Holder in his iconic role as the evil Baron Samedi in the 1973 James Bond film "Live and Let Die".
Geoffrey Holder, the native Caribbean who played a crucial role in transforming modern theater, has passed away from pneumonia at age 84. Holder's imposing 6'6" stature and inimitable baritone voice helped make him a highly influential figure both on stage and in film. The general public knows him as the long-time spokesman for 7 Up in the 1970s and 1980s as well as a familiar face in major motion pictures, such as the 1973 James Bond movie "Live and Let Die" in which me memorably portrayed the legendary voodoo icon Baron Samedi. However, theater goers know Holder as the Tony Award-winning talent whose revolutionary methods of presenting theatrical productions earned him world wide acclaim. For full NY Times obituary, click here.
We at Cinema Retro are still grieving over the loss of our friend and contributor, actor Richard Kiel. He touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including his "Moonraker" co-star Lois Chile. On the blog Hill Place, Lois recalls her affection for the "Gentle Giant of Cinema". Click here to read.
The web site TMZ has reported that actor Richard Kiel has passed away at age 74. Details are sketchy but the site states that Kiel entered the hospital last week in Fresno, California, for treatment of a broken leg. It is not known whether any complications from that injury contributed to his death.
Kiel was an iconic figure in both television and feature films. His imposing stature often led to him being cast as a heavy. Those of us who were privileged to call him our friend always found this ironic, since he was a kind, gentle man who virtually never said an unkind word about anyone else. Kiel appeared in the 1960s in a slew of major TV shows and played the role of the seemingly benign alien in the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man". Although his role had no dialogue, Kiel's presence was so impressive that, decades after the telecast, collectibles from the episode were still being made in his likeness. Among the other classic shows he appeared in were The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild, Wild West, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Monkees and Honey West. Kiel made an impression on the big screen as well in films like Silver Streak and The Longest Yard. However, his biggest claim to fame came when he was cast as the mute, steel-toothed villain Jaws opposite Roger Moore in the 1977 James Bond hit The Spy Who Loved Me. Kiel was considered so popular with test screening audiences that his final scene was reshot, thus sparing the character death and allowing him to reappear in the next Bond flick Moonraker. Over the decades, Kiel was a popular fixture at film events and autograph shows around the world. He truly enjoyed meeting his many fans and always had time to swap stories with them and pose for photos. He wrote and actively promoted his entertaining autobiography, appropriately titled Making It Big in the Movies. He also won a new generation of fans with his role in the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore.
At the start up of Cinema Retro ten years ago, we approached Richard Kiel to contribute an article about his early days in show business. He agreed immediately and became one of our major boosters. In 2010, we attended a special dinner in his honor in London, hosted by www.bondstars.com It became evident that his popularity, far from waning, was increasing. He was a devoted husband to his wife Diane and an outstanding father to his children. We express our sincere sympathies.
Richard Kiel has left us in the physical sense- but his presence will live on indefinitely through his appearances in film. Rest in peace, big guy- we miss you already.
- Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall
UPDATE: The Kiel family has issued the following statement:
It is with very heavy hearts that we announce that Richard has passed away, just three days shy of his 75 th birthday. Richard had an amazing joy for life and managed to live every single day to the fullest. Though most people knew of him through his screen persona, those who were close to him knew what a kind and generous soul he was. His family was the most important thing in his life and we are happy that his last days were spent surrounded by family and close friends. Though his passing was somewhat unexpected, his health had been declining in recent years. It is nice to think that he can, once again, stand tall over us all.
McLaglen with his father Victor on the set of Rawhide with Clint Eastwood.
Andrew V. McLaglen, the son of famed character actor Victor McLaglen, who went on to a successful career as both a television and feature film director, has died at age 94. McLaglen got into directing by working on popular television Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s such as "Rawhide" and "Have Gun, Will Travel". He collaborated with John Wayne on the 1963 Western comedy "McLintock!", which proved to be a boxoffice smash. He would collaborate with Wayne on numerous other films such as "Hellfighters", "Cahill: U.S. Marshall", "The Undefeated" and their most acclaimed joint project, the 1970 Western "Chisum" which proved to be a favorite of President Richard M. Nixon. (Some of Nixon's political adversaries theorized that the film inspired him to launch the secret war in Cambodia.) McLaglen also excelled at making action adventure films such as "North Sea Hijack" (aka "fflokes") with Roger Moore. Other major films include "Bandolero!", "The Rare Breed", "Shenandoah" (the latter three with James Stewart), "The Last Hard Men" and "The Devil's Brigade". The two men also collaborated on the highly popular 1978 film for producer Euan Lloyd, "The Wild Geese" and a follow-up project, "The Sea Wolves". McLaglen had retired from films and lived a serene lifestyle in rural Washington state. For more click here
Attenborough's role in the 1963 classic The Great Escape gained him international acclaim.
The film industry has lost another legend with the passing of Lord Richard Attenborough, who was one of the pioneers in successfully carving out dual careers as both actor and director. Attenborough was a familiar face as an acclaimed character actor in British films in the post-WWII era but gained international stardom in director John Sturges' 1963 WWII classic The Great Escape. (Attenborough's co-star in that film, James Garner, passed away last month). Attenborough also co-starred with Steve McQueen in that film and would reunite with him in director Robert Wise's sprawling 1966 epic The Sand Pebbles, which would earn Attenborough a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He directed his first film in 1969, a big-budget anti-war musical Oh! What a Lovely War. In 1972, he directed the ambitious screen biography of Churchill, Young Winston. He also directed the 1977 WWII epic A Bridge Too Far. The following year, he gave Anthony Hopkins an important early leading role as the star of the suspense thriller Magic. Curiously, none of these films were significant boxoffice or critical successes but Attenborough persevered and finally brought his dream project- the biography of Ghandi- to fruition in 1982. He won the Academy Award for Best Director and also received the Oscar for producing the Best Picture. Attenborough had gone into self-imposed retirement from acting to concentrate on directing. He returned to the screen in 1993 to play an important role in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster Jurassic Park. Five years ago, Attenborough suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. He passed away today at his home in England at the age of 90. Click here for New York Times obituary.
It is with profound sadness that we must announce the passing of director Brian G. Hutton, a long-time friend of and contributor to Cinema Retro. Brian was one of the most unique talents in the film business. Born in New York City, he never lost his hard-scrabble, irascible attitude which extended to resenting having to take orders from the studio "suits" who employed him. He walked away from a great and lucrative career in the industry decades ago and kept out of the public eye, granting precious few interviews in the intervening decades. He remains primarily known for his two big budget WWII MGM films, "Where Eagles Dare" and "Kelly's Heroes", both starring Clint Eastwood. The films were difficult to make and the latter resulted in a major conflict with Hutton and Eastwood and MGM when the studio exercised its rights to dramatically cut the film prior to its release. Hutton also made a number of lesser-known films but each of them proved to be enduring and worthy of praise.
When Cinema Retro was preparing its first Movie Classics edition devoted entirely to "Where Eagles Dare" in 2009, we made every effort to contact Hutton for an interview, but we were unsuccessful. However, shortly after the issue appeared, I was
startled to receive a phone call from a gentleman named Bill Tasgal who said he
was sitting in a coffee shop in L.A. with his friend Brian Hutton and they were
both perusing the Where Eagles Dare issue.
He said Hutton wanted to speak with me. A few seconds later an unmistakably New
York accent growled, “Is this Lee Pfeiffer?” When I said it was, he said “I’m
looking at your magazine and I’m going to sue you for using such an ugly photo
of me!” To which I replied, “As a director, you should know the camera never
lies!” So began a friendship that saw Brian contribute extensively to our Movie Classics Kelly's Heroes issue as well as our revised updated edition of the Eagles Dare issue that was published in 2012.
