Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


Okay, I know I pretty much stopped doing my annual and/or occasional tributes/eulogies to movie/entertainment people who have passed away. But sometimes I start getting overwhelmed with guilt or regret that I haven’t taken the time to pay public respect to an artist who has made an impression on me. On the other hand, I figure that there is plenty of ink spilled on most of them by people who get paid good money to write obituaries, and what really can I add that is meaningful?

For example, lots of other people very quickly noted for the record that director Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) redefined the horror genre not once but two or three times and that his early influences were Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut. Ditto Catherine Coulson, resident of Ashland, Oregon, and longtime participant in its Shakespeare festival, who filled several technical roles (as well as playing a nurse) on David Lynch’s film debut Eraserhead and then went on to immortality as the famous Log Lady in Twin Peaks. Or maybe I could add something new about Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who made her reputation with a 201-minute film called Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles in which hardly anything happened—and which was promptly declared the “first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema” by The New York Times. I could share how I fought to stay awake through her 90-minute Toute une Nuit, waiting for a bit of dialog but was surprised a decade later when she made a pretty darn conventional romcom with William Hurt and Juliette Binoche called A Couch in New York.

But I won’t do any of that. (Or maybe I just did anyway.) Instead I’ll focus on three recent passings that affected me in different ways.

Mistress of Collinwood (1919-2015)

Lela Swift, who died August 4 at the age of 96, was an early television pioneer in the medium’s infancy. She worked herself up from a gopher job to the director’s chair at a time when the whole idea of television was still being invented. She did a lot of work on early anthology dramas, the sort of thing people have in mind when lamenting the long lost Golden Age of Television. She helmed episodes of CBS series that had names like Studio One, Suspense and The Web, including a two-part adaptation of Little Women starring Nancy Marchand.

Most of her obituaries focused on the fact that she won three Emmy awards during her long stint (the IMDb lists 829 episodes) on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope and that she was one of the very first directors to cast James Dean. “The minute he started reading, I knew that boy had something special,” she would later say, recalling how she picked him to play a bellhop who solves a murder after he walked into the studio off the street. In the 1950s and 1960s she directed public affairs specials and documentaries, including a poignant one about farmland called Years Without Harvest.

That is all well and good, but the reason that I personally mourned her passing was that she directed the very first and the very last episodes of Dark Shadows—not to mention some 586 others in between. She also directed two TV movies for Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis—1969’s Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon with Marj Dusay and DS regulars Thayer David and Louis Edmonds and 1973’s Deadly Visitor with Gwen Verdon and Perry King.

Moochie (1949-2015)

When Kevin Corcoran died from cancer on October 6 at the age of 66, he had been directing and producing since the late 1970s. Before that he had been a screen actor since the age of 4 (starting with The Glenn Miller Story in 1954). He told The San Francisco Chronicle that he made the switch after he went for an audition and realized he knew a lot more about filmmaking than the people interviewing him. His movie producing credits include the Disney films Return From Witch Mountain, The North Avenue Irregulars and Herbie Goes Bananas. His TV producing credits include Herbie The Love Bug, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Simon & Simon, Baywatch, Quantum Leap, Murder, She Wrote, Providence, The Shield and Sons of Anarchy.

But for baby boomers, Kevin Corcoran will always be Moochie. No matter what role he played on TV or in movies, he was always Moochie to us. I don’t know why, but we just loved Moochie. Maybe it was the name or maybe it was something about Corcoran himself. And it always seemed like Tommy Kirk was always his brother. For the record, he was technically Moochie only in Spin and Marty, Adventure in Dairyland and The Shaggy Dog. In other Disney productions he had names like Toby in Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus, Arliss in Old Yeller and its sequel Savage Sam, Jimmy Bean in Pollyanna, Francis in Swiss Family Robinson, Boy Blue in Babes in Toyland, Skipper in Bon Voyage!, James Boone in Daniel Boone: The Promised Land, Jonathan Feather in The Mooncussers and Johnny Lincoln Clem in Johnny Shiloh.

His Disney movie dads included Fess Parker, Fred MacMurray and John Mills. His moms included Dorothy McGuire, Jean Hagen and Jane Wyman. But he didn’t act only for Disney—just mostly. He also had guest parts on December Bride, Wagon Train and My Three Sons. His non-Disney films included The Rabbit Trap (with Ernest Borgnine) and Blue (with Terence Stamp).

Lt. Riley (1941-2015)

When Star Trek first aired in the early 1960s, one of the favorite characters for me and my friend Eric was Lt. Riley. He actually ever appeared in only two episodes, but to us he ranked up there with Bones and Scotty as an integral member of the crew. In the spirit of diversity, many of the Enterprise crew were of specific ethnicities or nationalities, and Riley was a stereotypical Irishman. I am pretty sure I can actually remember him once saying the line, “Top o’ the morning to ya, Cap’n.” Given where fate has led me, I suppose it was one of those strange foreshadowings that life sometimes orchestrates that I should have been taken at that tender age with such a human leprechaun.

The character of Riley seemed to be brought out mainly to have something bad happen to him. In “Naked Time” he got infected with a mind-altering disease that made him disable the ship’s engines and then force the entire crew to listen repeatedly to his grating rendition of “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” over the ship’s sound system. In another episode, he got poisoned, recovered and then went looking for someone called Kodos the Executioner, who had slaughtered his family years earlier. Eric and I developed our own game where we took turns pretending to be Lt. Riley and having horrible things happen to us.

I never knew anything about the actor who played Riley. Sometimes later on I did wonder if he might have been some young graduate of the Dublin’s Abbey Theatre who had been lured to America to make his fortune—perhaps similar to the way Colm Meaney emigrated and wound up playing Chief O’Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Then last week I spotted a Hollywood Reporter obit. It turns out Lt. Riley was played by Dallas-born Bruce Hyde, who was quite busy as an actor in the 1960s. On TV he appeared on Dr. Kildare, That Girl and The Beverly Hillbillies. On Broadway he was in Absence of a Cello, The Girl in the Freudian Slip and a musical version of The Canterbury Tales. His swan song as an actor was in a San Francisco production of Hair.

For more than two decades he was chairman of he department of theater, film studies and dance at St. Cloud University in Minnesota. It was near there that he died from throat cancer on October 13 at the age of 74.

God rest ye all.

-S.L., 20 October 2015

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