Monthly Archives: January 2012

Dead Folks 2011: The Icons

Dead Folks 2011: The Icons

A lot of stars, celebrities, heroes, villains, and movers and shakers left us in 2011—and we have their stories.


January 26, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor

As a child film star, an icon of feminine beauty, a sex symbol, the first celebrity tabloid queen, the last reigning queen of Hollywood, and, as film critic Pauline Kael famously pegged her, “a force of nature,” Elizabeth Taylor merged the arcs of her screen image and personal life into a single amazing trajectory. Her star of fame zigged and zagged and finally stopped rising, but it has never fallen. With her passing, however, the world may have seen its last authentic movie star.

Elizabeth, first and foremost, was blessed with beauty. Even as she approached the delicate age of seven, adults were struck by her “ladylike” demeanor and physical presence. On the large screen in Technicolor—for example, in National Velvet—the 12-year-old Taylor was a stunning doll with a tender, lilting voice and eyes that quickly welled with tears. The eyes were blue, as a matter of fact, but once the notion of lavender or violet eyes gained momentum, photographers would often process their results to lend a darker cast to what, during the 1950s and early 1960s, were nonetheless regarded as the loveliest peepers on the planet.

Once Taylor was MGM’s leading child star, it seemed like mere months before Taylor, an adolescent proper lady in several of MGM’s period pictures, suddenly emerged as a leading ingénue with adult roles. The transition was seamless (on screen), but years later Taylor would remark how her ambitious mother and MGM bosses conspired to deprive her of a childhood and treat her as “chattel.”

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There was some hint given in 1950, while Taylor was still a teenager, of the sexual dynamo that would arrive later, and observers received more than a clue that perhaps adulthood and stardom had come to the young actress too soon. In A Place in the Sun Opposite Montgomery Clift (with whom she would form a close and lasting friendship), Taylor’s society girl Angela Vickers practically glowed and hummed with repressed desire for the incredibly handsome fellow from the wrong side of the tracks. Taylor provided a new image (and notion) for post-war bobbysoxers and 1950s teenagers: sexual energy in a socially acceptable package. Subsequent roles for the now established star, along with a very public and notorious personal life, would rip the bow off of that package.

Taylor married Conrad Hilton in 1950; nine months later Hilton’s wild ways led to Taylor’s miscarriage and a divorce. Bareley a year later Taylor tied the knot with Michael Wilding; that marriage (to a man twenty years her senior) lasted less than six years. A month after that divorce, Taylor was married to Mike Todd, a stage and film production hustler and all-around guy’s guy, and the first man who would hold Taylor’s sincere attention.

It was during these marriages and divorces (and two pregnancies) that MGM provided Taylor with almost no decent roles. She was still considered to be the most beautiful woman on the modern screen, and the celebrity press kept her front and center, usually combining mild Hollywood gossip with updates on the actress’s domestic bliss. An under-appreciated performance in the Warner Bros. epic Giant had Taylor playing second fiddle, in terms of public attention, to a new teen idol named James Dean. Then in 1958 the world got a dose of Maggie the Cat.

Starring with Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Taylor offered more than mere glimpses of simmering sexuality, doing for silk slips what Marlon Brando did for T-shirts that decade. She was currently the biggest box-office draw in America. Still more attention, of a salacious nature, arrived with Suddenly Last Summer, in which for one memorable scene Taylor rose from the surf in a white bathing suit that was sufficiently soaked to render it, shall we say, less than modest. It was at this time that the screen persona and the real-world image became inseparable.

Michael Todd had perished in a plane crash in the spring of 1958. Todd’s buddy, entertainer Eddie Fisher, began to console the distraught widow, and romance blossomed once again for Taylor. The problem was that Fisher was married to one of America’s screen sweethearts, Debbie Reynolds. Fisher’s subsequent divorce and marriage to Taylor became publicity fodder thus far unmatched in celebrity scandal history. The entire drama, as it played out for years, makes today’s Angelina/Brad/Jennifer saga look like a dispute over a parking space at a Beverly Hills restaurant. In any case, the world was just getting a peek at the drama that would emerge in the next decade.

After a much-publicized emergency room adventure involving a tracheotomy (chronic illness would become a feature of the Taylor saga), the semi-notorious home wrecker won an Oscar for her portrayal of a call girl/home wrecker in BUtterfield 8. But authentic scandal was already brewing overseas, where Taylor had taken the lead role in the 20th-Century Fox epic Cleopatra.

By now absolutely irresistible to the press, the sex symbol, home wrecker, and recently $1 million-salaried star was the topic of basically every dispatch from the Cleopatra production. First was the very serious case of pneumonia, resolved by that emergency tracheotomy that many agree earned Taylor sympathy with Oscar voters. After the film’s key player returned to the set, the press turned their attention to the chemistry between Taylor and co-star Richard Burton. They were not referring to the daily rushes. Thus commenced the dawn of an epic which would dwarf the historic tale of Egypt’s queen: Liz & Dick.

The two married stars carried on a scandalous affair, one so public, audacious, and well-chronicled that the Vatican actually weighed in with disapproval. It wasn’t merely a matter of tabloid covers and paparazzi and news reels. Liz & Dick were headlines and top stories with legitimate media. From a strictly Who’s Who perspective of the celebrity realm, during the early 1960s there was JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Truman Capote, and Liz & Dick—not necessarily in that order. When the two finally exchanged vows in the spring of 1964, it was difficult to distinguish between on-screen Liz & Dick and real-world Liz & Dick. They made seven pictures together, none more absurd than The Sandpiper, in which a tormented, married pastor (Burton) has an affair with a Big Sur artist and free spirited single gal (Taylor). It was art imitating—and then shamelessly exploiting—life.

It was around this time that one might reasonably have debated whether Elizabeth Taylor could actually act. The debate was resolved in 1966 when Taylor and Burton conducted a booze-addled, over-the-top, phenomenally caustic, marital grudge match in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Taylor played the volatile Martha, and, long story short, everyone was afraid of her. Taylor took home a second Academy Award for that one.

Taylor’s roles during the late 1960s and early 70s are a curious collection. She offered a fine turn opposite Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye, a picture only slightly less bizarre than Boom!, Secret Ceremony, or X, Y, and Zee. By the 1980s, no one cared what Taylor was doing, unless some comedian was cruelly mocking the aging actress’s weight gain, another marriage, or some awful television appearance.

Yet, being a force of nature, it did not occur to Taylor that she might not find a way to make, say, a second small fortune to match the sums gained from her Hollywood career. It took a while to parlay her famous $150 million jewelry collection into a marketing angle/product image, but Passion and White Diamonds, Taylor’s personal fragrances, were pulling in 60-plus million dollars annually by the late 1990s. That’s alongside the $270 million Taylor ultimately raised, starting in 1985, for AIDS-focused charities and projects. Despite spectacular health problems (many of which led to chemical dependencies and related difficulties), being essentially banished from motion pictures, and often being her own worst enemy in terms of public image, Elizabeth Taylor, in her dwindling years, was fully engaged in major business endeavors and award-winning charitable enterprises.

It makes sense, really. In many of those screen roles in which she drew from her own strong-willed spirit to create a character, Elizabeth Taylor invariably hinted that she should never be counted out. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Paul Newman asks Taylor, “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?” The best looking woman in Hollywood purrs her response, “Just staying on it I guess—as long as she can.” —DP

Owsley Stanley

Few people influenced the ’60s like Owsley Stanley. He would be known just for his long stint as the road manager for the Grateful Dead. The young audio technician designed the elaborate custom equipment that helped to turn the Dead into one of the era’s legendary live acts. Regardless of the music, nobody sounded better in concert than the Grateful Dead—which helped to inspire the bootlegging of shows that would turn the band’s tours into major events for the length of their career.

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Stanley—also known as “Bear” to Dead fans—had another important skill. In fact, he first met the Dead members at a party where everyone was checking out the latest stash of LSD from the Stanley home lab. His potent acid didn’t just inspire the Dead as musicians. He also used his drug money to fund the Dead’s early career. Stanley didn’t need the band’s notoriety to become a celebrity dealer, though. “Owsley” was already becoming a code name for the not-so-enigmatic figure producing mass quantities of acid to eager hippies. That was mostly between 1965 and 1967, and it should be noted that the “Owsley” name was known for reliable product at a reasonable price.

Stanley was lucky that LSD wasn’t illegal back in 1965. He also got a break when the Sandoz Laboratories removed their pharmaceutical LSD from the market in the mid-60s. That’s when Stanley began to move in celebrity circles as a supplier—making the most of his musical connections through his association with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. LSD finally became illegal in 1967, and Stanley’s celebrity status quickly caught up with him. He was busted with 350,000 doses of acid. The judge didn’t believe Stanley’s claim that it was for personal use, and sentenced the dealer to three years in prison.

He got out to find a job waiting for him with the Grateful Dead, but Stanley turned out to be a bad influence. Almost the entire band would end up arrested while on tour with Stanley in 1970. Stanley would spend two more years in prison for traveling with his stash of LSD and barbiturates. The Dead were inspired by the bust to write “Truckin’,” so that worked out pretty well for them.

A lot of people in the ’80s decided that Australia was the safest place to avoid the nuclear and/or environmental holocaust that was sure to result from the Reagan years. Stanley was one of them, and headed off to his own happy life in the Australian outback while having lots of kids. He was no hippie-dippy type, though. Stanley loved to pontificate on all kinds of things, including the virtues of his all-meat diet. He thought vegetables were poisonous to the body. (He blamed his bout with throat cancer on being served broccoli as a child.) The guy might have been onto something, since Stanley’s own body held up pretty well to a chemical onslaught. Sadly, no diet could have prepared Stanley for a car accident near his Queensland home. (76, car accident) —JRT

James Arness

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Remember that big, lumbering creature terrorizing soldiers at an arctic outpost in the science-fiction classic The Thing From Another World? That was big Jim Arness, and rightly so; no one else in Hollywood at the time stood 6’7” tall. That’s also Arness as a lanky farm boy in The Farmer’s Daughter, and as a deranged member of the Clegg clan in John Ford’s downbeat western Wagon Master. A dozen more minor turns in forgotten westerns followed before his boss at Batjac Films (one John Wayne) recommended that CBS hire Arness to play Matt Dillon for a planned television version of “Gunsmoke,” which was still a hugely successful and critically-acclaimed radio series. Arness got the part, and what followed has never been matched in television history.

The series ran from 1955 to 1975, the longest run so far for any television series. That’s 635 episodes, but it took Arness only a few of the early ones to establish himself as the definitive U.S. Marshall, a stern but decent lawman managing the untamed territories near Dodge City, Kansas. By its third season, “Gunsmoke” held the number one ratings slot and stayed there for three more years. It remained in the top ten, though not consecutively, for fourteen of its twenty years on the air. In other words, for two full decades James Arness was the most recognized western star in America—apart from his old boss John Wayne, who introduced Arness to viewers in a rather lengthy monologue at the beginning of the first episode on September 10, 1955 (“He’s a young fellow and maybe new to some of you, but I’ve worked with him and I predict he’ll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you’ve had to get used to me.”)

