I’m not going to mince words here—I am waaaaaaay behind on chronicling the passings of certain celebrities in the fields of film, TV, music and what have you. But when I saw on Facebook yesterday that actor James Arness—a boob tube legend best-known for his starring role as Marshal Matt Dillon on the series Gunsmoke—has ridden off towards that Big Corral in the Sky at the age of 88, I figured it was time to get some catching up done.
A few years back, my esteemed blogging colleague Vince Keenan casually mentioned to me that he had never watched an episode of either Gunsmoke or The Andy Griffith Show—something that I found positively mind-boggling at the time, because I just couldn’t comprehend how it was possible to go through life without watching at least one of these iconic shows. (Both series ran like tap water in my household…but that might say more about me than the inestimable Mr. Keenan.) Jim Arness’ gig on Gunsmoke literally made him a household name; though he had experienced a small amount of celebrity working in the movies with roles in such films as The Farmer’s Daughter (1947—his film debut), Battleground (1949), Wagon Master (1950), and Stars in My Crown (1950). In fact, had Arness not been sought out for the starring role in Gunsmoke (the legend has it that John Wayne, a pal of Big Jim’s with whom he had worked in films such as Hondo and Island in the Sky, suggested his friend after turning down the part) it’s entirely possible he would only be remembered as the “intelligent carrot” alien of The Thing from Another World (1951) and as the bewildered FBI agent in the giant bug opus Them! (1954).
I’m on record as saying that I’ve always felt the radio Gunsmoke was superior to its TV counterpart, but if the PTB just weren’t going to let William Conrad continue on as Dodge City’s famous lawman (though history has shown that a lot of those lawmen looked more like Conrad in the first place) Arness was certainly a good choice. In my ivy-covered student days at Marshall University in the early 1980s, my chums and I would often stay up until odd hours of the night engaged in such lofty pursuits as card games and because I had an old black-and-white TV in my room we’d switch it on around midnight and watch the Gunsmoke rerun that WVAH-TV broadcast each weeknight. One of my friends, engaged in an episode entitled “Nitro”, sized up the character of Dillon and the actor who played him and said succinctly “Matt Dillon is the Man” before it became clichély popular to say so.
After spending twenty years on the Dean of TV Westerns, Arness landed a part as the patriarch of The Macahans, a 1976 TV-movie inspired by the 1962 Cinerama oater How the West Was Won. Big Jim reprised this role in a miniseries the following year (which changed its name to the title shared by the 1962 source material), and then appeared in a regular series that was telecast in 1978 and 1979. The show became a cult favorite with our neighbors across the pond, and its television afterlife continues today, since it can currently be seen Saturday mornings on the Encore Westerns channel. Arness had a stab at once more series in 1981, a cop show entitled McCain’s Law, but the failure of that program saw the actor’s participation in TV projects diminish after that…with the exception of a Gunsmoke reunion special in 1987 entitled Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. That TV-movie was such a ratings smash that Arness did four more sequels to it between 1990 and 1994. Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice (1994) would be his final foray into acting; he spent the rest of his remaining years enjoying his retirement and elder TV statesman status, even writing an autobiography in 2001 because “…if I was going to write a book about my life, I better do it now … `cause I’m not getting any younger.” As one of the world’s most devoted Gunsmoke fans, I’m still not certain I’ve adequately expressed how the news of Arness’ death has saddened me…but I take solace in the thought that if there is something waiting for people once they leave this world, the actor and his younger brother Peter (Graves) will be spending good times together once again. (And as my friend Linda at Yet Another Journal points out—Doc, Kitty, Festus, and Chester can all join the marshal for a round at the Long Branch Saloon as well.)
Truth be told, I had planned to catch up with the backlog of celebrity obituaries the night I learned Jackie Cooper had died. My position on juvenile thesps has been well established here on the blog but I was a big fan of Jackie Cooper’s when I was the same age as he (though not in the same decade), first as a member of Our Gang and later in such films as Skippy (1931) and Treasure Island (1934). The problem with child actors is that they sometimes become less cute as they get older, and even though Cooper continued to work in such films as the Henry Aldrich movies What a Life (1939) and Life with Henry (1941), his career wasn’t anywhere near the heights that he had obtained in the early 1930s.
