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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Gone but not forgotten XXI

Here is the second of three parts of my eighth annual alphabetical roll call (begun last week) of movie and other entertainment media personalities who passed on during the year 2009. Come back next week for the conclusion. Meanwhile, it is now time for my annual pitch for donations. Please. This web site cannot continue to exist without your support. If you want to assure the continued existence of quality content such as this, please act right now. Go immediately to your waiter and order a dry gin martini (two olives) and have it sent to my table. Content like this is only possible with the support of readers like you.

  • Roy E. Disney: Not to be confused with your father, Roy O. Disney, who built the empire with Walt, you had the kind of childhood the rest of us could only dream of. You got to hang out at the Disney studios and be an “expert” test audience for bits from animators that would find their way into movies like Pinocchio. But you didn’t grow up to be some family hack living off your famous name. You personally led a renaissance of the studio’s animation movies, which resulted in hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. And you weren’t afraid to rock the management boat, forcing out not one but two suits who you knew were taking the company in the wrong direction: Ronald Miller (Walt’s son-in-law) in 1984 and Michael Eisner in 2004. Your one big flop: the disappointing Fantasia 2000.

  • Dominick Dunn: Producer (The Boys in the Band, The Panic in Needle Park), author (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, An Inconvenient Woman) and journalist (Vanity Fair, Court TV), you were drawn like a moth to the flame of the celebrated and famous. Thanks to a heartfelt eulogy by your son, the actor Griffin (An American Werewolf in London, After Hours), and a follow-up in-depth radio interview with Terry Gross, we have now heard it all. About how for years you and your wife Lenny threw legendary parties for the glitterati and how you were devastated when she asked for a divorce. (Still you nursed her while she died from MS.) About your possibly closeted life and/or denial of your perhaps-or-perhaps-not latent sexuality. About how you became something of a rock star at Greenwich Village AA meetings. And about how your obsession with high-profile murder trials (OJ et al) and victims’ rights stemmed from the murder of your 22-year-old daughter Dominique (she played the older daughter in Poltergeist) by an ex-boyfriend, who ended up serving less than four years. In the end, you really were the life of the party, Nick.

  • Horton Foote: As a young stage actor, you got asked by the choreographer Agnes De Mille if you had ever thought about writing. “What would I write about?” you asked. The place you came from, silly. Over the years, your many plays and screenplays would earn you both the Pulitzer and the Oscar (twice). Your body of work thoroughly chronicled small-town life in your native Texas. The titles of your screenplays (some original, some adapted) read like an exhaustive tour of rural America. To Kill a Mockingbird (from Harper Lee’s novel) was a classic. Baby the Rain Must Fall (from your play The Travelling Lady) starred Steve McQueen as a parolee who wants to be a singer in a band. You got a writing credit for Hurry Sundown, a Georgia melodrama featuring Michael Caine and Jane Fonda and directed by Otto Preminger although, reportedly, Preminger wound up using not one word of your dialog. Tender Mercies earned an Oscar for Robert Duvall, who had played Boo Radley in Mockingbird. The Trip to Bountiful starred Geraldine Page (in the film version, Lillian Gish on the stage), who won her first Oscar (after seven previous nominations) and then died 15 months later. Of Mice and Men (from the John Steinbeck novel) was a 1992 movie starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise (its director). Your lifelong dream was the mounting of your nine-play Orphans’ Home Cycle. Six months after your death at 92, that dream finally came true last fall at Hartford Stage.

  • Conard Fowkes: For more than two decades you were the secretary/treasuer of Actors’ Equity. For most actors, your main legacy would be your efforts which led to a Qualified Performing Artist deduction which was added to the federal tax code in 1986. Okay, so these aren’t the sort of things that get people included on this list. The sort of thing that does get people included on this list is the following: on a certain daytime gothic soap opera—before it had any vampires or werewolves or time travel or serpent people—you were the son and partner of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s (Joan Bennett) attorney and suitor to the family governess, Victoria Winters. Dark Shadows alumnus, welcome aboard!

  • Don Galloway: There was something about your solid, if standard, good looks that made you a shoe-in to play authority figures—often cops, FBI agents or military officers. Not surprisingly, you started out in soap operas (The Secret Storm, General Hospital). From there, you followed the usual pattern of numerous guest shots on TV dramas and small roles in big movies and big roles in small movies. Among your numerous TV flicks is one with one of the best titles ever: Ski Lift to Death. You had a role in a short-lived 1979 sitcom, Hizzonner, in which David Huddleston starred as a conservative small-town mayor with left-wing children. You also played a doctor on a few episodes of Dallas and showed up several times on Fantasy Island. Some big screen roles worth noting: You had an uncredited bit as a member of Henry Fonda’s gang in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. You were JoBeth Williams’s husband in Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill. And you were part of a few familiar faces to appear (as an FBI guy, of course) in Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation. Your main claim to fame? Easy. Starring alongside Raymond Burr as Detective Sergeant Ed Brown for nearly a decade in Ironside.

