Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Passings: February 2013

During the second month of this year, we lost—among others—a couple of talented hoofers, a great cowboy, a master makeup artist, a portrayer of multiple Narns and Minbari and the man who scared generations with the Doctor’s greatest adversaries.


  • Aleksei German: I can’t claim to know your films, but I do know that they were disapproved of by the censors in the Soviet Union and that makes you all right in my book. Your breakthrough flick was My Friend Lapshin, in which a man recalls a murder investigation from his childhood. Its all-too-real portrayal of Soviet life caused it to be shelved until the days of perestroika. Your movie about a plot against Jewish doctors during the last days of Stalin (Khrustalyov, My Car!) was, perhaps not surprisingly, panned at Cannes in 1998. But it went on to be considered a classic. (21-II-2013, at 74)


  • W. Watts Biggers: In the 1960s you were an account manager at an advertising firm. You and your partner Chet Stover needed to come up with a cartoon show to advertise General Mills cereals. Because your competition was Jay Ward and Bill Scott of Rocky & Bullwinkle fame, you knew you would be the underdog. And that’s where you got your idea. Voiced by Wally Cox, the superhero canine Underdog spent more than 100 episodes rescuing Sweet Polly Purebred from the likes of Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff. You even composed the memorable theme song. (10-II-2013, at 85)

  • Richard Collins: For decades through the mid-1990s you were a screenwriter and producer on such television shows as Matlock and Bonanza. But early on, you drew the interest of the House Un-American Activities Committee for a screenplay you co-wrote for the 1944 film Song of Russia. You were one of the Hollywood 19, but not one of the ten who went to prison for refusing to answer questions. A former active member of the Communist Party, you lost many friends when you named names—including your collaborator Paul Jarrico, who never spoke to you again, and fellow screenwriter Budd Schulberg. (14-II-2013, at 98)

  • Alan Sharp: When you got a grant to train as a teacher, you handed the money to your wife and left Scotland for Germany. Then you went to London and began a writing a career. Two successful novels later, you abandoned the third in the trilogy and moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter. You made a splash with The Hired Hand, described as a “hippie western” and starring Peter Fonda. That was followed by Ulzana’s Raid (with Burt Lancaster), Billy Two Hats (with Gregory Peck) and Night Moves (with Gene Hackman). That was followed by the Jan-Michael Vincent flick Damnation Alley. You also penned Sam Peckinpah’s last film, the adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s The Osterman Weekend. Your one directorial effort was the 1985 romantic action comedy Little Treasure, starring Margot Kidder, Ted Danson and Burt Lancaster. A decade later you made a literary return to your native Scotland to pen Michael Caton-Jones’s Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson. Your final feature film was the intriguing and touching Dean Spanley. (8-II-2013, at 79)


  • John Brascia: You realized the dream of every San Joaquin Valley boy (born in Fresno, before moving to southern California) when you grew up to be sued by Xavier Cugat for alienating the affections of his wife, Abbe Lane. But let’s concentrate on the art. You had small roles in a few films like The Ambushers, The Wrecking Crew, Walking Tall and Executive Action. But your real gift was a dancer. With your partner Tybee Arfa, you opened for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Dean Martin and George Burns and appeared on the TV shows of Ed Sullivan and Jack Benny. Most memorably, you danced with Cyd Charisse while Sammy Davis Jr. sang “Frankie and Johnny” in Meet Me in Las Vegas and you tap danced with Vera-Ellen in the “Abraham” number in the classic White Christmas. (19-II-2013, at 80)

