Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


So it’s time to do a few scattershot remembrances of movie and/or TV people who have passed on recently and who have made some unusual impression on me or about whom I have specifically written in the past. As before, I need to begin by apologizing to and acknowledging the many worthy artists who deserve a mention but who aren’t getting the full treatment from me. These include the Dublin-born Hollywood legend Maureen O’Hara, who has always felt like a neighbor because there is a statue of her and John Wayne in the nearby village where she and two Johns (Ford and Wayne) filmed The Quiet Man. (Also my next door neighbor’s brother was her parish priest while she lived in County Cork.) She was a great lady, whose flaming red hair and strong presence always reminded me of my own mother. Also let us not forget the actors Robert Loggia and Alan Rickman, the cinemaphotographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Haskell Wexler and writer George Clayton Johnson, who penned the first-ever Star Trek episode that actually aired. And, of course, what can I add about David Bowie, except to remark on his impressive roster of acting roles, which included The Man Who Fell to Earth, Just a Gigolo, The Hunger, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Into the Night, Absolute Beginners, Labyrinth, The Last Temptation of Christ (as Pontius Pilate), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Basquiat (as Andy Warhol), The Prestige (as Nikola Tesla) and playing himself in Zoolander and Bandslam.

There are lots more, but sadly only so much time. On a more personal note…

A special filmmaker (1931-2016)

Though I have actually seen only a fraction of Ettore Scola’s numerous movies (41 according to IMDb, counting shorts and documentaries), he has been a sentimental favorite of mine since 1977. That is when a friend and I went into a Chilean cinema to see his C’Eravamo Tanto Amati (We All Loved Each Other So Much), starring Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman and Stefano Satta Flores as close friends and former WWII Resistance comrades. It follows their fortunes and disillusionments and fallings out as they all variously fall in love with Stefania Sandrelli. Because of the way my friend was mesmerized by the film and the way I was mesmerized by my friend, that movie will always have a special place in my heart. His most famous movie was A Special Day, set in 1938 and starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, as star-crossed lovers who come together amid the hoopla over a visit by Hitler to Mussolini. His somewhat autobiographical movie The Family is famous (at least on this blog) for being pulled at the last minute from the 1987 Seattle International Film Festival and being replaced (to my utter frustration) by Dirty Dancing. He also made a nice period drama about the French Revolution called That Night in Varennes, starring Mastroianni, Jean-Louis Barrault and Hanna Schygulla and featuring Harvey Keitel as Thomas Paine.

Peg Nagy (1934-2015)

When Alexander Payne’s Nebraska came out two years ago, there were nice notices for a supporting turn by Angela McEwan as newspaper editor Peg Nagy. McEwan had only begun her screen acting career in her 70s, thereby fulfilling a lifelong dream, but she racked up an impressive number of roles during the subsequent decade. She appeared in the movies Callback, Élan Vital, Moments of Clarity and the yet-to-be-released The Boonville Redemption and had a recurring role as Ellen Weller on the HBO series Getting On. She also did many TV guest spots, including shows like Parks and Recreation and New Girl. Prior to all these acting gigs, she raised a family and worked for nearly three decades as a criminal court Spanish interpreter. McEwan also appeared in a lot of short films, and that is how I first became aware of her. She participated in two films by Eric Casaccio. In Freak she played the title character’s hectoring mother. In Narcissist she played the protagonist’s grandmother. Casaccio thanked me for highlighting her distinctive work even though she barely appeared onscreen in the latter film and not at all in the former. “Someday, I will get Angela’s voice and body in front of the camera,” he told me. “She’s a wonderful actress and fantastic friend.”

Kelly Gregg (1943-2016)

Here’s another bit of my childhood drifting away. Noreen Corcoran was the teenager to whom John Forsythe was a “bachelor father” (actually her uncle, who becomes her guardian after her parents die) in the TV sitcom Bachelor Father that was prominent in the 1950s and 1960s. In the course of 157 episodes the spunky Corcoran went from a 13-year-old to a college student right before our eyes. According to her obits, she got the part on a recommendation from fellow actor Ronald Reagan. Her screen career began with Apache Drums in 1951 and included appearances in Plymouth Adventure, Hans Christian Andersen, I Love Melvin, Young Bess, So This Is Love, The Robe and Gidget Goes to Rome. She made TV appearances on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Circus Boy, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey and Mr. Novak. Her swan song was a guest shot on The Big Valley. A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, she was one of eight children and not the only actor. She appeared with brother Kevin, who died in October, in a Walt Disney’s Wonderful of Color segment called “Moochie of the Little League.” Another brother, Brian, also an actor, died in 2014.

Detective Fish (1921-2016)

Didn’t Abe Vigoda, like, already die back in the 1980s? No, he didn’t, and in fairness it wasn’t just one of those rumors that somehow get started and spread for no reason. It was People magazine that reported he had died. In response Vigoda placed an ad in Variety with a photo of him reading the infamous copy of People while sitting in a coffin. The incident became a running gag for years for comedians like Billy Crystal. Of course, Vigoda is best remembered for playing Detective Phil Fish, not only on the sitcom Barney Miller but also on the spinoff Fish, which began and ended while Barney Miller was still on the air. His other claim to immortality is his role as the ill-fated mobster Salvatore Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. And he had a long career on Broadway and in lots of other film and TV roles. But let’s cut to what’s really important. In 1969 Vigoda played an elderly small-town jeweler named Ezra Braithwaite, who as a teenager had made a silver pentagram for a prominent local family. When that pentagram turned up in a recently opened child’s coffin, Braithwaite had the critical information as to why it was made and what was for and how it was connected to a spate of mysterious animal-like attacks in the vicinity. But before he could pass on that vital information to Barnabas Collins, the ghost of Quentin Collins showed up and scared him literally to death. (Not to worry, Barnabas would get around the problem by traveling back to 1897 and speaking to the teenaged Braithwaite directly.) So, yes, Abe Vigoda was one of a long line of famous actors who, before anyone knew who they were, appeared on the best daytime Gothic supernatural serial ever, Dark Shadows.

-S.L., 28 January 2016

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