During “Gunsmoke’s” unmatched run on television, thirty other western programs came and went, starring such big names as Walter Brennan, Robert Conrad, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, James Garner, and Richard Boone. Arness outlasted all of them. (88) —DP

Dead Folks 2011: Playboys/Playgirls

Dead Folks 2011: Playboys/Playgirls


Brigitte Bardot and Gunter Sachs (click for larger version)


January 26, 2012

Gunter Sachs

They don’t make them like that anymore, those continental jet-setting dandies of leisure, wealth, and adventure. With Sachs’ departure, the world bids farewell to the Men of the World, the Monaco casino/St. Moritz slope/Mediterranean yacht club gadabouts, that class-apart group whom Truman Capote referred to as the “super rich.” There’s no getting around it: Gunter Sachs was the last of the international playboys.

As the son of Willy Sachs, Gunter was heir to German automotive empire Fichtel & Sachs (Opel). At any given point in time, therefore, he had at his disposal roughly $400 million. That’s not a lot by the standards of modern pop stars or computer industry moguls, but during the 1960s a few hundred million went a long way on the Continent, and the Continent was Sachs’ playground. Among other pastimes, he was the Chairman of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club, and yes, that’s him walking back from an icy, deadly run in crash helmet, goggles, and full-length fox fur. That’s also the multimillionaire swaggering through an international airport with Brigitte Bardot in 1966—superbly tailored white chinos and white denim shirt on his athletic frame, Rolex on the left wrist, savoir fare all over the place.

Bardot was hardly the only international babe with whom Sachs enjoyed life’s simple pleasures, but she was the only one he wooed into marriage by dropping rose petals onto her Cote d’Azur villa from a helicopter. That arrangement lasted until 1969, after which Sachs married Swiss model Mirja Larrson. Before those two marriages, Sachs was involved with Soraya Esfandiary, former princess of Iran. Chicks dug him.

The late Gunter Sachs, multi-millionaire international playboy, seen here returning from a bobsled run in St. Moritz. (click for larger version)

And why not? Sure, he was rich, but it didn’t hurt that he was ruggedly handsome, held a degree in mathematics, was a skilled photographer, and knew all the best spots for a private getaway or $30,000 picnic. St. Tropez, for example, was largely unheard of until Sachs turned it into his favorite beach. That wasn’t a secret for long among the jet set. Or Mick Jagger’s entourage. Or the Hollywood/Cannes coterie.

Sachs collected Dali, Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Picasso. Not just for the walls of his many villas, chalets, and manor houses. He collected the artists for dinner engagements and other get-togethers. When he wasn’t bobsledding, or on a yacht shooting footage of some lark or adventure, he was busy with a philanthropic enterprise, or finding ways to make those millions grow to billions. He once famously declared that he had never worked a day in his life, but no one ever got the notion that Gunter Sachs was lazy.

Many personal accounts of the Sachs saga reveal that his contemporaries did understand that he was a breed apart—something to do with innate charm, gregariousness, style, and quiet confidence. It helped that he was a daredevil on the slopes, at sea, on the racecourse, and on the polo ponies. Today we might suspect that the “stay thirsty, my friend” adventurer in the Dos Equis beer commercials (The Most Interesting Man in the World) is modeled after Sachs. That’s about right. But then, Sean Connery, Alain Delon, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, and Marcello Mastroianni were each, at various times, attempting to get on screen a character like Gunter Sachs. It’s a case of art not quite imitating life, because for Sachs, living was a matter of infinite life experiences. Sensing that the onset of Alzheimer’s signaled an inglorious introduction of the finite, Sach’s put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. (79, suicide) —DP

Linda Christian

By the late 1940s, Hollywood had roughly established a 3-tiered system for actresses. A-list (Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman); B-list (Teresa Wright, Jean Simmons, Susan Hayward); and there was no C-list. Anything below B was a nebulous, undefined field of starlets, ingénues, and “new interests.” In one distant corner of that third tier dwelled what might be described as an “ambitious girl,” aka The Climber. Actually, “playgirl” might be a more apt description, but Hollywood and American society did not yet officially recognize a female analog for the playboy. In any case, the goal of The Climber was to sink her claws into the nearest rich and famous gentleman (on the Continent or stateside), and if this target happened to be a film star, that was even better. To succeed with that ploy, the girl had to be highly physically attractive, very mysterious, sufficiently dangerous, and, in every sense of the term, willing. Linda Christian was all of that and more.

She’s the lead player in a forgotten chapter of Hollywood lore, but there are still some folks who recall that Christian was once briefly Mrs. Tyrone Power. Their marriage in 1949 was an insanely ornate affair held at Rome’s legendary Santa Francesca Romana cathedral, and was, for all practical purposes, a Hollywood production replete with Italian police unsuccessfully holding back a mob of fans.

Movie people understood that kind of thing in those days, especially if the concerned party were a star of Tyrone Power’s stature. What many observers did not understand was where, exactly, this Linda Christian woman came from, or how and why Power (who was said to be leaving his wife to continue his well-known romance with fellow star Lana Turner) so quickly ditched Turner and then took this mysterious gal as his lawfully wedded wife. They had dated only a short time, and how they even met was a matter of contradictory accounts.

Granted, Christian had made a splash in the tabloids as Hollywood’s newest beauty to keep an eye on a few years previous; she had appeared in some very minor movies in a very minor way. Apparently Christian, a stunning physical specimen whom LIFE magazine dubbed “the anatomic bomb,” exuded an irresistible erotic charisma. Debbie Reynolds had noticed that men “changed” after a few minutes around Christian, and quickly wrote her off as a mere “temptress.”

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Power and Christian began experiencing marital difficulties right away. In 1955 there was that odd matter of admirer Robert Schlesinger, son of Countess Mona Bismarck, giving Christian a necklace, bracelet, and ring valued at $132,000. The purchase was made with a bad check, and the jewelry firm used legal measures to force Christian to return the items. Christian was also seeking film roles; Power was against it. One Christmas season English actor Edmund Purdom took up residence in the Powers’ guesthouse. By 1956 a divorce was looming, but Christian landed on her feet, or put another way, numerous eligible bachelors around the globe were suddenly at her feet.

That’s because “around the globe” is where Christian, aka Blanca Rosa Welter, was from. Her father, Gerardus Welter, was a wealthy engineer and oil trader, and his frequent global travels had provided his daughter with a sophisticated education (she spoke seven languages well, managed several others) and a taste for all things international and expensive. Possessed of almost supernatural feminine poise and beauty, Christian knew how to make an impression as a woman of the world. That’s how she wound up in Hollywood. Errol Flynn, otherwise an invulnerable lady-killer, had taken a very young Blanca Rosa from Mexico to California so she “could have a tooth fixed.” For reasons not made clear, Flynn eventually made himself scarce, urging his new young conquest to find work in pictures. He arranged for Welter to change her name to Christian, after the character Flynn had portrayed in Mutiny on the Bounty.

Not all the men smitten with Christian were wise enough to cut their losses. By the time she had divorced Power and moved on to various bullfighters, playboys, and Spanish Olympic athlete, millionaire, and racing legend Alfonso de Portago, several Italian tabloids were alluding to at least five men who had died under mysterious circumstances or by suicide. Each had made references to Christian in their last known conversations with friends or family. Nothing to do with foul play, mind you; Christian simply had that effect on young men. A lot of similar babes were home wreckers, but according to the tabloids Christian was out there wrecking souls.

On the other hand, she may have been the kiss of death in some cases. It was Christian, after all, whom de Portago had kissed before climbing back into his Ferrari to finish the Italian endurance race Mille Miglia in 1957. He flipped the car into the crowd when a tire went flat, killing himself and ten spectators. Eighteen months later Power died from a heart attack.

At that point, observers suspected that Edmund Purdom, with whom Christain had been cozy while separated from Power, might propose. But that’s difficult to do when the object of one’s affection is in St. Moritz with yet another filthy rich Italian playboy. Such was Christian’s influence, however, that when the European gold digging failed to pan out (and she’s reduced to the status of Azalea Queen at a festival in North Carolina), the globetrotting vixen returned to London in 1962 to marry a waiting Purdom. They divorced the next year. Christian spent the following decades in her native Mexico. How she got along is a matter of conjecture, depending on which bullfighter you talk to. (87, Cancer) —DP

Dead Folks 2011: Film and Television

Dead Folks 2011: Film and Television

January 26, 2012

Anne Francis

A perfectly proportioned, leggy blonde with a beauty mark just to the right of her demure smile, Anne Francis was the go-to gal for the roles of ingénue, bobbysoxer, and sweet young thing at MGM, circa late 1940s and early 1950s. Stardom remained elusive until Francis landed a supporting role in the now legendary science-fiction classic Forbidden Planet, loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.


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That was fitting, as the producers correctly cast this living doll as such stuff as dreams are made on. While younger viewers were captivated by Francis’ mechanical co-star Robby the Robot and various spectacular special effects, all others had eyes glued to the willowy blonde’s unbelievably short, skimpy dresses (racier versions of the “futuristic” costumes had been ruled out by the studio, so who knows what might have been). In any case, Francis’ Altaira merged the pin-up girl with sci-fi movies a decade before Jane Fonda’s Barbarella was orbiting planets in her birthday suit.

That’s not to suggest that the lovely Francis was merely an empty image. Before Forbidden Planet, she had viciously parodied Hollywood’s femme-fatale, man-eating vamp stereotype in Susan Slept Here, and she was clearly at ease portraying a dungarees-and-ball-cap tomboy for Bad Day at Black Rock, in which she exhibited no small skill at driving Jeeps or fending off bullies. Someone must have noticed that Francis, if called upon, could be one of the boys, to say nothing of her sly smile that more than hinted at her worldly wisdom. She was a honey who could handle herself, and so it was destiny that Francis would wind up in “Honey West,” a private-eye thriller with a female lead.

The TV show lasted for a single 29-episode season, but the thirty-something, ridiculously fit Francis made a lasting impression as a private eyeful. Sometimes clad in a leopard-print leotard and fishnet stockings (or perhaps a solid black bodysuit for stealth work), the tough-as-nails Judo expert drove a Cobra convertible, hid a two-way radio in her lipstick case, and enjoyed downtime at home with her pet ocelot Bruce.

Despite Francis earning an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award, executives somehow concluded that there wasn’t room in television land for two female crime fighters. Honey West vanished when Emma Peel of “The Avengers” hit American shores. In the long run, that hardly mattered for Francis, whose five-decade career of guest appearances landed her a role (or roles) in almost any television drama or crime thriller you can name. (80, pancreatic cancer) —DP


Dana Wynter (click for larger version)






Dana Wynter

The quietly pretty brunette appeared in fewer than two dozen motion pictures, but like many minor stars of the 1950s, she was rescued by regular gigs in TV series and movies during following decades. Nonetheless, she has a permanent slot in movie lore, as it was her good fortune to play Becky Driscoll alongside Kevin McCarthy in the Cold War science-fiction thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). She was on the lam from the alien invaders, desperately attempting to remain awake lest the pods take over her brain. She looked like a million dollars throughout the struggle, which she ultimately lost. In fact, the moment of her change in the story leaves Wynter the brunt of an unintentional punch line for modern audiences. When Wynter opens her soulless eyes after a brief kiss, McCarthy narrates, “I never knew the real meaning of fear until I kissed Becky.” (79) —DP


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Tura Satana

Nobody had to hurriedly write a tribute song to Tura Satana after she passed away. The legendary stripper and hipster sex symbol already had plenty of rock songs written about her during the past decades. The Japanese-born exotic dancer had gone from a daring nightclub act to being a legendary tough gal in Russ Meyer’s cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Satana had actually enjoyed a surprisingly mainstream career, though. She made her proper screen debut in Billy Wilder’s 1963 classic Irma la Douce, and also showed up that year in the Dean Martin comedy Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed? Faster, Pussycat! became an instant classic amongst the adult theater crowd, but Satana didn’t cash in too quickly off of Meyer’s epic tribute to Amazonian femmes fatale.

