Glory days: by the late 1970s, Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were the two most bankable stars in the world.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Burt Reynolds has died at age 82 from a heart attack in his home town of Jupiter, Florida. Reynolds had been suffering from poor health in recent years but was still appearing in films. He was announced as one of the stars of Quentin Tarantino's forthcoming "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood". Reynolds entered acting in the 1950s but his rugged good looks sometimes worked against him as he was told he bore too close a resemblance to Marlon Brando. He made "B" movies before gravitating to television where he landed a recurring role as a blacksmith in the hit series "Gunsmoke". Reynolds would go on to star in other short-lived TV series that never capitalized on his real life wit and humor. Of playing the title character in the "Dan August" detective series, Reynolds would quip that he had two expressions: "Mad and madder". Reynolds slogged through undistinguished feature films in the 1960s, some of which were undeniably appealing but none of which resonated with the public. However, he gained considerable attention with his frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" where his self-deprecating sense of humor and racy quips endeared him to Carson's mammoth nightly audience. He agreed to pose nude (well, mostly nude) for Cosmopolitan, which caused a sensation. However, Reynolds said he regretted the decision because it detracted from his ability to be taken seriously as an actor. The release of director John Boorman's "Deliverance" in 1972 changed that. Reynolds gave a terrific performance and the "A"-list roles started pouring in. Most of his films had a considerable element of humor attached to them, combined with Reynolds' ability to do his own stunts. He became popular playing wise-ass characters with a penchant for towel-snapping humor. In 1977, he struck gold by starring in "Smokey and the Bandit", a film which became a phenomenal success with rural audiences. The Reynolds persona was often that of a good ol' boy from the south who took on corrupt cops and politicians. For a period of years, Reynolds could do no wrong and became one of the biggest stars in the world. However, his judgment often failed him and turned down major roles in classic films in order to star in forgettable movies. A misguided stunt on the set of "City Heat" in the early 1980s caused him severe injuries and helped spread rumors that was was suffering from AIDS. His career never fully recovered, but in 1998 he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for "Boogie Nights". He didn't win and he also squandered the newfound respect he had earned by churning out mediocre films and TV movies. Not helping matters was his messy personal life that saw marriage problems, nasty divorces and bankruptcy issues spread across the pages of tabloids.
Still, Burt Reynolds was a genuine superstar at his peak and he never went out of style, as evidenced by the enduring affection for his films- and yes, he certainly could act.
Neil Simon, the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning playwright, has passed away at age 91. A Broadway legend, the Washington Post points out that he was considered the world's most popular playwright after Shakespeare, with his works adapted to international stage productions, TV series and motion pictures. Perhaps his signature pieces was "The Odd Couple", which was successful in all three mediums and is still widely-performed today. Simon wrote slice-of-life shows that usually centered on working class people, thus enabling a wide audience to identify with his characters and their humor. Click here for about his remarkable life and legacy.
Actor Tab Hunter has died at age 86 after sudden complications from a blood clot lead to a fatal heart attack. Hunter's blonde hair and hunky build made him a natural for the kind of beefcake leading men that characterized 1950s Hollywood. He was put under contract at Warner Brothers and became the studio's top grossing star during the years 1955-1959. Among Hunter's biggest hits of the era was the WWII film Battle Cry and the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical Damn Yankees. Hunter's popularity briefly extended to singing and his recording of "Young Love" was a smash hit, displacing Elvis Presley at the top of the charts. However, changing attitudes among fickle movie-goers in the 1960s swerved away from the traditional studio concept of a leading man. Hunter continued to work but in less-than-stellar productions. He did, however, have memorable cameos in big studio productions such as The Loved One and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Hunter remained relevant by appearing on television shows and starring in two bizarre hit cult movies of the 1980s: Polyster and Lust in the Dust. Upon publication of his 2005 autobiography, he came out of the closet and stated he was gay. Hunter acknowledged the obvious: that had he done so back in his glory days, his career would have come to an abrupt end. He lamented how he would have to feign love affairs with actresses and be seen on faux dates. Hunter's late-in-life embrace of his sexuality was welcomed in the gay community and figures prominently in the 2015 documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, which was produced by his long-time romantic partner Allan Glaser. For more click here.
Clint Walker, the towering, rugged-looking leading man who specialized in playing gentle giants, has passed away at age 90. Walker had a diverse career including serving as a deputy sheriff providing security to the Sands casino in Las Vegas prior to entering show business. His first big break came during the craze for western TV series in the 1950s when he was cast in the title role of "Cheyenne", the first network series produced by Warner Brothers. The show proved to be a major hit, with Walker playing a solitary loner who came to the rescue of those being menaced by various villains. The show ran from 1955 to 1962. Walker had less success on the big screen, though he did land top billing in modest productions such as "Gold of the Seven Saints" which teamed him with Roger Moore, the India-based "Maya" and "Night of the Grizzly", a 1966 western adventure. Walker also co-starred with Frank Sinatra in "None But the Brave", a 1965 WWII film that Sinatra also directed. Walker teamed with Burt Reynolds for the 1969 western comedy crime caper "Sam Whiskey".
