Stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham has died from unspecified causes at age 82. Needham had a long history as one of the best stuntmen in feature films and television before he moved into directing movies. Needham's films were hardly the stuff of art house theaters. He specialized in testosterone-packed action sequences designed to appeal squarely at male audiences. Along the way, he was also credited with developing methods that reduced the risk for the many stuntmen who populated his films. Needham made his directorial debut in 1977 with Smokey and the Bandit starring his old friend Burt Reynolds. Critics scoffed at the cornball humor and endless car stunts and the film laid an egg in urban play dates. However, it resonated with its intended audiences in rural areas and eventually the grosses brought to blockbuster status. The movie not only cemented Reynolds as a genuine superstar but gave new life to the careers of his co-stars Sally Field and Jackie Gleason. Needham and Reynolds collaborated a few years later on another film, Hooper, that was accentuated by stunt work. He teamed with Reynolds again for the all-star comedy hit The Cannonball Run in 1981. The film spawned an ill-conceived sequel a few years later. He also directed Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his first starring roles in the Western comedy Villain. Needham had no reservations about alternating between directing films and serving as a stunt coordinator. However, his association with Reynolds seem to mirror his own fate in the film business. As audiences tired of Reynolds' stunt-packed action films, grosses fell and Needham found himself less in demand. However, in 2012, he did have the satisfaction of receiving an honorary Oscar for his contributions to stunt work in the film industry. The characteristically modest man was well-liked and greatly respected for the impressive number of major films on which he performed stunts. These include Little Big Man, French Connection II, The Longest Yard, Camelot and A Star is Born. He was also a favorite of John Wayne, who learned a thing or two from Needham about how to throw convincing punches. Wayne used him as a stunt man or stunt coordinator on his films Rio Lobo, Chisum, The Undefeated and McQ. For more click here
Ed Lauter, the popular character actor who specialized in playing tough guys, has died at age 74. Lauter was one of those familiar faces who was recognized by audiences even though many viewers did not know his name. For movie buffs, however, Lauter was well known and highly respected. He had dabbled with being a standup comic in the 1960s before trying his hand at acting. Lauter quickly gained a reputation as a reliable character actor and he became in-demand during the 1970s. Among his most memorable roles were a ruthless prison guard in director Robert Aldrich's 1974 hit The Longest Yard and as Ann-Margret's ill-fated husband in Richard Attenborough's 1978 thriller Magic. Other prominent roles included Hitchcock's final film Family Plot, The Magnificent Seven Ride!, Breakheart Pass, French Connection II, Hickey& Boggs, Death Wish 3 and, most recently Trouble With the Curve and the 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist.He also appeared extensively on television and co-starred in the acclaimed TV movie The Jericho Mile. For more click here
Italian screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni has passed away at age 87. Vincezoni was best known for his work on the Sergio Leone Western classics "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", both starring Clint Eastwood. Vincenzoni was rather dismissive of his work on these films, saying that he knocked off his writing contribution in a matter of days. In the case of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" he improvised and created a plot outline on the spot in order to win financing from United Artists. Vincezoni said he was most proud of other films that he worked on that were honored on the film festival circuit. Indeed, although regarded as classics today, the Leone Westerns were largely despised or ignored by the critical establishment in the 1960s. Vincenzoni once told Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling that one of his great regrets was allowing a feud over money to break his relationship with the legendary director. When Leone died, Vincenzoni, with more than a hint of amusing ego, took the blame saying, "As the more cultured man, I should have known better." For NY Times obituary click here
Cinema Retro mourns the passing of director Richard C. Sarafian, who has passed away at age 83. Sarafian may not be a household name but in the film industry he was held in great regard, especially by maverick younger directors like Quentin Tarantino who emulated his work and style. Crusty, outspoken and often littering his sentences with curses that would make a longshoreman blush, Sarafian was an uncompromising man when it came to his personal visions of how his movies should be constructed. He started off directing episodes of classic TV series including I Spy and Batman and his best known work from the 1960s is the eerie "Living Doll" episode of The Twilight Zone in which Telly Savalas as a cruel stepfather gets his comeuppance at the hands of possessed toy doll. Sarafian graduated into feature films and directed the movie which gained him fame, if not fortune: Vanishing Point, the 1971 action film that included ground breaking car chases that influenced action films for decades to come. (Like most superior works, it spawned an inferior remake.) In interview with Cinema Retro for issue #12, Sarafian said the experience of making the movie was not a happy one. Studio brass insisted on re-editing the movie and taking most of the nuance out of the story. He was also dissatisfied with having to cast Barry Newman in the lead, as he had been hoping the studio would sign either George C. Scott or Gene Hackman. The film laid an egg at the boxoffice but with the advent of home video it became a cult classic. Sarafian had more troubles on the set of the 1973 Western The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing starring Burt Reynolds. During production, a mysterious murder took place on the set that gained the production notorious headlines around the world. Sarafian was more satisfied with Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris and John Huston. He also directed the 1976 Sean Connery thriller The Next Man. By 1988, however, his career was in decline due to his refusal to toe the line with studio executives and the fact that some of his films were not successful. He hoped a high profile disaster movie titled Solar Crisis would reignite his career but he went over budget and once again clashed with the studio. Sarafian called the finished film a mess and had his name removed from the credits. In more recent years, he dabbled in acting, playing small character roles in high profile movies.