She was still working as a dancer when she showed up in the 1966 spy spoof Our Man Flint. She later popped up in B-movies like 1968′s Astro Zombies and 1973′s The Doll Squad. Satana finally began to enjoy long-delayed cult stardom in the 1980s as Meyer’s films became available on VHS. Faster, Pussycat! soon became a legend of home video, and Tura was ready to emerge from her retirement as a Los Angeles housewife. (The savvy lady copyrighted her name and image.) She was a little shapelier than expected, but her personal appearances lived up to Meyer’s descriptions of her as a whip-smart gal who’d ad-libbed plenty of his movie’s best lines. (76, heart failure) —JRT

Jane Russell

Howard Hughes knew a lot about design, and few women were designed for stardom like Jane Russell. The curvy drama student was discovered by the millionaire while he was scheming to take over Hollywood, and Russell was soon set to star in her motion picture debut. Unfortunately, Hughes was almost too visionary for his own good. The producer/director would showcase his favorite talent’s cleavage a little too much in 1943′s The Outlaw. Russell’s skimpy costumes were tough to get past the censorship boards. (Her measurements were 36D-26-36 at the time.) The Outlaw wouldn’t see general release until 1946—when Hughes’ leering vision paid off as the mediocre western did boffo box office. The advertising would become legendary for the image of a gun-toting Russell leisurely spread out in some hay.

Hughes remained intent on casting his leading lady in cheesecake roles. Fortunately, Russell would show off her other talents with Bob Hope in The Paleface and a sequel. That would lead to Russell pulling off another great comic turn in 1953 for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Russell would ultimately form her own production company, and began to gracefully retire as her audience dwindled toward the end of the ’50s. She worked very sporadically after 1960, but made a striking appearance in The Born Losers—which would launch the screen career of Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack. Russell also stayed in the widening public eye when she hit her fifties and became the spokeswoman for Playtex Bras. She always remained wholesome at heart, describing herself in later years as a “mean-spirited right-wing conservative Christian.” She kept Hollywood looking glamorous for more years than the place deserved. (89, respiratory failure) —JRT

Ken Russell

Director Ken Russell started with all the potential of a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch, and ended up the modern equivalent of Orson Welles pitching bad wine. He had spent the ’60s creating a series of brilliant documentaries for the BBC, and made his feature film debut with the 1969 romantic drama Women in Love. The film had some daring scenes—including a notable naked wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed—but Russell was only starting to push boundaries. He persuaded Richard Chamberlain to play a very gay Tchaikovsky for the period drama The Music Lovers, and then threw in plenty of kinky imagery while chronicling sexually oppressed Renaissance nuns in The Devils.

Russell created the retro musical The Boyfriend, but the 1971 bomb briefly derailed Russell’s career (and put a halt to the showbiz aspirations of leading lady Twiggy). Things worked much better when Russell was hired to envision the rock opera of The Who’s Tommy in 1975. Russell mistakenly took that critical success as his cue to hook up with Roger Daltrey for a sex-crazed biopic of Franz Liszt. Lisztomania wound up as a glam-rock disaster destroyed by an overdose of phallic imagery. Russell next bombed with a bigger budget while working with Rudolf Nureyev in the 1977 biopic Valentino.

Russell would score another hit with Altered States in 1980, where he kept the storyline fairly coherent while mixing sci-fi and New Age psychedelia. He was a real pain while making the movie, though, and he was soon back to making documentaries for the BBC.

His first real comeback was the artsy 1984 thriller Crimes of Passion, with Kathleen Turner being stalked by Tony Perkins as a deranged street preacher sporting a deadly sex toy. There would be another deadly dildo in 1988′s Lair of the White Worm, which played several weeks in Birmingham after the local high-school kids discovered the film was an absurd comedy. By the start of the ’90s, Russell was enough of a survivor to always find low-budget work while continuing to be one of England’s finest documentarians. Sadly, he’d also become enough of a joke to end up alongside Leo Sayer and Dirk Benedict in the UK reality series “Celebrity Big Brother.” His last film was also a real clunker, as he wasted time in the horror anthology Trapped Ashes with a tale about a young woman with blood-sucking breasts. (84, natural causes) —JRT

Maria Schneider

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She was doing okay as an aspiring counter-culture figure, but then French ingénue Maria Schneider became a porn-chic figure without making a porn film. Instead, she simply gave her all when offered the chance to co-star with Marlon Brando (fresh from The Godfather) in a film from renowned director Bernardo Bertolucci. 1972′s Last Tango in Paris certainly has its moments as a touching drama about damaged people in an anonymous relationship. Unfortunately, the press couldn’t resist sensationalizing the film’s simulated anal-sex scene. Schneider instantly became a dirty joke just as she was entering her twenties. Film executives were mostly interested in Schneider as a candidate for the casting couches. Those didn’t hold much interest for the outspoken young lesbian.

Schneider would return to European productions, making her first legitimate follow-up to Paris in The Passenger with Jack Nicholson. She was once again cast as an anonymous girl, though, and she followed up that 1975 production with a tawdry thriller released in the States as Wanted: Babysitter. Schneider would be starring in films like Diary of a French Whore and Mama Dracula by the end of the ’70s. A slight drug problem didn’t improve her reputation, although it was understandable when she walked off the set of the X-rated Caligula. (It didn’t help that she went off to commit herself to the mental institution where her girlfriend was staying.) Her bigger mistake might have been walking off the set of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire in 1976—although that inspired Buñuel to replace her with two actresses, which helped to make the film an art-house classic. Schneider wouldn’t get another chance to make an important film, but she’d go on to work steadily in Paris. (58, cancer) —JRT

Marie-France Pisier

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One of France’s brightest young actresses in the ’60s, Marie-France Pisier caught Hollywood’s eye in the ’70s with international hits such as Celine and Julie Go Boating and Cousin Cousine. Unfortunately, Pisier would make her American studio debut in one of the worst movies of 1977. The Other Side of Midnight (based on a Sidney Sheldon novel) pretty much killed the career of everybody in the film who wasn’t Susan Sarandon. Since it was the ’70s, it wasn’t enough for Pisier to be embroiled in a vintage potboiler. She also had to update the melodrama with ludicrous sex scenes. Pisier recovered by returning to France to work with François Truffaut in Love on the Run, and then had another American art-house hit with the comedy French Postcards. That gave her another shot in the States, but she just ended up in a trashy TV miniseries based on Judith Krantz’s Scruples. The French were probably having a good laugh about all that. Pisier finally went back to France to enjoy a long and distinguished career. Her unexpected death prompted a public statement from President Sarkozy. (66, drowning) —JRT

Michael Gough

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A lot of British actors had careers like Michael Gough. They’d tread the boards as Shakespearean actors and make classic English films at home, while also appearing in American drive-ins as the stars of films like—in the case of Gough—Horror of Dracula, Horrors of the Black Museum, and The Skull. Gough also made it to Broadway a few times, too, and won a Tony Award in 1979. Tim Burton was probably thinking of the Gough who starred in the caveman epic Trog when he cast the aging actor as Alfred the Butler in 1989′s Batman. Gough would continue to serve a changing line-up of Bruce Waynes throughout the 1990s. Burton kept Gough acting into his nineties as the voice of the Dodo Bird in 2010′s Alice In Wonderland. (94, undisclosed) —JRT

Jackie Cooper

Hollywood has given us plenty of child actors, but Jackie Cooper died while holding an 80-year record as the youngest actor ever nominated for an Oscar in a leading role. He was nine years old when he got a Best Actor nomination as the title character in 1931′s Skippy. Of course, Cooper was a showbiz veteran by then. He’d made his film debut in 1929, and had made plenty of “Our Gang” comedies for the Hal Roach Studios. Cooper had even been around long enough to be swindled by a studio. Hal Roach was paying the kid $50 a week while pocketing $25,000 for loaning him out to Paramount to star in Skippy.

At least Skippy made Cooper a star, and his contract was promptly sold to MGM. He made a few classics there, including The Champ in 1931 and 1934′s Treasure Island (both with Wallace Beery). Cooper went into adolescence playing the lead in what became a popular series of movies about bumbling teen Henry Aldrich. Except for a three-year hiatus spent fighting in WWII, Cooper worked nonstop in film and television until 1964, when he took a corporate job with Columbia Pictures. He returned to regular appearances in TV shows and TV movies at the end of the ’60s, and was just as likely to be behind the camera directing sitcoms and cop shows (plus 13 episodes of “M*A*S*H”).

He returned to the multiplexes as Daily Planet editor Perry White in all the Superman films made between 1978 and 1987. That kept him from sailing “The Love Boat,” although he did show up on the inevitable episodes of “Murder, She Wrote.” Cooper finally retired from showbiz in 1989. That was after 64 years of acting. He made sure that none of his four kids went into showbiz, and explained why in his autobiography Please Don’t Shoot My Dog—titled after the threat used by his director uncle to get him to cry in a scene for Skippy. (88, natural causes) —JRT

Michael Sarrazin/Susannah York

It’s gotten tougher to get a DVD commentary together for 1969′s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Oscar winner Gig Young pulled off a murder/suicide back in 1978, and Jane Fonda is the only lead left now that Michael Sarrazin and Susannah York are both dead. The Depression-era drama got Sarrazin’s career off to a sudden start, but the Canadian with the dreamy eyes never found another role to get his stardom rolling. The biggest problem was his tendency for offbeat roles that matched his bizarre good looks. That could’ve worked out for Sarrazin if Universal had allowed him to take the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. The role in Horses was offered to him as a consolation prize.

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Sarrazin never really got another showcase role. He kept seeking out weird small films, and was stuck taking the typically thankless role of Barbra Streisand’s male co-star in 1974′s For Pete’s Sake. Then his career came to a screeching halt with the underrated thriller The Reincarnation of Peter Proud in 1975—although he managed one more cult hit as part of an ensemble cast in that same year’s The Gumball Rally. He spent the rest of his career working from his native Canada, where his presence in low-budget genre product would guarantee at least one compelling performance.

Susannah York would end up on a similar career path, although she was an international star when she joined the cast of Horses. The enigmatic British blonde had her break in the sexy 1963 period piece Tom Jones, and went legit in 1966′s A Man For All Seasons. She’d also stoked some controversy as the young object of desire in the X-rated 1968 lesbian drama The Killing of Sister George. York actually suffered for getting an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for Horses. In a then-fashionable move, York’s response was to complain that the Academy didn’t ask her if she wanted to be nominated. (She’d lose to Goldie Hawn.)

York then moved on to a career-killing trilogy of weirdness. The stage-bound version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June barely got a release in 1971, and she started out 1972 starring in the painfully mod X, Y & Zee—where her bisexual romantic triangle with Michael Caine and Elizabeth Taylor was too silly to ever get sexy. That same year had her playing another nutcase when she reunited with Sister George director Robert Altman for the hallucinatory horror film Images. (The role was brooding enough to win York the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, and she didn’t seem to mind that.)