Television changed all that. Cooper landed the leading role in a sitcom created by The Life of Riley’s Irving Brecher, The People’s Choice—about a young man, Socrates “Sock” Miller, who’s persuaded to run for a small town’s city council and who wins both the election and the hand of the mayor’s eligible daughter (played by Patricia Breslin). For the first couple of seasons Sock and his new bride Mandy kept the arrangement on the Q.T. from her pop (Paul Maxey), but once he graduated from law school and got into real estate the Millers clued Hizzoner in on their secret. The show ran three seasons on NBC from 1955-58, and because it’s not reran much today (I saw a handful of episodes that my pal John grabbed when Choice was a staple of The Nostalgia Network) the only thing the show is remembered for is Sock’s basset hound Cleo, who would sarcastically comment on each episode’s wacky proceedings in a voiceover audible only to the TV audience (provided by OTR veteran Mary Jane Croft),
A year later, Cooper headlined another sitcom that has also disappeared off the television radar—he played the title role of a San Diego naval base doctor named Hennesey, which aired on the CBS network from 1959 to 1962. Abby Dalton played Lt. Charles “Chick” Hennesey’s nurse girlfriend, Lt. Martha Hale (to whom he became manacled in the show’s series finale), and the sitcom also featured Roscoe Karns, Henry Kulky, and future Chico and the Man/Welcome Back, Kotter creator James Komack as the snobbish Harvey Spencer Blair III. Cooper used his experiences as a Navy veteran in World War II to both produce and direct the series, and upon the show’s cancellation decided that behind the camera was where he wanted to be. He’d still do the occasional bit of acting (he co-starred in another TV series, Mobile One, seen briefly on ABC in 1975, and played the role of Daily Planet editor Perry White in several of the Superman movies) but became more and more interested in directing and producing TV shows, first as vice president of program development at Columbia Pictures in the 1960s, and then as an Emmy Award-winning director on episodes of such shows as M*A*S*H, The Rockford Files, and The White Shadow. Jackie Cooper left this world for a better one on May 3 also at the age of 88, and Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is still gobsmacked at the realization that he’s no longer with us.
The night I learned about the death of Jackie Cooper I was tooling around on Facebook, and “The Man Who Viewed Too Much,” Toby O’Brien, clued me in that character actress Marian Mercer had passed on at the age of 75 on April 27th. Toby was remembering some of the work she did with Jonathan Winters on his 1972-74 syndicated comedy-variety program The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters…but the first thing, I’m ashamed to admit, that came to mind when I thought of the Tony Award-winning Mercer was that she played Nancy Beebe, the manager of the hoity-toity restaurant in the TV sitcom It’s a Living or Making a Living or whatever title they finally decided upon. (Okay, I like Ann Jillian…are you pleased that you got me to admit it?) It’s not the only TV showcase for which I remember the one-of-a-kind Mercer; she had a magnificent role as a heart transplant patient in a story arc on St. Elsewhere, and she also graced such remembered and forgotten shows as The Sandy Duncan Show, A Touch of Grace, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (she played Wanda Jeeter both on MH, MH and its spin-off, Forever Fernwood), Foot in the Door, Sunday Dinner, Home Free, and Empty Nest. Mercer’s passing was due to complications of her suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In the obituaries that I saw online for actor Jeff Conaway (whose long struggles with narcotics and prescription drugs hastened his departure from this world at the age of 60 on May 27) they either mentioned his being one of the original cast members in the stage production of the musical Grease (he reprised his role in the 1978 film adaptation) or his three-season stint as aspiring thespian/cab driver Bobby Wheeler in the classic TV sitcom Taxi. I’ve seen Grease, but I was more familiar with Conaway’s TV work and was not aware that his departure from the program after three seasons was pretty much due to his substance abuse problem. He later turned up in a short-lived 1983 series that I’ll freely admit I both watched and liked, Wizards and Warriors (I like Julia Duffy, too), but since my geekdom was starting to channel into other pursuits (like classic movies) by the mid-90s I missed his gig on the cult TV fave Babylon 5. Conaway also appeared in such films as The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Pete’s Dragon (1977), Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), and Bikini Summer II (1992), a movie he also directed.