  • Richard Briers: A contemporary of Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, you worked your way up to London’s West End and UK television. The 1960s series Marriage Lines, about a young man adjusting to married life, was created for you. In the 1970s came your best known role, as Tom Good, a man who decides to give up the rat race in a suburbanized Brit version of Green Acres called The Good Life. Other TV roles in the era included The Other One, One-Upmanship and The Norman Conquests. Your friend Kenneth Branagh put you in his stage plays and films, including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Frankenstein (as the grandfather) and Hamlet (as Polonius). For the first five years of the new century, you were dotty Hector MacDonald in Monarch of the Glen, with Susan Hampshire. Also important to mention: you were the voice of Fiver in Watership Down, a bishop in the Spice Girls vehicle Spice World and Smee in P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan. And you were the Chief Caretaker opposite Sylvester McCoy in the Doctor Who story “Paradise Towers” and you had a part in the 2008 episode “A Day in the Death” of the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. And let us not forget your final big screen role, in the deliciously titled 2012 Brit comedy horror Cockneys vs. Zombies. (17-II-2013, at 79)

  • John Kerr: No, you were not related to Deborah Kerr, but you first became well known playing opposite her, reprising your stage role as an effeminate schoolboy in Robert Anderson’s play Tea and Sympathy. You followed that up by playing Lt. Joe Cable, who grows beyond his ingrained racism, in South Pacific. Then you played Barbara Steele’s brother and Vincent Price’s brother-in-law in Roger Corman’s Pit and the Pendulum. You meant to become a television director but ended up going to law school and becoming an attorney. Presumably as a result, among your numerous TV appearances you played a series of district attorneys and prosecutors in shows like Arrest and Trial, Peyton Place, Police Story and The Streets of San Francisco. (2-II-2013, at 81)

  • Matt Mattox: You started out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and ended your life in Perpignan, France. In between, you were a premier dancer, choreographer and teacher. As a dancer, you appeared in some of the most memorable musicals of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s—including Ziegfield Follies, Till the Clouds Roll By, The Merry Widow, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Band Wagon, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Guys and Dolls, Pepe and Song of Norway. But most people will remember you for dancing the role of Caleb Pontipee, one of the titular siblings (headed by Howard Keel) in Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (18-II-2013, at 91)

  • Lou Myers: You got your start by singing jazz and blues with the touring company Negro Jazz in Vogue and went on to perform your cabaret show in Europe, Asia and North America. As an actor you appeared on TV shows like NYPD Blue, ER, The Cosby Show and Touched by an Angel. You had film appearances in Tin Cup, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Bulworth and The Wedding Planner. But most people will recognize you for playing Mr. Gaines, the cantankerous restaurant owner on the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World. (19-II-2013, at 76)

  • Dale Robertson: Tall, laid-back and born with an Oklahoma drawl and an affinity for horses, you were made to play cowboys. And that’s what you did, through some sixty movies and 430 television episodes. You started out playing a cop (for no credit) in The Boy with Green Hair and made more of an impression as Jesse James in Fighting Man of the Plains. Movies like Devils Canyon, City of Bad Men, Sitting Bull, Dakota Incident and Hell Canyon Outlaws followed. On TV you were trouble-shooter Jim Hardie on Tales of Wells Fargo. Then you were Ben Calhoun, who wins a railroad in a poker game on Iron Horse. You also followed in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan and Robert Taylor as host of Death Valley Days. Later you were a billionaire philanthropist/crimesolver in J.J. Starbuck. You had a recurring role as an oil wildcatter in Dynasty but got written out because you were uncooperative. You didn’t like the sex scenes. But then you got a recurring role on Dallas. You sure caused a stir in my neck of the woods back in 1965 when you voiced the title role in an animated western feature called The Man from Button Willow—the only time a nearby town got its name in a film title. (27-II-2013, at 89)

