Alex Rocco, whose hard scrabble life on the streets of Boston prepared him to successfully play crime figures in films and on television, has died from pancreatic cancer at age 79. During his youth, Rocco ran with the notorious Winter Hill Gang, which was founded by the infamous Whitey Bulger. His association with the gang led him to be incarcerated as well as being suspected of having driven a getaway car used in a murder. At one point, his first wife was almost killed when a bomb exploded in a car she was driving. Rocco, who was born Alexander Petricone Jr, took the stage name of "Rocco" on a whim when he saw a bakery truck bearing the Rocco name on it. Fearing that his associations of the Boston mob would lead to his demise, he spontaneously decided to move to Hollywood. He took an acting class that was taught by Leonard Nimoy, who gave him valuable advice that led to some successful roles. Rocco's biggest break came with his performance as Moe Greene, the ill-fated Las Vegas casino owner who is marked for death by Michael Corleone in "The Godfather". Rocco's role was brief but he gave a commanding and memorable performance and his dialogue from the film is still widely quoted by movie fans. More roles followed but Rocco found himself typecast as mob wiseguys until he switched his talents to comedic roles in the 1980s. He won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the acclaimed but short-lived TV series "The Famous Teddy Z". That opened plenty of doors and Rocco remained a popular character actor throughout his career. He also appeared in "The Facts of Life" TV series that ran for nine seasons. Other film credits include "The Friends of Eddie Coyle", "Freebie and the Bean", "The Stunt Man" and "The Wedding Planner". For more click here.
Theodore Bikel, who played Captain Von Trapp in the original 1959 stage production of The Sound of Music, has died from natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 91 years old. Bikel was Austrian by birth but his father moved the family to Palestine (later Israel) in the wake of the Nazi anschuluss. Bikel always had an interest in the arts and took up acting and folk singing. He emigrated to London in 1946 where he made a name in stage productions. He later went to Hollywood and made his big screen debut in 1954. He found immediate success and over the years appeared in such films as The African Queen, I Want to Live!, My Fair Lady and The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!. He received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones. Bikel also appeared in many classic TV series, all the while keeping his strong ties to the stage. He starred in over 2,000 performances of Fiddler on the Roof. He recorded dozens of albums of folk songs and was very tied to promoting Jewish culture and heritage. He was also a political activist throughout his life. An interesting side note: Bikel unsuccessfully screen tested for the role of Auric Goldfinger in the classic 1964 007 film. (The part eventually went to Gert Frobe). When my co-producers and I unearthed the screen test footage in the mid-1990s, Bikel was gracious enough to allow us to you use it our documentary The Making of Goldfinger. Not many actors would have been secure enough to willingly expose their unsuccessful screen test to millions of viewers, but Bikel did and for that this writer will always be personally grateful to him.
Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor who broke through barriers to become a major international star, has died in Cairo from a heart attack at age 83. In recent months, he had been battling the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Sharif and Peter O'Toole were virtual unknowns when they were cast as the leads by director David Lean in his 1962 masterpiece "Lawrence of Arabia". Both received Oscar nominations for the film and went on to become two of the biggest stars to emerge in the 1960s. Sharif reunited with Lean for another blockbuster, the 1965 production of "Doctor Zhivago" in which Sharif played the title role. He also co-starred with Barbra Streisand in her Oscar-winning 1968 film "Funny Girl" and appeared with her in the 1975 sequel "Funny Lady". Other prominent films Sharif appeared in during the 1960s include Samuel Bronston's ill-fated but underrated "The Fall of the Roman Empire", "Behold a Pale Horse", the star-packed production of "The Yellow Rolls Royce", "The Night of the Generals" (with Peter O'Toole), "Mayerling", "More Than a Miracle" and "Genghis Khan". Two his career missteps occurred in films he made in 1969: the critically lambasted "Che!" in which he played communist revolutionary Che Guevara and "MacKenna's Gold", a bloated Western that is more remembered for its poor rear screen projection shots than its magnificent landscapes. During the 1970s Sharif made some good films that were underrated ("The Last Valley", "The Horsemen", "The Burglars", "Juggernaut") and quite a few forgettable ones. As his boxoffice popularity went into decline, he began to appear in more obscure films or play small roles in larger productions. He increasingly concentrated on his real passion: perfecting his game of bridge. In fact, Sharif was regarded as a world-class player and wrote a syndicated newspaper column regarding techniques for playing the game. For more click here.