One of his best remembered roles was as a member of "The Dirty Dozen" in the blockbuster 1967 film in which he played one of a group of convicted military murderers who are recruited to volunteer for a dangerous mission behind enemy lines in Germany. (Walker would reunite with some of his co-stars to provide voice-over work in director Joe Dante's clever 1998 animated tribute to that film, "Small Soldiers".) Although Walker retired after working on Dante's film, he remained popular with his fans and would occasionally attend western-themed movie events. Click here for more.
Actress Margot Kidder has passed away at age 69. Kidder shot to stardom for her acclaimed performance as Lois Lane in "Superman", the 1978 blockbuster starring Christopher Reeve. She went on to reprise the role opposite Reeves in sequels. Kidder first gained notice in Brian DePalma's quirky Hitchcock-like 1972 thriller "Sisters" and appeared in supporting roles in films such as "Gaily, Gaily", "The Great Waldo Pepper" and "Black Christmas" before landing the role of Lois Lane. In the Superman film, Kidder brought a modern interpretation to the role that had last been played by Noel Neill in the legendary 1950s TV series starring George Reeves. Kidder's vision of Lane was as a sassy, independent and fast-witted single big city career girl who was as courageous and competent as any of her male colleagues. Critics lavished praise on the exciting young talent but her newfound success was short-lived. Aside from the three sequels to "Superman" she appeared in, the only other major boxoffice success she would have was the 1979 film "The Amityville Horror", which was derided as schlock but which proved to be popular with audiences.
Kidder gained a reputation of being unreliable and difficult to work with and the only roles afforded her were in less-than-stellar films. The nadir came in the mid-1990s when her personal behavior devolved to such a point that she was literally found living as a homeless person. Rumors swirled that she was suffering from drug addiction but it was revealed that she had been clinically diagnosed as bipolar. Kidder earned praise for speaking openly about her affliction and she would spend the rest of her life coping with her personal demons, while simultaneously lobbying to help people suffering from mental disorders. She successfully resumed her career, earning respect for her ability to cope with her psychological issues while striving to so many others. Although she never had another major feature film success, she won an Emmy in 2015. She is remembered as tough, honest and gutsy: all qualities that could be said of Lois Lane herself. For more click here.
Anderson (left) on the set of Around the World in 80 Days with producer Michael Todd and Frank Sinatra, who filmed a cameo appearance.
Michael Anderson, the Oscar-nominated British film director, has died at age 98. Anderson directed producer Michael Todd's star-packed 1956 screen adaptation of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days". The film won the Best Picture Oscar and became a boxoffice blockbuster, earning Anderson a Best Director nomination in the process. The previous year, Anderson had directed "The Dam Busters", which became the top-grossing British film of the year. Anderson had the ability to comfortably move between genres with equal skill. Among his other credits: "The Wreck of the Mary Deare", "Shake Hands with the Devil", the 1958 film version of Orwell's "1984", "All the Fine Young Cannibals" (the title of which inspired the name of a short-lived 1980s rock group), "Operation Crossbow", "The Quiller Memorandum", "The Shoes of the Fisherman", "Conduct Unbecoming" and "Orca". In 1976, he directed the hit science fiction film "Logan's Run". He is the father of actor Michael Anderson, Jr. For more click here.
Milos Forman, the Czech immigrant to Hollywood who would be awarded two Oscars, has died at age 86. Forman was a rising star in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, directing such lighthearted, quirky films as "Black Peter" and "The Fireman's Ball". Forman's films were breaking new ground at a time when the progressive Czech government was pushing the envelope against Soviet control and enjoying new freedoms. All of that came crashing down in 1968 when the short-lived "Prague Spring" was crushed by the Soviet invasion. Forman immigrated to America and found the opportunity to make films for major studios. However, his first effort, the critically acclaimed 1971 generation gap comedy "Taking Off" failed at the boxoffice. In 1975, Forman was given another chance, this time by producer Michael Douglas to direct the film version of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The film swept the major Oscar categories and Forman was honored as Best Director. Forman was painstaking in his choice of film projects, motivated more by passion for the subject than finding a wide audience, although he did direct the film adaptation of the Broadway stage musical "Hair" in 1979. However, the movie came along years too late to click with young viewers. In 1981, Forman adapted E.L. Doctorow's bestseller "Ragtime" to the screen. The massive production was at odds with his tendency to direct smaller, more personal stories. The film won wide acclaim in some quarters but was an expensive failure at the boxoffice. He rebounded, however, in 1984 with the film version of the stage hit "Amadeus", and once again won the Best Director Oscar. Forman worked only sporadically in the following years, directing such diverse fare as "Heartburn", "Valmont", "Man on the Moon" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt". For more click here.
