His name may not be well-known to international audiences, but UK film and TV fans are mourning the loss of Eric Sykes, who passed away at age 89. Sykes was an original writer, with Spike Milligan, on the classic Goon Show before establishing himself as one of England's most popular and enduring comedic character actors. He also appeared in such diverse feature films as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Theatre of Blood and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Despite having to cope with serious health issues and physical handicaps in recent years, Sykes continued to perform regularly. He had been awarded both an OBE and CBE over the years. For more click here
President Bush awards the Medal of Freedom to Andy Griffith at the White House, 2007.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Fox News has reported that Andy Griffith, an icon of American comedy and television, has passed away at age 86. Griffith gained fame in the 1950s with hit comedy albums based on naive hillbilly characters. Before long, he was a Broadway and TV star. In 1960, he spun off a character introduced on a Danny Thomas TV episode and starred in The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor of the small town of Mayberry. He was surrounded by a lovable group of eccentric country characters including his bumbling deputy Barney Fife, played by Griffith's old friend Don Knotts (who won five Emmys for his performance in the role). Griffith also produced successful TV series, notably Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, a major hit starring Jim Nabors in the role he created on The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith's serieswas a ratings-topper for eight years on CBS before he left the show to pursue other ventures. It was spun off as the successful series Mayberry R.F.D.Griffith tried to emulate Knotts' success in family-oriented feature films, but found the landscape had changed radically. By the time he did his first post-TV series movie, Angel in My Pocket in 1969, audiences were gravitating to the likes of Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider and The Wild Bunch. Still, Griffith worked consistently. He returned to TV periodically but didn't find a successful series until the 1980s when Matlock proved to be a smash hit that ran for many years. Griffith played a shrewd country lawyer who hid his detective skills behind a disarming and genial personality. Don Knotts occasionally guest starred on the series. Griffith also periodically reminded audiences that he could be a powerful dramatic actor. He received an Emmy nomination for the mini-series Fatal Vision, and lived to see his 1958 feature film A Face in the Crowd re-evaluated as a classic. At the time of its release, the film flopped despite being written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. Griffith gave one of the most dynamic performances by a leading man during that era, playing a country singer who gains fame and fortune at the expense of his soul.
For this writer, Griffith's loss is personal. I had authored The Official Andy Griffith Show Scrapbook back in the early 1990s. My publisher said there would be no audience for the book but I convinced him he was thinking like a Madison Avenue snob. He eventually published the book and it was a major success, despite the fact that I had personally loathed it because of design problems on the finished version. (I haven't opened it again since the book came out in 1993). In researching the book, I interviewed everyone associated with the show from Don Knotts to Jim Nabors and Ron Howard, who evolved from a child actor to an Oscar-winning film director. I was told by Viacom that Griffith approved the book, but wouldn't give me an interview. One day the phone rang, and an instantly recognizable voice said, "This is Andy Griffith. I changed my mind". I had a delightful conversation with his legendary story-teller. He said he was very proud of his show's legacy, but attributed all the success to his writers and co-stars. He pointed out that people still want to know how they can visit the fictitious town of Mayberry. He said the town's mythical status in America was a tribute to the skills of a bunch of Jewish writers who barely ever left Beverly Hills! Don Knotts pointed out to me that, early in the series, Griffith felt that Knotts was funnier than he was, so he voluntarily morphed his own character into that of a straight man and allowed Knotts to get most of the laughs. Knotts said he had never witnessed such generosity from another actor.
Griffith saw the TV series that bears his name increase in popularity over the decades. Even today, there are still licensed products produced for the show and its characters are immortal. (Just this weekend I saw couple wearing T shirts bearing the likeness of Mayberry's Floyd the Barber). The iconic show's main theme song by Earl Hagen can still be heard all over in pop culture and even on the street, as fans continue to emulate the famous whistling accompaniment to the tune.
Perhaps the most significant tribute to Andy Griffith came when we was invited to the White House in 2007 to be awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. I can't get into the President's mind, but it's known that the first President Bush is a major Griffith fan and I have to think some of that rubbed off on his son. Griffith was true icon of American television and pop culture. We won't see his like again.
Nora Ephron, the best-selling author and director of many hit films, died yesterday at age 71. Ephron, one of America's most insightful contemporary humorists, was the author of many popular books including Heartburn, which chronicled her ill-fated marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein (the book was made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.) Ephron became one of the few female directors with clout at major studios, with her hit films Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood and- most recently- Julie and Julia - resonating with critics worldwide.