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York actually seemed comfortable with indie films, and would make much better ones throughout the ’70s—including The Shout and The Silent Partner. She’d remain shut out of the multiplexes until 1978, when she was cast as Christopher Reeve’s Krypton mom in Superman. She’d be in the sequel, too, but would end up on an episode of “The Love Boat” by 1985. Like Sarrazin, she’d spend the rest of her career providing a classy touch to (mostly) bad international productions. That was probably another reason that everyone assumed she was related to Michael York. They weren’t, but the two would compete to see who could fabricate the most elaborate blood ties when giving interviews. (Sarrazin: 70, cancer; York: 69, bone marrow cancer) —JRT

Diane Cilento

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Brit Ekland still gets a lot of love for her role as Willow, the oft-naked pagan minx in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. Yet for brooding sensuality, perhaps top honors go to Diane Cilento’s Miss Rose, a schoolmarm who specialized in the birds and the bees, with a special emphasis on the male anatomy. By the time that picture was made, the Australian actress had already enjoyed a decade of fame for her turn as the bawdy, wild-haired wench Molly Seagrim in Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. That portrayal alone should have earned her more roles during the 1960s, but Miss Cilento was also known as Mrs. Sean Connery, and her husband had some old-fashioned notions about wives working in the picture business, i.e., they don’t. She had some minor roles in minor films, but after Cilento’s high profile turn in The Agony and the Ecstasy with Charlton Heston in 1965, Connery declared that two stars in the household was one too many. That didn’t stop Cilento from stealing scenes opposite Paul Newman in Hombre, an ahead-of-its-time western based on an Elmore Leonard story. Cilento, playing a jaded widow making ends meet in a desert town, offered more raw sex appeal than any Bond girl ever did. Perhaps Connery recognized that, because the abusive relationship escalated to spectacular levels until Cilento filed for divorce in 1973. (78, cancer) —DP

Walter Seltzer

The former studio publicist didn’t produce a lot of films, but Walter Seltzer made a few classics by having the right friends. Marlon Brando would bring him along for the actor’s directorial debut with the offbeat One-Eyed Jacks, which remains a classic western despite plenty of studio interference. Seltzer then hooked up with pal Charlton Heston for one of the weirder stretches in a leading man’s career. Heston was coming off his cynical lead in Planet of the Apes, and wanted to keep aging ungracefully onscreen. The team got off to a fine start with the jaded 1968 western Will Penny. Seltzer and Heston then kept Penny director Tom Gries for the gritty sports drama Number One, where Heston went full anti-hero as a drunken fading football star.

Then it was time to get really dark with Heston’s vision of the future. 1971′s The Omega Man had its star trapped in a world where evil mutants—led by a former network anchorman—wanted to wipe out Heston as the last remnant of Western civilization. Heston’s response was to brag of destroying the mutants with his “100% Anglo-Saxon blood.” The Omega Man still had a more depressing ending than Will Smith’s remake of I Am Legend—but was a feel-good epic compared to 1972′s Soylent Green. Seltzer and Heston presented the Earth of 2022 as Al Gore having ultimately been proven right. The air is polluted, the cities are overpopulated, and only millionaires can afford to chew on fatty cuts of gristly steak. Heston plays a hardened cop who discovers that things are even worse than they seem, and Soylent Green‘s ending—despite lots of spoofs—remains one of the bleakest finales in sci-fi history.

Seltzer and Heston—who were always at odds politically—wrapped up their partnership with some traditional Western heroics in 1976′s The Last Hard Men, which was Heston’s last great leading role. Seltzer then retired to concentrate on fundraising for the Motion Picture and Television Fund for aging industry veterans, and would pass away in the organization’s retirement home. (96, natural causes) —JRT

Farley Granger

In most ways, Farley Granger enjoyed the typical career arc of a Hollywood leading man. He landed starring roles in a few classic films, and had his screen immortality ensured early on with lead roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Strangers On A Train. Then he did a lot of television work from the ’60s onward, including the inevitable appearances on “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Love Boat,” and “Murder She Wrote.” There was also the usual cheap European film productions and token appearance in an ’80s slasher movie. (Granger’s was the underrated and atmospheric The Prowler.)

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The big twist to all this was that Granger turned his back on Hollywood by choice. He was interested in film and television only as the means to finance his busy theater career. The closest he came to a definitive role on Broadway was the 1980 lead in Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” but the dashing Granger was always part of New York’s theater scene. He was less interested in being a gay icon. Granger wasn’t closeted, but his 2007 memoir Include Me Out made a point of refusing to dwell on his sexuality. Probably the most interesting thing about his love life was that the homoerotic underpinnings of Rope were scripted by his then-boyfriend. Granger’s biggest sex scandal turned out to be fairly innocent. He travelled to Italy in 1972 to make a (pretty good) murder mystery called So Sweet, So Dead. The producers later inserted hardcore sex scenes into a different cut of the film called Penetrations. While strolling along his beloved Great White Way, Granger found his name on a theater marquee as the star of an X-rated film. (85, natural causes) —JRT

Dolores Fuller

There was a lot wrong with Tim Burton’s biopic about legendary bad director Ed Wood, but the 1994 film did especially wrong by Dolores Fuller. Sarah Jessica Parker portrayed Fuller as the worst actress in history, when the blonde beauty had actually done pretty well while co-starring with Wood, the writer/director/star of terrible cheapies like Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, and—in Fuller’s most notorious role—the cross-dressing saga of 1953′s Glen or Glenda. Burton’s biopic has a frustrated Fuller finally denouncing the losers of Wood’s inner circle, as she breaks up with her longtime boyfriend and misses out on the chance to star in the kitsch classic Plan 9 From Outer Space. In truth, Fuller regrettably left Wood as he was indulged by sycophants who encouraged the director’s alcoholism and eventual sad demise.

Fuller, meanwhile, went on to a stellar career. While Wood was shooting Plan 9, Fuller started out as a songwriter by reworking an old folk song for teen idol Rick Nelson. He performed it in a little western called Rio Bravo. She then began to contribute songs to the films of Elvis Presley. Fuller got her start with “Rock-A-Hula Baby” in 1961′s Blue Hawaii, and would appear on the soundtrack of all his films throughout the decade. (Girl Happy‘s “Do The Clam” may seem like a joke, but she followed that up with the swinging title tune to Spinout—which was so good they changed the title of the film.) Fuller would stay busy between films by launching her own record label and placing other tunes with Nat King Cole and Shelley Fabares. She also kept a good sense of humor about her past, and later showed up in a cameo for 2000′s The Corpse Grinders 2 for legendary bad-film director Ted V. Mikels. She didn’t need the money. (88, complications after a stroke) —JRT

Bert Schneider

All the young talents who auditioned for “The Monkees” were surprised to find themselves meeting with executives who were hipper than any hippie. Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson would secure their place in the counterculture by putting together all the right elements for what would become an unexpectedly influential rock band. Then they hooked up with screenwriter Jack Nicholson to blow the whole thing up with the big-screen Monkee business of 1968′s Head. Schneider went on to nail the counterculture zeitgeist again by producing the surprisingly successful Easy Rider in 1969. The huge hit came out of BBS Productions, where Schneider hooked up with Rafelson and new partner Steve Baluner to make anti-hero epics both big (Five Easy Pieces; The Last Picture Show) and cultish (Drive, He Said; The King of Marvin Gardens). Schneider also produced Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and a lot of folks give the producer credit for taking over and shaping the director’s most concisely classic film. Schneider retired after dealing with Malick, though, and lived long enough to see BBS Productions honored with an acclaimed 2011 DVD box set as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. The box includes Head, of course. (78, natural causes) —JRT

Charles Napier

Even in his 70s, Charles Napier was still approaching women with the line, “You’re a superDUPERvixen!” That was a pretty good line for an old character actor who had, in fact, starred in Russ Meyer’s legendary 1975 nudie Supervixens. Napier would approach only those women hip enough to appreciate his nudie legacy, of course. He had earned the right, since Napier’s nude appearances in Meyer’s softcore classics were a threat to his mainstream television work in “Hogan’s Heroes” and .” Napier had even begun to be recognized by name after a beautiful turn as a space hippie in a 1969 episode of “Star Trek.” Napier tagged along when Meyer went legit with 1970′s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and then worked steadily on the small-screen through the ’70s before becoming a major character actor in the ’80s.

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That career revival began when director Jonathan Demme—himself a veteran of drive-in films—cast Napier in 1977′s CB radio craze cash-in Handle With Care and then in his critically-acclaimed Melvin and Howard and Something Wild. Napier also scored a memorable scene in The Blues Brothers where he threatened John Belushi by explaining the difficulties of eating corn-on-the-cob without any teeth. Napier enjoyed even more big-screen success as an evil intelligence officer in 1985′s Rambo: First Blood Part II. (Lee Marvin recommended Napier for the role after dropping out of the production.) Demme then cast Napier against type as a gay hairdresser in Married to the Mob, but also made good use of the actor as a doomed cop in The Silence of the Lambs. Napier bounced between major studios and indie filmmaking. His strangest appearance turned out to be an appearance on a 2003 episode of “Dr. Phil,” where Napier discussed his continuing quest for fame. It always seemed like he’d stumbled upon stardom. (75, unrevealed) —JRT

Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

Some aspiring filmmakers looked at the drive-in circuit and saw an opportunity for gore and sexploitation. Charles E. Sellier, Jr., saw an opportunity for family fare with an exploitive edge, and he became the Roger Corman of movies most likely to be played in a church auditorium. His first success was The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Sellier wasn’t surprised by this hit. He’d done extensive marketing tests even before making the film. Grizzly Adams cost $140,000 and generated more than $65 million at the box office.

Sellier then brought back star Dan Haggerty for more outdoorsy big box-office with The Adventures of Frontier Fremont. Haggerty would later team with the producer for the 1977 “Grizzly Adams” TV series, and complain that he never got a love interest because Sellier’s test marketing wouldn’t approve of it. Meanwhile, Sellier had found a hot new angle for his Sunn Classic Pictures. He launched a series of films that quickly became the most-discussed documentaries in the schoolyards of suburban America. 1976′s The Mysterious Monsters brought in Peter Graves to narrate the exploits of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. In Search of Noah’s Ark and The Lincoln Conspiracy would also draw big crowds, although Sellier would concentrate on TV fare by the end of the decade—but not before finishing big on the drive-in circuit with 1970s’ The Bermuda Triangle and In Search of Historic Jesus.

Sunn Classics went into the ’80s with two genuine drive-in cult classics: the pioneering Area 51 sci-fi film Hangar 18, and the modest horror of The Boogens (which remains unavailable on DVD, despite being a personal favorite of Stephen King). Sellier also made a strange detour into adult fare by directing the controversial Santa-slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night in 1986 (followed by the bloody revenge flick The Annihilators.) He would spend a lot of the ’80s working with NBC—including helming the popular “Desperado” TV-movies—and returned to his roots in the ’90s with inspirational programming such as George W. Bush: Faith in the White House and The Case for Christ’s Resurrection. Sellier was still the CEO of Grizzly Adams Productions when he passed away. (67, undisclosed) —JRT

G.D. Spradlin

The prolific character actor will be remembered as The Senator from Nevada in Godfather II, making the huge mistake of telling off Michael Corleone, mocking the family name, and disparaging the Godfather’s couture. That’s also Spradlin in Apocalypse Now, as the philosophical General Corman, giving Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) the bad news about his mission into Cambodia; “Well, you see, Willard, in this war things get confused out there.”


