John Rich (right) with producer Norman Lear, 1973.
This almost escaped us but reader Bill Parisho alerted us that Emmy winning director John Rich died on January 30 at age 86. Rich was lauded for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, Gunsmoke, Gilligan's Island, Barney Miller and other beloved programs. Rich also directed Elvis Presley in the feature films Easy Come, Easy Go. For more click here
Ben Gazzara at Cinema Retro's dinner for Robert Vaughn at New York's Players club, 2009. (Photo by Tom Stroud)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Ben Gazzara, who was born in poverty in a New York slum and rose to be a major star of stage and screen, has succumbed to cancer at age 81. Gazzara was part of a new generation of method actors that emerged in the 1950s and he studied at the fabled Actors Studio under the direction of Lee Strasberg in the company of other up-and-coming stars as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Paul Newman. The competitiveness of that talented group often meant that roles created by one actor later proved to be star-making vehicles for another actor. For example, it was Gazzara who originated the role of Brick, the hunk who is confused about his own sexuality in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, earning one of three Tony nominations Gazzara would achieve in his career. However, it was Newman who was cast in the hit big screen version of the play. Nevertheless, Gazzara did find stardom in Hollywood through acclaimed performances in films such as The Strange One and Anatomy of a Murder. In the mid-1960s he earned two Emmy nominations for his lead role in the series Run For Your Life in which he played a terminally ill rich man determined to live his life's dreams before the end comes.
Gazzara also became part of John Cassavetes' group of friends and actors who appeared in his off-beat art house movies such as Husbands, Opening Night and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He also had the starring role in Peter Bogdanovich's acclaimed film Saint Jack. Gazzara also appeared in major entertainment productions such as The Bridge at Remagen, Convicts 4, They All Laughed, The Neptune Factor and the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. He also starred in the infamous Korean War epic Inchon, a major flop that caused controversy when it was revealed that it had been financed by the scandal-plagued Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
On a personal level, I would sometimes run into Gazzara at New York's Players club, where we were both members. Several years ago, the club hosted a black tie event in his honor and Gazzara came to the podium holding his beloved dog that he took literally everywhere he went. Suffering from cancer of the mouth, he nonetheless spoke eloquently and displayed his characteristic wit. A couple of years later, we invited him to speak at a similar dinner that Cinema Retro hosted in honor of his old friend Robert Vaughn. Gazzara told some fascinating stories about how he and Vaughn had to literally use cloak and dagger methods to escape from Czechoslovakia during the filming of The Bridge at Remagen when the Soviets invaded Prague in 1968.
Ben Gazzara was a "actor's actor"- the kind of talent that is not easy to replicate and we join the members of his profession in mourning his passing.
Willliamson as Little John with Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976)
Scottish actor Nicol Williamson has died from cancer at age 73. He was regarded as one of the finest actors to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s, but his disdain for his own profession led him to go into self-imposed retirement in favor of working on musical projects. Playwright John Osborne said he was the finest actor since Brando. Nominated for numerous Tony Awards and BAFTAs, Williamson was regarded by many as the greatest Hamlet of his time. However, his thorny temperament and disposition became legendary and he famously walked off stage at a 1969 performance of the play, apologizing to the audience for his performance. His work was largely confined to the theater, but he did make some major films including Excalibur, Robin and Marian and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. He lived for the last twenty years in Amsterdam. For more click here
Actor James Farentino died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 73 following a lengthy illness. Farentino's good looks and charisma made him a star on the rise in the 1960s and he appeared in numerous films and TV series in recurring roles or as a guest. He also co-starred in the hit series The Bold Ones. His success in feature films was more erratic but he did land occasional prominent roles in films like Me, Natalie and in the sci-fi Pearl Harbor-themed hit The Final Countdown. Farentino lead a tumultuous personal life that saw him married four times. In 1994, his career went into a greater nosedive when he pleaded no contest to stalking ex-wife Tina Sinatra, youngest daughter of Frank Sinatra. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to get psychiatric care. Farantino admitted that his behavior was often appalling and led to him being marginalized to "D" grade movie hell. For more clickhere
Movie fans may be startled to learn that Cheetah, the legendary chimpanzee who acted as Tarzan's sidekick, has died at age 80. That's right, the chimp who put simians on the boxoffice charts long before Planet of the Apes was ever envisioned, was still with us until last week. He lived a life of relative luxury. Cheetah first appeared in the Tarzan films of the 1930s with Johnny Weismuller, who looked after his furry friend until 1960 when he donated him to an animal preserve where he lived out his days in style. For more click here
Robert Easton's name may not be familiar to the public but for decades he has been the "go-to" guy for prominent actors who needed to master the art of speaking in different dialects. Easton started out as a character actor but feared that his southern accent would keep him typecast as hillbillies. He began to study regional accents and foreign languages and discovered he had an uncanny knack for not only mastering them, but for teaching them as well. In short order, he became a real life Henry Higgins, teaching such diverse talents as Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall, Robert Vaughn, Anne Hathaway and Forest Whitaker. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, he completed working with John Travolta on a project. Easton died this week of undisclosed causes at age 81. All the while, Easton worked as a supporting player and appeared in dozens of prominent films and TV series beginning in the early 1950s. Ironically, while Easton had initially wanted to avoid being typecast as eccentric country characters, he adopted just such a look in real life, sporting a long mane of white hair and a Moses-type beard. Click here to read about his remarkable career.
