For more than 20 years, Ed Reynolds has written features, profiles, news articles, and book reviews, as well as conducting interviews with the likes of Lily Tomlin, Al Franken, and a host of other celebrities. After developing his writing chops at a monthly publication called Fun & Stuff beginning in 1992 (where Reynolds eventually became editor), he was hired as a staff writer in 1997 at Black & White, Birmingham’s primary alternative paper for news and in-depth stories on southern culture. By 2013, Black & White had shut down — as did so many print outlets around the country. In his 16 years as a writer for the publication, he traveled the southeast covering everything from space shuttle launches to NASCAR races to funerals for American icons including soul brother number one brother, James Brown, and the great short-story writer Eudora Welty. In 2010, the nationally-acclaimed magazine The Oxford American hired Reynolds to reflect on the arrival of punk rock in the state in the publication’s only issue ever devoted to Alabama music. He continues to pen book reviews for Alabama literary arts publication First Draft. His work can be browsed by category via the links above or a selection of them can be read by scrolling down.
Dead Folks 2011: World Affairs/Newsmakers
For 42 years, dictator Moammar Gadhafi survived numerous coups and assassination attempts to rule Libya with a brutal fist. In 1969, the 27-year-old military officer led a bloodless rebellion to take control of the country. Libya’s rich oil deposits became Colonel Gadhafi’s trump card, a resource that gave Gadhafi a global importance he otherwise would never have achieved. President Reagan called him “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat referred to him as “that crazy Libyan.”
Gadhafi lived in a huge white tent that he took everywhere. He financed terrorist groups, including the Irish Republican Army and guerilla outfits in Africa. His tyrannical government was responsible for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 passengers. Interrogations and executions were telecast nationally to instill fear in Libyan citizens. Gadhafi usually inflicted violence on the terrorized populace every decade to insure his control. The Libyan army consisted of soldiers imported from Sudan, Chad, and Liberia. A 2011 Libyan uprising finally deposed the tyrant. An intense manhunt for Gadhafi highlighted daily news programs before he was finally located and shot to death.
The dictator had his particulars: He renamed the months, changing February to “Lights” and August to “Hannibal,” for example. Anyone with more than $3,000 in their bank account was considered excessively wealthy and had to surrender the excess to the state. Gadhafi once banned sport utility vehicles, then lifted the ban, only to later reinstate it, forcing those who had purchased SUVs to hide them. He once demanded that all Libyans raise chickens to promote self-sufficiency—even those living in apartments.
Gadhafi had a unique sense of fashion; his colorful robes and funky matching caps established his own ethnic style. One of his more fascinating indulgences was a unique bodyguard squad. Though Gadhafi preached that women were not equal to men, he was personally guarded by a group of machine gun-toting women sporting camouflage fatigues, high-heeled sandals, and red nail polish. (69, killed by Libyan rebels) —ER
For four decades, Broder was a political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post who could frequently be found on political news shows such as “Meet the Press.” Reflecting his belief “that not all wisdom resides in Washington,” Broder often reported on state and local politics. He was the first to reveal that Senator Edmund Muskie, after growing weary of attacks on his family, cried during a press conference. Muskie denied crying but the image of him as emotionally weak cost him the Democratic presidential nomination to George McGovern in 1972. (81, diabetes) —ER
Dr. Jack Kevorkian
A medical pathologist dubbed “Dr. Death” by his detractors, Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted more than one hundred terminally ill people in ending their lives by suicide. A fearless rebel in the face of lawsuits and public outcry against his deeds, he was finally convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for the last assisted suicide in which he was involved. He spent eight years in prison. Regardless of their feelings for Kevorkian, critics and supporters agree that his efforts created improved hospice care and better pain management for dying patients.
Kevorkian was prompted to devote himself to helping the terminally ill after he received national attention for a 1984 speech. He addressed the California Legislature in support of a bill containing his proposal that death-row inmates be given the choice of dying by anesthesia if they allowed their organs to be donated. After visiting the Netherlands in 1987 to learn how the Dutch performed assisted suicide, Kevorkian came back to Detroit to open a clinical practice that included “death counseling.”
Beginning in 1990, Kevorkian began assisting the dying, estimating that some 130 patients used his procedure over the next eight years. Kevorkian continued his efforts despite having his medical license revoked and state legislatures passing laws forbidding assisted suicide. Frequently arrested for short periods of time, he would leave jail and go immediately to assist in another suicide. While incarcerated, he went on hunger strikes. He could be quick-tempered in defending his beliefs and on occasion fought with arresting officers. In 1995, the American Medical Association referred to him as “a reckless instrument of death” who “poses a great threat to the public.” Kevorkian lived a simple life, often wearing second-hand clothes purchased at a Salvation Army thrift store. He rarely dated and never married.
The first person to use Dr. Kevorkian’s “suicide machine” was an Oregon teacher suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The procedure took place in Kevorkian’s rusting 1968 Volkswagen van at a campground near his home. The doctor called police immediately after the woman’s death and was briefly detained.
As for Dr. Kevorkian’s exit from this life, his final hours were spent listening to Bach in a hospital where he had been admitted for kidney and respiratory problems. (83, blood clot) —ER
Haunted by a condition that most families in such high-profile positions would prefer be kept under wraps, former first lady Betty Ford went public with her battle with booze and pills in the late ’70s. Her successful fight inspired Ms. Ford to open The Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California—today one of the best-known substance-abuse rehabilitation facilities in the country. The rehab hospital has attracted its fair share of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Mary Tyler Moore, and baseball great Mickey Mantle.
Ford’s addiction to painkillers began in 1964 while recovering from a neck injury. She later began drinking heavily. Her family finally confronted her in 1978, forcing her into treatment.
Ms. Ford never shied from expressing her political opinions, which included staunch defense of the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion. One of her most memorable moments came on the day after her husband was defeated for the presidency by Jimmy Carter in 1976. President Ford had lost his voice, so the First Lady read The President’s concession speech for him. (93) -ER
The only daughter and last surviving child of brutal Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Peters defected in 1967, 14 years after her father’s death. Born Svetlana Stalina, she became Lana Peters after getting married in America. Peters moved frequently, seemingly unsettled and desperate, and sampled religions from Hinduism to Christian Science. In 1984, she moved back to the Soviet Union but returned to the U.S. two years later. She reportedly spent her final years in poverty, living in a cabin with no electricity in Wisconsin, though there were rumors she was in a Roman Catholic convent in Switzerland. (85, colon cancer) —ER
A veteran New York City detective, Ed Zigo helped track down serial killer (and postal worker) David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, through a parking ticket. For one year beginning in July of 1976, terror gripped New York City when six murders were committed by an unknown assailant who called himself “Son of Sam.” The killer began correspondence with authorities, writing long letters that referenced vampires and monsters, warning that he would strike again. The night he murdered his sixth victim, a woman walking her dog noticed an officer ticketing two cars.
Zigo and other detectives searched every parking ticket issued in the area near the time of the murder. When they came up with a license plate number registered in the name of Berkowitz, Zigo felt he had a solid lead. Zigo remembered thinking “What is a Jewish guy from Yonkers doing parked in an Italian neighborhood at two in the morning?”
Zigo checked out Berkowitz’s address, where he found the ticketed car with a rifle in the backseat and a note in the glove compartment threatening to attack a disco. Zigo noticed that the handwriting on the note was similar to that of the threatening letters sent by Son of Sam. Berkowitz was arrested and immediately confessed to the crimes. (84, cancer) —ER
The most despised dog in the world, Trouble was an irritable Maltese that inherited Leona Helmsley’s $12 million fortune. Trouble’s yearly expenses were reported to be $190,000, of which $100,000 was spent on security due to numerous death and kidnapping threats. When the dog traveled, it flew under the alias “Bubbles” to shake off those tempted to dognap her. Helmsley demanded that everyone call the dog “Princess” instead of “the dog.” Trouble was a notorious biter, and even left a few scars on Helmsley. The dog lived on a diet of crab cakes, cream cheese, and steamed vegetables with chicken, fed by hand, when Ms. Helmsley was alive. After Helmsley’s death, Trouble ate canned dog food. (12) —ER
Few will argue that Singrai Soren didn’t have it coming. Soren raised and trained cockfighting roosters in India. Combat roosters are usually given at least an hour between bouts but Soren forced his bird back into the ring only minutes after its first fight. The rooster tried to escape the fighting pit repeatedly, only to have the owner place it back into the ring. The angry bird finally attacked Soren, slitting his throat and killing the man with the razor-sharp blade that all fighting roosters wear on one leg when in battle. —ER
J. Paul Getty III
It wasn’t just bad luck that Jean Paul Getty III was kidnapped at Rome’s Piazza Farnese in November of 1973. The 16-year-old heir to the Getty Oil fortune had also been recently expelled from boarding school, and had joked about faking his own kidnapping for money. The postmen of Italy were also on strike, which made it difficult for Getty’s father to eventually receive the ransom demand for $17 million. Jean Paul Getty II couldn’t get that kind of money together himself, and his own father thought it was a bad idea to negotiate with kidnappers. Things became more urgent when the criminals finally sent a human ear to an Italian newspaper. It was November, and the kidnappers were running out of patience. The accompanying letter announced that J. Paul III would be losing his other ear in 10 more days, to be followed by other body parts.
Getty Sr. decided that he’d be willing to give the kidnappers $2.2 million for his grandson. That was the maximum amount he could pay and still claim a tax deduction. Anything more than that was to be considered a loan to Getty II at 4% interest. A deal was finally negotiated to have Getty III released for $2.9 million. Payment was made and the teenager was released in Southern Italy that December.