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Entering film and television during the 1960s, Spradlin easily found roles as stern, corrupt, and/or dangerously determined authority figures. His Oklahoma twang, and a tendency to look as though he were perpetually swallowing some bitter medicine, provided a distinctive screen presence. His cocky demeanor and cowboy attitude allowed Spradlin to convey the confidence of a Texas politician or oil baron. That was no stretch, anyway, as the actor had been an extremely successful independent oil producer long before Hollywood noticed him. Spradlin also ran for mayor of Oklahoma City a short time after serving as the state’s campaign boss for John F. Kennedy. (90) —DP

Leonard Stone

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A “familiar TV face” is the shorthand description of the insanely busy character actor with long jowls, prominent nose, and the ability to convey polar opposites: a brash demeanor born of unearned confidence or a put-upon “worried man” countenance of dread. In outlining his film and television career, it would be far easier to list programs on which he did not make an appearance, starting in the 1950s and running through the mid-2000s. One generation of fans will recall Stone as Judge Hanson in “L.A. Law,” while legions of moviegoers will remember him from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as Sam Beauregard, father of the bratty Violet, who was transformed into a blueberry. (“Violet! You’re turning violet!”) (88, cancer) —DP

Polly Platt

Motion picture designer, producer, and screenwriter Platt was an immensely gifted art director, as the amazingly convincing, thoroughly evocative designs for The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon indicate. Numerous tales of Platt’s “do everything” work ethic in Hollywood further indicate that Platt was the walking embodiment of the key elements in filmmaking: collaboration and problem solving. Doing the impossible was sort of Platt’s specialty (the commentary track on the Paper Moon DVD reveals how Platt consistently—often ingeniously—found the means of transforming locations into the Midwest of the Great Depression. It can inspire a career in the movies).

During the early 1970s, when Platt was working with husband Peter Bogdanovich on his best films, her position as production designer was especially difficult in the boys club of filmmaking that still defined Hollywood. Things were even more awkward after Bogdanovich, who had fallen in love with his female lead in The Last Picture Show, left Platt for Cybil Shepard. Astonishingly, Platt was nonetheless on board for Bogdanovich’s following pictures, What’s Up Doc? and Paper Moon.

By all accounts, Platt absorbed the numerous aspects of film production with each new job, so it was no surprise that the former costume designer was soon working as a producer on such pictures as Broadcast News, Bottle Rocket, Say Anything, and Pretty Baby (for which Platt wrote the screenplay). (72, ALS) —DP

Edward Hardwicke

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The son of legendary English character actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke and actress Helena Pickard, Hardwicke was perhaps destined for a career in films. After a few motion picture roles, he wound up on the stage, ultimately establishing a seven-year stint with Sir Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre during the 1960s. Hardwicke then launched a steady career in British television dramas, supplemented by excellent turns in motion pictures (Shadowlands, Enigma, Love Actually). All of that is a mere sideline, however, for fans of Granada Television’s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett as the definitive sleuth. When David Burke, who played Dr. Watson in the first series (“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”), left the production, Hardwicke took the role for subsequent installments and stand-alone television films from 1986 to 1994. (78, cancer) —DP

Madelyn Pugh Davis

Along with her co-creators, Madelyn Pugh Davis co-wrote every episode of the 1950s television sitcom I Love Lucy—a total of 179. Rather than writing jokes for the leading lady, Davis provided ridiculous, unexpected dilemmas for Lucy that usually involved physical situations: hanging from hotel balconies, posing as a sculpture, and many other harebrained schemes designed to manipulate Ricky Ricardo and best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz. Davis had to try some of the more precarious stunts first to be sure that Lucille Ball could perform them. “Black Stuff” was typed in capital letters in the script so that Ball would know what she was about to get into. (90) —ER

David Nelson

He didn’t become a teen idol like brother Ricky, but David Nelson grew up famous as the real-life son of the Nelsons on all 14 seasons of “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.” He tried to shake up his wholesome image with a role in the 1957 melodrama Peyton Place, but Nelson’s only other important film was a nice turn in Jack Webb’s 1959 newspaper drama -30-. After the Nelsons’ television adventures finally ran their course, David mostly limited his acting work to fun turns embracing his status as a baby-boomer icon. That included cameos in Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke and John Waters’ Cry-Baby. (74, colon cancer) —JRT

Harry Morgan

Henry Morgan had already enjoyed a 15-year film career before changing his name to Harry Morgan for the debut of the TV series “December Bride.” The now-forgotten series was one of the bigger hits of the 1950s, with Morgan frequently stealing scenes in a supporting role. He’d learned that trick while appearing in film classics such as High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident. Morgan had also become friends with Jack Webb, and showed up uncredited in the writer/director/star’s Pete Kelly’s Blues during the run of “December Bride.” Morgan began to divide his time between the big and small screen.

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Morgan signed on as a co-star when Webb decided to update his successful 1950s “Dragnet” TV show for the late-’60s. The police procedural relied on Morgan’s work as Officer Bill Gannon to provide some fun quirks that played off Webb’s “just-the-facts” demeanor. “Dragnet” went off the air in 1970, and Morgan—now working into his sixties—joined the cast of “M*A*S*H” in 1974. His portrayal of Colonel Sherman Potter would last an unlikely nine seasons on the long-running show. The attempted spin-off of “After MASH” only lasted one season, but Morgan kept working as Bill Gannon in a big-screen 1987 Dragnet comedy and a 1995 episode of “The Simpsons.” (96) —JRT

Sherwood Schwartz

He created only two successful shows, but Sherwood Schwartz provided timeless pop-culture references for both baby boomers and Generation X. “Gilligan’s Island” wasn’t even that big of a deal when it first aired in 1964. The show lasted only three seasons, but then rediscovered an audience as it began to appear in reruns on local stations. As that show began its second life, Schwartz was about to launch a new sitcom called “The Brady Bunch.” That one would run for five seasons, and would go on to define the 1970s for both its original audience and the kids who’d watch it in reruns before heading to college to become Nirvana fans. —JRT

Edie Stevenson

One of the most popular television commercials in 1973 starred a little boy named Mikey who was a finicky eater. Edie Stevenson wrote the spot for Life cereal. The boy’s two older brothers shoved a bowl of Life at him, saying, “Let’s get Mikey. He won’t eat it. He hates everything.” Mikey, of course, devoured the cereal as his stunned brothers shouted, “He likes it!” Life cereal celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011. (81, Alzheimer’s) —ER

Andy Rooney

From 1978 to 2011, commentator Andy Rooney fashioned his role as television’s grumpiest philosopher with witty, barbed observations about the mundane side of life on his weekly segment “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” Though often controversial, he had an “everyman” persona that endeared him to many. Viewers either loved him or loathed him.

Rooney got his start in television in the late 1940s writing for popular personalities Arthur Godfrey and Victor Borge, among others. In 1964, he told CBS that he could write about any subject imaginable for television, proving his point by writing an essay on doors that was narrated by newsman Harry Reasoner. The collaboration proved a success as the pair went on to create critically acclaimed specials about such subjects as bridges, hotels, and women. One of the few politicians Rooney admired was President Dwight D. Eisenhower, primarily because Eisenhower refused to censor The Stars and Stripes—a G.I. newspaper for which Rooney worked during World War II.

Controversy dogged his career, spurred by disparaging remarks about Kurt Cobain’s suicide (for which Rooney later expressed regret) and an interview in 2002 in which he stated that women could not grasp the game of football and therefore had “no business” being sideline television reporters at games. More hullabaloo followed in 2007 when he complained about the current state of baseball: “I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me.” The comment that drew the most complaints was a 2004 essay in which he said that God told him that Rev. Pat Robertson and Mel Gibson were “wackos.” (92, complications from minor surgery) —ER

Dead Folks 2011: Music


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January 26, 2012

John Barry

Technically speaking, composer and five-time Oscar winner John Barry scored 111 motion pictures, most notably 11 of the James Bond movies, starting with Dr. No and ending with The Living Daylights. But from a larger, cultural perspective, it’s fair to say that Barry—like Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and several others—helped write the soundtrack to the 20th century.

That may be because Barry was composing engaging, infectious melodies for movies at a time when radio stations had theme songs and film scores in regular rotation. No one needed to see Midnight Cowboy in 1970 to memorize its haunting, lonesome theme. And for better or worse, the theme from Born Free was in the mix as well. At the top of any John Barry playlist, of course, would be the composer’s personal favorite, the theme from Goldfinger. The most famous of the Bond themes boasts an unmatched brass attack with the last three of the melody’s first six notes (wah waaaah wah!). That was a trademark device in many of Barry’s scores, and a method he learned from his big band idol, Stan Kenton.

The bold, brassy sound colored numerous scores, but Barry added some key elements that came to define the international-man-of-mystery music associated with Cold War-era spy thrillers. Omnipresent in themes for The Quiller Memorandum, The Ipcress File, the James Bond pictures, or the television series “Vendetta” and “The Persuaders,” was the gloomy twang of zithers, dulcimers, and other Eastern European stringed instruments, the chilling blast of a few off-kilter notes, and sometimes the futuristic timbre of the Moog synthesizer. All those elements blended into what might be called the music of espionage, or perhaps the ultimate score for international intrigue everywhere, for all time. Did Barry know anything about the KGB, the CIA or MI6? Probably not, but he essentially composed for each agency a theme song in case they needed one.

In many instances, Barry’s scores were also excellent pop music. The title track for You Only Live Twice was understandably a huge hit for Nancy Sinatra (and later, thanks to a portion of the melody, for Robbie Williams with “Millennium”). Shirley Bassey made a career from the title track for Goldfinger. Yet apart from Barry’s success with the Bond series, he was also laying down innovative, sometimes bizarre, but decidedly cool scores for The Knack and How to Get It, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, The Wrong Box, Boom, The Appointment, and dozens of others. Today, young music enthusiasts might think they haven’t heard much of Barry’s music, but if they listen to Sneaker Pimps, Portishead, Grantby, Pulp, Broadcast, or countless electronica acts, then they have actually heard a lot of John Barry.

As if providing a distinctive sound to a certain era were not enough, Barry was equally prolific in the late 1970s through the late ’80s, creating memorable scores for films that often didn’t deserve them (Somewhere In Time, Night Games, The Black Hole, Dances With Wolves, Jagged Edge). He’ll be remembered for the spy stuff, no doubt, along with the cool, jazzy touches in his music that he matched with a lifestyle. Barry drove a Jaguar E-type, married swinging sixties icon and actress Jane Birkin, and wore expensive tailored suits. He was available for photo shoots—anytime, anywhere. Today you can’t find many people who might recognize Barry, but everybody knows that sound. (77) —DP

Don Kirshner

The legendary songwriters working out of New York City’s Brill Building during the ’50s and ’60s included Neil Sedaka, Carole King, and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. They were all working for Don Kirshner. He ran Aldon Music with his partner while also producing and promoting young talents such as Bobby Darin and Neil Diamond. Kirshner might have continued behind the scenes if he hadn’t begun consulting for television series in the mid-’60s. He contributed some classic rocking scenes to “Bewitched,” but Kirshner really raised his profile when he helped launch “The Monkees” in 1966. Kirshner oversaw the song selection for the band’s first two albums and helped give the pre-fab band a slew of genuine chart-topping singles.

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Kirshner, however, would soon find himself at odds with the genuinely talented Monkees as they began to insist on selecting their own songs and playing their own instruments. The Monkees would go on to make some of the best albums of the ’60s, but they never regained the record sales after Kirshner was kicked out of the Monkee machine in 1967. (His final fireable offense was releasing the hit “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” without corporate permission.)