Alan Sues, a regular on the ground-breaking Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In series, has died at age 85. Although Sues never officially said he was gay at the time, he was one of the first mainstream performers to proudly portray effeminate characters on mainstream TV shows. By 1968, when Laugh-In premiered, societal values were radically changing, allowing Sues and other cast members to be themselves. Sues specialized in playing flamboyant characters including Uncle Al, the Kiddies' Pal, a drunken and rude host of a children's TV show. Sues' personality fit well into the "anything goes" mix of the Laugh-In jokes and crazy characters. He stayed with the show through 1972. He also appeared in classic TV series such as The Wild, Wild West and The Twilight Zone. He played Prof. Moriarty in the acclaimed 1975 Broadway production of Sherlock Holmes. Click here for more.
Ken Russell with Twiggy on the set of The Boyfriend (1971)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Director Ken Russell, who once seemed destined to enter his family's shoe business, has died after a series of strokes at age 84. Russell served in the British navy before using his talents as a photographer to become a documentary film maker. Once he began making major studio films, they were often steeped in controversy. Russell seemed to have little regard for whether his movies had boxoffice appeal. Instead, he focused on his own creative visions of storytelling. One of Russell's most acclaimed films, the 1970 version of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love earned him as Oscar nomination and was both a critical and financial success. The films he made in the years after were not as well regarded. His 1971 film The Devils was considered so shocking that it has been censored and cut into various versions throughout the world. The BFI is scheduled to release on DVD the most complete version to date of the X-rated film next year. Russell's other prominent films often dealt with the subject of music, ranging from classical to rock. They include The Music Lovers, Mahler, The Boy Friend and the screen version of the Who's Tommy. He also directed the rock-themed Lisztomania. Among his other films are Altered States, Crimes of Passion, Savage Messiah, Valentino and The Lair of the White Worm. His first major feature was also one of the few mainstream commercial movies he had been associated with: the third, and last Harry Palmer feature film Billion Dollar Brain (1967).
As Russell's projects became more esoteric, his boxoffice record was affected and major studios no longer wanted to employ him. He became known for his eccentricities and his ability to shock even during casual personal encounters with fans and friends. Still, he maintains a loyal following among those who treasure films of the 1960s and 1970s and he lived to see a major revival of interest in his work.
(On a personal level, Cinema Retro extends its sympathies to Ken's family. Ken's film The Devils is the subject of a major article by John Exshaw in issue #21 in which the author called for the release of the film in its uncut format. Sadly, Ken will not be able to see that dream realized. Ken also recently invited Cinema Retro writer Matthew Field to his home to discuss the making of Billion Dollar Brain for our forthcoming Harry Palmer special issue. We are grateful to this talented man for his support of our endeavors.)
Andy Rooney, the legendary TV commentator whose three minute segments on 60 Minutes became an integral part of the show's success over the last 30 years, has died at age 92. It was only one month ago that Rooney broadcast his farewell segment, though he did plan to contribute on occasion in the future. Rooney had gone into the hospital for what was described as minor surgery but complications developed and he never recovered.
Rooney was one of the last of the "old guard" from the early days of television. His association with CBS went back 60 years. Rooney was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. A self-described liberal pacifist, he served as a journalist covering war zones and wrote for the famed Stars and Stripes newspaper for servicemen. He initially opposed the U.S. involvement in the war as he was against all armed conflict. However, as he progressively witnessed the atrocities committed by the Nazis, he adopted a more pragmatic philosophy and admitted that some wars were justified. After the war, Rooney entered the world of broadcast journalism, establishing a name for himself on radio and in the early days of TV as a writer and producer. Over the course of his career, he began to go before the cameras. When he began his segments titled "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" on 60 Minutes in the 1980s, he became an immediate, if unlikely, TV superstar. With his pudgy build and bushy eyebrows, Rooney resembled a character created by Dickens. His slice-of-life commentaries ranged from humorous observations about everyday life to poignant opinion pieces about politics. Although he was an unabashed liberal, he seemed to enjoy the respect of all viewers on the highly-rated program, even if an occasional ill-advised comment might result in a public apology to those he may have offended. Rooney would win numerous Emmys in his career and he also authored 15 best-selling books. He was one of the last contemporaries of such CBS legends as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.