Last October, Dave Worrall and I traveled to L.A. to finally meet Brian in the flesh. We managed to arrange a wonderful lunch date that saw him reunited with his old friend, director John Landis, who Brian gave a break to when he hired John as a "go for" on Kelly's Heroes. Brian saw great promise in the young film enthusiast and, of course, Landis made good on the faith shown in him by becoming an internationally respected director himself. Over lunch, we were privileged to hear some amazing and truly hilarious stories about their adventures filming in Yugoslavia (not all of them are suitable for publication). It was a wonderful day in every respect.
Reunion in L.A., October 2013. From L to R: Bill Tasgal, John Landis, Brian G. Hutton and Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
Brian Hutton suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and struggled valiantly against the odds. An original tough guy, he managed to hang in there a lot longer than anyone would have predicted but finally the battle was lost. He is survived by his loving wife Victoria and his devoted friend and colleague, Bill Tasgal, who was played a crucial role in making Brian's later years so rewarding and enjoyable. However, Brian had many other "friends" that he never knew personally- namely, everyone who ever saw one of his films. Although he was loathe to lavish praise on his own work, he was very grateful to the loyal fans who kept his films in the spotlight long after he went into self-imposed retirement. He was particularly moved by the fact that so many people around the globe held Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes in such esteem. He was always lavish in his praise of Clint Eastwood, with whom he continued to maintained a close friendship over the decades.
Rest in peace, Brian- and as Oddball from Kelly's Heroes might say, "Hope you only encounter positive waves...."
(Continue reading for a biography of Brian G. Hutton)
The Peter Cushing Appreciation Society reports that actress Madeleine Collinson has passed away from unknown causes at age 62. Collinson and her identical twin sister Mary became international sensations in the late 1960s and 1970s by posing nude together in provocative photos in "men's magazines". They were featured in a high profile layout in a 1970 issue of Playboy, becoming the first twins to pose for the iconic magazine. Collinson's screen career was short-lived and the high water mark was "Twins of Evil", a 1971 cult favorite produced by Hammer Studios and starring Peter Cushing. Madeleine and Mary played twin sisters who fall prey to to religious fanatics and a charismatic vampire in old England. The Collinsons were born in Malta but gained fame when they moved to England where their uninhibited natures and willingness to pose nude together gave them a kinky twist during the sexual revolution. Details are sketchy regarding Madeleine's passing. For more click here
Oscar winning actor and legendary comedian Robin Williams was found dead earlier today. He was 63 years old. Details are still sketchy but Williams had been suffering for years from depression. Early indications are that his death may have been the result of suicide. Click here for more
Dick Smith, widely regarded as one of the all-time great Hollywood makeup artists, has passed away at age 92. Among his crowning achievements: designing the makeup for Marlon Brando in "The Godfather", Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" , an ancient Dustin Hoffman in "Little Big Man" and F. Murray Abraham as the aging Salieri in "Amadeus". Smith also designed the makeup for young Hal Holbrook in his landmark 1967 TV special "Mark Twain Tonight". Smith was still being accorded honors as recently as this year. Smith's other films include "The Godfather Part II", "Marathon Man" and "The Deer Hunter". For more click here
Actor James Shigeta has died at age 81. Born in Honolulu, Shigeta became a singing star in Japan- despite not knowing how to speak the language. In the 1950s and 1960s, he- along with actress Nancy Kwan- broke racial barriers in Hollywood. It was traditional for caucasian actors to play Asian leading characters. However, the handsome Shigeta landed a lead role in the film version of the Broadway hit musical Flower Drum Song, starring alongside Kwan. The film was significant in that all the leading roles were played by Asian actors. Shigeta, riding high from good reviews, carved a successful career in television and theatrical feature films. Among his credits were the Elvis Presley film Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Bridge to the Sun, Midway, the ill-fated 1973 musical remake of Lost Horizon and the blockbuster 1988 action film Die Hard. For more click here .
(Nancy Kwan discusses her friendship with James Shigeta and the breaking of racial stereotypes in the latest issue of Cinema Retro, #29)
Hollywood lost another member of its rapidly diminishing roster of stars who can truly be called legends. James Garner has passed away from natural causes following years of battling severe health issues that kept him out of the public eye. He was 86 years old. Like many actors of his generation, he drifted into the profession as an unlikely candidate for stardom. Garner served in the Korean War and was awarded two Purple Hearts, a fact he was characteristically humble about discussing. He landed some parts in "A" list feature films in the late 1950s before starring as Bret Maverick in the smash hit TV series "Maverick". His popularity exploded in the 1960s when he became part of a select number of TV stars to successfully transfer their popularity to the big screen. Garner made a major impression as a charismatic con/man grifter in John Sturges' star-packed 1963 classic "The Great Escape". This was followed by a truly inspired performance as a coward who is "chosen" by cynical Naval brass to be the first American serviceman killed at D-Day in the controversial hit comedy "The Americanization of Emily". His ability to alternate between dramatic roles and light comedy saw him star opposite Doris Day in the hit comedies "Move Over, Darling" and "The Thrill of It All". An avid and respected race car driver in real life, Garner also top-lined director John Frankenheimer's big budget 1966 Cinerama film "Grand Prix". Like Cary Grant, Garner's winning personality often made people overlook his acting skills with the notion among critics that he was just playing himself. He did receive a Best Actor nomination late in his career for the 1985 film "Murphy's Romance", a gentle comedy/drama in which he starred with Sally Field. In the 1970s, Garner returned to TV and had a smash hit series with "The Rockford Files", a lighthearted detective show that saw him nominated for numerous Emmys and winning one. He would revive the role again in TV movies in the 1990s. In the 1980s, a series of amusing Polaroid commercials cast him as the husband of actress Marietta Hartley. The spots became so popular that many people thought they were married in real life. In more recent years, Garner won acclaim for starring in dramatic TV movies. He had a co-starring role with Mel Gibson in the hit 1994 big screen version of "Maverick" and another major success co-starring with Clint Eastwood in "Space Cowboys" in the year 2000.
Garner is survived by his wife Lois, to whom he was married for 56 years.
Mazursky and Jill Clayburgh on the set of An Unmarried Woman (1978)
Paul Mazursky, one of the most acclaimed and prolific filmmakers to come of age in the 1960s, has died from cardiac arrest. He was 84 years old. Mazursky originally worked as an actor in films, appearing in such movies as "The Blackboard Jungle". However, with the revolutionary freedoms that came into movie-making in the mid-1960s, Mazursky turned to screenwriting and directing. His first screenplay was for the Peter Sellers hippie comedy "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!". He made his directorial debut with "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" in 1969. The film starred Natalie Wood and Robert Culp as a hip, privileged couple who contemplate wife swapping with their best friends, played by Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon, both of whom rose to stardom because of the film. Like most of Mazursky's films, the movie viewed social significant issues- in this case, the sexual revoluiton- through a satirical lens. He did the same with "Blume in Love" and "An Unmarried Woman", both of which examined the pains of ending romantic relationships. The latter film, which cast Jill Clayburgh as a woman whose husband abandons her for a younger lover, was embraced by the burgeoning women's rights movements at the time because it depicted a middle-aged woman who finds happiness and success through her independence. Mazursky's other films include "Next Stop, Greenwich Village", "Down and Out in Beverly Hills", "Enemies, a Love Story" and "Harry and Tonto", a bittersweet look at one's man's aging process that won a Best Actor Oscar for Art Carney in 1975. Mazursky himself was nominated for five Oscars but never won. He continued to work as a director and actor until recently and appeared occasionally on the hit sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm". His contributions to the renaissance of American filmmaking in the 1960s and 1970s can't be overstated. - Lee Pfeiffer
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer with Eli Wallach at The Players in New York City.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Eli Wallach, the prolific actor of screen, stage and television, who passed away Tuesday in his New York City home. He was 98 years old. Wallach was one of the last of the Hollywood legends. He rarely enjoyed a leading role but was considered to be one of the most respected character actors of the post-WII era. He was as diversified as a thespian could be and would play heroes, villains and knaves with equal ease. For retro movie lovers, his two most iconic performances were as the Mexican bandit Calvera in John Sturges' classic 1960 film The Magnificent Seven and as Tuco, the charismatic rogue bandit in Sergio Leone's landmark 1966 production of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although he never won or was even nominated for a competitive Oscar, he did receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 2010.