Among other conflicts, Kirshner couldn’t convince The Monkees to record a pop tune called “Sugar, Sugar.” He then ditched the human element by forming a pop group out of the cartoon characters from the Saturday morning hit “The Archie Show.” “Sugar, Sugar” would become the The Archies’ huge debut single in 1969, and the fictitious band would go on to record plenty of hits. Some other animated acts bombed, but Kirshner would become a real-life cartoon as the leisure-suited, deadpan host of “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.”

YouTube is full of vital clips from the show’s 1973 to 1982 run—including performances by Kansas, who enjoyed their ’70s success on the Kirshner label. (Paul Shaffer would famously parody his old boss in a few classic “Saturday Night Live” skits.) Kirshner essentially retired at the end of the ’80s, and it was hilarious when his son and daughter took over the “Rock Concert” hosting duties with the same stiff demeanor. Kirshner retired in style, too, since his publishing company had picked up everything from classic Broadway musicals to the Beatles catalogue. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, however, seems to have extended his Monkees vendetta to also keeping Kirshner out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Kirshner still got to enjoy one final bow when the Songwriters Hall of Fame stretched their usual qualifications to honor him in their 2007 induction ceremony. (76, heart failure) —JRT

Nick Ashford

Nick Ashford liked to stroll the streets and pick up the latest lingo—which made him different from most millionaire songwriters. He was easily recognized while walking around New York, too. As performers, Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson scored plenty of R&B hits on their own. As songwriters, they were a constant presence on the R&B and pop charts with hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” for Diana Ross, as well as Chaka Khan’s anthemic “I’m Every Woman.” Ashford & Simpson also wrote the biggest hits for the duo of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” is the enduring classic, although “Ain’t No Mountain” was mostly known as a Gaye & Terrell tune before Miss Ross’ version came along.

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And then Ashford went out walking one day and heard a familiar word becoming modern slang. He went home to Valerie and they began to write what would become their own big crossover hit. “Solid” would go to #1 on the U.S. R&B charts, fall just short of the Top Ten on the pop charts, and land the duo a big hit in the UK. Ashford & Simpson made only two more ’80s albums, though, and spent the ’90s indulging themselves as NYC bar owners and DJs. The couple also hit the local cabaret circuit to showcase their timeless pop instincts in a stripped-down setting. Ashford would pass away the same day as his fellow hitmaker Jerry Leiber. Plenty of obituaries paired the duo, and the Grammys will do the same for a tribute on February 12. (70, throat cancer) —JRT

Jerry Leiber

In 1950, Jerry Leiber teamed with Mike Stoller when someone suggested that he find a piano player to put his words to music. The pair penned classics such as “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” and “Hound Dog”—the latter for blues singer Big Mama Thornton in 1952. The song later became Elvis Presley’s 1956 signature hit. “Hound Dog” took 12 minutes to write, Leiber said. In the late ’50s, Leiber and Stoller moved to New York City to join the Brill Building songwriting factory. Their contributions to popular music, and even the cheesy, hip-shaking 1960s pop classic “Love Potion No. 9,” are legendary. (78, heart attack) —ER

Clarence Clemons

As sax player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clarence Clemons’ imposing frame and dynamic horn playing made him a popular onstage personality. Clemons began playing with Springsteen in 1972. His melodic hooks and powerful blasts were a highlight of Springsteen’s sound, especially during the early phase of their career. As a 6 foot 4 inch, 250-pound college football star, Clemons tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns until a knee injury ended any pro football dreams. One of his finest musical moments is his dramatic solo on “Jungleland,” the closing track on Born to Run. According to Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, Clemons spent 16 hours perfecting the part. (69, stroke) —ER

Andrea True

Tennessee-born Andrea True was enjoying the glamorous life of a ’70s porn star when she found herself stuck in Jamaica with money she couldn’t take out of the country. She called in a record producer from NYC, went into a local recording studio, and invested her stalled cash in the making of a disco anthem called “More More More (How Do You Like It).” Suddenly, the star of Deep Throat Part II and Psyched For Sex was topping the charts with a dance anthem. The frontwoman of the Andrea True Connection was singing about what she knew, too. Anyone paying attention to the song’s lyrics would find that Andrea was dedicated to entertaining you as more than just a disco diva—explaining that “if you want to know/how I really feel/just get the cameras rolling/get the action going.”


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Not too surprisingly, True decided to retire from porn in 1977. The Andrea True Connection would go on to make three albums and just a few horrible songs. Her sneering take on Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” remains neglected, although her attempt at reggae was pretty painful. True would later end up in Florida as a drug counselor with a sideline in astrology. She continued to get royalties from “More More More,” though—and even had a career revival when her hit was sampled by the band Len for the 1999 hit “Steal My Sunshine.” (64, heart failure) —JRT

Andrew Gold

He wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but Andrew Gold would have been a lot better off as one. “Lonely Boy” certainly stood out as a bizarre piano-driven pop tune in 1977. It was an overdue breakthrough for the longtime session musician who had become best known for backing Linda Ronstadt. The showbiz scion (son of Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold and vocalist Marni Nixon) had established himself as a potential Elton John when Leo Sayer covered his “Endless Flight” in 1976. Unfortunately, the What’s Wrong With This Picture? album didn’t muster up a second single—although “One of Them Is Me” would later be rediscovered as a haunting fern-bar classic.

Gold then went full-tilt cornball for on 1978′s All This and Heaven Too, which featured the hateful giddiness of “Thank You for Being a Friend.” The song would keep paying off for Gold as the theme to “The Golden Girls.” Not many people recognized Gold singing the opening theme to “Mad About You” for most of the ’90s. He spent his later years fooling around in his home studio and creating elaborate power-pop homages to his main influences. (59, cancer) —JRT

Ferlin Husky

Ferlin Husky was the first of three country music giants to emerge from Bakersfield, California. (The other two were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.) Husky’s silky voice perfectly complemented the new “Nashville Sound” that caught on in 1956 with his record “Gone.” Husky pioneered the revolutionary style, which featured a smooth, orchestral approach to country music that boosted the genre’s record sales at a time when Elvis Presley had unleashed a new sound called rock & roll. (85, poor health for years) —ER

Marshall Grant

As Johnny Cash’s original bass player from 1954 to 1980, Marshall Grant joined guitarist Luther Perkins in the Tennessee Two to create Cash’s distinctive “boom-chika-boom” sound. A non-drinker, Grant was often required to babysit a drug-fueled, out-of-control Cash to make sure that he arrived at gigs on time. Cash fired him in 1980 after a series of disputes. Grant retaliated with a lawsuit for wrongful termination and embezzlement of retirement money. It was settled out of court. He and Cash made up in 1999 when the bassist rejoined him on stage. (83) —ER

Ralph Mooney

Pedal steel guitar great Ralph Mooney played with Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings for years. His gushing steel guitar lines on Buck Owens’ hits defined the Bakersfield, California, sound that Owens perfected along with Haggard. Mooney also wrote the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy Arms.” (82, cancer) —ER

Lee Pockriss

As co-writer of the 1960 pop hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Lee Pockriss was a component of the cultural upheaval that resulted when sexual mores retreated amid an onslaught of bikinis and mini-skirts. The song title alone was titillating. Pockriss had earlier written “Catch a Falling Star” for Perry Como in 1957. He also wrote “My Polliwog Ways” for Kermit the Frog. (87) —ER

Gladys Horton

In 1961, Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes sang “Please Mr. Postman”—the Motown label’s first number one hit. Horton started the group with classmates Georgeanna Tillman and Katherine Anderson, among others. Horton was often credited as only a co-founder but original Marvelette Anderson says Horton deserves all the credit. “We only started singing together because Gladys asked us,” she recalled. “Usually we’d go to Georgeanna’s house and play canasta.” (65, poor health for years) —ER

Eddie Burris

Tulsa native Eddie Burris played drums for Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers from the early ’60s until 1970 when he quit to become a truck driver. Credited as co-writer on Haggard’s love-it-or-leave-it ode to America, “Okie from Muskogee,” he said the song originated on Haggard’s tour bus in 1969 as a reaction to the turmoil gripping the country at the time. “Merle had seen a signpost that said ‘Muskogee: 17 miles,’ and he already had the first two or three lines wrote,” Burris told the Tulsa World. “I was in bed. He woke me and we finished it in about 10 minutes.” (79, failing health) —ER

Roger Williams

Mr. Easy Listening was a target of ridicule by many music critics. Pretentious yet pedestrian, pianist Roger Williams nevertheless created gorgeous, irresistible music that, by osmosis, snuck into the heads of listeners who loathed him. Williams’ renditions of classics were labeled “lush” and “elevator music.” The sentimentality of his piano arrangements were well evident in his two most popular recordings—”Autumn Leaves” and “Born Free.” He “virtually transformed the piano into a harp,” noted music historian Joseph Lanza in his book Elevator Music, writing that Williams “cultivated a flair for making dramatic sweeps from classical to jazz to country to soft rock & roll.” Beginning with Harry Truman, nine presidents invited him to the White House to entertain guests. (80, pancreatic cancer) —ER

Charlie Louvin

Born in rural Alabama, The Louvin Brothers—Charlie and Ira—are revered as one of the great country music vocal duos of all time. Singing in a slightly updated Depression-era style inspired by the Blue Sky Boys, the Louvin Brothers’ lonely Appalachian sound and intricate harmonies influenced a generation of country rockers, pre-dating the Everly Brothers by several years. Their songs ran the gamut from religious numbers such as “The Christian Life” (which was covered on The Byrds/Gram Parsons collaboration Sweetheart of the Rodeo) to horrifying murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl.” They even sang a Cold War-anthem, “Great Atomic Power.” Declining record sales and Ira’s drinking ended their act in 1963. Two years later Ira was killed in a car accident. Charlie reportedly kept a photo of the wreckage on his mantel for years. He went on to further success, placing 16 singles on the Country Top 40 over the next ten years.


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His real name was Charlie Elzer Loudermilk. He and Ira were first known as the Radio Twins, and then changed their last name to Louvin because they thought Loudermilk sounded too awkward. Discussing his brother’s absence after so many years singing together, Charlie Louvin once told NPR’s Terry Gross: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone,” he said of performing solo. “Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.” (83, pancreatic cancer) —ER

Dobie Gray

We can still only guess at his real name, but the man who became Dobie Gray spent the early ’60s in L.A. as the typical sharecropper’s son looking to make it as a soul singer. He had already gone through a host of aliases before meeting Sonny Bono. Thatwhen the unknown began recording regularly as Dobie Gray, with the name sticking when he finally scored a hit with “The In Crowd” in 1965. “See You at the ‘Go-Go’” was a strong follow-up, but Gray was floundering again by the ’70s. Then he went to Nashville to record an album with Paul William’s brother Mentor, who also did a little songwriting on the side. Mentor had a tune called “Drift Away” that would return Gray to the top of the charts in 1973.

