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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: Television

Dead Folks: Television

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.


January 21, 2010

Henry Gibson
Philadelphia-born Henry Gibson moved to New York City after finishing his studies at the Royal Academy of London. The starving actor had trouble sleeping in the Hell’s Kitchen bathtub that served as his bed, so he stayed up all night writing poetry in the voice of a naïve Southern boy from Fairhope, Alabama. He began to perform the poems live—originally with classmate Jon Voight, and then solo after Voight decided to pursue more serious roles.

Henry Gibson (click for larger version)

Gibson was born James Bateman, but chose his stage name because it sounded like “Henrik Ibsen” with a Southern accent. His big break came with a chance to read his poems on the “PM East/PM West” TV show hosted by Mike Wallace. Gibson knew he would never be allowed on the show if the producers knew he was an actor. He recalled his audition in an interview from 1997:

I visited the studio, and they brought in Mike Wallace. He practically exhausted me with questions about my background. I had to create an entire biography, depicting this idealized version of a town I had never even seen. Then Wallace asked me, ‘Henry, can you make up a poem on the spot?’

I nearly died. My entire repertoire had seven poems, maybe eight. The dumber the poems sounded, the more time it had taken to create them. The intricacy and complexity of them wasn’t something that just happened. So I foolishly said, ‘Yes,’ and came up with a poem about sunshine:

There’s sunshine in the mountains
There’s sunshine in the trees
There’s sunshine right here in the office
But, most of all, it’s in me

Well, that did it. He put me on the show the next day. Sad to say—or happy to say—Henry Gibson, the poet, was launched.

That appearance turned Little Henry from Fairhope, Alabama, into a star. He was a regular on the national talk shows of the early 1960s, and Gibson frequently took phone calls from Alabama newspapers wanting to chronicle the exploits of a favorite son. Little Henry became a regular on “The Joey Bishop Show,” and fans like Jerry Lewis and Phyllis Diller encouraged his bizarre stand-up comedy act.

Gibson had moved on to legitimate theater by the time he began reciting his poems on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” The hit show made Gibson a countercultural icon. His most controversial messages involved peace and environmental causes.

By the end of the 1970s, Gibson had enough clout to publish a poem in the editorial pages of the Washington Post. (“I was especially pleased to learn that President Carter found it offensive.”) Gibson also remained busy as a character actor, picking up new fans with an appearance in 1980′s The Blues Brothers. He could also be found in films such as Magnolia and Nashville. Gibson worked constantly (and Twittered) right up to his death. He never did get to visit Fairhope. (73, cancer) —J.R. Taylor

Edward Woodward (click for larger version)

Edward Woodward
Few Americans know the full career history of this versatile English actor. Blessed with good looks (a blend of Peter O’Toole and Christopher Plummer) and a gentle tenor, Woodward found his way onto the English stage—and for a short time, Broadway—where he rubbed elbows with Noël Coward, Laurence Olivier, and sundry leading lights of the National Theatre. Thanks to numerous BBC radio programs and TV roles, Woodward was a household name in England by the 1960s. During the early 1970s, the long-running spy series “Callan” established him as the go-to guy for international man-of-intrigue roles whenever Michael Caine was unavailable.

Woodward was adept at playing humorless authority figures, which made him an excellent choice as Sergeant Howie, the pious police investigator who encounters a pagan cult on the remote Scottish isle in The Wicker Man. The ne plus ultra of British horror/fantasy films, that picture enjoyed cult status practically from the moment of its release in 1973, by which Woodward became a kind of international cult star. A decade later, several American TV shows offered variations on Woodward’s man-of-intrigue background, the most notable of which was “The Equalizer.” (79, pneumonia.) —David Pelfrey

Soupy Sales
One of New York City’s biggest local stars started out as a Southern boy. Soupy Sales was born as Milton Supman in North Carolina and was one of many comics who got their start entertaining their fellow enlisted men during World War II. Sales worked his way around America as a local TV show host in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit—where he established his weird mix of a daytime talk show that entertained both kiddies and adults with puppets and pie fights.

Soupy Sales (click for larger version)

A (quickly canceled) local show in Los Angeles made a fan out of Frank Sinatra, who signed Sales to his Reprise record label. Sales didn’t hit the pop charts until 1965, though, after finding success with his show in New York City. “The Mouse” became a huge novelty single, and word began to go beyond the East Coast about Sales and his cast of characters—and White Fang (“The Meanest Dog in the USA”) became a true breakout character.

Sales broke through nationally after a live New Year’s Day broadcast in 1965. He instructed his kiddie audience to sneak into the bedroom where their parents were presumably still asleep after the previous night’s parties. Sales told the kids to mail him the “funny green pieces of paper” in their parents’ pants and purses. Enough money came in that the concerned network suspended Sales for two weeks.

