Harold Ramis, who helped found the Second City comedy troupe and legendary TV series, has died after a long illness. He was 69 years old. Ramis wrote, directed and appeared in many hit comedy feature films. Among the hit films he directed were Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. He also wrote or appeared in films such as National Lampoon's Animal House, Stripes and Ghostbusters. He was part of a generation that reinvented TV and motion picture comedy. Ramis was a native of Chicago and had moved back there in recent years. For more on his life and achievements, click here.
Eddy and Sid after a Master Class at NYU, 2003. (Photo: Michael Doft)
Sid Caesar’s funeral service was held on Sunday afternoon,
February 16 at a private ceremony in Los Angeles. Among the family and friends paying
tribute was Sid’s biographer and friend, Cinema Retro’s Eddy Friedfeld, who
co-authored Sid’s creative biography, Caesar’s Hours, published by Public
Affairs in 2003.
What follows is the eulogy Eddy delivered before Sid's family, friends and colleagues.
Sid said that, like Isaac Newton, he stood on the
shoulders of giants, his inspirations- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel
and Hardy and W.C. Fields, who helped him develop his career and craft. Today, Sid, we stand on your shoulders- and
celebrate your life, your art, your warmth, character, and friendship. You did things no one else could do and you
inspired many others, including people in this room, to take the same artistic
And if our challenge was to sum up all your vast
achievements into one phrase, we would say- “You made America laugh.”
Born in Yonkers in 1922, the fourth and youngest son of
Max and Ida, he picked up dishes after school at his father’s luncheonette.
Going from table to table he learned to speak his signature doubletalk, French,
German, Italian and Russian from the multi-ethnic clientele. He went up to the
Catskills one summer as a saxophone player and part time comedian, and wound up
going back the following summer as a full time comedian and part time musician. An accomplished tenor saxophonist who could
site read, he played with Shep Fields, Charlie Spievak, Claude Thornhill and
Benny Goodman. He served in the Coast
Guard during World War II, part of the Greatest Generation. He loved being an American and was the poster
boy for the emerging medium of television and the Post World War II era of
prosperity, growth and vision. While
doing the reviews for the soldiers, he met Max Liebman, who cast him in Tars
and Spars and later in his first Broadway Show, Make Mine Manhattan. The impresario Liebman took his protégé to a
meeting with a young executive, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who wanted to bring the
variety show to people’s living rooms, so that they didn’t have to go out for
Broadway quality shows on Saturday Night. That meeting resulted in the Admiral Broadway Review and then Your Show
of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, and The Chevy Specials.
Genius is often
overused. Except where it is most
almost nine years, he made millions laugh. At this point Sid would put his hand up, admonish me and say, “no one
ever does anything great alone.” Sid wanted to make sure that his final bow was
taken along-side Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, and
Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Tony Webster, Joe Stein, Danny and Doc
Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Aaron Ruben, Mike Stewart, and a number of
other great talents who worked indefatigably to write, create, and produce this
new style of comedy on a weekly basis. They were quality- they could do what no one else could do,
before or since.
Sid loved the written word- if it doesn’t start out on
the page, it will never make it to the stage. He presided over a stable of creative
minds. Young kids of immigrant parents
who wanted to make their mark on the world through the vehicle of Sid’s unique
gifts. When Larry Gelbart was asked why
most of Sid’s writers were young and Jewish, he said, “Because all of our
parents were old and Jewish.”
When you hear the generic term Writers Room, the first
thought that it elicits in most minds is the legendary Caesar’s Writer’s
Room. He loved his writers, collectively
and individually. They were his
Praetorian Guard. Of all his accomplishments, his acknowledged greatest was
that he presided over the greatest group of comedy writers ever assembled,
unless you think The Constitution is funny.
I had reached a point in our work together where I
could watch a sketch and discern which writer contributed what line or thought.
He made me promise never to share that with anyone. What was most important was not that these
people were geniuses in their own right. What was significant was how they worked together. It was the genius of collaboration. The alchemy of creating comedy.