To view Lawrence O'Donnell's tribute to Ephron from last night's telecast of The Last Word, click here
George Leech, a mild-mannered and understated man in real life, menaces Carole Bouquet in the 1981 007 film For Your Eyes Only.
George Leech, the legendary British stuntman, passed away on June 17 at age 90. Leech was a veteran of many classic films and his ability to perform dangerous, awe-inspiring stunts allowed him to work as an elder statesman in his industry. Up until recently, he was helping to train aspiring stuntmen. Leech's films include such memorable action films as Kelly's Heroes, The Guns of Navarone, A Bridge Too Far and Superman. However, he is best known for his long relationship with Eon Production and his work on the James Bond films from Dr. No (1962) through A View to a Kill (1985). For more about his remarkable career click here
Character actor Frank Cady has died at age 96. Cady was best known for playing folksy, friendly everyday people. His portrayal of Mr. Drucker, the general store owner in the fictional town of Hooterville, saw him play the same character in the popular CBS TV series Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction. He played the role between 1965 and 1971. The shows were still at the top of the ratings when CBS president Fred Silverman decided to cancel the rural-themed comedies, a move that is now considered to be one of the most ill-advised in the history of the television industry. Cady also had supporting and bit roles in feature films such as Rear Window, The Gnome Mobile, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and Hearts of the West. For more click here
Actor George Lindsey has been found dead at age 83. Although he had a long and varied career that included stand-up comedy, he is best remembered by generations of fans as Goober Pyle, the lovable but simple-minded garage mechanic from the legendary Andy Griffith Show. The series' long run in the 1960s ensured its status as an evergreen comedy and it maintains an active fan base that gathers for annual conventions. The close-knit cast continued their ties over the decades and, in learning of Lindsey's passing, Andy Griffith said he had only spoken to him a few days ago. Lindsey took on a key role in the series playing the cousin of Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors. When Nabors quit the series in order to star in the equally successful Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Lindsay managed to pick up the slack and become accepted as popular cast member, which was no easy task. When Don Knotts left the series, the actor who replaced him, Jack Burns, lasted only one season. Lindsay's tenure in with the show extended into the 1970s when he starred in the off-shoot series Mayberry R.F.D. which went into production after Andy Griffith left the series. On a personal level, I met Lindsey back in the 1990s as part of the research I did on a book I authored about The Andy Griffith Show. We met in a small Ohio town where Lindsay was appearing at a fan event. He told me he was often frustrated at being typecast as Goober, as it basically diluted his opportunities to show off his dramatic talents. However, he acknowledged that he was humbled and honored that the character brought so much joy to audiences for so many years. He also said it helped him maintain a successful career, as he made countless appearances every year as Goober. I recall we went with a group of people to a restaurant, but because we lacked reservations, we had been turned away. Lindsey said he would handle the situation. He disappeared to speak with the hostess and returned to tell us we now had a table. He attributed this to his ability to "Gooberize" people, that is, turn on the corn pone country charm. Lindsey was a charming man in real life and a talent whose diversity in acting styles was often overlooked. Nevertheless, he remains an iconic figure in the great era of 60s TV. For more click here
Character actor William Finley passed away earlier this week at age 71. Finley, who lived in Manhattan, made relatively few appearances in films and on TV, but nevertheless had built a loyal following because some of his movies became cult classics. He is closely associated with director Brian De Palma, for whom he built sets on his early short film, Woton's Wake in 1962. De Palma and Finley's friendship endured and they collaborated on many of the director's films as De Palma rose to fame in Hollywood. Finley's biggest break was being cast in the title role of Phantom of the Paradise, De Palma's 1974 take on Phantom of the Opera with a rock 'n roll spin. Finley also appeared in such films as Sisters, Silent Rage, The Black Daliah, The Fury, The Funhouse and Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive. To read New York Times obituary, click here
Canadian actor Jonathan Frid has died at age 87. He passed away last week, but news was just made public. Frid became an enduring symbol of 60s pop culture due to his portrayal of charismatic vampire Barnabas Collins in the cult soap opera Dark Shadows. Frid's character was said to have saved a failing show when it was introduced in 1967. The series ran until 1971, but is arguably more popular than ever today with fan conventions, DVD editions and a big screen, comedic version starring Johnny Depp due to hit theaters next month. (Frid has a cameo in the film.) Frid never seemed bothered by the fact that his entire screen career was centered on the Collins character and he expressed contentment that his work resonated over multiple generations. For more click here
The man described as the ageless teenager is no more. Dick Clark has passed away at age 82 after suffering a massive heart attack. Clark had been in poor health for years, suffering from the aftermath of a stroke as well as diabetes. Clark helped turn rock 'n roll from a fad into a global phenomenon, primarily by showcasing recording stars on his hit series American Bandstand. Over the decades, he became an icon of the international entertainment industry, though most of his achievements were done in the boardroom, not in front of TV cameras. He created and produced hit game shows and even pioneered the concept of turning New Years Eve entertainment into an event that appealed to young people worldwide. Prior to Clark, the New Years Eve programming consisted of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian orchestra performing at the Waldorf Astoria. Despite turning the hosting of the annual event over to Ryan Seacrest years ago, Clark made brief appearances to usher in the new year. His last such appearance was this past New Year's Eve. Clark also dabbled in feature films, starring in Because They're Young and The Young Doctors in the early 60s. He also produced some exploitation films including biker movies. For more click here