On a personal basis, this writer knew Wallach because we were both members of The Players, the legendary club for the arts at Gramercy Park in New York. Wallach's portrait adorns the club's Hall of Fame and he was an active participant in the club, appearing in readings and plays throughout the years. The last time I saw him there was in late 2012 when he made a surprise appearance to greet actress Carroll Baker, who was speaking at the club about her long career. Wallach, who played her lecherous older lover in the notorious Baby Doll, showed up to see her, much to the delight of the audience. As always, Wallach was accompanied by his devoted wife, actress Anne Jackson, to whom he was married for 66 years. I first met him in 2005 when I joined the Players. We both attended a black tie dinner in honor of Ben Gazzara. Coincidentally, the first issue of Cinema Retro had just been published and I gave him a copy. He was delighted to see an article in which we editorialized that he should have been nominated for an Oscar for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and proceeded to tell some amusing stories about the making of the film, including having to temporarily share a bed with Clint Eastwood due to lack of accommodations in Spain. Wallach was always good for a funny anecdotes and seemed to be perpetually in a good mood. I tried on many occasions to have a formal interview with him and he was agreeable. However, by the time his non-stop work schedule finally abated, his health had deteriorated. The last time I spoke to him at length was after I saw the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010. I was delighted to see he was looking so fit. I called him up for an impromptu conversation and, as usual, he spent about an hour explaining how he didn't have time to talk. During the course of that conversation, he related priceless tales of working on The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and John Huston and bemoaned the fact that only he and fellow Players member Robert Vaughn were the only remaining cast members from The Magnificent Seven. I informed him that when I had asked Vaughn how that felt, he said "It stinks- but it beats the alternative!" Wallach let out a typically hearty belly laugh.
Eli Wallach was a Hollywood legend and an actor's actor. However, his real legacy is that he was an even rarer breed in today's film industry: a class act, a devoted family man and a true gentleman.
Rest in peace, Tuco.
For more on Wallach's life and career, click here.
Dee became a Broadway sensation as the female lead in A Raisin in the Sun. She also played the role in the acclaimed 1961 film version opposite Sidney Poitier.
Ruby Dee, the acclaimed star of stage and screen, has died at age 91. Dee was part of a generation of African-American actors who broke through racial prejudice and elevated the status of black characters in film and theater. She won both Emmy and Grammy awards and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2007 for American Gangster. Dee enjoyed a creative collaborative relationship with her husband, the late actor Ossie Davis, who was a legend in his own right. In addition to their contributions to the arts, Dee and Davis were also fervently involved in the issue of civil rights. For more click here.
Gordon Willis, one of the most acclaimed cinematographers of all time, has passed away at age 82. Praised by critics and prominent filmmakers alike, Willis helped transform the way modern movies were shot and had a unique style that defined his work. His most prominent films include The Godfather triology and numerous movies with Woody Allen including the 1979 classic Manhattan, which Willis shot in black and white. It became what many consider to be his signature achievement in motion pictures. Willis never won a competitive Oscar but was honored with an Academy Award on the basis of his lifetime achievements. For more click here
Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the son of a violin master and an opera singer who became an acclaimed actor, has died at age 95. Zimbalist had a recurring role in the 1950s hit TV series Maverick before starring with Roger Smith as private eyes in the smash hit 1958 series 77 Sunset Strip. However, it was in the 1960s that his star really rose by top-lining the TV show The F.B.I. The series was a love letter to the bureau and won praise from its controversial and mercurial director, J. Edgar Hoover, who gave unprecedented cooperation to the series. Zimablist went on to appear with his daughter Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan in another crime show, the 1980s hit Remington Steele. His feature films include Wait Until Dark, Airport 1975, The Crowded Sky and The Chapman Report. For more click here
Bob Hoskins, the acclaimed star of many British films, has passed away at age 71. Official cause of death was pneumonia, though he retired in 2012 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Hoskins was primarily a character actor who specialized in playing gritty, blue collar characters. He rarely got the lead role in major films but when he did, he excelled in movies like Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the British crime classic The Long Good Friday and the 1987 drama Mona Lisa for which he won a BAFTA and Golden Globe as Best Actor as well as an Oscar nomination. For more click here
Ossie Morris signs a copy of his 2006 autobiography 'Houston, We Have a Problem' for Matthew Field in February of this year.
British cinematographer Oswald Morris passed away Monday evening at his home in
Dorset, England. He was 98 years old.
member and former president of the BSC (the British Society of
Cinematographers), 'Ossie', as he was known to all in the business, won an
Academy Award in 1971 for the musical Fiddler
on the Roof and four Baftas, including one for The Hill (1965) starring Sean Connery. His early career included
working on David Lean's Oliver Twist
and John Huston's Moulin Rouge. Ossie
worked on over 40 major productions in his life, including Oliver!,The Wiz, The Guns of Navarone, Equus, The Man Who Would be King, and many, many more.
Matthew Field met the great man at his home just a few weeks ago, in what has
now turned out to be his last interview. The September issue of Cinema Retro
will feature part of Matt's interview in our tribute to this legendary man.
Alain Resnais, the acclaimed director of controversial films such as Last Year at Marienbad, has passed away at age 91. To his admirers, Resnais was the epitome of the avant garde filmmaker, producing movies in the name of art, not commerce. His detractors felt some of his work represented style over substance and dripped with artistic pretensions. However, his 1955 30 minute film Night and Fog remains to many as the most devastating record of the Holocaust ever filmed. For more click here
Eric Bercovici, who produced and adapted James Clavell's massive novel Shogun into the Emmy-winning 1980 mini-series, has died at age 80. Bercovici was working on the Paramount lot and observed that the studio was not satisfied with a stream of prospective screenwriters who could not master how to adapt a story that was heavy on Japanese language and culture into a mainstream form of entertainment for American audiences. Bercovici and Clavell initially argued over his insistence that Clavell approve major edits and omissions to the novel. Eventually, Clavell relented and the series became a ratings smash. Bercovici related how, during production, the logistics of filming in Japan so annoyed local residents that police almost shut down production despite pleas from one of the series stars, the legendary Toshiro Mifune. It was the arrival in Japan of President Jimmy Carter that distracted the police and allowed production to finish. Bercovici also wrote the screenplay for John Boorman's 1968 WWII survival film Hell in the Pacific starring Mifune and Lee Marvin. However, his main strength was in television. He also wrote the hit 1977 Watergate-based mini series Washington: Behind Closed Doors and episodes of classic TV shows like Mission: Impossible, Hawaii 5-0, I Spy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Click here for more
Harold Ramis, who helped found the Second City comedy troupe and legendary TV series, has died after a long illness. He was 69 years old. Ramis wrote, directed and appeared in many hit comedy feature films. Among the hit films he directed were Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. He also wrote or appeared in films such as National Lampoon's Animal House, Stripes and Ghostbusters. He was part of a generation that reinvented TV and motion picture comedy. Ramis was a native of Chicago and had moved back there in recent years. For more on his life and achievements, click here.
