Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

The Departed

For several years one of my end-of-year/beginning-of-year rituals was compiling my annual list of departed film and entertainment people and including my own idiosyncratic comments about each one. It was something I always enjoyed doing and, based on the feedback, it was something people enjoyed reading. Indeed, at least one of my annual eulogy lists invariably makes it into my list of ten most-read commentaries each month.

A couple of years ago, I “postponed” the posting of my annual list of honors for heaven’s new inductees. I was busy trying to finish that novel on which I had been laboring for so long. (Darned if it didn’t turn out that more time spent on this blog translated into less time working on the book.) I made a good effort to catch up by compiling monthly lists, but time and tides were against me. At the same time I was getting vibes that things were changing in the online world. I was hearing from other bloggers that blogs might be going the way of the TV aerial and and the Palm Pilot, that online “publishing” was now all about 140-character bursts of pithy wit and “likes” and comments on other people’s photos and videos. No one had the time or patience for blog posts that went on for multiple paragraphs.

So I have cut back on my commentaries on this site, although not on my film reviews, which were always pithy—if not restricted to 140 characters. I’m finding that work on the novels that will follow Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead (you didn’t think I would actually miss the opportunity to slip in the title yet again, did you?) is more satisfying these days.

But I do miss my annual tributes. I thought that, for old times sake, I would use this space to remember a couple of people who left us during 2014. But how to choose? We lost so many this year. They included such giants as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams; sitcom stars like Russell Johnson (Gilligan’s Island), Dave Madden (The Partridge Family) and Ann B. Davis (The Brady Bunch); people excellent at their craft like Bob Hoskins, Eli Wallach, Paul Mazursky, Mike Nichols, James Garner and Joan Rivers; and nostalgic favorites like Shirley Temple, Sid Caesar, Ralph Waite and Mickey Rooney. And there’s a whole lot more to mention.

But most of the people I would be listing can be read about elsewhere and their obituaries would have been published already. So I will focus on a couple that you probably didn’t hear about or even know about—unless you share my interest in a certain old gothic TV serial. But first a quick shout-out to Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who entertained my generation on two long-running TV shows, 77 Sunset Strip and The F.B.I. He was also the father of Remington Steele star Stephanie Zimbalist. But he gets mentioned here for playing the Martian industrialist William Edgars in some 1997 episodes of Babylon 5. Inconveniently, his character was married to B5 security chief Michael Garibaldi’s old girlfriend for whom Michael was still carrying a torch. But don’t worry, it all worked out in the end.

And now with no further ado…

Robert Costello: In his 93 years on earth this man was, among other things, a pioneering producer of television in the 1950s. He won a Peabody Award for PBS’s The Adams Chronicles and two Emmys for the soap opera Ryan’s Hope. According to his obituary in The East Hampton Star, he was most proud of his work on The Armstrong Circle Theatre, which ran from 1950 to 1963 and marked the small screen debuts of James Dean, Grace Kelly and Jack Lemmon. He was also proud of receiving his diploma from Dartmouth in 1993. He got it 50 years late because he had to leave school before finishing to serve in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. His other TV productions included Mister Peepers, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Another World and The Patty Duke Show. But what he is remembered for here is the fact that he was the producer of the first 843 episodes of the immortal daytime supernatural serial Dark Shadows. In 1969, though, he jumped ship and became producer of a Canadian supernatural serial called Strange Paradise, a short-lived show that attempted to duplicate Dark Shadows’s popularity. (It didn’t.) That interlude didn’t slow down Costello’s career any. His next project was The Adams Chronicles. After retiring in the 1980s, he became a tenured professor at New York University’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. He is survived by his third wife, Sybil Weinberger, who was a music supervisor for The Adams Chronicles, Ryan’s Hope and, yes, Dark Shadows.

Sam Hall: I never saw an actual obituary for Sam Hall in the “regular” press. I only knew of his passing because of a couple of posts on the blog of Sam’s son Matt, called Nantucket ’73. Matt’s eulogy to his father is well worth reading as not only a son’s tribute to his father but as one writer’s tribute to another. Born in Ohio and a graduate of Dartmouth and Yale, Hall served in WWII and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His first major writing gig was for Dark Shadows, shortly after his wife Grayson had been hired to play weird Dr. Julia Hoffmann—and eventually a few other characters—for the duration of the series. After the show’s cancellation, Hall and fellow DS scribe Gordon Russell became head writers for One Life to Live, succeeding series creator Agnes Nixon. His wife and son also worked on the series. Sam Hall also wrote for the soaps General Hospital and Santa Barbara. Sam and Matt Hall would also write for the brief 1991 Dark Shadows TV revival. Grayson Hall died in 1985. In his eulogy, Matt Hall gives us a great insight into what kind of man his father was. He recounts a story about legendary actor Elaine Stritch (someone else we lost last year), whose husband John Bey was diagnosed with cancer. “At this moment when they needed it most,” writes Hall, “it turned out they had no health insurance. Sam heard that, and immediately wrote Stritch onto One Life to Live, putting her character on air the exact number of times it took for her actor’s union insurance to kick in.”

There are other people associated with Dark Shadows who passed away last year. People like Michael Maitland, who as a child played a sort of anti-Christ in a storyline ripped off from The Omen. Or makeup artist Dick Smith, who specialized in aging actors. He turned Marlon Brando into The Godfather, Hal Holbrook into Mark Twain and F. Murray Abraham into a decrepit Antonio Salieri. He also made Linda Blair’s head spin and spew green vomit in The Exorcist. He even made an attractive young vampire age before our eyes—David Bowie in The Hunger. But we remember him here for the way he aged Barnabas Collins when Dr. Hoffmann’s vampirism cure went awry in a 1967 storyline—and then again in the 1971 feature film House of Dark Shadows. For the latter Smith used the same face mask he had made for Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.

I could keep going on, but we have to stop somewhere. My best advice is to follow the example of Dark Shadows actor (a major adolescent crush of mine) Kathryn Leigh Scott who, on the passing of Robert Costello, wrote, “I think I’ll have an Irish coffee tonight to toast and celebrate the life of this charming, lovely man!” So should we all in memory of all those who have departed.

-S.L., 8 January 2015

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