Film producer Martin Poll has died at age 89. Poll started in the film industry producing Flash Gordon shorts in Europe before moving to New York and renovating the old Biograph Studio and renaming them Gold Medal Studios. For a time, the facility was very successful and became known as the largest film production facility outside of Hollywood. However, it was as a producer that Poll found his greatest success, including his classic film adaptation of The Lion in Winter. The acclaimed 1968 film, directed by Anthony Harvey, won an Oscar for Katharine Hepburn. Other film credits include The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, The Possession of Joel Delaney, Night Watch, Nighthawks, Love and Death and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. Poll also served as commissioner of motion picture arts for New York City. For more click here
The headline may sound like a joke but it's anything but. Famed Hollywood publicist Michael Sands has died after tasting some beef in a local supermarket. His death, which occurred on March 26, but details have only just been revealed. The Wrap's coverage shows that Sands' life was as bizarre and colorful as his death: high profile clients, an obsession with self-promotion, and his strange claims to have served as a secret agent for the U.S. government. Click here to read
Surtees with director Don Siegel shooting Coogan's Bluff in New York, 1968.
Bruce Surtees, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, passed away in late February at age 74. Surtees was the son of another acclaimed cinematographer, Robert Surtees. His penchant for shooting in low-light conditions earned him the nick name "The Prince of Darkness", but he was championed by director Don Siegel and his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood. He would work on numerous films with these Hollywood legends including Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz. Surtees earned an Oscar nomination for his superb B&W cinematography on the 1974 film Lenny. Surtees also did the cinematography on John Wayne's last film, The Shootist. For more click here
Richard and Robert Sherman on the set of Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
Song writer Robert B. Sherman has passed away in London at age 86. Sherman and his brother Richard worked as a team to create some of most memorable film songs of all time including the Disney classics "Chim Chim Cher-ee", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "A Spoonful of Sugar". They also wrote the song "It's a Small World (After All)" for the legendary Disney theme park ride. The Sherman brothers also wrote the songs for the classic 1968 musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and worked on the recent stage production of the film. Sherman also created memorable songs for such hit Disney films as "The Jungle Book", "The Parent Trap", "The Gnome Mobile" and "The Happiest Millionaire". He was nominated for nine Oscars and won two for "Mary Poppins". In 2008, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush. For more and clips from his top films click here
Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones of The Monkees.
Singer/actor Davy Jones of the 1960s pop group The Monkees has died in Florida at age 66. Jones began his career as young actor in British TV series including Coronation Street and Z Cars. He flirted with the notion of becoming a jockey but ended up playing with Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith as the group The Monkees, which took the world by storm in 1966 through their popular TV series. The group broke up in 1971 but has successfully reunited for tours several times since then, though Nesmith was generally not involved. Jones also continued to perform his solo act and was scheduled to hold a concert at the end of March. For more click here
Howard Kissel, the respected chief theater critic for the New York Daily News, has died from complications with a liver transplant at age 69. Kissel did not have the acerbic personality of some other legendary theater critics such as Frank Rich and John Simon but his influence carried considerable weight. He reviewed the Broadway scene for the Daily News for two decades. He also served as Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle. His books included a scathing biography of the legendary show producer David Merrick, witty titled by Kissel as 'The Abominable Showman'. Kissel also appeared as Woody Allen's manager in the 1980 film Stardust Memories.Click here for more
Dory Previn, who scored Oscar nominations for writing songs from the motion pictures Pepe and Two for the Seesaw, has died at age 86. She once enjoyed a prolific writing partnership with her husband, Andre Previn, with whom she wrote the hit title song from Valley of the Dolls. However, when she learned of Andre's affair with Mia Farrow, the two divorced. She had other failed marriages and bouts of mental illness but continued to write acclaimed music that included the theme song to the 1973 film Last Tango in Paris. For more click here
The beloved and acclaimed Irish character actor David Kelly has died at age 82. Among his memorable screen roles were appearances in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Waking Ned Devine, in which he rode s9ymdb:5579 through the Irish countryside naked on a motorcycle. He also appeared in countless British TV series beginning in the 1950s. For more click here
Whitney Houston, who once seemed to have an unstoppable career as a chart-topping singer and popular actress, has died at age 48. Houston's career plummeted after a destructive marriage to singer Bobby Brown characterized by the couple's high profile battles and reports of spousal abuse. Houston also found it impossible to stay away from dangerous drugs that may have contributed to her death. For more click here
Zalman King, who left a successful acting career to become a triple threat director, producer and writer, has died from cancer at age 70. King is best known for specializing in high end soft-core erotica. He produced the successful 1990s cable TV series Red Shoe Diaries and also wrote and produced the kinky theatrical hit film 9 1/2 Weeks in 1986 starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. Other controversial hit films include Wild Orchid and New Moon Junction. For more click here
John Rich (right) with producer Norman Lear, 1973.