Macnee with Honor Blackman in an early episode of The Avengers.
The distinguished British actor Patrick Macnee has passed away at age 93. Macnee personified the "typical" English gentleman in scores of films and TV appearances. He rose to fame as John Steed, the star of "The Avengers", the iconic TV series from the 1960s. He initially co-starred with Honor Blackman, then later Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. He starred in "The New Avengers" in 1976. Macnee's also had a thriving career as a character actor in feature films. He appeared as young Jacob Marley in the classic 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol", as well as such diverse fare as "The Sea Wolves" , director Joe Dante's "The Howling" and spoofs such as "Young Doctors in Love" and "This is Spinal Tap". Macnee co-starred with his old friend Roger Moore in the 1985 James Bond film "A View to a Kill". He also appeared as the head of U.N.C.L.E. in the 1983 TV movie "Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E". Educated at Eton, Macnee possessed a dry wit and a charming personality. His 1988 autobiography was titled "Blind in One Ear". For more click here.
Jack Rollins, who along with his partner, the late Charles H. Joffe, had produced all of Woody Allen's films between 1969 and 1993, has died at age 100. Rollins and Joffe also served as Allen's manager. Rollins had also managed Robin Williams, Diane Keaton and Dick Cavett, among other show business notables. Rollins and Joffe were hired by Allen when he was an aspiring young filmmaker. They saw more potential in him than he saw in himself. Allen said of Rollins, "He pushed me to always be deeper, more complex, more human, more dramatic- and not to rest comfortably". Indeed, with Rollins and Joffe as his managers, Allen progressed from making popular, slapstick-oriented films to writing and directing some of the most acclaimed films in recent decades, winning Oscars for his efforts. Upon hearing of Rollins' death, Allen said "He was one of the very few people in my life who lived up to the hype about him. All the stories about how great Jack Rollins was are true." For more click here.
Family, friends and colleagues are mourning the death of Oscar-winning film composer James Horner who died yesterday when his single engine airplane crashed 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California. Horner was piloting the plane and there were no passengers. It is not immediately known what caused the tragic accident. Horner won the Oscar for his score for the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster "Titanic". He was also nominated for Cameron's "Aliens" and "Avatar" as well as "Braveheart", "A Beautiful Mind", "An American Tail", "Field of Dreams", "Apollo 13" and "House of Sand and Fog". The 61 year-old composer's other scores include "Glory", "Patriot Games", two "Star Trek" feature films and the 1990 Disney film "The Rocketeer". He was working on the score for Cameron's sequels to "Avatar" at the time of his death. For more click here.
Dick Van Patten, the popular comedic character actor, has passed away at age 86. Patten was a child actor who eventually went on to perform in 30 Broadway shows. He also proved to be a popular presence on early TV shows such as "I Remember Mama". In the 1970s, he appeared on "The Love Boat" and a decade later had a hit show with "Eight is Enough". More recently, he co-starred on "Hot in Cleveland". Van Patten also made any number of hit feature films including such diverse fare as the Clint Eastwood western "Joe Kidd" and three movies with Mel Brooks: "High Anxiety", "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights". For more, click here.
Moody as Fagin with Mark Lester as Oliver Twist and Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There is an old adage that says bad things happen in "threes". That seemed to be the case when it came to distinguished British actors in the past week. On the heels of news that both Richard Johnson and Sir Christopher Lee had passed away comes notice that Ron Moody has also died. He was 91 years old. Moody was undoubtedly the least famous of these three gentlemen but he was no less talented. He originated the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's classic stage musical, "Oliver!", based on the Dickens classic "Oliver Twist". Moody won kudos for his role as the charismatic con man and head of a London gang that employed young boys as pickpockets. He was astonished when he was chosen to play the lead in the 1968 film version, directed by Carol Reed. Moody's name recognition was practically zero to film audiences but his brilliant performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor as well as a Golden Globe. He would later say that he made some career mistakes in the aftermath of his triumph in the film. He was too selective about follow-up projects and, although he continued to act in feature films and popular TV series, it was mostly in supporting roles. A rare exception was having the lead in Mel Brooks' 1970 comedy "The Twelve Chairs". He also regretted turning down the role of Doctor Who. Nevertheless, Moody was by all accounts an upbeat person who relished time with his family and thoroughly enjoyed his profession. For more click here. For a tribute from his "Oliver!" co-star Mark Lester, click here.