Gilbert on the set of the 1977 James Bond blockbuster The Spy Who Loved Me with production designer Ken Adam and producer Albert R. Broccoli at Pinewood Studios, London.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the news of director/producer Lewis Gilbert's death in London at age 97. Gilbert was a good friend to our magazine and gave what is probably his last interview to our correspondent Matthew Field several years ago. It ran in three consecutive issues of Cinema Retro (#'s18, 19 and 20).
Gilbert had a remarkable career that began early in life as a music hall performer and an actor in small roles in British films. During WWII he served in the RAF, producing and directing documentaries for the military. His first feature film as director was "The Little Ballerina", released in 1947. Gilbert toiled through directing low-budget, often undistinguished films, honing his craft along the way. He earned praise for his 1958 WWII-themed espionage film "Carve Her Name with Pride" and had a major hit in the WWII genre with the release of the 1960 film "Sink the Bismarck!" As Gilbert's clout in the industry rose, so, too did his production budgets. He directed the 1962 adventure film "Damn the Defiant!" (UK title: "H.M.S. Defiant") starring Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde followed by the 1964 Cold War thriller "The 7th Dawn" starring William Holden. He rose to even greater prominence by producing and directing the 1966 anti-Establshment comedy "Alfie", a major early hit for Michael Caine that was accorded great critical praise and numerous Oscar and BAFTA nominations. Gilbert proved to be eclectic in his abilities to move between genres. He was a seemingly unlikely choice to direct the 1967 James Bond epic "You Only Live Twice" starring Sean Connery, which was set in Japan, but the film was an enormous boxoffice success. Ten years later Gilbert returned to the Bond genre to direct Roger Moore in two back-to-back 007 films, "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". Both films were major international hits. Gilbert had also directed the 1970 big-budget screen adaptation of Harold Robbins' bestseller "The Adventurers", but it was a troubled production that flopped with critics and the public. In 1971 he directed a popular, small-budget teenage love story, "Friends" which featured original songs by Elton John early in his career. Four years later he directed the film's sequel, "Paul and Michelle". In 1980 he directed the sophisticated comedy "Educating Rita" which won Oscar nominations for Michael Caine and Julie Walters, followed by "Shirley Valentine" in 1989.
John Gavin, a long-time Hollywood star who gravitated into a career in politics, has died at age 86 following some bouts with ill health. Gavin, a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, entered the acting profession in the mid-1950s, an era in which Hollywood studios were looking for beefcake type leading men. Gavin fit the bill with his handsome looks and impressive physique. It wasn't long before he was scoring prominent roles in major films such as "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" and "Imitation of Life". Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the heroic leading man in his 1960 "Psycho" and he was seen on screen the same year playing Julius Caesar in "Spartacus". Despite his good looks and competent acting skills, however, the major roles began to dry up. Gavin would still score some prominent parts in major productions like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" but most of his leading roles were increasingly found in "B" movies and low-budget European films. Gavin seemed to land a major break when producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman signed him to play James Bond following George Lazenby's departure from the series after only one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969. The plan was for Gavin to star in the next two 007 films, "Diamonds are Forever" and "Live and Let Die". However, United Artists head of production David Picker had second thoughts about the deal and against all odds convinced Sean Connery to return to the role for "Diamonds are Forever". When Connery made it clear he had no interest in continuing in the role beyond the one film, the producers bypassed Gavin again and offered Roger Moore the role of Bond in "Live and Let Die".
Despite his near-miss with the Bond franchise, Gavin had a fascinating second career in the offing. He was partially of Mexican heritage and had followed U.S-Mexican political and trade relations closely. When Ronald Reagan took the office as President in 1981, he was impressed by Gavin's background and the fact that he had served for two years as president of the Screen Actors Guild, a union that Reagan once served as president of. He appointed Gavin as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The move was met with derision in Mexico and America, with concerns being cited that Gavin's background as an actor meant he would simply be attractive window dressing instead of a legitimate diplomat. It mirrored concerns Reagan had to endure from critics who felt his career in Hollywood would make him a lightweight President. In his role as ambassador, Gavin was criticized by the Mexican government for his frequent absences from the country. He also caused stirs by calling on the government to crack down on the drug trade, corruption and the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. He was championed in conservative circles in America for doing so. He received high marks for some of his economic policies with Mexico even though he was still often a lightning rod for controversy. Gavin left politics in 1986 to enter private business, where he enjoyed considerable success. He is survived by his wife, actress Constance Towers, and children, stepchildren and grandchildren. For more click here.