On a personal note, I met the man only once. We were both members of the Writer's Guild of America and several years ago the Guild went on-strike in the hopes of securing better deals from producers and networks on behalf of writers, who are generally treated as necessary evils in the industry. The Guild decided to hold the annual holiday party at the famed Friar's Club in New York, but it was shaping up as a relatively glum affair. Many people in the industry were very worried about their futures, especially with TV networks depleting ranks of writers in favor of producing reality shows that didn't require full writing staffs. In the midst of the crowd, my wife and I managed to find a place to sit at a small cocktail table. A few minutes later, there was a great buzz in the crowd as Andy Rooney entered the room. He didn't do anything to call attention to himself, but his very presence immediately boosted morale and improved the atmosphere. Rooney asked us if he could sit at our table, which proved to the ultimate rhetorical question. For about 45 minutes he chatted with us and well-wishers who stopped by. He told me that although he was very wealthy, he was still a union man at heart and felt he should support the strike. He spoke about mundane aspects of life in a humorous way (although nearing 90 at the time, he would still take a public bus to his beloved football games across the river in New Jersey, though he grumbled about the process.) I also used my time with him to get some wonderful personal insights about his colleagues such as Murrow and Cronkite. He seemed uncomfortable with his fame and said he always tried to blend into a crowd, but said those damned eyebrows gave him away every time. As the evening wore on, he slipped out as quietly as he entered. However, as with every place he graced with his presence, he had left a distinct impression. It was a true privilege to know him, albeit even for a short period of time.
Happier times: Manes with Eastwood on the set of Any Which You Can (1980) prior to the severing of their friendship.
Fritz Manes, a boyhood school friend of Clint Eastwood who would later produce many of the actor's hit films of the 1970s and 1980s, has died at age 79. Manes was a Korean War veteran who was hired by Eastwood's Malpaso Productions in the mid 1970s. He served variously as producer, associate producer or executive producer on major films such as Escape From Alcatraz, Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way You Can, Pale Rider, Firefox, Honkytonk Man, Sudden Impact, Tightrope and others. Manes would occasionally appear in cameo roles and perform stunts in the films, as well. He and Eastwood had their friendship severed when the two collaborated on the 1986 film Heartbreak Ridge, a fictionalized version of the U.S. invasion of Granada. Eastwood had wanted Manes to ensure that the film had the full backing of the U.S Marine Corps and Department of Defense, especially since it capitalized on the wave of patriotism that defined the Reagan era. However, both the Marines and Department of Defense publicly disavowed the movie, leading Eastwood to fire Manes. Later, Manes accused Eastwood of being power-crazed and reluctant to share credit for anything. Eastwood responded by saying that Manes had failed to perform the duties that had been expected of him. For more click here
Cilento and Connery with their son Jason in the 1960s: happiness would be short-lived in the tumultuous marriage.
Australian actress Diane Cilento has died at age 79. The multi-talented actress had already won acclaim for her work on stage when she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the 1963 classic Tom Jones. Cilento divorced her first husband to marry Sean Connery in 1962-the year his first James Bond movie premiered. With Connery's rise to international superstar, the couple could not cope with the fame and constant intrusions on their private lives. The marriage ended after 12 years and Cilento married acclaimed playwright Anthony Shaffer. She also had a second career as an author. Among her most memorable films are The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Wicker Man and Hombre. For more click here
Charles Napier, the talented character actor who appeared in such diverse films as The Blues Brothers, the Austin Powers series, the films of sexploitation king Russ Meyer and Philadelphia, has passed away at age 75. For more click here
John Calley, the low-key, much beloved producer and studio head, died earlier this week at age 81. Calley was a true American success story. He worked his way up from the NBC mail room and ultimately held leader ship positions at Warner Brothers, United Artists and Sony. Additionally, he produced an eclectic slate of important motion pictures including The Loved One, The Cincinnati Kid, Castle Keep, Ice Station Zebra, Topkapi, The Americanization Of Emily, and Catch-22. Calley played a pivotal role in green lighting the return of the James Bond franchise after a six-year absence with the smash hit GoldenEye in 1995. Click here for more
Oscar winning actor Cliff Robertson has died at age 88. He passed away a day after his birthday. Robertson had a long and illustrious career that began in the golden days of television and extended to the Spiderman movies of recent years. Although he generally played quiet, dignified characters, Robertson marched to his own drumbeat- a trait that earned him respect but that also damaged aspects of his career. In 1977 when he was still very much an in-demand leading man, Robertson ignored advice to hush up a scandal that involved the head of Columbia Pictures, David Begelman, who had utilized Robertson's name in a bizarre check forging scandal. Begelman was momentarily disgraced, payed a small fine and was later rewarded for his crime by being appointed as the head of MGM. Meanwhile, Robertson found his own career went into immediate decline. He had been virtually blacklisted by the good old boy network that controlled the studios. Nevertheless, he had no regrets because he always put principal before his own career.
Robertson's good looks combined with his abilities to play dramatic roles as well as light romantic comedies made him a hot commodity in the industry by the early 1960s. Yet he had to endure the frustration of seeing roles he won acclaim for on TV go to other actors when the stories were brought to the big screen. One such case was The Days of Wine and Roses for which Jack Lemmon played the role Robertson had introduced too audiences in the TV version. Determined not to let that happen again, Robertson bought the rights to the story Flowers for Algernon, in which he played a mentally challenged adult in the TV adaptation. The moving story followed the man as he undergoes a medical experiment that sees his intellect rise to that of a genius- with unexpectedly tragic results. Robertson spent years nurturing a big screen version that was released in 1968 as Charly. He won the Best Actor Oscar against all odds during an era in which playing handicapped people was considered to be a career faux pas. He was not able to attend the ceremony because director Robert Aldrich would not let him leave the Philippines locations for Too Late the Hero.
