Each week here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I like to eat up just a little bit of blogosphere bandwidth to observe selected celebrity notables who’ve left this world for a better one—and I think the news of the death of character great Gervase Duan (G.D.) Spradlin this week hit me the hardest, because he was truly one of my favorites. A prolific character thespian who entered the acting profession after previous jobs as both a lawyer and oilman, Spradlin’s incredible cinematic resume includes such classics as Will Penny, Monte Walsh, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now, North Dallas Forty, Ed Wood, and Dick (with a dead-solid-perfect impression of Ben Bradlee). He also guest starred on such TV series as Gomer Pyle, USMC, Run for Your Life, I Spy, Mannix, The Big Valley, The Virginian, It Takes a Thief, Dragnet, and Bonanza, to name just a few examples.
I saw Spradlin in all of the films I listed in the above paragraph but for some odd reason I’ll always remember him for two movies that probably don’t get discussed much among cinephiles. He played the no-nonsense General Bentley Durrell in the 1983 movie adaptation of The Lords of Discipline, based on Pat Conroy’s novel about a Southern military academy (he doesn’t specifically mention “The Citadel” but I attribute that to his courtly gentleman ways) and with a screenplay co-written by my very good Facebook chum and TDOY supporter Lloyd at mardecortesbaja.com. I mentioned this before (particularly at the time when character actor Robert Prosky left us) but my college paisan Jeff Lane and I went to see this movie multiple times when it came out (and when Lloyd learned of this he e-mailed me, commenting “So that’s who went and saw it.”) and it soon became one of Jeff’s all-time faves. Spradlin was simply superb in it; his performance permanently tattooed onto my brain.
The other Spradlin movie that sticks in my memory banks is a 1984 comedy entitled Tank which I paid good money to see (and took sisters Kat and Debbie with me) because James Garner starred in it. It’s not a good movie at all (and don’t think Kat and Debbie have ever let me live that down); Spradlin plays the redneck sheriff of a town that shuns Garner and son C. Thomas Howell because of Garner’s military background and when Howell is imprisoned on trumped-up charges by Spradlin, Jimbo goes to town to do a little rompin’ and stompin’ with a tank he personally owns. I could be a little fuzzy on the details about the plot (it has been a while since I saw it) but at one point in the movie Garner’s former commanding officer (Sandy Ward) tells Spradlin’s sheriff that he can’t do anything to stop Garner because of posse comitatus and an upset Spradlin responds with “Did you just call me a pussy Communist?” I have no idea why that has stuck in my head all these years, but it has. We lost a major acting talent when Spradlin took his final bow at the curtain on July 24 at the age of 90.
At the start of the 1982-83 season of the popular TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider walked off the show as the result of a dispute with Hazzard’s producers over royalties due them…and because those same producers had convinced themselves that people watched the series simply because of the freaking car (the General Lee), they replaced the two men with actors Byron Cherry and Christopher “Chip” Mayer. The ratings for Hazzard took a nosedive, and both Wopat and Schneider were hustled back before the season was out…leaving Cherry’s Coy Duke and Mayer’s Vance Duke to wander around that mythical neighborhood in TV Land where characters who are never heard from again are relocated. (And that might have been for the best—I imagine that car would have been a little crowded with the four of them in it, not to mention the constant fights over who called “shotgun.”) Mayer later landed a short-lived gig on the TV series Glitter, but is probably best known for his stint on the daytime soap Santa Barbara as T.J. Daniels from 1987-88. Mayer, married to actress Teri Copley (of We Got it Made fame), passed away July 23 at the age of 57.
We also bid a fond farewell to one of the crew members of McHale’s Navy—actor Edson Stroll, who played Virgil Edwards on the 1962-66 sitcom as well as the two feature films based on the show, McHale’s Navy and McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force, died on July 18 at the age of 82. A former bodybuilder who drifted into acting, Stroll also appeared in two memorable Twilight Zone episodes—“Eye of the Beholder” and “The Trade-Ins”—as well as doing voice-over work and guest starring on series like Dallas, Dynasty, Simon & Simon, and Hotel. Three Stooges fans will also remember that Stroll played “Prince Charming” in the Technicolor Snow White and the Three Stooges and that he also appeared in The Three Stooges in Orbit.
Two motion picture directors best known for single feature films have also passed on during this past week. Canadian-born British director Silvio Narizzano helmed such movies as the Tallulah Bankhead camp fest Die! Die! My Darling, Blue, Loot and Why Shoot the Teacher?…but is perhaps best known for riding herd on the 1966 classic Georgy Girl starring Lynn Redgrave and James Mason. Narizzano died on July 26 at the age of 84. And when movie fans are asked to name their “favorite Michael Cacoyannis (Mihalis Kakogiannis) film” the answer will inevitably be 1964’s Zorba the Greek (for which he received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Sceenplay)…even though he also directed such features as The Day the Fish Came Out, The Trojan Women, Iphigenia and Sweet Country. The Cyprus-born Cacoyannis died on July 25 at the age of 89.
