Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Passings: December 2012

Well, this catches me up for last year. But I can’t stop here. My look back at people who passed away in January should be along Real Soon Now. In the meantime, let’s remember, among others, a titan of non-live children’s adventure, some great character actors and a man who provided music for quality UK films.


  • Don Medford: For four decades you were one of the busiest directors working in television. Starting with Tales of Tomorrow in the early 1950s, you helmed episodes of everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to The Rifleman and The Untouchables to 12 O’Clock High and The F.B.I. and Dynasty. So what was it that got featured at the top of your obituary? It was the fact that you directed the biggest television event of the era in 1967: the final installment of The Fugitive, in which Dr. Richard Kimble finally caught up with the one-armed man. (12-XII-2012, at 95)


  • Gerry Anderson: Thunderbirds are go! You were the creative force behind the TV program that gave kids in Britain and the rest of the world that stirring catchphrase. You got into puppetry because an allergy made your original line of work (plastering) impractical. After The Adventures of Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy and Four Feather Falls, you went on to make one of my personal childhood favorites, the space adventure show Fireball XL5 with its hero Steve Zodiac, followed by the underwater adventure series Stingray with its hero Troy Tempest. But your masterpiece was Thunderbirds, with the heroic Tracy family saving the world with the help of the glamorous secret agent Lady Penelope. Subsequent projects like Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, The Secret Service and the live-action feature film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun never had the same impact. Ditto for a rare live-action TV series, UFO, which my friend Jim would eventually worry he might have hallucinated since nobody else he knew could remember it. Additional live action projects The Protectors and Space 1999 and the puppet series Terrahawks. Sadly, your planned Space Police series never got off the ground and you failed to buy back the rights to Thunderbirds. You were not even hired as a consultant when Jonathan Frakes directed the 2004 live-action movie version, which featured Bill Paxton as Jeff Tracy, Anthony Edwards as Brains, Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope and Ben Kingsley as The Hood. (26-XII-2012, at 83)


  • Christopher Robbins: An investigative writer for the UK Observer, your articles and books covered everything from CIA assassination plots to the situations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan and Azerbaijan. One of your best known books was a memoir about the Irish filmmaker Brian Desmond Hurst (who directed the 1951 Christmas classic Scrooge) called The Empress of Ireland. But your main contribution to film? It was your non-fiction book about Vietnam called Air America. It was turned by Roger Spottiswoode into a 1990 big screen action comedy starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. (24-XII-2012, at 66)


  • Harry Carey Jr.: You were the last of the virtual repertory company that populated John Ford’s legendary westerns. You followed your silent film star father into the acting business and made more than a hundred movies. A lot of them were with your pal John Wayne, and your expertise with horses enabled you to do some of your own stunts, like when you and Ben Johnson both rode two horses each while standing up in Rio Grande. You were in such Ford films as 3 Godfathers, Wagon Master, The Long Gray Line, Mister Roberts, Two Rode Together and Cheyenne Autumn. Other movies included Howard Hawks’s Red River, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, The Searchers, From Hell to Texas, Big Jake, Cahill U.S. Marshall, The Long Riders and the Kurt Russell/Val Kilmer version of Tombstone. You also appeared on TV westerns like Rawhide, Bonanza, Laramie, Have Gun – Will Travel and Wagon Train. And you were also the ranch counselor in Disney’s Spin and Marty serials. You were also in Lindsay Anderson’s 1987 love letter to aging movie stars, The Whales of August, which also starred Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern. In later years it became cool to cast you in cameos. Apparently, it was mainly because younger filmmakers just wanted to hear all your great stories about old Hollywood. Joe Dante put you in Gremlins. Peter Bogdanovich put you in Mask. Robert Zemeckis put you in the Old West segment of Back to the Future Part III. William Peter Blatty made you a priest in The Exorcist III. Your final movie role was in the made-for-TV Elmore Leonard adaptation Last Stand at Saber River. (27-XII-2012, at 91)

  • Charles Durning: For years it seemed like we couldn’t watch a movie without seeing your face in it somewhere. You were the consummate character actor. You were the crooked cop stalking Redford and Newman in The Sting. You wooed Dustin Hoffman (in drag) in Tootsie. You were the nefarious purveyor of frog legs in The Muppets Movie. You were the police chief in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. You were another cop in Dog Day Afternoon. Your ubiquitous career on stage and screen almost didn’t happen. Growing up in poverty, five of your nine siblings died young. In World War II, you were the only member of your unit to survive when you landed in Normandy on D-Day. You were taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners. But somehow you survived all that and went on to, among other things, appear in two Coen Brothers movies (The Hudsucker Proxy and O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and you made a lot of movies with Burt Reynolds, including Starting Over, Sharkey’s Machine, Stick, the TV movie Hard Time and its sequels—as well as one of your most memorable roles, as the governor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And you were part of the cast of Burt’s TV sitcom Evening Shade. Other TV roles included Officer Murphy in The Cop and the Kid, the narrator on Now and Again, Justice Hoskins on First Monday and Father Hubley on Everybody Loves Raymond. You also played Cybill Shepherd’s father on Cybill and Denis Leary’s father on Rescue Me. Allow me to recall two particular roles that have stuck with me over the years. In the 1977 thriller Twilight’s Last Gleaming, in which Burt Lancaster holds the government hostage with an ICBM, you played the U.S. president who poignantly comes to the realization that he is going to have to sacrifice himself to avert a catastrophe. And in the 1983 Mel Brooks remake of the comedy classic To Be or Not to Be, you played a German colonel who repeatedly cracked me up with the line, “So, they call me ‘Concentration Camp’ Erhardt, eh?” (24-XII-2012, at 89)