This almost escaped us but reader Bill Parisho alerted us that Emmy winning director John Rich died on January 30 at age 86. Rich was lauded for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, Gunsmoke, Gilligan's Island, Barney Miller and other beloved programs. Rich also directed Elvis Presley in the feature films Easy Come, Easy Go. For more click here
Ben Gazzara at Cinema Retro's dinner for Robert Vaughn at New York's Players club, 2009. (Photo by Tom Stroud)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Ben Gazzara, who was born in poverty in a New York slum and rose to be a major star of stage and screen, has succumbed to cancer at age 81. Gazzara was part of a new generation of method actors that emerged in the 1950s and he studied at the fabled Actors Studio under the direction of Lee Strasberg in the company of other up-and-coming stars as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Paul Newman. The competitiveness of that talented group often meant that roles created by one actor later proved to be star-making vehicles for another actor. For example, it was Gazzara who originated the role of Brick, the hunk who is confused about his own sexuality in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, earning one of three Tony nominations Gazzara would achieve in his career. However, it was Newman who was cast in the hit big screen version of the play. Nevertheless, Gazzara did find stardom in Hollywood through acclaimed performances in films such as The Strange One and Anatomy of a Murder. In the mid-1960s he earned two Emmy nominations for his lead role in the series Run For Your Life in which he played a terminally ill rich man determined to live his life's dreams before the end comes.
Gazzara also became part of John Cassavetes' group of friends and actors who appeared in his off-beat art house movies such as Husbands, Opening Night and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He also had the starring role in Peter Bogdanovich's acclaimed film Saint Jack. Gazzara also appeared in major entertainment productions such as The Bridge at Remagen, Convicts 4, They All Laughed, The Neptune Factor and the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. He also starred in the infamous Korean War epic Inchon, a major flop that caused controversy when it was revealed that it had been financed by the scandal-plagued Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
On a personal level, I would sometimes run into Gazzara at New York's Players club, where we were both members. Several years ago, the club hosted a black tie event in his honor and Gazzara came to the podium holding his beloved dog that he took literally everywhere he went. Suffering from cancer of the mouth, he nonetheless spoke eloquently and displayed his characteristic wit. A couple of years later, we invited him to speak at a similar dinner that Cinema Retro hosted in honor of his old friend Robert Vaughn. Gazzara told some fascinating stories about how he and Vaughn had to literally use cloak and dagger methods to escape from Czechoslovakia during the filming of The Bridge at Remagen when the Soviets invaded Prague in 1968.
Ben Gazzara was a "actor's actor"- the kind of talent that is not easy to replicate and we join the members of his profession in mourning his passing.