Longtime Oscar-nominated motion picture art director, screenwriter and producer Polly Platt also shuffled off this mortal coil this week on July 27 at the age of 72. As Mrs. Peter Bogdanovich, she assisted her writer-director husband on a number of his film projects, including Targets, The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon (she and Bogdanovich divorced in 1970, but still continued to collaborate until he lost it over Cybil Shepherd). She would later contribute to such films as The Bad News Bears, A Star is Born, Pretty Baby, and Terms of Endearment…and as a producer her resume includes Broadcast News, Say Anything…, The War of the Roses, Bottle Rocket, and The Evening Star. Her writing projects include such films as Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff and A Map of the World.
From the music world, we note the departure of singer-songwriter Dan Peek who, as a member of the rock group America, contributed to such pop hits as A Horse With No Name, Ventura Highway, Tin Man and Sister Golden Hair; he also wrote several of the group’s Top 40 hits, the highest-charting being Lonely People in 1974. Peek quit the band in 1977 because of alcohol and substance abuse problems but was able to reinvent himself as a solo artist after renewing his Christian faith. Peek passed away at his Farmington, MO home on July 24 at the age of 60.
In 1974, Roberta Flack was riding high on the pop charts with Feel Like Making Love—which I was completely unaware (until I read the obituary) was written by singer-songwriter Gene McDaniels, who left us yesterday (July 30) at the age of 76. I knew McDaniels from his brief success in the 1960s as a pop music vocalist who charted with such Top Ten smashes as Tower of Strength (in 1961) and Chip Chip (in 1962). Gene’s biggest hit was the 1961 oldies classic A Hundred Pounds of Clay—the success of which led to appearances in a few films such as It’s Trad, Dad! (aka Ring-a-Ding Rhythm) and The Young Swingers (he can also be glimpsed in the choir in 1974’s Uptown Saturday Night).
As they used to sing on Gilligan’s Island…”and the rest”:
Simon Bond (June 22, 63) – Cartoonist and illustrator whose best-selling book 101 Uses for a Dead Cat earned him both hate mail and the nickname (courtesy of Time magazine) “the Charles Addams of ailurophobia”
Denny Niles (Richard Dennison) (July 11, 77) – Film and TV actor who had a small role in Mister Roberts and made a handful of guest appearances on such TV series as M Squad, The Rebel, and Route 66; also the son of legendary radio announcer Wendell
Bob Trendler (July 18, 99) – Longtime WGN-TV choral director and musical director of the Chicago station’s orchestra who is best remembered by legions of kids and fans as bandleader “Mr. Bob” on the long-running Bozo’s Circus
Sheila Burrell (July 19, 89) – British stage, screen and television actress (and cousin to Lord Olivier) who appeared on such series as The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Feathered Serpent, Brush Strokes, The Darling Buds of May, and Emmerdale Farm
Milly Del Rubio (July 21, 89) – Last surviving member of the campy Del Rubio Triplets band (with sisters Eadie and Elena) who made appearances on such TV shows as Married…with Children, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Full House, The Golden Girls, and Night Court
Bill Morrissey (July 23, 59) – Folksinger and songwriter best known for his descriptive tunes about hardships in the mill towns of New Hampshire
Fran Landesman (July 23, 83) – Poet and lyricist (she wrote the lyrics for Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side) whose songs include Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most
Tresa Hughes (July 24, 81) – Stage, screen and television actress who was nominated for a Tony Award in 1961 for The Devil’s Advocate; her film appearances include Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, Coming Home, Fame, and Don Juan DeMarco
Jane White (July 24, 88) – Stage, screen and television actress whose productions include Strange Fruit, Jane Eyre, The Power and the Glory, and Once Upon a Mattress; she did a good deal of daytime soap opera work including stints on Search for Tomorrow and The Edge of Night
Frank Foster (July 26, 82) – Composer and tenor/soprano saxophonist best known for his work in Count Basie’s musical aggregation; he wrote Basie’s hit Shiny Stockings, among many others
Elmer Lower (July 26. 98) – Former president of ABC News (1963-74) who was responsible for the hiring (make of it what you will) the likes of Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Frank Reynolds, and Sam Donaldson
David Legrant (July 28, 87) – Acting teacher (who studied under Lee Strasberg) whose pupils included the likes of Tobey Maguire, Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Constance Towers, and Alyson Hannigan