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 XXII

For those who are stilling following along, my annual roll call of personal good-byes (to people who passed away during the previous calendar year) enters its third and final week. As usual, the luminaries who continue to depart us are already stacking up in 2010 (Eric Rohmer, Jean Simmons, Pernell Roberts et al.), while I haven’t even finished my list for 2009. I’ll do my best to get to them eventually. Meanwhile, join me in a toast, actually a long series of toasts, to the people on the final third of my list (begun two weeks ago and continued last week), who contributed to the world of film and entertainment.

  • Vic Mizzy: Sing along with me. Da-da-da-dum. Snap. Snap. Da-da-da-dum. Snap. Snap. Okay, it’s not the same on a web page without embedded audio. Your gift, Mr. Mizzy, was to come up with themes that people couldn’t get out of their heads. Your opus major was clearly the theme to the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family (“They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky…”). Not that every ditty you came up with was as persistent and insistent. Most of us don’t remember, for example, the music from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or The Reluctant Astronaut or The Shakiest Gun in the West or Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? But you did have one other sitcom theme that became immortal: (Hungarian accent) “New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay. I just adore a penthouse view. Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.” That’s right, you composed the theme for Green Acres as well. Biggest surprise to come out of your obituaries: to save money you did the vocals for The Addams Family theme yourself, redubbing your own voice over and over to make it sound like a chorus.

  • Ricardo Montalban: The single best argument for liberal Mexican immigration, you were a Hollywood fixture since the early 1940s. Married to Loretta Young’s half-sister, after making a few Mexican flicks, you started out in Tinseltown playing Esther Williams’s twin brother in Fiesta. You were leading man to the likes of Cyd Charisse, Shelley Winters and Lana Turner. Typically, you were cast in ethnic roles that included Native Americans (Across the Wide Missouri) and even Japanese (Sayonara) and Babylonian (The Queen of Babylonia), and you even played opposite Lena Horne in an otherwise all African-American cast in the musical Jamaica. Your elegant, debonair manner also made you a natural as a pitchman, most memorably for Chrysler, who not only made you mispronounce the name Cordoba but also had you hype the car’s “soft Corinthian leather”—despite the fact that not only did Corinthia not actually produce leather but Corinthia wasn’t even a real place. Your youngest fans will remember you for giving voice to animated characters like El Encantador in Dora the Explorer and Señor Senior Sr. in Kim Possible—as well as playing the grandfather in the Spy Kids movies. Older soap fans will remember you as Zach Powers on the Dynasty spinoff The Colbys. But your greatest claim to fame arguably was playing the host Mr. Roarke week after week for six years on Fantasy Island. To Star Trek fans, however, you will forever be Khan Noonien Singh, who menaced the Enterprise crew during the 1967 episode “Space Seed” and went on to feature in the big screen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the flick that climaxed with the death of Mr. Spock. As one reviewer noted at the time, given your revealing costume and your age (you were in your early 60s), the best special effect in the whole darn movie was your magnificent chest. Vaya con Diós, hombre.

  • Brittany Murphy: Beginning with a guest shot on Murphy Brown as an adolescent, you were on our TV and movie screens for nearly two decades. You were a regular on Drexell’s Class, the Torkelsons spinoff Almost Home, Sister, Sister and the animated King of the Hill. In your brief time on earth, you managed to rack up an impressive number of big screen roles, starting with Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, as the new girl made over by Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash. As a young actor, you inevitably did your share of mindless comedies and horror/scifi, but you were also in quite a few respectable films, including Girl, Interrupted (with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie), the suspense thriller Don’t Say a Word (with Michael Douglas), Riding in Cars with Boys (with Drew Barrymore), 8 Mile (with Eminem), Uptown Girls (as Dakota Fanning’s nanny), the Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation Sin City and the romcoms Just Married (with Ashton Kutcher), Little Black Book and Love and Other Disasters. You also voiced the penguin love interest in the animated Happy Feet. You also appeared in two movies written and directed by Edward Burns: Sidewalks of New York and The Groomsmen. Dead at 32 of cardiac arrest, you are one more reminder of the arbitrariness of life. In a grim coincidence, your high school prom date was reportedly actor Jonathan Brandeis, who died six years ago at the age of 27.