1949, television was a little over a year old. No one knew whether it was going
to last, and no one envisioned the impact it would have on society and the
world. Before Sid Caesar, television consisted of vaudeville, burlesque,
wrestling, and bowling. Sid and his multi-talented cast, writers and crew
helped define the medium, developing sketch comedy that was based in truth. For
39 weeks a year, they conceived, wrote, and executed an hour and a half of live
television a week, week after week. They did it, because they did not know they
couldn’t do it. There was no teleprompter, no cue cards, and no second chances.
movie satires, to foreign film parodies to pantomime, from a boy at his first
dance to an argument at a bus station, to lions in the circus, they crafted
stories that had beginnings, middles and ends, and helped ensure that
television grew into one of the most enduring forces in our society. Unlike comedy that came before that was
rooted in immigration and financial depression, this was about a new America-
post-WWII, prosperous, hopeful, the era of suburbs, skyscrapers, and space
travel- it needed smarter, fresher, optimistic, cutting edge comedy with an
infusion of culture and satire.
Sid was a master of character and dialect. He transformed into the put upon husband
Charlie Hickenlooper, feudal lord Shtaka Yamagura, stoner jazz musician
Progress Hornsby, Tony Towers, the inventor of the Towers Trot, The Gangster
Moose in Bullets Over Broadway, who had ears like a hawk, Al Duncy, who was
reluctantly and literally carried onto the stage to have his life story told
with Uncle Goopy and a parade of other crazy relatives in front of five
thousand people, and the German General who fastidiously avoided jangling his
medals, as he prepared to be a fancy hotel’s doorman.
He was a scientist who, after being bitten by a
radioactive termite, developed an insatiable appetite for wood. As The
Professor his endless expertise ranged from mountain climbing, sleep, and
And as the crying clown, Galipacci, he braved the
perils of live television. When it came
time to paint the tears on his cheeks, the point on his pencil broke. I don’t know what a lesser performer might
have done, but Sid not only didn’t break character and song, he instinctively
painted lines on his cheeks and proceeded to play tic tac toe, not missing a
He was Melville Krump, DDS, who got locked in the
hardware store overnight as part of a frenetic hunt for Jimmy Durante’s stolen
loot along with the greatest comedians of all time in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He was Noble Eggleston, the pride of
Venezuela, Illinois with six other roles in Little Me. And, as Coach Calhoun of Rydell High, he got
John Travolta his letterman sweater in Grease.
He was also a Shtarker, possessed of Herculean
strength- as he said “I could walk through a wall without opening a door.” The strength that affectionately held Mel
Brooks out the 18th floor window of The Palmer House in Chicago,
punched a horse who was threatening his beloved wife Florence, and pulled the
sink out of the wall of his dressing room when he had trouble remembering a
Sid understood his audience and always treated them
with honesty and respect. He believed
that the greatest comedy came with pathos- making the audience not only laugh-
but think and sometimes cry.
We are a people that are defined by our culture and our
passions. Sidney Caesar was a giant,
becoming one of the most famous people in America. He walked among stars and statesmen, and the
most accomplished and creative of his and subsequent generations, but always
with a sense of awe and humility.
He raised a family. You can’t tell the Sid Caesar story without talking about Florence, his
partner of 67 years, and children, Michelle, Rick and Karen. He battled and overcame demons and developed
deep and lifelong friendships.
We own our cultural icons- they belong as much to us as
they do to their own families. Laughing
together keeps us close to our families; it is the lingua franca for our
friendships, the shared memories, the shorthand phrases and inside jokes that
keep us close years later.
Sid’s work not only made people laugh, it brought
families together. Over the years, I
consistently heard people say to and about Sid: “Thank you for making my
parents laugh.” It was that association
that people wanted to remember.
I didn’t grow up watching Sid Caesar. He belonged to my parents and
grandparents. He was the fine china,
their gold standard, talked about at the dinner table like a successful
relative. My generation grew up on Blazing
Saddles, Get Smart, MASH, The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family, without
realizing the connection.
I met Sid 14 years ago for an interview. We had a very nice connection. He invited me to come back two days later to
watch his old shows with him. The
article was well received and it led to a friendship and an artistic
autobiography entitled Caesar’s Hours that came out in 2003. I spent two years working with him on that
book. It was Sid, me, and Sid’s dog,
Carlin. It was the hardest I ever worked
and the most fun I ever had. It was
basically one long, spirited argument. Sid loved passionate discourse. He believed in his version of the Samuel Goldwyn adage, “From a polite
conference comes a polite script”- and to which he embellished: “You only fight with your friends- no one
else is worth your time.”