Eddy and Sid after a Master Class at NYU, 2003. (Photo: Michael Doft)
Sid Caesar’s funeral service was held on Sunday afternoon,
February 16 at a private ceremony in Los Angeles. Among the family and friends paying
tribute was Sid’s biographer and friend, Cinema Retro’s Eddy Friedfeld, who
co-authored Sid’s creative biography, Caesar’s Hours, published by Public
Affairs in 2003.
What follows is the eulogy Eddy delivered before Sid's family, friends and colleagues.
Sid said that, like Isaac Newton, he stood on the
shoulders of giants, his inspirations- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel
and Hardy and W.C. Fields, who helped him develop his career and craft. Today, Sid, we stand on your shoulders- and
celebrate your life, your art, your warmth, character, and friendship. You did things no one else could do and you
inspired many others, including people in this room, to take the same artistic
And if our challenge was to sum up all your vast
achievements into one phrase, we would say- “You made America laugh.”
Born in Yonkers in 1922, the fourth and youngest son of
Max and Ida, he picked up dishes after school at his father’s luncheonette.
Going from table to table he learned to speak his signature doubletalk, French,
German, Italian and Russian from the multi-ethnic clientele. He went up to the
Catskills one summer as a saxophone player and part time comedian, and wound up
going back the following summer as a full time comedian and part time musician. An accomplished tenor saxophonist who could
site read, he played with Shep Fields, Charlie Spievak, Claude Thornhill and
Benny Goodman. He served in the Coast
Guard during World War II, part of the Greatest Generation. He loved being an American and was the poster
boy for the emerging medium of television and the Post World War II era of
prosperity, growth and vision. While
doing the reviews for the soldiers, he met Max Liebman, who cast him in Tars
and Spars and later in his first Broadway Show, Make Mine Manhattan. The impresario Liebman took his protégé to a
meeting with a young executive, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who wanted to bring the
variety show to people’s living rooms, so that they didn’t have to go out for
Broadway quality shows on Saturday Night. That meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Review and then Your Show
of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, and The Chevy Specials.
Genius is often
overused. Except where it is most
almost nine years, he made millions laugh. At this point Sid would put his hand up, admonish me and say, “no one
ever does anything great alone.” Sid wanted to make sure that his final bow was
taken along-side Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, and
Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Tony Webster, Joe Stein, Danny and Doc
Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Aaron Ruben, Mike Stewart, and a number of
other great talents who worked indefatigably to write, create, and produce this
new style of comedy on a weekly basis. They were quality- they could do what no one else could do,
before or since.
Sid loved the written word- if it doesn’t start out on
the page, it will never make it to the stage. He presided over a stable of creative
minds. Young kids of immigrant parents
who wanted to make their mark on the world through the vehicle of Sid’s unique
gifts. When Larry Gelbart was asked why
most of Sid’s writers were young and Jewish, he said, “Because all of our
parents were old and Jewish.”
When you hear the generic term Writers Room, the first
thought that it elicits in most minds is the legendary Caesar’s Writer’s
Room. He loved his writers, collectively
and individually. They were his
Praetorian Guard. Of all his accomplishments, his acknowledged greatest was
that he presided over the greatest group of comedy writers ever assembled,
unless you think The Constitution is funny.
I had reached a point in our work together where I
could watch a sketch and discern which writer contributed what line or thought.
He made me promise never to share that with anyone. What was most important was not that these
people were geniuses in their own right. What was significant was how they worked together. It was the genius of collaboration. The alchemy of creating comedy.
1949, television was a little over a year old. No one knew whether it was going
to last, and no one envisioned the impact it would have on society and the
world. Before Sid Caesar, television consisted of vaudeville, burlesque,
wrestling, and bowling. Sid and his multi-talented cast, writers and crew
helped define the medium, developing sketch comedy that was based in truth. For
39 weeks a year, they conceived, wrote, and executed an hour and a half of live
television a week, week after week. They did it, because they did not know they
couldn’t do it. There was no teleprompter, no cue cards, and no second chances.
movie satires, to foreign film parodies to pantomime, from a boy at his first
dance to an argument at a bus station, to lions in the circus, they crafted
stories that had beginnings, middles and ends, and helped ensure that
television grew into one of the most enduring forces in our society. Unlike comedy that came before that was
rooted in immigration and financial depression, this was about a new America-
post-WWII, prosperous, hopeful, the era of suburbs, skyscrapers, and space
travel- it needed smarter, fresher, optimistic, cutting edge comedy with an
infusion of culture and satire.
Sid was a master of character and dialect. He transformed into the put upon husband
Charlie Hickenlooper, feudal lord Shtaka Yamagura, stoner jazz musician
Progress Hornsby, Tony Towers, the inventor of the Towers Trot, The Gangster
Moose in Bullets Over Broadway, who had ears like a hawk, Al Duncy, who was
reluctantly and literally carried onto the stage to have his life story told
with Uncle Goopy and a parade of other crazy relatives in front of five
thousand people, and the German General who fastidiously avoided jangling his
medals, as he prepared to be a fancy hotel’s doorman.
He was a scientist who, after being bitten by a
radioactive termite, developed an insatiable appetite for wood. As The
Professor his endless expertise ranged from mountain climbing, sleep, and
And as the crying clown, Galipacci, he braved the
perils of live television. When it came
time to paint the tears on his cheeks, the point on his pencil broke. I don’t know what a lesser performer might
have done, but Sid not only didn’t break character and song, he instinctively
painted lines on his cheeks and proceeded to play tic tac toe, not missing a
He was Melville Krump, DDS, who got locked in the
hardware store overnight as part of a frenetic hunt for Jimmy Durante’s stolen
loot along with the greatest comedians of all time in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He was Noble Eggleston, the pride of
Venezuela, Illinois with six other roles in Little Me. And, as Coach Calhoun of Rydell High, he got
John Travolta his letterman sweater in Grease.
He was also a Shtarker, possessed of Herculean
strength- as he said “I could walk through a wall without opening a door.” The strength that affectionately held Mel
Brooks out the 18th floor window of The Palmer House in Chicago,
punched a horse who was threatening his beloved wife Florence, and pulled the
sink out of the wall of his dressing room when he had trouble remembering a
Sid understood his audience and always treated them
with honesty and respect. He believed
that the greatest comedy came with pathos- making the audience not only laugh-
but think and sometimes cry.
We are a people that are defined by our culture and our
passions. Sidney Caesar was a giant,
becoming one of the most famous people in America. He walked among stars and statesmen, and the
most accomplished and creative of his and subsequent generations, but always
with a sense of awe and humility.
He raised a family. You can’t tell the Sid Caesar story without talking about Florence, his
partner of 67 years, and children, Michelle, Rick and Karen. He battled and overcame demons and developed
deep and lifelong friendships.
We own our cultural icons- they belong as much to us as
they do to their own families. Laughing
together keeps us close to our families; it is the lingua franca for our
friendships, the shared memories, the shorthand phrases and inside jokes that
keep us close years later.
Sid’s work not only made people laugh, it brought
families together. Over the years, I
consistently heard people say to and about Sid: “Thank you for making my
parents laugh.” It was that association
that people wanted to remember.
I didn’t grow up watching Sid Caesar. He belonged to my parents and
grandparents. He was the fine china,
their gold standard, talked about at the dinner table like a successful
relative. My generation grew up on Blazing
Saddles, Get Smart, MASH, The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family, without
realizing the connection.
