William Peter Blatty, the novelist and screenwriter whose book "The Exorcist" became a literary phenomenon and a movie sensation, died Thursday at age 89. Blatty's success prior to the publication of the book in 1971 was largely based on comedic novels and screenplays. His greatest claim to fame in his early career was as screenwriter of the Pink Panther comedy "A Shot in the Dark". Blatty was studying at Georgetown University when he heard about a 1949 incident in which the Catholic church issued a rare approval for the exorcism of a young boy who was allegedly possessed by a demon. The story so intrigued Blatty that many years later it formed the basis of "The Exorcist", though he changed the victim to a young girl. The book was an overnight success and director William Friedkin's 1973 film version became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Blatty and Friedkin disagreed about the final cut of the film but did decide to release an alternate version in 2000 that contained scenes deleted from the original cut. Blatty directed and wrote the 1990 sequel "Exorcist III", feeling he could convey story elements that were not included in the first film or its disastrous 1977 sequel. However, "Exorcist III" opened to middling boxoffice and critical disinterest. Over the years Blatty complained that, despite the financial success "The Exorcist" franchise had afforded him, he was frustrated that he could no longer return to writing comedy, which was his first love. He said that studios and publishers always expected him to produce a horror blockbuster. For more click here.
(For an exclusive interview with William Peter Blatty, see Cinema Retro issue #19)
The belief that the year 2016 is the worst one on record in terms of celebrity deaths will only be reinforced with the news that show business legend Debbie Reynolds has passed away at age 84 just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died from heart-related problems. Reynolds was grieving the loss of Carrie when she was hospitalized on Wednesday night due to shortness of breath. Click here for more.
CLICK HERE FOR NEW YORK TIMES OVERVIEW OF MS. REYNOLDS' REMARKABLE CAREER.
Actress and novelist Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and the late singer Eddie Fisher, has died from complications related to a heart attack she suffered on a flight from London to Los Angeles last Tuesday. Fisher had been hospitalized in Los Angelessince and was described as being in "stable condition" as doctors worked feverishly to save her. Fisher is best known for playing the character of Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" film series. She was 60 years old.Fisher had been in London to promote her recently-published memoirs. Click here for more. For Washington Post story click here.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, one of the first entertainers of whom it could be said became a mega-celebrity based on a modicum of actual achievements, has died at age 99. A Hungarian immigrant, Gabor made a splash when she arrived in Hollywood with her exotic good looks and even more exotic accent. Although she gave credible performance sin "Moulin Rouge" and "Touch of Evil", Gabor quickly became enamored of playing one character she loved- herself. In the staid early days of television, she was an oddity and audiences loved her penchant for making quips and telling outrageous stories. She called everyone "Darling" and bedazzled viewers by parading about in expensive dresses and over-the-top displays of jewelry. The first casualty of her persona was her career as a promising actress. When Gabor did appear in movies it was generally in B-level fare such as her most famous cult film, the sci-fi turkey "Queen of Outer Space". Gabor always wanted to become a legitimate princess. She married a succession of rich men before fulfilling her dream by marrying a German prince thirty years her junior in 1986, thus bestowing on her the title of "Princess". Over the decades, Gabor continued to act occasionally, on stage and in the movies where she mostly spoofed her own image in films such as "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" and "A Very Brady Sequel". In 1988 Gabor made headlines when she was arrested for slapping a police officer who stopped her for speeding. She was sentenced to 72 hours in jail. Gabor's personal life was the stuff of high drama. She was estranged from her daughter who died at age 67 in 2015. It is doubtful Gabor ever knew about her death because she had been in very frail health since a serious car accident in 2002. In the following years she suffered from a variety of health problems and had a partial amputation of a leg performed. Gabor had two sisters, Eva (who found success emulating Zsa Zsa in the long-running sitcom "Green Acres") and Magda, who was the least known among the public.
The Youtube channel for Listopedia provides a sobering look back at ten stars who died tragically on set. The inclusion of Clark Gable, however, is a bit of a stretch. While there is no doubt that Gable's exhausting activities in the making of "The Misfits" contributed to his death, he did not pass away until shooting had been completed.
Cinema Retro hosted Fritz Weaver at a screening of "Fail Safe" at the Players club in New York City. Here Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer (L) and contributor Paul Scrabo present Weaver with marketing materials for "To Trap a Spy", the feature film made from an extended version of the "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV show pilot, "The Vulcan Affair". Weaver discussed how surprised he was at the level of interest there was in the fact that he was the first U.N.C.L.E. villain. (Photo: GeorgeAnn Muller).
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Weaver, who won acclaim for his work in film, TV and on the Broadway stage, has
passed away at age 90. Weaver was primarily a character actor but sometimes
top-lined in stage productions.He played Sherlock Holmes in the 1960s Broadway
musical production of "Baker Street". He won a Tony in 1970 for his
performance in "Child's Play". Weaver also earned strong reviews over
the years for his performances in Shakespeare classics. He made his big screen
debut in 1964 in the Cold War thriller "Fail Safe", giving an intense
and memorable performance as a U.S. general who cracks under pressure when the
U.S. accidentally launches a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. When this
writer interviewed him at a screening of the film some years ago, Weaver said
he still found the movie difficult to watch because of its chilling
implications. Weaver's big screen appearances also include "Black
Sunday" (1977), "Marathon Man", "The Maltese Bippy",
"Creepshow" and "Demon Seed". He continued working in film
up to this year. His TV appearances include an Emmy nominated performance in
the 1978 mini-series "Holocaust" and two classic episodes of
"The Twilight Zone". From a pop culture standpoint, he is also
remembered as the very first villain in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series, having appeared in the pilot episode, "The Vulcan Affair" in 1964
opposite series star Robert Vaughn, who coincidentally also passed away two
weeks ago. For more, click here.
