Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Passings: August 2012

In August of last year, we lost another Sweathog, two memorable guest stars on the original Star Trek and the man who gave us the real Willy Wonka.


  • Mel Stuart: In your half-century of making movies, you turned out an awful lot of documentaries. They ranged from 1963’s D-Day June 6, 1944 to The Making of the President 1960 (about JFK’s election) to Four Days in November (about JFK’s assassination) to this year’s Shakespeare in Watts. Many of your films were made for TV, like 1976’s Brenda Starr (starring Jill St. John), 1978’s Ruby and Oswald and 1979’s The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal. And yet it is for the handful of feature films that we remember you. Those include the tourist comedy If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, I Love My Wife (with Elliott Gould and Brenda Vaccaro), the divorce drama One Is a Lonely Number, the prison drama Mean Dog Blues and the African wilderness drama The White Lions. But the movie you are really remembered for is the one you made because your Roald Dahl fan of a daughter insisted you make it. In our house your Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is preferred to Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (9-VIII-2012, at 83)


  • Judith Crist: One of the best known film critics of the last century, your reviews appeared in The New York Herald Tribune and New York magazine. But most of us read your work in TV Guide or heard it on The Today Show. What made you famous and widely read may have been less your philosophy of cinema than your propensity for the well-placed zinger. A good example is your take on the beloved Sound of Music: “The movie is for the 5-to-7 set and their mommies who think the kids aren’t up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of Mary Poppins.” Ouch. No wonder the director Billy Wilder once said of you, “Inviting her to review one of your pictures is like inviting the Boston Strangler to massage your neck.” (7-VIII-2012, at 90)

  • James Fogle: Growing up in Olympia, Washington, you stole your first car at 12 and were serving time before you were a teenager. In the end, you died in the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe. But in between you wrote novels, sending your first one, Satan’s Sandbox, unsolicited to Thomas E. Gaddis, who had written The Birdman of Alcatraz. Unfortunately, when your novel Drugstore Cowboy was turned into a film by Gus Van Sant (and starring Matt Dillon), you made little money from it. You watched it at a special screening at the state pen in Walla Walla. Your last period of freedom ended in 2010 when you were arrested for robbing a Seattle area pharmacy. (23-VIII-2012, at 75)

  • Harry Harrison: One of the prominent names in science fiction, you contributed some 70 titles to the genre. I still remember seeing you at a sci-fi convention in L.A. around 1970. A proponent of Esperanto, you included that language in a number of your works. Your stories included things like a coal-fired flying boat, a submarine that journeys to Mars and a time machine that brings its passengers to a future where there are no people. Your “Stainless Steel Rat” series featured the con man Slippery Jim DiGriz. Your contribution to the movies? Your novel Make Room! Make Room!, about overpopulation in a dystopian future, was made into a film by Richard Fleisher and starred Charlton Heston and, in his last role, Edward G. Robinson. But the twist ending wasn’t yours. Reportedly, you were appalled at the addition of cannibalism to the plot of Soylent Green. (15-VIII-2012, at 87)

  • Mark O’Donnell: A playwright from Cleveland, you found your niche adapting John Waters’s movies into Broadway shows. You won a Tony (with Thomas Meehan) for writing the book for Hairspray, which starred Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad. It was adapted as a film in 2007 by Adam Shankman and starred John Travolta. (Divine had played Edna in the Waters original.) You got nominated again five years later for the book for the show adapted from Waters’s Cry-Baby. (6-VIII-2012, at 58)


  • Phyllis Diller: Yes, you were one of the all-time great stand-up comedy acts. We laughed as you made fun of your own exaggerated looks and told stories about your husband Fang. But I nearly put you in the “other” category until I realized you actually had quite an acting career. Okay, you weren’t exactly Olivier, but there are a lot of TV and movie roles on your c.v. They include Texas Guinan in Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (no, really), parts in the Bob Hope comedies Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell, Agatha Knabenshu in Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady?, Mrs. Wildebeest in A Pleasure Doing Business, Slim Pickens’s wife in Pink Motel and the mother in The Perfect Man. On the small screen you had recurring roles as Mrs. Peterson on Blossom, as Granny Neutron on The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, as Gladys Pope on The Bold and the Beautiful and as Thelma on Family Guy. (20-VIII-2012, at 95)

  • Biff Elliot: A WWII army veteran, one-time boxer and longtime acting coach, you were another of those unsung actors who showed up in movies and TV for years. Your 1950s movies included Nicholas Ray’s The True Story of Jesse James (starring Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter and you as Jim Younger) and Dick Powell’s The Enemy Below (starring Robert Mitchum and Curd Jürgens). In the 1960s you were in the JFK biopic PT 109 and in The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (starring Mamie Van Doren). But your real claims to fame are being the first actor to play Mike Hammer (in 1953’s I, the Jury) and for playing an ill-fated miner on the Janus VI colony who has an unfortunate encounter with a Horta protecting its offspring in the original Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark.” (15-VIII-2012, at 89)

  • Steve Franken: For such a familiar face, it is stunning to realize how many times we saw you on screen over half a century and never recognized you. In the 1960s you were Homer Bedloe’s son on Petticoat Junction and a valet in a Catwoman episode of Batman and numerous characters on Bewitched. In the 1970s you were Jonas Lasser on the Mary Tyler Moore show, a technician in Westworld, a doctor in The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and the Lonesome Kid in The Missouri Breaks. You appeared in Peter Sellers’s final film, The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu. In 2000 you were an administrator in Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty. And just three years ago you were a cardinal in Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons. Personally, I will always relish your hilarious slapstick turn as a dipsomaniac waiter who disrupts a fancy Hollywood soirée in the uproarious Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers comedy The Party. But there’s no getting around the fact that your immortality is owed entirely to a TV role in which you replaced Warren Beatty. On The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Beatty played the very rich Milton Armitage. When he left to do movies, you stepped in as the uber-snobbish Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (24-VIII-2012, at 80)