  • Kim Peek: Okay, occasionally someone who is not directly involved in the creation of entertainment makes this list. You are one such person. Born with severe brain abnormalities, you could not function or communicate like most other people—causing you to be dismissed as “mentally retarded” and misdiagnosed as autistic. But a chance meeting with writer/producer Barry Morrow unleashed the truth. You were a true savant with pretty much total recall. Among your skills was the ability to read two pages at once, one with each eye—and retain all of it. Your father finally had to stop bringing you to plays and concerts because you would stand up and correct the performers’ mistakes. Someone could mention any date in history and you could say what day of the week it had fallen on. You memorized every zip code and area code in the U.S. You inspired Morrow, who had created two movies about a retarded man named Bill (played by Mickey Rooney), to write a screenplay (with Ronald Bass) based on a man with your amazing abilities. That movie won Oscars in 1989 for the writers, director Barry Levinson and star Dustin Hoffman—as well as getting the Best Picture statuette. Yes, you were the original Rain Man.

  • Willie Maxine Perry: You are another who was an inspiration rather than a direct creative participant. Your son, writer/director/producer/actor Tyler Perry, created a tough-talking matriarch character based on you. And, in a move that only his psychiatrist (and maybe Alfred Hitchcock) would understand, he played her himself. He played her on stage and then he played her in movies. In no fewer than five feature films (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Meet the Browns, Madea Goes to Jail and I Can Do Bad All by Myself). A preschool teacher who worked most of her life at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center, you were the real Madea.

  • Harve Presnell: A booming baritone singer in the tradition of Howard Keel, you were made for musicals. Unfortunately for your film career, musicals were dying out around the time that Hollywood discovered you. Your main claim to fame was creating and playing the role of Leadville Johnny Brown, the man who marries the title character in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. You sang songs like “I’ll Never Say No” and “Colorado My Home” opposite Tammy Grimes on the stage and Debbie Reynolds on the big screen. You followed that up with the role of Rotten Luck Willie in the 1969 musical western Paint Your Wagon, in which you memorably sang “They Call the Wind Mariah.” We didn’t see much of you after that—until the Coen brothers cast you as William H. Macy’s overbearing father-in-law in Fargo. Then you were everywhere. You were in John Woo’s Face/Off. You were General George C. Marshall in Saving Private Ryan. You were Mr. Parker in The Pretender. You were Mr. Brooks on Dawson’s Creek. You were Joe Kennedy in the miniseries Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot. You were Mr. Springbrook in Old School. And you were in the Andy Richter sitcom Andy Barker, P.I. Your last two feature films were Flags of Our Fathers and Evan Almighty. A couple of guest shots especially worth mentioning: You were a member of the Q continuum in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. And you were Terri Hatcher’s father in five episodes of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

  • Jane Randolph: You had a relatively brief film career that began and ended in the 1940s. You appeared in movies with titles like The Falcon’s Brother, The Falcon Strikes Back, Highways by Night, Jealousy and Railroaded! Your swan song (except for a cameo in the 1955 film That Lady, filmed in Spain, where you had retired with your husband) was as an insurance investigator in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But your claim to fame is playing Alice Moore, colleague and sympathetic shoulder for a man whose Serbian bride (Simone Simon) believes she is under a feline curse, and who consequently is memorably menaced in an indoor swimming pool. You played Alice in Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton’s Cat People and its sequel The Curse of the Cat People. Your less known claim to fame? You were one of two human models used for the ice skating sequence with Bambi and Thumper in Disney’s Bambi.

  • Alaina Reed-Amini: The trick to keeping track of you was to keep checking your address and to keep checking the hyphen in your surname. Originally an accomplished cabaret singer and musical theater performer, you were first Alaina Reed. After your marriage to Kevin Peter Hall (whose acting roles included playing the title character in Predator and who died in 1991), you were Alaina Reed-Hall. Since 2008 you were Alaina Reed-Amini. You had many appearances in films and TV shows over the years, sometimes playing a nurse or a judge or a receptionist or a bureaucrat. TV guest shots ran the gamut from Herman’s Head and A Different World to The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and ER. But there’s no getting around the fact that you will always be identified with those two addresses. One was 227, the Marla Gibbs sitcom in which your character married Hall’s before the two of you got hitched in real life. Even more enduring, however, was your role of Gordon’s younger sister Olivia on what is perhaps the most famous street in the world, Sesame Street.

