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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Gone but not forgotten XX

It’s finally happened. The number of people I want to write about, who have passed away in the previous calendar year, has choked my personal bandwidth. And this year I had all the best intentions. I was going to start my annual look back at the movie and entertainment folk who left us with my first column of the new year. But the need to discuss Doctor Who and the fact of being trapped in a snow- and ice-bound house with a wife and child whose holiday school break was extended kind of defeated that plan. (Think Jack Nicholson in Kubrick’s The Shining.) So, in the interest of expediency, I have excruciatingly limited myself to a mere baker’s dozen of mini-tributes per week for this and the next two weeks. Silent apologies to all the worthy people I have omitted.

Before we go any further, let us re-remember those who passed away last year, about whom I have already written:

  • Stage and film actor and TV sitcom giant Beatrice Arthur
  • Master cinematographer and sometime director Jack Cardiff
  • Actor and Hollywood scion David Carradine
  • Legendary news actor and sometime cameo actor Walter Cronkite
  • Veteran actor and iconic poster girl Farrah Fawcett
  • Hollywood writer and TV sitcom master Larry Gelbart
  • Screenwriter and director for a generation John Hughes
  • Legendary singer, dancer, entertainer and music video pioneer Michael Jackson
  • Film composer extraordinaire Maurice Jarre
  • Oscar-winning actor Karl Malden
  • Ultimate chat show sidekick and occasional actor Ed McMahon
  • Scion of acting royalty and film star Natasha Richardson
  • Oscar-winning screenwriter Budd Schulberg
  • Film, stage and TV actor Ron Silver
  • Dark Shadows scribe Ron Sproat
  • Romantic Hollywood star and dirty dancer Patrick Swayze
  • Hard-working veteran actor Edward Woodward

    Here is the first part of my (alphabetical) list of additional good-byes, with more to follow next week.

  • Frank Aletter: Your first wife was Lee Merriwether, and you started out in Broadway musicals. You had bit parts in the films Bells Are Ringing and Tora! Tora! Tora! You also had guest appearances on lots of TV shows, as well as supporting roles in sitcoms The Cara Williams Show and Nancy, a short-lived series about a romance between a veterinarian and the daughter of the president of the United States. You also starred in Bringing Up Buddy, about a bachelor living with his two aunts, and played Prof. Irwin Hayden on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. But the role that sticks in my head is that of a pair of astronauts who become trapped in the Stone Age, with a tribe led by Joe R. Ross and Imogene Coca, in the sitcom It’s About Time.

  • Army Archerd: A reporter and columnist, you were a fixture at the trade paper Variety, your career running from the days of Walter Winchell, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to the internet age (the year 2005, to be precise). You were labeled a gossip columnist, but you weren’t really gossipy. You were just a good and hard-working journalist. Of all your scoops and reportage, your claim to fame seems to be the column in which you “outed” Rock Hudson. But your sensitive treatment of his fatal illness shed more light than scandal. A familiar face to TV viewers, you had walk-ons and cameos in more than a score of movies and TV shows, including several episodes of Burke’s Law, Batman, The Love Boat and the films Planet of the Apes (as a gorilla) and Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood.

  • Carl Ballantine: A comedian and actor whose rubbery face has been recognizable for decades, your main shtick was playing an inept magician known as the Amazing Ballantine. Born Meyer Kessler, your professional name was a combination of an earlier stage name, Carl Sharp (when you were working mainly with cards), and a brand of scotch whiskey. Your film appearances included The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Best of Times and Mr. Saturday Night. Your sitcom appearances are too numerous to mention. But the reason we will always remember you is for your gig as the profiteering, scheming Gruber on the 1960s sitcom McHale’s Navy.

  • J.G. Ballard: As a writer, your work tended toward the provocative, if not outright notorious. Your 1969 book The Atrocity Exhibition (one chapter was titled “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race”) had its entire first edition destroyed by the publisher, three years before it was re-published as Love & Napalm: U.S.A. Strangely, it eventually became a (reportedly disturbing) movie in 2000, directed by Jonathan Weiss—as did a number of your other books and stories. One of the most notable was David Cronenberg’s 1996 flick Crash (definitely not to be confused with the 2004 Oscar winner of the same name), in which James Spader, Holly Hunter and others engage in some strange, uh, auto eroticism. But your lasting legacy, as far as the movies are concerned, is providing the source (quasi-autobiographical) novel for a major Steven Spielberg movie that gave budding teenager Christian Bale his first international starring role: Empire of the Sun.