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Gray’s next few albums drifted toward country music, and he enjoyed much more success internationally than in the U.S. In another unexpected move, Gray—who never had a hit with something he’d written himself—ended up in demand as a Nashville songwriter. He continued to tour all over the world (including an apartheid-busting concert in South Africa) and recorded into the ’90s. Uncle Kracker brought Gray back to the pop charts with a duet on “Drift Away” that gave the old-timer one last hit in 2003. (probably 71, cancer) —JRT

Gerard Smith

In 1995, there was a gutter-rock band in NYC called Surgery who had an album out on Atlantic. The lead singer died suddenly from what turned out to be an asthma attack. That taught a lot of people not to assume that a musician is always dead from a drug overdose. It would then take a while before Gerard Smith came along as a particularly tragic reminder. The bassist and keyboardist for TV On The Radio—which had played Bottletree the same year they were filling theaters in NYC—had lung cancer, and the band had actually announced Smith’s medical condition about a month before his death. (In a particularly classy move, TVOTR noted that Smith had a fine health plan and was getting good care.) Smith’s death still came as a big surprise, since TVOTR continued to book shows. It was both a personal and artistic loss, since anyone who saw Smith play live could understand how the band had finally managed a cohesive mix of their heavy psychedelia and hip-hop beats. (36, lung cancer) —JRT

Gerry Rafferty

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Gerry Rafferty was one of the music biz’s biggest unknowns when he emerged as a solo artist with 1978′s “Baker Street.” The Scotsman had already enjoyed success in England as Billy Connolly’s partner in the Humblebums, and had international success with Joe Egan when “Stuck In The Middle With You” became a hit for Stealers Wheel. That band had a tough breakup, though, and it took a lot of legal maneuvering before Rafferty could strike out on his own. “Baker Street” helped City to City top the charts as his U.S. solo debut, and the entire album had lots of catchy tunes. (“Right Down The Line” instantly prevented Rafferty from being a one-hit wonder.) Rafferty then promptly derailed his career momentum by refusing to tour America. He’d chart with two more singles (“Get It Right Next Time” and “Days Gone Down”) from next year’s Night Owl album, but a reputation for being difficult soon had Rafferty bouncing from label to label.

The closest Rafferty would get to a comeback occurred when Quentin Tarantino used “Stuck In The Middle With You” for a memorable scene in Reservoir Dogs. He make the UK papers after becoming the subject of a missing persons report in 2008, but Rafferty eventually reemerged in fine—if not exactly sober—shape. It wasn’t too much of a surprise when he passed away at the start of 2011. (63, liver failure) —JRT

Gil Scott-Heron

He gifted hack writers with the phrase “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” but Gil Scott-Heron’s career also provided the gift of harsh perspective. Scott-Heron was barely in his 20s when he emerged from the Bronx as a beat poet bringing soulful melodies to black bohemia. His early ’70s work paired him with musician Brian Jackson on gorgeous, jazzy funk tunes that could, fairly enough, establish Scott-Heron and Jackson as the true fathers of hip-hop and neo-soul. Scott-Heron certainly deserves credit for his quick transition from spoken-word artist to dynamic soul man, and he was initially fearless about confronting the failings of the black community as part of society’s downfall.

Scott-Heron was set to stay relevant into the ’80s when he recorded the lovely “Angel Dust” and “The Bottle” after splitting from Jackson in 1978. He was pretty much unable to get a record deal by 1985, though—partly due to an obsession with Ronald Reagan that didn’t translate into smart ideas. Sadly, Scott-Heron wasn’t just falling prey to political simplicity. He had also fallen into a deadly culture that he had once so eloquently warned against.


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An attempted comeback album with 1993′s Spirits soon demonstrated that it wasn’t just Heron’s voice that had become ravaged with time. He would go on to spend several years as Manhattan’s most high-profile crackhead. A second comeback in 2007 was interrupted by yet another drug bust—and accompanied by the announcement that Scott-Heron was HIV-positive. He managed one last album with 2010′s I’m New Here, which was Goth folksiness mixed with sad mutterings.

Scott-Heron still had enough of his old spirit to begin to wonder whether it was a good thing to be credited as a forefather of rap. It’s certainly understandable that this year’s posthumous memoir The Last Holiday conveniently ends with Scott-Heron enjoying his artistic heyday. There was never an official cause of death released after he passed away at the start of last summer, but you certainly have your choices. (62, probably pneumonia but maybe drugs or some other HIV-related thing . . . seriously, take your pick) —JRT

Joseph Brooks

Anyone who endured the 10-week stretch in 1977 when Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” topped the charts was wishing songwriter Joseph Brooks a particularly miserable death. Some wishes come true. Brooks was already established as a jingle writer (including some classic work with Pepsi and Maxwell House) when he decided to follow Barry Manilow’s path into showbiz. He wrote and directed the dopey romance film You Light Up My Life, in which a young female ventriloquist learns to embrace her true destiny as a popular vocalist. That realization comes about when she belts out the treacly title track for a film audition. Brooks got really lucky when his vanity project—which he originally booked into theaters himself—led to Debby Boone (a daughter of Pat) recording her own version of the title tune. The huge success of the sappy ’70s hit helped to launch a punk backlash even while winning Brooks a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and even an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Brooks followed up by casting himself as a romantic lead in 1978′s If Ever I See You Again, and put together a few other bad movies along with the notoriously awful 2005 Broadway flop “In My Life”—which, like If Ever I See You Again, was about the fascinating love life of a songwriter. As it turned out, Brooks’ love life was more fit for an episode of “Law & Order.” A police investigation in 2009 showed that Brooks was regularly putting ads on Craigslist and then flying gullible, would-be actresses across the country to Manhattan so he could rape them. He ended up facing charges of raping (or sexually assaulting) over ten women between 2005 and 2008. That added up to more than 90 counts of criminal acts when he killed himself via asphyxia last May. Brooks left behind more than just a sappy pop legacy, though. His son Nicholas still awaits trial for the December 9, 2010, murder of fashion designer Sylvie Cachay. (73, suicide) —JRT

Lamar Fike

As a member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia,” Lamar Fike often dressed in black mohair suits and wore sunglasses at night while protecting, baby-sitting, and scoring girls and pills for Presley. The gang was the King’s “buffer zone,” as Fike once explained. He was one of Presley’s closest confidants, but he noted that they often fought and that Presley fired him “about 500 times.” Lamar Fike introduced Elvis to 14 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu in Germany, who became Mrs. Elvis Presley seven years later. About the couple’s early courtship, Fike was quoted in Britain’s The Independent: “When I found out their relationship was more than just necking, I was afraid we were all going to prison without a trial,” Fike recalled. “Elvis told me he had the whole thing in control. I said, ‘I hope you do, otherwise they’ll ship us home in a godd*** cage!’” (75, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) —ER

Dead Folks 2011: Entertainers

Dead Folks 2011: Entertainers

January 26, 2012

Charlie Callas

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There wasn’t anything subtle about Charlie Callas’ brand of humor. The former jazz drummer (who was good enough to tour with Buddy Rich) moved into spazzy stand-up comedy that featured a broad range of rubber-faced impersonations, sound effects, and plenty of pratfalls. It’s no surprise that Jerry Lewis was the guy who decided to turn Callas into a major character actor. A big-screen debut in 1967′s The Big Mouth would be followed by Callas showing up on just about every variety show of the ’70s. Callas also found a new patron when Mel Brooks cast him in 1976′s Silent Movie as a blind man who ends up with the wrong guide dog in a merry mishap. His only major misstep was pushing Johnny Carson during one of his frequent appearances as a guest on the “Tonight Show,” which got him publicly banned from the show. Brooks would keep casting him right up to 1995′s Dracula: Dead & Loving It. (86, natural causes) —JRT

David Frye

Impersonator David Frye—best known for his impersonation of Richard Nixon—was one of the most popular comedians of the late 1960s and early ’70s. While working Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, Frye did a routine consisting of the typical cast of Hollywood actors. One night he did an impression of Robert Kennedy inspired by his girlfriend’s opinion that Kennedy sounded like Bugs Bunny. The audience response was so enthusiastic that he began adding politicians to his repertoire and his career took off. Unfortunately, it slipped considerably once Nixon left the spotlight. “I do Nixon not by copying his real actions but by feeling his attitude, which is that he cannot believe that he really is president,” Frye said in a 1971 Esquire interview. (77, heart attack) —ER

Patrice O’Neal

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“Let’s give it up for countries who eat dogs,” shouted a pissed-off Patrice O’Neal at the 4th Annual Canine Comedy Fundraiser in 2003. Maybe the stand-up comedian would’ve been more polite if the audience hadn’t been talking over all the other comics volunteering their time. Or maybe not. O’Neal was the most confrontational comic on the national scene. He wasn’t looking for a fight, though. O’Neal had a uniquely laid-back style, and preferred to ridicule audiences through casual conversation. He also didn’t give much thought to his career. One of the best moments on the old “Tough Crowd” show on Comedy Central was comedian Judy Gold’s terrified face when she realized that O’Neal was actually willing to go on an anti-abortion tirade. She’d never met anyone that fearless before. O’Neal had a stroke shortly after winning lots of new fans with an incredible turn on “The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen.” He would pass away a week later. The guy was in bad health, but he probably still thought he would outlive Charlie Sheen. (41, complications from a stroke) —JRT

Dead Folks 2011: Sports


Dead Folks 2011: Sports



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January 26, 2012

Joe Frazier

Boxer Joe Frazier was the perfect foil for Muhammad Ali. Unlike Ali, the blue-collar Frazier was a man of few words. The fighter was the perpetual target of Ali’s taunts and insults, calling Frazier ignorant and saying he resembled a gorilla. Ali even labeled Frazier’s black supporters as “Uncle Toms.” Unable to forget the humiliation, Frazier remained angry at Ali for most of his life.

Frazier got a job at a slaughterhouse in Philadelphia at age 16. He stayed in shape by punching slabs of beef while on the clock. Known as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, the fighter’s style was to stalk opponents around the ring, staying close to them to relentlessly throw jabs to tire them out. After retirement, he had a brief career as a bad singer, and could often be seen on TV struggling through the national anthem at some ball game.

But he’ll be forever linked to Ali. Frazier won their first fight in 1971 and then lost to Ali in 1974 and 1975. The only other two losses in Frazier’s career were to George Foreman. Frazier was keenly aware that he and Ali needed one another to captivate the American public. The two warriors were the giants who put heavyweight championship bouts back in the realm of popular sports. Frazier once told the New York Times, “Ali always said I would be nothing without him. But who would he have been without me?” Their third meeting, “The Thrilla in Manila,” is considered by many as the greatest boxing match in history. Immediately after winning the grueling bout, Ali said the fight was “the closest you can be to death.” (67, liver cancer) —ER

Dan Wheldon

Despite being one of the Indycar Series’ top drivers and personalities, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon found himself without a sponsored race team in 2011. The cheerful, charismatic British racer quickly landed a couple of other jobs in the meantime, however. Wheldon was an engaging and insightful commentator on TV broadcasts of Indycar races. His other job was that of primary test driver for the revolutionary and purportedly safer 2012 Indycar, which features fenders covering the rear tires—a design that might have saved Wheldon’s life.

Dan Wheldon finally found a team in time for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, where he stunned the racing world when he captured his second Indianapolis 500 victory when rookie and race leader J.R. Hildebrand hit the wall 2,000 feet from the finish line. It was Wheldon’s first race of the season. Five months later he was killed in a 15-car wreck on the 12th lap of a 200-lap race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the last event of the Indycar season. One of his front tires ran over a rear wheel on Paul Tracy’s car, sending Wheldon’s racecar airborne for 300 feet before his car caught the catch-fence and his head hit a supporting fence pole. Starting from last place, he would have won $5 million had he won the Las Vegas race. There had been apprehension from veteran drivers about fielding 34 racecars on the high-banked oval track (usually the field consisted of 20 to 25 cars.). Drivers with little experience at such speeds were also to be feared. Wheldon was the first open-wheel driver killed on a track since Paul Dana crashed in 2006 while warming up for the season opener in Florida. Wheldon went on to win that race.