Actor Peter Wyngarde passed away last Monday at age 90. Although not well known in America, Wyngarde was a very popular actor in the UK thanks to his roles in the iconic TV series "Department S" and "Jason King". Wyngarde also guest starred in such iconic British shows as "The Avengers", " The Saint" and "The Prisoner", in which he appeared as Number Two in the episode "Checkmate". He also appeared in the cult horror film "Burn, Witch, Burn" and made an eerie silent appearance as the ghostly Peter Quint in the classic 1963 film "The Innocents". For more on his career, click here.
Cinema Retro's Todd Garbarini and Lee Pfeiffer with Anthony Harvey at a screening of The Lion in Winter at the Loew's Jersey City, 2009.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Anthony Harvey, the actor who became an editor only to finally become an esteemed director, has died at age 87 at his home in Long Island. Harvey was born in London and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with the hope of becoming an actor. However, he turned to film editing instead. On a whim he contacted Stanley Kubrick and convinced the director to hire him as editor on the 1962 production of "Lolita". Kubrick was so impressed that he hired Harvey again to edit his next film "Dr. Strangelove". Harvey's innovative method of fast cutting won plaudits from the industry. At one point, however, disaster nearly struck when footage of a complicated sequence he had edited went missing, leading him to have to recreate the complex decisions he and Kubrick had made from memory. Kubrick had originally intended Harvey to edit his long-in-the-works production of "2001: A Space Odyssey" but felt that Harvey had the potential to become a director. Harvey followed his advice and made his directorial debut with the little seen, but highly praised 1967 arthouse film "Dutchman". Shortly thereafter Harvey landed the plum directing assignment of his career: the 1968 production of "The Lion in Winter" starring two of the most mercurial actors in the business: Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. Harvey told this writer that it was a case of baptism under fire but he succeeded in winning the respect of both of his stars. The production also boasted the big screen debuts of Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. Harvey was nominated for an Oscar for the film, as were O'Toole and Hepburn. On the night of the awards, Katharine Hepburn beseeched him to accept on her behalf if she won, since she disdained attending film events. When Hepburn and Barbra Streisand both tied for Best Actress wins, Harvey gave an acceptance speech on Hepburn's behalf. He would remain friends with her until her death in 2003. Harvey's other achievements as film editor include The L Shaped Room" and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold". His directing credits include the quirky cult film "They Might be Giants" (1971) which starred George C. Scott as a man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes.
This writer befriended Tony Harvey in 2001 when he consented to being interviewed for a documentary I was writing for Sony about the making of "Dr. Strangelove". Harvey related an amusing anecdote about his friendship with Kate Hepburn, who he would visit regularly at her home in Connecticut. She once told him that she so disliked show business that he was the only person from the industry she still kept in regular touch with. Tony recalled that, back in 1969, he arrived at Hepburn's house to deliver her Oscar, which he had wrapped in newspapers. He found Hepburn dressed in jeans and on a ladder painting her kitchen ceiling. She instructed him to tuck the Oscar package in the back of a cupboard so paint wouldn't drip on it. Tony recalled that years later he was at Hepburn's house and went into the cupboard for a glass, only to find the Oscar parcel still wrapped in newspaper and unopened.
Tony Harvey was a man of great manners, graciousness and wit. We at Cinema Retro mourn his passing.
Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Jim Nabors, who epitomized the image of a friendly country boy, has died at age 87 at his home in Hawaii. Nabors was plucked from obscurity when Andy Griffith caught his nightclub act in L.A. in the early 1960s and cast him in the role of Gomer Pyle, the affable but simple-minded filling station attendant in "The Andy Griffith Show". The program was always among the top shows in the ratings and Nabors' exposure on the show gained him instant fame. The character of Gomer became as iconic as Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor and Don Knotts' deputy Barney Fife. Nabors' popularity extended into a second career as a pop singer. When he first sang on an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show", many viewers thought his operatic baritone voice was dubbed. However, they soon learned that Nabors had a magnificent singing voice. His career as a singer saw him perform for decades to sold-out audiences in top venues around the world. His albums went gold and platinum. Nabors starred in one of first television spin-offs with "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C". The show was another major hit produced by Andy Griffith. In the series, which ran from 1964-1969, Nabors continued to play an inept but honest and lovable character who took pride in being a Marine. The United States Marine Corps agreed to extend cooperation to the series because of the positive light Nabors cast on the corps. Nabors found the perfect foil in Frank Sutton's Sgt. Vince Carter, his long-suffering superior who bore the brunt of Pyle's penchant for causing problems. The two men would be reunited years later as co-stars on Nabors' TV variety hour. Nabors also dabbled occasionally in feature films, co-starring with his friend Burt Reynolds in "Stroker Ace", "Cannonball Run II" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".
