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
George Leech, a mild-mannered and understated man in real life, menaces Carole Bouquet in the 1981 007 film For Your Eyes Only.
George Leech, the legendary British stuntman, passed away on June 17 at age 90. Leech was a veteran of many classic films and his ability to perform dangerous, awe-inspiring stunts allowed him to work as an elder statesman in his industry. Up until recently, he was helping to train aspiring stuntmen. Leech's films include such memorable action films as Kelly's Heroes, The Guns of Navarone, A Bridge Too Far and Superman. However, he is best known for his long relationship with Eon Production and his work on the James Bond films from Dr. No (1962) through A View to a Kill (1985). For more about his remarkable career click here
Character actor Frank Cady has died at age 96. Cady was best known for playing folksy, friendly everyday people. His portrayal of Mr. Drucker, the general store owner in the fictional town of Hooterville, saw him play the same character in the popular CBS TV series Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction. He played the role between 1965 and 1971. The shows were still at the top of the ratings when CBS president Fred Silverman decided to cancel the rural-themed comedies, a move that is now considered to be one of the most ill-advised in the history of the television industry. Cady also had supporting and bit roles in feature films such as Rear Window, The Gnome Mobile, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and Hearts of the West. For more click here
Actor George Lindsey has been found dead at age 83. Although he had a long and varied career that included stand-up comedy, he is best remembered by generations of fans as Goober Pyle, the lovable but simple-minded garage mechanic from the legendary Andy Griffith Show. The series' long run in the 1960s ensured its status as an evergreen comedy and it maintains an active fan base that gathers for annual conventions. The close-knit cast continued their ties over the decades and, in learning of Lindsey's passing, Andy Griffith said he had only spoken to him a few days ago. Lindsey took on a key role in the series playing the cousin of Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors. When Nabors quit the series in order to star in the equally successful Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Lindsay managed to pick up the slack and become accepted as popular cast member, which was no easy task. When Don Knotts left the series, the actor who replaced him, Jack Burns, lasted only one season. Lindsay's tenure in with the show extended into the 1970s when he starred in the off-shoot series Mayberry R.F.D. which went into production after Andy Griffith left the series. On a personal level, I met Lindsey back in the 1990s as part of the research I did on a book I authored about The Andy Griffith Show. We met in a small Ohio town where Lindsay was appearing at a fan event. He told me he was often frustrated at being typecast as Goober, as it basically diluted his opportunities to show off his dramatic talents. However, he acknowledged that he was humbled and honored that the character brought so much joy to audiences for so many years. He also said it helped him maintain a successful career, as he made countless appearances every year as Goober. I recall we went with a group of people to a restaurant, but because we lacked reservations, we had been turned away. Lindsey said he would handle the situation. He disappeared to speak with the hostess and returned to tell us we now had a table. He attributed this to his ability to "Gooberize" people, that is, turn on the corn pone country charm. Lindsey was a charming man in real life and a talent whose diversity in acting styles was often overlooked. Nevertheless, he remains an iconic figure in the great era of 60s TV. For more click here
Character actor William Finley passed away earlier this week at age 71. Finley, who lived in Manhattan, made relatively few appearances in films and on TV, but nevertheless had built a loyal following because some of his movies became cult classics. He is closely associated with director Brian De Palma, for whom he built sets on his early short film, Woton's Wake in 1962. De Palma and Finley's friendship endured and they collaborated on many of the director's films as De Palma rose to fame in Hollywood. Finley's biggest break was being cast in the title role of Phantom of the Paradise, De Palma's 1974 take on Phantom of the Opera with a rock 'n roll spin. Finley also appeared in such films as Sisters, Silent Rage, The Black Daliah, The Fury, The Funhouse and Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive. To read New York Times obituary, click here
Canadian actor Jonathan Frid has died at age 87. He passed away last week, but news was just made public. Frid became an enduring symbol of 60s pop culture due to his portrayal of charismatic vampire Barnabas Collins in the cult soap opera Dark Shadows. Frid's character was said to have saved a failing show when it was introduced in 1967. The series ran until 1971, but is arguably more popular than ever today with fan conventions, DVD editions and a big screen, comedic version starring Johnny Depp due to hit theaters next month. (Frid has a cameo in the film.) Frid never seemed bothered by the fact that his entire screen career was centered on the Collins character and he expressed contentment that his work resonated over multiple generations. For more click here
The man described as the ageless teenager is no more. Dick Clark has passed away at age 82 after suffering a massive heart attack. Clark had been in poor health for years, suffering from the aftermath of a stroke as well as diabetes. Clark helped turn rock 'n roll from a fad into a global phenomenon, primarily by showcasing recording stars on his hit series American Bandstand. Over the decades, he became an icon of the international entertainment industry, though most of his achievements were done in the boardroom, not in front of TV cameras. He created and produced hit game shows and even pioneered the concept of turning New Years Eve entertainment into an event that appealed to young people worldwide. Prior to Clark, the New Years Eve programming consisted of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian orchestra performing at the Waldorf Astoria. Despite turning the hosting of the annual event over to Ryan Seacrest years ago, Clark made brief appearances to usher in the new year. His last such appearance was this past New Year's Eve. Clark also dabbled in feature films, starring in Because They're Young and The Young Doctors in the early 60s. He also produced some exploitation films including biker movies. For more click here