The kidnappers were later caught, and revealed to be a mix of local lowlifes and some crime bosses. It was Italy, so the crime bosses were acquitted and very little of the ransom money was found.
Meanwhile, things would get even more tragic for Getty III. He was pretty much disinherited after marrying his pregnant older girlfriend shortly after the kidnapping. He had a son—who would grow up to be the actor Balthazar Getty—but Getty III would soon develop some serious drug problems. His penchant for mixing whisky, cocaine, and heroin put him into a coma in 1981. He lost oxygen to his brain and ended up as a nearly blind paraplegic. J. Paul would later have to sue his billionaire father to get assistance for medical bills. (That was particularly sad since Getty II had spent plenty of his own young years in a drug-induced haze.) Getty III would eventually live (so to speak) off his own very comfortable inheritance, but always seemed like a one-man Getty curse. At least he didn’t pass the curse on to his kid. The worst that’s happened to Balthazar was that he was caught sleeping around with Sienna Miller. (54, undisclosed but inevitable) —JRT
Dead Folks 2011: The Icons
A lot of stars, celebrities, heroes, villains, and movers and shakers left us in 2011—and we have their stories.
As a child film star, an icon of feminine beauty, a sex symbol, the first celebrity tabloid queen, the last reigning queen of Hollywood, and, as film critic Pauline Kael famously pegged her, “a force of nature,” Elizabeth Taylor merged the arcs of her screen image and personal life into a single amazing trajectory. Her star of fame zigged and zagged and finally stopped rising, but it has never fallen. With her passing, however, the world may have seen its last authentic movie star.
Elizabeth, first and foremost, was blessed with beauty. Even as she approached the delicate age of seven, adults were struck by her “ladylike” demeanor and physical presence. On the large screen in Technicolor—for example, in National Velvet—the 12-year-old Taylor was a stunning doll with a tender, lilting voice and eyes that quickly welled with tears. The eyes were blue, as a matter of fact, but once the notion of lavender or violet eyes gained momentum, photographers would often process their results to lend a darker cast to what, during the 1950s and early 1960s, were nonetheless regarded as the loveliest peepers on the planet.
Once Taylor was MGM’s leading child star, it seemed like mere months before Taylor, an adolescent proper lady in several of MGM’s period pictures, suddenly emerged as a leading ingénue with adult roles. The transition was seamless (on screen), but years later Taylor would remark how her ambitious mother and MGM bosses conspired to deprive her of a childhood and treat her as “chattel.”
There was some hint given in 1950, while Taylor was still a teenager, of the sexual dynamo that would arrive later, and observers received more than a clue that perhaps adulthood and stardom had come to the young actress too soon. In A Place in the Sun Opposite Montgomery Clift (with whom she would form a close and lasting friendship), Taylor’s society girl Angela Vickers practically glowed and hummed with repressed desire for the incredibly handsome fellow from the wrong side of the tracks. Taylor provided a new image (and notion) for post-war bobbysoxers and 1950s teenagers: sexual energy in a socially acceptable package. Subsequent roles for the now established star, along with a very public and notorious personal life, would rip the bow off of that package.
Taylor married Conrad Hilton in 1950; nine months later Hilton’s wild ways led to Taylor’s miscarriage and a divorce. Bareley a year later Taylor tied the knot with Michael Wilding; that marriage (to a man twenty years her senior) lasted less than six years. A month after that divorce, Taylor was married to Mike Todd, a stage and film production hustler and all-around guy’s guy, and the first man who would hold Taylor’s sincere attention.
It was during these marriages and divorces (and two pregnancies) that MGM provided Taylor with almost no decent roles. She was still considered to be the most beautiful woman on the modern screen, and the celebrity press kept her front and center, usually combining mild Hollywood gossip with updates on the actress’s domestic bliss. An under-appreciated performance in the Warner Bros. epic Giant had Taylor playing second fiddle, in terms of public attention, to a new teen idol named James Dean. Then in 1958 the world got a dose of Maggie the Cat.
Starring with Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Taylor offered more than mere glimpses of simmering sexuality, doing for silk slips what Marlon Brando did for T-shirts that decade. She was currently the biggest box-office draw in America. Still more attention, of a salacious nature, arrived with Suddenly Last Summer, in which for one memorable scene Taylor rose from the surf in a white bathing suit that was sufficiently soaked to render it, shall we say, less than modest. It was at this time that the screen persona and the real-world image became inseparable.
Michael Todd had perished in a plane crash in the spring of 1958. Todd’s buddy, entertainer Eddie Fisher, began to console the distraught widow, and romance blossomed once again for Taylor. The problem was that Fisher was married to one of America’s screen sweethearts, Debbie Reynolds. Fisher’s subsequent divorce and marriage to Taylor became publicity fodder thus far unmatched in celebrity scandal history. The entire drama, as it played out for years, makes today’s Angelina/Brad/Jennifer saga look like a dispute over a parking space at a Beverly Hills restaurant. In any case, the world was just getting a peek at the drama that would emerge in the next decade.
After a much-publicized emergency room adventure involving a tracheotomy (chronic illness would become a feature of the Taylor saga), the semi-notorious home wrecker won an Oscar for her portrayal of a call girl/home wrecker in BUtterfield 8. But authentic scandal was already brewing overseas, where Taylor had taken the lead role in the 20th-Century Fox epic Cleopatra.
By now absolutely irresistible to the press, the sex symbol, home wrecker, and recently $1 million-salaried star was the topic of basically every dispatch from the Cleopatra production. First was the very serious case of pneumonia, resolved by that emergency tracheotomy that many agree earned Taylor sympathy with Oscar voters. After the film’s key player returned to the set, the press turned their attention to the chemistry between Taylor and co-star Richard Burton. They were not referring to the daily rushes. Thus commenced the dawn of an epic which would dwarf the historic tale of Egypt’s queen: Liz & Dick.
The two married stars carried on a scandalous affair, one so public, audacious, and well-chronicled that the Vatican actually weighed in with disapproval. It wasn’t merely a matter of tabloid covers and paparazzi and news reels. Liz & Dick were headlines and top stories with legitimate media. From a strictly Who’s Who perspective of the celebrity realm, during the early 1960s there was JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Truman Capote, and Liz & Dick—not necessarily in that order. When the two finally exchanged vows in the spring of 1964, it was difficult to distinguish between on-screen Liz & Dick and real-world Liz & Dick. They made seven pictures together, none more absurd than The Sandpiper, in which a tormented, married pastor (Burton) has an affair with a Big Sur artist and free spirited single gal (Taylor). It was art imitating—and then shamelessly exploiting—life.
It was around this time that one might reasonably have debated whether Elizabeth Taylor could actually act. The debate was resolved in 1966 when Taylor and Burton conducted a booze-addled, over-the-top, phenomenally caustic, marital grudge match in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Taylor played the volatile Martha, and, long story short, everyone was afraid of her. Taylor took home a second Academy Award for that one.
Taylor’s roles during the late 1960s and early 70s are a curious collection. She offered a fine turn opposite Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye, a picture only slightly less bizarre than Boom!, Secret Ceremony, or X, Y, and Zee. By the 1980s, no one cared what Taylor was doing, unless some comedian was cruelly mocking the aging actress’s weight gain, another marriage, or some awful television appearance.
Yet, being a force of nature, it did not occur to Taylor that she might not find a way to make, say, a second small fortune to match the sums gained from her Hollywood career. It took a while to parlay her famous $150 million jewelry collection into a marketing angle/product image, but Passion and White Diamonds, Taylor’s personal fragrances, were pulling in 60-plus million dollars annually by the late 1990s. That’s alongside the $270 million Taylor ultimately raised, starting in 1985, for AIDS-focused charities and projects. Despite spectacular health problems (many of which led to chemical dependencies and related difficulties), being essentially banished from motion pictures, and often being her own worst enemy in terms of public image, Elizabeth Taylor, in her dwindling years, was fully engaged in major business endeavors and award-winning charitable enterprises.
It makes sense, really. In many of those screen roles in which she drew from her own strong-willed spirit to create a character, Elizabeth Taylor invariably hinted that she should never be counted out. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Paul Newman asks Taylor, “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?” The best looking woman in Hollywood purrs her response, “Just staying on it I guess—as long as she can.” —DP
Few people influenced the ’60s like Owsley Stanley. He would be known just for his long stint as the road manager for the Grateful Dead. The young audio technician designed the elaborate custom equipment that helped to turn the Dead into one of the era’s legendary live acts. Regardless of the music, nobody sounded better in concert than the Grateful Dead—which helped to inspire the bootlegging of shows that would turn the band’s tours into major events for the length of their career.
Stanley—also known as “Bear” to Dead fans—had another important skill. In fact, he first met the Dead members at a party where everyone was checking out the latest stash of LSD from the Stanley home lab. His potent acid didn’t just inspire the Dead as musicians. He also used his drug money to fund the Dead’s early career. Stanley didn’t need the band’s notoriety to become a celebrity dealer, though. “Owsley” was already becoming a code name for the not-so-enigmatic figure producing mass quantities of acid to eager hippies. That was mostly between 1965 and 1967, and it should be noted that the “Owsley” name was known for reliable product at a reasonable price.
Stanley was lucky that LSD wasn’t illegal back in 1965. He also got a break when the Sandoz Laboratories removed their pharmaceutical LSD from the market in the mid-60s. That’s when Stanley began to move in celebrity circles as a supplier—making the most of his musical connections through his association with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. LSD finally became illegal in 1967, and Stanley’s celebrity status quickly caught up with him. He was busted with 350,000 doses of acid. The judge didn’t believe Stanley’s claim that it was for personal use, and sentenced the dealer to three years in prison.
