Dead Folks: Film
Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.
A dark-haired beauty with prominent cheekbones and perhaps the most expressive eyes ever captured on film, Jones often portrayed mercurial, emotionally fragile characters ideally suited for romance and melodrama. Portraying young women who could gush with joy and plunge into despair in the same breath may not have always been a stretch for Jones. Her private life, which was seldom private despite her resistance to interviews and publicity events, was emotionally harrowing.
In other words, as went the whims of Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick, so went the career and personal life of Jennifer Jones. As a fledgling actor attempting to find a permanent place in motion pictures, Jones apparently acquiesced to the Svengali-like will of Selznick, carrying on an affair with him while being groomed for roles in the early 1940s. By the time she was wowing audiences in The Song of Bernadette (for which she earned an Oscar), the 25-year-old mother of two was already separated from her husband, actor Robert Walker. Amazingly, during that separation the couple were cast by Selznick as the young, naïve lovers in Since You Went Away, a moving and superbly executed drama about life on the WWII home front. No one has disputed the rumor that Selznick was attempting to emotionally destroy the depressed, hard-drinking Walker, who was ultimately institutionalized after his divorce from Jones. Hollywood lore also suggests a stranger theory, namely, that Selznick—who had been obsessed with Jones from the day he first saw her auditioning for a play in New York—was slyly preparing her for roles that required an intrinsic understanding of overwrought melodrama. That’s easy to believe. Anyone who has seen the romantic mystery Love Letters, the landmark fantasy film Portrait of Jennie, or Since You Went Away recognizes that Jones’ screen presence was both mesmerizing and slightly unsettling.
On the other hand, it was common knowledge that Selznick was fully in love with the real Jennifer Jones; they were married in 1949 and apparently remained happy until Selznick’s death in 1965. Shortly afterward, a comatose Jones was discovered on Malibu beach, having “accidentally” consumed too many pills and too much wine. She recovered from the coma, and over the years more cynical Hollywood gossips wondered if the entire episode hadn’t been pre-directed by Selznick. (90, natural causes) —David Pelfrey
Three generations of TV and movie viewers probably have distinctly different memories of this excellent actor, whose commanding voice and penetrating eyes once made him an impressive screen presence. The youngest may see Malden simply as the voice and face of American Express Travelers Cheques: “Don’t leave home without them.” The persona for that ad campaign (one that remains in the collective mind of another generation) was derived from Malden’s no-nonsense detective Mike Stone in the long-running 1970s TV police drama “The Streets of San Francisco,” co-starring a young Michael Douglas.
All of that transpired in the latter stages of Malden’s seven-decade career. He began with something of a bang, working with the powerful new directors and actors of the 1950s (Elia Kazan, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Marlon Brando), very quickly earning accolades for his roles in On the Waterfront, Baby Doll, I Confess, and A Streetcar Named Desire, for which Malden won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. (97, natural causes) —D.P.
With very few exceptions, the list of films Cardiff directed will have any serious student of cinema wishing that Cardiff had remained strictly a cinematographer. The British filmmaker helmed the risible The Girl on a Motorcycle, a swinging ’60s fantasy with pop chanteuse Marianne Faithfull that attempted to be way out but was merely way out of touch. Still more inept was The Long Ships, a Moor-versus-Viking adventure yarn with Sidney Poitier and Richard Widmark disgracing themselves in the respective roles. The thing is, both pictures were often lovely to behold, if impossible to take seriously.
Cardiff possessed a preternatural gift for appreciating—and controlling—the effects of light and color as cast onto a motion picture screen. When film scholars speak of “painterly” cinematography, they invariably have Cardiff in mind. His Technicolor (and other film processes) wonders include The African Queen, Topaz, Death on the Nile, and Conan the Destroyer. Moreover, the three pictures Cardiff shot for Michael Powell (A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes) have no analog in modern cinema (nor many contemporary equals). Many scenes in those marvelous fantasies still have film students and technicians wondering exactly how Cardiff managed it. His autobiography, Magic Hour, ostensibly reveals certain techniques, but like any good magician, Cardiff ultimately tells us nothing. (94, natural causes) —D.P.
We can be angry with the multi-talented filmmaker for writing the screenplay for Class Reunion and directing Curly Sue, or we can admire the box office success of the Home Alone films, which Hughes wrote and produced. However, the former National Lampoon staffer and gag writer for Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers leaves behind one undeniable cultural legacy. Behold the Brat Pack comedy/dramas that defined youth cinema of the 1980s. Hughes directed Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and he produced Pretty in Pink. All the screenplays were his as well. Those films made stars and/or pop icons of numerous young actors, at the same time providing the MTV generation with official soundtracks and no small amount of entries into the popular lexicon (Bueller? Bueller?). (59, heart attack) —D.P.