His career got a major boost in 1963 when he starred as John F. Kennedy in Warner Brothers' P.T. 109 which told the story of the future president's heroic WWII exploits. Kennedy personally chose Robertson for the role. Among his other major films were Picnic, Sunday in New York, Obsession, The Best Man, Too Late the Hero, The Devil's Brigade, 633 Squadron and the recent Spiderman movies in which he played the role of Uncle Ben. He also directed the acclaimed 1972 film J.W. Coop about an aging rodeo star.
Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer (L), Cliff Robertson and Steve Thompson at Robertson's Long Island home.
Robertson was one of those leading men who made everything look too easy. Consequently, his contributions to the industry have often been overlooked. On a personal level, I have great memories of the man. In the early days of Cinema Retro Cliff was one of the first major stars to enthusiastically support us. His friend and publicist Steve Thompson and I spent a day at his house at Water Mill, New York on Long Island where he regaled us with wonderful stories. Some were moving, some were amusing and some were shocking (these we promised to never publish). We published his memories of making Charly in issue #4- but we fortunately still have many more of his stories from those interviews that we can print in future issues to honor the legacy of this gracious and talented man.
Like all lovers of classic movies, we deeply mourn his passing.
Hawaii Five-0's classic title sequence was the work of Reza Badiyi.
You may not know the name Reza Badiyi, but if you're a baby boomer, you grew up on his work. Badiyi was a director of many TV series but was primarily known for his classic opening title sequences for such series as Get Smart and Hawaii Five-0. The latter helped pioneer the fast cutting techniques that epitomize today's style of editing. The brilliant opening sequence, set to Morton Stevens' classic main title theme, still thrills fans of the show today. Sadly, many contemporary TV series don't even have opening title credits or ending credits, either. They've been sacrificed to squeeze in an interminable amount of advertisements. Click here for more and to view the Hawaii Five-0 title sequence. (Thanks to reader Bill Parisho for the head's up).
Jimmy Sangster interviewed at the National Film Theatre by Hammer film scholar and author Marcus Hearn. (Photo copyright Cinema Retro)
Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some of the finest Hammer horror film classics, passed away over the weekend. He was a good friend to Cinema Retro, providing our magazine with many wonderful anecdotes about his long career. In 2008, Jimmy invited Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer, Dave Worrall and John Exshaw to a special tribute held for him at the National Film Theatre in London. Sangster was in rare form and delighted the packed house with his memories of working on so many great films. Click here to read John Exshaw's 2008 report from the event. Like all movie fans, we deeply mourn the passing of this remarkable talent.
Spradlin gave a memorable performance in his brief appearance in Apocalypse Now.
Character actor G.D. Spradlin, who portrayed gruff, no-nonsense tough guys, died last week at the age of 90. Spradlin had a a commanding screen presence and his most memorable roles include a corrupt U.S. senator in The Godfather Part II and the U.S. Army general who sends Captain Willard on his secret mission to kill Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. For more click here
Most people think of Ursula Andress as the first on-screen James Bond girl. In fact, eight years before Andress made her memorable entrance in the 1962 007 film Dr. No, actress Linda Christian portrayed the femme fatale in the 1954 live CBS one-hour TV version of Casino Royale that starred Barry Nelson as "Card Sense" Jimmy Bond. Christian had been a contract player for MGM and was once married to screen heartthrob Tyrone Power. She passed away this week after a battle with cancer at age 87. For more click here
Schwartz was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.
Producer Sherwood Schwartz has died at age 94. Schwartz started off as a writer during the Golden Age of television and graduated to developing and producing his own shows. His most notable successes were Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. Both were disdained by critics but were popular during their initial runs and became even more so in syndication. He is survived by his wife of 70 years. Click here for more
Acclaimed British actress Anna Massey, the daughter of actor Raymond Massey, has passed away at age 73. Widely respected in England for her many costume dramas on British TV, Massey is best known to American audiences for her roles in two classic films about serial killers: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, in which she played the ill-fated barmaid Babs. Massey overcame many obstacles and crisis in her personal life including battling anorexia and a tumultuous marriage to actor Jeremy Brett. Massey was awarded a CBE title in 2004. For more click here
(For coverage of the making of Peeping Tom, see issue #20 of Cinema Retro)
Peter Falk, the iconic actor of stage, screen and television, died yesterday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83 years old and had been battling Alzheimer's Disease. Falk created a legendary persona that served him well: that of the inarticulate street guy. He also had a physical abnormality that he made work to his advantage: since the age of 3, he had a glass eye. Despite the fact that he rode to success playing rough, street-wise characters, he was actually highly educated. He earned a master's degree and did not enter acting until the relatively late age of 29. He found almost immediate success and appeared in acclaimed New York stage productions of classic plays by Arthur Miller and Paddy Chayefsky, among others. Falk also found a welcome reception in Hollywood, often playing gangsters. He scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination of Murder, Inc in 1960 and would be nominated again for playing a tough guy in Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles. He also played a memorable and funny gangster in the Rat Pack musical Robin and the 7 Hoods.