He became a popular talk show guest, as well as appearing on (and hosting) several game shows. A lot of his young fans in New York City grew up to work in Hollywood, and Sales could always find employment. He became part of the pop firmament, with his survivors include the legendary Sons of Soupy—that being the ace rhythm section of Tony and Hunt Sales, who have worked with David Bowie’s Tin Machine and Iggy Pop. Sales also lived long enough to see his name become one of the many pop-culture references in the script to Juno. He died in the Bronx, which only endeared him more to his New York audience. (83, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Beatrice “Bea” Arthur
Bea Arthur had a seven-decade career in theatre and TV, but was best known as the tall, rapier-witted “Golden Girl” and “Maude,” both of TV fame. Arthur was a successful stage actress and singer prior to her career in TV. In “Maude,” Arthur broke ground playing a 40-year-old, four-time-married liberal with a tough sense of humor. In the show’s first season, Maude dealt with the realities of pregnancy and abortion later in life (at age 47). The controversial episode aired two months before Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case making abortion legal, was decided. Two CBS affiliates refused to air the episode, and Arthur received a shower of hate mail for it.

Bea Arthur (click for larger version)

“Maude” came about when Arthur’s friend, Norman Lear, convinced her to do a guest spot on “All in the Family.” Lear created a role for her in Maude Findlay, a cousin of Archie Bunker’s wife Edith. Maude’s spunk and sparring with Archie was a hit with viewers, and CBS demanded a new series from Lear, with Maude as the main character.

Arthur’s subsequent role, as Dorothy on the long-running sitcom, “The Golden Girls” (1985-92) was similarly edgy in that its lead characters—three ladies in their “golden years” living together and all actively dating—dealt with touchy contemporary topics such as gay rights and gun control. (86, cancer) —Christina Crowe

Wendy Richard
“Are You Being Served?” was a corny British sitcom that ran on the BBC from 1972 to 1985—and then became a beloved favorite of the PBS audience in America. The beleaguered sales staff at the Grace Brothers department store certainly built a following in Birmingham. Many viewers were admirers of Wendy Richard as the sexy (and oblivious) sales clerk Miss Shirley Brahms. Richard moved on to the long-running “EastEnders” soap opera, where she starred as proud local matriarch Pauline Fowler. She appeared in more than 1,400 episodes between 1985 and 2006. She had become one of Britain’s most familiar faces, and her battle against cancer became a public affair that sadly culminated in February of last year. “Are You Being Served?” fans will be further saddened to learn that Wendy was followed in death by 86-year-old Mollie Sugden, who had played senior saleswoman Mrs. Slocombe. (65, breast cancer) —J.R.T.

Val Avery (click for larger version)


Wendy Richard (click for larger version)


Val Avery
As a longtime friend and drinking buddy of Peter Falk and John Cassavetes, Avery was for all practical purposes a “made guy” in acting circles. The owl-faced, glaring character player usually portrayed some variation of mob enforcer or wise guy, and he was a staple of TV westerns and crime dramas. He appeared at least once (and often several times) in “The Untouchables,” “The Fugitive,” “The F.B.I.,” “Dragnet,” “N.Y. P.D.,” “Ironside,” “McCloud,” “Mannix,” “Police Story,” “Kojak,” “Baretta,” “Columbo,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” among some 140 other shows. From the fall of 1955 to the summer of 2001, Avery portrayed either extremely intimidating mobsters, fairly unpleasant tough guys, or untrustworthy losers getting deeper into some kind of trouble with the authorities—or bringing to some unfortunate soul his own special brand of problem. He also had roles in more than 100 motion pictures, chief among them The Pope of Greenwich Village, Donnie Brasco, The Wanderers, Gloria, and Papillon. Considering his more than 400 TV or movie roles, Avery was an excellent choice for a round of “Hey, it’s that guy!” (85) —D.P.

Gidget the Chihuahua became an advertising icon in the late 1990s by proclaiming, “áYo quiero Taco Bell!” She wowed audiences until she was put out of a job by Hispanic advocacy groups claiming that she perpetuated stereotypes. The protestors actually did Taco Bell a favor. The commercials were popular, but didn’t do anything for restaurant sales. Gidget actually killed creative commercials for a while. Dull clients loved to remind ambitious ad agencies that being clever didn’t do anything for Taco Bell.

Gidget also harmed the reputation of TBWA Chiat/Day. The ad agency gladly took credit for coming up with the idea of the spokesdog, but Taco Bell was later successfully sued for stealing the idea from a small ad agency in Michigan. Oblivious to it all, Gidget remained an untarnished icon. (16, stroke) —J.R.T.

Ken Ober
Before there was reality TV, cable TV offered a different kind of weird new fame. Former stand-up comic Ken Ober was a perfect example as the host of MTV’s “Remote Control” game show from 1987 to 1989. Ober later found success writing and producing TV shows such as “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” (52, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Dead Folks: Music

Dead Folks: Music

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.


January 21, 2010

Lux Interior
Since Cramps singer Lux Interior’s cause of death at age 62 was listed as a preexisting heart condition, anyone who saw Lux in action will forever wonder how he made it past 40. In that context, it’s tempting to paraphrase one of the Cramps’ signature cover tunes, “Rockin’ Bones”: his bones will keep a rockin’ long after he’s gone. That’s superfluous, however, because Lux Interior, front man for legendary rockabilly band The Cramps, was a real gone guy from day one.