He got out to find a job waiting for him with the Grateful Dead, but Stanley turned out to be a bad influence. Almost the entire band would end up arrested while on tour with Stanley in 1970. Stanley would spend two more years in prison for traveling with his stash of LSD and barbiturates. The Dead were inspired by the bust to write “Truckin’,” so that worked out pretty well for them.
A lot of people in the ’80s decided that Australia was the safest place to avoid the nuclear and/or environmental holocaust that was sure to result from the Reagan years. Stanley was one of them, and headed off to his own happy life in the Australian outback while having lots of kids. He was no hippie-dippy type, though. Stanley loved to pontificate on all kinds of things, including the virtues of his all-meat diet. He thought vegetables were poisonous to the body. (He blamed his bout with throat cancer on being served broccoli as a child.) The guy might have been onto something, since Stanley’s own body held up pretty well to a chemical onslaught. Sadly, no diet could have prepared Stanley for a car accident near his Queensland home. (76, car accident) —JRT
Remember that big, lumbering creature terrorizing soldiers at an arctic outpost in the science-fiction classic The Thing From Another World? That was big Jim Arness, and rightly so; no one else in Hollywood at the time stood 6’7” tall. That’s also Arness as a lanky farm boy in The Farmer’s Daughter, and as a deranged member of the Clegg clan in John Ford’s downbeat western Wagon Master. A dozen more minor turns in forgotten westerns followed before his boss at Batjac Films (one John Wayne) recommended that CBS hire Arness to play Matt Dillon for a planned television version of “Gunsmoke,” which was still a hugely successful and critically-acclaimed radio series. Arness got the part, and what followed has never been matched in television history.
The series ran from 1955 to 1975, the longest run so far for any television series. That’s 635 episodes, but it took Arness only a few of the early ones to establish himself as the definitive U.S. Marshall, a stern but decent lawman managing the untamed territories near Dodge City, Kansas. By its third season, “Gunsmoke” held the number one ratings slot and stayed there for three more years. It remained in the top ten, though not consecutively, for fourteen of its twenty years on the air. In other words, for two full decades James Arness was the most recognized western star in America—apart from his old boss John Wayne, who introduced Arness to viewers in a rather lengthy monologue at the beginning of the first episode on September 10, 1955 (“He’s a young fellow and maybe new to some of you, but I’ve worked with him and I predict he’ll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you’ve had to get used to me.”)
During “Gunsmoke’s” unmatched run on television, thirty other western programs came and went, starring such big names as Walter Brennan, Robert Conrad, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, James Garner, and Richard Boone. Arness outlasted all of them. (88) —DP
Dead Folks 2011: 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
Technically speaking, composer and five-time Oscar winner John Barry scored 111 motion pictures, most notably 11 of the James Bond movies, starting with Dr. No and ending with The Living Daylights. But from a larger, cultural perspective, it’s fair to say that Barry—like Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and several others—helped write the soundtrack to the 20th century.
That may be because Barry was composing engaging, infectious melodies for movies at a time when radio stations had theme songs and film scores in regular rotation. No one needed to see Midnight Cowboy in 1970 to memorize its haunting, lonesome theme. And for better or worse, the theme from Born Free was in the mix as well. At the top of any John Barry playlist, of course, would be the composer’s personal favorite, the theme from Goldfinger. The most famous of the Bond themes boasts an unmatched brass attack with the last three of the melody’s first six notes (wah waaaah wah!). That was a trademark device in many of Barry’s scores, and a method he learned from his big band idol, Stan Kenton.
The bold, brassy sound colored numerous scores, but Barry added some key elements that came to define the international-man-of-mystery music associated with Cold War-era spy thrillers. Omnipresent in themes for The Quiller Memorandum, The Ipcress File, the James Bond pictures, or the television series “Vendetta” and “The Persuaders,” was the gloomy twang of zithers, dulcimers, and other Eastern European stringed instruments, the chilling blast of a few off-kilter notes, and sometimes the futuristic timbre of the Moog synthesizer. All those elements blended into what might be called the music of espionage, or perhaps the ultimate score for international intrigue everywhere, for all time. Did Barry know anything about the KGB, the CIA or MI6? Probably not, but he essentially composed for each agency a theme song in case they needed one.
In many instances, Barry’s scores were also excellent pop music. The title track for You Only Live Twice was understandably a huge hit for Nancy Sinatra (and later, thanks to a portion of the melody, for Robbie Williams with “Millennium”). Shirley Bassey made a career from the title track for Goldfinger. Yet apart from Barry’s success with the Bond series, he was also laying down innovative, sometimes bizarre, but decidedly cool scores for The Knack and How to Get It, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, The Wrong Box, Boom, The Appointment, and dozens of others. Today, young music enthusiasts might think they haven’t heard much of Barry’s music, but if they listen to Sneaker Pimps, Portishead, Grantby, Pulp, Broadcast, or countless electronica acts, then they have actually heard a lot of John Barry.
As if providing a distinctive sound to a certain era were not enough, Barry was equally prolific in the late 1970s through the late ’80s, creating memorable scores for films that often didn’t deserve them (Somewhere In Time, Night Games, The Black Hole, Dances With Wolves, Jagged Edge). He’ll be remembered for the spy stuff, no doubt, along with the cool, jazzy touches in his music that he matched with a lifestyle. Barry drove a Jaguar E-type, married swinging sixties icon and actress Jane Birkin, and wore expensive tailored suits. He was available for photo shoots—anytime, anywhere. Today you can’t find many people who might recognize Barry, but everybody knows that sound. (77) —DP
The legendary songwriters working out of New York City’s Brill Building during the ’50s and ’60s included Neil Sedaka, Carole King, and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. They were all working for Don Kirshner. He ran Aldon Music with his partner while also producing and promoting young talents such as Bobby Darin and Neil Diamond. Kirshner might have continued behind the scenes if he hadn’t begun consulting for television series in the mid-’60s. He contributed some classic rocking scenes to “Bewitched,” but Kirshner really raised his profile when he helped launch “The Monkees” in 1966. Kirshner oversaw the song selection for the band’s first two albums and helped give the pre-fab band a slew of genuine chart-topping singles.
Kirshner, however, would soon find himself at odds with the genuinely talented Monkees as they began to insist on selecting their own songs and playing their own instruments. The Monkees would go on to make some of the best albums of the ’60s, but they never regained the record sales after Kirshner was kicked out of the Monkee machine in 1967. (His final fireable offense was releasing the hit “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” without corporate permission.)
Among other conflicts, Kirshner couldn’t convince The Monkees to record a pop tune called “Sugar, Sugar.” He then ditched the human element by forming a pop group out of the cartoon characters from the Saturday morning hit “The Archie Show.” “Sugar, Sugar” would become the The Archies’ huge debut single in 1969, and the fictitious band would go on to record plenty of hits. Some other animated acts bombed, but Kirshner would become a real-life cartoon as the leisure-suited, deadpan host of “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.”
YouTube is full of vital clips from the show’s 1973 to 1982 run—including performances by Kansas, who enjoyed their ’70s success on the Kirshner label. (Paul Shaffer would famously parody his old boss in a few classic “Saturday Night Live” skits.) Kirshner essentially retired at the end of the ’80s, and it was hilarious when his son and daughter took over the “Rock Concert” hosting duties with the same stiff demeanor. Kirshner retired in style, too, since his publishing company had picked up everything from classic Broadway musicals to the Beatles catalogue. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, however, seems to have extended his Monkees vendetta to also keeping Kirshner out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Kirshner still got to enjoy one final bow when the Songwriters Hall of Fame stretched their usual qualifications to honor him in their 2007 induction ceremony. (76, heart failure) —JRT
Nick Ashford liked to stroll the streets and pick up the latest lingo—which made him different from most millionaire songwriters. He was easily recognized while walking around New York, too. As performers, Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson scored plenty of R&B hits on their own. As songwriters, they were a constant presence on the R&B and pop charts with hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” for Diana Ross, as well as Chaka Khan’s anthemic “I’m Every Woman.” Ashford & Simpson also wrote the biggest hits for the duo of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” is the enduring classic, although “Ain’t No Mountain” was mostly known as a Gaye & Terrell tune before Miss Ross’ version came along.
And then Ashford went out walking one day and heard a familiar word becoming modern slang. He went home to Valerie and they began to write what would become their own big crossover hit. “Solid” would go to #1 on the U.S. R&B charts, fall just short of the Top Ten on the pop charts, and land the duo a big hit in the UK. Ashford & Simpson made only two more ’80s albums, though, and spent the ’90s indulging themselves as NYC bar owners and DJs. The couple also hit the local cabaret circuit to showcase their timeless pop instincts in a stripped-down setting. Ashford would pass away the same day as his fellow hitmaker Jerry Leiber. Plenty of obituaries paired the duo, and the Grammys will do the same for a tribute on February 12. (70, throat cancer) —JRT
In 1950, Jerry Leiber teamed with Mike Stoller when someone suggested that he find a piano player to put his words to music. The pair penned classics such as “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” and “Hound Dog”—the latter for blues singer Big Mama Thornton in 1952. The song later became Elvis Presley’s 1956 signature hit. “Hound Dog” took 12 minutes to write, Leiber said. In the late ’50s, Leiber and Stoller moved to New York City to join the Brill Building songwriting factory. Their contributions to popular music, and even the cheesy, hip-shaking 1960s pop classic “Love Potion No. 9,” are legendary. (78, heart attack) —ER
As sax player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clarence Clemons’ imposing frame and dynamic horn playing made him a popular onstage personality. Clemons began playing with Springsteen in 1972. His melodic hooks and powerful blasts were a highlight of Springsteen’s sound, especially during the early phase of their career. As a 6 foot 4 inch, 250-pound college football star, Clemons tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns until a knee injury ended any pro football dreams. One of his finest musical moments is his dramatic solo on “Jungleland,” the closing track on Born to Run. According to Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, Clemons spent 16 hours perfecting the part. (69, stroke) —ER
Tennessee-born Andrea True was enjoying the glamorous life of a ’70s porn star when she found herself stuck in Jamaica with money she couldn’t take out of the country. She called in a record producer from NYC, went into a local recording studio, and invested her stalled cash in the making of a disco anthem called “More More More (How Do You Like It).” Suddenly, the star of Deep Throat Part II and Psyched For Sex was topping the charts with a dance anthem. The frontwoman of the Andrea True Connection was singing about what she knew, too. Anyone paying attention to the song’s lyrics would find that Andrea was dedicated to entertaining you as more than just a disco diva—explaining that “if you want to know/how I really feel/just get the cameras rolling/get the action going.”
