Category Archives: Film

Bill Cosby, Himself

Bill Cosby, Himself

Cosby discusses turning the other cheek to hecklers and why he resisted the temptation to use profanity in his act.


January 20, 2011

When comedian Bill Cosby answers the phone, his response to a reporter’s greeting of “Mr. Cosby?” for verification, is a playful grumble: “No! This is George Roofles!” before breaking into his slow, wiseass Cosby chuckle: “Heh, heh, heh!” One is never quite sure when Cosby is being playful and when he is genuinely irritated. He speaks in a deliberate cadence he has made his own, slightly stretching out some syllables when not pausing between every other word to get his point across. Cosby is not the easiest person with whom to hold a conversation, but thankfully he answers with engaging, thoughtful responses. When asked if he has ever dealt with hecklers, he simply replies, “Yeah, yeah.” As I waited several seconds for him to elaborate, he suddenly interjects, “There are two of us talking here, so you’re going to have to say something. You asked me about the hecklers, The answer is ‘Yes.’ What do you want to know?” Wow, I was being reprimanded by “the Coz.” Bill Cosby will appear at the BJCC Concert Hall on Saturday, February 5, at 8 p.m. Tickets: $25–$65. Details:, 458-8400.

Black & White: Tell me about the early days when you were a struggling comic.
Cosby: I decided to leave Temple University and to go out for a year to test and see what would happen to me. I got favorable reviews from people who had seen me in different venues around the city of Philadelphia. So I went up to this club at 116 MacDougal Street [in Greenwich Village] called the Gaslight, which had a reputation for having classy entertainment and folk music. In those days there was no comedy club. Plus, there was no profanity. Dick Gregory had come along, it was about 1963. This booker for what they called Negro comics was there. So I brought my storytelling and auditioned and the guy said, “Well, you’re a little raw, but we’ll hire you.” I don’t know that I even had a day off, and I got $60 a week. I want you know that I’m the first old person to say, “And that was not a lot of money!” You hear a lot of old people go, “And that was a lot of money in those days.” Noooooo! By the time I cleaned up that room they gave me—which I’m very thankful for—I had spent close to $60 on mops and stuff to clean and make it look good. I showered without a shower. I used the restroom at the club to take a bath. I started at eight o’clock at night and worked ’til four in the morning, working between the folk singers.

(click for larger version)

How did you deal with hecklers?
After being upset with people, I just decided to go in another direction and not fool with them. Because, you get angry with these people and you start a vocal argument. And many times, for some weird reason, the audience sees you become angry and after a while it has changed the aura in the room. It’s difficult for you to get back to the image that you’re a fun person, even though it wasn’t your fault. But then again, it was your fault because it’s also the entertainer’s job not to lose it. I’ll give you an example. I was at Lake Tahoe in the late ’60s. I already had the mindset that when people wanted to interrupt to say things, the first thing is to understand what they are saying, and then respond as if you were really interested in what a person was saying. When you listen to that, many times if you stay linear with it, you can get rid of ‘em post haste. So I walked out onstage, had on a brown leather suit, and the shoes I had on were high-tops and had sort of like a dark brown mustard color. It was a midnight show, so the people have a chance to medicate themselves with alcohol. The room holds 750—Harrahs, Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. And a woman’s voice shouted out, “I hate those shoes!” And because of the way I think—which is not to challenge, not to beat up the person but to understand what the person has just said and to remain linear—I said, “Madame, you are very, very fortunate, because these shoes will not be performing.” And, man, I never heard from her again.

Were you ever tempted to work as a blue act?
Sure. There was a time when Richard Pryor’s popularity kicked in strong, and there really was a feeling from me—not that I wanted to use profanity—but it just seemed like this was due to Richard’s sales and the publicity. . . . Hey man, it’s a matter of sort of “keeping up with the Pryors.” I was at the Las Vegas Hilton, and it had been on my mind for some time. But I had rejected it because I just always felt I didn’t want it. That particular night I went into a story about my father, and I gave my father the profanity while addressing me. I think I did it for about two or three minutes, which is a long time. The next day, Barron Hilton called the owner of the hotel in Las Vegas. Barron never bothered me, and I was drawing strong, so . . . He said, “Bill, I just want you to read something. And you just do what you want with it.” It was a letter from six nuns who had seen that show. And they very nicely said that they were disappointed that a fellow they felt comfortable with had disappointed them with the use of the profanity. They didn’t ask for their money back, they didn’t say they walked out, but they just felt that they respected this fellow, Mr. Cosby, so much and he really and truly did not need to go in the direction of this, the [foul] language was unnecessary. Then they wished me the best. That was the day . . . that was it. I wasn’t too happy anyway, so the letter just helped close the book on that. And for my not embracing it [working blue], I have been able to turn over volumes of thoughts and write about them and turn them into modernist routines.