  • Robin Sachs: Is there any cool sci-fi/fantasy franchise that you did not participate in? Or any number of other cool TV shows? Where to start? In your native Britain, you started out in the 1972 Hammer horror Vampire Circus, and you had a small part in Brideshead Revisited. You had small roles in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Ocean’s Eleven, and you guested on F/X: The Series and Alias. You were the voice of the Silver Surfer on the animated Fantastic Four. You took over the role of Adam Carrington from Gordon Thomson in 1991’s Dynasty: The Reunion. You were an Annari warship commander preying on ships caught in the Void on Star Trek: Voyager. You played a professor on the “Miracle Day” series of Torchwood. You were the villainous Ethan Rayne on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And in the brilliant spoof Galaxy Quest you played the evil alien Sarris (named for iconic film critic Andrew). But wait, it gets even cooler than that. You played no fewer than three (or, depending on how you’re counting, four) different characters on Babylon 5—two Narns and one (or two) Minbari. Early in the second season, you were Hedronn, a Minbari government official. At the end of the season, you were a Narn star cruiser commander named Na’Kal, who also made a return late in the third season. In the TV movie Babylon 5: In the Beginning, you were Coplann, member of the Minbari Grey Council, who was present at the fateful Battle of the Line. (Fan consensus is that Coplann and Hedronn were actually one and the same.) And in two episodes of the fifth season, you were Na’Tok, the Narn general who helps devise the attack on Centauri Prime. I ask, does any working actor have a cooler c.v. than that? (5-II-2013, at 62)


  • Ray Cusick: After your military service, you got a job as an art teacher until you snagged an art direction job with the BBC. You stayed there for nearly thirty years and worked on any number of TV shows, including The Forsyte Saga, Cold Comfort Farm, Eyeless in Gaza, The Pallisers, Z Cars and The Duchess of Duke Street. But you are remembered primarily for your contribution to one particular show. During your three-year stint in the first years of Doctor Who, scriptwriter Terry Nation came to you with an idea for new villains. Working within the constraints of practicality and no money, you came up with something that could glide across a set with an adult crouched inside atop a child’s tricycle. Their strange shape caused them to be dubbed “satanic pepperpots.” You wanted them to have blinking lights, but the bosses balked at the cost of batteries. You got your way, though, when a director complained that it was impossible to tell which one was talking and you proposed a lit-up dome as a solution. You knew you were on to something when, in rehearsal, the crew’s children screamed and ran when they started moving. And that’s how you became (visually, anyway) the father of the Daleks. (21-II-2013, at 84)

  • Stuart Freeborn: As a makeup artist, you helped shape the image of some of cinema’s most memorable characters in the course of a six-decade career—beginning with the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh in the 1930s. You worked on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and gave Alec Guinness a hooked nose to play Fagin in David Lean’s Oliver Twist. You helped Peter Sellers play three wildly different roles in Doctor Strangelove and designed prehistoric apes for 2001: A Space Odyssey. There were countless other characters in a myriad of other movies. But you are mostly remembered now for your contributions on behalf of “this young fellow” who approached you about a new movie he was making in the 1970s. For George Lucas you created the 7-foot-tall Wookie Chewbacca, the massive Jabba the Hutt and the diminutive Jedi master Yoda—who was said to look like a cross between you and Albert Einstein. (5-II-2013, at 98)

  • Bob Godfrey: We Yanks wouldn’t really know you, but former British children of a certain age will appreciate your contributions. You were the animator responsible for Roobarb, about a big sloppy green dog and the first TV series (in 1974) drawn and colored entirely with felt-tip pens. Other memorable series were Sky-Lark, with Nutty Noah and Nelly, and the long-running Henry’s Cat. (21-II-2013, at 91)

  • Petro Vlahos: It is not an exaggeration to say that movies today might look completely different if not for you. A special effects pioneer in the 1950s, you vastly improved the composite-image process or what is commonly referred to as the “blue screen” or “green screen.” You were able to minimize the tell-tale halo that forms around actors put in front of a completely different background. Your process was used in the 1959 epic Ben-Hur, making possible the spectacular chariot race. A variation was used in 1964 to enable Dick Van Dyke to dance with penguins in a chalk drawing in Mary Poppins. And you kept refining the process and improving it through your company Ultimatte. Every blockbuster since owes a debt. (11-II-2013, at 96)

    -S.L., 14 June 2013

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