Willliamson as Little John with Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976)
Scottish actor Nicol Williamson has died from cancer at age 73. He was regarded as one of the finest actors to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s, but his disdain for his own profession led him to go into self-imposed retirement in favor of working on musical projects. Playwright John Osborne said he was the finest actor since Brando. Nominated for numerous Tony Awards and BAFTAs, Williamson was regarded by many as the greatest Hamlet of his time. However, his thorny temperament and disposition became legendary and he famously walked off stage at a 1969 performance of the play, apologizing to the audience for his performance. His work was largely confined to the theater, but he did make some major films including Excalibur, Robin and Marian and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. He lived for the last twenty years in Amsterdam. For more click here
Actor James Farentino died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 73 following a lengthy illness. Farentino's good looks and charisma made him a star on the rise in the 1960s and he appeared in numerous films and TV series in recurring roles or as a guest. He also co-starred in the hit series The Bold Ones. His success in feature films was more erratic but he did land occasional prominent roles in films like Me, Natalie and in the sci-fi Pearl Harbor-themed hit The Final Countdown. Farentino lead a tumultuous personal life that saw him married four times. In 1994, his career went into a greater nosedive when he pleaded no contest to stalking ex-wife Tina Sinatra, youngest daughter of Frank Sinatra. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to get psychiatric care. Farantino admitted that his behavior was often appalling and led to him being marginalized to "D" grade movie hell. For more clickhere
Movie fans may be startled to learn that Cheetah, the legendary chimpanzee who acted as Tarzan's sidekick, has died at age 80. That's right, the chimp who put simians on the boxoffice charts long before Planet of the Apes was ever envisioned, was still with us until last week. He lived a life of relative luxury. Cheetah first appeared in the Tarzan films of the 1930s with Johnny Weismuller, who looked after his furry friend until 1960 when he donated him to an animal preserve where he lived out his days in style. For more click here
Robert Easton's name may not be familiar to the public but for decades he has been the "go-to" guy for prominent actors who needed to master the art of speaking in different dialects. Easton started out as a character actor but feared that his southern accent would keep him typecast as hillbillies. He began to study regional accents and foreign languages and discovered he had an uncanny knack for not only mastering them, but for teaching them as well. In short order, he became a real life Henry Higgins, teaching such diverse talents as Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall, Robert Vaughn, Anne Hathaway and Forest Whitaker. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, he completed working with John Travolta on a project. Easton died this week of undisclosed causes at age 81. All the while, Easton worked as a supporting player and appeared in dozens of prominent films and TV series beginning in the early 1950s. Ironically, while Easton had initially wanted to avoid being typecast as eccentric country characters, he adopted just such a look in real life, sporting a long mane of white hair and a Moses-type beard. Click here to read about his remarkable career.
Alan Sues, a regular on the ground-breaking Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In series, has died at age 85. Although Sues never officially said he was gay at the time, he was one of the first mainstream performers to proudly portray effeminate characters on mainstream TV shows. By 1968, when Laugh-In premiered, societal values were radically changing, allowing Sues and other cast members to be themselves. Sues specialized in playing flamboyant characters including Uncle Al, the Kiddies' Pal, a drunken and rude host of a children's TV show. Sues' personality fit well into the "anything goes" mix of the Laugh-In jokes and crazy characters. He stayed with the show through 1972. He also appeared in classic TV series such as The Wild, Wild West and The Twilight Zone. He played Prof. Moriarty in the acclaimed 1975 Broadway production of Sherlock Holmes. Click here for more.
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.
Happier times: Manes with Eastwood on the set of Any Which You Can (1980) prior to the severing of their friendship.
Fritz Manes, a boyhood school friend of Clint Eastwood who would later produce many of the actor's hit films of the 1970s and 1980s, has died at age 79. Manes was a Korean War veteran who was hired by Eastwood's Malpaso Productions in the mid 1970s. He served variously as producer, associate producer or executive producer on major films such as Escape From Alcatraz, Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way You Can, Pale Rider, Firefox, Honkytonk Man, Sudden Impact, Tightrope and others. Manes would occasionally appear in cameo roles and perform stunts in the films, as well. He and Eastwood had their friendship severed when the two collaborated on the 1986 film Heartbreak Ridge, a fictionalized version of the U.S. invasion of Granada. Eastwood had wanted Manes to ensure that the film had the full backing of the U.S Marine Corps and Department of Defense, especially since it capitalized on the wave of patriotism that defined the Reagan era. However, both the Marines and Department of Defense publicly disavowed the movie, leading Eastwood to fire Manes. Later, Manes accused Eastwood of being power-crazed and reluctant to share credit for anything. Eastwood responded by saying that Manes had failed to perform the duties that had been expected of him. For more click here
Cilento and Connery with their son Jason in the 1960s: happiness would be short-lived in the tumultuous marriage.