On a personal note, Sarafian was a great fan of Cinema Retro and would occasionally call this writer to discuss specific issues.Even when he praised an article, it was with plenty of expletives attached. A refreshing aspect of Sarafian's personality is that, while he detested studio "suits", he also didn't shy away from taking personal responsibility for some films he deemed to be artistic failures. Needless to say, he was a one-of-a-kind talent and movie lovers everywhere will mourn his passing.
Ray Dolby, who is credited for revolutionizing the way sound was utilized in the motion picture industry, has died at age 80. Dolby's contributions to the film industry are largely taken for granted in today's era of special effects-driven, big budget movies. However, for those who first experienced the impact of the Dolby sound, the memories will resonate through their lives. The first Dolby sound system effect (which reduced background noise and ensured a crystal clean sound) was implemented in 1971 for Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The younger generation of filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, would find the Dolby effect to be an essential part of their films and created sound-driven action sequences to highlight Dolby's achievements. For NY Times obituary, click here
Gilbert Taylor, the legendary cinematographer, has passed away at age 99. Although he photographed some of the greatest films of all time, Taylor never received a single Oscar nomination (though he was nominated for two BAFTAs for his work on Polanski's Repulsion and Cul-de-sac). He was among the most revered artists in his trade. Among the classics he worked on: Star Wars, Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day's Night, Dr. Strangelove, Frenzy and The Omen. For more click here
Harris gave a brilliant performance as a woman who has been targeted by evil spirits in The Haunting (1963)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Julie Harris, who was regarded as Broadway royalty for winning five Tony Awards (a feat never equaled by any other actress), has passed away at age 87. Harris' career in stage, film and TV spanned almost 60 years. She was the first actress to play Sally Bowles in the original stage adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's I Am a Camera, which recounted the journalist's experiences in Berlin during the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism. The musical version of the story was later brought to the stage as Cabaret. Ms. Harris was widely respected throughout the arts and was among those select American performers who was accorded the Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. Harris also appeared in numerous high profile films beginning with his Oscar-nominated performance in The Member of the Wedding in 1952. She also appeared in the 1955 film version of I Am a Camera. She memorably co-starred with James Dean in East of Eden and throughout the 1960s, her big screen career blossomed even while she performed in high profile stage and TV productions. She often played the role of a troubled woman, sometimes beset by psychological disorders. In the 1962 film version of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight, she played a dowdy, plain Jane who unexpectedly falls in love with a down-and-out, punch-drunk boxer played by Anthony Quinn. In John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye, she played a deeply troubled woman whose husband is having an affair with her best friend. Her biggest impact on the big screen during this era was as a woman whose psychic powers lead to tragedy in director Robert Wise's chilling masterpiece The Haunting. For more about her remarkable career, click here.
Veteran movie director Ted Post has died at age 95. Post was closely associated with the early career of Clint Eastwood, directing 20 episodes of Rawhide and Eastwood's feature films Hang 'Em High (1968) and Magnum Force (1973). Post also directed the hit sequel to Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Post is closely associated with classic TV, having directed episodes of Combat!, The Defenders, The Twilight Zone, Peyton Place and Gunsmoke. His latest television project was a remake of the John Ford classic Stagecoach in 1986. Other feature films include The Harrad Experiment and Go Tell the Spartans. For more click here
Valentin de Vargas with Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil.
Valentin de Vargas, who menaced Janet Leigh as
Pancho in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," has
died at the age of 78.
Vargas died June 10 of myelodysplastic syndrome
in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was laid to rest at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in
New Mexico. His daughter, Vanessa de Vargas, said the family wanted to wait
until after his burial to announce his death.
Vargas was active in Nosotros, the organization
founded by Ricardo Montalban to support Latinos in show business, and he took
acting classes taught by Anthony Quinn.
Vargas reunited with Touch of Evil co-stars Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston.
In addition to "Touch of Evil," Vargas
appeared in "Blackboard Jungle," Howard Hawks' "Hatari!,"
"The Magnificent Seven" and William Friedkin's "To Live and Die
Vargas also guest starred in such popular TV shows
as "Hill Street Blues," "The Wild Wild West," and
"Dallas," as well as a classic horror episode of "The
Alfred Hitchcock Hour": The Life Work of Juan Diaz, based on a
short story by Ray Bradbury.- Harvey Chartrand
Karen Black with (L to R) Alan Cumming and Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer and David Savage under the portrait of Players club founder Edwin Booth.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Cinema Retro is very saddened to learn the news that Karen Black has died at age 74 following a long battle with cancer that was documented on web sites by her husband Stephen Eckelberry. Black found that her insurance plans would not cover some of the experimental treatments she had hoped to try and planned to travel to Europe where they could be administered. Drained of her savings by the cost of health care treatments, Black and her husband made appeals for financial donations on the web in hopes of raising enough money to get to Europe. Sadly, she became completely incapacitated before that could happen. Eckelberry had documented the last three years of Black's life as part of a documentary about her battle with cancer that will be shown in some format in the future. Black first gained attention in a Broadway show in 1965 before gaining fame on film in counter-culture movies of the late 1960s and 1970s including Easy Rider, Drive, He Said and Five Easy Pieces, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. She worked very steadily in films, TV and on stage. Until her illness struck, she had been performing acclaimed one-woman shows in which she would sing and recount amazing stories about her show business career. She also appeared in many other high profile films such as Alfred Hitchcock's last movie Family Plot and Airport '75, a kitschy boxoffice hit in which she played a stewardess who must take command of a plane when the pilots are disabled. She also appeared in Portnoy's Complaint, The Outfit, The Great Gatsby, Capricorn One and Robert Altman's Nashville.