When “I Spy” came out, there was a fear that some network affiliate stations wouldn’t carry the show.
It wasn’t only a fear, it was a reality. Television, in those days, people blamed everything on the South. But they were using the South as a reasonable excuse to do what they wanted with their racist thoughts. The beauty of “I Spy” was that even though there were some stations that had people threatening to pull their commercials because of the presence of this actor—this black man—it didn’t have much strength. But I would not be surprised that there were some stations that did put on something else.

How did your life change after the success of “I Spy”?
NBC allowed me to have my own show, “Chet Kincaid,” which lasted two years. Then I had one-hour variety shows with my variety specials, so the change was just tremendous, the acceptance. I think in 1971, I had four LPs on Billboard’s charts. I had four comedy albums in the Top 10 because radio stations were playing them then. So there you can see the strength, the popularity.

Was there any subject matter you wanted to cover on “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” but didn’t feel comfortable approaching?
No, and when you look at the box set of Fat Albert shows, you just look at the titles and see how far ahead that show still is on subject matter.

Which of your television shows had the greatest impact on society?
If you play “Chet Kincaid,” there’s a ton of stuff there, a ton. If you play “I Spy,” you look at it. But people keep saying that I’m the Jackie Robinson of television. And I always say to them, “Well, if I’m the Jackie Robinson, then Robert Culp must have been the Pee Wee Reese and the Eddie Stanky [Robinson's teammates].” We went all around. We went to Mexico, we brought Mexican people into your living room. We brought Japanese, Chinese, and Korean people into your living room because we traveled around the world. We brought Greek people, Italian people into your living room, Spanish people into your living room, English people. So, “I Spy” just wasn’t a black man and a white man, it was all around the world. &


Dead Folks: Film, Part 2

Dead Folks: Film, Part 2

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010

Patrick McGoohan
Though born in New York City, Patrick McGoohan was raised in Ireland, where his acting career established him as one of the new crop of Angry Young Men storming the stage during the 1950s. Any plans to become the next Richard Burton changed when McGoohan became a TV star on the long-running UK series “Danger Man” (repackaged as “Secret Agent” for the American audience). McGoohan then turned that simple career move into high art. After three seasons of “Danger Man,” McGoohan essentially took his spy character and placed him in the ambitious sci-fi setting of “The Prisoner.”

Patrick McGoohan (click for larger version)

McGoohan produced, wrote, directed, and starred in what became one of the 1960s most subversive TV shows. The title character of “The Prisoner” was only known as Number Six. Each episode presented him clashing with a new Number Two, whose job would be to psychologically break Number Six among the trappings of the luxury resort that served as his prison. Before it was over, “The Prisoner” became a brilliant mix of libertarian politics torn between Cold War paranoia and hippie hysteria.

McGoohan worked infrequently after that success. He gave up on television after a frustrating stint as a diagnostic physician in 1977′s “Rafferty.” He fared better on the big screen, with great villainous turns in 1976′s The Silver Streak and against Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. He also appeared in David Cronenberg’s Scanners and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

McGoohan also stayed busy working on the “Columbo” TV movies. He played four murderers and directed other episodes. Unfortunately, McGoohan matched only Sean Connery when it came to bad decisions later in his career. His big-screen genre return was a 1996 cameo in The Phantom, based on the popular comic strip. He turned down roles in The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. McGoohan’s last big appearance was returning as Number Six in an episode of “The Simpsons.” The AMC cable channel aired a remake of “The Prisoner” this year. Some wondered if McGoohan dropped dead because he saw how badly the network screwed up the concept. (80, natural causes)

—J.R. Taylor

Jack Wrangler
In the midst of 1970s porn chic, only one gay porn star was able to go legit. Jack Wrangler—born John Stillman—came from a showbiz family in Beverly Hills, and started out as a child actor. He took roles in gay-themed stage productions as a young man, before moving to New York. He ended up working on the stages of Manhattan’s gay bars as a go-go dancer. That’s when he became Jack Wrangler. He was soon discovered by gay porn filmmakers and made his X-rated debut in 1970′s Eyes of a Stranger. The proudly out star became a regular in fashionable Manhattan hot spots. Wrangler later moved on to heterosexual porn in the late 1970s—his most notorious role remains his turn as Satan in 1982′s The Devil in Miss Jones 2. By then, he had scored a legitimate off-Broadway hit with his role in the popular play “T-Shirts.”