Australian actress Diane Cilento has died at age 79. The multi-talented actress had already won acclaim for her work on stage when she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the 1963 classic Tom Jones. Cilento divorced her first husband to marry Sean Connery in 1962-the year his first James Bond movie premiered. With Connery's rise to international superstar, the couple could not cope with the fame and constant intrusions on their private lives. The marriage ended after 12 years and Cilento married acclaimed playwright Anthony Shaffer. She also had a second career as an author. Among her most memorable films are The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Wicker Man and Hombre. For more click here
Charles Napier, the talented character actor who appeared in such diverse films as The Blues Brothers, the Austin Powers series, the films of sexploitation king Russ Meyer and Philadelphia, has passed away at age 75. For more click here
John Calley, the low-key, much beloved producer and studio head, died earlier this week at age 81. Calley was a true American success story. He worked his way up from the NBC mail room and ultimately held leader ship positions at Warner Brothers, United Artists and Sony. Additionally, he produced an eclectic slate of important motion pictures including The Loved One, The Cincinnati Kid, Castle Keep, Ice Station Zebra, Topkapi, The Americanization Of Emily, and Catch-22. Calley played a pivotal role in green lighting the return of the James Bond franchise after a six-year absence with the smash hit GoldenEye in 1995. Click here for more
Oscar winning actor Cliff Robertson has died at age 88. He passed away a day after his birthday. Robertson had a long and illustrious career that began in the golden days of television and extended to the Spiderman movies of recent years. Although he generally played quiet, dignified characters, Robertson marched to his own drumbeat- a trait that earned him respect but that also damaged aspects of his career. In 1977 when he was still very much an in-demand leading man, Robertson ignored advice to hush up a scandal that involved the head of Columbia Pictures, David Begelman, who had utilized Robertson's name in a bizarre check forging scandal. Begelman was momentarily disgraced, payed a small fine and was later rewarded for his crime by being appointed as the head of MGM. Meanwhile, Robertson found his own career went into immediate decline. He had been virtually blacklisted by the good old boy network that controlled the studios. Nevertheless, he had no regrets because he always put principal before his own career.
Robertson's good looks combined with his abilities to play dramatic roles as well as light romantic comedies made him a hot commodity in the industry by the early 1960s. Yet he had to endure the frustration of seeing roles he won acclaim for on TV go to other actors when the stories were brought to the big screen. One such case was The Days of Wine and Roses for which Jack Lemmon played the role Robertson had introduced too audiences in the TV version. Determined not to let that happen again, Robertson bought the rights to the story Flowers for Algernon, in which he played a mentally challenged adult in the TV adaptation. The moving story followed the man as he undergoes a medical experiment that sees his intellect rise to that of a genius- with unexpectedly tragic results. Robertson spent years nurturing a big screen version that was released in 1968 as Charly. He won the Best Actor Oscar against all odds during an era in which playing handicapped people was considered to be a career faux pas. He was not able to attend the ceremony because director Robert Aldrich would not let him leave the Philippines locations for Too Late the Hero.
His career got a major boost in 1963 when he starred as John F. Kennedy in Warner Brothers' P.T. 109 which told the story of the future president's heroic WWII exploits. Kennedy personally chose Robertson for the role. Among his other major films were Picnic, Sunday in New York, Obsession, The Best Man, Too Late the Hero, The Devil's Brigade, 633 Squadron and the recent Spiderman movies in which he played the role of Uncle Ben. He also directed the acclaimed 1972 film J.W. Coop about an aging rodeo star.
Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer (L), Cliff Robertson and Steve Thompson at Robertson's Long Island home.
Robertson was one of those leading men who made everything look too easy. Consequently, his contributions to the industry have often been overlooked. On a personal level, I have great memories of the man. In the early days of Cinema Retro Cliff was one of the first major stars to enthusiastically support us. His friend and publicist Steve Thompson and I spent a day at his house at Water Mill, New York on Long Island where he regaled us with wonderful stories. Some were moving, some were amusing and some were shocking (these we promised to never publish). We published his memories of making Charly in issue #4- but we fortunately still have many more of his stories from those interviews that we can print in future issues to honor the legacy of this gracious and talented man.
Like all lovers of classic movies, we deeply mourn his passing.
Hawaii Five-0's classic title sequence was the work of Reza Badiyi.
You may not know the name Reza Badiyi, but if you're a baby boomer, you grew up on his work. Badiyi was a director of many TV series but was primarily known for his classic opening title sequences for such series as Get Smart and Hawaii Five-0. The latter helped pioneer the fast cutting techniques that epitomize today's style of editing. The brilliant opening sequence, set to Morton Stevens' classic main title theme, still thrills fans of the show today. Sadly, many contemporary TV series don't even have opening title credits or ending credits, either. They've been sacrificed to squeeze in an interminable amount of advertisements. Click here for more and to view the Hawaii Five-0 title sequence. (Thanks to reader Bill Parisho for the head's up).
Jimmy Sangster interviewed at the National Film Theatre by Hammer film scholar and author Marcus Hearn. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro)
Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some of the finest Hammer horror film classics, passed away over the weekend. He was a good friend to Cinema Retro, providing our magazine with many wonderful anecdotes about his long career. In 2008, Jimmy invited Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer, Dave Worrall and John Exshaw to a special tribute held for him at the National Film Theatre in London. Sangster was in rare form and delighted the packed house with his memories of working on so many great films. Click here to read John Exshaw's 2008 report from the event. Like all movie fans, we deeply mourn the passing of this remarkable talent.
