s Heroes and 2) marrying your co-star Bob Crane. That was the end of your screen career but only the beginning of your notoriety by association. Eight years later, Crane was mysteriously bludgeoned to death in an Arizona motel room, and your marriage was later given the big screen treatment in Paul Schrader’s 2002 film Auto Focus. Maria Bello played you in the movie.

  • Jack Valenti: For about 100 years we annually watched you get up on the stage during the Academy Awards and deliver the boring part of the program. I never really figured out exactly what you had to do with the movie business—other than being a spokesman for it—but by all accounts you were one of the industry’s staunchest advocates and lobbyists. A Texan by birth and a close friend of a politician named Lyndon Johnson, you were in the fateful Dallas motorcade when JFK was murdered and present at LBJ’s airborne swearing-in as president. You served in his White House and were always the most tireless defender of his legacy. As the head of Motion Picture Association, you negotiated controversies involving boundary-pushing movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Blowup and bringing about the now-familiar G, M (now PG), R and X (now NC-17) content ratings. And you annoyed Academy voters when you banned screener DVDs for people who couldn’t get (or didn’t want to bother) to see the films in actual cinemas. Many of them were turning up for sale illegally around the world. A judge overruled you.

  • Randy Van Horne: I had to wait for you to die to find out the answer to a question that has nagged me since my childhood. Just who are those people who sing the theme songs to children’s TV shows like Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones (“Flintstones… meet the Flintstones…”) and The Jetsons? They were the Randy Van Horne Singers, and in addition to cartoons, commercials, station identification spots and jingles, they appeared on TV programs like The Nat “King” Cole Show. One of your group’s alumni was Marni Nixon, who went on to dub the voices of Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn in West Side Story and My Fair Lady, respectively. My final words to you: have a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time, have a gay old time.

  • Kurt Vonnegut: I would have to say that your greatest movie contribution was providing the source novel for George Roy Hill’s film Slaughterhouse-Five. The older I get, the more I appreciate Billy Pilgrim’s disorientation at becoming unstuck in time. It happens to me all the time now. Other novels of yours were also adapted (Mother Night, Breakfast of Champions), but somehow they never worked for me as well as Slaughterhouse-Five. But then you actually lived that book since, like Billy Pilgrim, you were a POW in Dresden when it was fire bombed. Interestingly, you may have a rival claim to cinematic fame. Practically every one of your obituaries I saw, read or head made a point of highlighting your cameo in the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School. The gag is that Dangerfield gets an F on a paper he has written about you—and it turns out you were helping him.

  • Floyd Red Crow Westerman: With the possible exception of Graham Greene, you were always our favorite movie and TV Indian. You frequently showed up in small but pivotal roles that required the authenticity of a true Native American. You were the wise old chief Ten Bears in Dances with Wolves and the shaman who forms a spiritual bond with the young Jim Morrison in The Doors. On TV you had recurring roles as the spirit One Who Waits on Northern Exposure, Uncle Ray Firewalker on Walker, Texas Ranger, Navajo code breaker Albert Hosteen on The X-Files and George Littlefox on Dharma & Greg. Off-screen, you were an activist. Born on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota, you were present at the deadly confrontation between federal authorities and the American Indian Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee. Your other career was as a singer/songwriter, releasing albums of protest songs (your first album was called Custer Died for Your Sins) and country-western music, including the recent A Tribute to Johnny Cash.

  • Dick Wilson: Talk about you always seems to head straight for the toilet. I hate to say it, but you were one of the most annoying people on TV. How many years did those Charmin commercials with Mr. Whipple go on? Ten years”? Twenty? Fifty? Have they ever stopped? All I know is that for years I deliberately avoided buying Charmin (even though it was usually the best brand) just because I hated those commercials. But they paid the bills, didn’t they? You lived off them for ages and, according to you, they required only 16 days of work per year. They made you too recognizable to do much other acting work, although you did make guest shots on various sitcoms. Personally, I prefer to remember you for your second most prominent role: the drunk on Bewitched who repeatedly sees Samantha perform some magic and then immediately gives up the drink—until the next time.

    -S.L., 17 January 2008

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