Actress Florence Henderson has died at age 82 apparently from heart failure. Henderson became a beloved TV icon on the long-running sitcom "The Brady Bunch" which aired between 1969-1974. Born in Indiana, Henderson always had show business in her blood. She was a star long before the "Brady" era, having impressed Rodgers and Hammerstein with her performance in a road show production of "Oklahoma!" in 1952. The famed composers chose her to play the female lead in a Broadway revival of the play. She also made TV history as the first female guest host for "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". However it was her role as Carol Brady that ensured her enduring popularity. The show was the first to deal with a situation in which two single parents merged their families. The success of "The Brady Bunch" was somewhat improbable as it presented the image of a squeaky clean sitcom family during an era of radical social change. However, if older teens and twenty-somethings wouldn't be caught dead watching the show (or at least admitting to it), the series did catch on with pre-teens and older viewers, the latter audience primarily wanting to escape the images of hippies and protesters that permeated the evening news. In many ways "The Brady Bunch" was a throwback to the kind of comforting family sitcom that dominated TV in the 1950s through mid-1960s. The irony was that the male lead in the show, actor Robert Reed, who played Henderson's husband Mike, was a gay man. Although this information would have been damaging to his career if known publicly at the time, the cast and crew were aware of it and embraced him. Thus, the corniest TV sitcom family of all time was actually fighting back against prejudices in real life.
The series managed to thrive even after the 1970 debut of "All in the Family", which brought a new wave of realism into American households and changed the face of the traditional sitcom forever. Henderson, like her fellow cast mates, recognized the sheer corniness of the show but continued to embrace her image as Carol Brady. She and her co-stars reunited for several TV specials as the Brady family and over the decades she relished the fact that the show had developed a cult following. In 1995 Brady played the grandmother in the hit feature film spoof of "The Brady Bunch" that depicted the characters as being unwittingly out of touch with modern society. Henderson remained an active and popular performer and in recent years published her memoirs. Her last appearance on TV was earlier this week when she attended a taping of "Dancing with the Stars" to support her "Brady" TV daughter Maureen McCormick, who was competing. For more click here.
Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose blood-drenched, over-the-top horror films built a loyal cult audience, has passed away at age 87. Lewis never achieved mainstream recognition but apparently took satisfaction that his bizarre, low-budget films had resonated with their intended audiences. Lewis, a former teacher, became involved in show business by producing and directing commercials, as well as voicing some of them. In 1963 he wrote and directed "Blood Feast", a horror flick on a tiny budget. The film became popular with the "so-bad-its-good" crowd and benefited from a creative marketing campaign. Over the decades, Lewis would continue to market his films to a growing fan base and found a particularly receptive audience in the rural drive-in markets that responded to his humorous approach to horror and sexploitation films. Among his productions: "Scum of the Earth", "Two Thousand Maniacs", "Monster-a-Go-Go", "Something Red" and "The Gruesome Twosome".
It has just been announced that movie comedy legend Gene Wilder has passed away at age 83 after years of battling heath problems. The official cause of death was complications related to Alzheimers disease. Wilder made his feature film debut in the 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde", playing an undertaker who is kidnapped and befriended by the infamous outlaws. He hit pay dirt when Mel Brooks cast him opposite Zero Mostel in the 1968 comedy "The Producers". Wilder's performance as the neurotic accountant earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor. He collaborated again with Brooks on two other 70s comedy classics, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein". He also starred in the 1972 children's film favorite "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". In the 1980s Wilder teamed with Richard Pryor for several big screen comedy hits. He married comedienne Gilda Radner of "Saturday Night Live" fame but the marriage was short-lived when Radner died from cancer. Wilder became involved in raising funds to battle the disease that killed his beloved wife. He also wrote a memoir detailing their love affair. Wilder had not been seen on the big screen since 1991, as his health began to decline. He did, however, occasionally appear as a guest star on TV shows and won an Emmy in 2003 for his performance on the sitcom "Will & Grace". For more click here For a look at Wilder's most memorable roles, click here.
Actor Steven Hill has died at age 94. Hill came to prominence in 1966 as the original star of the "Mission: Impossible" TV series. He played Dan Briggs, the head of the Impossible Mission Force, who led a select team of diverse members on highly dangerous espionage missions. Hill, who was an Orthodox Jew, found that the filming schedule conflicted with his religious obligations. He left the series after one season and was replaced by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, who remained with the franchise henceforth. Hill retired from acting for almost a decade before returning to TV as District Attorney Adam Schiff on the popular NBC show "Law & Order". He stayed with the series for years and earned two Emmy nominations. Among his feature films are "Billy Bathgate", "Yentl", "The Firm", "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Legal Eagles". For more click here.
Huddleston and John Wayne in Howard Hawks' 1970 Western "Rio Lobo".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Like many character actors, David Huddleston's name may not be familiar to movie fans- but they certainly would recognize him, especially if they are retro film fans. Huddleston, who this week at age 85, was a star of stage and screen. He began making feature films in the 1960s and became steadily employed in both low-budget and major Hollywood productions, generally playing folksy, good old boy Southern characters, though he did snag the title role in the 1985 Salkind production of "Santa Claus" as well as the 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic "The Big Lebowski". He scored with audiences for his performance as the foul-mouthed town dignitary in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" and appeared in "Capricorn One", 'Smokey and the Bandit II", "Haunted Honeymoon" and two films with John Wayne: Howard Hawks' "Rio Lobo" and John Sturges' "McQ". In the first he played a small town dentist who humorously performs painful dental surgery on Wayne's character in order to deceive the villains. In the latter film, he played a private detective named Pinky who works with Wayne's maverick police detective in Seattle. Huddleston also worked up until recent years in many major TV series. He was especially proud of his acclaimed performance as Ben Franklin in the 1997 Broadway stage revival of "1776". For more click here.
Garry Marshall, the man who helped create iconic sitcoms such as "Happy Days", "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy", has died at age 81. Greatly beloved in the entertainment industry, Marshall helped kick many actors' careers into overdrive including Julia Roberts, Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and Robin Williams. He also adapted Neil Simon's stage and screen hit "The Odd Couple" into a long-running TV series starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. He grew up in a modest home in the Bronx and never lost his almost stereotypical "New Yawk" accent. Marshall became a writer on some classic TV series of the 1960s including "The Dick Van Dyke Show", The Lucy Show" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". He even became a prolific actor graduating from an un-billed role in "Goldfinger" to some juicy character parts in major films. Marshall would go on to direct features himself including such smash hits as "Pretty Woman", "The Princess Diaries" and "Runaway Bride". He also directed Jackie Gleason in his last feature film "Nothing in Common" in 1986. For more click here.