  • Gene Barry: A song and dance man on the stage, you went on to create not one but two iconic TV characters, both debonair lawmen. At the end of the 1950s you were Bat Masterson in the eponymous series. Sporting a derby, cane and vest, you were a different kind of cowboy. Then, in the 1960s, you were a wealthy and classy Los Angeles police captain, Amos Burke, in the Aaron Spelling series Burke’s Law. Unlike other TV cops, you arrived at the crime scene in a chauffeured limousine. As the series wound down and bowing to the James Bond phenomenon, the final season was redubbed Amos Burke, Secret Agent. In the 1990s, Burke’s Law had a revival for a couple of summers, with aging lady’s man Burke being joined by his mysteriously conceived adult son, played by Peter Barton (previously of The Powers of Matthew Star). You also had a couple of other starring TV roles: as a magazine tycoon in The Name of the Game and another secret agent in The Adventurer. And let us not forget that you won a Tony for La Cage aux Folles and appeared in more than 20 movies, including Soldier of Fortune, Thunder Road and, most notably, as a scientist in George Pal’s War of the Worlds—not to mention as Tom Cruise’s father-in-law in the Steven Spielberg remake.

  • Claude Berri: A contemporary of François Truffaut, you made films that were more overtly commercial. The beautiful photography and lush music that graced many of them would not be out of place in a Hollywood movie. Born in Paris to Jewish immigrants, you were put in the care of a non-Jewish family during the German occupation—a circumstance reflected in your 1967 film The Two of Us. Another film of yours dealing with war-time France, Lucie Aubrac, resulted in you summarily firing the star, Juliette Binoche, because she had too many of her own opinions about the role. Your early films tended to be comedies, with titles like Mazel Tov, ou Le Mariage, Le Sex Shop, Le Cinéma de Papa and Le Mâle du Siècle. Later on you adapted Emile Zola’s Germinal and produced movies like Milos Forman’s Valmont and Roman Polanski’s Tess. But you are undoubtedly best known (and loved) by American audiences for adapting two gorgeous movies from Marcel Pagnol’s Provence-set novel L’Eau des Collines. The first, Jean de Florette, gave Gérard Depardieu one of his best roles ever. The second, Manon des Sources, introduced many of us to the unique charms of Emmanuelle Béart.

  • Jimmy Boyd: A skinny red-haired 12-year-old, you had a hit song in 1952. That led to TV appearances and movie roles. You appeared in the musical western The Second Greatest Sex, as well as starring in a musical TV version of Huckleberry Finn. You were the biology student, scandalously taught evolution by hapless teacher Dick York, in Inherit the Wind. You were Kelly’s boyfriend Howard on Bachelor Father. Your last role was as a colonel in the 1983 movie Brainstorm (Natalie Wood’s final film). Say, what was that song that launched your career anyway? Let’s see, do these yuletide lyrics ring a bell? “She didn’t see me creep down the stairs to have a peep; she thought that I was tucked up in my bedroom fast asleep.”

  • Kathleen Byron: You had an acting career of more than six decades, mainly in English television and film. But I’m afraid you peaked too early, making one of your earliest screen performances the most memorable, way back in 1947. That was after you had played an angel in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, but before you played Miss Lavendar in Anne of Avonlea or Mrs. Hale in North and South or Clonemaster Fen in Blake’s 7 or Lady Waddington in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man or Madame Savinkova in Reilly: Ace of Spies or Matt Damon’s wife (as an old woman) in Saving Private Ryan. Poor health prevented you from taking the role, offered by Lars Von Trier, of Lauren Bacall’s sister in Dogville. But it was your turn as Sister Ruth in Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus that is seared in our minds forever. Your unstable, flame-haired nun who goes over the edge (so to speak) was a portrayal for the ages.