Another familiar TV face I saw constantly as a young coach potato belonged to actress Barbara Stuart, who will live on in boob tube immortality as Bunny Wilson, smokin’ hot girlfriend to Sergeant Vince Carter (Frank Sutton) on the 1964-69 military sitcom Gomer Pyle, USMC. But she also had regular gigs on such shows as The Great Gildersleeve (she played Gildy’s secretary in the TV adaptation), The Texan, Pete and Gladys, The Queen and I, The McLean Stevenson Show, Our Family Honor, and Huff. Stuart had a memorable part in the 1984 slob comedy Bachelor Party (as the mother of the bride whose encounter with a waiter at a strip joint serving hot dogs will make you laugh out loud), and can also be seen in Marines, Let’s Go (1961), Hellfighters (1968), Airplane! (1980; as Robert Stack’s character’s wife), and A Family Affair (2001). Barbara had her final curtain call on May 15th at the age of 81.
From 1953 to 1955, actress Phyllis Avery was a familiar face to those who watched the weekly televised misadventures of Professor Ray McNulty, a male instructor at the all-female student bastion of Lyndhaven College. McNulty was played by Ray Milland, and Avery his wife Peggy in a series that was originally called Meet Mr. McNutley but changed its name to The Ray Milland Show to properly hype its star (the characters’ last name was changed as well). Milland’s series was also on radio for a season, with Avery playing his spouse in that incarnation as well. Avery later replaced Jeff Donnell as George Gobel’s TV wife Alice on his 1954-59 comedy-variety series while landing recurring roles on TV’s Mr. Novak and the 1960-62 CBS soap The Clear Horizon. But most of her boob tube appearances were guest shots on such programs as The Millionaire, The Rifleman, Have Gun—Will Travel, Perry Mason, and Rawhide…and she did the occasional feature film like Ruby Gentry (1952), The Best Things in Life are Free (1956), and Anatomy of an Accident (1961). Phyllis passed on at the age of 88 on May 19th.
Actress Sada Thompson established herself as a major stage presence in both Broadway (1972’s Twigs, which won her a Tony) and Off-Broadway (The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds) productions and as such probably felt it unnecessary to commit to a weekly TV series…but actors have to eat, and so she took the role of matriarch Kate Lawrence in ABCs critically-acclaimed series Family, which ran on the network from 1976 to 1980. Thompson won garnered an Emmy for her work on the show, which also featured James Broderick, Meredith Baxter, Gary Frank, Kristy McNichol, and Quinn Cummings, and which saw a DVD release of its first and second seasons in 2006 that I purchased for my sister Kat, who was a big fan of the show. (She keeps bugging me as to when they’re going to continue with the rest of the show’s run—I suggest she get in contact with the Sony people and lean on them.) Thompson, who died at the age of 83 on May 3rd, also appeared in such feature films as The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), Desperate Characters (1971), and Pollock (2000).
A worthy candidate for the “Hey! It’s that guy from…” Character Actor Sweepstakes would be actor Ross Hagen—who passed away at the age of 72 on May 7th, and whose unmistakable tough-guy mug appeared in such feature films as Speedway (1968), The Mini Skirt Mob (1968), Five the Hard Way (1969), The Organization (1971), Bad Charleston Charlie (1973), and Alienator (1990). Hagen was sort of a go-to tough guy in scores of TV series appearances such as The Virginian, Gunsmoke, The Invaders, The FBI, Here Come the Brides, Mannix, and Cannon—but his only weekly TV gig was a short stint as retired big-game hunter turned photographer Bart Jason in the truncated final season of Daktari. Hagen also dabbled in both directing and writing on such feature films as The Media Madman (1992) and Time Wars (1993).