  • Jon Finch: So what happened to you anyway? In 1971 and 1972, you were the lead in two major motion pictures directed by celebrated directors and your place in the movie star firmament seemed a foregone conclusion. You had the title role in Roman Polanski’s rather sexy and bloody version of The Tragedy of Macbeth, and you were a suspected killer trying to prove your innocence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Prior to that, you had been on TV’s Z Cars and appeared in a Hammer Frankenstein movie and in The Vampire Lovers. But your diabetes and your lack of interest in stardom kept you out of the limelight mostly after that. It was a diabetic episode that forced you to drop out of Ridley Scott’s Alien, leaving John Hurt to be the one to have a creature burst from his chest. You also turned down the chance to play James Bond (instead of Roger Moore) in Live and Let Die and the Richard Chamberlain role in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. Instead, you played a lot of Shakespeare on the stage as well as the occasional TV or movie role. You finally got to work with Ridley Scott in your final role, as the Patriarch of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven. (28-XII-2012, at 71)

  • Jack Klugman: Yes, you were Oscar to Tony Randall’s Felix and you were the murder-solving coroner Quincy. But, a veteran of the days of live television drama, you were also the last surviving member of the jury in the classic TV movie 12 Angry Men. While your two major TV roles overshadow everything else you did on the small screen, you made plenty of other appearances over the years, including starring in Harris Against the World in the mid-1960s and in You Again? in the mid-1980s. Special mention should be made of your Twilight Zone roles. In 1960 you were a down-on-his-luck trumpeter hovering between life and death. In 1961 you were a frustrated pool player whose wish is granted to play his late great idol, “Fats” Brown (Jonathan Winters!). And in 1961 you played both a space ship captain who finds an exact duplicate of his own ship crashed on a planet and a bookie who is miraculously reunited with his critically wounded soldier son who is magically a child again (played by Billy Mumy). In your memoir Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship, you told a very funny story of how you got the TV role of Oscar. Randall had wanted Mickey Rooney, with whom he had played in a stage version, but executive Garry Marshall fought for you. It turned out, though, that Marshall had never even seen your turn as Oscar on the stage. “Then why did you fight for me?” you wanted to know. Marshall replied, “I saw you in Gypsy. You did a scene with Ethel Merman and I was impressed because as she was singing to you, she was spitting a lot and it was getting on your clothes and your face and in your eyes. You never even flinched. I said to myself, ‘Now that’s a good actor.'” (24-XII-2012, at 90)

  • Cliff Osmond: A tall character actor who often played bad guys or losers, you could be seen on TV shows like The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, The Flying Nun, Gunsmoke, All in the Family, Starsky and Hutch and Murder, She Wrote. You became a favorite of Billy Wilder, who cast you in many of his films. You were a gendarme in Irma la Douce, an aspiring songwriter in Kiss Me, Stupid, an insurance investigator in The Fortune Cookie, and you were in the Matthau/Lemmon version of The Front Page. And let us not forget that you were the bank robber Wes Hardin in The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. (22-XII-2012, at 75)

  • Evelyn Ward: A 1940s star of Broadway musicals, you also had some roles on TV in the 1950s and 1960s, i.e. Mike Hammer, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But mainly I’m remembering you because of who you’re related to. You were married for six years to Jack Cassidy (before he married Shirley Jones), and you are the mother of former teen idol David Cassidy. And that makes you the grandmother of Katie Cassidy, Stephen Amell’s off-and-on love interest on TV’s Arrow. Before you disappeared into a final decade of Alzheimer’s, you came out of retirement for a final role in 1996 in the musical Such a Pretty Face. (23-XII-2012, at 89)


  • Richard Rodney Bennett: Your musical scores graced British TV and movies for nearly half a century. In addition to some 50 screen scores, you also composed five operas and more than 200 works for the concert hall. You also provided assistance to Paul McCartney with his classical composition “Standing Stone.” Three of your scores earned Oscar nominations: Far From the Madding Crowd, Nicholas and Alexandria and Murder on the Orient Express. Other notable films to include your music: Secret Ceremony, Equus, Yanks, Enchanted April, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Swann and the TV miniseries Gormenghast. (24-XII-2012, at 76)


  • Mike Hopkins: Dead too young at 53 in a rafting accident in your native New Zealand, you were Peter Jackson’s sound editor on Braindead, Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, King Kong and, most impressively, his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Along with Ethan Van der Ryn, you won Oscars for The Two Towers and King Kong. The two of you were also nominated for Michael Bay’s Transformers. (30-XII-2012, at 53)

    -S.L., 14 May 2013

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