Lux Interior (click for larger version)

For decades, writers have attempted to capture the essence of Lux, calling him “the high priest of a pagan rockabilly cult,” or “the maddest bad daddy of all the bad, mad daddies.” He was the mayor of Wig City, Maximum Utmost, USA, a shockabilly shaman of the shimmy and shake, or, as the liner notes to The Cramps’ Gravest Hits intones: “Elvis gets crossed with Vincent Price and decent folks ask, ‘What hath God wrought?’” At the time of his death, all the squares in the major media were making the rather desultory observation that Lux Interior sang rock and roll. They somehow missed the plain fact that he was rock and roll.

No one left it all out there on the stage like Lux. Not James Brown, or Iggy Pop, or Mick Jagger, or Jerry Lee Lewis. The show was the thing, but it was all just a way of losing his mind, that being the ultimate result of finding that new kind of kick Lux had been searching for since his early teen years in Ohio. For most of his life and career Lux Interior was rummaging through the nation’s collective garbage can (trash culture), salvaging elements of American music and reconstructing from the heap what he called “bad music for bad people.” For a complete obituary, see “Lux Interior R.I.P.” at www.tinyurl.com/luxforever. (62, aortic dissection) —D.P.

Ron Asheton
After The Stooges broke up in 1971, Iggy Pop went to Florida and mowed lawns for a living. Ron Asheton hung around Detroit and played in a few more pioneering punk bands. It took a few years before people began to think of The Stooges as one of the great rock bands of all time. Iggy cashed in on the band’s reputation, but he spent his career trying to replicate the primitive rock riffs that Asheton came up with for songs like “T.V. Eye,” “No Fun,” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Asheton even became a legendary guitarist despite switching to bass after the band’s first two albums. (That move made him part of a brotherly rhythm section with Scott Asheton on drums.)

Ron Asheton and Iggy Pop. (click for larger version)

Asheton made some acclaimed albums with bands like Destroy All Monsters and the (sort-of) supergroup New Race. He still spent most of his life paying the bills with his artwork—and the occasional cameo in low-budget horror films. Asheton enjoyed proper rock stardom later in life when The Stooges reunited to record The Weirdness in 2007. (Ex-fIREHOSE member Mike Watt played bass.) The Asheton brothers were able to keep up with Iggy to become a great live act, and the reunion paid enough for Ron to hire a personal assistant. That’s who discovered his body in his Ann Arbor home. (60, heart attack) —J.R.T.

Jim Dickinson
Memphis-based album producer Jim Dickinson established a reputation as one of the top session players in the music industry, where he hung out with rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Bob Dylan saluted Dickinson as a “brother” in 1997 while accepting a Grammy for the record Time Out of Mind, on which he asked Dickinson to play piano.

Dickinson was a pioneer of the Memphis sound—a blend of blues, country, pop, and soul. He recorded with Sam Phillips at Sun Records and then formed The Dixie Flyers—a house band for Atlantic Records artists such as Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. Dickinson’s reputation for working with difficult personalities included producing the haunting Big Star pop classic Sister Lovers. His sons, Luther and Cody, have achieved success with their band The North Mississippi All-Stars.

He played elegant piano on the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” because Stones pianist Ian Stewart refused to play minor chords. Later that night, while listening to a playback of the song in a Muscle Shoals studio, Dickinson was astute enough to make sure that Keith Richards knew he had the only joint in the room. Richards no doubt stayed close by, guaranteeing Dickinson an appearance in the documentary Gimme Shelter that was being filmed at the time.

Dickinson never pulled punches when critiquing the Stones. In a January, 2002, interview in online publication Perfect Sound Forever, he recalled taking his sons to see the Stones in the 1990s. “I took my kids to see their last American tour, ’cause they’d never seen ‘em, but it wasn’t a real Stones show—the kick drum was so loud, it sounded like a fu**in’ disco band; and I don’t care who that bass player is, he’s not playing the [correct] parts. The keyboard parts—don’t get me started on them. That no-talent, lounge-playing motherfu**er they’ve got playing keyboards is not even coming close.”

The epitaph he chose for himself reflects his awareness of the eternal life of recorded music: I’m just dead, I’m not gone. (67, died while recuperating from heart surgery) —Ed Reynolds

Gordon Waller
Waller was a Scotsman who made up one half of the acclaimed 1960s acoustic pop duo Peter and Gordon. Their number one hit “World Without Love” was one of several penned by Paul McCartney for the pair. (64, heart attack) —E.R.

Dan Seals
There was never anything hip about England Dan & John Ford Coley. Songs like “Nights Are Forever” and “I’d Really Like to See You Tonight” were so forgettable that a picture of the Bellamy Brothers was mistakenly used on the back of their first compilation album. England Dan still went on to a successful solo career as Dan Seals, scoring hits on the country charts that include “God Must Be a Cowboy” and “Bop.” His last studio album was released in 2002, but there will probably be a posthumous release of duets that Seals recorded with brother Jim Seals—who is the Seals of Seals & Crofts. (61, cancer) —J.R.T.

