Dead Folks 2011: Film and Television
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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