  • Al Freeman Jr.: You came to prominence on the stage in the 1960s in plays that often dealt with race relations, written by the likes of James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones. In the 1970s you played a police captain on One Life to Live (winning an Emmy), Damon Lockwood in the TV miniseries King and Malcolm X in Roots: The Next Generations. In the 1980s you played Elijah Muhammad to Denzel Washington’s Malcolm X in the eponymous Spike Lee film. And in the 1990s you were a deputy commissioner in Homicide: Life on the Street. (9-VIII-2012, at 78)

  • Ron Palillo: Another of last year’s Sweathog casualties, you made such an impression as the braying underachieving Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter that it pretty much killed your career as an actor. There were a few other roles over the years, including a stint on One Life to Live, as well as the inevitable appearances on The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote. You wound up directing plays and teaching drama at your alma mater, the University of Connecticut. (14-VIII-2012, at 63)

  • Phyllis Thaxter: Your screen career began as Van Johnson’s wife in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and you went on to work with Tracy and Hepburn (The Sea of Grass), Robert Mitchum (Blood on the Moon), Ronald Reagan (She’s Working Her Way Through College), Gary Cooper (Springfield Rifle) and Burt Lancaster (Jim Thorpe—All-American). In the 1950s you overcame polio, which you endured while pregnant, and went on to numerous guest roles on TV. But most of us will always remember you as Glenn Ford’s wife and Christopher Reeve’s adoptive mother in the 1978 blockbuster Superman. (14-VIII-2012, at 92)

  • Maureen Toal: A six-decade veteran of the stage in Ireland, the UK and America, you appeared in plays penned by Oliver Goldsmith, Brian Friel, Tennessee Williams, Seán O’Casey, Frank McGuinness and John B. Keane, among others. You often appeared with your then-husband Milo O’Shea, including the films Ulysses and Paddy. Other films included the 1968 comedy Otley (with Tom Courtnay and Romy Schneider), Summer Lightning and Snakes and Ladders. But for people in Ireland you will, first and foremost, always have been one particular character. That would be pub owner Teasy McDaid for nearly a decade on the rural soap Glenroe. (24-VIII-2012, at 80)

  • William Windom: In an interview, you said that the role you were most proud of was playing Richard III on the stage in Biarritz, France, where you were enrolled in the American University while stationed in postwar Germany. But everyone else will remember you for different roles. Some will remember you as the prosecuting attorney who went up against Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Others might recall you for a couple of Twilight Zone episodes in which you played an army major who inexplicably wakes up in a room with a ballerina, a clown, a tramp and a bagpiper and, in the other episode, a doctor to Robert Duvall who is obsessed with the goings-on in a dollhouse. Some might remember you as the Minnesota congressman who employs Inger Stevens as a governess in The Farmer’s Daughter. Still others will focus on the fact that you were Commander Decker, whose crew is killed by a planet-destroying robot in the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine.” (You would reprise the role in a 2004 episode of Star Trek: Voyager.) Those same people are liable to also remember you as the president in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Still others would recognize you as the local doctor in Jessica Fletcher’s Maine town on Murder, She Wrote. You were also Frank Buckman on the 1990s TV series Parenthood and the voice of Uncle Chuck on Sonic the Hedgehog. But your standout role was as the James Thurber-inspired writer and family man perpetually caught up in his own imagination on the 1969-70 TV series My World and Welcome to It. (16-VIII-2012, at 88)


  • Irving Fein: You were a longtime manager to comedy legends. And I’m not kidding about the longtime part. You deserve some kind of special mention just for longevity, lasting to the age of 101. After earning a law degree and being offered a job in the Warner Bros. legal department in New York, you elected instead to move to Hollywood and work in the mailroom. After years of working in publicity for various studios, you became Jack Benny’s manager and the rest was history. You managed him through his various TV shows and specials. And, after Gracie Allen died, you began managing George Burns too. You managed him through Las Vegas appearances, movie roles and one of the biggest gatherings of celebrities ever for his 100th birthday celebration. The two of you also co-authored a biography of Benny. (10-VIII-2012, at 101)

  • Joe Kubert: You were one of those comic book artists whose style was readily recognized. The look was grittier and more realistic than most other artists. When you drew army guys, we could smell the muck on them. Your career ran from the 1930s through the age of the graphic novels. Your version of Tarzan felt like the right one. Your main creations for DC were classics: the WWII soldier Sgt. Rock and the German war pilot Enemy Ace (both co-created with Robert Kanigher), the pre-historic hero Tor and the flying superhero Hawkman. When you took over as DC’s director of publications at the height of the Vietnam War, you directed the typesetter to add the words “Make War No More” to the end of each war-themed comic book. (12-VIII-2012, at 85)

  • Carlo Rambaldi: An Academy Award-winning special effects wizard, your handiwork graced some of the most memorable science fiction movies ever. You designed and built the head of the predatory creature at the heart of Ridley Scott’s Alien, as well as the extraterrestrials in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You also were involved in making the masks and costumes for the titular ape in the 1976 remake of King Kong. But your most iconic creation was the set of steel, rubber, hydraulic and electronic controls that brought to life a small creature with loose skin and large eyes. Objectively, it was hideous, and yet millions fell in love with it. As Spielberg said upon your death, “Carlo Rambaldi was E.T.’s Gepetto.” (10-VIII-2012, at 86)

    -S.L., 16 April 2013

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