Ellie Greenwich (click for larger version)

Ellie Greenwich
A lot of people were surprised that the co-writer of “Chapel of Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” and “Leader of the Pack” was only 68 when she passed away. Singer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich thrived in a time when teen anthems were written by actual teens. She was an early shining light of the Brill Building pop factory, with other credits including “Be My Baby” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Greenwich also enjoyed some pop stardom as a member of The Raindrops (with her then-husband and frequent collaborator Jeff Barry) and later on as a solo act. She was also a pioneering female record producer while launching Neil Diamond’s career with hits like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.” Greenwich made it to Broadway when her work was used as the basis for the 1980s stage hit “Leader of the Pack,” and she passed away while still in demand for both pop tunes and commercial jingles. (68, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Sky Saxon
He was a fraud, but Sky Saxon was a magnificent fake who was ultimately consumed by his own pose. The lead singer for The Seeds was best known for 1960s garage-rock anthems like “Pushin’ Too Hard” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” The band had a typically short career, but Saxon went on to spend the 1970s and ’80s making catchy hard rock with flower-power themes. His move from young punk to spiritual type was accompanied by a name change to Sky “Sunlight” Saxon. That amused contemporaries who remembered him as a misogynistic creep out to cash in on the Sunset Strip.

Sky Saxon (click for larger version)

Still, Saxon had probably fried his brains on enough drugs to be almost sincere in his delusional insistence on rock stardom. He got lucky when the Los Angeles underground music scene revived 1960s psychedelia in the mid-1980s. That made him fashionable enough to work increasingly erratic live shows right up to his death. (71, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Jay Bennett (click for larger version)

Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett joined Wilco as its bassist in 1994. That was around the time that the band released the A.M. album and became proper critic’s darlings. Bennett was then kicked out of the band during the travails that surrounded Wilco’s recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—as captured in the 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. He went on to a solo career that was more faithful to Wilco’s country-psych vision than any subsequent album by the band. He was always more entertaining, too. Bennett was frequently complaining about his hip pain, so he might be one of those rare musicians whose overdose was truly an accident. (45, painkiller overdose) —J.R. Taylor

Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons (click for larger version)

Eric Woolfson
The Alan Parsons Project was always a faceless act, with bearded producer Parsons mattering more than vocalists like John Miles, Arthur Brown, and former Zombie Colin Blunstone. That was partly savvy management by composer and co-founder Eric Woolfson, who wrote the songs for the assorted concept albums that made the band a staple of FM radio. Woolfson stayed behind the scenesfor the early albums like Tales of Mystery and Imagination, I Robot, and Pyramid. The scholarly looking Woolfson finally took over lead vocals on some later singles, including the 1982 hit single “Eye in the Sky.”

Woolfson went on to try his hand at stage musicals, staging “Freudiana” in 1990. (His bid to release the soundtrack album as a Woolfson solo project broke up his partnership with Parsons.) His second musical was “Gaudi,” which revisited an earlier Alan Parsons Project album about modernist architect Antonio Gaudi. Woolfson stayed busy with his stage career but marked 2009—and the end of his life—with The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, which compiled lost songs that Parsons had rejected as sounding too commercial. (64, cancer) —J.R.T.

Jon Hager
Jon Hager shot to the top of the death pools after twin brother Jim passed away in May of 2008. The Hager Brothers, of course, were best known for their long stint as toothy and wholesome “Hee Haw” stars. Jon racked up one more birthday than his brother, but was one of 2009′s earliest celebrity deaths. (67, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Jim Carroll (click for larger version)

Jim Carroll
Jim Carroll once looked at a bald guy and said, “He looks like Kojak.” That was a typically useless witticism from the lamest punk/poet in a world filled of moronic punk/poets. By the time Carroll was making his Kojak references, he had moved on to shallow celebrity journalism for Interview magazine. That was after years of coasting on the literary success of 1978′s The Basketball Diaries, where he had written about his fascinating adolescence as a young junkie and male prostitute.

That book’s success was followed by Carroll’s attempt to become a rock star with three dull albums in the 1980s. The debut was Catholic Boy, which garnered some attention with a song called “People Who Died.” Carroll’s songs for the 1995 film adaptation of Basketball Diaries weren’t nearly as good. By the time that he released his last rock album in 1999, he was another old hippie complaining about how New York City wasn’t dirty anymore. He compared modern Times Square to Disneyland. Nobody had heard that one before. (61, heart attack) —J.R.T.

James “The Rev” Sullivan
It wouldn’t be a Dead Folks issue without the death of an idiot musician. James “The Rev” Sullivan was both the biggest name and the most talented musician to make this year’s list—even if he did procrastinate until December 29, 2009. Actually, cause of death hasn’t been confirmed for the fine drummer of the crappy metalcore band Avenged Sevenfold. We can only look back fondly at Sullivan’s constant talk of how much he loved drugs, including a magazine article where he boasted of his massive cocaine habit. Sometimes it’s better to be a poseur. (28) —J.R.T.