I met Sid 14 years ago for an interview. We had a very nice connection. He invited me to come back two days later to
watch his old shows with him. The
article was well received and it led to a friendship and an artistic
autobiography entitled Caesar’s Hours that came out in 2003. I spent two years working with him on that
book. It was Sid, me, and Sid’s dog,
Carlin. It was the hardest I ever worked
and the most fun I ever had. It was
basically one long, spirited argument. Sid loved passionate discourse. He believed in his version of the Samuel Goldwyn adage, “From a polite
conference comes a polite script”- and to which he embellished: “You only fight with your friends- no one
else is worth your time.”
He was tough on those close to him, and toughest on
himself- he wanted everyone to be the best version of themselves, the most
productive and the most artistic. He was
a naturally gifted writer who never touched a pencil or keyboard- he could hear
a paragraph and literally rearrange it in his head- and make it better. If he didn’t have the deadline of a weekly
show, we’d still be working on the Professor on Mountain Climbing sketch from
1951, and making it better with each draft.
He became my coach. I realized that if John Travolta had paid more attention to Sid when he
played his coach, he could have been even bigger.
After we finished working together, we became even
closer, and I visited him often. When I
was in New York, we had a regular Friday night phone call that began in 2003
and ended about two weeks ago. If I
didn’t call him by 3:30, there was a voicemail message from him asking me where
I was and that he was ready to talk. He
could discuss and debate art, film, music, world history, politics, and string
theory- he loved an intelligent discussion. He particularly loved the impressionist painters- Monet, Manet, Renoir,
and Seurat, who started out as struggling artists trying to develop a new form
of art- his favorite painting was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He identified with artists who painted
outside the lines- to him that was what being a comedian was- painting outside
He became one the best friends I ever had- a surrogate
father after my own father passed away, and a mentor. He was there for encouragement, advice and
support as I worked on other projects and developed and taught my comedy and
film courses at Yale and NYU. He loved
that college students were getting to know his work and writing papers about
him, which I shared with him. He took
this not-so-young lawyer and helped me become a writer and film professor and
he took pride in my accomplishments. He
would tell me: “Eddy, Live the life that you want, and love the life that you
As the performers in this room today can attest, he was
the world’s greatest audience. He
laughed with his mouth and with his eyes, and his approval was palpable. It wasn’t a star’s laugh- it was a fan’s
laugh and a friend’s laugh- wonderful for a comedian or writer; he never
outgrew that sense of wonderment that most of us only had as a kid. Toward the end of his life I still loved to
make him laugh- I told him the irony was that I probably did the best creative
work of my career in Sid Caesar’s bedroom.
After Florence passed away four years ago, we spent a
lot of time together watching old movies, from Key Largo to The Manchurian
Candidate to his favorite- The Godfather. He had a personal story about the
actors in every film. I got to know his heart- it was big and complex. I even forgave him for making me turn off
North by Northwest after 40 minutes, proclaiming that “it takes too long for
Hitchcock to tell a story.”
I want to particularly thank all of the friends who
supported Sid after Florence passed away. You need to know it meant the world to him to have you around. Special thanks Sid’s caregivers, Kona, Peter,
Jerry, and Albert, who worked tirelessly to make Sid feel like a king, and a
heartfelt thanks to Fran and Lou Zigman for organizing the parties, the smaller
visits, the hospice care and many other things that literally kept him alive
these past few years.
In Laughter on the 23rd Floor- Neil Simon’s
play based on his days in the Writer’s Room, the characters gather when they
realize that the reign of their boss, television star Max Prince, is coming to
a close. When Lucas calls him noble, Ira
“You think he was noble? He was Moses for crise’
sake. The man is a giant. He’s Goliath. Maybe he’s Goliath after David hit him in the head with a rock, but
there’s fucking greatness in him, I swear… He’s got so much anger in him, so
much pain, so much roast beef and potato salad, that when he goes down like he
did tonight, with such a crash, people fell out of their beds in Belgium…
There’ll never be another Max Prince again, because he’s an original. I’m telling you guys, we just lived through
This is Sid
Caesar’s final public appearance. And I
want to explain the nuance of that remark. At his core, his essence, Sid Caesar was a performer, an entertainer,
and a storyteller. Whether he was in
front of 60 million people, 60 people or six people, every fiber of his being
wanted to make you laugh and smile, and leave you feeling better than when you
got there. The fact that you’ve been
there for him and are here today means the world to him. The fact that you got
to smile and be emotional, he gets that credit, and on his behalf, he would
want me to thank you.
Sid Caesar was an original. He loved, he was loved and he will be
missed. Rest in peace, my friend. Remember, you made America laugh.
Actor Ralph Waite has died at age 85. He became an icon of American television as the kindly father on the hit TV series The Waltons, which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1972. Waite received an Emmy nomination for his performance and he appeared in several Waltons reunion shows and TV specials over the years. Waite had a diversified career prior to acting. He was a Marine, social worker and ordained minister. He became disillusioned with the church and entered the acting profession. Despite a battle with alcoholism for many years, Waite was always in demand both on TV and in feature films. He received another Emmy nomination for his performance in the 1977 TV miniseries Roots. His feature films include Cool Hand Luke, The Stone Killer, Lawman and The Magnificent Seven Ride! He peppered his acting career with political activism and ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Congress on three occasions. He starred on stage in an acclaimed version of Death of a Salesman and in recent years, he had a recurring role as Mark Harmon's dad on the hit CBS series NCIS. Click here for more.
The death of funnyman Sid Caesar leaves precious few legends remaining from the Golden Age of American television comedy. Caesar was one of the giants of 1950s TV and his series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour were considered training grounds for future legendary comedy writers such as Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart Neil Simon and Woody Allen. Caesar also appeared in many feature films including a leading role in the blockbuster 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In the 1960s, however, his career was derailed due to his personal demons such as battles with alcoholism and substance abuse. By the 1980s, he had conquered these weaknesses and found a welcome audience still respectful of his talents. His other feature film appearances include The Busy Body, The Spirit is Williing, Grease and Silent Movie. Click here to read more about his remarkable career.
Shirley Temple, one of the most iconic figures in the history of the movie business, has passed away at age 85. No details of her death have been released as of this writing. Temple was the the ultimate child star. The pint-sized dynamo's sugar-coated family films provided some respite to audiences from the pain of the Great Depression and literally saved Fox from bankruptcy. She was the biggest boxoffice sensation of the era and was so popular that her image adorned a highly successful merchandise line. Seemingly every little girl at the time had a Shirley Temple doll. Temple was so popular that she received an honorary Oscar in 1934 for her contributions to the film industry. She continued to act as a teenager and a young woman but quit feature films in 1949, though she did return to the screen with a TV series between 1959-1961. In 1950, Temple married businessman Charles Black and henceforth would be known as Shirley Temple Black. In her memoirs, published in 1988, she related how, at age 22, she discovered that her considerable fortune had been squandered by her parents through their opulent lifestyle and bad business investments. Temple always maintained that she bore them no ill will. Temple was always politically active and was appointed as U.S. delegate to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon in 1969. She would later also serve as a U.S. ambassador and chief of protocol for President Gerald Ford. Although a lifelong Republican, Temple was honored by President Bill Clinton in 1998. The President said of her that she "had the greatest short-lived career in movie history, then gracefully retired to the far less strenuous life of public service". For more click here
Actor Christopher Jones has died at age 72. Once touted as the heir to James Dean, Jones boasted a handsome face and the same type of brooding intensity that had made legends of Dean and Brando. Jones got his first big break in the 1960s Western TV series The Legend of Jesse James but the show lasted only one season. After appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Judd for the Defense, Jones graduated to feature films. He starred in the little-seen 1967 drama Chubasco (click here for review), the hit 1968 Roger Corman production of Wild in the Streets (in which he played a rock star who becomes President of the United States), Three in the Attic and the spy thriller The Looking Glass War. His most high profile role was as a British army officer who falls in a forbidden love affair with an Irish girl in David Lean's 1970 film Ryan's Daughter. Jones dropped out of acting after that, circumventing a promising career. He later attributed his disillusionment to the murder of Sharon Tate, who he claimed he was having an affair with at the time of her murder by the Manson gang in 1969. Jones was by all counts a moody man who disdained the public spotlight. Jones spurned other offers to return to the screen including one by Quentin Tarantino to appear in Pulp Fiction. His last known screen credit was the rarely-screened Mad Dog Time in 1996 for director Larry Bishop. Click here for more.