Spradlin gave a memorable performance in his brief appearance in Apocalypse Now.
Character actor G.D. Spradlin, who portrayed gruff, no-nonsense tough guys, died last week at the age of 90. Spradlin had a a commanding screen presence and his most memorable roles include a corrupt U.S. senator in The Godfather Part II and the U.S. Army general who sends Captain Willard on his secret mission to kill Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. For more click here
Most people think of Ursula Andress as the first on-screen James Bond girl. In fact, eight years before Andress made her memorable entrance in the 1962 007 film Dr. No, actress Linda Christian portrayed the femme fatale in the 1954 live CBS one-hour TV version of Casino Royale that starred Barry Nelson as "Card Sense" Jimmy Bond. Christian had been a contract player for MGM and was once married to screen heartthrob Tyrone Power. She passed away this week after a battle with cancer at age 87. For more click here
Schwartz was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.
Producer Sherwood Schwartz has died at age 94. Schwartz started off as a writer during the Golden Age of television and graduated to developing and producing his own shows. His most notable successes were Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. Both were disdained by critics but were popular during their initial runs and became even more so in syndication. He is survived by his wife of 70 years. Click here for more
Acclaimed British actress Anna Massey, the daughter of actor Raymond Massey, has passed away at age 73. Widely respected in England for her many costume dramas on British TV, Massey is best known to American audiences for her roles in two classic films about serial killers: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, in which she played the ill-fated barmaid Babs. Massey overcame many obstacles and crisis in her personal life including battling anorexia and a tumultuous marriage to actor Jeremy Brett. Massey was awarded a CBE title in 2004. For more click here
(For coverage of the making of Peeping Tom, see issue #20 of Cinema Retro)
Peter Falk, the iconic actor of stage, screen and television, died yesterday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83 years old and had been battling Alzheimer's Disease. Falk created a legendary persona that served him well: that of the inarticulate street guy. He also had a physical abnormality that he made work to his advantage: since the age of 3, he had a glass eye. Despite the fact that he rode to success playing rough, street-wise characters, he was actually highly educated. He earned a master's degree and did not enter acting until the relatively late age of 29. He found almost immediate success and appeared in acclaimed New York stage productions of classic plays by Arthur Miller and Paddy Chayefsky, among others. Falk also found a welcome reception in Hollywood, often playing gangsters. He scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination of Murder, Inc in 1960 and would be nominated again for playing a tough guy in Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles. He also played a memorable and funny gangster in the Rat Pack musical Robin and the 7 Hoods.
In 1967 Falk's career shifted into high gear when he accepted the role of Lt. Columbo for an NBC 90 minute mystery movie titled Prescription: Murder. The role that would come to define him was originally written as a mainstream law enforcement official and had originally been offered to both Bing Crosby and Lee J. Cobb. However, it was Falk who embellished Lt. Columbo by making him off-center, a rumpled, seemingly stupid man who actually always outwitted his more educated opponents. In general, Columbo specialized in taking down elitest criminals who had a sense of intellectual superiority. When the character was revived three years later as a recurring series of 90 minute mystery movies on NBC, the show attracted a Who's Who of big name guest stars, each of whom was eager to be bested onscreen by Columbo. Falk would go on to play the character on and off through 2003. Falk would be nominated an astonishing 12 times for Emmy awards, winning five times. Most of the nominations and and wins were related to Columbo.
Falk's other prominent feature films include It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Anzio, The Brinks Job, The Princess Bride, The In-Laws, The Cheap Detective, Murder by Death, The Great Race and Castle Keep. He also collaborated with John Cassavetes on several acclaimed films including Husbands and A Woman Uner the Influence.