Dead Folks: The Icons

Dead Folks: The Icons

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

Walter Cronkite (click for larger version)
January 21, 2010

Walter Cronkite
For two decades, Walter Cronkite commanded the attention of families in homes across America as the anchorman for “The CBS Evening News.” From 1962 to 1981, Cronkite’s calm, reassuring demeanor made him one of TV news’ biggest celebrities in the heyday of network TV. He delivered reports with a dignity rarely found in today’s loudmouth pundits. Lauded by many as “the most trusted man in America,” Cronkite sought objectivity and wanted nothing more than to tell the story. “I am a news presenter, a news broadcaster, an anchorman, a managing editor—not a commentator or analyst,” he told the Christian Science Monitor in 1973. “I feel no compulsion to be a pundit.”

He was hired by radio station KCMO in St. Louis to read news and broadcast football games under the name Walter Wilcox in the 1930s. While reporting for the United Press during World War II, he rejected an offer from Edward R. Murrow to work at the CBS Moscow bureau. In 1954, CBS chose Cronkite to host the short-lived “Morning Show” when the network went head to head with NBC’s popular “Today Show.” From the outset, he irritated primary sponsor R.J. Reynolds by grammatically correcting its popular slogan to “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”

The evening news broadcast had been a 15-minute program, but beginning in September 1963, CBS lengthened it to half an hour. Cronkite broadcast from an actual newsroom instead of a studio set, as done by his predecessor. He also coined his famous “And that’s the way it is” sign-off that ended each broadcast. Richard S. Salant, president of CBS News, hated the line, mainly because it used four seconds of air time.

Cronkite’s influence on the nation was well understood by President Lyndon Johnson. After CBS aired a documentary that Cronkite taped while reporting from Vietnam in 1968, Johnson turned off his White House television in anger and said that losing Cronkite—who declared the war unwinnable—meant the loss of support from middle America. (92, complications of dementia) —Ed Reynolds

Andrew Wyeth
“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Wyeth (click for larger version)

So says one of the most famous American painters about his own work, which often conveyed all kinds of wintery moods—and rarely revealed the whole story behind what was depicted. Yet for all their mystery, or their peculiar way of suggesting an emotionally charged story not yet told, Wyeth’s stunningly intimate landscapes and portraits are as instantly recognizable as Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers or Andy Warhol’s soup cans. His most famous painting, “Christina’s World,” which depicts a slender woman partially reclined in a grassy field and looking toward an aged farmhouse, is an iconic American image on par with Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,”

and Winslow Homer’s “The Gulfstream.” Using more shades of grays, browns, yellows, tans, and whites than one suspected even existed, Wyeth captured the starkness and stillness of rural Pennsylvania and Maine—more often than not in the dead of winter.

As far as art critics and East Coast cultural elites were concerned, Wyeth was guilty of three almost unforgivable sins. First, he chose to be a representational realist—according to many, practically an illustrator—during the rise of abstract expressionism and other parting-with-the-past movements. Second, he did not engage in progressive politics, going so far as to support Nixon and Reagan. Third, he enjoyed tremendous mainstream popularity and the requisite financial success. Oddly enough, even as his detractors vaguely hinted that he was no more a “serious” artist than Norman Rockwell, Wyeth had no trouble in getting his work into major exhibitions around the nation.

“Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth (click for larger version)





That may have been in part due to a kind of cult of personality that developed around the painter, no doubt because his famous father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth, created an intriguing romantic lore concerning the family’s life at their home and studio in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. It was an authentic, larger-than-life scenario, but it had the same effect as a full-scale publicity campaign. Life got even larger when it began to imitate art in 1985, after Wyeth’s “Helga paintings” came to light. The world learned that the artist had secretly painted almost 250 portraits—some of them nudes—of his neighbor Helga Testorf.


Paul Harvey (click for larger version)

The portraits had been done over a period of 15 years, and the secretive nature of this huge body of work led to talk of an extramarital affair. The story made the cover of Time magazine, and the furor and rumors were quietly observed by Wyeth and his wife, Betsy, who had managed almost every aspect of the artist’s career. Allowing outsiders to fuel gossip about the Wyeth family once again had the effect of a publicity campaign, leading to a National Gallery exhibit of the Helga paintings, a national tour, and a massive sale price for the collection. Whether this was a sly business move by the Wyeths remains a topic of speculation. (91, natural causes) —David Pelfrey

Paul Harvey
Conservatives mourned Paul Harvey when he died, but few of them paid much attention to his final years. Harvey was pretty much forgotten as one of the original right-wing voices on national radio—back when he was targeted by the likes of Lyndon Johnson while the Democrats were still scheming up the Fairness Doctrine. By the end of the 1980s, Harvey was just a charming folksy newscaster with long . . . pauses . . . between . . . his . . . words, and a tendency to tut-tut some of America’s more idiotic leanings. He also read his commercials among the news, although those were defined clearly at the top of each page. He’d say, “Page . . . Two,” for example, and then tell us about the great deals at Tru-Value Hardware.