Other notable TV veterans that we’ve lost in the past month or so include Clarice Taylor, an actress best known for her work on Sesame Street and as grandmother Anna Huxtable (the Cos’ mom) on The Cosby Show (departed on May 30th at the age of 93) and Jon Cedar, who appeared on occasion as Corporal Langenscheidt on the 1965-71 sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. Cedar also did guest roles on such series as Mission: Impossible, Barnaby Jones, The Rockford Files, and Matlock, and passed away on April 14th of this year at the age of 81. We also said farewell to “Champagne Lady” Norma Zimmer, who was a regular on TV’s The Lawrence Welk Show from 1960 to 1982. Zimmer sang her last solo on May 10th at the age of 87.
A celebrity death that happened on the same day as James Arness’ passing—but which probably will go unnoticed on this side of the pond—is actress and activist Miriam Karlin, who’s left us at the age of 85 and starred with Peter Jones, Barbara Windsor, and Reg Varney in the classic Britcom The Rag Trade from 1961-63. As Paddy, the tough-but-tender shop steward (“Everybody out!”) of the London clothing firm Fenner’s Fashions, she matched wits with owner Harold Fenner (Jones) on one of the most popular comedy series on the Beeb at that time—so much so that she reprised her role (along with co-star Jones) in a 1977-78 revival produced by London Weekend Television. (Karlin’s other Britcom smash was So Haunt Me, a 1992-94 series in which she played the ghost of a middle-aged Jewish woman co-existing with a suburban family in their newly-purchased home.) Though she appeared in such films as Room at the Top (1959), The Entertainer (1960), and Heavens Above! (1963), her most memorable moment onscreen is undoubtedly that in A Clockwork Orange (1971), in which she played the woman attacked by Malcolm McDowell with the phallic sculpture. Karlin was passionately committed to various left-wing political causes in her later years, and was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her efforts on behalf of such organizations as the Anti-Nazi League and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
British actress and impersonator Janet Brown used her talent for mimicry on such boob tube venues as Who Do You Do, The Mike Yarwood Show, and her own starring series, Janet and Company in 1980-82. She’s best known for her dead-on resemblance to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whom she played in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only. (Brown’s 1987 autobiography is humorously titled Prime Mimicker.) Her other boob tube forays include Mr. Digby Darling, The Impressionable Jon Culshaw, Casualty, and Hotel Babylon. Brown, the wife of Carry On veteran Peter Butterworth, died on May 27 at the age of 87.
Not content to rest on any laurels as the son of the legendary Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Edward Hardwicke made his film debut with a small role in 1943’s A Guy Named Joe and would go on to cinematic acclaim in such vehicles as Othello (1965), The Odd Job (1978), Shadowlands (1993), Richard III (1995), and The Gathering Storm (2002). His television resume would stretch to the moon and beyond…but he cemented his boob tube immortality playing Dr. John Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes in the various UK TV series and movies that were telecast on this side of the pond on PBS’ Mystery! Hardwicke bid the corporeal world a fond fare-thee-well on May 16 at the age of 78.
Perhaps the best-known British television face that we’ve sadly said goodbye to belongs to that of actress Elisabeth Sladen, one of my boyhood crushes when I first set eyes on her in her signature role of Sarah Jane Smith on the long-running science fiction-fantasy series Doctor Who…which made its way to West Virginia Public TV in the early 1980s, about the same time I was attending Marshall. Sladen’s original stint on the show was between 1973 and 1976, first with third doc Jon Pertwee and then the fourth actor to play Gallifrey’s resident Time Lord rebel, Tom Baker. Sladen would reprise her role in the 1983 Doctor Who opus “The Five Doctors”, and would return time and time again as Sarah Jane in various Who spin-offs and specials until someone finally hit upon the idea of spinning her off into her own program, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Because I’ve never seen Adventures and my knowledge of Who ended with Baker’s departure I received a right pranging from someone on Facebook when I referred to Sladen as “my favorite Doctor Who sidekick.” (Apparently “sidekick” is a breach of geek etiquette or something.) One of Sladen’s last Sarah Jane Adventures outings was ironically titled “Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smth”…and we said adios to the real deal when she left to explore other galaxies on April 20th at the age of 63.