Noel Neill with George Reeves in "The Adventures of Superman".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Yet another pop culture legend of the Baby Boomer era has left us. Actress Noel Neill, who played Superman's love interest Lois Lane, has died at age 95. Neill began her career in Hollywood with bit roles in mainstream films. She was chosen to play Lois Lane, the intrepid female reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper of the fictional city Metropolis that Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent called home. As colleagues on the newspaper, Lois and Clark were friends but it was always Superman that stole her heart. One of the more amusing aspects of the Superman legend is that Lois Lane, a top reporter, could never affirm her suspicions that Clark actually was Superman simply because his "disguise" consisted of a pair of eyeglasses. Nevertheless, the Lois Lane character was unusual for the era because she represented an emancipated woman who displayed just as much courage as the men around her. Neill first appeared opposite Kirk Allyn in two series of "Superman" serials that were shown in movie theaters in the late 1940s and early 1950s. When "The Adventures of Superman" TV series debuted a few years later it became an instant hit. However, Neill wasn't the producer's first choice to play Lois Lane in the show. Actress Phyllis Coates had the role and when she left the series Neill was brought on board to take over the part. Coates had played the part of Lois for only one season while Neill had the part for five years (1953-1958) until the show finally left the air. On the TV series, Neill starred opposite George Reeves in the role of Clark Kent/Superman and their chemistry became the stuff of TV legend. Inevitably Lois and fellow reporter Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) would get themselves in a bind and Superman would have to rescue them. Despite the predictability of the formula, the show's popularity has only increased over the decades. When the series ended, Neill decided to retire to become a self-described "beach bum". However, she often participated in fan events and autograph shows over the decades. She also continued her relationship with Superman by making cameo appearances in the 1978 feature film that introduced Christopher Reeve in the role and the 2006 film "Superman Returns". She had also appeared in a 1991 episode of the "Superboy" TV series. Perhaps the most meaningful tribute to her role in "The Adventures of Superman" came when the real-life city of Metropolis, Illinois, unveiled a statue commemorating Lois Lane in 2010. Appropriately, the image was based on Noel Neill, who was proudly in attendance.
Over the last year the entertainment industry has suffered incalculable losses of talented people. Some of them hit home personally, as is the case with producer Euan Lloyd, who passed away this weekend in London. I first met Euan in 1978 when I was attending college in New Jersey. I had the enviable gig of being the film critic for the campus newspaper, which afforded me the opportunity to routinely attend press screenings of forthcoming films in New York, which was a stone's throw across the river from my native Jersey City. I had read about the upcoming release of "The Wild Geese" which seemed to promise a "too-good-to-be-true" cast composed of some of my favorite actors (Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris above all) in the kind of gritty, macho British war flick that I had become addicted to ever since seeing "Zulu" at age 8. To say the film lived up to expectations would be an understatement. I thought it was a superbly crafted blend of rugged action, social commentary and splendid performances under the capable direction of Andrew V. McLaglen. The film was inspired by the exploits of a real life mercenary named Col. Michael Hoare (not so affectionately known as "Mad Mike"). He was a technical adviser on the film and was speaking at the post-screening press conference along with the film's producer Euan Llloyd. I had seen some of Lloyd's earlier films and liked them. The two men gave a riveting account of the making of "The Wild Geese", after which I approached Mr. Lloyd and introduced myself. I told him that I was greatly impressed with the film and would be writing an excellent review of it. I had hoped to just get a handshake and a few nice words since I wasn't exactly representing the New York Times. To my surprise, Mr. Lloyd spoke to me at length about my experience writing film reviews. He hung on every word. Whether he was just being polite or had a genuine interest, I can't say to this day. However, he astonished me by inviting me to breakfast at the Plaza the next morning. As a college kid, the Plaza on Central Park was a place you only saw in the kidnapping scene of "North By Northwest", as few people from my blue collar background had the kind of bankroll that would afford a trip to the bar or restaurant. The next morning I dined with Mr. Lloyd, who insisted that I call him Euan. After breakfast we took a long walk around the city and he related fascinating stories about the film trade. He even gave me an inside scoop on the next James Bond movie. He said he had recently screened "The Wild Geese" for Cubby Broccoli, who was so impressed by the sequence in which the mercenaries sky dive into Africa that he decided to plan a major aerial scene to start "Moonraker" off with - and indeed he did. Euan had asked me to bring him copies of some of my reviews, which he read in my presence (a nerve-wracking experience for me, as I recall.) He was highly complimentary and encouraged me to take up writing as a career. I had never heard such words of encouragement from anyone. He also told me that if my schedule permitted it, he could get me a bottom-rung job on the set of his forthcoming film "The Sea Wolves". It was an offer I wasn't able to take because of factors in my personal life at the time, not these least of which were that I needed a steady job and was about to get married. Still, the offer was an extremely kind gesture. I parted with Euan that day and was destined not to see him for many years. In the pre-E mail era, these types of casualties happened to people's relationships.
Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger in "The Wild Geese".
In 2002, my old friend and future Cinema Retro publishing partner Dave Worrall happened to meet Euan Lloyd and Andrew V. McLaglen at an event at Pinewood Studios. He asked Euan if he might have remembered a guy named Pfeiffer he had met many years ago. To his surprise, Euan recalled the day I had spent with him and relayed the message that we should visit him when next I was in London. A few months later we did just that and I was delighted to renew my friendship with this remarkable man. In 2006, he was our guest of honor for a black tie dinner we held at the Reform Club in London. His anecdotes were captivating but he never seemed pretentious or full of himself. He was always an example of humility and class. When we started Cinema Retro magazine a few years later, Euan was front and center and we ran an extensive interview with him over the first three issues that was conducted by writers Mac MacSharry and Terry Hine. Euan would always be there when you needed him. It should be said that Euan was one of the first very successful producers to eschew studio financing in favor of raising money for his films on his own, then selling distribution rights to the major studios. In his early days in the industry he worked for future James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and his (then) partner Irving Allen. Lloyd always credited Cubby for giving him a him this opportunity, which was actually arranged by Alan Ladd, who Euan had befriended. Euan helped oversee production on many successful movies for Cubby and Irving's Warwick Productions. When Cubby later teamed with Harry Saltzman to form Eon Productions, Euan continued to work with Irving Allen and co-produced the second Matt Helm film, "Murderer's Row" starring Dean Martin. From that point on, he would produce his own films. They included Sean Connery's first post-Bond film, "Shalako" in 1968. He struck pay dirt with the 1978 release of "The Wild Geese", which was a major hit internationally and spawned a loyal cult following that seems to be growing to this day. Some of his movies including "The Sea Wolves" and "Who Dares Wins" did not do well at the boxoffice in America but reaped large profits from the European markets. "Who Dares Wins", which was based on a real life incident in which the SAS fought terrorists to free the Iranian embassy in London, counted among its admirers Stanley Kubrick, who wrote Euan Lloyd a letter praising the film. Another admirer of the 1982 movie was President Ronald Reagan, who requested that it be screened at the White House. Euan was also a man who seemed to have no enemies. I once received an unexpected phone call from Sean Connery and in the process of speaking to him, I told him that I was a friend of Euan Lloyd's. Connery recounted his experiences making "Shalako" and said that although he had battled with producers many times over the course of his career, Euan was one of the most honorable men he had ever worked with. Similarly, Roger Moore, who starred in "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" for Euan, counted him among the most trustworthy producers in the industry.