On a personal note, I only met Karen Black once, a few years ago when her friend, Cinema Retro columnist David Savage, brought her to the Players club in New York City. Black had asked if she could bring along a "couple" of friends, which turned out to be about a dozen people including such talents as Alan Cumming and Andrea McArdle. It was a wonderful evening, as this charming lady regaled us with fascinating tales about her long career, which she told me had been derailed due to the financial failure of The Day of the Locust, the 1975 big budget boxoffice flop. Black had the starring role and she said that studios blamed her for the film's failure, although she cited behind the scenes talent as the real reason the movie lost money. She was too considerate even then to name the people she felt were the real culprits, but she did say it was the most unhappy experience of her career. She also discussed her long friendship with co-star Jack Nicholson, who always referred to her as "Blackie" and laughingly said that the role she probably still gets the most fan mail from was the 1975 cult classic TV movie Trilogy of Terror in which she played multiple roles. I recall just how ageless Karen Black seemed that night. She was still very much a head-turner and was charming and funny. I will greatly miss her, as will anyone else who has admired her considerable talents over the decades.
Acclaimed character actor Michael Ansara has died at age 91. Ansara had primarily been known for playing key roles in Western TV series and motion pictures, but is also beloved by Star Trek fans for playing a Klingon commander in three incarnations of the series. Ansara, who was married for many years to actress Barbara Eden, appeared in such films as The Comancheros, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Harum Scarum (aka Harem Holiday) and Sol Madrid (aka The Heroin Gang). For more click here
Actress Eileen Brennan, who was nominated for Oscars for her performances in The Last Picture Show and Private Benjamin, has died of cancer at age 80. Brennan's promising career was cut short in 1982 due to medical complications resulting from an automobile accident. He attempts to return to acting were initially thwarted by her substance abuse problems and she attended the Betty Ford Clinic to help in her rehabilitation. In later years, she did resume appearing in feature films and popular television shows as a respected character actress. For more click here
Jim Kelly, the charismatic martial arts star who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, has died from cancer at age 67. Kelly had a loyal following of fans that extended to recent years and he was a popular fixture at autograph shows. His other action flicks include Three the Hard Way, Black Belt Jones and Black Samurai, all of which capitalized on the "Blaxploitation" films of the 1970s. For more click here
A Mercury Theater player turned comic actor,
Elliott Reid may be best known as the thorn in Fred MacMurray's side in THE
ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and SON OF FLUBBER (1963). Reid starred in
director William Cameron Menzies' Cold War sci-fi thriller THE WHIP HAND
(1951), GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953), INHERIT THE WIND (1960), THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963), THE WHEELER
DEALERS (1963), MOVE OVER, DARLING (1963), WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?
(1963), BLACKBEARD'S GHOST (1968) and SOME KIND OF A NUT (1969). Reid also
made countless TV appearances, notably DESIGN FOR LOVING, a classic 1958 episode
of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS based on a story by Ray Bradbury. Reid last
appeared onscreen in a 1992 episode of SEINFELD and in a 1995 episode of MAYBE
THIS TIME with Bette White.- Harvey Chartrand
Richard Matheson, whose classic sci-fi stories were adapted into TV episodes and feature films, has died at age 87. Perhaps his best known novel was I Am Legend, an apocalyptic tale about a man battling hoards of vampires intent on killing him. The film was made into feature films on three occasions, as The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and more recently, I Am Legend with Will Smith. Matheson also wrote dozen teleplays for The Twilight Zone and was working on a remake of his acclaimed 1950s film The Incredible Shrinking Man. For more click here For Bradley's update click here
The sudden death of acclaimed, Emmy-winning actor James Gandolfini from a heart attack has left the entertainment community stunned. The actor passed away while on vacation in Italy. He was only 51 years old. The Huffington Post pays tribute to his life and career. Click here to read.