There are a few other UK notables who’ve passed on that are better known for their work behind the camera—one of whom is Bob Block, who as a comedy writer scripted the classic BBC radio series Life with the Lyons, a family outing starring former silent and sound movie siren Bebe Daniels and her husband, Ben Lyon. Bebe and Ben—along with their offspring Barbara and Richard—enjoyed a long run on radio from 1950-61, and the program later adapted to TV as well. Block also worked with the likes of such TV funsters as Dave Allen, Ronnie Barker, Hattie Jacques, June Whitfield, and Kenneths Williams and Connor. He excelled at scripting a goodly number of comedy shows aimed at younger audiences including Pardon My Genie, Galloping Galaxies, and Rentaghost. Block died on April 17 at the age of 89.
The other veteran comedy scribe to depart is John Sullivan, who, while working as a scenery hand at the BBC, submitted a pilot script to producer Dennis Main Wilson…and watched that script blossom into the hit Britcom Citizen Smith, starring Robert Lindsay as an aspiring young Communist revolutionary. Sullivan followed the success of that show with several other sitcoms, notably Just Good Friends and Dear John—which was adapted for U.S. television as a vehicle for former Taxi-star Judd Hirsch.
Sullivan’s biggest TV hit, however, debuted in the fall of 1981 and would spend the next decade as one of Britain’s best-loved comedy programs: Only Fools and Horses. The series starred David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst as a pair of anything-for-a-buck brothers constantly striving to make their fortune in south London, and after the show folded its tent in 1991 they went on to appear in several Christmas “crackers” (specials) for over ten years afterward. Only Fools consistently ranks among the top on list of classic Britcoms, and its success prompted Sullivan to create a spin-off series (using two of show’s minor characters), The Green, Green Grass, and a “prequel” show entitled Rock & Chips, the last episode of which was shown five days after Sullivan’s passing on April 23 (at the age of 64).
Two individuals on this side of the pond who had a hand in creating situation comedy classics are also listed among the honored dead. Sol Saks was an ambitious young scribe with a radio resume that included Duffy’s Tavern, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Beulah when like so many of his brethren in the radio bidness he went into television and supplied scripts for I Married Joan, My Favorite Husband (the Joan Caufield-Barry Nelson version), and Mr. Adams and Eve. Inspired by both the 1942 film I Married a Witch and the 1958 movie Bell Book and Candle, he wrote a pilot script that became the basis for the long-running fantasy sitcom Bewitched—a show that enabled him to basically go out to the mailbox every now and then to fish out his royalty check (because he never wrote another Bewitched episode). Saks’ other notable writing credit was penning the screenplay for Cary Grant’s cinematic swan song, Walk, Don’t Run (1966)—Saks passed away April 16 about four months after reaching the centennial birthday mark.
Comedy writer Madelyn Pugh-Davis was also fortunate enough to find royalty stipends in the mail—but it’s safe to say she worked a little harder than Mr. Saks to get them. That’s because as a young staff writer for the Columbia Broadcasting System she was assigned (with partner Bob Carroll, Jr.) to work on a series headlined by the likes of Lucille Ball and Richard Denning entitled My Favorite Husband. With the success of that series, producer Jess Oppenheimer, Pugh-Davis, and Carroll wrote a TV pilot for Lucy to star in…but not with her Husband co-star Denning, with her real-life hubby, bandleader Desi Arnaz. That series, I Love Lucy, changed the face of television comedy and became the blueprint for TV sitcoms to come. Madelyn would later continue her association with Ball on the comedienne’s follow-up series The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and Life with Lucy…and also created with Carroll one of the unsung sitcoms of the 1960s that blessedly made its debut on DVD last year, The Mothers-in-Law. Say you want about Lucy’s talent—but remember that before Lucy lit her nose with a cigarette or had icicles attached to her face after being trapped in a freezer, Madelyn was the “stuntwoman” for those gags, cheerfully playing the part of guinea pig to see if Lucy Ricardo’s wacky antics were plausible. Described by everyone who knew her as “a class act,” Pugh-Davis passed away on April 20 at the age of 90.