  • Henry Gibson: A life. (Pause.) By Henry Gibson. You will forever be the diminutive, mild-mannered man who recited (and wrote) the funny poems on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as well as delivering funny quips during those wild party scenes, dressed as a clergyman sipping a cup of coffee. Born James Bateman, you got your professional name (a re-working of Henrik Ibsen) from your pal and fellow aspiring actor Jon Voight. Over the years, you were in a surprisingly large number of movies and TV shows. You appeared in Joey Bishop’s 1960s sitcom and played a student in Jerry Lewis’s original The Nutty Professor. You played Napoleon on an episode of Bewitched. You were a neo-Nazi in John Landis’s The Blues Brothers. You played a Ferengi on an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. You had the evocative TV character name Thurston Howell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Recurring TV roles have included at least a couple of judges (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Boston Legal), the voices of a talking locker in Galaxy High School and reporter Bob Jenkins on King of the Hill. But one acting role stands out above all the others. In Robert Altman’s Nashville, you had the key role of country singing star Haven Hamilton who, at the end of the movie, delivers the memorable lines: “This isn’t Dallas, it’s Nashville! They can’t do this to us here in Nashville! Let’s show them what we’re made of. Come on everybody, sing! Somebody, sing!”

  • Connie Hines: Your acting career more or less began and ended with the 1960s. You had one-off appearances on shows like The Millionaire, Johnny Ringo, Sea Hunt, Riverboat, Perry Mason, Bonanza, Love, American Style and The Mod Squad. But you will be remembered first, last and always for putting the pert and perky into 144 episodes of a sitcom about a man with a talking horse. As Wilbur Post’s often confused wife Carol, your main job was to be perplexed by a spouse who was hearing a voice you never did. As Alan Young, who played Wilbur, told the Los Angeles Times after your death, you had a “tough chore. She was a girl married to a fellow listening to a horse. Her biggest line was ‘Lunch is ready.'” Maybe so, but you were still the one we young boys kept waiting to see.

  • Pat Hingle: A Navy WWII veteran, once you joined the Actors Studio in New York in 1952, you never stopped working. Except for the year you had to take off after falling 50 feet down an elevator shaft in your apartment building in 1959. You preferred the stage to film, but since this a movie web site we’ll concentrate on your film roles. A solidly built six-footer, you had an imposing physical presence that suited a wide variety of roles as authority and/or father figures or, sometimes, criminals. Your list of credits goes on and on and on. Let’s pick out a few highlights. Your first screen role was an uncredited appearance in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront. You were Warren Beatty’s father in Splendor in the Grass. In an episode of The Twilight Zone, you were a toymaker who finds himself transported back to his childhood. You were a judge in Ted Post’s Hang ‘Em High. You were a doctor in six episodes of Gunsmoke. You were a mill worker in Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae. You were Dennis Weaver’s police chief in the series Stone. You were Richard Crenna’s father in the TV movie The Rape of Richard Beck. You were Admiral “Bull” Halsey in the miniseries War and Remembrance. You were Timothy Hutton’s FBI agent father in John Schlesinger’s The Falcon and the Snowman. You were the sadistic gangster who put out his cigar on Anjelica Huston’s hand in Stephen Frears’s The Grifters. But, things being the way they are, the role that will endure in most people’s minds is that of Police Commissioner Gordon in Tim Burton’s Batman and its three sequels, thereby providing, along with Michael Gough, a bit of consistency in a franchise that saw no fewer than three different Batmans (Batmen?).

  • Lou Jacobi: A tireless actor on the stage and the screen, you often played world-weary Jewish characters, often whose names were preceded by “Uncle” or sometimes “Rabbi.” Your early big mark on Broadway was as the weakling Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank, a role you reprised in the 1959 film. In your other movies, a stand-out performance is harder to pick. You were a philosophical bartender in Billy Wilder’s Irma la Douce. You were Morey Amsterdam’s Uncle Lou in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. You were Herb in Paul Mazursky’s Next Stop, Greenwich Village. You were a fortunate florist in Steve Gordon’s Arthur. You were part of a large, extended Jewish-Polish clan in Barry Levinson’s Avalon. You were an American tourist on a European bus tour in Bob Sweeney’s If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. You played the mathematician Kurt Gödel (opposite Walter Matthau’s Albert Einstein) in Fred Schepisi’s I.Q. But if I may highlight one film performance that particularly touched my heart, it was your turn as Mark Linn-Baker’s plain-spoken Uncle Morty who, along with all the neighbors in the building, allows the unstable matinee idol played by Peter O’Toole to show his inveterate grace and charm in Richard Benjamin’s wonderful My Favorite Year..