Actor Steve Forrest has passed away at the age of 87. The brother of famed actor Dana Andrews, Forrest had a successful career in films and television. A WWII veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Forrest was discovered by Gregory Peck and appeared in numerous films including Flaming Star, Spies Like Us, The Longest Day, Heller in Pink Tights, North Dallas Forty and Mommie Dearest. He was also a proficient vocalist and golfer. On TV, Forrest enjoyed his greatest success, starring in the short-lived, but fondly remembered British adventure series The Baron. As the titular character in the 1965 show, Forrest played an American antiques dealer living in London who would secretly undertake dangerous international missions in the service of British Intelligence. Forrest also had the lead role in the 1970s hit TV series S.W.A.T. For more click here
Bryan Forbes, who personified the golden age of British cinema in the post-WWII era, has died at age 86. Forbes started out as an actor before morphing into a screenwriter and esteemed director. He teamed with Richard Attenborough to form a film production company. Among their films was The Angry Silence, an acclaimed 1960 movie in which both men starred. It dealt squarely with England's omnipresent tensions between business leaders and union members. Forbes co-wrote the screenplay and produced the movie. His high profile films as director include such British classics as Whistle Down the Wind, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, The Wrong Box, The Whisperers, King Rat, Deadfall, The Slipper and the Rose, The L-Shaped Room, International Velvet as well as the hit 1975 Hollywood horror flick The Stepford Wives. Forbes also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for some of these films as well as the comedy classic The League of Gentlemen and director Attenborough's Chaplin. Forbes had been nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for The Angry Silence and had won a BAFTA for the same script. He had been nominated for numerous other BAFTA awards and was given a lifetime achievement honor by the organization in 2007. For more click here
Harryhausen with one of his immortal stop-animation creations for the classic Jason and the Argonauts.
Cinema Retro is saddened to convey the news that the legendary Ray Harryhausen has passed away at the age of 92. The man who broke new barriers in cinematic special effects died in London. Although American by birth, Harryhausen made England his adopted home and from there enjoyed a long career that saw him receive countless honors as well as the idolization of a new generation of filmmakers. He was also a good friend to Cinema Retro, contributing to several issues and allowing our writers access to his private archives. We will not see his kind again.- Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall
For more on Ray Harryhausen's life and career click here
Winters in the classic gas station sequence from Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Jonathan Winters died on Thursday at age 87. Although superstardom eluded him, Winters is acknowledged as one of the most innovative comics of his era, having inspired others such as Robin Williams to emulate his talent for improvisation. Winters' off-beat, often crazy antics relied on off-the-cuff remarks rather than rehearsed comedy routines, though he did prove to be a popular television presence and released hit comedy albums. He was too unstructured to capitalize on his successful roles in classic comedy films such as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! A WWII veteran, Winters found early success with live comedy routines in nightclubs, but the pressure caused him to suffer two nervous breakdowns and he gave up the format in favor of making feature films and TV appearances. For more click here
Annette Funicello, who was discovered by Walt Disney himself and who went on to become the most legendary of his original Mouseketeers, has died from multiple sclerosis at age 70. Ms. Funicello was one of the biggest child stars of the 1950s, receiving thousands of fan letters every week. She was also placed under contract to make feature films for Disney. As she matured, Funicello became the subject of a lot of jokes as she tried to maintain her wholesome image even while nature took effect and she blossomed into a voluptuous young woman. She had a short-lived romance with fellow teen idol Paul Anka and she also built a second career in the popular "beach movies" of the mid-to-late 1960s, often starring with Frankie Avalon. As she matured, Funicello married and delighted in her role as a stay-home mom, though she would occasionally be lured back into the spotlight. She did a beach reunion film with Avalon in 1987. Upon being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she set up a research foundation for neurological disorders in 1999. For more on her life and career click here
Spanish film director Jess "Jesus" Franco has died at age 82 in Malaga, Spain. The prolific pioneer of Spanish horror and fantasy cult films capitalized on a relaxation of censorship laws to create a body of films that have withstood the test of time and still maintain loyal followings today. Among them: Succubus, Vampyros Lesbos, 99 Women, The Awful Dr. Orlof, Necronomicon and the 1969 Count Dracula starring Hammer film favorite Christopher Lee. He also served as second unit director on Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight. A respected talent who specialized in exploitation films, Franco also occasionally acted, wrote screenplays and composed music for his own films as well as those of other artists. In all, Franco was involved in the production of over 200 films.
O'Shea squares off in court against Paul Newman in The Verdict.
The acclaimed Irish actor Milo O'Shea has died after a brief illness at age 86. The Dublin-born O'Shea had lived in New York City since 1976. He was described as a giant talent of stage, screen and TV. His memorable feature film performances include the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, Barbarella, Ulysses and as the compromised judge who argues with attorney Paul Newman in Sidney Lumet's 1982 film The Verdict. O'Shea, an "actor's actor", also appeared in many popular American and British TV shows including The Golden Girls, Cheers, The West Wing and Me Mammy. For more click here
Richard Griffiths, who graduated from playing minor roles in British TV series and feature films to become one of Britain's most acclaimed actors, has died from complications resulting from heart surgery. He was 65 years old. In an industry obsessed with superficiality, Griffiths used his obesity as an asset. Beginning in the 1970s, he became a familiar face to British TV viewers and later gained prominence as an in-demand supporting actor in films. He is most recognized for his role as "Uncle Vernon" in the Harry Potter films. Griffiths was considered royalty on the stage, however, and he won a Tony for his leading role in the Broadway production of The History Boys. He also appeared opposite his Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe in a 2007 London production of Equus. For more click here
Harry Reems, who soared to fame in the 1970s as the male star of Deep Throat, has died at age 65. Reems, whose real name was Herbert Streicher, had been battling a variety of health problems in recent years. Ironically, Reems was not supposed to appear in the infamous 1972 porn film that starred Linda Lovelace as a young woman whose particular talents resulted in her getting an orgasm from performing oral sex. Reems was on set as part of the crew. When the male lead didn't show up, director Gerard Damiano recruited Reems for the role. Reems went on to star in numerous porn movies but it wasn't all fun and games. At the height of the Nixon administration's crackdown on pornography, Reems became the only the actor prosecuted for appearing in an X rated film. His case became a cause celebre and anti-censorship forces rallied around him. Eventually, the charges were dropped. Reems may have led an exotic lifestyle compared to the average man but it was fraught with turbulence. He spent much of his "career" in an alcoholic haze. By 1989, however, he had kicked the habit and eventually turned his life around. He married and became a successful real estate broker in Utah. For more click here
(Photo copyright Graham Hill. All rights reserved.)