My friend and fellow Ravenswood Penitentiary High School alumnus Tammy remarked to me on my Facebook wall about how distressing it was to hear about the circumstances surrounding the death of cult movie icon Yvette Vickers, who was discovered in her Benedict Canyon home in a mummified state on April 27 of this year, having succumbed to a heart attack. Her exact age at death is uncertain (it’s possible that she could have been there for a year or more) but we here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear were nevertheless devastated to hear about Yvette, a longtime favorite of ours from such B-picture classics as Reform School Girl (1957), Short Cut to Hell (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)…and a film that I patiently had to explain to The Duchess that I was not making up, Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). (Vickers did make appearances in more mainstream movie fodder, notably a small part in the 1963 film Hud.) Throughout most of her career Vickers paid the rent via guest shots on the likes of TV oaters Bat Masterson, Shotgun Slade, The Rebel, and Tales of Wells Fargo, but her pop culture immortality was cemented in when she posed for Playboy in 1959…in a pictorial photographed by future cult movie director and boob fancier Russ Meyer.
Two other B-movie icons have departed for that Great Drive-In in the Sky. Actress Dolores Fuller is best known for her association with the legendary Ed Wood; she was his girlfriend and appeared in his opuses (opi?) Glen or Glenda? (1953), Jail Bait (1954) and Bride of the Monster (1955). Calling it splitsville with Ed in 1955, Fuller went to New York “to learn how to act” but got sidetracked when a song she co-wrote, Rock-a-Hula Baby, made the cut in Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii (1961). She went on to pen tunes for other Elvis vehicles including It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), Roustabout (1964), and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). For those of you put off by this (let’s face facts—Fuller wrote one of the worst tunes to grace an Elvis flick, Do the Clam) we shouldn’t forget that she also played a pivotal role in getting Johnny Rivers’ recording career off the ground. Fuller died in (Viva) Las Vegas on May 9th at the age of 88.
Film and television actor (and Liberace look-alike) William Campbell headlined such B-movie classics as Cell 2455 Death Row (1955), Dementia 13 (1963), and The Secret Invasion (1964), but overall he had a pretty impressive film resume containing titles such as The Breaking Point (1950), Operation Pacific (1951), The High and the Mighty (1954), Love Me Tender (1956), The Naked and the Dead (1958), and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Campbell will probably be remembered more for his contributions to TV—not the 1958 syndicated series Cannonball (on which he was the star), but for appearing in the iconic Star Trek episodes “The Squire of Gothos” and “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Campbell died of natural causes on April 28th at the age of 87.
Actress Dana Wynter’s film resume includes titles such as D-Day, the Sixth of June (1956), Something of Value (1957), On the Double (1961), and The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)…but I’m sure I’m not the only one who immediately thought of her role as nurse Becky Driscoll, Dr. Miles Bennell’s ill-fated girlfriend in the 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The German-born actress also appeared in a glut of guest appearances on many a hit TV series, with a regular gig on the 1966-67 espionage show The Man Who Never Was—she passed away on May 5 at the age of 79. Another ingénue best-known for a single role—Marlon Brando’s would-be girlfriend in 1953’s The Wild One—left us a day earlier; actress Mary Murphy (who was also in such vehicles as Carrie and The Desperate Hours) has left this world for a better one at the age of 80.
Other performers you may have caught at your local multiplex on occasion include Marie-France Pisier (April 24, 66), who appeared in François Truffaut’s Love and Twenty (1962), Stolen Kisses (1968), and Love on the Run (1979) as well as Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and 1975’s Cousin, Cousine (1975), and Patrick Billingsley (April 22, 85), whose cinematic oeuvre includes The Fury (1978), Somewhere in Time (1980), and My Bodyguard (1980). Billingsley played teachers in those last two films—in real life he was a mathematician and probability theorist who dabbled a little in the thespic arts. And we also must make special mention of the passing of one of TDOY’s favorite character actors—the incomparable Bill Hunter, whose antics in such movies as Newsfront (1978), Gallipoli (1981), The Hit (1984), and cult faves The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (as the guy who’s not the slightest bit fazed by Terence Stamp’s drag act) and Muriel’s Wedding (both from 1994—he filmed them at the same time) made him one of Australia’s most beloved screen actors…but who left us on May 21st at the age of 71.