Artist Jeff Marshall created this tribute to Sir Christopher Lee, which was presented to him by Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Sir Christopher Lee, the acclaimed British actor, passed away last Sunday in London. He was 93 years old. The family waited to make the announcement until all family members could be notified. Lee was an early contributor to Cinema Retro magazine and periodically provided interviews and personal insights into the making of his films. We, along with movie lovers everywhere, mourn his loss. Lee was more often than not associated with the horror film genre, a fact that often frustrated him. He would routinely point out that he made many diverse films and played many diverse roles in movies of all genres, from comedies to westerns. For many years he was most closely associated with the films of Hammer studios, the British production firm that revitalized the horror film genre in the 1950s. Lee starred in seemingly countless Hammer productions, often appearing opposite another British film legend, his friend and colleague Peter Cushing. In the late 1950s, the two co-starred in the first color version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (released in America under the title of "Horror of Dracula"). The film, which was controversial because of its use of sex and violence, was nevertheless a major hit and spawned numerous other Hammer appearances with Lee as Dracula. He would later tell Cinema Retro that he did some of them reluctantly because the quality of the scripts had deteriorated over time. In one film, he found the dialogue was so poor that he insisted that the play the role without speaking. Nevertheless, the films remained popular and added to Lee's status as a legend of the modern horror film genre. In 1962, Lee was proposed to play the villain Dr. No in the first James Bond movie by Ian Fleming himself (the two were distant relatives.) Lee was not available and the role went to Joseph Wiseman. However, in 1974, Lee was cast as the Bond villain Scaramanga opposite Roger Moore in "The Man With the Golden Gun." In 1973, he starred in the original version of "The Wicker Man" playing a larger than life villain that became legendary in cult film circles. The film was not a hit on initial release but over the decades has been considered as a classic of British cinema. Lee's extraordinary achievements were often overlooked because he also appeared in many films that were low-budget and sub-standard. However, he brought grace and dignity to every role he played. As the years passed, he found he had outlived most of his contemporaries. Of the other great horror icons he knew, he once lamented to this writer "I'm the last one left". He said he particularly missed Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, both of whom he considered to be among the most fascinating people he knew. He said that they would often speak by phone and had a long-running gag in which they would try to deceive each other by posing as a crank caller.
Christopher Lee with Cinema Retro publishers Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer, years before the start of the magazine. The photo was taken at the offices of Eon Productions in London where Lee was signing some limited edition Bond lithographs by artist Jeff Marshall.
Christopher Lee saw a resurgence of appreciation for his talents from a younger generation of filmmakers who had literally grown up on his movies. He worked several times with Tim Burton. Peter Jackson cast him in "The Lord of the Rings" films and George Lucas gave him a high profile role as a villain in the reboot of the "Star Wars" franchise. He also worked with Steven Spielberg on the big budget 1979 WWII comedy "1941". In his public life, Lee was regarded as a serious man, not generally associated with humor. However, in private he was an outstanding raconteur with a wonderful sense of humor. Joining him for lunch or drinks would inevitably become a Master Class in some worthy subject. When in London, Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall and I would occasionally invite him to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Drones. Lunch with Lee was never a simple affair: you would be taught about what wines to order and the history of certain cuisine. The man seemed to be a walking textbook. He also loved classic cinema and discussing older films, which he had an encyclopedic knowledge of. Sometimes his conversations about film making led to unexpected humorous results. On one occasion, we were discussing Howard Hawks' 1959 western "Rio Bravo" and we both agreed that Walter Brennan stole the movie from John Wayne and Dean Martin by playing a cranky and amusing deputy. I then sought to impress Lee by doing what I thought was a spot-on impersonation of Brennan in the film. Lee scoffed so I challenged him by saying, "I suppose you could do a better Walter Brennan impression?" He said, "In fact, I can" and then proceeded to do so. The sight of the distinguished Lee doing impressions of Walter Brennan should have been captured on film but, alas, it was a moment lost in time. On another occasion, we met with Lee at Drones. I was attired in a jacket and necktie, but typically Dave Worrall decided to go casual. When we got to the restaurant, Lee looked disapprovingly at Worrall and drolly said, "If I knew we were dressing for the beach, I would have worn my bathing costume." Inside the restaurant, there was a very long mirror near our table. Lee turned abruptly and almost bumped into it, causing a nearby diner who had recognized him to quip, "That's understandable- you don't have a reflection!", a reference to his appearances as Dracula. Lee stared the man down and said, "As though I've never heard that one a hundred times before!"