Famed producer Robert E. Relyea passed away recently. He was 82 years old. Relyea served as producer, assistant director and unit manager during a long career that included such films as Jailhouse Rock, The Day of the Dolphin, West Side Story, The Magnificent Seven, The Hallelujah Trail, The Great Escape, Never So Few and The Alamo. In 2008, he released his autobiography "Not So Quiet on the Set". Cinema Retro contributing writer Graham Hill visited Relyea at his home in connection with the book's release. Click here to read his report.
Actor John Kerr died Saturday. He was 81 years old. Kerr's big screen career was somewhat limited but he did have strong roles in South Pacific and Tea and Sympathy, playing a young man suspected of being a homosexual. (Kerr won a Tony for his performance in the Broadway stage production). Kerr also appeared as the hero in Roger Corman's 1961 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum. Kerr worked extensively in television while simultaneously pursuing a law degree. He eventually went into semi-retirement from acting in order to concentrate on his law career. For more click here
For writer Tom Weaver's interview with John Kerr, in which he discusses making the Corman production, click here
Scottish screenwriter Alan Sharp has died at age 79. Sharp's screenplays were as eclectic as they were impressive and included such acclaimed films as Rob Roy, Ulzana's Raid, Night Moves and The Hired Hand. Sharp was also a successful novelist. For more about his life and career click here
Director Michael Winner has died in his native England at age 77. Winner's star rose in the early to mid 1960s with a string of innovative comedies such as The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What's'isname, that perfectly tapped into the emerging London "mod scene". His eclectic range of movies covered many genres, from Westerns to WWII to urban crime thrillers. Among his more notable titles were Lawman, Chato's Land, Scorpio, Hannibal Brooks, The Games, The Sentinel, The Nightcomers, The Mechanic and The Stone Killer. His greatest and most unexpected success was the 1974 film Death Wish starring Charles Bronson which was released at a time when societies worldwide were bristling at an explosion of urban crime and the perception that the current laws were not protecting them. The film tapped into a vigilante sentiment in its depiction of a New York liberal who takes the law into his own hands after his wife is brutalized by a gang of thugs who also rape his daughter. Response to the film was unnerving to many, with audiences screaming in approval with the death of every bad guy. Director William Friedkin told Cinema Retro that the response of the audience in the theater where he saw the film was the most "visceral" he had ever witnessed. Death Wish and the controversy surrounding the film afforded Winner a second career as a political pundit in England. Ironically, it also marked the high water mark of his screen career. His work got lazier and less inspired in the years to come, resulting in forgettable duds such as Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, Dirty Weekend and Bullseye. He also directed two sequels to Death Wish that were financial successes but critical disasters. He was accused of grabbing for the low-hanging fruit and directing both films in order to make a fast profit. Winner's star eroded in America but he had remained a high profile personality in England, often making outrageous statements that offended seemingly everyone. Denied a knighthood, Winner scorned the offer of being honored with an OBE by saying it was suitable for people who "clean toilets". His political punditry in favor of the Tories made him a regular fixture on British TV where he would rail against the perceived dangers of liberalism. His long-running restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times also caused controversy and instilled fears in chefs whose creations he disapproved of. Ironically, it was his fixation on exotic gastronomical delights that hastened his death. Winner had suffered from a series of terrible health complications relating to certain dishes he had dined on. He never fully recovered. For more on his life and career click here
Jon Finch, star of stage and screen, has been found dead in his home in England. He was 70 years old. He had been suffering from from a variety of health issues and friends became concerned when they had not heard from him for a time. Finch never became a bonafide star but was respected for being an outstanding supporting actor in films such as Lady Caroline Lamb, The Vampire Lovers, Sunday, Bloody Sunday and The Horror of Frankenstein. He did land leading roles in two high profile film productions in the 1970s: Roman Polanski's controversial screen version of Macbeth (in which Finch played the title role) and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy in which Finch was cast as an innocent man suspected of being a serial killer. Over the decades, he continued to act both on television and in feature films. Finch preferred to stay out of the spotlight and kept a low profile. He had been living in Hastings since 2003. For more click here
(For more about Finch and the making of Frenzy, see Cinema Retro issue #24)