Jack Wrangler (click for larger version)




He was a heavy smoker, but a lot of people were surprised that Wrangler was outlived by his wife. Actually, a lot of people were surprised that he had a wife. He had first met Margaret Whiting in 1976. That was several decades after her heyday as a popular singer.

Wrangler went on to promote Whiting’s career and ended up as a busy producer on the cabaret circuit. The couple married in 1994, and raised eyebrows one last time in 1998 when they sued the city of New York for $3 million after Whiting (then 74 years old) broke her hip after tripping on broken pavement. The lawsuit included a $1 million claim over the loss of conjugal relations. (62, emphysema) —J.R.T.

Ray Dennis Steckler
One of Hollywood’s worst directors had a promising start. Ray Dennis Steckler made his directorial debut with 1962′s Wild Guitar, which is actually a stylish—and inept—tale of the rise and fall of a young rockabilly star. The nebbishy Steckler then wrote a role for himself (starring under the name of Cash Flagg) as Mort “Mad Dog” Click in 1964′s The Thrill Killers. Steckler also used his pseudonym to direct himself in that same year’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? The title alone made it an instant cult classic. The film became notorious as a touring show that featured real monsters running through the theater and abducting girls from the audience.

Ray Dennis Stecker’s most famous film. (click for larger version)

Steckler never got a chance at a decent script, though, and his reputation went downhill while making notoriously cheap films like the “Batman” parody Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and directing porn in the 1970s.

He made X-rated films up to 1983, and then began to enjoy some notoriety as his earlier films were discovered on VHS. The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher (1979) plays more like a nihilistic wallow on the level of Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer. Steckler had moved to Vegas by the end of the ’70s, which makes The Hollywood Strangler equally impressive as a travelogue of that city’s sleaziest ’70s settings.

Steckler was happy to be rediscovered and had a pretty good attitude about his career. He was still right to be angry when one of his movies showed up as fodder for an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Nothing really came of his attempted comeback with 1986′s Las Vegas Serial Killer, but he seemed happy to concentrate on his own Las Vegas chain of video stores.

John Quade

Sadly, the director never pursued his idea of reuniting with cast members from his old films to make Steckler’s 11. He did, however, reportedly finish shooting The Incredibly Strange Creatures: One More Time before his death—and for one-tenth of the original film’s $38,000 budget. (70, cardiac arrest) —J.R.T.

John Quade
From the 1960s until just recently, Quade’s mere physical presence made him a first choice for the role of a heavy in any TV series or motion picture requiring an ill-tempered troll. A thick, balding head (sans neck), slits for eyes, and the torso of a young bull combined to suggest an inevitable encounter with menace and mayhem. Yet in dozens of westerns or crime thrillers, something about Quade’s demeanor hinted that he fell squarely into two bad-guy categories: mean and stupid. While one easily imagines him ambling out of a saloon and crossing the street so he can pummel some victim into dust, one just as easily suspects that Quade will forget why he bothered to cross that street once he reaches the other side. Therefore he represented, in most of his roles as a corrupt lawman, renegade biker, or frontier bully, a kind of dangerous nuisance as opposed to a deadly threat. That’s Quade in High Plains Drifter, Any Which Way You Can, and similar fare attempting to open a can of whoop-ass, but ultimately making Clint Eastwood’s day. (71, natural causes) —D.P.

David Carradine

David Carradine
The star of the 1970s drama “Kung Fu” enjoyed a few legitimate screen roles, including Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg and an Oscar-nominated turn as Woody Guthrie in 1976′s Bound for Glory. There were also plenty of classic drive-in epics, from Boxcar Bertha to Death Race 2000. He was always one of Hollywood’s wildest eccentrics, constantly going barefoot and eager to discuss eating the placenta of the child he had with Barbara Hershey in 1972. (That was back when his Boxcar Bertha co-star called herself Barbara Seagull after hitting a seagull with her car.)

His brother Keith went on to the classier acting career, while Robert Carradine got the Revenge of the Nerds franchise. Carradine spent the 1980s and ’90s making tons of direct-to-video schlock with the occasional classy role—including the classic monster movie Q and working with his brothers in The Long Riders. He also spent 10 years working as the writer, director, and star of Americana. That one is a real lost gem worthy of directors like Monte Hellman and David Lynch.

Carradine also kept the Kung Fu franchise going by playing his own ancestor in a long-running syndicated series. He made a true comeback replacing Warren Beatty in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. That didn’t stop Carradine from going right back to making schlock—including the Bangkok-set actioner he was filming when found dead in the closet of his hotel room.

