Because I had already covered the deaths of legendary comedy scribes Sherwood Schwartz and Sam Denoff in a post this week, I gambled that what I sometimes refer to (and I’m not proud of this, but honesty is the best policy) the “celebrity death parade” would be a little shorter and quicker to accomplish. However, if we learn nothing from the roll call of the dead, it’s that as much as we’d like Death to take a holiday every now and then, he’s apparently used up all his vacation days—such is the nature of the office in which he works.
British acting legend Googie Withers passed away on Friday (July 15) at the age of 94; a remarkable actuarial achievement in that I honestly had no idea before then that she was still with us. A moppet thespian in the 1930s, she possessed the necessary charm and poise to transcend those roles and into high profile parts in such films as The Lady Vanishes, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, On Approval, Dead of Night, It Always Rains on Sunday, and Miranda, to name just a few. Curiously enough, the acting gig that won her the largest audience was her role as prison warden Faye Boswell in the London Weekend TV series Within These Walls.
But when I think of Withers, the role that always stands out in my mind is her celebrated turn in Jules Dassin’s Night and the City (1950). As the treacherous Helen Nosseross, Withers is simply superb as a woman who attempts to break free from the bonds of her slimy husband Philip (Francis L. Sullivan)…but inadvertently through the “everything-I-touch-turns-to-merde” machinations of loser Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), she ends up having to go crawling back to him in abject humiliation.
We also said goodbye to one of my favorite character actors this week—Roberts Blossom, who had his final curtain call on July 8 at the age of 87. According to the always reliable IMDb, Roberts’ first movie/TV gig was a 1958 episode of Naked City…and while I’d be hard pressed to remember the first thing I saw him in (though, again, going by the IMDb it’s probably his small role in 1971’s The Hospital) I can’t ever remember seeing anything he did in which he didn’t play old men. He just had that quality about him, though his versatility shined through in various film roles: Slaughterhouse-Five, The Great Gatsby, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Escape from Alcatraz, Resurrection, Reuben, Reuben, Vision Quest, and Home Alone, to name just a few off the top of my head. His performance in 1974’s Deranged was one of the few times Blossom had a starring role, as a serial killer loosely based on real-life wacko Ed Gein.
But as with Googie, two items on Blossom’s resume stand out—one was a guest appearance in the only episode of Northern Exposure that I can ever really remember (it’s been quite a while since I revisited the series); he played the itinerant drifter who tells the townsfolk the history of that special little Alaskan burg in “Cicely.” The other is in a movie that for all intents and purposes seems to have dropped off the radar—Jonathan Demme’s wonderfully quirky Handle with Care (1977; aka Citizens Band), in which he plays the father of Paul Le Mat’s crusading trucker against those individuals abusing the CB airwaves. The scene where Roberts convinces Le Mat he’s killed Le Mat’s dog (after threatening to throughout the entire film: “The dog dies…”) is falling-down funny. This movie got quite a workout on the USA Network in the days before they started welcoming characters and to my knowledge it’s never been available on DVD…I’d love to see it again if I could.
As the lead singer and bass guitarist of the rock group the Grass Roots, Rob Grill was a frequent visitor to Billboard’s Hot 100 charts with hits like Let’s Live for Today, I’d Wait a Million Years, Temptation Eyes, Sooner or Later and Two Divided by Love. The Roots’ highest charting hit, however, came in 1968 with Midnight Confessions (The Office’s Creed Barton was one of the guitarists on this tune) which peaked at #5…and not only is it one of my favorite oldies but it was put to marvelous use by Quentin Tarantino in the 1997 film Jackie Brown.
Grill died at the age of 67 on July 11, and another oldie but goodie signed off on his station break two days later—Jordan “Jerry” Ragavoy, a songwriter and record producer who’s best known for his composition of Time is On My Side, made popular by the Rolling Stones in 1964 (though originally recorded by Irma Thomas). Ragavoy also penned such tunes as Cry Baby (the big hit for Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters) and Piece of My Heart, recorded by Emma Franklin but better known as a hit by Big Brother and the Holding Company with lead vocals by Janis Joplin. Ragavoy was 80.
TDOY would also like to acknowledge the passings of:
Wilbur E. Mosier (June 30, 93) – Film and TV production manager/assistant director who worked on such shows as The F.B.I. and Ironside and on movies like Night Passage, The Tarnished Angels, House Calls, and Modern Problems
Robert E. Rosterman (June 30, 80) – Chicago based film fanatic who worked in the offices of Paramount and MGM-UA and was described by TCM oracle Robert Osborne as someone who “knew more about movies than anyone else I’ve ever known”
Harold (Hal Jon) Norman (July, 99) – Film and TV character actor best known for guest roles in western series such as The Rifleman, Bonanza, Rawhide, and Daniel Boone; Norman’s death was reported by the obit blog Boot Hill—but no date of death is chronicled
Raymond Jones (July 1, 52) – Songwriter, producer, and Chic keyboardist who also worked with such artists as Whitney Houston, Jeffrey Osborne and Patti Labelle; also provided music for several Spike Lee films including School Daze and Do the Right Thing
Pat Jackson (July 3, 95) – British film and TV director whose oeuvre includes Western Approaches, White Corridors (which co-starred Googie Withers), Encore, and episodes of such series as The Saint, Secret Agent, Man in a Suitcase, and The Prisoner
Paul Michael (July 8, 84) – Stage, screen and TV actor who was probably known more for his long personal relationship with Happy Days’ Marion Ross but who also appeared in such series as Dark Shadows
Rex Bell, Jr. (July 9, 76) – Former district attorney and justice of the peace who appeared in such films as Stage to Thunder Rock and Young Fury but is better known for having been sired by famous parents Rex Bell, Sr. and Clara Bow
Lee Vines (July 10, 92) – Actor-announcer best known for his long association with the TV game show What’s My Line?; also worked on such shows as The Name’s the Same and Password Plus and occasional acting roles on the likes of Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers
Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell (July 11, 68) – Jazz/R&B record producer who worked with a number of artists including A Tribe Called Quest and Erykah Badu; was a member of Motown’s “The Corporation” in the 1970s, the group responsible for many of the hits by The Jackson Five
Leo Kirch (July 14, 84) – German media mogul who once owned the German rights to the film libraries of Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy and movies like King Kong and Citizen Kane as part of a one-man film distribution company