  • Jim Carroll: When you started playing basketball at an elite Upper West Side Manhattan private school, you began keeping a diary. The entries began innocuously enough, but by the end you were chronicling, among other things, how you were hustling in Times Square to support a heroin habit. That book and your poetry and your music had people designating you as an heir to everyone from Arthur Rimbaud to William S. Burroughs to Bob Dylan. Beginning with its first release, Catholic Boy, the punk-inflected music of the Jim Carroll Band had a compulsive intensity about it. The song “People Who Died” particularly stuck in the brain and feels all the more ironic, after your death of a heart attack at 60. Apart from a tome called Living at the Movies, your main contribution to cinema would be providing the source book for Scott Kalvert’s 1995 film The Basketball Diaries, in which you were played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

  • Marilyn Chambers: Whether they knew it or not, almost everyone in America had seen your face. You were a fresh-faced blonde beaming at a newborn baby on boxes of Ivory Snow, gracing shelves in stores and supermarkets and homes everywhere—annotated with a blurb assuring consumers that the product was “99 44/100 percent pure.” Clearly, that had a lot to do with the fascination with the porn film in which you appeared in 1972. Behind the Green Door (released the same year as the somewhat more notorious Deep Throat) told the story of a woman who is abducted and ravished, by both men and women, in front of an audience in a theater. Being a porn film, your character is less a victim than a woman finding fulfillment. In your New York Times obit, an adult film exec lauds your performance by saying that, “even though Ms. Chambers did not actually have any lines in the film, … she brought it to life.” Indeed, your performance was such that it strangely eclipsed your small parts in The Owl and the Pussycat (with Barbra Streisand and George Segal) and an early David Cronenberg flick.

  • Sidney Chaplin: Your father was a movie legend, but you found greater success in New York musical theater. You won a Tony for starring in Bells Are Ringing, opposite Judy Holliday, and got a nomination for playing Nicky Arnstein opposite Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. If you hadn’t fallen out with producer Ray Stark (who based the story on his mother-in-law, Fanny Brice), you might have been cast in the film version, instead of Omar Sharif. (Your Bells Are Ringing role went to Dean Martin the movie version.) The second son produced by Charlie Chaplin’s then-scandalous three-year marriage to a 16-year-old, you did have a film career. It got off to a great start with your debut in your father’s last great movie, Limelight. You also appeared in his last movie, The Countess from Hong Kong. By the end, however, you were showing up in flicks like So Evil, My Sister and Satan’s Cheerleaders (your last).

  • Dennis Cole: Chiseled, blond and well-built, you were some of the best TV beefcake in the 1960s and 1970s. You got your start on a short-lived soap called Paradise Bay, in which you were the spoiled rich boy who falls for a Mexican girl. But we first noticed you as the young and cute one in the trio of cops in Felony Squad (along with Howard Duff and Ben Alexander). From there you went on to the usual career of guest shots on TV sitcoms, dramas and soaps and the occasional low-profile movie (Wheels of Fire, Death House) and, ultimately, the stage. Your life ended rather sadly, with a drinking problem (liver failure killed you at 69), the murder of your only child and an injury that ended your acting career.

  • Dom DeLuise: A manic but likeable butterball of a comedian, you got your start playing inept magician Dominick the Great on The Garry Moore Show. But thanks to Mel Brooks and Burt Reynolds, you went on to have a pretty darn good movie c.v. Brooks cast you in The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles (as Buddy Bizarre, who undertakes to hang a man in a wheelchair), Silent Movie, History of the World: Part I, Spaceballs (as the voice of Pizza the Hutt) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. You and Reynolds collaborated on (in addition to quite a few installments of Hollywood Squares) The End, The Cannonball Run (and its sequel), Smokey and the Bandit II and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It’s enough to forget that your earliest roles included movies like the thriller Fail-Safe (as a nervous flier) and The Glass Bottom Boat (with Doris Day). You also did voice work in animation (The Secret of NIMH, Oliver & Company, All Dogs Go to Heaven, An American Tail, Hercules) and appeared various times with the Muppets, as well as starring in the 1970s sitcom Lotsa Luck. (You also had a recurring role on the 1990s version of Burke’s Law.) One of your weightier roles was the lead in Fatso, Anne Bancroft’s lone directing effort. You directed one feature film yourself, Hot Stuff, in which you cast yourself opposite Suzanne Pleshette. In later years, you wrote cookbooks and children’s books. And you started something of an acting dynasty. All three of your children (with Carol Arthur, your wife of 43 years) are in the business: Peter (Seaquest DSV), Michael (NYPD Blue) and David (Wizards of Waverly Place).

    To be continued…

    -S.L., 14 January 2010

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