The initial reports of suicide were later clarified as autoerotic asphyxiation. That was certainly in keeping with Carradine’s kinky reputation. The indulgent actor left Los Angeles with something to remember. A few months before his death, Carradine participated in a panel discussion after a screening of Bound for Glory. He complained about the evils off labor unions, threw a microphone at a woman in the audience, and berated cinematographer Haskell Wexler for ruining the movie. Wexler won his second Oscar for his work on Bound for Glory. (72, autoerotic asphyxiation) —J.R.T.

Gene Barry
A handsome leading man in some very minor films and two popular TV series, Barry might have been a bigger star if not for an accident of birth. He did have a starring role in one “A” picture. Playing Dr. Clayton Forrester in the 1953 science-fiction epic The War of the Worlds, Barry sported tortoise-shell horn-rim glasses and a debonair swagger. Forrester provided nerds and science geeks everywhere with the best possible pick-up line: when his fetching female co-star mentions the glasses, he removes them, moves into her space, and intones, “When I want look at something up close, I take them off.”

Gale Storm (click for larger version)

By the time he took a starring role in the TV western “Bat Masterson,” Barry was older—and looking older—than most of his peers who were holding positions as ladies’ men. The detective series “Burke’s Law” had him gadding about Los Angeles in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, solving crimes and turning away eager dames. The show’s bevy of willing babes and surprisingly frank sexual content were intended to maximize Barry’s potential as a major swankster. But in 1965, he looked like the much older brother of Hollywood’s most dashing lads. (90, natural causes) —D.P.

Gale Storm
The filmography of Gale Storm ends like you would expect from an aging star of the 1950s. Her final credits were “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote.” Storm was no typical starlet, though. The former Josephine Cottle spent the 1940s making lots of banal films for RKO Pictures. Things suddenly turned around with the unexpected success of the TV show “My Little Margie.” She was 30 years old when the summer replacement for “I Love Lucy” became a hit in 1952. That was ancient by Hollywood standards, but Storm launched a new career as a hit singer and nightclub act—and followed up “My Little Margie” with “The Gale Storm Show,” which kept her on the air until 1960. (87, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Charles Schneer
Serving in the U.S. Army Photographic Unit during WWII alongside John Ford and John Huston, Schneer got a big case of the movie bug and headed to Hollywood after the war. In the mid-1950s, he joined Columbia Pictures and hooked up with Ray Harryhausen, who had learned a few things about stop-motion animation from the experts who had made King Kong. This was especially appealing for Schneer, who was obsessed with the kind of science-fiction and adventure stories known in the movie industry at that time as “creature features.” Harryhausen was already figuring out how to make those creatures come to life, and Schneer knew how to manage a production unit. It was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

Shooting scale-model monsters on miniature sets (one frame at a time) requires an intimidating amount of time and money, and Columbia Pictures was rarely the studio for big budgets. It was Schneer’s particular genius to find the means to make those pictures anyway. For the duo’s first feature film, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Schneer determined that a giant octopus with only six tentacles would take less time for Harryhausen to pose and shoot than would an anatomically correct cephalopod. He correctly gambled that audiences stunned by the sight of a sea creature tearing out portions of the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn’t take time to count tentacles.

A genre was spawned, aided by Schneer’s youthful fascination with H-bomb tests, UFOs, and any story in the newspapers covering a strange new phenomenon. His collection of clippings was the impetus for low-budget, high-impact wonders such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth. Nontheless, it occurred rather quickly to both Schneer and Harryhausen that alien invaders and radiation-enhanced creatures were tired subjects by the end of that decade. Maybe they could bring a little class to the joint by making pictures about the original gods and monsters of Roman and Greek mythology.

The idea resulted in a second genre of pictures, coinciding with—and borrowing from—the sword-and-sandal epics being made in Europe. Using Mediterranean locations, Bernard Herrmann’s rousing, brassy scores, and Harryhausen’s visual effects system “Dynamation,” Schneer provided three generations of moviegoers with a series of indelible images. Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, and others each offer at least one unforgettable moment. The sword battle with that skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts might be the Schneer/Harryhausen masterwork. (89) —D.P.

Maurice Jarre
A list of the most recognizable motion picture scores would probably include Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, John Williams’ scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Nino Rota’s The Godfather. Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther and John Barry’s score for Goldfinger also make the cut. In all likelihood, Maurice Jarre’s compositions for Dr. Zhivago

(specifically “Lara’s Theme”) will appear in any survey of the most recognizable soundtracks in motion picture history; Dr. Zhivago might even belong in the top five.