  • Soupy Sales: A physical clown in the tradition of Harpo Marx, you were the quintessential kiddie TV star. No one else’s name is as closely identified as yours to the classic gag of the cream pie in the face. In fact, you turned that silly act into such an art form that the crème de la crème of celebrities (Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra et al.) willingly turned up to get creamed. You had the silly puppets and other trappings of juvenile entertainment, but somehow you managed to stay cool even after we should have outgrown you. That was because you attained a sort of anti-establishment cred by getting in trouble with The Man. You were suspended after you jokingly told kids to go through their parents’ clothes and to send you little green pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards on them and, in return, you would send them a postcard from Puerto Rico. Some of them actually did it and complaints came in. Oh yeah, and that little prank when your practical joking crew convinced you that the image of a performing stripper was going out live to the TV audience probably didn’t hurt your cachet with teens either. What you are less known for are all the bit acting roles you did over the years. Your credits include (on TV) The Rebel, Ensign O’Toole, Burke’s Law, Route 66, The Beverly Hillbillies, Love, American Style, The Love Boat, Wings and Boy Meets World and (in movies) The Two Little Bears, Critic’s Choice, Palmer’s Pick Up, Behind the Seams, A Little Bit of Lipstick, The Innocent and the Damned, Angels with Angles (with Frank Gorshin as an angel named George Burns and Rodney Dangerfield as God) and, in a rare starring role, Birds Do it.

  • Arnold Stang: As an actor, you never were going to play leading roles. Short with large glasses, you looked like, well, a cartoon character. And so you became most recognizable playing one of the crazy characters who show up to befuddle the host on shows like Milton Berle’s and Steve Allen’s and Red Skelton’s and Jackie Gleason’s. You also had parts in movies like Hello Down There, Ghost Dad and the John Hughes-produced Dennis the Menace. In Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, you and Marvin Kaplan (the two of you had worked together before) played attendants who watch their service station get destroyed by Jonathan Winters. In Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, you played Frank Sinatra’s pal Sparrow. You also had a recurring role as Harry Morgan’s brother-in-law on December Bride. Did I say you were never the lead? Actually, a popular cartoon voice, you were frequently the lead in scores of Seymour Kneitel cartoons, usually playing a mouse called Herman. But your main claim to fame is playing an urban, hip leader type who no end of schemes. In a thinly veiled Hanna-Barbera animated adaptation of Sgt. Bilko, with Marvin Kaplan playing your No. 2 Choo Choo, you were the indisputable leader of the gang, the boss, a pip, the championship. You were the most tip top… Top Cat!

  • Gale Storm: You had one of the best actor names ever. Certainly better than Josephine Owaissa Cottle, which is what you were born with. We forget that you had a something of a career as a singer, with a string of hits on the radio during the mid-1950s, which included “I Hear You Knockin’,” “Teen Age Prayer,” “Tell Me Why” and “Dark Moon.” You had a string of movies through the 1940s and early 1950s, which included (among many others) Tom Brown’s School Days, Red River Valley and Man from Cheyenne (both with Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes), Foreign Agent, Revenge of the Zombies (with John Carradine), The Dude Goes West (with Eddie Albert), Between Midnight and Dawn (with Edmond O’Brien) and The Texas Rangers (with George Montgomery). But what we really remember you for is two 1950s sitcoms. In a summer replacement for I Love Lucy, you were My Little Margie, the meddling daughter of rich, widowed Manhattanite Charles Farrell. Later you played Susanna Pomeroy, the social director on a cruise ship in The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna. Aided and abetted by your sidekick Zasu Pitts, you confounded stuffy captain Roy Roberts. And you had it written in your contract that you would get to sing in every third episode. After it went off the air in 1960, we saw you on TV only five more times: predictably enough, in two episodes of Burke’s Law, two episodes of The Love Boat (another cruise ship) and one episode of Murder, She Wrote.