Don Knotts, Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors.
In real life Nabors was gay and had been with his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, at the time of his death. The two had married in 2013. Nabors always looked back fondly on "The Andy Griffith Show" and the people associated with it. He remained loyal and grateful to Griffith for elevating his career. In 1986 Nabors returned once more to the role of Gomer Pyle for the TV movie "Return to Mayberry", which reunited him with most of the living cast members. The telecast proved to be a ratings blockbuster.
Harry Dean Stanton, who died earlier this month at age 91, was the epitome of the successful character actor: he could play a wide range of characters (though they were usually eccentric) and he had won critical acclaim even when some of the films he appeared in did not. More importantly, Stanton had built an enthusiastic following among hardcore movie lovers and scholars. Stanton, The Kentucky native and WWII veteran had, like so many of his colleagues, had knocked around in odd jobs before moving to Hollywood to take up acting. His first credited screen role was in the 1957 "B" western "Tomahawk Trail". The film wasn't special but Stanton fit well into the Western genre. In the coming years, Stanton would appear in many horse operas on the big screen as well as on television, where his credits included "Gunsmoke", "The High Chaparral" and "The Wild, Wild West" to name but a few. Ultimately, his quirky mannerisms and distinctive appearance made him a much in-demand character actor. He began to appear in major films such as "Cool Hand Luke", "Kelly's Heroes", "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", "The Godfather Part II", "Farewell My Lovely", "92 in the Shade", "Straight Time" and "The Missouri Breaks". He scored well with critics and audiences with a major role in Ridley Scott's original "Alien" in 1979 and would go to be seen in "Escape from New York", "Christine", "Repo Man", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Twister" and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" (in the role of Carl Rodd, which he played again earlier this year in the revival of the "Twin Peaks" TV series). Stanton never made it to superstardom but neither did he ever go out of style. He was in demand until his final days- a fitting legacy for an actor's actor. For New York Times obituary, click here.
With the death of Jerry Lewis at age 91, Hollywood lost one of the few remaining people who deserved to be called iconic. Lewis rose from a humble upbringing in urban New Jersey to become one of the greatest successes in the history of comedy. His ten year partnership with Dean Martin made them both international idols as well as very rich men. When Martin and Lewis broke up amidst great acrimony, many predicted Lewis would fade and be considered as a flash-in-the-pan. After all, it was Martin who had the looks, the elegance and the velvet singing voice. But Lewis proved he could be a red hot solo act. He honed his craft, took control of his films and learned to become a respected and innovative filmmaker. Lewis raised billions for charity and could be personally charming. But he was also a divisive figure about whom few had ambivalent feelings. He was either loved or loathed, He was known to have mood swings and could be friendly one minute and insulting the next. Until his last days he would make controversial and insulting statements about individuals and institutions. When his big screen went into decline, he concentrated on stage productions and stand-up comedy and never lost his core audience. Despite the controversies he seemed to relish inciting, few would disagree that his impact on the world of cinematic comedy will be tough to top. Click here for more.
Actor and playwright Joseph Bologna has died from cancer at age 82. Bologna and his wife of 52 years, actress/writer Renee Taylor, were nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay they co-wrote (with David Zelag Goodman) for the 1971 comedy "Lovers and Other Strangers". The two collaborated frequently on and off screen. Bologna was noted primarily for his affiliation with comedies. He and Taylor co-wrote 22 plays and also appeared frequently on television but both had successful solo careers as well. His most memorable big screen role was as King Kaiser, the acerbic TV variety show host who was based on Sid Caesar in the hit 1982 comedy "My Favorite Year". Last month, Bologna attended a 35th anniversary screening of the film. His other feature films include "Made for Each Other" (co-written with Taylor), "The Big Bus", "Blame It On Rio", "The Woman in Red" and "Big Daddy". For more click here.
Peter S. Haigh, who was a continuous supporter
(and occasional contributor) of Cinema Retro magazine since its inception in
2004, passed away recently aged 91. Anyone worth their salt in the film
industry of the Fifties and Sixties will be familiar with Peter's journalistic
Leaving school towards the end of World War
Two, he joined the advertising department of Bradford's evening newspaper,
where there was the bonus of free cinema tickets through collecting the
advertisement copy for the city's forty-odd cinemas (yes, that many in one city
in those days!). Films also featured in Peter's army service, for he had the
good fortune to be posted to Radio SEAC, the forces broadcasting service (in
what was then Ceylon), where his duties included writing programmes on film and
theatre music among other scripts.