According to People magazine, Swayze was the sexiest man alive in 1991. For the kind of people who read that publication, he probably was. His leading role in Dirty Dancing made him a household name, and his turn opposite Brat Packer Demi Moore in Ghost established Swayze as a universally recognized heartthrob. His remaining résumé largely consists of roles as macho bad-ass types, which was no mean feat for a 5’9″ dancer. There again, an athletic Texan who raises horses, carries an instrument-rated pilot’s license, and studies martial arts makes good box office as a man’s man. Then there’s Swayze’s sense of humor about his status as a sex symbol and tabloid regular: witness his brilliant self-deprecating skits on “Saturday Night Live,”
or his irony-rich turn as the scary-as-hell motivational speaker in Donnie Darko. His final days were a grim deathwatch that functioned as tabloid fodder after Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (57) —D.P.
A plump, boisterous comedian, DeLuise possessed an overbearing persona that was a favorite of Mel Brooks, who cast him in several comedies, including Blazing Saddles. DeLuise teamed with pal Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit II. He got his start in television during the early 1960s as Dominick the Great, an inept, bumbling magician whose magic tricks never worked. His appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and “Hollywood Squares” made him a household name. An accomplished chef, he later performed culinary demonstrations on television as his film career wound down. DeLuise once claimed that the toughest role of his career was being cast as a penny in a school play. “The part called for me to roll under a bed as soon as the curtain went up and stay there until I was found in the very last scene,” he recalled in the book Who’s Who in Comedy. “It was my hardest role to date. I detested having to be quiet and out of the action for so long.” (75, extended unidentified illness) —E.R.
Khan, Captain Kirk’s arch nemesis in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Mr. Roarke on the 1970s TV series “Fantasy Island.” Damon West on the medical drama “Dr. Kildare.” These are just a few of the many roles played by actor Ricardo Montalban throughout his career as one of the most visible Hispanic actors in post-WWII Hollywood. Born in Mexico City, he moved to Hollywood as a teenager to foster his dream of becoming an actor.
Montalban starred in 13 Spanish-language films before breaking into the American film scene in 1947, cast as a bullfighter opposite Esther Williams in Fiesta. He was under contract with MGM at the time, and said he quickly realized the studio’s portrayals of Hispanics at that time were “very insulting.” Montalban took up the cause of changing Hollywood stereotypes of Latinos, one he championed throughout his career by serving as president of Nosotros, an organization he founded for the advancement of Hispanics in the entertainment industry, for two decades. Despite this, Montalban had a friendly rivalry at MGM with Fernando Lamas as the studio’s resident “Latin lover,” a contest Bill Murray immortalized in a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
Known as a distinguished gentleman with a smooth accent, Montalban became the spokesman for Chrysler and Maxwell House coffee. He made guest appearances on countless TV shows, recently doing a voiceover on the animated series “Family Guy.” The deeply spiritual Montalban, a Catholic, was named a Knight Commander of St. Gregory, the highest honor bestowed on non-clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, by Pope John Paul II in 1998. (88, congestive heart failure) —Christina Crowe
Like plenty of young Broadway actors, James Whitmore watched as movie stars took over roles that he created on the stage. He wasn’t a typical leading man, but his own move to Hollywood landed him a few starring roles as a kind of ersatz Spencer Tracy. He was morally sound while getting radio transmissions from God in The Next Voice You Hear, and sadly corrupt as a career criminal in The Asphalt Jungle. He also landed a great genre role when he took on giant ants in 1954′s Them!
Whitmore became a constant presence on television through the 1960s and ’70s, and also kept working steadily in films—favoring offbeat roles such as the lead in 1964′s Black Like Me and a simian turn in Planet of the Apes. He managed a final classic with a prominent role in 1994′s The Shawshank Redemption. A lot of people still knew Whitmore best from his years of commercials for Miracle-Gro Plant Food, and the avid gardener frequently used the sponsorship as an excuse to show up at florist events. (87, lung cancer) —J.R. Taylor
The handsome, stern Irish-born actor was a popular figure in post-WWII British action films. Having distinguished himself as a paratrooper in the Allied D-Day operations, Todd made a believable war hero, most famously in The Dam Busters and The Longest Day. The Scottish burr Todd cultivated on the stage in Scotland, along with his fairly intimidating demeanor, rendered a memorable man’s man who might have been an ideal James Bond. Ian Fleming certainly thought so; Todd was his first choice for the role of 007. (90, cancer) —David Pelfrey