Harry Carey Jr., the son of legendary Western movie actor Harry Carey, has died from natural causes at age 91. Although the younger Carey never became a star, he worked steadily over the decades as a reliable character actor. He was the last surviving member of the so-called John Ford "Stock Company", a reference to the mercurial director's penchant for working with the same actors on many films. He also appeared in numerous films starring his good friend John Wayne, who idolized Carey's father, who he also made several films with. It was Ford and Wayne who gave Carey Jr. his most memorable screen roles in films such as Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Wagon Master and The Searchers. After Ford's death, he appeared with Wayne in the popular Westerns The Undefeated, Big Jake and Cahill: U.S. Marshall. A younger generation of directors were respectful of Carey's stature in film history and he made a memorable appearance in Joe Dante's Gremlins (1984). For more on his life and career, click here
One of the film industry's last great composers has passed away at age 76. Sir Richard Rodney Bennett died this week in New York. The prolific composer was part of a now bygone age when spectacular and memorable film scores were a routine part of the motion picture industry. Bennett was nominated for three Oscars for his work on Far From the Madding Crowd, Nicholas and Alexandra and Murder On The Orient Express. He was also nominated for numerous BAFTA awards for his work in film and on television. Bennett was also acclaimed for his non-film work that included writing symphonies and operas. His other feature film scores include Billy Liar, Equus, Billion Dollar Brain, Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Devil's Disciple. For more click here
Legendary animation master Gerry Anderson has died at age 83. The creator of such classic TV series as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlett and Stingray, died in his native England, having battled Alzheimers Disease in recent years. His landmark style of animation, involving puppets as super heroes, never went out of style and crossed over several generations in terms of popularity. He also produced the hit live action TV series Space 1999 and served as executive producer on the cult series UFO in the 1970s. Uncharacteristically, he also produced the 1970s TV spy series The Protectors starring Robert Vaughn. For more on his remarkable life and career click here
TV icon Jack Klugman died Monday at age 90. He had been in poor health in recent months but his death was not related to the cancer that had once robbed him of his speaking voice. In the 1980s, Klugman literally had to learn to speak again, a painstaking process that allowed him to resume his acting career. Klugman had been acting since the Golden Age of TV before he struck pay dirt as America's favorite slob, Oscar Madison opposite Tony Randall's neat freak Felix Unger in the hit TV version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. The show ran between 1970-1975 and remains extremely popular today. He was awarded two Emmys for his work in the series. Klugman followed this with another hit series, the crime show Quincy, M.E that ran from 1977-1983. Klugman became such an icon of television that many fans forget he had a successful career as a supporting actor in feature films such as Goodbye Columbus, Twelve Angry Men, The Detective, and The Days of Wine and Roses. For more click here
Acclaimed character actor Charles Durning has died from natural causes at age 89. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the remake of To Be Or Not To Be. Other major film credits include Dog Day Afternoon, The Sting, The Final Countdown and Sisters. For more click here
Actor Larry Hagman, immortalized for his performance as the legendary villain J.R. Ewing in the TV show Dallas, has died from throat cancer. He was 81 years old and had been actively acting until recently, when he appeared in the reboot of the famous TV series. The last few years had been difficult ones for Hagman. Not only did he have to battle cancer but also had to contend with his wife Maj's affliction from Alzheimer's Disease. Hagman was a working character actor when he was cast as the male lead in the 1965 sitcom I Dream of Jeannie opposite Barbara Eden. The show's success helped launch him to star status and he appeared in dozens of TV series and feature films. However, it was his portrayal of lovable cad J.R. Ewing in the 1981 CBS hit Dallas that elevated him to the status of a TV icon. The show ran for an incredible 13 years and was revived earlier this year with Hagman and some of his former co-stars appearing together once more. Hagman's feature film appearances include Fail Safe, in which he gave a fine performance opposite Henry Fonda as a Russian interpreter for the President who finds himself in the midst of a tense situation that could lead to nuclear war. He also appeared in In Harm's Way, Mother, Jugs and Speed, The Eagle Has Landed, Harry and Tonto, Superman and S.O.B. Hagman, perhaps improbably, also took a stab at directing schlock horror with his 1972 feature film Beware! The Blob, a lighthearted sequel to the 50s cult classic. For more click here.