Film producer Martin Poll has died at age 89. Poll started in the film industry producing Flash Gordon shorts in Europe before moving to New York and renovating the old Biograph Studio and renaming them Gold Medal Studios. For a time, the facility was very successful and became known as the largest film production facility outside of Hollywood. However, it was as a producer that Poll found his greatest success, including his classic film adaptation of The Lion in Winter. The acclaimed 1968 film, directed by Anthony Harvey, won an Oscar for Katharine Hepburn. Other film credits include The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, The Possession of Joel Delaney, Night Watch, Nighthawks, Love and Death and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. Poll also served as commissioner of motion picture arts for New York City. For more click here
The headline may sound like a joke but it's anything but. Famed Hollywood publicist Michael Sands has died after tasting some beef in a local supermarket. His death, which occurred on March 26, but details have only just been revealed. The Wrap's coverage shows that Sands' life was as bizarre and colorful as his death: high profile clients, an obsession with self-promotion, and his strange claims to have served as a secret agent for the U.S. government. Click here to read
Surtees with director Don Siegel shooting Coogan's Bluff in New York, 1968.
Bruce Surtees, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, passed away in late February at age 74. Surtees was the son of another acclaimed cinematographer, Robert Surtees. His penchant for shooting in low-light conditions earned him the nick name "The Prince of Darkness", but he was championed by director Don Siegel and his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood. He would work on numerous films with these Hollywood legends including Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz. Surtees earned an Oscar nomination for his superb B&W cinematography on the 1974 film Lenny. Surtees also did the cinematography on John Wayne's last film, The Shootist. For more click here
Richard and Robert Sherman on the set of Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
Song writer Robert B. Sherman has passed away in London at age 86. Sherman and his brother Richard worked as a team to create some of most memorable film songs of all time including the Disney classics "Chim Chim Cher-ee", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "A Spoonful of Sugar". They also wrote the song "It's a Small World (After All)" for the legendary Disney theme park ride. The Sherman brothers also wrote the songs for the classic 1968 musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and worked on the recent stage production of the film. Sherman also created memorable songs for such hit Disney films as "The Jungle Book", "The Parent Trap", "The Gnome Mobile" and "The Happiest Millionaire". He was nominated for nine Oscars and won two for "Mary Poppins". In 2008, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush. For more and clips from his top films click here
Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones of The Monkees.
Singer/actor Davy Jones of the 1960s pop group The Monkees has died in Florida at age 66. Jones began his career as young actor in British TV series including Coronation Street and Z Cars. He flirted with the notion of becoming a jockey but ended up playing with Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith as the group The Monkees, which took the world by storm in 1966 through their popular TV series. The group broke up in 1971 but has successfully reunited for tours several times since then, though Nesmith was generally not involved. Jones also continued to perform his solo act and was scheduled to hold a concert at the end of March. For more click here
Howard Kissel, the respected chief theater critic for the New York Daily News, has died from complications with a liver transplant at age 69. Kissel did not have the acerbic personality of some other legendary theater critics such as Frank Rich and John Simon but his influence carried considerable weight. He reviewed the Broadway scene for the Daily News for two decades. He also served as Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle. His books included a scathing biography of the legendary show producer David Merrick, witty titled by Kissel as 'The Abominable Showman'. Kissel also appeared as Woody Allen's manager in the 1980 film Stardust Memories.Click here for more
Dory Previn, who scored Oscar nominations for writing songs from the motion pictures Pepe and Two for the Seesaw, has died at age 86. She once enjoyed a prolific writing partnership with her husband, Andre Previn, with whom she wrote the hit title song from Valley of the Dolls. However, when she learned of Andre's affair with Mia Farrow, the two divorced. She had other failed marriages and bouts of mental illness but continued to write acclaimed music that included the theme song to the 1973 film Last Tango in Paris. For more click here
The beloved and acclaimed Irish character actor David Kelly has died at age 82. Among his memorable screen roles were appearances in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Waking Ned Devine, in which he rode s9ymdb:5579 through the Irish countryside naked on a motorcycle. He also appeared in countless British TV series beginning in the 1950s. For more click here
Whitney Houston, who once seemed to have an unstoppable career as a chart-topping singer and popular actress, has died at age 48. Houston's career plummeted after a destructive marriage to singer Bobby Brown characterized by the couple's high profile battles and reports of spousal abuse. Houston also found it impossible to stay away from dangerous drugs that may have contributed to her death. For more click here