To these immensely talented individuals…rest in peace, for you will surely be missed. And I’ll try not to leave out these other departed souls with a tenuous connection to those thrilling days of yesteryear, either:
Jess Osuna (April 2, 82) – Film and television character actor whose oeuvre includes Coogan’s Bluff (1968), The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972), Three Days of the Condor (1975), and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
Kevin Jarre (April 3, 56) – Motion picture screenwriter and producer who wrote the screenplays for such films as Glory (1989), Tombstone (1993), and The Devil’s Own (1997)
Richard J. “Dick” Dorso (April 6, 101) – Talent agent, TV writer/producer and haberdasher who played pivotal role in getting such series as The Outer Limits, Bat Masterson, The Patty Duke Show, and The Doris Day Show on the air
Roy “Eddie” Burris (April 19, 79) – Drummer for country singer Merle Haggard’s band (the Strangers) that co-wrote with the Hag the country classic Okie from Muskogee
Sidney Michaels (April 22, 83) – Playwright whose Tony Award-nominated plays like Tchin-Tchin and Ben Franklin in Paris sort of overshadow that he also wrote the screenplays for the films Key Witness (1960) and The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968) and contributed to TV series like Johnny Staccato and The Deputy
Hazel Dickens (April 23, 75) – West Virginia bluegrass vocalist best known for her mournful songs about the plight of the Mountain State’s coal miners
Tom King (April 23, 68) – Cleveland rock ‘n’ roller who played guitar and sang with the rock group The Outsiders, who scored a hit in 1966 (that King co-wrote), Time Won’t Let Me
Huey P. Meaux (April 23, 82) – Colorful music producer (“The Ragin’ Cajun”) who played a pivotal role in the recording careers of Doug Sahm, B.J. Thomas, and country singer Freddy Fender
Poly Styrene (April 25, 53) – Punk rock musician and lead singer for the band X-Ray Spex whose song Oh Bondage, Up Yours! became an anthem for the movement
Phoebe Snow (April 26, 60) – Singer-songwriter whose lovely Poetry Man hit the #5 spot on the Billboard Pop Charts in 1975
Roger Gimbel (April 26, 86) – Emmy Award-winning television producer whose TV-movies include A War of Children (1973), The Amazing Howard Hughes (1977), The Cracker Factory (1979), and Chernobyl: The Final Warning (1991)
Michael Waltman (April 27, 64) – Film and television character actor best known for his appearance in 2003’s Van Wilder; also had guest star roles on such series as ER, NYPD Blue, and The Practice
Arthur Laurents (May 5, 93) – Tony Award-winning director and playwright whose stage works include West Side Story, Gypsy, Hallelujah, Baby!, and La Cage Aux Folles; also wrote screenplays for such film classics as Rope (1948), Caught (1949), The Way We Were (1973), and The Turning Point (1977)
John Walker – (May 7, 67) – Rock ‘n’ roller who headlined the group the Walker Brothers (though none of its members were related) and scored pop hits with Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore
Hilton Rosemarin (May 8, 58) – Motion picture set decorator whose films include 3 Men and a Baby (1987), Cocktail (1989), Mermaids (1990), and The Horse Whisperer (1998)
Gerald Bordman (May 9, 79) – Scholar and author of the seminal reference work American Musical Theatre; his other works include The Oxford Companion to American Theatre and Jerome Kern: His Life and Music
Jeff Gralnick (May 9, 72) – Journalist and news producer who made the rounds at the news divisions of CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN working on such shows at 60 Minutes and World News Tonight with Peter Jennings; also served briefly as a press secretary to then-presidential candidate Senator George McGovern
Mia Amber Davis (May 10, 36) – Plus-size model familiar to moviegoers as the zaftig Rhonda in the 2000 slob comedy Road Trip
Burt Reinhardt (May 10, 91) – Journalist and executive who played a pivotal role in the establishment of Cable News Network (CNN), serving as its president from 1982 to 1990
Leo Kahn (May 11, 94) – Co-founder of office supply Mecca Staples, a store which I can never go back into after both Mom and Kat threw record-setting hissies (though on separate occasions, I should probably add)