Lee Pfeiffer introduces surprise guest Christopher Lee at a Cinema Retro movie tour event in London, 2006.
Lee was a private man who valued time with his wife Gitte, with whom he was married to for over 50 years. (They had one child, Christina). However, he would always make time to see Worrall and I when we were in London. On one occasion, I was meeting friends for afternoon tea at Harrods. On a whim, I called up Lee and asked if he would join us. He said yes and, to amazement of all, he turned up as a surprise guest and regaled us with wonderful stories. He also had a hobby that was passionate about: collecting patches from the various branches of the British military, which he once proudly showed us in his apartment. Lee served in WWII in the fight against Rommel in Africa. He rarely talked about his experiences because he said he was still technically under the Official Secrets Act. I would try to pry information from him by pointing out the unlikely scenario that Germany and England were about to go to war again, but he wouldn't budge. "When I give my word, I keep it", he would say. Indeed he did. I never got to hear much about his duties in helping to defeat The Desert Fox. Lee was also a sentimentalist, which might surprise many of his fans. He was especially saddened at the loss of Peter Cushing in 1994. The two men led very different lives. Cushing lived in the countryside and Lee preferred city life in London. They spoke often and would see each other occasionally. He told me that the last time he saw Cushing occurred shortly before Peter's death. The two actors were reunited for an interview session for a television program. Lee said that Cushing was clearly in poor health and near the end of his life. Both men knew it but didn't acknowledge it. They laughed and told stories as they usually did. However, when Cushing got into the car that was taking him home, Lee came to the realization that he would never see his best friend again. As Cushing looked back, Lee waved and said, "Goodbye, my friend". He said it was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of his life. Lee would say that he never again enjoyed the kinds of friendships he had with Cushing and Vincent Price, although he had the highest respect for Johnny Depp, with whom he worked on several films directed by Tim Burton.
Christopher Lee holding court as a surprise lunch guest at Harrods, 2002.
Lee was so devoted to his craft and so grateful for the opportunities afforded him that he seemed unaware of the aging process. Once Worrall and I had lunch with him when he had just returned from filming the first of his "Star Wars" appearances in New Zealand under the direction of George Lucas. In one pivotal scene, he had a light saber duel with the character of Yoda. Lee explained that there really wasn't a Yoda there, nor was there any light from the saber. They would be added later by a digital process. As an actor, he said this was particularly challenging. Yet he told George Lucas that he would do much of the scene himself to minimize the use of a stuntman. Lucas cautioned him but Lee reminded him that had been deemed a master fencer his youth and prided himself on his dueling skills. The scene proved to be very arduous and sure enough, later that night Lee began to feel some chest pains. He discretely visited a local doctor who asked him if he had done anything unusually strenuous. Lee initially said no but when the doctor heard he had been filming fencing scenes at his age, he informed him that most people would find that to be unusually strenuous. Lee admonished the doctor and told him that he had done all of his own fencing scenes in the "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers". When the doctor reminded him that was thirty years earlier, Lee said it was the first time that he realized he really was getting old. Yet, he never acted old. He was a living, breathing example of how leading an interesting life can help you avoid many of the ravages of old age. Lee remained up to date on all aspects of the motion picture industry and was also very interested in politics. He was a loyal Tory and was also a devoted royalist who had disdain for those who wanted to do away with the British monarchy. Fittingly, he was knighted by Prince Charles in 2009 for his "Services to Drama and Charity". In the latter part of his career, Lee embarked on releasing audio CDs that featured him crooning famous songs as well as contributing to hard rock concepts.
Dave Worrall and I last saw Sir Christopher Lee in October 2012 at the royal premiere of "Skyfall" in London. We had a chance encounter in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. He looked quite frail but still cut a handsome figure in his tuxedo. As we parted, I had the feeling that, as with his experience with Peter Cushing, we might not see him again, which added poignancy to this brief encounter. Then again, the thought of the world without Sir Christopher Lee was unthinkable. On a certain level, I think I had convinced myself that he would outlive all of us.