In 1967 Falk's career shifted into high gear when he accepted the role of Lt. Columbo for an NBC 90 minute mystery movie titled Prescription: Murder. The role that would come to define him was originally written as a mainstream law enforcement official and had originally been offered to both Bing Crosby and Lee J. Cobb. However, it was Falk who embellished Lt. Columbo by making him off-center, a rumpled, seemingly stupid man who actually always outwitted his more educated opponents. In general, Columbo specialized in taking down elitest criminals who had a sense of intellectual superiority. When the character was revived three years later as a recurring series of 90 minute mystery movies on NBC, the show attracted a Who's Who of big name guest stars, each of whom was eager to be bested onscreen by Columbo. Falk would go on to play the character on and off through 2003. Falk would be nominated an astonishing 12 times for Emmy awards, winning five times. Most of the nominations and and wins were related to Columbo.
Falk's other prominent feature films include It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Anzio, The Brinks Job, The Princess Bride, The In-Laws, The Cheap Detective, Murder by Death, The Great Race and Castle Keep. He also collaborated with John Cassavetes on several acclaimed films including Husbands and A Woman Uner the Influence.
Actor James Arness, who starred as Matt Dillon in the legendary CBS TV show Gunsmoke, has died of natural causes at age 88. Arness was a WWII veteran who was wounded in action. After the war he tried several diverse careers before drifting into acting. He made numerous feature films and played the titular role in Howard Hawks' classic 1950 sci-fi film The Thing. He befriended John Wayne and co-starred with him in several feature films before starring in Gunsmoke beginning in 1955. With his muscular physique and tall frame, Arness became an immediate heartthrob. The show was an instant hit and ran for twenty years. When CBS threatened to cancel it, a grass roots protest campaign on behalf of fans succeeded in convincing the network to renew the show. Arness returned to TV in the 1970s in How the West Was Won and in the 1980s cop show McLain's Law. Arness survived his brother, actor Peter Graves, who also soared to fame on a CBS series, the long-running Misson:Impossible. For more click here
Joseph Brooks, the Oscar and Grammy winning producer, director, screenwriter and composer, was found dead today of an apparent suicide. Brooks was in poor health and about to stand trial on charges that he lured women for acting auditions, drugged them and then raped them. Brooks had plead innocent to the charges. In 1977, Brooks was the creative force behind You Light Up My Life, a low-budget romance that was cleverly marketed around a title song that won him and Oscar and a Grammy. The film was also a major hit, but Brooks' follow-up efforts never repeated the success. Ironically, Brooks son Nicholas is also in legal trouble, charged with murdering his girlfriend. For more click here
Dana Wynter, the stunning beauty who played the female lead in the 1956 science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers has died from congestive heart failure. She was 79 years-old. Wynter's career escalated after appearing the film, which was directed by Don Siegel. She routinely dismissed theories that the movie was a criticism of McCarthyism, saying they only wanted to tell a good yarn. Wynter's other major films include Sink the Bismarck, D-Day: The Sixth of June, The List of Adrian Messenger and Airport. After the release of the latter film in 1970, Wynter concentrated on raising a family, though she did appear as a guest star in many TV series during the 1980s and 1990s. For more click here
Arthur Laurents, the cantankerous but brilliant writer, producer and director, has died at age 93. Among his greatest successes were the "books" or stories he wrote for the classic Broadway productions of Gypsy and West Side Story. Laurents remained active in the Broadway community, bringing revivals of both plays to the stage in recent years and updating them to make it possible for modern audiences to better relate to the storylines. Laurents was a progressive who used his talents to denounce prejudice and political witch hunts. His play Home of the Brave was turned into one of the first successful movies to deal with issues of prejudice in the U.S. military. His 1973 smash hit movie romance The Way We Were also had a backdrop set against the McCarthy hearings. Laurents' stage musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale provided a teenaged Barbra Streisand with a star-making role. Among Laurents' other major successes: the screenplays for Anastasia and Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. For more click here
Actor Jackie Cooper has died at age 88. Cooper gained fame as a child star working for Hal Roach in the Our Gang comedy shorts. He later frequently starred in feature films with Wallace Beery, including the original screen version of The Champ. At age 9 in 1931, he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Skippy. Cooper was one of the select few child actors who successfully maintained his acting career into adulthood. In the 1950s he starred in two popular TV series, The People's Choice and Hennessey. Cooper had a late career boost when he played newspaper editor Perry White in the Warner Brothers Superman movies. Click here for more
Actress and former Playboy Playmate Yvette Vickers has been found dead in her Beverly Hills home. She was 82 years old. Vickers had kept to herself so neighbors did not notice her absence until a year after she apparently died of natural causes. A neighbor broke into her home after noticing signs of neglect on the property and discovered her body, which was so badly decomposed she was unrecognizable. Vickers gained her primary fame from the 1958 B science fiction classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Her image from the movie poster as the titular character became an iconic part of American pop culture. Stardom didn't follow, however, although Vickers did continue to work in small parts in feature films and on TV. Click here for more
Marie-France Pisier, the acclaimed French film star, has died at age 66. Her husband found her dead in their swimming pool. Cause of death is unknown but foul play is not suspected. Pisier began working in films at as a teenager with the legendary Francois Truffaut, with whom she had a brief affair. She and Truffaut would work together again, with Pisier playing the same character- Colette. She rode to stardom as part of the French "New Wave" cinema in the 1960s and appeared in acclaimed films like Cousin Cousin, Cousine and Phantom of Liberty. Pisier won two Cesar awards (the French Oscar) for supporting actress, but attempts to emerge a star in the American cinema were not successful. Her most prominent role was in the 1977 film The Other Side of Midnight, a big budget, sex-packed soap opera that was a hit with audiences but was disdained by critics. For more click here