He was tough on those close to him, and toughest on
himself- he wanted everyone to be the best version of themselves, the most
productive and the most artistic. He was
a naturally gifted writer who never touched a pencil or keyboard- he could hear
a paragraph and literally rearrange it in his head- and make it better. If he didn’t have the deadline of a weekly
show, we’d still be working on the Professor on Mountain Climbing sketch from
1951, and making it better with each draft.
He became my coach. I realized that if John Travolta had paid more attention to Sid when he
played his coach, he could have been even bigger.
After we finished working together, we became even
closer, and I visited him often. When I
was in New York, we had a regular Friday night phone call that began in 2003
and ended about two weeks ago. If I
didn’t call him by 3:30, there was a voicemail message from him asking me where
I was and that he was ready to talk. He
could discuss and debate art, film, music, world history, politics, and string
theory- he loved an intelligent discussion. He particularly loved the impressionist painters- Monet, Manet, Renoir,
and Seurat, who started out as struggling artists trying to develop a new form
of art- his favorite painting was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He identified with artists who painted
outside the lines- to him that was what being a comedian was- painting outside
He became one the best friends I ever had- a surrogate
father after my own father passed away, and a mentor. He was there for encouragement, advice and
support as I worked on other projects and developed and taught my comedy and
film courses at Yale and NYU. He loved
that college students were getting to know his work and writing papers about
him, which I shared with him. He took
this not-so-young lawyer and helped me become a writer and film professor and
he took pride in my accomplishments. He
would tell me: “Eddy, Live the life that you want, and love the life that you
As the performers in this room today can attest, he was
the world’s greatest audience. He
laughed with his mouth and with his eyes, and his approval was palpable. It wasn’t a star’s laugh- it was a fan’s
laugh and a friend’s laugh- wonderful for a comedian or writer; he never
outgrew that sense of wonderment that most of us only had as a kid. Toward the end of his life I still loved to
make him laugh- I told him the irony was that I probably did the best creative
work of my career in Sid Caesar’s bedroom.
After Florence passed away four years ago, we spent a
lot of time together watching old movies, from Key Largo to The Manchurian
Candidate to his favorite- The Godfather. He had a personal story about the
actors in every film. I got to know his heart- it was big and complex. I even forgave him for making me turn off
North by Northwest after 40 minutes, proclaiming that “it takes too long for
Hitchcock to tell a story.”
I want to particularly thank all of the friends who
supported Sid after Florence passed away. You need to know it meant the world to him to have you around. Special thanks Sid’s caregivers, Kona, Peter,
Jerry, and Albert, who worked tirelessly to make Sid feel like a king, and a
heartfelt thanks to Fran and Lou Zigman for organizing the parties, the smaller
visits, the hospice care and many other things that literally kept him alive
these past few years.
In Laughter on the 23rd Floor- Neil Simon’s
play based on his days in the Writer’s Room, the characters gather when they
realize that the reign of their boss, television star Max Prince, is coming to
a close. When Lucas calls him noble, Ira
“You think he was noble? He was Moses for crise’
sake. The man is a giant. He’s Goliath. Maybe he’s Goliath after David hit him in the head with a rock, but
there’s fucking greatness in him, I swear… He’s got so much anger in him, so
much pain, so much roast beef and potato salad, that when he goes down like he
did tonight, with such a crash, people fell out of their beds in Belgium…
There’ll never be another Max Prince again, because he’s an original. I’m telling you guys, we just lived through
This is Sid
Caesar’s final public appearance. And I
want to explain the nuance of that remark. At his core, his essence, Sid Caesar was a performer, an entertainer,
and a storyteller. Whether he was in
front of 60 million people, 60 people or six people, every fiber of his being
wanted to make you laugh and smile, and leave you feeling better than when you
got there. The fact that you’ve been
there for him and are here today means the world to him. The fact that you got
to smile and be emotional, he gets that credit, and on his behalf, he would
want me to thank you.
Sid Caesar was an original. He loved, he was loved and he will be
missed. Rest in peace, my friend. Remember, you made America laugh.