(Click here to read Herbert Shadrak's 2009 article about Christopher Jones)
The death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman sent shock waves around the world. Hoffman was found dead in New York City, apparently a victim of the substance abuse he was attempting to combat. Stephen Whitty, the film critic of the Newar Star Ledger, offers and insightful tribute to Hoffman. Click here to read
Oscar-winning Austrian actor Maximillian Schell has passed away at the age of 83. Schell made his English language screen debut opposite Marlon Brando in the WWII film The Young Lions in 1958. Three years later he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. Schell played an attorney burdened with the thankless task of defending Nazi war criminals. The character, while repelled by the acts some individuals committed, offered a spirited defense that brought nuance to the circumstances in which National Socialism had arisen. The intelligent depiction of this sensitive subject- and Schell's impassioned performance- was praised internationally. Schell continued to be a leading man in high profile film productions including Tokapi, Counterpoint, Krakatoa: East of Java, The Odessa File, A Bridge Too Far, The Freshman, The Chosen and Deep Impact. He was nominated for Oscars two other times: for Best Actor in the 1976 screen adaptation of Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth and the following year for Best Supporting Actor for Julia. Schell was also an acclaimed director with his documentary about Marelene Dietrich winning international praise. For more on his life and career click here.
Maverick actor and filmmaker Tom Laughlin has died at the age of 82 after a long illness. Laughlin was just another hunky actor in small roles in films like South Pacific and Tea and Sympathy. However, in 1967 he successfully rode the wave of popularity attached to biker flicks by writing, directing and starring in The Born Losers. (He used the named T.C Frank for his non-acting credits). The film starred Laughlin as a half-Native American named Billy Jack who takes on seemingly insurmountable odds to help oppressed people. The film was a hit and Laughlin revived the character in 1971 in the film Billy Jack. However, he was angry with Warner Brothers' lukewarm marketing of the film. He engaged in a high profile battle to win back distribution rights and finally prevailed in court. In 1974 Laughlin took the bold step of investing millions of dollars in re-marketing a movie that had not been a major success. This time, however, he used an innovative distribution method called "four walling" which centered on renting a wide number of theaters across the country and keeping all of the boxoffice revenues. Laughlin's plan worked so well that it permanently changed distribution patterns of major films which had once been centered on the premise of rolling out releases in slow, methodical manner. Suddenly "wide" releases became the norm and the strategy helped make Jaws the top boxoffice attraction of all time. Laughlin repeated his success with The Trial of Billy Jack in 1974. Critics scoffed at the script's ham-handed embracing of left wing political causes but the public responded especially in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate crisis that saw President Richard Nixon resigning from office shortly before the film was released. Laughlin found that the third time was not the charm, however, and his third film in the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington (a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) barely saw release in 1977. A high profile Western, The Master Gunfighter, released in 1975, was also deemed a boxoffice disappointment.
Laughlin's obsession with political activism alienated him from many in the Hollywood community. Unlike John Wayne and Jane Fonda, who successfully weathered criticisms of their high profile political pronouncements, Laughlin seemed to irk the people in power. Laughlin never ceased in expressing his distrust for whoever was irunning the show in Washington. At various times he was seen as a radicial leftist but at other times he seemed to extol beliefs of the right wing fringe movement. In short, he annoyed both sides. By having taken on the studio system, he was deemed toxic by the big money people in the industry. Working with his wife and co-star Delores, he tried repeatedly to get other film projects off the ground without success. He made three quixotic attempts to run for President as a Republican but was ignored by the party establishment. Nevertheless, in death, Laughlin is finally getting the credit he was often denied in life for reinvigorating the motion picture distribution business. For more click here . For comments from Laughlin's daughter click here
Joan Fontaine, who won the Best Actress Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 classic Suspicion, has died in her California home at age 96. Fontaine began her film career playing attractive but nondescript characters until Hitchcock cast her as the female lead in his 1940 film version of the bestseller Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier. The film earned her an Oscar nomination and elevated her to one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses. In 1943 she received a third and final Oscar nomination for The Constant Nymph. Fontaine also won rave notices in the film version of the Gothic novel Jane Eyre, starring opposite Orson Welles. In both films she played an innocent woman whose husband is harboring a shocking secret that is unveiled within the walls of a stately but foreboding country manor. Fontaine's other major films include Ivanhoe, The Emperor Waltz, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, This Above All, The Women, Gunga Din, Casanova's Big Night, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Tender is the Night. She retired from feature films in the 1960s after being offended by being asked to play Elvis Presley's mother. However, Fontaine did continue to appear in TV shows for another twenty years. These included Ryan's Hope, Hotel and The Love Boat. Fontaine was the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland but the two sisters engaged in an on-going feud that extended back to their childhood years. For more click here
Acclaimed actor Peter O'Toole, star of stage and classic cinema, has passed away in a London hospital after a long illness. He was 81 years old. O'Toole shot to international prominence when director David Lean cast the largely unknown actor in the title role of his 1962 masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. O'Toole proved he was not to be a "one hit wonder", earning 8 Oscar nominations throughout his career, though he was frustrated at not winning the award in a competitive category. In 2003 he accepted the Academy's consolation honor: a lifetime achievement Oscar. O'Toole, Irish at birth, benefited from the explosive emergence of young method actors in the British film industry of the 1960s. His drinking exploits with friends like Richard Burton and Richard Harris were the stuff of legend and were chronicled in Robert Sellers' best selling book Hellraisers. O'Toole's career was not comprised of all hits. He went through dry spells as early as 1965 with the failure of his big budget adventure film Lord Jim and the flop 1969 musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips followed by another ill-advised venture into the musical format with the 1972 film of Man of La Mancha. . Yet, he would always surprise critics and audiences with an unexpectedly inspired performance in films that were often somewhat mundane. Among his most memorable cinematic achivements: Becket, My Favorite Year, The Lion in Winter, The Stunt Man, How to Steal a Million and What's New Pussycat? Fiercely private and disdainful of publicity and interviews, O'Toole generally proved to be quite charming when he would let his guard down. Although he said he had retired from the film industry, he was coaxed out of retirement for a historical film that is awaiting release.- Lee Pfeiffer For more click here
Actress Eleanor Parker has died at age 91. She was best known for playing the Baroness who was engaged to Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in the classic 1965 film version of The Sound of Music. Upon hearing of her death, Plummer released this statement: "Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known, both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever." Parker had been nominated for three Academy Awards but it was her role as the Baroness for which she is best-remembered, as the rich woman who loses the love of Captain Von Trapp to Maria (Julie Andrews). Parker's other key films include Of Human Bondage, The Man With the Golden Arm, The Naked Jungle, Caged and Detective Story. For more on her life and career, click here.