Jarre himself might belong on another list: the top 10 hardest working composers in show business. He was meeting impossible challenges early in his career and simply never let up. When producer Sam Spiegel called on Jarre to provide incidental music for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, the plan was to have heavyweights Benjamin Britten and Aram Khachaturian handle all the theme music. The studio then settled on yet another major composer, Richard Rodgers, but the notoriously picky Lean was not satisfied with anything he heard. The entire score was left up to Jarre, who had less than 40 days to compose themes, arrange the score, rehearse with an orchestra, and then conduct that orchestra to synchronize all music tracks with the film. That score, which employed Arabian music for certain motifs, earned Jarre his first of three Oscars. Lean insisted that Jarre work on his next film, Dr. Zhivago, but again the composer was left with the daunting task of crafting a theme and an entire score within a limited schedule. And again, he earned an Academy Award.

His body of work isn’t all lush symphonic music and chart-busting themes. There is often restraint and ingenuity in the orchestration, especially when he is conveying human emotions or signifying key charactters. Witness the off-kilter strains used to suggest madness in Night of the Generals, The Collector, or most ingeniously in George Franju’s horror cult classic Les Yeux Sans Visage. Indeed, there are numerous instances in his career where Jarre’s music outclasses—and out-entertains—the picture itself, certainly in the case of some forgettable westerns. His early scores for Franju, along with those for several French films made before Jarre came to the United States, are essential listening. Highly recommended is a very rare boxed set of Jarre’s early work, “Anthologie-80ème Anniversaire,” released by the French label Play Time in 2005. (84, cancer) —D.P.

Brittany Murphy
A lot of people were shocked when Brittany Murphy died young. Those people hadn’t been following her film career. The former child actress broke big in her late teens, starting with her role as a girl in need of a makeover in 1995′s Clueless. Her next film was the bizarre indie classic Freeway, and Murphy closed out the 1990s with Girl, Interrupted and Drop Dead Gorgeous. The latter was an underseen comedy that still catapulted Murphy into lead roles. She made some bad romantic comedies in the next decade, but Murphy did fine work in 8 Mile and Sin City. She also kept her day job as the voice of trashy Texan girl Luanne Platter on the FOX animated series “King of the Hill.”

By the mid-2000s, though, Murphy was in trouble. Lindsay Lohan made the headlines, but Murphy was going through a similar celebrity meltdown. Her erratic behavior soon had her reduced to crappy direct-to-video productions. Murphy hit rock bottom with 2009′s MegaFault. The disaster movie debuted on the SyFy Channel in a slot usually reserved for films starring Judd Nelson and Coolio.

The biggest project Murphy had going was the upcoming action film The Expendables. She doesn’t star in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle, though. She is part of a kitschy cast featuring faded stars like Eric Roberts and Dolph Lundgren. Sadly, Murphy didn’t leave much to be rediscovered at the end of her career. She had ruined her looks with plastic surgery, and her eyes were as dead as any veteran porn star’s. Plenty of pills were found in her home. Murphy’s husband and her mother, however, insist that their meal ticket didn’t do drugs. They say she died of a heart murmur. “It was hard for anyone to imagine that somebody was so high on life,” explained Mom. She got that right. (32, cardiac arrest, officially) —J.R.T.

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 2

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 2

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.



February 24, 2005Bob Keeshan

Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo (click for larger version)



Far sillier (and better dressed) than Mr. Rogers could ever be, Bob Keeshan, otherwise known as the walrus-faced Captain Kangaroo, ruled children’s television programming on CBS from 1955 to 1984. The “Captain Kangaroo” show, which finished its run at PBS in the early ’90s, followed the Captain and his ragtag cast of puppets and characters, including Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Dancing Bear, and Mr. Green Jeans (who, despite rumors, was not the father of Frank Zappa) throughout their adventures at Treasure House. Keeshan entertained his audience with cartoons, the mysterious Magic Drawing Board, and sundry other gags. When Mr. Moose told one of his ridiculous knock-knock jokes, a shower of ping-pong balls was inevitable.

Keeshan (76), who started his career armed with a pair of horns and a bottle of seltzer water as Clarabell the Clown on “The Howdy Doody Show” in the late 1940s, couldn’t dance, sing, or even play an instrument, but he always had an eye-popping outfit and a knack for making funny faces. —D.M.