To fully encompass Sir Christopher Lee's contributions to the world of cinema would require a thesis-like study. Suffice it to say that he was not only a major talent but a larger-than-life personality. He was also a great friend as well as a that rarest of species today, a true gentleman. The world will still turn without his presence. It just won't be nearly as much fun, nor nearly as interesting.
"Goodbye, my friend".
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Richard Johnson (far right) in the 1963 supernatural masterpiece "The Haunting" with Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Julie Harris.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of our friend, actor Richard Johnson, who has passed away at age 87. Johnson was a classically trained actor, having attended RADA and was also one of the founding members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His acting career was interrupted by service in the Royal Navy during WWII but Johnson resumed his profession at the end of the war. He alternated between playing small parts in feature films and leading roles in stage productions. In 1959, he got his first significant screen role starring with Frank Sinatra and young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the WWII film "Never So Few". He was initially offered the role of James Bond but turned down the opportunity. He later told Cinema Retro that he had no regrets because he felt that he would not have made the series the international success it was. He claimed that "I was so right for the part, I would have been wrong. Sean (Connery) was so wrong for the part, he turned out to be right for it." He starred in director Val Guest's underrated thriller "80,000 Suspects" in 1963. That same year he got what many consider to be his most memorable screen role as the leading man in director Robert Wise's classic chiller "The Haunting". Johnson played an academic who conducts an experiment with three other people to see if an ancient mansion house is actually haunted. The experiment meets with terrifying and tragic consequences. Johnson also had a significant role in the 1966 WWII thriller "Operation Crossbow" as well as a major co-starring role opposite Charlton Heston in "Khartoum" that same year. In 1967 he played famed detective/adventurer Bulldog Drummond in "Deadlier Than the Male", which spawned a sequel, "Some Girls Do". He teamed with Heston again in 1970 to play Cassius in the star-packed remake of "Julius Caesar". He also starred with his friend Heston in three high profile TV productions: "A Man for All Seasons", "Treasure Island" and the Sherlock Holmes film "Crucifer of Blood", in which he played Dr. Watson. Over the decades, he appeared in many top British TV series, most recently playing recurring roles in the shows "Spooks" , "Midsomer Murders", "Doc Martin" and "Silent Witness". His more recent feature film appearances include "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider", "Snoop", "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" and his last film, "Radiator" which was produced in 2014. Johnson had been married several times, once to actress Kim Novak with whom he co-starred in the 1965 comedy "The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders". He is survived by his wife Lynne, who he married in 2004, and four children.
(Cinema Retro will be reflecting on the personal side of Richard Johnson in a future article.) For more click here.
Anne Meara, who along with her husband and partner Jerry Stiller, became a comedy legend, has died at age 85. Meara and Stiller were unlikely candidates for romance in 1950s New York: he was Jewish, she was Catholic. Nevertheless, to the disappointment of both of their families, they married. Like many young couples in show business, they initially struggled to pay the bills. They developed a comedy act that proved to be popular in Gotham night clubs. This eventually caught the eye of Ed Sulllivan, who gave them a coveted slot on his Sunday night variety show. The rest was history. Stiller and Meara became one of the top comedy acts in the country. Their real life marriage lasted 61 years, during which they remained mainstays on the New York social scene. They also continued to perform regularly and even had a popular web-based series. Meara was a familiar face on television and in feature films. She was multi-talented and could play drama as well as broad comedy. She was nominated for numerous Emmy Awards. Among her feature film credits are Lovers and Other Strangers, The Boys From Brazil, Fame, Awakenings and two films in which she appeared with her son, actor Ben Stiller: Zoolander and A Night at the Museum. For more click here.
Lewis with Beverly D'Angelo and Clint Eastwood in the hit 1978 comedy Every Which Way But Loose.