Not too surprisingly, True decided to retire from porn in 1977. The Andrea True Connection would go on to make three albums and just a few horrible songs. Her sneering take on Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” remains neglected, although her attempt at reggae was pretty painful. True would later end up in Florida as a drug counselor with a sideline in astrology. She continued to get royalties from “More More More,” though—and even had a career revival when her hit was sampled by the band Len for the 1999 hit “Steal My Sunshine.” (64, heart failure) —JRT
He wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but Andrew Gold would have been a lot better off as one. “Lonely Boy” certainly stood out as a bizarre piano-driven pop tune in 1977. It was an overdue breakthrough for the longtime session musician who had become best known for backing Linda Ronstadt. The showbiz scion (son of Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold and vocalist Marni Nixon) had established himself as a potential Elton John when Leo Sayer covered his “Endless Flight” in 1976. Unfortunately, the What’s Wrong With This Picture? album didn’t muster up a second single—although “One of Them Is Me” would later be rediscovered as a haunting fern-bar classic.
Gold then went full-tilt cornball for on 1978′s All This and Heaven Too, which featured the hateful giddiness of “Thank You for Being a Friend.” The song would keep paying off for Gold as the theme to “The Golden Girls.” Not many people recognized Gold singing the opening theme to “Mad About You” for most of the ’90s. He spent his later years fooling around in his home studio and creating elaborate power-pop homages to his main influences. (59, cancer) —JRT
Ferlin Husky was the first of three country music giants to emerge from Bakersfield, California. (The other two were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.) Husky’s silky voice perfectly complemented the new “Nashville Sound” that caught on in 1956 with his record “Gone.” Husky pioneered the revolutionary style, which featured a smooth, orchestral approach to country music that boosted the genre’s record sales at a time when Elvis Presley had unleashed a new sound called rock & roll. (85, poor health for years) —ER
As Johnny Cash’s original bass player from 1954 to 1980, Marshall Grant joined guitarist Luther Perkins in the Tennessee Two to create Cash’s distinctive “boom-chika-boom” sound. A non-drinker, Grant was often required to babysit a drug-fueled, out-of-control Cash to make sure that he arrived at gigs on time. Cash fired him in 1980 after a series of disputes. Grant retaliated with a lawsuit for wrongful termination and embezzlement of retirement money. It was settled out of court. He and Cash made up in 1999 when the bassist rejoined him on stage. (83) —ER
Pedal steel guitar great Ralph Mooney played with Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings for years. His gushing steel guitar lines on Buck Owens’ hits defined the Bakersfield, California, sound that Owens perfected along with Haggard. Mooney also wrote the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy Arms.” (82, cancer) —ER
As co-writer of the 1960 pop hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Lee Pockriss was a component of the cultural upheaval that resulted when sexual mores retreated amid an onslaught of bikinis and mini-skirts. The song title alone was titillating. Pockriss had earlier written “Catch a Falling Star” for Perry Como in 1957. He also wrote “My Polliwog Ways” for Kermit the Frog. (87) —ER
In 1961, Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes sang “Please Mr. Postman”—the Motown label’s first number one hit. Horton started the group with classmates Georgeanna Tillman and Katherine Anderson, among others. Horton was often credited as only a co-founder but original Marvelette Anderson says Horton deserves all the credit. “We only started singing together because Gladys asked us,” she recalled. “Usually we’d go to Georgeanna’s house and play canasta.” (65, poor health for years) —ER
Tulsa native Eddie Burris played drums for Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers from the early ’60s until 1970 when he quit to become a truck driver. Credited as co-writer on Haggard’s love-it-or-leave-it ode to America, “Okie from Muskogee,” he said the song originated on Haggard’s tour bus in 1969 as a reaction to the turmoil gripping the country at the time. “Merle had seen a signpost that said ‘Muskogee: 17 miles,’ and he already had the first two or three lines wrote,” Burris told the Tulsa World. “I was in bed. He woke me and we finished it in about 10 minutes.” (79, failing health) —ER
Mr. Easy Listening was a target of ridicule by many music critics. Pretentious yet pedestrian, pianist Roger Williams nevertheless created gorgeous, irresistible music that, by osmosis, snuck into the heads of listeners who loathed him. Williams’ renditions of classics were labeled “lush” and “elevator music.” The sentimentality of his piano arrangements were well evident in his two most popular recordings—”Autumn Leaves” and “Born Free.” He “virtually transformed the piano into a harp,” noted music historian Joseph Lanza in his book Elevator Music, writing that Williams “cultivated a flair for making dramatic sweeps from classical to jazz to country to soft rock & roll.” Beginning with Harry Truman, nine presidents invited him to the White House to entertain guests. (80, pancreatic cancer) —ER
Born in rural Alabama, The Louvin Brothers—Charlie and Ira—are revered as one of the great country music vocal duos of all time. Singing in a slightly updated Depression-era style inspired by the Blue Sky Boys, the Louvin Brothers’ lonely Appalachian sound and intricate harmonies influenced a generation of country rockers, pre-dating the Everly Brothers by several years. Their songs ran the gamut from religious numbers such as “The Christian Life” (which was covered on The Byrds/Gram Parsons collaboration Sweetheart of the Rodeo) to horrifying murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl.” They even sang a Cold War-anthem, “Great Atomic Power.” Declining record sales and Ira’s drinking ended their act in 1963. Two years later Ira was killed in a car accident. Charlie reportedly kept a photo of the wreckage on his mantel for years. He went on to further success, placing 16 singles on the Country Top 40 over the next ten years.
His real name was Charlie Elzer Loudermilk. He and Ira were first known as the Radio Twins, and then changed their last name to Louvin because they thought Loudermilk sounded too awkward. Discussing his brother’s absence after so many years singing together, Charlie Louvin once told NPR’s Terry Gross: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone,” he said of performing solo. “Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.” (83, pancreatic cancer) —ER
We can still only guess at his real name, but the man who became Dobie Gray spent the early ’60s in L.A. as the typical sharecropper’s son looking to make it as a soul singer. He had already gone through a host of aliases before meeting Sonny Bono. Thatwhen the unknown began recording regularly as Dobie Gray, with the name sticking when he finally scored a hit with “The In Crowd” in 1965. “See You at the ‘Go-Go’” was a strong follow-up, but Gray was floundering again by the ’70s. Then he went to Nashville to record an album with Paul William’s brother Mentor, who also did a little songwriting on the side. Mentor had a tune called “Drift Away” that would return Gray to the top of the charts in 1973.
Gray’s next few albums drifted toward country music, and he enjoyed much more success internationally than in the U.S. In another unexpected move, Gray—who never had a hit with something he’d written himself—ended up in demand as a Nashville songwriter. He continued to tour all over the world (including an apartheid-busting concert in South Africa) and recorded into the ’90s. Uncle Kracker brought Gray back to the pop charts with a duet on “Drift Away” that gave the old-timer one last hit in 2003. (probably 71, cancer) —JRT
In 1995, there was a gutter-rock band in NYC called Surgery who had an album out on Atlantic. The lead singer died suddenly from what turned out to be an asthma attack. That taught a lot of people not to assume that a musician is always dead from a drug overdose. It would then take a while before Gerard Smith came along as a particularly tragic reminder. The bassist and keyboardist for TV On The Radio—which had played Bottletree the same year they were filling theaters in NYC—had lung cancer, and the band had actually announced Smith’s medical condition about a month before his death. (In a particularly classy move, TVOTR noted that Smith had a fine health plan and was getting good care.) Smith’s death still came as a big surprise, since TVOTR continued to book shows. It was both a personal and artistic loss, since anyone who saw Smith play live could understand how the band had finally managed a cohesive mix of their heavy psychedelia and hip-hop beats. (36, lung cancer) —JRT
Gerry Rafferty was one of the music biz’s biggest unknowns when he emerged as a solo artist with 1978′s “Baker Street.” The Scotsman had already enjoyed success in England as Billy Connolly’s partner in the Humblebums, and had international success with Joe Egan when “Stuck In The Middle With You” became a hit for Stealers Wheel. That band had a tough breakup, though, and it took a lot of legal maneuvering before Rafferty could strike out on his own. “Baker Street” helped City to City top the charts as his U.S. solo debut, and the entire album had lots of catchy tunes. (“Right Down The Line” instantly prevented Rafferty from being a one-hit wonder.) Rafferty then promptly derailed his career momentum by refusing to tour America. He’d chart with two more singles (“Get It Right Next Time” and “Days Gone Down”) from next year’s Night Owl album, but a reputation for being difficult soon had Rafferty bouncing from label to label.