Actor Ralph Waite has died at age 85. He became an icon of American television as the kindly father on the hit TV series The Waltons, which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1972. Waite received an Emmy nomination for his performance and he appeared in several Waltons reunion shows and TV specials over the years. Waite had a diversified career prior to acting. He was a Marine, social worker and ordained minister. He became disillusioned with the church and entered the acting profession. Despite a battle with alcoholism for many years, Waite was always in demand both on TV and in feature films. He received another Emmy nomination for his performance in the 1977 TV miniseries Roots. His feature films include Cool Hand Luke, The Stone Killer, Lawman and The Magnificent Seven Ride! He peppered his acting career with political activism and ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Congress on three occasions. He starred on stage in an acclaimed version of Death of a Salesman and in recent years, he had a recurring role as Mark Harmon's dad on the hit CBS series NCIS. Click here for more.
The death of funnyman Sid Caesar leaves precious few legends remaining from the Golden Age of American television comedy. Caesar was one of the giants of 1950s TV and his series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour were considered training grounds for future legendary comedy writers such as Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart Neil Simon and Woody Allen. Caesar also appeared in many feature films including a leading role in the blockbuster 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In the 1960s, however, his career was derailed due to his personal demons such as battles with alcoholism and substance abuse. By the 1980s, he had conquered these weaknesses and found a welcome audience still respectful of his talents. His other feature film appearances include The Busy Body, The Spirit is Williing, Grease and Silent Movie. Click here to read more about his remarkable career.
Shirley Temple, one of the most iconic figures in the history of the movie business, has passed away at age 85. No details of her death have been released as of this writing. Temple was the the ultimate child star. The pint-sized dynamo's sugar-coated family films provided some respite to audiences from the pain of the Great Depression and literally saved Fox from bankruptcy. She was the biggest boxoffice sensation of the era and was so popular that her image adorned a highly successful merchandise line. Seemingly every little girl at the time had a Shirley Temple doll. Temple was so popular that she received an honorary Oscar in 1934 for her contributions to the film industry. She continued to act as a teenager and a young woman but quit feature films in 1949, though she did return to the screen with a TV series between 1959-1961. In 1950, Temple married businessman Charles Black and henceforth would be known as Shirley Temple Black. In her memoirs, published in 1988, she related how, at age 22, she discovered that her considerable fortune had been squandered by her parents through their opulent lifestyle and bad business investments. Temple always maintained that she bore them no ill will. Temple was always politically active and was appointed as U.S. delegate to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon in 1969. She would later also serve as a U.S. ambassador and chief of protocol for President Gerald Ford. Although a lifelong Republican, Temple was honored by President Bill Clinton in 1998. The President said of her that she "had the greatest short-lived career in movie history, then gracefully retired to the far less strenuous life of public service". For more click here
Actor Christopher Jones has died at age 72. Once touted as the heir to James Dean, Jones boasted a handsome face and the same type of brooding intensity that had made legends of Dean and Brando. Jones got his first big break in the 1960s Western TV series The Legend of Jesse James but the show lasted only one season. After appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Judd for the Defense, Jones graduated to feature films. He starred in the little-seen 1967 drama Chubasco (click here for review), the hit 1968 Roger Corman production of Wild in the Streets (in which he played a rock star who becomes President of the United States), Three in the Attic and the spy thriller The Looking Glass War. His most high profile role was as a British army officer who falls in a forbidden love affair with an Irish girl in David Lean's 1970 film Ryan's Daughter. Jones dropped out of acting after that, circumventing a promising career. He later attributed his disillusionment to the murder of Sharon Tate, who he claimed he was having an affair with at the time of her murder by the Manson gang in 1969. Jones was by all counts a moody man who disdained the public spotlight. Jones spurned other offers to return to the screen including one by Quentin Tarantino to appear in Pulp Fiction. His last known screen credit was the rarely-screened Mad Dog Time in 1996 for director Larry Bishop. Click here for more.