Robert Pastorelli

Robert Pastorelli

He enjoyed a fine career as the housepainter Eldin on seven seasons of “Murphy Brown,” plus successful big-screen turns in Michael and Eraser. However, it seems Robert Pastorelli (49) was speaking a little too soon when proclaiming himself to be a former druggie in recent interviews he gave. In his defense, though, Pastorelli’s heroin overdose may not have been an accident. It turns out the cops were very eager to question the actor about the increasingly questionable “suicide” of his live-in girlfriend back in 1999. —J.R. Taylor.

Jan Miner

Madge: “You’re soaking in it.”

Customer getting manicure: “Dishwashing liquid?!”

Madge: “Relax. It’s Palmolive.”

Viewers who recall those television advertisements, which ran for a stunning 27 years, are all too familiar with stage actress Jan Miner (82). She played Madge the Manicurist, a wise broad (of a certain age) whose mission in life was to alarm customers before spreading the good news about Palmolive dish detergent, those green suds that “soften hands while you do the dishes.” —D.P.

Mary-Ellis Bunim

The next time you witness a drunken hook-up on “The Real World,” thank Mary-Ellis Bunim (57), one of the founding producers of MTV’s original reality series—or just turn off the television. Bunim, a TV “pioneer,” is responsible for changing the face of television in 1992. Bunim/Murray Productions bypassed actors and selected seven real unemployed post-graduates, er, strangers, to get real (eat, sleep, get wasted) while hanging out in a posh pad together for three months—without television—as the cameras rolled 24 hours a day to catch every droll, er, dramatic act.

MTV plans to air five more seasons of the show, carrying “Real World” through its unnecessary 20th season. If being solely remembered for producing the show that married Pedro, kicked off Puck, and let Coral rule as queen bitch wasn’t enough, Bunim/Murray Productions can also be blamed for the Fox Network’s “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. That’s hot. —Danielle McClure

Ed Kemmer

Ed Kemmer (84) appeared as Commander Buzz Corry in the popular science fiction television program “Space Patrol,” broadcast live each week on the ABC network from 1950 to 1955. Kemmer switched from portraying heroes to villains when appearing on “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Maverick.” He was also featured in daytime dramas “The Edge of Night” and “All My Children.” Lampert once said that of all his roles, he was most proud of “Space Patrol” because engineers told him they were inspired to careers at NASA after watching the sci-fi series as children. A German POW for a year in 1944, Kemmer staged plays in prison camp. —Ed Reynolds

Art James/Gene Wood

It’s sad when a creative voice is stilled, but we’re also losing far too many non-creative voices—specifically, those legendary figures of game shows who didn’t even get to cash in on the genre’s short-lived recent revival. Art James (74) was certainly unique in his field, having served as both an actual host (Concentration and Blank Check) and announcer for shows including The Joker’s Wild and Tic Tac Dough. Gene Wood’s (78) long association with Mark Goodson Productions allowed the legendary announcer to achieve two cultural milestones. His rave-up intro to Family Feud would later be appropriated by the World Wresting Federation, and that was his voice whispering the secret word on variations of the popular Password series. —J.R.T.

Isabel Sanford

As a not-so-young character actress, Isabel Sanford (86) built a fairly amazing filmography, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The New Centurions, and Lady Sings the Blues. The real fame for the former stage actress began in 1971, though, when she made her first appearance as Archie Bunker’s neighbor on “All In The Family.” A quick recast of her husband, and the groundwork was laid for “The Jeffersons.” She invested her money much more wisely than co-star Sherman Hemsley, so it was probably just a good sense of humor that kept Sanford repeating her role long after the series had ended in 1985—including in Denny’s commercials, a “Tonight Show” cameo, and a turn in the big-screen comedy Mafia! —J.R.Taylor

Just Like a Woman

Just Like a Woman

Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is coming to Birmingham to sign copies of her new autobiography, Still Woman Enough, an entertaining but brutally honest account of Lynn’s life as one of America’s greatest country music performers.

An afternoon telephone conversation with country legend Loretta Lynn reveals a woman completely unaffected by notoriety. Lynn sounds as though she were still a Butcher Holler farm girl, speaking in a rural dialect that contradicts her stardom. The singer doesn’t pull any punches. Hit her once and she’ll hit back twice. Her husband Doolittle’s (Doo) philandering and chronic alcoholism provoked more than a few violent episodes during their 48-year marriage. She knocked two of his front teeth out one night, pleased as she could be that his cheating was put to rest until he could get new teeth. Their marriage is tumultuously detailed in her second autobiography Still Woman Enough, an entertaining but brutally honest account of Lynn’s fascinating life as one of America’s greatest country music performers.