  • Richard Todd: Four decades before Liam Neeson played 18th century Scottish folk hero and outlaw Rob Roy, you played him in a 1953 movie, Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue. But that wasn’t the extent of your swashbuckling. You had the title role in 1952’s The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, opposite Peter Finch as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Other historical figures you played included the Rev. Peter Marshall in A Man Called Peter, Sir Walter Raleigh in The Virgin Queen and Comte Axel von Fersen in Marie Antoinette Queen of France. You also had your share of roles in creepy movies, ones like Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (with Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich), Dorian Gray (with you painting Helmut Berger), Asylum (with an amazing cast headed by Peter Cushing and Britt Ekland) and House of the Long Shadows (with Cushing, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee). And you played war heroes in movies like The Hasty Heart (with Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal), The Dam Busters, D-Day the Sixth of June, Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst, The Long and the Short and the Tall, The Longest Day (re-visiting D-Day) and Operation Crossbow. Perhaps that sort of role came naturally to you since you were a war hero in real life. Born in Dublin, the son of a British officer, you were one of the first British soldiers to parachute into France on D-Day. Manly and heroic, it is no wonder that you were Ian Fleming’s only choice to play James Bond in Dr. No. And if you hadn’t had a scheduling conflict, you probably would have had the role instead of Sean Connery. But you can console yourself with another bit of pop culture immortality. In a four-episode 1982 story of Doctor Who, you became the first Oscar-nominated actor to appear on the series—playing a colonist officer opposite Peter Davison’s Doctor No. 5.

  • James Whitmore: You are, of course, best known for two one-man stage shows in the 1970s based on real men. In Will Rogers’ U.S.A., you were the beloved humorist. In Give ‘Em Hell, Harry! you incarnated the 33rd U.S. president at a time when the current president made him seem so much better in retrospect. (The film version earned you your second Oscar nomination. Your first nom came in one of your first films, Battleground, in which you played a hard-bitten G.I.) Less well remembered is your next turn, as Teddy Roosevelt in Bully. But your craggy features and bushy eyebrows made you a natural to play gruff older men on our screens for nearly six decades. Your roles included quite a number of politicians, military officers, doctors, grandfathers and the occasional priest. Other historical figures you played over the years: Admiral “Bull” Halsey in Tora! Tora! Tora!, General Oliver Howard in I Will Fight No More Forever, Moses in a video adaptation of the Bible and Mark Twain in an animated movie. You also starred as attorney Abraham Lincoln Jones in the 1960s series The Law and Mr. Jones, as well as appearing as a doctor in Temperatures Rising and a professor in the odd couple sitcom My Friend Tony. And you played a megalomaniac colonial leader on another planet in the Twilight Zone episode “On Thursday We Leave for Home.” As we say good-bye, let’s remember some of your most memorable other roles: the hunchback criminal diner owner in The Asphalt Jungle, a white man who tries out life as an African-American in Black Like Me, the President of the Assembly in the original Planet of the Apes, the professor (along with wife Tippi Hedren) in charge of a radical social experiment in The Harrad Experiment, the prison librarian in The Shawshank Redemption and the wise old pawnbroker who finds an amnesiac Jim Carrey after an accident in The Majestic.

    Sorry, but I have to ignore my self-imposed arbitrary limit of 36 of these tributes to make quick mention of a few others to whom I have unforgivably given short shrift (and there’re more besides them): Val Avery, who played tough guys in movies like Hud and Hombre; Frank Coghlan Jr., who played Billy Batson, the boy who upon shouting “Shazam!” changed into Captain Marvel, in a 1941 serial; Robert Ginty, who starred in The Exterminator; John Hart, who played the Lone Ranger during 54 episodes when there was a salary dispute with Clayton Moore; Jan Leighton, who was listed in The Guinness Book of Records for playing the most roles as legitimate actor, usually historical figures like George Washington and Christopher Columbus; Virginia Davis McGhee, who at the age of 4 starred in Disney’s very first film (even before Mickey Mouse), Alice’s Wonderland; Paul Naschy, the dean of Spanish horror movies; Donald Pickering, the English actor who appeared alongside no fewer than three Doctors over the years in Doctor Who; Trevor Rhone, who wrote Jamaican film The Harder They Come, which starred Jimmy Cliff; Collin Wilcox, who played Brock Peters’s accuser in To Kill a Mockingbird; and Joseph Wiseman, the Canadian-born actor who had the title role in the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No. God rest ye all.

    -S.L., 28 January 2010

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