(Click here to read Herbert Shadrak's 2009 article about Christopher Jones)
The death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman sent shock waves around the world. Hoffman was found dead in New York City, apparently a victim of the substance abuse he was attempting to combat. Stephen Whitty, the film critic of the Newar Star Ledger, offers and insightful tribute to Hoffman. Click here to read
Oscar-winning Austrian actor Maximillian Schell has passed away at the age of 83. Schell made his English language screen debut opposite Marlon Brando in the WWII film The Young Lions in 1958. Three years later he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. Schell played an attorney burdened with the thankless task of defending Nazi war criminals. The character, while repelled by the acts some individuals committed, offered a spirited defense that brought nuance to the circumstances in which National Socialism had arisen. The intelligent depiction of this sensitive subject- and Schell's impassioned performance- was praised internationally. Schell continued to be a leading man in high profile film productions including Tokapi, Counterpoint, Krakatoa: East of Java, The Odessa File, A Bridge Too Far, The Freshman, The Chosen and Deep Impact. He was nominated for Oscars two other times: for Best Actor in the 1976 screen adaptation of Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth and the following year for Best Supporting Actor for Julia. Schell was also an acclaimed director with his documentary about Marelene Dietrich winning international praise. For more on his life and career click here.
Maverick actor and filmmaker Tom Laughlin has died at the age of 82 after a long illness. Laughlin was just another hunky actor in small roles in films like South Pacific and Tea and Sympathy. However, in 1967 he successfully rode the wave of popularity attached to biker flicks by writing, directing and starring in The Born Losers. (He used the named T.C Frank for his non-acting credits). The film starred Laughlin as a half-Native American named Billy Jack who takes on seemingly insurmountable odds to help oppressed people. The film was a hit and Laughlin revived the character in 1971 in the film Billy Jack. However, he was angry with Warner Brothers' lukewarm marketing of the film. He engaged in a high profile battle to win back distribution rights and finally prevailed in court. In 1974 Laughlin took the bold step of investing millions of dollars in re-marketing a movie that had not been a major success. This time, however, he used an innovative distribution method called "four walling" which centered on renting a wide number of theaters across the country and keeping all of the boxoffice revenues. Laughlin's plan worked so well that it permanently changed distribution patterns of major films which had once been centered on the premise of rolling out releases in slow, methodical manner. Suddenly "wide" releases became the norm and the strategy helped make Jaws the top boxoffice attraction of all time. Laughlin repeated his success with The Trial of Billy Jack in 1974. Critics scoffed at the script's ham-handed embracing of left wing political causes but the public responded especially in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate crisis that saw President Richard Nixon resigning from office shortly before the film was released. Laughlin found that the third time was not the charm, however, and his third film in the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington (a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) barely saw release in 1977. A high profile Western, The Master Gunfighter, released in 1975, was also deemed a boxoffice disappointment.
Laughlin's obsession with political activism alienated him from many in the Hollywood community. Unlike John Wayne and Jane Fonda, who successfully weathered criticisms of their high profile political pronouncements, Laughlin seemed to irk the people in power. Laughlin never ceased in expressing his distrust for whoever was irunning the show in Washington. At various times he was seen as a radicial leftist but at other times he seemed to extol beliefs of the right wing fringe movement. In short, he annoyed both sides. By having taken on the studio system, he was deemed toxic by the big money people in the industry. Working with his wife and co-star Delores, he tried repeatedly to get other film projects off the ground without success. He made three quixotic attempts to run for President as a Republican but was ignored by the party establishment. Nevertheless, in death, Laughlin is finally getting the credit he was often denied in life for reinvigorating the motion picture distribution business. For more click here . For comments from Laughlin's daughter click here
Joan Fontaine, who won the Best Actress Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 classic Suspicion, has died in her California home at age 96. Fontaine began her film career playing attractive but nondescript characters until Hitchcock cast her as the female lead in his 1940 film version of the bestseller Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier. The film earned her an Oscar nomination and elevated her to one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses. In 1943 she received a third and final Oscar nomination for The Constant Nymph. Fontaine also won rave notices in the film version of the Gothic novel Jane Eyre, starring opposite Orson Welles. In both films she played an innocent woman whose husband is harboring a shocking secret that is unveiled within the walls of a stately but foreboding country manor. Fontaine's other major films include Ivanhoe, The Emperor Waltz, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, This Above All, The Women, Gunga Din, Casanova's Big Night, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Tender is the Night. She retired from feature films in the 1960s after being offended by being asked to play Elvis Presley's mother. However, Fontaine did continue to appear in TV shows for another twenty years. These included Ryan's Hope, Hotel and The Love Boat. Fontaine was the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland but the two sisters engaged in an on-going feud that extended back to their childhood years. For more click here