Lee Pfeiffer introduces Euan Lloyd at a dinner in his honor at the Reform Club in London.
Over the years, Dave and I would try to see Euan whenever we were in London. He would occasionally join us at the royal premieres of James Bond films. On my last visit in October 2015, I knew he had been seriously ill. We planned to meet briefly at his apartment but his illness prevented this from happening. I think Euan was looking out for me even then, as I don't believe he wanted me to see him in a weakened state. Perhaps he was right. My only memories of him are of a vibrant, elegant man who was always "dressed to the nines" and the epitome of class, style and kindness. He was old school in the best sense of the term. Small wonder that producer Jonathan Sothcott titled his excellent 2004 documentary tribute to Euan "The Last of the Gentleman Producers". I realize now more than ever how that title perfectly encapsulates the man. Upon learning of Euan's passing, Sir Roger Moore referred to him as "a legend". Somehow, that word seems equally appropriate.
(Click below to watch "The Last of the Gentlemen Producers")
Cimino and star Kris Kristofferson on the set of the ill-fated production of "Heaven's Gate".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Michael Cimino, whose fast rise to royalty in Hollywood was matched only by the sudden demise of his career, has died at age 77. He was born in Long Island and entered the film business with his first success as the co-writer of the 1973 Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry sequel "Magnum Force". (He had previously written the screenplay for the sci-fi cult film "Silent Running" starring Bruce Dern.) Eastwood was suitably impressed and gave Cimino the opportunity to make his directorial debut with the buddy crime caper "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". Released in 1974, the film was a hit and helped launch Jeff Bridges to stardom with the Oscar nomination he received. In 1978 Cimino released his ambitious Vietnam War epic "The Deer Hunter" starring Robert De Niro and newcomer Meryl Streep. The politics of the big budget film are still being debated, with some arguing Cimino was an apologist for either the pro-war hawks or the anti-war peaceniks. Either way, the film packed a powerful punch and spoke to a generation that had suffered through the war. Cimino received Oscars for producing and directing the film and a promising future seemed to be in store. However, his 1980 mega-budget Western "Heaven's Gate" would derail his career forever. Accused of having a giant ego and being fast and loose with other people's money, Cimino oversaw the filming of the bloated production that lasted eleven months and ended up costing $35 million on a budget that was not to exceed $11 million. The three -and-a-half hour film was also the victim of bad timing. It had a pro-Marxist story but was released within weeks of Ronald Reagan's election to the White House. The nation was veering to the political right and Cimino's film was an homage to socialists. The film was roundly panned by critics and lost virtually all of its production cost in a sea of red ink. United Artists, which had failed to reign in Cimino's excesses, paid the dearest cost. The fabled studio, which had recently come under new management, almost went into bankruptcy and diminished over the ensuing years to being little more than a trademark instead of a thriving studio. In desperation, UA ordered Cimino to create a much shorter version of the film for wide release, but the results were still terrible. The debacle resulted in UA executive Steven Bach writing his well-received book "Final Cut", which documented the disaster on celluloid. Bach took his share of the blame for giving Cimino carte blanche on the ever-soaring budget but put the bulk of the responsibility on Cimino himself, whose hubris was such that he refused to even show UA executives his final cut until its first public screening in New York. By the time the reviews came out, the damage was done. (Rex Reed claimed the audience of sophisticates actually threw popcorn at the screen.) Cimino dismissed Bach's allegations but rarely spoke of the film ever again (although he did provide a commentary track for Criterion's Blu-ray special edition of the film in which he extolled its virtues while skirting the controversies.)
Cimino's looks changed radically over the years, leading some to speculate his was undergoing a sex change operation.
Cimino went on to direct a scattering of minor films, the most successful being the crime drama "Year of the Dragon". His last film was the little-seen "Sunchaser", released in 1996. He did have the satisfaction of seeing the uncut version of "Heaven's Gate" re-evaluated and gain respect in many quarters of the film industry. Nevertheless, he kept a low profile and his always eccentric personal behavior became bizarre. He underwent radical plastic surgery which so altered his appearance that many speculated he was undergoing a sex change operation. Cimino issued a non-denial denial that was more cryptic than illuminating. He also told conflicting stories about his early life and even once stated that he had served in Vietnam (he hadn't). In more recent years, he wrote occasional novels and would come out of seclusion to attend a film festival or event every now and then. He rarely gave interviews and disdained appearing on television. Whatever one thinks of his reed-thin filmography, Cimino thought in grandiose terms and went to extremes to fulfill his artistic visions. Whether he was indeed a visionary, a psychologically disturbed artist or both, will be factors relating to his legacy that will be debated for many years to come.
Bud Spencer, the burly former Italian athlete who became an iconic film star in his native country, has died at age 86. Spencer, whose real name was Carlo Pedersoli, chose his stage name as a tribute to Budweiser beer, which he loved, and Spencer Tracy, his favorite film star. Although Spencer's film found some exposure in the American market, his greatest success was found in European comedy westerns that often co-starred his friend Terence Hill. Among the films that are best known to English-speaking audiences are "Ace High", "The Five Man Army", "They Call Me Trinity", "Trinity is STILL My Name!", "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" and "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die". Among the contemporary actors Spencer counted among his admirers was Russell Crowe. For more click here.