Acclaimed character actor Geoffrey Lewis, and father of actress Juliette Lewis, has died at age 79 of natural causes. Lewis had a long and impressive list of major films and TV appearances to his credit. He was frequently cast by Clint Eastwood in the iconic actor's productions including High Plains Drifter, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way You Can, Bronco Billy, Pink Cadillac and their last collaboration, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Although Lewis was often cast as earthy, hillbilly-types, he could also excel at playing sophisticated characters as well. Other major film credits include The Wind and the Lion, Heaven's Gate, The Lawmower Man, Maverick and the TV movie version of Salem's Lot. He primarily worked in television and had amassed a seemingly endless number of appearances on major series over the decades.
Actor Leonard Nimoy has died from pulmonary disease at age 83. The iconic "Star Trek" legend had attributed his health issues to the habit of smoking, even though he gave up cigarettes many years ago, according to the New York Times. For full coverage, click here.
Lizabeth Scott, the sultry blonde who epitomized cinematic "bad girls" in film noir productions, has passed away at age 92. Scott specialized in playing hard-bitten, self-confident femme fatales usually from the wrong side of the tracks. Her leading men included Robert Mithchum, Burt Lancaster, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Kirk Douglas. Her film credits include "Loving You", "Dark City", "I Walk Alone", "Too Late for Tears", "Pitfall" and "Scared Stiff". Her last screen appearance was in director Mike Hodges' acclaimed 1972 cult movie "Pulp", which was a send-up of the film noir genre. Scott's career began to fade in the late 1950s though she did make occasional appearances in TV series in the following years. In more recent years, she occasionally appeared at film festivals to discuss her work and career. Click here for more.
Screenwriter and producer Brian Clemens has passed away at age 83 in his native England. Clemens wrote scripts for some of the most revered British television programs of the 1960s and 1970s including "Danger Man" (aka "Secret Agent"), "The Avengers", "The Persuaders", "The Professionals", "The Baron" and "The New Avengers". Clemens also produced or executive produced several of the aforementioned shows. He also contributed single episode scripts for other popular shows including "Highlander", "The Protectors" and "Remington Steele". Clemens wrote numerous scripts for "Father Dowling Mysteries" and three "Perry Mason" TV movies in the early 1990s. A prolific writer, he also wrote screenplays for feature films beginning in the 1950s. His credits include "Station Six Sahara", "The Corrupt Ones" (aka "The Peking Medallion"), "See No Evil", "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad", Disney's "The Watcher in the Woods", "Highlander II: The Quickening" and the Hammer horror film "Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter", which he also directed and produced. According to his son, Clemens was still actively involved in working on scripts when he passed away on Saturday. In 2010, he was honored by the Queen for his significant contributions to British broadcasting and drama. For more click here.
The cruel loss of legendary cinematic figures continues into the new year with the death of Anita Ekberg in Italy at age 83. The precise cause of death is not known at this time but she had suffered from a long illness. Ekberg was Swedish by birth but was often mistaken as a native of Italy because of her close association with Fellini and his films. She was named Miss Sweden as a teenager and competed in the Miss Universe contest before her statuesque figure ensured a career in show business during an era when full-bosomed sex sirens were all the rage. Hollywood studios were particularly on the lookout for the next exotic European beauty and Ekberg filled the bill perfectly. She slogged through bit parts uncredited in major studio productions before landing a prominent role opposite John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in the 1955 hit "Blood Alley" (in which she played a Chinese woman!) This opened doors and she went on to appear in other Hollywood hits including "Back From Eternity", "War and Peace" and the Martin and Lewis smash "Artists and Models". She would reunite on screen with the comedy team for "Hollywood or Bust". She received above-the-title billing in the 1956 adventure film "Zarak" opposite Victor Mature for future James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. However, it was the Fellini classic "La Dolce Vita" that made her a household name in 1960. In the film's most memorable sequence, she cavorts in the Trevi Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni while attired in a gown. Photos of the sequence remain an iconic part of film history. After "Vita", Ekberg's star burned brightly but briefly. She reunited with Fellini for a segment of the 1962 film "Boccaccio '70". She appeared opposite Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in the hit western spoof "4 For Texas" and opposite Tony Randall in "The Alphabet Murders". She had a starring role in the 1963 comedy "Call Me Bwana" with Bob Hope. The film was produced by Broccoli, now in partnership with Harry Saltzman. (It remained the only non-Bond film the men would produce during the years of their partnership). She also had a prominent role in the Jerry Lewis comedy "Way...Way...Out". By the late 1960s, however, her star had faded in English language cinema and she concentrated on starring in European productions that were often made on low budgets. Her last credited screen role was in "The Red Dwarf" in 1998.