Lewis Collins, the popular British actor who played men of action, has died at from cancer at age 67. Although his fame was largely relegated to his native England, he maintained a loyal fan following primarily attributed to his role in the long-running UK TV series The Professionals which is still being presented in re-runs on ITV4. Collins also had roles in other popular British TV series including Z Cars, The New Avengers and The Cuckoo Waltz. He also starred in producer Euan Lloyd's 1982 feature film Who Dares Wins about a daring SAS operation. The film, released in the United States as The Final Option, was a personal favorite of President Ronald Reagan, who requested a private screening at the White House. Collins was touted by many as a suitable candidate for playing James Bond. In fact, Collins screen tested for the role of 007 but failed to convince legendary producer Cubby Broccoli that he was the man for the job. For more click here
Tony Musante, the popular character actor who was a fixture in Italian films and TV series, has died in a New York hospital at age 77. Musante, who brought intensity to all of his roles, was driven more by artistic satisfaction than a desire to make the big money. He made a splash with U.S. audiences in 1967 playing a thug who terrorizes passengers on a New York City subway train in the film The Incident. He won acclaim for his role as a gay man who is wrongly convicted and executed for murder in the 1968 Frank Sinatra film The Detective. He also had a co-starring role with George C. Scott in the 1971 crime film The Last Run and starred in director Dario Argento's 1970 cult classic The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. In 1973 he reluctantly starred in the TV series Toma about a maverick cop. Despite the show's ratings success, Musante left the series after one seasons. It was then re-developed as Baretta, which became a major hit for Robert Blake, who took over the lead role. In recent years Musante continued to act periodically and had a recurring role in the TV series Oz in 1997. For more click here
Paul Mantee, a popular fixture on TV shows and feature films, passed away on November 7. Mantee had appeared on many TV series over the years and had recurring roles on the 1980s hits Hunter and Cagney and Lacy. He first began appearing in the medium in the late 1959s and eventually guest starred on major programs such as The F.B.I, Mannix, Dragnet, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Batman, The Time Tunnel, Bonanza, Kojak and Seinfeld. Mantee also appeared in small roles in many feature films. In 1964 he had a rare starring role in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a fairly low-budget sci-fi film that became a major cult hit thanks to its intelligent script, direction and performances. He also had the lead role in the 1968 James Bond spoof A Man Called Dagger. For more click here
Stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham has died from unspecified causes at age 82. Needham had a long history as one of the best stuntmen in feature films and television before he moved into directing movies. Needham's films were hardly the stuff of art house theaters. He specialized in testosterone-packed action sequences designed to appeal squarely at male audiences. Along the way, he was also credited with developing methods that reduced the risk for the many stuntmen who populated his films. Needham made his directorial debut in 1977 with Smokey and the Bandit starring his old friend Burt Reynolds. Critics scoffed at the cornball humor and endless car stunts and the film laid an egg in urban play dates. However, it resonated with its intended audiences in rural areas and eventually the grosses brought to blockbuster status. The movie not only cemented Reynolds as a genuine superstar but gave new life to the careers of his co-stars Sally Field and Jackie Gleason. Needham and Reynolds collaborated a few years later on another film, Hooper, that was accentuated by stunt work. He teamed with Reynolds again for the all-star comedy hit The Cannonball Run in 1981. The film spawned an ill-conceived sequel a few years later. He also directed Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his first starring roles in the Western comedy Villain. Needham had no reservations about alternating between directing films and serving as a stunt coordinator. However, his association with Reynolds seem to mirror his own fate in the film business. As audiences tired of Reynolds' stunt-packed action films, grosses fell and Needham found himself less in demand. However, in 2012, he did have the satisfaction of receiving an honorary Oscar for his contributions to stunt work in the film industry. The characteristically modest man was well-liked and greatly respected for the impressive number of major films on which he performed stunts. These include Little Big Man, French Connection II, The Longest Yard, Camelot and A Star is Born. He was also a favorite of John Wayne, who learned a thing or two from Needham about how to throw convincing punches. Wayne used him as a stunt man or stunt coordinator on his films Rio Lobo, Chisum, The Undefeated and McQ. For more click here
Ed Lauter, the popular character actor who specialized in playing tough guys, has died at age 74. Lauter was one of those familiar faces who was recognized by audiences even though many viewers did not know his name. For movie buffs, however, Lauter was well known and highly respected. He had dabbled with being a standup comic in the 1960s before trying his hand at acting. Lauter quickly gained a reputation as a reliable character actor and he became in-demand during the 1970s. Among his most memorable roles were a ruthless prison guard in director Robert Aldrich's 1974 hit The Longest Yard and as Ann-Margret's ill-fated husband in Richard Attenborough's 1978 thriller Magic. Other prominent roles included Hitchcock's final film Family Plot, The Magnificent Seven Ride!, Breakheart Pass, French Connection II, Hickey& Boggs, Death Wish 3 and, most recently Trouble With the Curve and the 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist.He also appeared extensively on television and co-starred in the acclaimed TV movie The Jericho Mile. For more click here
Italian screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni has passed away at age 87. Vincezoni was best known for his work on the Sergio Leone Western classics "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", both starring Clint Eastwood. Vincenzoni was rather dismissive of his work on these films, saying that he knocked off his writing contribution in a matter of days. In the case of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" he improvised and created a plot outline on the spot in order to win financing from United Artists. Vincezoni said he was most proud of other films that he worked on that were honored on the film festival circuit. Indeed, although regarded as classics today, the Leone Westerns were largely despised or ignored by the critical establishment in the 1960s. Vincenzoni once told Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling that one of his great regrets was allowing a feud over money to break his relationship with the legendary director. When Leone died, Vincenzoni, with more than a hint of amusing ego, took the blame saying, "As the more cultured man, I should have known better." For NY Times obituary click here
Cinema Retro mourns the passing of director Richard C. Sarafian, who has passed away at age 83. Sarafian may not be a household name but in the film industry he was held in great regard, especially by maverick younger directors like Quentin Tarantino who emulated his work and style. Crusty, outspoken and often littering his sentences with curses that would make a longshoreman blush, Sarafian was an uncompromising man when it came to his personal visions of how his movies should be constructed. He started off directing episodes of classic TV series including I Spy and Batman and his best known work from the 1960s is the eerie "Living Doll" episode of The Twilight Zone in which Telly Savalas as a cruel stepfather gets his comeuppance at the hands of possessed toy doll. Sarafian graduated into feature films and directed the movie which gained him fame, if not fortune: Vanishing Point, the 1971 action film that included ground breaking car chases that influenced action films for decades to come. (Like most superior works, it spawned an inferior remake.) In interview with Cinema Retro for issue #12, Sarafian said the experience of making the movie was not a happy one. Studio brass insisted on re-editing the movie and taking most of the nuance out of the story. He was also dissatisfied with having to cast Barry Newman in the lead, as he had been hoping the studio would sign either George C. Scott or Gene Hackman. The film laid an egg at the boxoffice but with the advent of home video it became a cult classic. Sarafian had more troubles on the set of the 1973 Western The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing starring Burt Reynolds. During production, a mysterious murder took place on the set that gained the production notorious headlines around the world. Sarafian was more satisfied with Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris and John Huston. He also directed the 1976 Sean Connery thriller The Next Man. By 1988, however, his career was in decline due to his refusal to toe the line with studio executives and the fact that some of his films were not successful. He hoped a high profile disaster movie titled Solar Crisis would reignite his career but he went over budget and once again clashed with the studio. Sarafian called the finished film a mess and had his name removed from the credits. In more recent years, he dabbled in acting, playing small character roles in high profile movies.
On a personal note, Sarafian was a great fan of Cinema Retro and would occasionally call this writer to discuss specific issues.Even when he praised an article, it was with plenty of expletives attached. A refreshing aspect of Sarafian's personality is that, while he detested studio "suits", he also didn't shy away from taking personal responsibility for some films he deemed to be artistic failures. Needless to say, he was a one-of-a-kind talent and movie lovers everywhere will mourn his passing.