Actor Michael Sarrazin, whose star rose in the 1960s, has died after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. The charismatic and handsome Sarrazin found stardom almost as soon as he entered the film business, with a prominent co-starring role with George C. Scott in the 1967 comedy The Flim Flam Man. Other prominent roles in the 60s and 70s included The Sweet Ride, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, For Pete's Sake, Sometimes a Great Notion, The Gumball Rally and most prominently, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Sarrazin was said to have been the first choice for the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, but Jon Voight ultimately rode to stardom in the role. Sarrazin's career went into decline by the late 1970s but he continued to work in low-budget films and on television. Click here for more
Acclaimed film director Sidney Lumet has died at age 86 from lymphoma. Lumet was nominated four times for Best Director Oscars but never won. However, he did receive an honorary Oscar for his life's work in 2005. Lumet, who started as a child actor, was - along with Woody Allen- the quintessential New York director and preferred working in Gotham whenever possible. He expressed an aversion to Hollywood early in his career. His career boasted a remarkable and diverse number of classic movies including 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Pawnbroker, Murder on the Orient Express, The Verdict, The Anderson Tapes, The Hill and Fail Safe. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Lumet in his New York office and screening room some years ago when we worked on his audio commentary for the Fox DVD of The Verdict. I had met him previously at a cocktail party at Lincoln Center for Sean Connery in 1997. Lumet struck me as a quiet, unassuming man. In an industry of giant egos, he didn't even take a possessive director's credit until late in his career. I last saw him a few years ago when he was inducted into The Players club in New York City. Always soft-spoken, he had a wry sense of humor and a passionate love of film. He truly deserves to be regarded as a giant of the American cinema. Click here for more
Farley Granger, the dashing star of stage and screen, has died at age 85. Granger was best known for his leading roles in two Alfred Hitchcock classics of the 1940s: Strangers on a Train and Rope. In the former, he memorably played a character who jokes with another man (Robert Walker) about mutually murdering a troublesome person in each other's lives. His life becomes a nightmare when the man takes him seriously and commits murder on his behalf- and expects him to do the same. The handsome and erudite Granger often played romantic leads and engaged in whirlwind affairs with famous actresses. However, in his 2007 autobiography, he revealed he was bi-sexual and had been living with his male partner since the 1960s. For more click here
NBC News has just reported that Elizabeth Taylor has passed away at age 79 following hospitalization for heart problems. The legendary actress won two Oscars, for Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She has battled many diverse health problems throughout her long career. Reports say that she died peacefully at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she was recently admitted with congestive heart troubles. More details to come
Michael Gough, one of the last links to the glory days of British stage and cinema, has passed away at age 94. Gough was the epitome of the reliable supporting actor, able to appear comfortably in prestigious art house films as well as commercial horror vehicles for Hammer and Amicus studios. Gough earned his reputation through his work in the National Theatre and Old Vic. Among his champions was Lord Laurence Olivier. He toiled in largely forgettable feature films but scored with later characterizations in movies like Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula), the seminal Hammer film, the studio's underrated remake of Phantom of the Opera and the Amicus cult classic Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Gough alternated between crassly commercial movies and upscale projects such as Women in Love, The Dresser, The Age of Innocence and Out of Africa. He received a late career boost from director Tim Burton, who cast him as the butler Alfred in his Batman movies as well as in Sleepy Hollow. For more click here
Songwriter and composer Hugh Martin has died at age 96. Martin was best known for composing two classic numbers for the 1944 Judy Garland film Meet Me in St. Louis : Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, which became a holiday classic and has been recorded by over 500 artists to date and The Trolley Song, which became one of Garland's signature tunes. For the latter, Martin and co-writer Ralph Blane received an Oscar nomination. Martin only recently published his autobiography. For more click here
Character actor Frank Alesia has died at age 65. He appeared in numerous beach party movies of the 1960s, appearing with Frankie Avalaon and Annette Funicello. He also appeared in the films Riot on the Sunset Strip and R.P.M. as well as TV series such as Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Laverne and Shirley and The Odd Couple. Alesia also became a successful producer and director of TV shows in the 1970s. He received an Emmy nomination for his direction of the kid's TV show Captain Kangaroo. For more click here
One of the few remaining genuine sex symbols of old Hollywood has died. Jane Russell has passed away at age 89. She rose to fame long before her first major film, The Outlaw, was released. The movie was deemed so controversial that it took years to complete and release. It was the brainchild of Howard Hughes, who had championed Russell as a future star- although his efforts never went beyond centering on her sizable breasts, which became the focal point of The Outlaw's ad campaign. Russell made many films before retiring in the late 1960s, though only one of them-Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe- won acclaim from critics. She was also a popular pin-up girl and singer who performed in variety show formats. In later years, she battled alcoholism before turning to religious faith and charity work. For more click here
Character Len Lesser, who appeared in 15 episodes of the classic Seinfeld TV series, has died from pneumonia at age 88. Lesser gained popularity as Seinfeld's obnoxious Uncle Leo, a loudmouth, unscrupulous schemer. Lesser had a long career in films and TV. Among the features he appeared in: Kelly's Heroes, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Birdman of Alcatraz, Papillon and Some Came Running. For more click here
Mars with Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks' The Producers.