Charles F. Haas (May 12, 97) – Film and television director-producer who helmed episodes on such classic boob tube offerings as 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bonanza, and The Outer Limits; also directed such cinematic B-picture gems as Girls Town (1959), The Beat Generation (1959), and Platinum High School (1960)
Pam Gems (May 13, 85) – British playwright and Tony Award-nominee whose works include Queen Christina, Piaf, Stanley, and Marlene
Jack Richardson (May 13, 81) – Canadian record producer who was responsible for most of The Guess Who’s biggest hits (These Eyes, American Woman, Laughing) and also produced Bob Seger’s 1976 smash Night Moves
Bruce Ricker (May 13, 68) – Motion picture and TV director-producer whose work includes Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1988) and the excellent documentaries on Budd Boetticher (A Man Can Do That) and Johnny Mercer (This Dream’s on Me)
Murray Handwerker (May 14, 89) – Hot dog entrepreneur whose father started a stand at Coney Island that morphed into Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs…my mother and I think these are mighty tasty frankfurters but we cannot eat them because they give us a wicked case of the trots
Joseph Wershba (May 14, 90) – Legendary CBS News reporter/producer (one of the original producers of 60 Minutes) who helped Edward R. Murrow expose lying essobee Senator Joseph McCarthy on Murrow’s landmark See it Now
Bob Flanigan (May 15, 84) – Tenor and musician who founded the musical group The Four Freshmen, who scored such hits in the 1950s like It’s a Blue World, Mood Indigo, and Day by Day
Bill Skiles (May 16, 79) – Improvisational comedian who, with partner Pete Henderson, were quite popular in the 1960s/1970s, appearing on TV programs headlined by Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, and Rowan and Martin
Leonard Kastle (May 18, 82) – Motion picture director whose one and only feature film, the 1970 cult classic The Honeymoon Killers, giving him the same cache as actor Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter) in batting 1.000 with their solitary foray into directing
Kathy Kirby (May 19, 72) – UK singing phenom whose hits included a cover of Doris Day’s Secret Love, Dance On, and Let Me Go, Lover!; her only record to chart in the U.S. was 1965’s The Way of Love, which Cher took to #7 in 1972
Irene Gilbert (May 21, 76) – Television actress who appeared in guest roles on such series as Medical Center, Barnaby Jones, Cannon, and Simon & Simon but who’s better known for running L.A’s Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre beginning in 1985
Bill Rechin (May 21, 80) – Comic strip artist best known for his creation of the French Foreign Legion parody Crock
Joseph Brooks (May 22, 73) – Academy Award-winning songwriter best known for the treacly Debby Boone hit You Light Up My Life…and I won’t get into Mr. Brooks’ legal troubles here but I’d like to think that when you compose drek like that karma kicks in like a mo’fo*
Faye Treadwell (May 22, 84) – Groundbreaking female music executive who gained control of R&B legends The Drifters when her husband George passed away in 1967 and oversaw the group’s management thereafter
Harry Redmond, Jr. (May 23, 101) – Legendary special effects artist/producer who worked on such films as The Last Days of Pompeii (1935), She (1935), The Woman in the Window (1944), The Stranger (1946)…and the greatest monster movie of them all, King Kong (1933)
Mark Haines (May 24, 65) – CNBC anchor who was one of the first individuals to join the fledgling cable outlet in 1989 and hosted such programs as Squawk Box and Squawk on the Street
Gil Scott-Heron (May 27, 62) – Musician and songwriter whose recordings like the spoken-word The Revolution Will Not Be Televised earned him a reputation as “The Grandfather of Rap”…personally, I’d demand a blood test
Philip Rose (May 31, 89) – Broadway producer whose works include A Raisin in the Sun and Purlie Victorious; he won a Tony in 1975 for writing the book for the musical version of Shenandoah, a production I had a small part in during a staging at the Ohio River Festival in 1981 and I hated every minute of it
*Okay, I regret using this term but I couldn’t think of any other way to express how much I loathe and despise that song…