On demob he moved to London and secured a job
in the news division of BBC Radio. During that time he also compiled the
crossword for the monthly magazine ABC
Film Review, which led to him being offered a full-time position on the
staff. He remained there for a period of thirty years, the latter half as its
editor. Having first started as a promotional magazine for the ABC cinema
circuit, Film Review became a popular
film monthly, packed with news and information, literate reviews and an
emphasis on the pictorial as well as the written word. For sixty years it never
lost its initial and essential aim of appealing to film fanatics. Although
Peter retired from the publication in the Eighties, he continued to compile the
magazine's film crossword. Film Review
ceased publication in 2007.
Many of Cinema Retro's readers, especially
those in the UK, will remember ABC Film
Review, and indeed have countless copies in their collections. For me, it
was a must-have purchase every time I went to the cinema, and it was always the
name of Peter that was to the fore. When he offered to be part of Cinema Retro
back in 2004 it was an honour to have him on board. Peter was a guiding light
during the past 14 years, always offering suggestions and advice on every
issue. For me, and many cinema-goers of my era, he was a legend. Bless you,
Peter. We will miss you dearly.
(In 1997, Peter's novel 'Picture Palace:
Fifty Years of Comedy and Drama Both On and Off Screen' was published by
Minerva Press (ISBN 1-86106-798-4). It is a family saga spanning from 1927 to
1977 which revolves around a provincial cinema and its staff, in particular the
owner-manager and the head usherette who is an incorrigible film fan. The lives
of these ordinary people are inextricably linked with the films and their
stars. Their fictitious stories are told against a background of cinematic
history providing a stimulating and poignant window into fifty years of films.)
Glen Campbell, one of the most popular voices in the history of country western music, has passed away at age 81. Since 2011 he had waged a valiant battle against Alzheimer's disease. He continued to perform even as the ailment took a toll on him physically and mentally. His experience was chronicled in the acclaimed 2014 documentary "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me". Campbell hit his stride in the 1960s and became a popular country "crossover" artist who appealed to audiences that generally didn't patronize country western music. He sold 45 million records over the course of his career. The telegenic, squeaky-clean, nice guy image served Campbell well. He appealed to both young fans and older audiences and had a popular TV variety series, "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" that ran between 1969-1972. Campbell's acting debut was a promising one. He co-starred opposite John Wayne in the Duke's 1969 Oscar-winning classic "True Grit" and acquitted himself well enough to earn a Golden Globe nomination, in addition to singing the Oscar-nominated title song. However, the big screen did not appeal to him. His one other feature film, the 1970 movie "Norwood", flopped and he would only be seen in films henceforth playing himself in musical sequences. For more click here.
Jeanne Moreau, the iconic French actress, has passed away at age 89. Noted film critic Todd McCarthy pays a personal tribute to her life and career through the lens of someone who got to know her well. Click here to read.
Landau (center) with "Mission:Impossible" co-stars (clockwise) Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus and Barbara Bain.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau has passed away at age 89. Landau had originally intended to be a cartoonist before studying at the esteemed Actors Studio in New York City. With his intense looks and persona, he began to be noticed by Hollywood studios. In 1959 he was cast as James Mason's gay henchman in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest". It was Landau who suggested playing the role as a not-so-closeted homosexual, a rather daring strategy for the era. The result made Landau standout in a cast of heavyweights that included Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and Leo G. Carroll. Roles in epic films such as "Cleopatra" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" followed. Landau also appeared regularly on popular TV programs including "The Twilight Zone", "The Untouchables", "I Spy", "The Wild, Wild West" and many others. Between 1966-1969 he co-starred on the hit spy series "Mission:Impossible", playing Rollin Hand, a master of disguise. His real-life wife Barbara Bain also starred in the show. They both left due to either "artistic differences" or salary disputes with the producers. Between 1975-1977, Landau and Bain co-starred in the cult sci-fi series "Space: 1999". Landau's career went into decline although he never stopped working. It was the quality of the projects that had diminished. He had an unexpected renaissance in 1988 when director Francis Ford Coppola cast him in "Tucker: The Man and His Dreams". Landau received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. The following year he was nominated in the same category for a brilliant performance in Woody Allen's dark comedy "Crimes and Misdemeanors". Landau finally won the award for his performance as actor Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 film "Ed Wood". (Ironically, Landau had played a Lugosi-like character in "The Bat Cave Affair", a 1966 episode of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.").
Landau spoofed Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Dracula in an episode of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" (seen here with David McCallum). In 1994, he would win the Oscar for playing Lugosi in "Ed Wood".