The closest Rafferty would get to a comeback occurred when Quentin Tarantino used “Stuck In The Middle With You” for a memorable scene in Reservoir Dogs. He make the UK papers after becoming the subject of a missing persons report in 2008, but Rafferty eventually reemerged in fine—if not exactly sober—shape. It wasn’t too much of a surprise when he passed away at the start of 2011. (63, liver failure) —JRT
He gifted hack writers with the phrase “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” but Gil Scott-Heron’s career also provided the gift of harsh perspective. Scott-Heron was barely in his 20s when he emerged from the Bronx as a beat poet bringing soulful melodies to black bohemia. His early ’70s work paired him with musician Brian Jackson on gorgeous, jazzy funk tunes that could, fairly enough, establish Scott-Heron and Jackson as the true fathers of hip-hop and neo-soul. Scott-Heron certainly deserves credit for his quick transition from spoken-word artist to dynamic soul man, and he was initially fearless about confronting the failings of the black community as part of society’s downfall.
Scott-Heron was set to stay relevant into the ’80s when he recorded the lovely “Angel Dust” and “The Bottle” after splitting from Jackson in 1978. He was pretty much unable to get a record deal by 1985, though—partly due to an obsession with Ronald Reagan that didn’t translate into smart ideas. Sadly, Scott-Heron wasn’t just falling prey to political simplicity. He had also fallen into a deadly culture that he had once so eloquently warned against.
An attempted comeback album with 1993′s Spirits soon demonstrated that it wasn’t just Heron’s voice that had become ravaged with time. He would go on to spend several years as Manhattan’s most high-profile crackhead. A second comeback in 2007 was interrupted by yet another drug bust—and accompanied by the announcement that Scott-Heron was HIV-positive. He managed one last album with 2010′s I’m New Here, which was Goth folksiness mixed with sad mutterings.
Scott-Heron still had enough of his old spirit to begin to wonder whether it was a good thing to be credited as a forefather of rap. It’s certainly understandable that this year’s posthumous memoir The Last Holiday conveniently ends with Scott-Heron enjoying his artistic heyday. There was never an official cause of death released after he passed away at the start of last summer, but you certainly have your choices. (62, probably pneumonia but maybe drugs or some other HIV-related thing . . . seriously, take your pick) —JRT
Anyone who endured the 10-week stretch in 1977 when Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” topped the charts was wishing songwriter Joseph Brooks a particularly miserable death. Some wishes come true. Brooks was already established as a jingle writer (including some classic work with Pepsi and Maxwell House) when he decided to follow Barry Manilow’s path into showbiz. He wrote and directed the dopey romance film You Light Up My Life, in which a young female ventriloquist learns to embrace her true destiny as a popular vocalist. That realization comes about when she belts out the treacly title track for a film audition. Brooks got really lucky when his vanity project—which he originally booked into theaters himself—led to Debby Boone (a daughter of Pat) recording her own version of the title tune. The huge success of the sappy ’70s hit helped to launch a punk backlash even while winning Brooks a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and even an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Brooks followed up by casting himself as a romantic lead in 1978′s If Ever I See You Again, and put together a few other bad movies along with the notoriously awful 2005 Broadway flop “In My Life”—which, like If Ever I See You Again, was about the fascinating love life of a songwriter. As it turned out, Brooks’ love life was more fit for an episode of “Law & Order.” A police investigation in 2009 showed that Brooks was regularly putting ads on Craigslist and then flying gullible, would-be actresses across the country to Manhattan so he could rape them. He ended up facing charges of raping (or sexually assaulting) over ten women between 2005 and 2008. That added up to more than 90 counts of criminal acts when he killed himself via asphyxia last May. Brooks left behind more than just a sappy pop legacy, though. His son Nicholas still awaits trial for the December 9, 2010, murder of fashion designer Sylvie Cachay. (73, suicide) —JRT
As a member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia,” Lamar Fike often dressed in black mohair suits and wore sunglasses at night while protecting, baby-sitting, and scoring girls and pills for Presley. The gang was the King’s “buffer zone,” as Fike once explained. He was one of Presley’s closest confidants, but he noted that they often fought and that Presley fired him “about 500 times.” Lamar Fike introduced Elvis to 14 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu in Germany, who became Mrs. Elvis Presley seven years later. About the couple’s early courtship, Fike was quoted in Britain’s The Independent: “When I found out their relationship was more than just necking, I was afraid we were all going to prison without a trial,” Fike recalled. “Elvis told me he had the whole thing in control. I said, ‘I hope you do, otherwise they’ll ship us home in a godd*** cage!’” (75, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) —ER
Dead Folks 2011: Sports
Boxer Joe Frazier was the perfect foil for Muhammad Ali. Unlike Ali, the blue-collar Frazier was a man of few words. The fighter was the perpetual target of Ali’s taunts and insults, calling Frazier ignorant and saying he resembled a gorilla. Ali even labeled Frazier’s black supporters as “Uncle Toms.” Unable to forget the humiliation, Frazier remained angry at Ali for most of his life.
Frazier got a job at a slaughterhouse in Philadelphia at age 16. He stayed in shape by punching slabs of beef while on the clock. Known as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, the fighter’s style was to stalk opponents around the ring, staying close to them to relentlessly throw jabs to tire them out. After retirement, he had a brief career as a bad singer, and could often be seen on TV struggling through the national anthem at some ball game.
But he’ll be forever linked to Ali. Frazier won their first fight in 1971 and then lost to Ali in 1974 and 1975. The only other two losses in Frazier’s career were to George Foreman. Frazier was keenly aware that he and Ali needed one another to captivate the American public. The two warriors were the giants who put heavyweight championship bouts back in the realm of popular sports. Frazier once told the New York Times, “Ali always said I would be nothing without him. But who would he have been without me?” Their third meeting, “The Thrilla in Manila,” is considered by many as the greatest boxing match in history. Immediately after winning the grueling bout, Ali said the fight was “the closest you can be to death.” (67, liver cancer) —ER
Despite being one of the Indycar Series’ top drivers and personalities, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon found himself without a sponsored race team in 2011. The cheerful, charismatic British racer quickly landed a couple of other jobs in the meantime, however. Wheldon was an engaging and insightful commentator on TV broadcasts of Indycar races. His other job was that of primary test driver for the revolutionary and purportedly safer 2012 Indycar, which features fenders covering the rear tires—a design that might have saved Wheldon’s life.
Dan Wheldon finally found a team in time for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, where he stunned the racing world when he captured his second Indianapolis 500 victory when rookie and race leader J.R. Hildebrand hit the wall 2,000 feet from the finish line. It was Wheldon’s first race of the season. Five months later he was killed in a 15-car wreck on the 12th lap of a 200-lap race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the last event of the Indycar season. One of his front tires ran over a rear wheel on Paul Tracy’s car, sending Wheldon’s racecar airborne for 300 feet before his car caught the catch-fence and his head hit a supporting fence pole. Starting from last place, he would have won $5 million had he won the Las Vegas race. There had been apprehension from veteran drivers about fielding 34 racecars on the high-banked oval track (usually the field consisted of 20 to 25 cars.). Drivers with little experience at such speeds were also to be feared. Wheldon was the first open-wheel driver killed on a track since Paul Dana crashed in 2006 while warming up for the season opener in Florida. Wheldon went on to win that race.
The afternoon Wheldon was killed, however, the race was never resumed. Drivers slowly drove five laps as “Danny Boy” was played at the speedway. In a blog he was writing for USA Today, Wheldon had predicted the following: “It’s going to be a pack race, and you never know how that’s going to turn out.” He added that it would be “an amazing show” with “pure entertainment.” (33, auto racing crash) —ER
Bubba Smith finished his NFL career in 1976 and soon learned that was a great time for a massive football star to move into popular culture. The former number one draft pick found lots of showbiz work as a 6’7″ punch line. He easily stood out amongst the slew of pro players drafted into the Miller Lite Beer television commercials, where Smith tore the top off a brew while declaring his love for the “easy opening cans.” Smith also made the rounds of sitcoms and detective shows. He got his biggest break just as other pro athletes saw their ’70s fame begin to fade, providing and imposing presence in 1984′s Police Academy as Cadet Moses Hightower; he would continue as Officer Hightower in five of the six sequels. (66, heart disease and diet pill overdose) —JRT
Randy “Macho Man” Savage
Savage was one of professional wrestling’s most flamboyant stars during the 1980s and ’90s, sporting oversized sunglasses, sequined robes, and neon spandex. Known as the “Macho Man,” Savage’s real name was Lanny Poffo. The wrestler often entered the ring to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” His signature move was a flying elbow drop off the top rope as he hurled himself onto an opponent. As a spokesman for Slim Jim snacks, Savage wore cowboy outfits away from the ring. He was as adept at playing a “heel” (bad guy) in the ring as he was a “face” (good guy). His colleagues said that the secret to being a good pro wrestler is the art of improv as an entertainer and the ability to read a crowd. Savage was a master at both. (58, car wreck) —ER
Dead Folks 2011: Cartoonists
Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson
After working as an illustrator and art director for various small newspapers and comic publications during the early years of the Great Depression, Joe Simon moved to Manhattan and began doing freelance work with Jack Kirby, an artist at Fox Feature Syndicate. In 1940, the two artists wound up at Timely Comics, which would eventually become Marvel. That first year, Simon (as editor) and Kirby created a decidedly patriotic super hero who was taking on Hitler several months before America entered WWII. The first issue sold close to one million copies. The superhero was called Captain America. Simon continued a very lucrative and creative career at National Comics (later D.C.), and in 1960 created Sick, a satirical magazine competing with MAD. (98)
Jerry Robinson began work in comics when Batman creator Bob Kane hired him to ink and letter panels for the series. Within two years Robinson was a regular staffer at Detective Comics, working in the same office with the creators of Superman. Robinson thought a sidekick for Batman might provide a welcome addition to the team’s stable of superheroes, and so Robin was created (not short for Robinson, by the way, but inspired by N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations for Robin Hood). Later, Robinson and colleague Bill Finger added a villain to the series, based on Conrad Veidt’s grotesque grimace in the horror classic The Man Who Laughs. Batman’s arch nemesis was called The Joker. (89) —DP
Most modern cartoonists would have considered it a travesty that Bil Keane was still alive. His long-running single-frame comic “Family Circus” was easily considered the most uncool comic to still be taking up valuable space on the pages of American newspapers. Younger cartoonists didn’t even care that Keane was rivaled only by Hank Ketcham when it came to drawing hair. Instead, there was always a parade of hacks thinking they were the first comic geniuses to parody a “Family Circus” panel by adding an obscene caption. Keane probably never cared. He got plenty of recognition from his actual peers, and even contributed to a “Family Circus” cameo that popped up in Bill Griffith’s “Zippy the Pinhead” daily strip. Among wiser artsy types, Keane stepped in to replace “Nancy” creator Ernie Bushmiller as the most surreal daily comics creator around. “Family Circus” is now helmed by Bil’s son Jeff, and will continue to offend a new generation of irreverent hicks who can’t grasp the Bil Keane comic tradition. (89, congestive heart failure) —JRT
Dead Folks 2011: Inventors, Entrepreneurs, & Trailblazers
Levine started hawking silly mail-order products (fake shrunken heads, potato guns, plastic soldiers) just after WWII, when toys were reported to be in short supply. By the mid 1950s, his successful company was in Hollywood, at which time Levine happened upon an idea for a new item. According to the story—possibly marketing apocrypha—during a July 4 picnic Levine noticed an anthill, recalled collecting ants as a boy, and decided that a mail-order “ant farm” was the educational toy American youth were craving.
Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, in its first inception, was a 6″x9,” one-inch-thick plastic “antarium” filled with sand (later white volcanic ash) topped by a three-dimensional plastic farm scene. There were no ants in the kit; the customer mailed in a coupon after which a vial of ants arrived in the mail weeks later. They were red harvester ants, gathered by “rustlers” in the Mojave Desert. Almost instantly, once the tiny insects were carefully dropped into the farm, they began building a network of tunnels, storing food, and even burying their dead.
Uncle Milton Industries, as it is now known, was officially established in 1965. The ant farm was expanded in size at that time, and the company began to also create and market other nature-focused educational items for kids. Some twenty million Uncle Milton’s Ant Farms have been sold since 1957. Last June, according to the Los Angeles Times, Transom Capitol Group purchased Uncle Milton Industries, which was valued in the $30 million to $40 million range. (97, natural causes) —DP’
Rev. David Wilkerson
Street preachers became fashionable in the 1960s, but David Wilkerson was one of the first—and he was square enough to be portrayed by Pat Boone in the movies. Wilkerson was pastoring in small towns when he felt called to Times Square after reading a Life magazine article about New York City’s troubled youth. He arrived in the city in 1958, and launched youth ministries that still survive in NYC. He then became a national figure after publishing his story in The Cross and the Switchblade. The best-selling book was turned into a Hollywood production in 1970, with Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz—who was a real-life former gang member who continues to work as a preacher today. Wilkerson would later divide his time between New York and Texas, where he began a worldwide gospel organization. He also began to get regular visits from God that warned of various end-of-the-world scenarios. Wilkerson remained uniquely inclusive in his preaching, though, and dedicated a lot of his teachings to the importance of supporting Israel. Sadly, he didn’t believe too much in wearing a seat belt while driving through East Texas. (79, car crash) —JRT
While working at Eastman Kodak Laboratories during WWII, creating new plastic optical materials for gunsights, Coover and fellow chemist Fred Joyner determined that their early experiments with cyanoacrylates just weren’t working out. The stuff stuck to everything, including itself—and usually forever. Later, during the early 1950s, similar experiments at Kodak under Coover’s supervision yielded similar results, but by then the chemist recognized that, with a few minor tweaks, C5H5NO2 would make a dandy adhesive for almost any application. Thus was applied patent number 2,768,109, also known as Super Glue.
The glue was marketed as a wonder product, most famously with television ads depicting an automobile attached to a crane hoist with a single drop of Super Glue. A decade later new products made from various types of cyanoacrylates were on the market, Instant Krazy Glue being the forerunner with its own iconic marketing image: the construction worker dangling from a beam onto which his hardhat is attached with a drop of Krazy Glue.
Coover, a Cornell graduate with a Ph.D. in science, didn’t make his fortune from any of these sticky items; his wealth resulted instead from some 460 other patents under his name, most having to do with innovations in research management policies and systems. (94, natural causes) —DP
Gym owner Jack LaLanne became a TV pioneer when he purchased time on a San Francisco station to host a morning exercise program. The show became popular enough to be picked up by the ABC network in 1959. LaLanne’s simple exercise show—emphasizing work-outs using household items—would stay on the air until 1989, with LaLanne also building a national chain of gyms and promoting electric juicers and exercise equipment. His long stint as a pop-culture figure would make him one of the few celebrities able to spoof himself on both the original “Batman” TV series and an episode of “The Simpsons.”
LaLanne was already in his mid-30s when he began his TV show, and he made good use of his age for marketing purposes. He retired from public stunts after marking his 70th birthday by towing rowboats for a mile at sea. LaLanne still always found some way to stay in the public eye. He kept looking good enough to be the best advertisement for his businesses. He also knew death was the ultimate bad marketing move. Fortunately, his wife Elaine—who was working out with Jack back in the ’50s—is still around and looks ready to live forever. (96, pneumonia) —JRT
As the developer of Doritos corn chips, Arch West no doubt would be one of the first inductees into the Junk Food Hall of Fame. Currently Frito-Lay’s second-best seller (behind Lay’s Potato Chips), West’s original notion was to create a Southwestern-inspired alternative to traditional salted potato and corn chips. Doritos were first produced in 1964 using corn tortillas cut into triangles with cheese and chili flavorings added. West’s wife of 69 years died last year. When the couple’s ashes were buried together, mourners were allowed to toss Doritos into the burial site. (97) —ER
Wilson Greatbatch’s genius for tinkering (he held patents on more than 325 inventions) led to extended, normal lives for millions through his invention of the heart pacemaker. The invention was an accident of sorts. In 1956, Greatbatch was working on a heart rhythm recording device and grabbed the wrong-size resistor to complete the circuitry. The circuit it produced discharged intermittent electrical pulses. He immediately associated it with the timing and rhythm of a heartbeat and thought about the electrical activity of the heart. At that time, it was not believed that electronics could be packed into a stimulator for continuous functioning, much less in a tiny, reliable apparatus. Doctors demonstrated in 1958 that Greatbatch’s device—which he developed in his barn—could take control of a dog’s heartbeat. The first human implants were made in 1960. (92) —ER
As an engineer who created a vital component at the heart of a government-sponsored advanced communications network called the Arpanet, Paul Baran tried to interest AT&T in the project. AT&T said no thanks, refusing to believe that the project would amount to anything. The Arpanet eventually evolved into the Internet. (84, lung cancer) —ER
In 1955, a high school teacher named Charles Laufer was so dismayed that his students had nothing entertaining to read that he started a publication called Coaster for teen and pre-teen girls. Coaster soon became Teen, which Laufer sold in 1957. He printed a one-time only magazine of Beatles photos in 1965 that sold 750,000 copies in two days, inspiring the creation of a teen fanzine called Tiger Beat. Featuring The Monkees on the cover, Tiger Beat hit the big time as the band became a colossal sensation. In addition to an over-abundance of exclamation marks, Tiger Beat was packed with glossy pictures, fold-out posters, and innocuous facts about the personal lives of everyone from the Beatles to Donny Osmond to Bob Dylan to David Cassidy. The magazine’s slogan was “Guys in their 20s singing La La songs to 13-year-old girls.” (87, heart failure) —ER
In 1916, Murray Handwerker’s father, Nathan, borrowed a few hundred dollars from entertainers Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to establish a hot dog stand near Coney Island called Nathan’s Famous. Thirty years later, after returning from military service, Murray finally joined the family business. His first idea: expansion, because Murray figured Nathan’s Famous wasn’t nearly famous enough.
Expanding the business meant expanding the menu, so Handwerker added clams, shrimp, and several deli items, all the while dreaming up publicity stunts to attract customers to the Coney Island stand. By the 1960s, Nathan’s Famous had three full-scale restaurants in operation. In 1968, Handwerker took Nathan’s public, ultimately expanding by the following decade to ten franchises, more than three dozen restaurants, and a line of products sold in supermarkets. (89) —DP
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
Dead Folks 2005, Music
A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.
Music fans, especially big band enthusiasts, love and respect Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. But if any were forced to take just one bandleader’s work to a desert island, or place the same CD or vinyl album in a time capsule, they might very well choose one by Artie Shaw (94). The clarinet-playing bandleader, in at least three recordings, offered definitive tracks of the swing era: the lilting “Frenesi” (a Shaw original last used to great effect in Woody Allen’s Radio Days), a flowing, magnificent arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” which practically blew Benny Goodman off the charts, and a stunning rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” one of the most instantly recognizable recordings in popular music. Another of Shaw’s compositions, “Nightmare,” is a sultry, gloomy three minutes that evolved into the distinctive sound of films noir, as the scores for countless detective thrillers and crime melodramas all hearken, in some way, to Shaw’s 1938 recording. Throw in the fact that Shaw was a virtuoso clarinetist with looks that made all the girls cry, and it’s understandable that in 1939 there wasn’t a bigger star in the music galaxy.