  • Jennifer Jones: You are the reason that many of my in-laws have ever been in France at all. Well, not literally. But your break-out, star-making role was as the young peasant girl who was visited by a vision of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes in 1858. A great dark-haired beauty, you got that role in your mid-20s by becoming the obsession of David O. Selznik, whose career had peaked early when he produced Gone with the Wind. You were both married, and he was 17 years your senior, but by the end of the 1940s, the two of you were married to each other and he would be in charge of your career for the rest of his life. That included starring roles in Since You Went Away, Duel in the Sun, Portrait of Jenny, We Were Strangers, Madame Bovary, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Gone to Earth (which was released in the US in a version heavily edited by Selznik as The Wild Heart), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Good Morning, Miss Dove, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, A Farewell to Arms (Selznik’s final movie) and Tender Is the Night. Forgive me, but I thought you had passed away years ago. It turns out that, six years after Selznik’s death, you married multimillionaire industrialist Norton Simon. After he became ill (he died in 1993), you became the chairwoman of the Norton Simon Museum, one of the greatest private art collections in the country, a position you held until your death at 90. Your final movie was 35 years ago, and many stars have had worse swan songs. In Irwin Allen’s disaster extravaganza The Towering Inferno, you were the nice lady with a dog who strikes up a budding relationship with the charming Fred Astaire. One of the genuinely touching moments in the movie is when Astaire learns you did not survive the conflagration and O.J. Simpson hands him your pet.

  • David Lloyd: You wrote more TV scripts (and doctored many others) than just about anybody in the business. The list of television shows that you wrote for reads like an honor roll of the latter 20th century’s great sitcoms: Mary Tyler Moore, its spinoffs Rhoda and Phyllis and Lou Grant, The Bob Newhart Show, The Tony Randall Show, The Associates, Taxi, Dear John, Amen, Wings, Cheers and Frasier. You also created the 1980s series Brothers, which was broadcast on Showtime after the major networks rejected it for having a gay character. Two of your children also turned out to be television writers, including Christopher (not to be confused with the Taxi actor), who has produced and written Frasier, Back to You and the current very funny series Modern Family. All your obits agreed on your main claim to fame. It was penning the classic Mary Tyler Moore episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” in which Mary, who has criticized others for making light of the passing of the station’s kids show’s clown host, gets a case of the giggles during his funeral. My parting words to you are your own ones: “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

  • Al Martino: A crooner for more than half a century, you were part of that Italian-American generation (along with Dean Martin and Perry Como) who more or less flourished in the shadow of Frank Sinatra. You were frequently heard on easy listening radio stations singing songs like “Here in My Heart,” “Spanish Eyes” and “Volare.” (My personal favorite: Johnny Cymbal and Mike Lendell’s “Mary in the Morning,” with which I was once known to annoy young women by strumming on a guitar. And, no, I’m not proud.) You really have only one notable contribution to cinematic history. (Well, besides singing the title tune to Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.) You played a Sinatra-like lounge singer in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (a role you would reprise 18 years later in The Godfather: Part III). Your appeal for career help to Don Corleone results in the famous scene in which John Marley wakes up to find the head of his prized horse in bed with him. Still working at the time of your death at 82, you recorded tracks for a new album the very day before you passed on. And how’s this for irony: the last song you recorded was Garth Brooks’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”

  • Patrick McGoohan: One of the first big names we lost back in 2009, you frankly had a lot to do with the paranoia we all came to feel in the 1960s. But before that, you were born in New York to Irish parents who brought you back to Ireland before settling in England. After stints on the stages of Sheffield and London, you went on to become Britain’s major TV star. But before you became John Drake in Danger Man, it is worth noting, that you were Starbuck in Orson Welles’s TV production Moby Dick Rehearsed and a Swedish water therapist in Henry Cornelius’s I Am a Camera, among other numerous roles. Danger Man was broadcast in the US as Secret Agent, accompanied by a catchy theme sung by Johnny Rivers, which would presage things to come with the refrain “They’ve given you a number and taken away your name.” During the latter part of your career, you weren’t exactly ubiquitous, but you did keep showing up. You were the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh on Disneyland. You were a mysterious civilian participant on a military rescue mission in Ice Station Zebra. You were a train-traveling art dealer in the comedy Silver Streak. You were Clint Eastwood’s warden in Escape from Alcatraz. You were a doctor in David Cronenberg’s Scanners. You were King Edward I in Braveheart. You were Billy Zane’s father in The Phantom. You were a judge in the John Grisham adaptation A Time to Kill. And you put in a very strange performance in the oddity Hysteria. Your final film role was as the voice of Billy Bones in Disney’s Treasure Planet. But, of course, you are forever entirely identified with the seminal series, which can be seen as a sequel to Danger Man (or not), The Prisoner, which you created and did writing and directing for. Many impressionable young minds were challenged to question everything about their environment every week when you began each episode by intoning the immortal cry of rebellion: “I am not a number. I am a free man.”

    To be continued…

    -S.L., 21 January 2010

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