Character actor Burt Kwouk has passed away at the age of 85. Although primarily known for his work in comedy in film and television, Kwouk was equally adept at playing dramatic roles. In fact in the year 2011, he was awarded an OBE in honor of his accomplishments in drama. However, Kwouk will always be immortalized as Cato, the long-suffering but fanatically devoted man servant to Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series. A common theme throughout the series was having Cato follow Clouseau's orders to keep him on guard by ambushing him at the most inopportune moments. Their raucous battles were the stuff of inspired lunacy. He and Sellers first appeared together in 1964 and he would continue to play the same character in new installments of the series after Sellers death up until 1992. Kwouk was also a popular presence in British television and reinforced his cult status by appearing in two James Bond films in supporting roles, "Goldfinger" (1964) and "You Only Live Twice" (1967). He also made an appearance in the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale". Kwouk, a gentle and good-humored man in real life, relished the fact that his appearances in the Pink Panther and Bond films had made him popular even with younger generations. He frequently attended Bond-related fan conventions at Pinewood Studios in London where he enjoyed discussing his career and signing autographs. For more click here.
Popular character actor William Schallert has died at age 93, having been active in the acting community right up through recent years. Schallert was a familiar face to retro movie and TV fans, even if his name was not as well known. He is remembered by many for playing the harried father of teenage Patty Duke in the 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show". (In a tragic coincidence, Ms. Duke also recently passed away.) Schallert was much beloved by science fiction and horror fans for his appearances in TV series such as "Commander Cody", "Space Patrol", "Men Into Space" and "The Twilight Zone".
Artist Pete Emslie's tribute to Schallert. (For more of Emslie's artistic creations, visit The Cartoon Cave.)
In feature films Schallert appeared in the cult classics "Them!", "The Incredible Shrinking Man", "Colossus: The Forbin Project" as well as the 1983 feature film "Twilight Zone: The Movie". Schallert also appeared in director Joe Dante's sci-fi homages "Matinee" and "Innerspace". He also served for two years as President of the Screen Actors Guild during the contentious period of 1979-1981 and was replaced by Ed Asner, who challenged his bid for re-election.For more about his long career click here.
In what has been a terrible year for the loss
of great stars we all grew up with in film and music, the news of the sudden passing
of Vince Rotolo, creator of the much loved B Movie Cast podcast has hit hardest.
Vince was a huge supporter of Cinema Retro and
always mentioned it in his weekly “Sunday Service”. He would always say that Retro was
exceptional and its time that we said the same about him. Vince was such a cool
and engaging presence that he put all those he spoke to at ease. He was a fan of
the fan because he was a fan himself. I spent many great times with Vince, his
beloved wife Mary and co-host Nic Brown both here and in the States. His shows
were like listening in on a family chat about movies over Sunday lunch and I can’t
tell you the amount of times they made me laugh out loud as I listened back to
them on my commutes to work and getting many a strange look from fellow passengers.
Both myself and fellow Retro contributor Adrian Smith appeared on the cast and
would regularly phone in with comments, which Vince loved, always saying he
couldn’t believe his cast was being listened to “across the pond”.
As both Vince and the shows homely and
approachable reputation and perception grew, the B Moviecast became a world-
wide bridge for fans, with calls from all corners of the globe in his much
loved “feed-back section” on the back of undervalued movies we here at Cinema
Retro also celebrate. I will really miss Vince’s dulcet tones telling us to “Grab
a beer and a TV dinner and listen to the cast” as I will contributing to it. I
was due to participate in a couple of weeks and had only been in contact with
Vince the day before his passing. Facebook has been inundated with posts but
the one that rings truest was from Chrstopher Page when he wrote: “Vince set a
table and let us all pull a chair up just so we could chat. That is a table I
will miss terribly. I think I speak for everyone when I say, his family, Mary,
and his friends (which he made every one of us feel like), will always be in
our thoughts and our hearts.”
(Photo: Mark Mawston. )
Vince was one of us but in all honesty,
there was something about him that we all looked up to. He was like everyone’s
favourite uncle or the older brother who introduced you to cool things and I
was glad and honoured to have known him as a friend. Our thoughts go out to his
wife Mary and co- hosts Nic Brown & Juan. Sundays will not B the same
without you my friend. Ciao.
Ed Mason, who ran the film fairs at Westminster Central
Hall for over 18 years has suddenly died, leaving behind him an enormous legacy
with the film fairs and the shop he had on King’s Road in London for a great
Being part of the film fairs since they started
back in September 1973, he was responsible for introducing the now-highly
collectable Belgian posters with their great art work to the UK, and kept the
world of original film memorabilia going all through his life. Ed was also responsible
for bringing over the best poster and stills dealers from Europe and America to
his London collector fairs, which also influenced the opening of many cinema shops
both in London and around the country.
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s Ed Mason
organised the first public autograph signings at Westminster, where Caroline
Munro , Ingrid Pitt and Suzanna Leigh
did their first autograph events. Others, like Dave Prowse , Michael Ripper and
Shirley Anne Field followed.
The legacy left by Ed Mason is carried on by Thomas
Bowington at Westminster, with the London Film Convention six times a year, with
it’s themed shows and annual “ Hammer Horror Film Day “, The James Bond and
Carry On specials among them. Caroline Munro , Dave Prowse and Shirley Anne
Field still attend the shows and are as popular at Westminster as they were
over 20 years ago, with many of the legendary dealers such as Martin and Philip
Masheter and Al Reuter still in attendance.
Ed Mason’s knowledge about all things film and film
memorabilia had few, if no equals. To
those who knew him he was always a most fair, reliable, kind and helpful man.
The best and most supportive of friends, a mentor, and almost a father figure
Actress Patty Duke, who won an Academy Award for her performance as young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" has died at age 69 from complications relating to an intestinal disorder. Duke was 16 years old when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting actress opposite Anne Bancroft in the classic film. Duke also starred in the popular 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show" and went on to star in the feature film "Valley of the Dolls", which was lambasted by critics but which proved to be a major boxoffice success. However, Duke suffered from mental health problems and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. Duke's tumultuous personal life extended to her love life, which saw her marry four times. Her husbands included director Harry Falk, rock promoter Michael Tell, actor John Astin and Michael Pearce, who was not in show business. She was the mother of actor Sean Astin, who took the Astin name due to Duke's belief that John Astin was his father. Biological testing later proved this was not the case and that Michael Tell is his real father. Despite her personal problems, Duke worked steadily throughout her career and also became a leading advocate for curing mental health disorders. For more click here.