The afternoon Wheldon was killed, however, the race was never resumed. Drivers slowly drove five laps as “Danny Boy” was played at the speedway. In a blog he was writing for USA Today, Wheldon had predicted the following: “It’s going to be a pack race, and you never know how that’s going to turn out.” He added that it would be “an amazing show” with “pure entertainment.” (33, auto racing crash) —ER

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith finished his NFL career in 1976 and soon learned that was a great time for a massive football star to move into popular culture. The former number one draft pick found lots of showbiz work as a 6’7″ punch line. He easily stood out amongst the slew of pro players drafted into the Miller Lite Beer television commercials, where Smith tore the top off a brew while declaring his love for the “easy opening cans.” Smith also made the rounds of sitcoms and detective shows. He got his biggest break just as other pro athletes saw their ’70s fame begin to fade, providing and imposing presence in 1984′s Police Academy as Cadet Moses Hightower; he would continue as Officer Hightower in five of the six sequels. (66, heart disease and diet pill overdose) —JRT

Randy “Macho Man” Savage

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Savage was one of professional wrestling’s most flamboyant stars during the 1980s and ’90s, sporting oversized sunglasses, sequined robes, and neon spandex. Known as the “Macho Man,” Savage’s real name was Lanny Poffo. The wrestler often entered the ring to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” His signature move was a flying elbow drop off the top rope as he hurled himself onto an opponent. As a spokesman for Slim Jim snacks, Savage wore cowboy outfits away from the ring. He was as adept at playing a “heel” (bad guy) in the ring as he was a “face” (good guy). His colleagues said that the secret to being a good pro wrestler is the art of improv as an entertainer and the ability to read a crowd. Savage was a master at both. (58, car wreck) —ER

Dead Folks 2011: Cartoonists

Dead Folks 2011: Cartoonists


January 26, 2012

Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson

After working as an illustrator and art director for various small newspapers and comic publications during the early years of the Great Depression, Joe Simon moved to Manhattan and began doing freelance work with Jack Kirby, an artist at Fox Feature Syndicate. In 1940, the two artists wound up at Timely Comics, which would eventually become Marvel. That first year, Simon (as editor) and Kirby created a decidedly patriotic super hero who was taking on Hitler several months before America entered WWII. The first issue sold close to one million copies. The superhero was called Captain America. Simon continued a very lucrative and creative career at National Comics (later D.C.), and in 1960 created Sick, a satirical magazine competing with MAD. (98)

Jerry Robinson began work in comics when Batman creator Bob Kane hired him to ink and letter panels for the series. Within two years Robinson was a regular staffer at Detective Comics, working in the same office with the creators of Superman. Robinson thought a sidekick for Batman might provide a welcome addition to the team’s stable of superheroes, and so Robin was created (not short for Robinson, by the way, but inspired by N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations for Robin Hood). Later, Robinson and colleague Bill Finger added a villain to the series, based on Conrad Veidt’s grotesque grimace in the horror classic The Man Who Laughs. Batman’s arch nemesis was called The Joker. (89) —DP

Bil Keane

Most modern cartoonists would have considered it a travesty that Bil Keane was still alive. His long-running single-frame comic “Family Circus” was easily considered the most uncool comic to still be taking up valuable space on the pages of American newspapers. Younger cartoonists didn’t even care that Keane was rivaled only by Hank Ketcham when it came to drawing hair. Instead, there was always a parade of hacks thinking they were the first comic geniuses to parody a “Family Circus” panel by adding an obscene caption. Keane probably never cared. He got plenty of recognition from his actual peers, and even contributed to a “Family Circus” cameo that popped up in Bill Griffith’s “Zippy the Pinhead” daily strip. Among wiser artsy types, Keane stepped in to replace “Nancy” creator Ernie Bushmiller as the most surreal daily comics creator around. “Family Circus” is now helmed by Bil’s son Jeff, and will continue to offend a new generation of irreverent hicks who can’t grasp the Bil Keane comic tradition. (89, congestive heart failure) —JRT

Dead Folks 2011: Inventors, Entrepreneurs, & Trailblazers

Dead Folks 2011: Inventors, Entrepreneurs, & Trailblazers


January 26, 2012

Milton Levine

Levine started hawking silly mail-order products (fake shrunken heads, potato guns, plastic soldiers) just after WWII, when toys were reported to be in short supply. By the mid 1950s, his successful company was in Hollywood, at which time Levine happened upon an idea for a new item. According to the story—possibly marketing apocrypha—during a July 4 picnic Levine noticed an anthill, recalled collecting ants as a boy, and decided that a mail-order “ant farm” was the educational toy American youth were craving.

Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, in its first inception, was a 6″x9,” one-inch-thick plastic “antarium” filled with sand (later white volcanic ash) topped by a three-dimensional plastic farm scene. There were no ants in the kit; the customer mailed in a coupon after which a vial of ants arrived in the mail weeks later. They were red harvester ants, gathered by “rustlers” in the Mojave Desert. Almost instantly, once the tiny insects were carefully dropped into the farm, they began building a network of tunnels, storing food, and even burying their dead.

Uncle Milton Industries, as it is now known, was officially established in 1965. The ant farm was expanded in size at that time, and the company began to also create and market other nature-focused educational items for kids. Some twenty million Uncle Milton’s Ant Farms have been sold since 1957. Last June, according to the Los Angeles Times, Transom Capitol Group purchased Uncle Milton Industries, which was valued in the $30 million to $40 million range. (97, natural causes) —DP’


Rev. David Wilkerson

Street preachers became fashionable in the 1960s, but David Wilkerson was one of the first—and he was square enough to be portrayed by Pat Boone in the movies. Wilkerson was pastoring in small towns when he felt called to Times Square after reading a Life magazine article about New York City’s troubled youth. He arrived in the city in 1958, and launched youth ministries that still survive in NYC. He then became a national figure after publishing his story in The Cross and the Switchblade. The best-selling book was turned into a Hollywood production in 1970, with Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz—who was a real-life former gang member who continues to work as a preacher today. Wilkerson would later divide his time between New York and Texas, where he began a worldwide gospel organization. He also began to get regular visits from God that warned of various end-of-the-world scenarios. Wilkerson remained uniquely inclusive in his preaching, though, and dedicated a lot of his teachings to the importance of supporting Israel. Sadly, he didn’t believe too much in wearing a seat belt while driving through East Texas. (79, car crash) —JRT

Harry Coover

While working at Eastman Kodak Laboratories during WWII, creating new plastic optical materials for gunsights, Coover and fellow chemist Fred Joyner determined that their early experiments with cyanoacrylates just weren’t working out. The stuff stuck to everything, including itself—and usually forever. Later, during the early 1950s, similar experiments at Kodak under Coover’s supervision yielded similar results, but by then the chemist recognized that, with a few minor tweaks, C5H5NO2 would make a dandy adhesive for almost any application. Thus was applied patent number 2,768,109, also known as Super Glue.

The glue was marketed as a wonder product, most famously with television ads depicting an automobile attached to a crane hoist with a single drop of Super Glue. A decade later new products made from various types of cyanoacrylates were on the market, Instant Krazy Glue being the forerunner with its own iconic marketing image: the construction worker dangling from a beam onto which his hardhat is attached with a drop of Krazy Glue.

Coover, a Cornell graduate with a Ph.D. in science, didn’t make his fortune from any of these sticky items; his wealth resulted instead from some 460 other patents under his name, most having to do with innovations in research management policies and systems. (94, natural causes) —DP

Jack LaLanne (click for larger version)





Jack LaLanne

Gym owner Jack LaLanne became a TV pioneer when he purchased time on a San Francisco station to host a morning exercise program. The show became popular enough to be picked up by the ABC network in 1959. LaLanne’s simple exercise show—emphasizing work-outs using household items—would stay on the air until 1989, with LaLanne also building a national chain of gyms and promoting electric juicers and exercise equipment. His long stint as a pop-culture figure would make him one of the few celebrities able to spoof himself on both the original “Batman” TV series and an episode of “The Simpsons.”

LaLanne was already in his mid-30s when he began his TV show, and he made good use of his age for marketing purposes. He retired from public stunts after marking his 70th birthday by towing rowboats for a mile at sea. LaLanne still always found some way to stay in the public eye. He kept looking good enough to be the best advertisement for his businesses. He also knew death was the ultimate bad marketing move. Fortunately, his wife Elaine—who was working out with Jack back in the ’50s—is still around and looks ready to live forever. (96, pneumonia) —JRT

Arch West

As the developer of Doritos corn chips, Arch West no doubt would be one of the first inductees into the Junk Food Hall of Fame. Currently Frito-Lay’s second-best seller (behind Lay’s Potato Chips), West’s original notion was to create a Southwestern-inspired alternative to traditional salted potato and corn chips. Doritos were first produced in 1964 using corn tortillas cut into triangles with cheese and chili flavorings added. West’s wife of 69 years died last year. When the couple’s ashes were buried together, mourners were allowed to toss Doritos into the burial site. (97) —ER

Wilson Greatbatch

Wilson Greatbatch’s genius for tinkering (he held patents on more than 325 inventions) led to extended, normal lives for millions through his invention of the heart pacemaker. The invention was an accident of sorts. In 1956, Greatbatch was working on a heart rhythm recording device and grabbed the wrong-size resistor to complete the circuitry. The circuit it produced discharged intermittent electrical pulses. He immediately associated it with the timing and rhythm of a heartbeat and thought about the electrical activity of the heart. At that time, it was not believed that electronics could be packed into a stimulator for continuous functioning, much less in a tiny, reliable apparatus. Doctors demonstrated in 1958 that Greatbatch’s device—which he developed in his barn—could take control of a dog’s heartbeat. The first human implants were made in 1960. (92) —ER

Paul Baran

As an engineer who created a vital component at the heart of a government-sponsored advanced communications network called the Arpanet, Paul Baran tried to interest AT&T in the project. AT&T said no thanks, refusing to believe that the project would amount to anything. The Arpanet eventually evolved into the Internet. (84, lung cancer) —ER

Charles Laufer

In 1955, a high school teacher named Charles Laufer was so dismayed that his students had nothing entertaining to read that he started a publication called Coaster for teen and pre-teen girls. Coaster soon became Teen, which Laufer sold in 1957. He printed a one-time only magazine of Beatles photos in 1965 that sold 750,000 copies in two days, inspiring the creation of a teen fanzine called Tiger Beat. Featuring The Monkees on the cover, Tiger Beat hit the big time as the band became a colossal sensation. In addition to an over-abundance of exclamation marks, Tiger Beat was packed with glossy pictures, fold-out posters, and innocuous facts about the personal lives of everyone from the Beatles to Donny Osmond to Bob Dylan to David Cassidy. The magazine’s slogan was “Guys in their 20s singing La La songs to 13-year-old girls.” (87, heart failure) —ER

Murray Handwerker

In 1916, Murray Handwerker’s father, Nathan, borrowed a few hundred dollars from entertainers Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to establish a hot dog stand near Coney Island called Nathan’s Famous. Thirty years later, after returning from military service, Murray finally joined the family business. His first idea: expansion, because Murray figured Nathan’s Famous wasn’t nearly famous enough.

Expanding the business meant expanding the menu, so Handwerker added clams, shrimp, and several deli items, all the while dreaming up publicity stunts to attract customers to the Coney Island stand. By the 1960s, Nathan’s Famous had three full-scale restaurants in operation. In 1968, Handwerker took Nathan’s public, ultimately expanding by the following decade to ten franchises, more than three dozen restaurants, and a line of products sold in supermarkets. (89) —DP