Comic actor Kenneth Mars has died from pancreatic cancer at age 75. Mars was a master of good timing in sitcoms and comedy feature films. He did extensive voice-over work in animated series beginning with The Jetsons in 1962 and extending to recent years with the Land Before Time children's films. He made an unforgettable feature film debut in Mel Brooks' classic 1968 movie The Producers, playing zany neo-Nazi Franz Liebkin, whose play Springtime for Hitler provides the perfect vehicle for two shady Broadway producers to ensure making a fortune off the the show's inevitable failure. Much to their chagrin, the plan goes awry when the audience mistakes the musical for a satire of Adolf Hitler instead of the love letter to him that Liebkin had envisioned. The show's instant success leads to ruin for the schemers. Brooks was impressed enough with Mars to cast him as the police inspector in his 1975 smash hit Young Frankenstein. In the ensuing years, Mars worked steadily on TV and in films, with roles in two Woody Allen movies: Radio Days and Shadows and Fog. For more click here
Tura Satana, the exotic actress who built an enduring following after starring in Russ Meyer's cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, has passed away. A formal press release from her representative is expected shortly. In the meantime, click here to read writer Shade Rupe's personal memories of her.
Maria Schneider, who rose to fame in 1972 with her performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, has died after a long illness at age 58. The French actress was plucked from obscurity to be the female lead in the acclaimed film starring Marlon Brando, who portrayed a middle-aged American ex-pat living in Paris who tries to cope with his wife's suicide through anonymous sexual encounters with a young woman. The film raised eyebrows because of its envelope-pushing sex scenes. The movie was banned in some countries but did net Oscar nominations for Brando and Bertolucci. Schneider was "discovered" by Warren Beatty who helped her get into the film business. The daughter of French actor Daniel Gelin, she had a troubled youth. Following the success of Tango, she fell into dependency on drugs, which wreaked havoc on her life and career. She only made one other notable film, The Passenger (1975) for Antonioni and co-starring Jack Nicholson. Schneider became tainted by a reputation for being erratic in her personal behavior. She said that in 1980, she was saved by an "angel" who got her to get off drugs. The person, who Schneider has never identified, was still her lover at the time of her death. Schneider worked steadily, largely in unmemorable films. She said that she regretted doing Last Tango in Paris because it was an emotionally devastating experience. Brando said much the same thing. For more click here
John Barry, one of the last of the great film composers who came to prominence in the 1960s, has died at age 77. Barry had been suffering ill health for a number of years and had not scored a movie since 2001. Barry came to fame in the early 1960s with his band The John Barry Seven, which scored a number of hits on the UK charts. However, it was when he turned to composing film scores that his career soared. Barry was hired to arrange composer Monty Norman's score for the first James Bond film Dr. No in 1962. His memorable version of the Bond theme remains one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the world. The success of the Bond theme led to long-standing legal disputes between Barry and Norman about who should be listed as the composer of record on the piece. Norman prevailed, but few doubt it was the Barry touch that made the theme so memorable. Barry was then hired to write the score for the the next Bond film From Russia With Love, leading to a long-term association with the series through The Living Daylights in 1987. Barry's theme songs for the Bond movies, often written with top lyricists and recorded by prominent singers and rock bands, became substantial hits.