Nancy Sinatra posted a tribute to her brother on her Facebook page.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Frank Sinatra Jr, the only son of the iconic singer and actor, has died at age 72 from cardiac arrest. A consummate performer who was described by the Washington Post as the "Keeper of his father's flame", was on tour when he fell ill. Sinatra Jr.'s story is not dissimilar to that of other children of legendary entertainers in that his last name opened certain doors and helped him establish a career but also posed challenges in terms of his ability to establish an identity of his own. Sinatra Jr. always had a checkered relationship with his father. While not actually estranged, the young man found his father to be a remote figure who was content to have his son educated in expensive boarding schools. The elder Sinatra never tried to mentor his son or advise him as to what profession to enter. Sinatra Jr. discovered early in life that he also had a gift for singing. In the 1960s he made the decision to follow in his father's footsteps by crooning traditional love songs accompanied by a big band. His father neither encouraged or discouraged that decision. Sinatra Jr. was bucking the trends of the 1960s counter culture, an era in which hard rock music was all the rage among people his age. Yet he never embraced it and in fact denounced rock and roll. Over the decades Sinatra Jr. doggedly worked to establish his own identity- an admittedly difficult task considering he was mostly singing numbers made famous by his father. Sinatra Jr. made headlines in 1963 when he was kidnapped and held for ransom. Ironically, one of his kidnapper's was a friend of his sister Nancy. The situation made international news and involved such disparate figures as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, F.B.I. chief J. Edgar Hoover and mob boss Sam Giancana. He was eventually released unharmed and the kidnappers were arrested. In 1988 he was shocked and delighted to be asked by his father to serve as his conductor for his live concerts. Sinatra Jr. indicated that this was the closest he would ever get to his father, traveling and working with him over a period of seven years. The two men were never close but Sinatra Jr. was clearly grateful for the opportunity to work with his father in a professional capacity. After his father's death, Sinatra Jr. resumed his big band concert tours, winning over appreciative audiences. He candidly told the media in 2006 that "I was never a success", pointing out that he never had a hit record or movie. However, he did take satisfaction from performing in front of his own fans and working diligently with his sisters to ensure the Sinatra legacy through official documentaries and books. In that respect he was indeed a success.
Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Sir Ken Adam, the ingenious, Oscar-winning production designer who has passed away at age 95. Adam's work helped redefine films in terms of the elaborate and creative designs he invented, particularly for the James Bond franchise. Adam's work on the first 007 film, "Dr. No" in 1962 was deemed to be nothing less than remarkable, considering that the entire film was shot on a relatively low budget of just over $1 million. His exotic designs so impressed Stanley Kubrick that he hired Adam as production designer on his 1964 classic "Dr. Strangelove." For that film, Adam created the now legendary "War Room" set which many people believe actually exists at the Pentagon. In fact when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President in 1981 he asked to see the War Room, only to be told that it was a fictional creation. Reagan acknowledged that he had been intrigued by the concept since seeing it in "Dr. Strangelove". Adam had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Kubrick, whose habit of changing his mind at the last minute caused Adam enormous grief. However, the two collaborated again on "Barry Lyndon" and Adam won his first Oscar for his work on that film. Adam's close relationship with the Bond franchise is based on his now famous designs seen in the early films. They include the massive Fort Knox set for "Goldfinger", which was created entirely on the back lot at Pinewood Studios on the outskirts of London. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the gigantic volcano set that housed a full size rocket capable of lifting off. This was done for the 1967 Bond film "You Only Live Twice". Incredibly, Adam's work was not recognized with an Oscar nomination despite what many feel is one of the greatest production design achievements in film history. His other Bond films were "Thunderball", "Diamonds Are Forever", "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". For "The Spy Who Loved Me", Adam built the first incarnation of the massive "007 Stage" at Pinewood Studios. It burned down in 1984 and was rebuilt by his protege, production designer Peter Lamont.
Adam's other film achievements include two of the Michael Caine Harry Palmer spy films, "The Ipcress File" and "Funeral in Berlin", "Sleuth", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (for which he designed the famed "flying car"), "The Madness of King George" (for which he won a second Oscar), "The Last of Sheila", "Woman of Straw" and "Addams Family Values". He was also a prolific race car driver and had the distinction of serving in RAF in action against Hitler's forces, despite being a German national himself.
On a personal basis, Sir Ken was a good friend of Cinema Retro and had contributed to our magazine in its early stages through interviews conducted by his friend, Sir Christopher Frayling, who co-authored books about Sir Ken's remarkable life and career.He also contributed valuable interviews for documentaries we worked on about the Bond film franchise as well as "Dr. Strangelove". In his later years, Adam appeared at events pertaining to the Bond franchise that were held at Pinewood Studios by www.bondstars.com With his laid back mannerisms, wry sense of humor and omnipresent cigar, he always delighted fans with his remarkable stories. This writer sat next to him a few years ago to watch the digital screening of "Goldfinger" at Pinewood. Ken told me that he was incredulous at how wonderful it all looked. When the scene came to the interior of Fort Knox, he said to me, "I never thought I'd live to see my work presented so gloriously". It's safe to say we won't see his kind again.
(For full interview with Sir Ken Adam, see Cinema Retro issue #2)
Sir George Martin, arguably the most influential producer in the history of rock 'n roll music, has died peacefully at age 90. Martin was described by Paul McCartney as his "second father" because he had guided the Beatles through their early years, producing all but one of their albums and giving them the distinctive sound that resulted in them becoming legends. His influence on the band was so important that he gained the nick name of "The Fifith Beatle". Martin went on to exert his influence with other major acts over the decades, remaining a powerful force in the music industry. For full details of Sir George's remarkable life, click here.