Ray Dolby, who is credited for revolutionizing the way sound was utilized in the motion picture industry, has died at age 80. Dolby's contributions to the film industry are largely taken for granted in today's era of special effects-driven, big budget movies. However, for those who first experienced the impact of the Dolby sound, the memories will resonate through their lives. The first Dolby sound system effect (which reduced background noise and ensured a crystal clean sound) was implemented in 1971 for Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The younger generation of filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, would find the Dolby effect to be an essential part of their films and created sound-driven action sequences to highlight Dolby's achievements. For NY Times obituary, click here
Gilbert Taylor, the legendary cinematographer, has passed away at age 99. Although he photographed some of the greatest films of all time, Taylor never received a single Oscar nomination (though he was nominated for two BAFTAs for his work on Polanski's Repulsion and Cul-de-sac). He was among the most revered artists in his trade. Among the classics he worked on: Star Wars, Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day's Night, Dr. Strangelove, Frenzy and The Omen. For more click here
Harris gave a brilliant performance as a woman who has been targeted by evil spirits in The Haunting (1963)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Julie Harris, who was regarded as Broadway royalty for winning five Tony Awards (a feat never equaled by any other actress), has passed away at age 87. Harris' career in stage, film and TV spanned almost 60 years. She was the first actress to play Sally Bowles in the original stage adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's I Am a Camera, which recounted the journalist's experiences in Berlin during the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism. The musical version of the story was later brought to the stage as Cabaret. Ms. Harris was widely respected throughout the arts and was among those select American performers who was accorded the Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. Harris also appeared in numerous high profile films beginning with his Oscar-nominated performance in The Member of the Wedding in 1952. She also appeared in the 1955 film version of I Am a Camera. She memorably co-starred with James Dean in East of Eden and throughout the 1960s, her big screen career blossomed even while she performed in high profile stage and TV productions. She often played the role of a troubled woman, sometimes beset by psychological disorders. In the 1962 film version of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight, she played a dowdy, plain Jane who unexpectedly falls in love with a down-and-out, punch-drunk boxer played by Anthony Quinn. In John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye, she played a deeply troubled woman whose husband is having an affair with her best friend. Her biggest impact on the big screen during this era was as a woman whose psychic powers lead to tragedy in director Robert Wise's chilling masterpiece The Haunting. For more about her remarkable career, click here.
Veteran movie director Ted Post has died at age 95. Post was closely associated with the early career of Clint Eastwood, directing 20 episodes of Rawhide and Eastwood's feature films Hang 'Em High (1968) and Magnum Force (1973). Post also directed the hit sequel to Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Post is closely associated with classic TV, having directed episodes of Combat!, The Defenders, The Twilight Zone, Peyton Place and Gunsmoke. His latest television project was a remake of the John Ford classic Stagecoach in 1986. Other feature films include The Harrad Experiment and Go Tell the Spartans. For more click here
Valentin de Vargas with Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil.
Valentin de Vargas, who menaced Janet Leigh as
Pancho in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," has
died at the age of 78.
Vargas died June 10 of myelodysplastic syndrome
in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was laid to rest at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in
New Mexico. His daughter, Vanessa de Vargas, said the family wanted to wait
until after his burial to announce his death.
Vargas was active in Nosotros, the organization
founded by Ricardo Montalban to support Latinos in show business, and he took
acting classes taught by Anthony Quinn.
Vargas reunited with Touch of Evil co-stars Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston.
In addition to "Touch of Evil," Vargas
appeared in "Blackboard Jungle," Howard Hawks' "Hatari!,"
"The Magnificent Seven" and William Friedkin's "To Live and Die
Vargas also guest starred in such popular TV shows
as "Hill Street Blues," "The Wild Wild West," and
"Dallas," as well as a classic horror episode of "The
Alfred Hitchcock Hour": The Life Work of Juan Diaz, based on a
short story by Ray Bradbury.- Harvey Chartrand
Karen Black with (L to R) Alan Cumming and Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer and David Savage under the portrait of Players club founder Edwin Booth.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Cinema Retro is very saddened to learn the news that Karen Black has died at age 74 following a long battle with cancer that was documented on web sites by her husband Stephen Eckelberry. Black found that her insurance plans would not cover some of the experimental treatments she had hoped to try and planned to travel to Europe where they could be administered. Drained of her savings by the cost of health care treatments, Black and her husband made appeals for financial donations on the web in hopes of raising enough money to get to Europe. Sadly, she became completely incapacitated before that could happen. Eckelberry had documented the last three years of Black's life as part of a documentary about her battle with cancer that will be shown in some format in the future. Black first gained attention in a Broadway show in 1965 before gaining fame on film in counter-culture movies of the late 1960s and 1970s including Easy Rider, Drive, He Said and Five Easy Pieces, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. She worked very steadily in films, TV and on stage. Until her illness struck, she had been performing acclaimed one-woman shows in which she would sing and recount amazing stories about her show business career. She also appeared in many other high profile films such as Alfred Hitchcock's last movie Family Plot and Airport '75, a kitschy boxoffice hit in which she played a stewardess who must take command of a plane when the pilots are disabled. She also appeared in Portnoy's Complaint, The Outfit, The Great Gatsby, Capricorn One and Robert Altman's Nashville.
On a personal note, I only met Karen Black once, a few years ago when her friend, Cinema Retro columnist David Savage, brought her to the Players club in New York City. Black had asked if she could bring along a "couple" of friends, which turned out to be about a dozen people including such talents as Alan Cumming and Andrea McArdle. It was a wonderful evening, as this charming lady regaled us with fascinating tales about her long career, which she told me had been derailed due to the financial failure of The Day of the Locust, the 1975 big budget boxoffice flop. Black had the starring role and she said that studios blamed her for the film's failure, although she cited behind the scenes talent as the real reason the movie lost money. She was too considerate even then to name the people she felt were the real culprits, but she did say it was the most unhappy experience of her career. She also discussed her long friendship with co-star Jack Nicholson, who always referred to her as "Blackie" and laughingly said that the role she probably still gets the most fan mail from was the 1975 cult classic TV movie Trilogy of Terror in which she played multiple roles. I recall just how ageless Karen Black seemed that night. She was still very much a head-turner and was charming and funny. I will greatly miss her, as will anyone else who has admired her considerable talents over the decades.
Acclaimed character actor Michael Ansara has died at age 91. Ansara had primarily been known for playing key roles in Western TV series and motion pictures, but is also beloved by Star Trek fans for playing a Klingon commander in three incarnations of the series. Ansara, who was married for many years to actress Barbara Eden, appeared in such films as The Comancheros, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Harum Scarum (aka Harem Holiday) and Sol Madrid (aka The Heroin Gang). For more click here
Actress Eileen Brennan, who was nominated for Oscars for her performances in The Last Picture Show and Private Benjamin, has died of cancer at age 80. Brennan's promising career was cut short in 1982 due to medical complications resulting from an automobile accident. He attempts to return to acting were initially thwarted by her substance abuse problems and she attended the Betty Ford Clinic to help in her rehabilitation. In later years, she did resume appearing in feature films and popular television shows as a respected character actress. For more click here
Jim Kelly, the charismatic martial arts star who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, has died from cancer at age 67. Kelly had a loyal following of fans that extended to recent years and he was a popular fixture at autograph shows. His other action flicks include Three the Hard Way, Black Belt Jones and Black Samurai, all of which capitalized on the "Blaxploitation" films of the 1970s. For more click here