Acclaimed actor Peter O'Toole, star of stage and classic cinema, has passed away in a London hospital after a long illness. He was 81 years old. O'Toole shot to international prominence when director David Lean cast the largely unknown actor in the title role of his 1962 masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. O'Toole proved he was not to be a "one hit wonder", earning 8 Oscar nominations throughout his career, though he was frustrated at not winning the award in a competitive category. In 2003 he accepted the Academy's consolation honor: a lifetime achievement Oscar. O'Toole, Irish at birth, benefited from the explosive emergence of young method actors in the British film industry of the 1960s. His drinking exploits with friends like Richard Burton and Richard Harris were the stuff of legend and were chronicled in Robert Sellers' best selling book Hellraisers. O'Toole's career was not comprised of all hits. He went through dry spells as early as 1965 with the failure of his big budget adventure film Lord Jim and the flop 1969 musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips followed by another ill-advised venture into the musical format with the 1972 film of Man of La Mancha. . Yet, he would always surprise critics and audiences with an unexpectedly inspired performance in films that were often somewhat mundane. Among his most memorable cinematic achivements: Becket, My Favorite Year, The Lion in Winter, The Stunt Man, How to Steal a Million and What's New Pussycat? Fiercely private and disdainful of publicity and interviews, O'Toole generally proved to be quite charming when he would let his guard down. Although he said he had retired from the film industry, he was coaxed out of retirement for a historical film that is awaiting release.- Lee Pfeiffer For more click here
Actress Eleanor Parker has died at age 91. She was best known for playing the Baroness who was engaged to Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in the classic 1965 film version of The Sound of Music. Upon hearing of her death, Plummer released this statement: "Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known, both as a person and as a beauty. I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever." Parker had been nominated for three Academy Awards but it was her role as the Baroness for which she is best-remembered, as the rich woman who loses the love of Captain Von Trapp to Maria (Julie Andrews). Parker's other key films include Of Human Bondage, The Man With the Golden Arm, The Naked Jungle, Caged and Detective Story. For more on her life and career, click here.
Lewis Collins, the popular British actor who played men of action, has died at from cancer at age 67. Although his fame was largely relegated to his native England, he maintained a loyal fan following primarily attributed to his role in the long-running UK TV series The Professionals which is still being presented in re-runs on ITV4. Collins also had roles in other popular British TV series including Z Cars, The New Avengers and The Cuckoo Waltz. He also starred in producer Euan Lloyd's 1982 feature film Who Dares Wins about a daring SAS operation. The film, released in the United States as The Final Option, was a personal favorite of President Ronald Reagan, who requested a private screening at the White House. Collins was touted by many as a suitable candidate for playing James Bond. In fact, Collins screen tested for the role of 007 but failed to convince legendary producer Cubby Broccoli that he was the man for the job. For more click here
Tony Musante, the popular character actor who was a fixture in Italian films and TV series, has died in a New York hospital at age 77. Musante, who brought intensity to all of his roles, was driven more by artistic satisfaction than a desire to make the big money. He made a splash with U.S. audiences in 1967 playing a thug who terrorizes passengers on a New York City subway train in the film The Incident. He won acclaim for his role as a gay man who is wrongly convicted and executed for murder in the 1968 Frank Sinatra film The Detective. He also had a co-starring role with George C. Scott in the 1971 crime film The Last Run and starred in director Dario Argento's 1970 cult classic The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. In 1973 he reluctantly starred in the TV series Toma about a maverick cop. Despite the show's ratings success, Musante left the series after one seasons. It was then re-developed as Baretta, which became a major hit for Robert Blake, who took over the lead role. In recent years Musante continued to act periodically and had a recurring role in the TV series Oz in 1997. For more click here
Paul Mantee, a popular fixture on TV shows and feature films, passed away on November 7. Mantee had appeared on many TV series over the years and had recurring roles on the 1980s hits Hunter and Cagney and Lacy. He first began appearing in the medium in the late 1959s and eventually guest starred on major programs such as The F.B.I, Mannix, Dragnet, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Batman, The Time Tunnel, Bonanza, Kojak and Seinfeld. Mantee also appeared in small roles in many feature films. In 1964 he had a rare starring role in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a fairly low-budget sci-fi film that became a major cult hit thanks to its intelligent script, direction and performances. He also had the lead role in the 1968 James Bond spoof A Man Called Dagger. For more click here
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