Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


Three very quick goodbyes to talented people who left us lately and may not have gotten the Zsa Zsa Gabor treatment in your local newspaper or social media app.

Manuel (1930-2016)

Andrew Sachs had more than a hundred acting credits, mainly on UK television, ranging from an uncredited schoolboy in a 1947 version of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby to playing Cyril Bishop in the soap EastEnders last year. The irony, as noted in his UK Times obituary, was that his entire career was defined by a single TV role that he spent a total of three months playing in exchange for 150 quid for each of the twelve episodes. The further irony is that Sachs, who was born in Berlin as Andreas Siegfried Sachs and who fled to Britain with his Jewish father and Catholic mother during the Nazi era, is best known for playing a Spaniard. If you need further irony, Sachs knew no Spanish and was required to eschew his impeccable English for mangled Spanglish.

Yet there are worse legacies for an artist to have. Fawlty Towers was comedy gold for the ages. I will admit that when I first watched it, after having enjoyed John Cleese in the anarchic/surreal comedy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, I found it awfully conventional. Repeated viewings over the years, though, caused me to appreciate what an impeccable example of well-timed and well-played farce and slapstick it was. Cleese, as always, was the epitome of a straight man, and Sachs, as the hapless waiter “from Barthelona” was the underdog and scapegoat who made us roar with laughter even while our hearts broke for him. One of his most memorable lines “I know nothing” is regularly quoted in our house.

Hopefully, being a comic legend was some kind of consolation for the fact that he was forever typecast after Fawlty Towers. On his passing Cleese tweeted, “A very sweet gentle and kind man and a truly great farceur. I could not have found a better Manuel.” A couple of years ago Sachs told The Sunday Times about how he still got stopped in the street, decades after Fawlty’s last run. “They say, ‘Oi, it’s Manuel, isn’t it? Then they say, ‘I know nothing.’ ”

Visual wizard (1957-2016)

Ron Thornton is not a name that would be familiar even to a lot of TV sci-fi fans, but he had a huge impact on the way we see the universe. Born in London, he worked in television on miniatures and motion control technology for series like Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and The Tripods. Then he moved to the U.S. where he worked on movies like Commando, Space Balls, Critters and Robot Jox. Significantly, he also worked on a new show called Babylon 5 where a new approach to visual effects was being pioneered. Computer-generated animation (CGI) would soon become the industry standard, leaving behind the expense and physical limitations of miniatures and models. Thornton broke new ground by using the Commodore Amiga computer and NewTek’s Video Toaster add-on as a desktop CGI engine.

He won an Emmy for outstanding achievement in visual effects in 1993 for his work on the B5 pilot movie “The Gathering.” Once B5 got picked up as a series, he formed the company Foundation Imaging. When the producers decided to bring the visual effects in house, he went looking for work and found Star Trek. He brought his magic to the series Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise as well as other TV shows.

Sadly, Thornton’s life was cut short at the age of 59 after an illness that depleted his and his wife Lada’s resources. Friends, colleagues and fans rallied, contributing to a GoFundMe page to help cover his medical expenses. It was a sad end to a life that had such a major effect on sci-fi viewers everywhere.

Nurse Jackson (1928-2016)

With scores of credits to her name during more than a half-century, Alice Drummond had a face that you undoubtedly saw more than once—even if you did not necessarily remember it. She is probably most recognizable in your memory as the terrified librarian chased by a ghost at the beginning of the original 1984 Ghostbusters. She also played one of the patients treated by Dr. Oliver Sacks (played by Robin Williams) in the 1990 movie Awakenings. She had small roles in other movies over the years like Thieves, King of the Gypsies, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Running on Empty, Nobody’s Fool, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, In & Out and Doubt.

According to her New York Times obituary, one of her most memorable movie lines was in 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: “Dan Marino should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell. Would you like a cookie, son?”

In addition to television guest appearances, she appeared on Broadway in the 1960s and 1970s, receiving a Tony nomination for The Chinese, and on the TV series Where the Heart Is, Ryan’s Hope, Park Place, Lenny and Frannie’s Turn.

The reason she is being remembered on this particular web site is that she had a recurring, if limited and uncredited, role in the early days of Dark Shadows. She was the nurse looking after poor Maggie Evans, a young Collinsport woman recovering from a mysterious attack and abduction that involved an inexplicable loss of blood. Nurse Jackson worked at creepy Windcliff Sanitarium under the direction of weird Dr. Julia Hoffman, played by Grayson Hall. In one of those strange cosmic coincidences, my kid and I happened to be watching one of her episodes on the very day that she died.

-S.L., 20 December 2016

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