Shaw’s musical ability was not matched by an ability to win friends or influence people; he broke up bands almost as soon as they made the big time. He wasn’t an egotist, but as a pathological perfectionist he was often devoid of patience with anything or anybody. Oddly enough, that in no way prevented the exceedingly handsome musician from being a ladies’ man (Lana Turner and Ava Gardner are numbered among his many brides), nor did Shaw’s irascibility imply insensitivity. It was Shaw’s idea to work publicly with black composers and players (Billie Holiday was the band’s lead vocalist for a short while), and he was an outspoken advocate for black musicians throughout his career.
Nonetheless, he wasn’t called “the reluctant king of swing” for nothing. Shaw regarded celebrity as an impediment to creative excellence, so his public performances temporarily came to a halt just before 1940. He organized several other groups during the war years and began performing again, but he was never completely comfortable with touring. Although he was approaching new heights in the 1940s and 50s by moving away from swing and into jazz, in 1954 he simply walked away from the music scene to take up a number of other pursuits. —D.P.
Speaking of his collaboration with Bernstein (82), Martin Scorcese said, “It’s one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it. It’s entirely another to write music that graces a film. That’s what Elmer Bernstein does, and that, for me, is his greatest gift.”
The gifted composer didn’t just create marvelous, memorable films scores; he elevated the lyric quality of incidental music in movies. Bernstein’s legacy includes more than 200 movie scores, 50 years in the film industry, and an inestimable influence on three generations of film composers. So engaging and appropriate were his best works that it is difficult to imagine certain films without their scores. The rousing theme to The Magnificent Seven (later the “Marlboro man” theme until cigarettes ads were banned from television) is a textbook example, being cowboy music par excellence; its distinct “great American West” motif derives from Aaron Copland, under whom Bernstein studied. The martial, upbeat march from The Great Escape (1963) is another instance where melody and tone perfectly suit subject and style. Yet if ever there was a movie score that defined a film’s style, it must be the pure jazz score (a first for a Hollywood film) for The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), a downbeat, gritty melodrama starring Frank Sinatra that dared to explore drug addiction. The first minutes of Bernstein’s gripping score pretty much establish that things aren’t going to go well.
Indeed, the composer had a natural ability to convey urban angst and mean-street sensibility, as the jazzy, sleazy themes for Sweet Smell of Success, Walk on the Wild Side, and Some Came Running indicate. Yet for minimal orchestration and gentle, lyric passages, Bernstein also displayed an innate skillfulness; the tender, wistful score for To Kill a Mockingbird is exhibit A in that regard. His music is also associated with Hollywood actors and icons, most obviously John Wayne, for whom Bernstein provided scores for The Sons of Katie Elder, True Grit, and several others. He worked with Martin Scorcese on seven projects, notably The Age of Innocence and The Grifters, the latter being an example of Bernstein’s interest in various offbeat and independent productions such as Rambling Rose, Far From Heaven, My Left Foot, and The Field.
Bernstein’s stunning versatility is apparent from this partial list of compositions: Hud, The World of Henry Orient, Animal House, The Gypsy Moths, An American Werewolf in London, The Carpetbaggers, The Great Santini, the ballet music for Oklahoma and Peter Pan, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, “The Films of Ray and Charles Eames,” and themes for “The Rookies,” “S.W.A.T.,” and “Ellery Queen.” —David Pelfrey
Last year when the record label Varese Sarabande announced the release of a series of film scores entitled “Jerry Goldsmith at 20th Century Fox,” orders started coming in the next day. The first run of the boxed set sold out nine days later. Put another way, everybody digs Jerry Goldsmith (75). His name might not ring a bell, but the motion picture scores and television themes Goldsmith arranged or composed for more than half a century certainly do. A deadly serious student of music since the age of six, Goldsmith learned classical piano and absorbed music theory before taking a film music class at the University of Southern California (under legendary composer Miklos Rosza, no less). Afterwards he landed a pretty good gig at CBS, where he scored several episodes of a show that was getting a lot of attention called “The Twilight Zone.” Dozens more television commissions came, but Goldsmith’s acquaintance with another famous film composer, Alfred Newman, led to his long career in motion pictures. He began as a contract composer for 20th Century Fox, and then basically established himself as the sound of the movies. Even a partial list of his film scores and television themes is daunting: Alien, L.A. Confidential, Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, Patton, Seconds, Logan’s Run, In Like Flint, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Omen, Papillon, Basic Instinct, The Boys From Brazil, Poltergeist, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “The Waltons.” —D.P.
Like any founding guitarist who’d been in classic—and still listenable—bands such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, Public Image, and Magazine, John McGeogh (48) had both gotten a day job (as a nurse) and was trying to record dance music by the end of the ’90s. That’s kind of a shame since McGeogh was probably one of the rare punks who really had the versatility to thrive as a session man. It’s certainly no secret that he was a huge influence on subsequent generations. At least to those funky punks who don’t try to get away with citing old blues guys as their heroes. —J.R.T.
He didn’t have many songwriting credits, and that’s probably not even him playing guitar on some of your later favorite Ramones songs. Still, Johnny Ramone (55) got to retire as the wealthiest member of the band because he had 100 percent of the merchandising rights. How did that happen? It’s a long story that certain people can’t wait to tell if certain long-awaited books don’t reveal the whole story. Suffice to say that Johnny benefited from being one of rock ‘n’ roll’s proud conservatives, cashing in on the hypocritical peacenik attitude of certain other band members. The greatest testimony to Johnny, however, is that he was always well-loved in the music community, even after expressing his support for President Bush while being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. We lost him to prostate cancer, which leaves C.J. and Marky to helm various tribute nights in the future. Jeffrey’s somewhere out there, too. —J.R.T.
The younger brother of pianist Hank and trumpeter/bandleader Thad was a drummer who changed the way we hear jazz. Jones (77) played with major figures like Sonny Rollins and J. J. Johnson in the ’50s, but it was with the iconoclastic quartet of John Coltrane (1960-66) that Jones’ fluid, polyrhythmic blankets of sound found their ideal setting. Jones’ beat was implied more than defined, and although one always knew where it was, the surrounding percussive accents and colors were endlessly fascinating, opening up the rhythmic options for the other players unlike what any drummer had done before, even since. Coltrane greatly appreciated Jones: “I especially like his ability to mix and juggle rhythms. He’s always aware of everything else that’s happening. I guess you could say he has the ability to be in three places at the same time.” Jones played on Coltrane’s classic albums My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme; he led his own bands from 1967 until his death, incubating such talent as Joe Farrell, Dave Liebman, Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, and Ravi Coltrane early in their careers. His unique approach, seemingly limitless ideas, and sheer power led many to regard Jones as the world’s greatest drummer, and following a much-ballyhooed “battle” with Cream’s Ginger Baker in the early ’70s, Jones became something of a celebrity, even appearing in the cult film Zachariah. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever sounding like him again. —B.G.
The guy would’ve made an interesting footnote just for signing to Motown with bandmate Neil Young as the Mynah Birds back in the ’60s. Of course, Rick James (54) had to take a stranger path to fortune and disgrace. He finally got to make a record for Motown in 1978 and was a popular R&B star until the release of Street Songs in 1981. “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” were huge hits that made James briefly seem like another Prince in the rock-crossover sweepstakes. He was a steady performer through 1989—following his move to the Reprise label—but it still felt like nostalgia to the masses when MC Hammer sampled James for “U Can’t Touch This.” By then, James’ drug problems had plunged him into several embarrassing legal situations. He spent the ’90s with critics hoping for a comeback, but James’ last high profile moment was as a punch line in sketches on “The Dave Chappelle Show.” He was probably pretty happy with that, but any future opportunities—say, on VH1′s “The Surreal Life”—were lost after James’ death from a heart attack. At least he got to date Linda Blair. —J.R.T.
Tenor sax man Illinois Jacquet (82) was one of the jazz piledrivers: he typically hit his solos full throttle, with clearly developed musical phrases based in the sophisticated vocabulary of the great Lester Young, but run through a rough-edged dialect of Jacquet’s own creation. The latter included “honking,” later to be overdone by a multitude of R&B and rock horn players, and squealing in the altissimo range (i. e., above where the tenor is normally supposed to sound), an effect that was also subsequently overdone by lesser players. He became a star at 19 when he recorded a rousing solo on Lionel Hampton’s “Flying Home” (1942), and was a featured player in the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in the ’40s and ’50s. He also led a septet in that era that featured the likes of Fats Navarro and J. J. Johnson. After becoming the first jazz musician to serve a long-term residency at Harvard in the early 80s, Jacquet formed a his first big band, which had a big success, recording the irresistible Jacquet’s Got It (1987, Label M). Almost everyone who plays the tenor sax owes something to this guy. —B.G.
Lefty hipsters were pissed off that Ronald Reagan’s death overshadowed not only the death of Ray Charles but that Robert Quine’s death was completely squeezed out of all the NYC newspapers. To be fair, Quine (61) was an innovative guitarist and overaged punk who—while unable to make Richard Hell & The Voidoids sound interesting—went on to a stellar career enhancing (and occasionally saving) the work of artists such as Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull. Quine was depressed over the recent death of his wife, but don’t believe anyone who called his heroin overdose a suicide. If you want to see Quine in action, track down the 1983 concert DVD A Night with Lou Reed. —J.R.T.