The great character actor Herbert Lom has died at age 95. He was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated to England just before the outbreak of WWII. (His beloved girlfriend was not allowed to stay in England and was deported back to Europe, where she ultimately died in a Nazi death camp.) With his imposing looks, Lom quickly became a mainstay in British films, often playing the heavy. A rare exception was his performance in the 1955 comedy classic The Ladykillers. Lom often appeared in B movies, as well as epic films such as Spartacus and El Cid. His poignant performance in the 1962 Hammer Films remake of Phantom of the Opera was largely overlooked at the time of the movie's release, but is now considered to be among his finest achievements. Lom is best known as Inspector Clouseau's long-suffering superior Dryefus in the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies that greatly increased his name recognition. For more click here
Actor Albert Freeman Jr. (also known as Al Freeman Jr.) has died from unspecified causes at age 78. Freeman had been teaching acting at Howard University in Washington, DC. where he also chaired the theater arts department. Freeman appeared on the long running afternoon soap opera One Life to Live between 1972 and 1987 and won an Emmy for his work. In feature films, he had high profile roles in movies like Finian's Rainbow, The Detective, The Lost Man, Castle Keep and Spike Lee's Malcolm X, in which he won acclaim for his performance as controversial Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad. For more click here
Oscar winning composer Marvin Hamlisch has died in Los Angeles following a brief illness. He was 68 years old. In an era in which memorable film scores are becoming a rarity, Hamlisch was one of the last composers to personify those days when great movies boasted great scores. Hamlisch won three Oscars. His memorable scores include The Sting, The Way We Were, The Spy Who Loved Me, Sophie's Choice and Ordinary People. Hamlisch also wrote and composed the score for the Broadway sensation A Chorus Line. Among his other honors were four Grammys, four Emmys, the Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize. For more click here
R.G. Armstrong, one of Hollywood's most enduring and respected character actors, passed away last week at the age of 95. Born in Alabama, Robert Golden Armstrong got the acting bug as a young man and attended the Actors Studio in New York City. His unique acting style made him a hit with critics and he soon found himself playing the pivotal role of Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway. Armstrong made a natural progression to movies and had key roles over the decades in such prominent feature films as Ride the High Country, The Fugitive Kind, Major Dundee, Reds, Heaven Can Wait, El Dorado and Predator. His hundreds of television credits include Rawhide, Have Gun- Will Travel, The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger. For more on his life, click here
Chad Everett, who rose to stardom as Dr. Joe Gannon in the popular 1970s TV series Medical Center, has died from cancer at age 75. Everett began guest starring on popular TV series throughout the 1960s including such favorites as Maverick, Hawaiian Eye and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He gained major stardom through his role on Medical Center which ran from 1969-1976. He earned two Golden Globes and an Emmy nomination for his work on the series. Over the decades, Everett remained a popular fixture on TV, guest-starring on hit shows such as Murder, She Wrote, Melrose Place, Cold Case and Castle. He also had a key role in David Lynch's acclaimed 2001 feature film Mulholland Drive. For more click here
TV legend Sherman Hemsley has died at age 74. Circumstances of his death are still unclear but no foul play is suspected. Hemsley, a former post office worker, drifted into acting in stage productions before he was cast by Norman Lear in the hit sitcom All in the Family. He guest-starred as George Jefferson, an African American version of Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker, as both characters were bigots who still maintained admirable traits. The character of George Jefferson, a successful Harlem businessman, was innovative on television in that he channeled much of the black community's frustrations over prejudice and intolerance. Hemsley's performance was so well-received that Lear spun him off into his own sitcom, The Jeffersons, from 1975-1985. On that show, Hemsley's foil was his wise-cracking, no nonsense wife Weezie (Isabele Sanford). Following that show, Hemsley had a five year run in anothet hit sitcom, Amen. He continued to appear in popular TV shows and provided voice overs for many characters. Hemsley was planning on starring in a revival of his first hit play Purlie. For more click here
Writer-director Frank Pierson has died at age 87. Among his screen credits were the screenplays for two acclaimed Sidney Lumet films, The Anderson Tapes and Dog Day Afternoon. He also wrote the screenplays for Presumed Innocent, Cool Hand Luke and the hit 1976 remake of A Star is Born starring Barbra Streisand. Pierson also directed that film. He also earned the respect of the industry by serving as President of the Writers Guild of America, West and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Pierson had also been very active in television with writing credits dating from such classic shows as The Naked City and Have Gun, Will Travel to contemporary shows such as Mad Men and The Good Wife. For more click here
Richard D. Zanuck,the son of one-time 20th Century Fox chairman Darryl F. Zanuck, has died from a heart attack at age 77. Zanuck's life was one of triumph, failure and redemption. He was appointed as head of production for Fox during trying times when his abrasive father had been called back as Chairman in order to save a studio awash in red ink, largely the result of the out-of-control production costs on Cleopatra. The elder Zanuck saved the studio with his 1962 D-Day blockbuster The Longest Day. During the duo's tenure at the studio, there were massive hits including Patton, Planet of the Apes, M*A*S*H, The Sand Pebbles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and, most profitably, The Sound of Music. There were also missteps such as costly financial disasters like Tora! Tora! Tora!, Hello Dolly! and Star! (The studio favored titles with exclamation points in that era). Under pressure to save the studio once again, the elder Zanuck deflected personal responsibility and in a shocking move, fired his son. The two were estranged for a time but ultimately reconciled. The younger Zanuck had a successful stint at Warner Brothers before teaming with fellow producer David Brown to produce such blockbusters as Jaws and The Sting. Working on his own in later years, Zanuck produced such hits as Driving Miss Daisy, Cocoon and Alice in Wonderland. He also produced Tim Burton's 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes. Despite being reviled by fans, the film was a major hit. His latest movie, Dark Shadows, is currently in release. For more click here