Harvey’s 1952 book Remember These Things—which includes musings from his radio show—is pretty much the right-wing Leaves of Grass. Here are the closing lines, where Harvey shows himself to be a prophet. Also, check out those fine ellipses that re-create the original Harvey heaviness:

Now, my learned contemporaries of high degree . . . I am aware that my recommendations for hanging onto your Republic with both hands circumvent most of your geo-political considerations. You speak for the architects . . . I’ll speak for the builders . . . the men who can straighten rusty nails and build this all over again. Here in the hills and plains are the builders . . . wherever their towers rise. And to know them is to understand why God so often chose the simple ones . . . to confound the wise. (90, natural causes) —J.R. Taylor


Les Paul (click for larger version)





Les Paul
No one is more is responsible for the startling direction music took in the second half of the 20th century than Les Paul. An incredibly talented guitarist and inventor, he backed Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and the Andrews Sisters, among others. By the 1950s, he and wife Mary Ford had a string of million-selling hits.

His invention of the solid-body electric guitar made his name universal. His first electric guitar was built in 1940 when he added guitar strings and two electronic audio pickups to a wooden board that included a guitar neck. He dubbed it “the log” and once said of its plucked strings: “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding.” The Gibson Corporation began manufacturing the Les Paul guitar in 1952.

Not stopping there, Paul’s innovations in recording techniques also revolutionized the music industry. His invention of multitracking and overdubbing allowed musicians to accompany themselves by preserving a previously played track while recording additional instrumentation or vocals on other tracks. In the garage recording studio of his Los Angeles home, Paul modified sounds with the addition of reverberation and the repositioning of microphones at various distances from the sound source. He created the first eight-track recording device in the late 1950s, which launched the era of modern recording.


Marilyn Chambers (click for larger version)

The most often repeated story regards Paul’s permanently bent right arm, the one used to pluck the guitar strings. He and his wife were touring in 1948 when their car slid off an icy bridge, leaving the bones of his right elbow splintered. When his doctor told him that he would have limited mobility in the arm once it healed, Paul requested that his arm be set bent at a 90-degree angle so that he could continue to play, which he did publicly until his death. (94, pneumonia) —Ed Reynolds

Marilyn Chambers
Many a proud American pulled his lever to Marilyn Chambers’ body of work. But if you lived in Utah during the 2004 presidential election, you could have voted for the former porn star as a vice presidential candidate for the Personal Choice Party. It was a typically strange career move for the former Ivory Snow model. The detergent boxes that featured her posing with a baby became collectable after Chambers made her X-rated debut in 1972′s legendary Beyond the Green Door. The savvy young lady—whose previous big-screen role was in the Barbara Streisand comedy The Owl and the Pussycat—received a then-unprecedented $25,000 for her starring role, and even got a cut of the profits.

Chambers followed Linda Lovelace into porn-chic prominence, and beat out Sissy Spacek for the lead role in David Cronenberg’s 1977 Rabid. Porn didn’t get so chic that Hollywood was ready for Chambers, though. She was back on the hardcore scene by 1980, and later produced her own line of videos with an emphasis on older women and—uniquely—older male sexual partners.

She was also the former owner of the Survival Store gun shop in Las Vegas. That explains some of her Libertarian politics. (“I want to be able to shoot [criminals]. I also want to be able to protect my country.”) Chambers was a tough businesswomen, but also a gracious lady who could carry on an interesting conversation for hours. Her legacy has not been followed by today’s porn stars. (56, cerebral hemorrhage and aneurysm) —J.R. Taylor


Dead Folks: Film


Dead Folks: Film

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010

Jennifer Jones
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.


Jennifer Jones (click for larger version)





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

(click for larger version)

Karl Malden
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.

Jack Cardiff (click for larger version)

Jack Cardiff
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.

John Hughes (click for larger version)

John Hughes
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.

Patrick Swayze (click for larger version)

Patrick Swayze
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,”


Dom DeLuise (click for larger version)

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.

Dom DeLuise
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.

Ricardo Montalban (click for larger version)

Ricardo Montalban
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

James Whitmore (click for larger version)

James Whitmore
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!


Richard Todd (click for larger version)





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

Richard Todd
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


The Black & White Gift Guide 2005

The Black & White Gift Guide 2005

By Christina Crowe Paul, Brantley David Pelfrey, Christina Crowe, Paul Brantley, David Pelfrey, Ed Reynolds

December 15, 2005

Each Christmas season Black & White‘s elite shopping team gets a big kick out of finding unique items, a few bargains, and the latest top gear. For example, not only have we found some very good ice cream, we tracked down the perfect scoop. We figure that the best of everything is good enough for you, our readers. We also like toys, gadgets, and pretty much any device that launches marshmallows across the room. Largely speaking, then, we’ve already done all the heavy lifting this year. You merely have to write the check and wrap the box.