Ekberg's love life was the stuff of dreams for the tabloid press. She had affairs with prominent male stars such as Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra. She was married for three years to British actor Anthony Steel and was married for over a decade to American actor Rik Van Nutter, who is primarily known for playing CIA man Felix Leiter in the Broccoli-Saltzman James Bond blockbuster "Thunderball" in 1965. Supposedly, Broccoli, who was dining with Ekberg and Van Nutter, offered him the role over dinner on a whim. It was a James Bond film, "From Russia With Love", that played an important role in Ekberg's career, though-bizarrely- she never appeared in the movie, at least in the flesh. In a pivotal sequence, a Soviet agent is assassinated when he tries to climb out a window of an Istanbul apartment house, the wall of which is adorned with a giant promotion of Ekberg in "Call Me Bwana". The clever gimmick promoted the Broccoli-Saltzman comedy that was already in release.
Ekberg's later years were anything but glamorous. In her obituary, the New York Times reports that the childless actress spent her last days in a nursing home penniless and lonely. She did, however, have one last moment in the sun when she appeared in 2010 at an Italian film festival where a restored print of "La Dolce Vita" was being shown. For at least this brief moment, her glory days returned as she made a glamorous appearance that stole the show.
Taylor in the 1960 screen version of The Time Machine.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
If the year 2014 proved to be an exceptionally cruel one in terms of the number of legendary celebrities who passed away, the new year is off to an equally depressing start with the news that Rod Taylor has passed away at age 84. Taylor, who was two days away from his 85th birthday, died suddenly from a heart attack following a dinner party at his home. He was surrounded by friends and family when the end came. Taylor was a solid leading man who came to prominence in the late 1950s. Although Australian by birth, the ruggedly handsome Taylor could effectively play Brits, Irishmen and Americans with convincing ease. He first gained attention with supporting roles in high profile, big Hollywood studio productions in the late 1950s such as "Raintree County" and "Separate Tables". His breakthrough role came in 1960 when he received top billing in the acclaimed screen adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic science fiction novel "The Time Machine". Taylor was suddenly a hot property and an international star. He could play virtually any kind of role, from light comedy to portraying men of action. By the early 1960s, he was one of the most popular stars in the world. His film credits from this era include "The V.I.P.S", "The Caterered Affair", Disney's "101 Dalmations", Hitchcock's classic "The Birds", the popular sex farce "Sunday in New York", "Fate is the Hunter" and "36 Hours" (a rare appearance as a villain). He showed exceptional chemistry with Doris Day and played her leading man in two major hits over a two year period, "Do Not Disturb" and "The Glass Bottom Boat", a Bond-inspired spy spoof. His hot streak continued through the late 1960s with the tough-as-nails mercenary adventure "Dark of the Sun" (aka "The Mercenaries"), the star-studded soap opera "Hotel", the gritty western "Chuka", the espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" and the controversial private eye flick "Darker Than Amber". He also had a supporting role in Antonioni's legendary 1970 flop "Zabriskie Point". By the mid-1970s, however, the bottom seemed to drop out in terms of Taylor being offered good roles. He did co-star with John Wayne in the underrated western "The Train Robbers" in 1973 and that same year co-starred with Richard Harris in another western, "The Deadly Trackers". Taylor turned to television, starring in numerous series including "Bearcats", "The Oregon Trail" and "Outlaws". He also had a supporting role in the 1980s prime-time soaper "Falcon Crest". From that point on, Taylor seemed to voluntarily refrain from appearing in high profile productions, opting instead for supporting roles in rather obscure, non-Hollywood films. He rarely granted interviews and kept a low profile, though he did come out of self-imposed retirement to portray Winston Churchill in a cameo role in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" in 2009. Cinema Retro mourns the loss of yet another legendary Hollywood star.
(For Steve Saragossi's tribute to Rod Taylor's life and career, see Cinema Retro issue #19).