Loretta Lynn literally defines country. The names of her children read like a hillbilly sitcom: Betty Sue, Ernest Ray, Patsy, Cissie, Jack Benny. Married at age 13 in Kentucky coal-mining country, Lynn and her husband moved to Washington State a year later so Doo could pan for gold and Loretta could pick strawberries. Though noting that there were anecdotes in her autobiography that she couldn’t have written if her husband were still alive, Lynn is unwavering in her devotion to the man directly responsible for her success. Doo convinced Loretta to sing in Northwest honky tonks despite her severe stage fright. Lynn began to build a following in Canada but noticed that her most loyal fans were suddenly absent for a couple of months. When she finally confronted them about where they’d been, they explained that they had given up Loretta for Lent. The singer said the only “Lent” she was familiar with was the kind that gets on your clothes. Doo later chauffeured her on a blitz tour of radio stations around the country to convince disc jockeys to play her first single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” And it was her husband who got her on the Grand Ole Opry after her first record entered the charts, by convincing Opry officials to let his wife audition. She was invited to sing on the Opry for the next 17 weeks, receiving $18 per night (with three additional bucks if she sang an extra song).

Being an Opry star didn’t change Lynn much. She continued to slaughter her barnyard chickens for dinner and shop for material at the Salvation Army thrift store to make her own stage outfits. She was once chastised by a ranking Opry official who saw her coming out of the store. He told her it “cast a bad light on the Opry when local folks saw the show’s singers acting like poor people.” She didn’t know how to use a credit card until Conway Twitty instructed her in the late 1970s.

Influenced by nothing more than Saturday night Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and her delight in rhyming words with siblings as a child, Lynn displayed a remarkable ability for writing songs. “Doo got me a book that showed how you wrote ‘em. It was called Country Roundup, I think. I just looked at the songs and I said, ‘Anybody can do this.’ The first spanking Doo ever give me was because I rhymed a word. And it rhymed with door — you know what it was — and I didn’t know what it meant. It was raining and cold and he let the door open and I said, ‘Shut the door you little. . . .’ And I got a whippin’ for that. And he’d promised Daddy he’d never put a hand on me. And that was the next day after he’d married me. He throwed me over his knee and busted my butt.”

In 1963, the singer was asked by childhood idol Ernest Tubb to record a series of duets. “I never dreamed I’d ever sing with him, ’cause when Daddy had that little radio, we’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night and the news, ’cause the war was goin’ on. But I’d start to cry when Ernest Tubb started to sing. And Mama would say, ‘I’m gonna turn the radio off if you don’t quit cryin.’” Tubb was instrumental in establishing Lynn as a country institution. “When I come to Nashville, MCA Records, which was Decca at the time, they asked Ernest to record with a girl. And he said he wanted to record with me. He did so much for me. The last time I sang with him, it was like standin’ up by a big monument. I even went to Billy Bob’s [famed Fort Worth bar, the largest honky tonk in the world] and did a show for him to buy medicine with, ’cause he had run out of money. He helped everybody in Nashville but no one would go help him.”

But it was her series of duets with Conway Twitty that placed Lynn on the same “classic duo” pedestal occupied by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. “Yeah, I loved Conway. He was like a brother, and he would give me advice. If he thought I wasn’t doing things right, he’d tell me, ‘This is how you do it,’ and I’d say, ‘No, that’s how you do it. This is how I’d do it,’” she laughs. Their string of soap-opera-style hits included “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” and “Backstreet Affair.” In a strange twist of fate, Conway Twitty unexpectedly died with Lynn at his bedside in a Missouri hospital in 1991 after Twitty was overcome with a stomach aneurysm while touring the Midwest. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, where Lynn was waiting as Doo recovered from open-heart surgery. She thought that Twitty had decided to drop by to visit her husband. “I watched Conway’s bus come off the exit. I run downstairs to let him know what room Doo was in, and they come draggin’ him in. Blood’s comin’ out of his mouth and his eyes was tryin’ to focus on me and he couldn’t. I almost fell out right there. The chaplain came in and told me that Conway would not live through the night, so he told me if I wanted to see him I should go on back there. I went in his room and patted him on the arm and said, ‘Conway, you love to sing, honey, don’t you leave me.’”

Staunchly defiant, Lynn was a fly in the conservative ointment of the Nashville music industry. She was the first to write and sing about women’s issues. “The Pill” was the first of several of her songs to be banned, but Lynn was smart enough to recognize a marketing opportunity as women flocked to her side. “It’s all because I’d get down and talk to the women. All of ‘em were taking the pill and they weren’t wearin’ bras [pronounced 'braws']. Everybody was taking the pill, why not talk about it. Everybody was havin’ kids just like I was, why not say, ‘One’s on the way.’ I couldn’t understand why the public was worried about my songs. And when ‘Rated X’ come out, just the title of it, they started banning the record. And they didn’t listen to it. It was about a divorced woman. Nothin’ in it was bad. When ‘Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin” come out, the big 50-watt [sic] station in Chicago didn’t play it, ’cause they thought it was dirty. It went number one, they started playin’ it.”