Food, For Goodness Sake

For the foodies on your gift list, or for those who just love tasty treats, here are a few ideas for something different.

O&H Danish Bakery’s kringles are the perfect pastries to have on hand for a big breakfast on Christmas morning. This Wisconsin-based bakery, run by the Oleson family, turns out the thin, flaky, frosted rings filled with flavors such as pecan, raspberry, almond, cherry, and even turtle. At $8.85 or $9.85 per 1-pound, 8-ounce pastry, they’re a steal. The company also makes decadent tortes, coffee cakes, and other Danish delights. Order online at www.ohdanishbakery.com or call, 800-709-4009.

For the cooks you know—amateur, aspiring, or otherwise—several new cookbooks would make great additions to their kitchen libraries. Francophile and author of A Year in Provence Peter Mayle and renowned baker Gerard Auzet have teamed up to publish Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes (Knopf; $16.95/hardcover, www.randomhouse.com), a guide to baking the delectable (but seemingly impossible to replicate) French breads known the world over. Auzet includes recipes and tips for making traditional baguettes, boules, and batards, as simply as is possible—but the process is still time-consuming and precise. Inspired by the famous American chef of all things French is Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. This is the printed result of blogger Julie Powell’s online chronicle of her attempts to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Reading the book is like peeking into the diary of a woman obsessed with finishing something she started—a process that includes slaughtering lobsters and murdering mussels, often late into the night. ($23.95/hardcover; Little, Brown; www.twbookmark.com). For a little Asian flair, sushi chef extraordinaire Nobuyuki Matsuhisa offers his second title, Nobu Now (Clarkson Potter; $45/hardcover; www.randomhouse.com/crown/clarksonpotter), featuring recipes that range from haute cuisine—like king crab white soufflé with octopus carpaccio—to his take on old favorites, like fish and chips made with sea eel. The book includes recipes for poultry and meat dishes, as well as desserts. These are accented by beautiful full-color, full-page photographs that also make the book a great addition to any coffee-table collection. And finally, what’s being touted as “Italy’s Joy of Cooking,” The Silver Spoon, published by Phaidon Press ($39.95/hardcover; www.phaidon.com), is the book Italian home cooks have considered their bible for the past 50 years. Translated into English for the first time, Il cucchiaio d’argento contains more than 2,000 recipes and 200 full-color photographs covering everything from sauces and antipasti to desserts.

One recipe that surely must appear in the Italian food bible for pizzelles, the thin, round, crispy cookies baked in an iron that resembles a waffle maker. These addictive delights are found in virtually every Italian home at Christmas, and many Americans have made this tradition their own. Buy a holiday cookie–making friend the chrome Prima Pizzelle Baker from VillaWare, and start them on a new annual tradition ($54.99 plus shipping at www.villaware.jardendirect.com).


Graeter’s Ice Cream

With 135 years’ experience, Graeter’s Ice Cream churns out rich, handmade delights in traditional flavors such as butter pecan and chocolate chip, holiday flavors like peppermint and pumpkin, and variations like their best seller, black raspberry chip. (Graeter’s “chips” are enormous hunks of real dark chocolate.) The closest Graeter’s parlor to Birmingham is in Louisville, Kentucky, but you can order the ice cream online at www.graeters.com, or by calling 800-721-3323. The cost is $70 for six pints or $110 for a dozen pints (plus shipping); if you’re ordering for yourself (or for someone with whom you share a freezer), go for a dozen; you’ll be glad you did.

For a fun twist in ice cream tastes, send a friend a batch of mochi ice creams. These Asian ice creams, a variation of Japanese mochi pastries made of rice paste and eaten to celebrate winter holidays and the New Year, are made of bite-sized balls of ice cream covered in the chewy rice dough, in

flavors such as mocha, green tea, mango, and red bean. Order them online in 16-, 36-, or 48-flavor packs from Hawaii-based Bubbies Ice Cream (http://bubbiesicecream.gourmetfoodmall.com) for $43, $59, or $68 (plus shipping), respectively.

Batteries Required

Remote-control toys mesmerize everyone, regardless of age. From the Ancient Mariner comes a variety of remote control boats. The New York City Fireboat is a radio-controlled, electric-powered replica of the city’s Dicky Fireboat that squirts water from onboard cannons just like they do in the real world. The Fireboat is 23 inches long and 14 inches tall ($132; www.seagifts.com) . . . The Sea Tiger Submarine is a radio-controlled submarine that can dive to 24 inches, resurfacing upon command. Should the batteries fail, the sub will automatically return to the surface. Have hours of fun by the pool on Christmas morning, regardless of the temperature ($50; www.seagifts.com) . . . The Remote- Control Shark is the perfect complement to your armada of toy boats. This two-foot rubber-skinned shark has a tail that flips left and right to propel it through the water. It can swim down to three feet below the surface ($40; www.iwantoneofthose.com).
Tools and Tech Treats

Many of this year’s tech gifts involve ways to amp up your iPod or other portable MP3 player, cell phone, or PDA. But without battery power, each is rendered useless. That’s where the solar iPod charger comes in. This 6-ounce, 4-inch-long device has three wings that fan out to catch sunlight, then transfer it to your music player via an included cable (works with iPod Mini and third- and fourth-generation iPods; an adapter kit for mobile phones is sold separately for $20). It’s waterproof and portable ($99; www.redenvelope.com or 877-733-3683).