Landau had been nominated for Emmy awards on numerous occasions beginning with "Mission: Impossible" and extending to more recent nominations for "Without a Trace" and "Entourage". Landau had been producer Gene Rodenberry's first choice to play the role of Spock in "Star Trek" but Landau decided to go with "Mission:Impossible". The role went to Leonard Nimoy, who ironically ended up starring in "Mission:Impossible" after Landau's departure from the series. For more click here.
George A. Romero, the maverick independent filmmaker who changed the movie industry forever with his low-budget, high grossing 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead", has passed away at age 77 from lung cancer. Romero represented the true "guerilla filmmaker" when he and his partners cobbled together the meager production budget for "Night of the Living Dead", which was shot locally in Pittsburgh, where Romero had attended college, and used non-seasoned actors in starring roles. The movie, shot in B&W, quickly became infamous for its unprecedented grisly depiction of flesh eating zombies preying upon people trapped in a remote country house. Most critics were aghast but audiences responded with enthusiasm. Romero's film inspired a generation of young horror moviemakers but although it grossed many millions in profits, a snafu regarding the copyright prevented Romero and his investors from fully capitalizing on the phenomenal success of the movie. It was a mistake he would not make again. Romero would go on to make other zombie movies, all with much higher budgets and the copyright situation carefully paid attention to. He also occasionally directed other horror films for mainstream studios including the cult hit "Creepshow" in 1982 that was inspired by the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s. Romero's manager confirmed that Romero passed away in an almost manner far removed from the world of horror movies: he was listening to Victor Young's score for "The Quiet Man" .
For more about Romero and tributes from film industry colleagues, click here.
Here is the full length feature film "Night of the Living Dead".
Elsa Martinelli, who gravitated from modeling to a successful acting career in the 1950s, has died at age 82. Martinelli was a popular model in her native Italy when she was discovered by Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne. The Douglases decided to cast the unknown as an Indian maiden in Kirk's 1955 hit Western "The Indian Fighter". The film raised eyebrows at the time for presenting an inter-racial love affair between their characters. The movie helped successfully launch Martinelli's screen career in European cinema but it would be years before she starred in her next major Hollywood production. In 1962 director Howard Hawks cast her as the female lead opposite John Wayne his big budget African adventure "Hatari!". The film was a sizable hit and Martinelli began to appear in more American studio productions. She starred opposite Charlton Heston in "The Pigeon That Took Rome", with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in "The V.I.Ps", which was also a major success and opposite Robert Mitchum in the thriller "Rampage" . From the mid-1960s on, however, Martinelli worked almost exclusively on European film and TV productions. She had a long and esteemed career that ended with her recurring role in the acclaimed Italian TV series "Orgoglio" in 2004-2005. For more click here.
Director John G. Avildsen has passed away from pancreatic cancer. He had an eclectic body of work that began in earnest with his work as a cinematographer on several high profile films of the 1960s including "Hurry Sundown" and "Mickey One". Avildsen graduated to the director's chair with the surprise indie hit "Joe" in 1970 a serio-comic look at an ultra conservative working man (Peter Boyle) whose rage boils over from what he believes are anti-American protest movements against the Vietnam War. Three years later Avildsen directed the acclaimed drama "Save the Tiger" which won Jack Lemmon the Best Actor Oscar. In 1976 he directed the most unlikely of blockbusters, "Rocky", which won the Best Picture Oscar. Avildsen took home the Best Director award. He also scored with the "Karate Kid" franchise and also directed the zany comedy "Neighbors" with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as well as "The Formula" with Marlon Brando and George C. Scott and the 1990 sequel "Rocky V". He was working on new film projects when he succumbed to cancer. Click here for more.
Adam West, one of the most enduring pop culture figures of the 1960s, has passed away at age 88 after a battle with leukemia. West was a hunky young actor laboring in bit parts in films such as "The Young Philadelphians", "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" and co-starring with the Three Stooges in their last feature film "The Outlaws is Coming!" when he got the opportunity to audition for the role of Batman in ABC's new TV series. The essence of the show was that it would be played as a broad comedy. West impressed the producers with his ability to pretend his character wasn't in on the joke. West played Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne as stalwart, incorrupt heroes. He approved young Burt Ward to play the role of Robin despite not having any previous acting experience. The show, which premiered in January 1966, took off like a rocket especially with young people who appreciated the funky humor and the eye-popping production designs. ABC decided to emulate the old Batman serials but presenting the show as two half-hour episodes on consecutive nights, the first one always ending with a cliffhanger. Many actors of repute competed to play villains in the show including Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Vincent Price and many others. In 1966, Fox rushed a feature film based on the series into production with West and Ward starring.
The show also inspired the short-lived TV series "The Green Hornet", which gave Bruce Lee his first dose of fame. By early 1968, however, the show's novelty had worn off and it was canceled. West struggled to find acting gigs. In 1971 he won good reviews for a dramatic performance in "The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker", playing a supporting role. West was proud of the film but it wasn't a hit and his career went back into the doldrums. West never went out of style, however, and make lucrative appearances throughout the decades at fan conventions around the world.