Donna Douglas, the former beauty queen who became an icon of 1960s TV, has passed away at age 82. Douglas started as a model in the 1950s and landed small roles in feature films before being cast as Elly May Clampett, the sexy but naive daughter of backwoods millionaire Jed Clampett on the smash hit TV series "The Beverly Hillbillies". The show was met with open disdain by CBS brass, who felt it was beneath the dignity of the network. However, viewers warmed to the Clampett clan immediately and the show became a smash hit that ran for nine seasons. It was still near the top of the ratings when it was canceled in a purge by network executives of its rural-themed hit shows in the early 1970s. Douglas' character was always relentlessly jovial and upbeat on the show and Elly May's penchant for bringing exotic animals onto the Clampett estate generated many laughs. Although she was type-cast, Douglas never complained. She went on to record gospel music, co-star with Elvis Presley and in her later years, attend autograph shows where she greeted her many fans. With her death, actor Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro, is the last living member of the cast of "The Beverly Hillbillies".-Lee Pfeiffer
The year 2014 has proven to be one of the cruelest in terms of depriving us of notable people in the arts. The year's morbid streak has continued to the bitter end with the announcement of the death of noted character actor Edward Herrmann. The 71 year-old actor has passed away after a months-long battle with brain cancer. Herrmann, who was both an Emmy and Tony award winner, had worked steadily in films, TV and on stage since he first made his mark in the early 1970s. His feature film credits include "The Paper Chase", "Brass Target", "The Lost Boys", "The Great Gatsby", "The Purple Rose of Cairo", "Nixon" and "The Aviator". His TV credits include "Eleanor and Franklin", "The Practice" (for which he won an Emmy in a recurring role), "The Gilmore Girls", "The Good Wife", "How I Met Your Mother" and "M*A*S*H". For more on his life and career, click here.
Rainer with William Powell in The Great Ziegfeld, for which she won her first Oscar.
Luis Rainer, who won Oscars for "The Great Ziegfeld" and "The Good Earth", has died in London. She was 104 years old. Rainer was a German immigrant who came of age during the Weimar Republic in the post-WWI period. She witnessed the rise of Hitler and the increase in Nazi barbarism before she immigrated to America in 1935 where, improbably, she became a major star virtually overnight. For details of her incredible life and career, click here to read NY Times obituary.
Billie Whitelaw, the acclaimed British actress who won praise for her roles on stage as well as on screen, has died in a nursing home at age 82. Whitelaw began appearing in British films in the 1960s and gradually became one of the nation's most reliable and respected actresses. Her film titles include "Carve Her Name With Pride", "Charlie Bubbles", "The Krays", "Gumshoe", Hitchcock's "Frenzy", "Start the Revolution Without Me", "The Dark Crystal" and her final big screen venture, the 2007 hit cult comedy "Hot Fuzz". She is best known to American audiences as Mrs. Baylock, the creepy housemaid from the 1976 version of "The Omen" who has a knock-down brawl to the death with Gregory Peck. Whitelaw, who was also a popular presence through frequent appearances in television series, attributed her rise to stardom to her close association with avant garde playwright Samuel Beckett, with whom she collaborated on numerous acclaimed stage productions. For more click here
Virna Lisi, one of the most prominent European actresses to find success in Hollywood during the 1960s, has died at age 78. The exact cause of her death has not been revealed but the NY Times states that she was recently told she had an incurable disease. Lisi's stunning looks helped her find success in her native Italy before she followed the path taken by Ursula Andress, Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg and other European beauties and moved to Hollywood. Here she made a sensational big screen impression opposite Jack Lemmon in the hit 1965 comedy "How to Murder Your Wife". Lisi never made any cinematic classics but during her years in the film industry she starred opposite such prominent leading men as Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Richard Burton, George C. Scott, Marcello Mastroianni, Robert Vaughn and David Niven. She was recently widowed and said that she had gone into self-imposed retirement because her husband had always objected to her career as a cinematic sex siren. For more click here.
Director Mike Nichols, one of the most influential artists of his generation, has passed away at age 83. Nichols is one of the few people who could claim to be the winner of the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards. Nichols rose to fame with his comedy act in which he teamed with Elaine May. He made a successful transition into feature film with his 1966 screen adaptation of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", a triumphant film debut that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The following year he won the Oscar for his 1967 classic "The Graduate". Other films over the decades included "The Birdcage", "Working Girl", "Charlie Wilson's War" and "Silkwood". His plays include "Barefoot in the Park", "Death of a Salesman" and "The Odd Couple".
Burton and Taylor on the set of Nichols' 1966 triumph "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
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