Barry expanded beyond the Bond franchise with a stunning number of acclaimed film scores. Among them: Zulu, The Ipcress File, Born Free, Walkabout, The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy, The Deep, Somewhere in Time, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves. He was awarded five Oscars, though curiously he was never nominated for a Bond film. He had intended to return to the franchise to write the score for GoldenEye in 1995, but negotiations with MGM fell through and Barry chose not to work on the film. Barry is one of the legendary composers of his era, such as Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith, who have built loyal followings. Barry's talents were not limited to movies. He also composed scores for stage musicals and albums not relating to motion pictures. For more click here
David Frye, who soared to fame in the late 1960s with his devastating mimicry of Richard M. Nixon, has died in Las Vegas at age 77. Frye was an omnipresent fixture on TV variety shows especially in the lead-up to the presidential election in 1968 which saw Nixon rise from being a political has-been to being the leader of the free world after his narrow defeat of Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey. Although Frye was an equal opportunity satirist, spoofing both liberals and conservatives, he was so closely associated with Richard Nixon that few remembered his other targets. Arguably, his career declined as some the figures he spoofed ended up with less-than-comical legacies. President Lyndon Johnson refused to run for re-election and emerged from the White House as a battered and embittered man, a victim of his Vietnam policy that overshadowed his often remarkable advances in social programs. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whose speech patterns Frye amusingly linked to that of Bugs Bunny, was assassinated in 1968. President Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974 after the Watergate scandal, and although Frye continued to spoof him, the nation was so torn apart by the lingering scandal, there wasn't much room for laughs. Nixon had emerged as a tragic figure, deserted by his most loyal supporters when the wake of his administration's legal transgressions became known. By the time he re-entered public life and regained some respectability as an elder statesman, the bloom was off the rose for Frye's impersonations of him. Lost in the midst of his political impersonations was the fact that Frye also had the ability to mimic legendary actors such as Kirk Douglas and George C. Scott. However, as the celebrities and political figures of our time diminished in stature, so, too, did Frye's popularity. Still, he gamely persevered and continued to with his nightclub act, comedy albums and videos that took on both Bush administrations and President Bill Clinton. Click here for more and to view vintage clips of Frye's act.
He was one of the last of the old school comedians. Rubber-faced Charlie Callas has died at age 83. A favorite of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Callas was a staple of variety TV in the 60s and 70s, usually incorporating sound effects to great effect into his act. Callas was not without controversy and, despite being a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, once so offended Johnny Carson that he was banned from the show- on broadcast TV! Callas also morphed into making feature films, appearing in Jerry Lewis' The Big Mouth and in several Mel Brooks films. Click here for more
American baby boomers have lost another pop culture icon: the seemingly ageless Jack La Lanne has died at age 96. La Lanne was the first person to host a fitness show on American TV. His show began to be broadcast nationally in 1959. At the time, it was an innovative idea to encourage people of all ages to exercise and keep fit. La Lanne eschewed fancy equipment in favor of working with the basics. His name became synonymous with exercise and fitness and he opened the door to the countless exercise shows that now appear on international TV stations. He remained in the spotlight and retained his status of being a household name for generations of Americans. For more click here
Acclaimed British actress Susannah York has died from cancer at age 72. York, a RADA graduate, first came to prominence in the early 1960s, scoring a key role in Tunes of Glory. A rebellious spirit in the rebellious 60s, York's career initially thrived with memorable roles in films such as Tom Jones, The 7th Dawn, Sands of the Kalahari, Kaleidoscope, A Man For All Seasons, Battle of Britain and the provocative lesbian drama The Killing of Sister George. In 1970, she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? True to character, she refused to attend the ceremonies. Although the best parts were behind her, York still received star billing in "A" grade productions like X, Y and Zee (aka Zee and Company) with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine, and the 1974 adventure film Gold opposite Roger Moore. She also played the role of Lara in the first two Superman movies. By the 1980s, York's career came off the rails largely because she chose to devote most of her time to raising her children and working on social causes. She hit financial troubles in the late 1980s and had to sell possessions to pay her bills. For more click here
British director Peter Yates has died at age 82. Yates began his career as an assistant director for Tony Richardson and gained a reputation for action movies with his acclaimed 1967 film Robbery. His proficiency with handling large-scale car chase sequences in that film led to his being hired by Steve McQueen to direct Bullitt the following year. The San Francisco car chase sequence in that film is still regarded by many as the best in movie history. Yet Yates' talents were not just limited to action films. His work ranged from moving dramas such as Breaking Away, The Dresser and The Friends of Eddie Coyle to comedies such as The Hot Rock and the big budget 1977 adventure pic The Deep. for more click here
Character actor Bill Erwin has died at age 96. He appeared in countless TV series ranging from The Twilight Zone to Perry Mason and My Name is Earl. His portrayal of grumpy old man Sid Fields in a classic 1993 episode of Seinfeld earned him an Emmy nomination. Erwin also appeared in many feature films, most notably as the bellman in Somewhere in Time. For more click here
Pete Postlethwaite, the acclaimed British actor of stage and screen, has died from cancer at age 64. Postlethwaite had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father. He was equally at ease performing Shakespeare on stage and appearing in commercial movie hits like The Lost World and Inception. Steven Spielberg, who directed him in the former, regarded him as "the best actor in the world." For more click here