A cursory glance at my CharredHer homepage revealed a neon-like headline: “’My Girl’ director dies.”
Confession time: having not ever seen My Girl (1991)—Macaulay Culkin makes me break out in a rash—I had to read the piece to learn that Howard Zieff has shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 81 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
If the AP had gone with “’Private Benjamin’ director dies” I would have picked up on it a little sooner (though I probably still would have raced to the IMDb to check). To be honest, it’s Zieff’s earliest work which I remember the most—the shaggy-dog Slither (1973; the subject of a great piece by Ray at FLICKHEAD to point out the irony of it all), the warmly nostalgic Hearts of the West (1975) and the scathingly satirical House Calls (1978), which was tragically adapted for television as a 1979-82 sitcom starring Wayne Rogers and Lynn Redgrave/Sharon Gless. Private Benjamin (1980) was also a huge box office hit, but nothing Zieff directed afterwards came close to matching the quality of his first hat trick.
Before getting into movie directing, Zieff was a popular TV commercials director in the 1960s; among his creations was the classic Alka-Seltzer “Mamma Mia, atsa spicey meatball” spot.
R.I.P., Howard. If they really want to do you a tremendous service, they’d release Slither to DVD ASAP.