Ernest Borgnine, the Oscar winning star of Marty, has passed away at age 95. His loss is a truly sad one for all movie fans. Borgnine's remarkable talents extended back so many years that virtually anyone in any age bracket could claim him as one of their favorite stars. On a personal level, I met Ernie and his long time manager and friend Harry Flynn in New York in 2008. Ernie was promoting his autobiography and I was invited to interview him in his hotel room. From the moment we met, we seemed to do nothing but laugh. Ernie's laughter could shatter windows and he had a timeless quality about him that belied his true age. I remember thinking of how precious that time was, even while the interview was going on. Here was the last cast member of From Here to Eternity. Here before me was the man I had watched as a kid in McHale's Navy, The Poseidon Adventure, The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch and so many more. I would continue to send Ernie every issue of Cinema Retro, which he and Harry would read voraciously. Only recently Harry told me that they would curse when a new issue would arrive because they both knew they wouldn't get any work done that day since they would read it from cover to cover. I'll never forget Ernie's kindness and generosity. The world is a poorer place now that he is no longer with us, but his legacy will live on as long as there is a movie industry. For more click here
(For the interviews with Ernest Borgnine, see Cinema Retro issues #13 and #14)
His name may not be well-known to international audiences, but UK film and TV fans are mourning the loss of Eric Sykes, who passed away at age 89. Sykes was an original writer, with Spike Milligan, on the classic Goon Show before establishing himself as one of England's most popular and enduring comedic character actors. He also appeared in such diverse feature films as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Theatre of Blood and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Despite having to cope with serious health issues and physical handicaps in recent years, Sykes continued to perform regularly. He had been awarded both an OBE and CBE over the years. For more click here
President Bush awards the Medal of Freedom to Andy Griffith at the White House, 2007.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Fox News has reported that Andy Griffith, an icon of American comedy and television, has passed away at age 86. Griffith gained fame in the 1950s with hit comedy albums based on naive hillbilly characters. Before long, he was a Broadway and TV star. In 1960, he spun off a character introduced on a Danny Thomas TV episode and starred in The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor of the small town of Mayberry. He was surrounded by a lovable group of eccentric country characters including his bumbling deputy Barney Fife, played by Griffith's old friend Don Knotts (who won five Emmys for his performance in the role). Griffith also produced successful TV series, notably Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, a major hit starring Jim Nabors in the role he created on The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith's serieswas a ratings-topper for eight years on CBS before he left the show to pursue other ventures. It was spun off as the successful series Mayberry R.F.D.Griffith tried to emulate Knotts' success in family-oriented feature films, but found the landscape had changed radically. By the time he did his first post-TV series movie, Angel in My Pocket in 1969, audiences were gravitating to the likes of Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider and The Wild Bunch. Still, Griffith worked consistently. He returned to TV periodically but didn't find a successful series until the 1980s when Matlock proved to be a smash hit that ran for many years. Griffith played a shrewd country lawyer who hid his detective skills behind a disarming and genial personality. Don Knotts occasionally guest starred on the series. Griffith also periodically reminded audiences that he could be a powerful dramatic actor. He received an Emmy nomination for the mini-series Fatal Vision, and lived to see his 1958 feature film A Face in the Crowd re-evaluated as a classic. At the time of its release, the film flopped despite being written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. Griffith gave one of the most dynamic performances by a leading man during that era, playing a country singer who gains fame and fortune at the expense of his soul.
For this writer, Griffith's loss is personal. I had authored The Official Andy Griffith Show Scrapbook back in the early 1990s. My publisher said there would be no audience for the book but I convinced him he was thinking like a Madison Avenue snob. He eventually published the book and it was a major success, despite the fact that I had personally loathed it because of design problems on the finished version. (I haven't opened it again since the book came out in 1993). In researching the book, I interviewed everyone associated with the show from Don Knotts to Jim Nabors and Ron Howard, who evolved from a child actor to an Oscar-winning film director. I was told by Viacom that Griffith approved the book, but wouldn't give me an interview. One day the phone rang, and an instantly recognizable voice said, "This is Andy Griffith. I changed my mind". I had a delightful conversation with his legendary story-teller. He said he was very proud of his show's legacy, but attributed all the success to his writers and co-stars. He pointed out that people still want to know how they can visit the fictitious town of Mayberry. He said the town's mythical status in America was a tribute to the skills of a bunch of Jewish writers who barely ever left Beverly Hills! Don Knotts pointed out to me that, early in the series, Griffith felt that Knotts was funnier than he was, so he voluntarily morphed his own character into that of a straight man and allowed Knotts to get most of the laughs. Knotts said he had never witnessed such generosity from another actor.
Griffith saw the TV series that bears his name increase in popularity over the decades. Even today, there are still licensed products produced for the show and its characters are immortal. (Just this weekend I saw couple wearing T shirts bearing the likeness of Mayberry's Floyd the Barber). The iconic show's main theme song by Earl Hagen can still be heard all over in pop culture and even on the street, as fans continue to emulate the famous whistling accompaniment to the tune.
Perhaps the most significant tribute to Andy Griffith came when we was invited to the White House in 2007 to be awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. I can't get into the President's mind, but it's known that the first President Bush is a major Griffith fan and I have to think some of that rubbed off on his son. Griffith was true icon of American television and pop culture. We won't see his like again.
Nora Ephron, the best-selling author and director of many hit films, died yesterday at age 71. Ephron, one of America's most insightful contemporary humorists, was the author of many popular books including Heartburn, which chronicled her ill-fated marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein (the book was made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.) Ephron became one of the few female directors with clout at major studios, with her hit films Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood and- most recently- Julie and Julia - resonating with critics worldwide.
To view Lawrence O'Donnell's tribute to Ephron from last night's telecast of The Last Word, click here