Loretta Lynn’s music was a stark contrast to Tammy Wynette’s songs about sticking with men, regardless. Ironically, Wynette went through five husbands, while Lynn’s only husband was Doo. “Tammy Wynette was outspoken about standing by her man, and I’d done hit mine over the head with a rollin’ pin,” Lynn laughs. “Tammy said, ‘I’d be afraid to sing that, afraid they wouldn’t play my record.’ But it didn’t hurt me. They’d ban ‘em and they’d go number one.” Lynn took Wynette under her wing when she arrived in Nashville, just as Patsy Cline had done for her when Lynn first moved to town as an unknown. “Oh, Tammy was my best girlfriend. First girlfriend I had, except Patsy. I never did get that close to all the artists. All of ‘em have their own way of doin’ things, and I think they kinda stayed away from me because of the songs I wrote. They shoulda liked ‘em, they might’ve rubbed off on ‘em. They could’ve wrote their own.”

Lynn also didn’t think twice about crossing racial divides. “When Charlie Pride won Singer of the Year, I was the one that was supposed to give the award. So they said, ‘Loretta, if Charlie wins, step back one foot and don’t touch him.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearin’ ’cause I’d been livin’ on the West Coast for 13 or 14 years,” Lynn remembers, still appalled. “Charlie is just another singer to me. When it comes to color, I’m colorblind, ’cause I’m part Cherokee. So when Charlie won, I stepped up and hugged him and kissed him. They got a little upset about it. I thought, ‘Well, Charlie shouldn’t even sing for ‘em if that’s the way they feel about him.’”

One of her champions in Nashville was the Carter Family, who at one time asked her to join the group. Lynn refused because she felt she couldn’t sing their harmonies properly. She remembers trying to get a sulking Johnny Cash on stage. “Poor little ol’ Johnny. They couldn’t get him out on stage. Johnny Cash has always been good to me. He was the first one that took me out of Nashville on a tour. Him and the Carter Family, we went to Toronto and Ontario [sic]. He was not having too good a night. Mother Maybelle, June . . . they were all mad at him. I said, ‘Come on, baby, it’s time for you to go on.’ He jerked his coat down and there was a bottle of pills — a hundred-aspirin bottle of pills, but it wasn’t aspirin. I didn’t know what they was ’cause I’d never seen a diet pill in my life. And they went all over the floor and they was all different colors. And Johnny said, ‘Don’t leave any,’ and I sat down on that floor and picked up every pill and put them back.”

Refusing to sway from her convictions, Loretta Lynn has remained her own woman. Her forthright honesty provoked a showdown with Frank Sinatra, who invited Lynn to duet on what had been his first hit, “All or Nothing at All.” She told Sinatra it was the worst song she’d ever heard and suggested they sing “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sinatra told her when she had her own television show she could sing whatever she wanted.

Her simple approach to life and refusal to bow to showbiz expectations also left a lasting impression on Dean Martin. Martin had been so taken with the Carter Family’s performance on his show that he asked them to recommend another Nashville artist. They suggested Lynn, who refused to sit in Martin’s lap, as was customary when he sang duets with female performers. Instead of being offended, Martin decided her spunk was the perfect ingredient to spice up the Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast featuring Jack Lemmon. Lynn picks up the story in her autobiography: “Well, I’d never heard of a ‘roast.’ I thought Dean Martin was inviting me to dinner with his Hollywood friends. So I dressed up real nice. They made a special dress for me out of material flown from Paris, France. I couldn’t understand why they wanted me to eat in that fancy dress. They made me read from a Teleprompter and I told Dean I was scared to death and didn’t read so good. But I didn’t have a choice. I was stuck. Making me feel worse, I started in saying the most awful things about Jack Lemmon. I didn’t know they was jokes. So each time I said something, I turned to Jack and said, ‘I didn’t mean that, honey. I don’t even know you. I’m just saying what’s on that there card.’” &

Loretta Lynn will be signing copies of her latest autobiography Still Woman Enough at Books & Company on Tuesday, June 25, at 6 p.m. Call 870-0212 for details.

She will also be performing at Looney’s Tavern on Saturday, July 13, in Double Springs. Tickets are $17-$30 for the 7:30 p.m. show. Call 205-489-5000 for details.