One of the greats of jazz guitar, Kessell (80) was one of the first generation of guitarists influenced by Charlie Christian, and as an Okie from Muskogee (literally), the sole white member of local jazz bands. It was in that setting that he met Christian, perhaps the most influential jazz guitarist of all, and his direction was set. Kessell played in big bands (Artie Shaw’s, Charlie Barnet’s, and even Chico Marx’s), when Gjon Mili made the short film Jammin’ the Blues in 1944, Kessell was again the only white face, but since an integrated ensemble was not to be shown on the screen, he remained in shadow or silhouette.
Kessel became famous after recording with Charlie Parker (1947) and touring with Oscar Peterson (1952-1953), but it’s likely that many more people heard his studio recordings with pop artists, from Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” to his work with Elvis, Rick Nelson, and the Beach Boys, to numerous movies and TV shows. Phil Spector was his student and protégé; Kessel advised the young man to get into record production and later played on almost all of Spector’s big hits (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” et al.). He introduced Brian Wilson to the theremin that was used on “Good Vibrations” and Pete Townshend wrote a song in honor of Kessel after the latter’s 1969-70 residency in London. Throughout, Kessel found time to make numerous jazz recordings, and from 1976 on toured with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as The Great Guitars. —Bart Grooms
There was a brief window of opportunity in the late ’70s when lite-pop songwriters discovered they could put on a skinny tie and seem vaguely cool while turning out mellow sounds. Randy VanWarmer was able to break through with the modest hit “Just When I Needed You Most”—modest in its humble wimpiness, that is. The song still made it to number four on the Billboard charts. The solo career went downhill from there, but VanWarmer (48) was already establishing himself as a hit songwriter for country acts. The band Alabama scored with “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why),” one of VanWarmer’s earliest compositions. VanWarmer would spend most of his subsequent career in Nashville—including a brief comeback as a solo artist in 1988—although he was settled in Seattle when he finally succumbed to leukemia. —J.R.T.
Jerry Scoggins’ (93) rendition of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” is one of the best known musical motifs in television history. The show originally ran from 1962 to 1971, with 60 million viewers at one point. Accompanying Scoggins on the theme were bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. —E.R.
As king of the Nashville studio guitarists, Hank Garland (74) was in constant demand. Switching effortlessly between jazz and country, he played with an impressive list of performers ranging from Elvis Presley to Roy Orbison to Patsy Cline to Charlie Parker. He pioneered the use of the electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry. A 1961 car wreck left Garland in a coma for months. When he regained consciousness, he received more than 100 electroshock treatments that forced him to relearn not only how to play the guitar, but also how to walk and talk again. —E.R.
Many people wanted to kill Terry Melcher (62) for co-writing “Kokomo” with the Beach Boys, but Charles Manson had a personal grudge against Doris Day’s son. As an A&R man in the wake of his early days guiding The Byrds, Melcher passed on Manson as a recording artist. Charlie was also still pissed about the Beach Boys altering his song “Cease to Exist,” so Melcher’s association with the band didn’t help matters. Anyway, Melcher moved out of the house he was renting, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate moved in, and the speculation continues about how things might have changed if Charlie had kept his address book up-to-date. Melcher kept working with some of the great pop acts of the era, and the ’60s lost a key figure when the California icon passed away from cancer. —J.R. Taylor
He could have retired in 1942 as a brilliant arranger, but Billy May (87) was lured away from his staff position at Capitol Records to provide Frank Sinatra with some of his most unforgettable and brassy settings. The association began with “Come Fly With Me” in 1957 and continued to the end of the ’70s. —J.R.T.
Every would-be star who has attempted to play a screaming guitar solo is intimately familiar with Ernie Ball Slinky guitar strings and their neon-colored packages. Endorsed by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and a million other rock stars, Ernie Ball strings are sold in more than 5,500 music stores in the United States and 75 other countries. They were made to be stretched, but, inevitably, they do break, thereby simultaneously rendering them the most revered and cursed guitar string in the world. Ball was 74. —Ed Reynolds.
As one half of the duo Jan and Dean, Jan Berry (62) and partner Dean Torrence pioneered the surf music sound with hits such as “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Surf City,” and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena).” Berry had been in poor health for much of his life after suffering brain damage in a car crash in 1966. —E.R.
Al Dvorin was the concert emcee who made the phrase “Elvis has left the building” a staple of pop culture. The 81-year-old Dvorin was thrown from his car following an accident on a California desert highway after delivering his famous line at the conclusion of an Elvis impersonator contest. —E.R.
Estelle Axton (85) was the “ax” in Stax Records, which she started with her brother James Stewart (he was the “St”). Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, and the Staple Singers were just a few on the Stax roster of hitmakers. Her son Packy Axton was saxophonist for the Mar-Keys, an instrumental group on the label that often accompanied the singers. She later took over her son’s record label Fretone Records, whose only hit was in 1976 with the novelty “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees. —E.R.
Leader of The Prisonaires, a singing group composed of black Tennessee State Penitentiary inmates that put Sun Records on the map with the hit “Just Walkin’ in the Rain,” Johnny Bragg (79) and his fellow convicts traveled under heavy guard to Memphis to record in 1953. In 1961, Elvis Presley visited Bragg (who had been convicted of rape in 1943), in prison. The Prisonaires were among the first rhythm and blues groups to have hit records in the South. —E.R.
As a bandleader who made the steel guitar popular during the swing era, Rey (95) billed himself as “King of the Guitar.” Rey had a hit in 1942 with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” —E.R.
To discerning music fans, John Peel (65) was best known as the legendary BBC radio DJ who promoted any number of really forgettable ’80s acts via assorted live “Peel Sessions” releases. There’s certainly no denying that Peel got really excited about way too many forgettable art/punk/new-wave/grunge acts over the years. In his defense, though, Peel would often just as easily lose interest in the struggling acts that he would grace with needed airplay. At least he was always interested in new acts, which was pretty good for a guy who’d been spinning discs since 1965. Peel could legitimately claim much credit for breaking acts ranging from David Bowie to The Smiths. —J.R.T.
Lacy Van Zant
He couldn’t match the output of Olivia Osmond, but Lacy Van Zant (89) made an impressive musical contribution through his rockin’ DNA. This ultimate band parent oversaw the Southern Rock dynasty of Ronnie, Johnny, and Donnie—which covers two Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalists (one, sadly, deceased) and a member of the underrated .38 Special. Van Zant worked hard to help out his kids in their early musical years, and his home also served as a museum. Lacy looked the role, too, with a long white beard and a penchant for overalls. If his image hasn’t been put on an album cover, it should be. —J.R.T.
She was pretty much forgotten at the time of her death, but Timi Yuro (63) cast a striking figure while ruling the early ’60s charts with gloriously overwrought tunes such as “Hurt” and “I Apologize.” Despite the exotic name, she was pure American pop. Still, it didn’t even help her career when Morrissey singled her out as his favorite vocalist in the 1984 tour program for the Smiths’ Meat is Murder tour. While the subject matter helped, Morrissey might have also been influenced by Yuro’s bizarre ability to look androgynous even when dolled up in evening gowns. —J.R.T.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux
She made some forgettable Parisian punk, but Lizzy Mercier Descloux (47) went out as a goddess to French hipsters. The very young gal was hanging out in NYC during the days of the New York Dolls, and she made it back to Paris in time to start up a pioneering punk clothing boutique. Descloux eventually went into the studio with her musician pals to record two fairly useless albums at the end of the ’70s. (This past year’s CD reissues reminded us why she was promoted mainly as a moody sex symbol.) Nobody was paying much attention to Descloux when she suddenly came up with an international chart hit in 1984. “Mais où sont passées les gazelles” was recorded with South African musicians about two years before Paul Simon got the idea, and the World Music genre was suddenly off and running. Descloux didn’t benefit much, though. Her major-label career was over by the ’90s, and she had moved on to a successful career as a painter before succumbing to cancer. —J.R.T
From 1964 to 1966, Alfred George Bicknell (75) chauffeured The Beatles to concerts and other appearances. The inspiration for the song “Drive My Car,” Bicknell wrote the 1999 autobiography Ticket to Ride: The Ultimate Beatles Tour Diary!, in which he recalled the moment John Lennon reportedly snatched his chauffeur’s cap from his head and declared, “You don’t need that anymore, Alf. You are one of us now.” After The Beatles ceased touring, the former circus clown began driving business executives. A chainsaw accident ended his driving career in 1980, and he joined a Beatles convention circuit giving speeches and selling memorabilia. —E.R.
One of the few women who serve as both a footnote and a legend, Skeeter Davis (72) spent her very long career skirting the pop and country markets. She started out as a rockabilly pioneer with her partner Betty Jack Davis, in 1953, before the duo ended up in an automobile accident that left her as a solo act. It took another decade before she finally became a huge solo star with “The End of the World.” Her public profile would later be that of a one-hit wonder. Within the Nashville scene, though, Davis was much admired and often sought out for duets. She aged pretty well, too, as NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato noticed when he began courting her back in the ’80s. —J.R.T.
You can find at least two CD booklets from the ’90s that refer to the late Arthur Kane, while others believed that the New York Dolls’ bass player had simply disappeared after a jilted groupie cut off his thumbs. The only person who seemed willing to insist that Kane (55) was still alive was Keith Richards, and everybody probably thought that was just a hallucination. Anyway, Kane made a triumphant reemergence with his old band in 2004, after Morrissey invited the Dolls to perform at a UK music festival he was curating. Sadly, Kane succumbed to leukemia before the Dolls could follow up with any American dates. —J.R.T