Ken Russell with Twiggy on the set of The Boyfriend (1971)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Director Ken Russell, who once seemed destined to enter his family's shoe business, has died after a series of strokes at age 84. Russell served in the British navy before using his talents as a photographer to become a documentary film maker. Once he began making major studio films, they were often steeped in controversy. Russell seemed to have little regard for whether his movies had boxoffice appeal. Instead, he focused on his own creative visions of storytelling. One of Russell's most acclaimed films, the 1970 version of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love earned him as Oscar nomination and was both a critical and financial success. The films he made in the years after were not as well regarded. His 1971 film The Devils was considered so shocking that it has been censored and cut into various versions throughout the world. The BFI is scheduled to release on DVD the most complete version to date of the X-rated film next year. Russell's other prominent films often dealt with the subject of music, ranging from classical to rock. They include The Music Lovers, Mahler, The Boy Friend and the screen version of the Who's Tommy. He also directed the rock-themed Lisztomania. Among his other films are Altered States, Crimes of Passion, Savage Messiah, Valentino and The Lair of the White Worm. His first major feature was also one of the few mainstream commercial movies he had been associated with: the third, and last Harry Palmer feature film Billion Dollar Brain (1967).
As Russell's projects became more esoteric, his boxoffice record was affected and major studios no longer wanted to employ him. He became known for his eccentricities and his ability to shock even during casual personal encounters with fans and friends. Still, he maintains a loyal following among those who treasure films of the 1960s and 1970s and he lived to see a major revival of interest in his work.
(On a personal level, Cinema Retro extends its sympathies to Ken's family. Ken's film The Devils is the subject of a major article by John Exshaw in issue #21 in which the author called for the release of the film in its uncut format. Sadly, Ken will not be able to see that dream realized. Ken also recently invited Cinema Retro writer Matthew Field to his home to discuss the making of Billion Dollar Brain for our forthcoming Harry Palmer special issue. We are grateful to this talented man for his support of our endeavors.)
Andy Rooney, the legendary TV commentator whose three minute segments on 60 Minutes became an integral part of the show's success over the last 30 years, has died at age 92. It was only one month ago that Rooney broadcast his farewell segment, though he did plan to contribute on occasion in the future. Rooney had gone into the hospital for what was described as minor surgery but complications developed and he never recovered.
Rooney was one of the last of the "old guard" from the early days of television. His association with CBS went back 60 years. Rooney was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. A self-described liberal pacifist, he served as a journalist covering war zones and wrote for the famed Stars and Stripes newspaper for servicemen. He initially opposed the U.S. involvement in the war as he was against all armed conflict. However, as he progressively witnessed the atrocities committed by the Nazis, he adopted a more pragmatic philosophy and admitted that some wars were justified. After the war, Rooney entered the world of broadcast journalism, establishing a name for himself on radio and in the early days of TV as a writer and producer. Over the course of his career, he began to go before the cameras. When he began his segments titled "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" on 60 Minutes in the 1980s, he became an immediate, if unlikely, TV superstar. With his pudgy build and bushy eyebrows, Rooney resembled a character created by Dickens. His slice-of-life commentaries ranged from humorous observations about everyday life to poignant opinion pieces about politics. Although he was an unabashed liberal, he seemed to enjoy the respect of all viewers on the highly-rated program, even if an occasional ill-advised comment might result in a public apology to those he may have offended. Rooney would win numerous Emmys in his career and he also authored 15 best-selling books. He was one of the last contemporaries of such CBS legends as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.
On a personal note, I met the man only once. We were both members of the Writer's Guild of America and several years ago the Guild went on-strike in the hopes of securing better deals from producers and networks on behalf of writers, who are generally treated as necessary evils in the industry. The Guild decided to hold the annual holiday party at the famed Friar's Club in New York, but it was shaping up as a relatively glum affair. Many people in the industry were very worried about their futures, especially with TV networks depleting ranks of writers in favor of producing reality shows that didn't require full writing staffs. In the midst of the crowd, my wife and I managed to find a place to sit at a small cocktail table. A few minutes later, there was a great buzz in the crowd as Andy Rooney entered the room. He didn't do anything to call attention to himself, but his very presence immediately boosted morale and improved the atmosphere. Rooney asked us if he could sit at our table, which proved to the ultimate rhetorical question. For about 45 minutes he chatted with us and well-wishers who stopped by. He told me that although he was very wealthy, he was still a union man at heart and felt he should support the strike. He spoke about mundane aspects of life in a humorous way (although nearing 90 at the time, he would still take a public bus to his beloved football games across the river in New Jersey, though he grumbled about the process.) I also used my time with him to get some wonderful personal insights about his colleagues such as Murrow and Cronkite. He seemed uncomfortable with his fame and said he always tried to blend into a crowd, but said those damned eyebrows gave him away every time. As the evening wore on, he slipped out as quietly as he entered. However, as with every place he graced with his presence, he had left a distinct impression. It was a true privilege to know him, albeit even for a short period of time.