Actor James Arness, who starred as Matt Dillon in the legendary CBS TV show Gunsmoke, has died of natural causes at age 88. Arness was a WWII veteran who was wounded in action. After the war he tried several diverse careers before drifting into acting. He made numerous feature films and played the titular role in Howard Hawks' classic 1950 sci-fi film The Thing. He befriended John Wayne and co-starred with him in several feature films before starring in Gunsmoke beginning in 1955. With his muscular physique and tall frame, Arness became an immediate heartthrob. The show was an instant hit and ran for twenty years. When CBS threatened to cancel it, a grass roots protest campaign on behalf of fans succeeded in convincing the network to renew the show. Arness returned to TV in the 1970s in How the West Was Won and in the 1980s cop show McLain's Law. Arness survived his brother, actor Peter Graves, who also soared to fame on a CBS series, the long-running Misson:Impossible. For more click here
Joseph Brooks, the Oscar and Grammy winning producer, director, screenwriter and composer, was found dead today of an apparent suicide. Brooks was in poor health and about to stand trial on charges that he lured women for acting auditions, drugged them and then raped them. Brooks had plead innocent to the charges. In 1977, Brooks was the creative force behind You Light Up My Life, a low-budget romance that was cleverly marketed around a title song that won him and Oscar and a Grammy. The film was also a major hit, but Brooks' follow-up efforts never repeated the success. Ironically, Brooks son Nicholas is also in legal trouble, charged with murdering his girlfriend. For more click here
Dana Wynter, the stunning beauty who played the female lead in the 1956 science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers has died from congestive heart failure. She was 79 years-old. Wynter's career escalated after appearing the film, which was directed by Don Siegel. She routinely dismissed theories that the movie was a criticism of McCarthyism, saying they only wanted to tell a good yarn. Wynter's other major films include Sink the Bismarck, D-Day: The Sixth of June, The List of Adrian Messenger and Airport. After the release of the latter film in 1970, Wynter concentrated on raising a family, though she did appear as a guest star in many TV series during the 1980s and 1990s. For more click here
Arthur Laurents, the cantankerous but brilliant writer, producer and director, has died at age 93. Among his greatest successes were the "books" or stories he wrote for the classic Broadway productions of Gypsy and West Side Story. Laurents remained active in the Broadway community, bringing revivals of both plays to the stage in recent years and updating them to make it possible for modern audiences to better relate to the storylines. Laurents was a progressive who used his talents to denounce prejudice and political witch hunts. His play Home of the Brave was turned into one of the first successful movies to deal with issues of prejudice in the U.S. military. His 1973 smash hit movie romance The Way We Were also had a backdrop set against the McCarthy hearings. Laurents' stage musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale provided a teenaged Barbra Streisand with a star-making role. Among Laurents' other major successes: the screenplays for Anastasia and Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. For more click here
Actor Jackie Cooper has died at age 88. Cooper gained fame as a child star working for Hal Roach in the Our Gang comedy shorts. He later frequently starred in feature films with Wallace Beery, including the original screen version of The Champ. At age 9 in 1931, he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Skippy. Cooper was one of the select few child actors who successfully maintained his acting career into adulthood. In the 1950s he starred in two popular TV series, The People's Choice and Hennessey. Cooper had a late career boost when he played newspaper editor Perry White in the Warner Brothers Superman movies. Click here for more
Actress and former Playboy Playmate Yvette Vickers has been found dead in her Beverly Hills home. She was 82 years old. Vickers had kept to herself so neighbors did not notice her absence until a year after she apparently died of natural causes. A neighbor broke into her home after noticing signs of neglect on the property and discovered her body, which was so badly decomposed she was unrecognizable. Vickers gained her primary fame from the 1958 B science fiction classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Her image from the movie poster as the titular character became an iconic part of American pop culture. Stardom didn't follow, however, although Vickers did continue to work in small parts in feature films and on TV. Click here for more
Marie-France Pisier, the acclaimed French film star, has died at age 66. Her husband found her dead in their swimming pool. Cause of death is unknown but foul play is not suspected. Pisier began working in films at as a teenager with the legendary Francois Truffaut, with whom she had a brief affair. She and Truffaut would work together again, with Pisier playing the same character- Colette. She rode to stardom as part of the French "New Wave" cinema in the 1960s and appeared in acclaimed films like Cousin Cousin, Cousine and Phantom of Liberty. Pisier won two Cesar awards (the French Oscar) for supporting actress, but attempts to emerge a star in the American cinema were not successful. Her most prominent role was in the 1977 film The Other Side of Midnight, a big budget, sex-packed soap opera that was a hit with audiences but was disdained by critics. For more click here
Actor Michael Sarrazin, whose star rose in the 1960s, has died after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. The charismatic and handsome Sarrazin found stardom almost as soon as he entered the film business, with a prominent co-starring role with George C. Scott in the 1967 comedy The Flim Flam Man. Other prominent roles in the 60s and 70s included The Sweet Ride, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, For Pete's Sake, Sometimes a Great Notion, The Gumball Rally and most prominently, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Sarrazin was said to have been the first choice for the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, but Jon Voight ultimately rode to stardom in the role. Sarrazin's career went into decline by the late 1970s but he continued to work in low-budget films and on television. Click here for more