Oscar winning actor George Kennedy has died at age 91, five months after the passing of his wife Joan. Kennedy's popularity as a character actor led to eventual leading man roles in major films. Born in New York City, he experienced stage life early, working with his parents in Vaudeville. During WWII he served under General Patton and was decorated for bravery. He drifted into acting on television in the 1950s. With his imposing physical presence (he was 6'4"), Kennedy immediately found work, generally playing heavies who squared off against the series' heroes. Among the shows he guest-starred on were such hits as "Have Gun, Will Travel", "Rawhide", "Gunsmoke" and "The Untouchables". He crossed into feature films in the early 1960s and first made a splash in Stanley Donen's 1963 comedy thriller "Charade" in which he played a crook with a hook hand who attempts to kill Cary Grant in a rooftop fight. The film demonstrated that Kennedy could play light comedy as well as menacing characters. From that point he never stopped working and quickly became one of the most popular "second bananas" in the film industry. He specialized in Westerns and appeared in plenty- squaring off against John Wayne in "The Sons of Katie Elder" and co-starring with James Stewart, Dean Martin and Raquel Welch in "Bandolero!". He also had a major role in the 1967 WWII blockbuster "The Dirty Dozen". His appearance as a buffoonish convict who initially fights but later befriends Paul Newman on a chain gain in "Cool Hand Luke" won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1968. This elevated his marketability in Hollywood and Kennedy got the occasional starring roles in films such as "Guns of the Magnificent Seven" and "The Human Factor". Generally, however, he was relegated to supporting roles, but high profile ones. As gruff, cigar crunching engine Joe Patroni in the original "Airport", Kennedy made a significant enough impression that he became the only cast member from that film to appear in the three sequels. He also co-starred with Clint Eastwood in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" and "The Eiger Sanction". He enjoyed a late career surge in popularity as Lesiie Nielsen's co-star in the three hit "Naked Gun" comedies. Kennedy had two children from his first marriage. After marrying Joan, the couple adopted four more including Kennedy's granddaughter, whose mother had been battling drug addiction. In 2011 he published his memoirs under the title "Trust Me".
Slocombe with Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg filming "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1981. (Photo: LucasFilm).
Douglas Slocombe, the acclaimed cinematographer and director of photography, has passed away at age 103. Slocombe was revered by directors over a career that extended from 1940 to 1989, when he lensed his final film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". He had also filmed the first two entries in the Indiana Jones series, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Slocombe never won an Oscar but was nominated for "Travels with My Aunt", "Julia" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark". He had been nominated for eleven BAFTA awards, winning three times. Slocombe's other major films include the Ealing Studios British comedy classics starring Alec Guinness, the classic chiller "Dead of Night", "The Blue Max", "The Lion in Winter", the original version of "The Italian Job", "The Fearless Vampire Killers", "The Great Gatsby", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Rollerball", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and the renegade James Bond production "Never Say Never Again". For more about his life and career click here.
Vigoda (left) with Richard Castellano and Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" (1972)
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Abe Vigoda, whose hang-dog expression and low-key mannerisms help propel him to fame, has passed away at age 94. Vigoda toiled in films and TV without notable success until director Francis Ford Coppola cast him in the key role of Tessio, a mob lieutenant in the Corleone crime family in the 1972 classic "The Godfather". Tessio was one of the most trusted "employees" of the Corleone family but following the death of its patriarch Vito Corleone, Tessio is discovered to be planning the assassination of the new godfather, Michael Corleone. Memorably he is led away to his execution with typical understated emotion. Vigoda's stock in the film industry rose immediately and he became a popular character actor, appearing in such films as "The Cheap Detective", "The Don is Dead", "Newman's Law", "Look Who's Talking" and "The Cannonball Run II". He also made an un-billed cameo appearance as Tessio in the 1974 production of "The Godfather Part II." (Both films won Best Picture Oscars). In 1975 Vigoda landed a key supporting role in the popular TV sitcom "Barney Miller", playing a world-weary detective nicknamed "Fish". The show ran until 1982 and resulted in a short-lived spin-off series about the character in which Vigoda reprised the role. Vigoda was a popular fixture with the Friars Club whose merciless jibes against him usually focused on his less-than-stellar looks and the fact that Vigoda has mistakenly been pronounced as having died in a 1982 article in People magazine. Vigoda accepted the resulting jokes with typical good humor. At various Friars Club roasts that he attended, speakers would inevitably joke "If only Abe Vigoda were alive, he would have loved this evening!".
Abe Vigoda was also a member of the legendary Lambs Club in New York City, as was Cliff Robertson. They are seen here with Marc Baron, "Shepherd" of the private club for the arts.
Dan Haggerty, who found fame as Grizzly Adams, has died from cancer at age 74. Adams had been playing bit parts in films until he was cast as the title character in "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams", a 1974 low budget family film that went on to gross the (then) sizable sum of $45 million. The show was spun off as an NBC TV series a few years later. It lasted two seasons but made Haggerty synonymous with the role of a character who was loosely based on a real-life adventurer. Adams was a mountain man who encountered larger-than-life adventures. Although Haggerty continued to work fairly steadily in the ensuing years, he was relegated largely to low-budget and straight-to-video projects. Nevertheless, his name and that of Grizzly Adams remain pop culture icons of the 1970s. Click here for more.
In the wake of David Bowie's passing, Britain has lost another revered figure at age 69- also from cancer. Alan Rickman, esteemed star of stage, screen and television, has passed away peacefully surrounded by his family. Rickman shot to fame in 1988 as the villain in the first "Die Hard" movie and went on to become one of the UK's most respected actors. For more about his life and career click here.
Bowie starred in the 1976 cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
David Bowie, one of the most iconic rock and rollers of all time, has died after an 18 month battle with cancer. He was 69 years old. Bowie exploded onto the British rock scene in 1969 and quickly became an international sensation. Over the decades he remained relevant by constantly reinventing himself and producing a wide range of music. He even created an alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, who simultaneously built an equally enthusiastic audience. Cinema Retro readers should also recall that Bowie had a successful career as an actor as well. His first appearance on screen was as an extra in the 1969 film "The Virgin Soldiers" but over the decades he won acclaim for his performances that afforded him leading roles and the chance to play memorable supporting characters as well. His film credits include "The Man Who Fell to Earth", "The Hunger", "Absolute Beginners", "Labyrinth", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Yellowbeard", "Into the Night", "Basquiat" and "The Prestige". He also won acclaim for his performance on Broadway as "The Elephant Man" in 1987.