Oakley RAZRWire (click for larger version)

Another great way to make the most of your personal music player is with the digital sound bag, a boring name for what is essentially the modern-day version of the boom box. This simple, elegant messenger bag (in royal blue, white, or bright orange) is outfitted with a pair of speakers. Just slip the player into the bag’s inside pocket, plug in the speakers, and hit play to access all your digital tunes and share them with the rest of the neighborhood ($70; www.redenvelope.com or 877-733-3683).

Of course, you’ll need the songs uploaded to your player before you can enjoy either of these gadgets, so why not buy a Napster 15-song download card for $14.85 (www.napster.com/shop.htm or at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Rite Aid) or an iTunes gift card or certificate, available in a range of amounts starting at $15 (www.apple.com/itunes/give).

For your more aquatic friends, a unique way to listen to digital tunes comes in the form of the SwiMP3, a goggle attachment with 128MB of memory that can play up to four hours’ worth of tunes through cheek pads that send sound waves through your skull bones (really) and into your inner ears ($199; www.finisinc.com).

Another device that takes a hands-free approach to technology is the Oakley RAZRWire, a tiny, titanium Motorola headset with both a microphone and speaker attached to the frame of Oakley shades that allows you to take calls discreetly. The sunglasses and phone attachment are available in platinum, pewter, or mercury ($295; http://oakley.com or 800-431-1439).

The Slingbox, which resembles a big silver candy bar, connects to a cable or satellite box and transmits whatever’s on TV at home to your laptop or PC (Wi-Fi required), all for $250 with no monthly fees. Buy at www.slingmedia.com or in electronics stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City.



Sometimes the coolest gadgets stem from the simplest of ideas. The WordLock is one such invention—born of an engineer’s frustration with trying to remember the combinations to three locks on his home swimming pool, the WordLock is a padlock that uses letters instead of numbers. Choose a (memorable) five-letter word, and change it as many times as you like. The inventor won a contest and production deal at Staples, where you can buy the lock for just $6, or order it online at www.wordlock.com.

If you’re looking to splurge a bit, the latest GPS (global positioning system) digital navigation systems are pretty nifty now that they’ve had a few years to improve. For just under $700, Garmin offers the StreetPilot 340c Portable GPS Navigation system, which finds your location by tracking up to 12 satellites simultaneously. It features a full-color, 3.5-inch diagonal touch-screen interface with automatic route calculation that’ll tell you turn-by-turn directions along the way. With FM traffic alerts, 2- or 3-D map perspectives, and up to eight hours of battery life, it’s going to be tough for this gift’s recipient to explain ever being late or lost. Check it out at www.garmin.com, and buy it locally at Circuit City and other electronics stores. For those who are very confident of their driving skills, or simply not distracted by what is essentially a mini entertainment system running on their dashboard, Pioneer’s In-Dash DVD Multimedia AV Navigation system is the perfect gift. The 6.5-inch, touch-panel, full-color screen mounts in the dash and offers detailed maps, as well as the ability to play CDs and DVDs. For a little extra, the system will deliver detailed traffic information for major cities in conjunction with the XM NavTraffic service and an optional XM Radio tuner ($1,999; www.pioneerelectronics or locally at electronics stores).

For an unique way to get around town that’s also GPS compatible, test drive a Segway. Our very own retailer here in Birmingham is offering a holiday special where buying a Segway Human Transporter (HT) will get you a free, handheld Garmin eTrex Legend GPS, complete with a custom mount and maps preloaded (worth $400). In addition to the original i180 model, Segway now comes in a Cross-Terrain (XT) model, with all-terrain tires; a Golf Terrain (GT) model, with extended-range batteries, a golf bag carrier rack, and enhanced-traction tires; and the p133 model, designed to navigate in congested pedestrian environments and be taken on a train or subway. The weight limits on these range from 210 to 260 pounds, so try to go easy on the eggnog and cookies. Prices range from $4,495 to around $5,300. Visit the local dealer in downtown Birmingham at 1516 20th Street South, 939-5574.


Manly Stocking (click for larger version)

The Tradesman’s Christmas Stocking, from Duluth Trading Company, is a hearty alternative to the embroidered, bedazzled standard socks out there: made of Duluth’s “near bulletproof Fire Hose” cotton canvas material, it features leather trim, two outside pockets for tucking in tools, and a loop for hanging a hammer or screwdriver you may need for quick toy assembly on Christmas morning. Hang it by the red suspender loops, and there will be no mistaking this “stocking” on the mantle ($19.50 plus shipping; www.DuluthTrading.com or 800-505-8888).