Bowie kept his illness secret until the end. Just two days ago he released his latest album to the acclaim of critics and fans. He died peacefully surrounded by members of his family.
Actor Wayne Rogers passed away on New Years Day at age 82 from complications with pneumonia. Rogers had played bit part in movies and TV series before landing his signature role as Trapper John, Alan Alda's co-star on the TV series M*A*S*H, which debuted on CBS in 1972 and ran for eleven seasons. Rogers and Alda played the roles of insubordinate, wise-cracking medics in the Korean War. The characters were originally played by Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland in director Robert Altman's Oscar-nominated counter culture feature film from 1970 that inspired the TV series. Rogers left the show after three seasons and was replaced by actor Mike Farrell, whose character of B.J. Hunnicut proved to be equally popular throughout the remainder of the series' run. Rogers later starred for the three seasons in another TV series that was inspired by a comedy feature film, House Calls, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. Major roles eluded him in the ensuing years, though he continued to play supporting parts in feature films and TV shows. Rogers eschewed acting and concentrated on the fields of real estate and financial investments. He proved to be highly successful at both. For more click here.
Acclaimed character actor Robert Loggia has passed away at age 85. Loggia was a familiar face to TV viewers throughout the decades and starred in the short-lived 1960s crime caper series T.H.E. Cat, playing the titular character. In the ensuing years, Loggia became one of the most sought-after actors for high profile supporting roles in feature films. His major credits include "Big" in which he memorably performs a dance routine with a rejuvenated Tom Hanks in the F.A.O Schwarz toy store in Manhattan; "Jagged Edge" for which he received an Oscar nomination, "Scarface" (1983), "Prizzi's Honor", "Che", "S.O.B" and "Independence Day". For more click here.
Director John Guillermin has passed away at age 89. The British director was best known for his high profile action films including the 1974 blockbuster "The Towering Inferno" and the 1976 remake of "King Kong", a production that was plagued by troubles but ended up being quite profitable. Guillermin was despised by some in the industry for his mercurial temperament and harsh methods of directing actors. However, no one could deny his talents. He was equally adept at directing scenes of intimate drama as well as explosive, large-scale action scenes. Among his best films was the 1969 production of "The Bridge at Remagen" which was interrupted by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Guillermin and producer David L. Wolper managed to salvage the film by moving the production elsewhere, a monumental task that they completed successfully. Other Guillermin films include "Death on the Nile", "The Blue Max", "El Condor", "Shaft in Africa", "Skyjacked", "Never Let Go" and "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure". For more click here.
Milner as Officer Pete Malloy of the Los Angeles Police Department in the TV series "Adam-12" which ran between 1968-1975.
Actor Martin Milner passed away on September 6 at the age of 83. Milner had many TV series and feature film credits (including "Sweet Smell of Success", "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" and "Valley of the Dolls"). However, he is primarily remembered for starring in two iconic television series of the 1960s: "Route 66" and "Adam-12". Novelist and Cinema Retro contributing writer John M. Whalen provides some reflections on Milner's career. Click here to read and make sure you follow the link to his 2001 interview with Milner for the Outre web site.
In 1968 Carne made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post along with her "Laugh-In" co-stars Goldie Hawn and Chelsea Brown.
Actress Judy Carne passed away last week at age 76. Her once promising career took off in the late 1960s as the "Sock It To Me!" girl who gyrated in a bikini and was routinely doused with water on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In". However, as her aptly-titled autobiography was titled ("Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside: The Bittersweet Saga of the 'Sock It To Me' Girl"), Carne's life and career veered wildly off course after she left the hit NBC program. Broken marriages, drug problems and high profile arrests ensured that she would never see the kind of stardom that other "Laugh-In" women such as Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin attained. Writing in the Washington Post, Justin Wm. Moyer explores the tragic life and career of a very talented artist whose penchant for self-destruction could not be overcome.
Last week actor Dean Jones passed away at age 84. Jones was the affable star of many Disney live action films in the 1960s and 1970s including "That Darn Cat!", "The Love Bug", "The Ugly Dachshund" and "Monkeys, Go Home!" among numerous others. Jones was given a lifetime achievement award by the Disney company in recognition of his many contributions to major films produced by the studio. Jones became increasingly adamant that he would only appear in family-oriented films. However, early in his career he had supporting roles in such mainstream adult fare as "Tea and Sympathy", "Torpedo Run", "Never So Few", "Ten Thousand Bedroom"s", "Ash Wednesday" and starred in the 1965 cult horror film "Two On a Guillotine". Jones was also a proficient stage actor and received great acclaim for his starring role in Stephen Sondheim's "Company" in 1970. However, he was tormented by the divorce he was going through and ended up leaving the production after only two weeks. Larry Kert took over the plum role and received a Tony nomination. In later years, Jones, a devout Christian, became increasingly involved in faith-based projects and founded the Christian Rescue Committee, a charitable organization. For more click here.
Director Wes Craven, who revitalized the horror film genre for a new generation with the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" franchises, has died at age 76. The cause of death was brain cancer, according to his family. For more click here.
Actress Yvonne Craig, who specialized in playing perky and sexy characters in TV shows and feature films, has died after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 78 years old. Craig broke into the film and TV industry in the late 1950s, making her big screen debut in the exploitation film "Eighteen and Anxious". Before long, she was not only co-starring with Elvis Presley in "It Happened at the World's Fair" and "Kissin' Cousins", but also dating him as well. There was no shortage of work for the attractive Craig during the 1960s and she appeared on numerous TV series including "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." In fact, Craig filmed extra sequences for extended two-part episodes of the show that were released theatrically under the titles "One Spy Too Many" and "One of Our Spies is Missing". However, it was when producer William Dozier cast Craig as Batgirl in the "Batman" TV series that she became a TV icon. Although the show's popularity was on the decline by that point, Craig did appear in the final 26 episodes of the series and built a loyal following that extends to this day.
Her other feature films include "Quick Before It Melts!", "Advance to the Rear", "Ski Party" and the Don Knotts movie "How to Frame a Figg". She also had a brief but memorable role as a Russian ballerina/spy opposite James Coburn in the 1967 hit "In Like Flint". Craig became an independent businesswoman later in life, producing pre-paid promotional phone cards and working in real estate while also providing voice-over work for the TV series "Olivia". For more click here
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.