He also got a late career boost by providing the voiceover work for the hit animated TV comedy series "The Family Guy" as well as for the "Batman" animated series. West also enjoyed a surge in popularity whenever a new "Batman" feature film would go into production and he was a participant in the long-awaited home video release of the "Batman" TV series in 2014. In 2013, Netflix ran a documentary "Starring Adam West" in which the actor reflected on his career. For more click here.
Powers Booth, who won an Emmy for portraying crazed cult leader Jim Jones, has died at age 68. Booth had once been a leading man in feature films such as "The Emerald Forest", "Red Dawn" and "Southern Comfort" before finding a niche as a character actor in films and on television. His TV credits include "Deadwood", "24", "Hatfields and McCoys" and "24". Booth also appeared in the hit western feature film "Tombstone" and played Alexander Haig in Oliver Stone's "Nixon". Click here for more.
Gordon with Steve McQueen in the 1968 blockbuster "Bullitt".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Character actor Don Gordon has died at age 90. Gordon was a close friend of Steve McQueen and he appeared with McQueen in three of his biggest hits: "Bullitt", "Papillon" and "The Towering Inferno". Gordon generally played strong silent types and his face was familiar to movie goers especially in the 1960s and 1970s. In "Bullitt" he had a meaty role playing the partner of McQueen's maverick detective. In "Papillon" he was a fellow convict suffering through the hell of Devil's Island prison and in "The Towering Inferno" he played a fellow firefighter helping McQueen to save trapped people from a blazing skyscraper. Gordon also appeared on numerous television series in guest star roles and earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in "The Defenders". Among his other screen credits: "WUSA", "Fuzz", "Lethal Weapon", "The Final Conflict" and "Exorcist III". For more click here.
Israeli actress Daliah Lavi has passed away at age 74. Lavi was discovered by Kirk Douglas, who met her on a film shoot when she was ten years old. She went on to stardom in the 1960s, appearing with Douglas in "Two Weeks in Another Town" before often being cast as femme fatales in various thrillers including the Matt Helm film "The Silencers" and "Some Girls Do". She also was the female lead in "Lord Jim" and showed her talents for comedy in the spy spoofs "Casino Royale" and "The Spy with the Cold Nose", as well as the zany comedy "Those Fantastic Flying Fools" (aka "Blast-off"/ "Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon"). Lavi eventually left acting to concentrate on a singing career and became a major pop star in Germany. For more click here.
Jonathan Demme, the personable film director who graduated from making "B" movies for Roger Corman to the highest ranks of Hollywood filmmakers, has died from cancer at age 73. His remarkable career covered an impressively diverse number of films ranging from documentaries to comedies and thrillers. He won the Oscar for Best Director for his 1991 film "The Silence of the Lambs". His other credits include "Stop Making Sense", "Melvin and Howard", "Philadelphia", "Crazy Mama", "Handle with Care", "Last Embrace", "Something Wild", "Swimming to Cambodia", "Beloved" and the 2004 remake of "The Manchurian Candidate". For more click here.
Don Rickles, nicknamed The Merchant of Venom, has died at age 90. Rickles pioneered insult comedy and became a sensation on television and night clubs in the 1960s. He was performing until recently. Rickles had started as a dramatic actor and scored some supporting roles in memorable films but it was his stand-up comedy routine that made him a legend. Rickles penchant for insulting celebrities and everyday people paved the way for a new brand of comedy, though Rickles never delved into the vulgarity that characterizes many of the acts performed by those he inspired. Rickles' appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and the Dean Martin celebrity roasts were the stuff of legendary comedy moments on television. He occasionally delved back into acting in major hit films such as "Kelly's Heroes", "Casino" and the "Toy Story" franchise for which he provided the voice of Mr. Potato Head. He was scheduled to continue in that role in the next entry in the series. He was also the subject of the acclaimed documentary "Mr. Warmth: the Don Rickles Project" by director John Landis. For more click here.
Alec McCowan (right) with Vivien Merchant and Jon Finch in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy".
Alec McCowen, acclaimed British actor of stage and screen, has passed away at age 91. Theater was McCowan's first love and his one-man adaptation of the New Testament formed the basis for his critically-praised show, "St. Mark's Gospel". He would receive three Tony nominations throughout his career. He was classically trained as an actor and appeared in many high profile stage productions around the world. McCowen made occasional appearances in high profile films. His best-remembered role was as the London detective in Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 classic "Frenzy". In the part, McCowen had to track down a serial rapist and murderer who is terrorizing the city. He played the role with wry humor especially in scenes in which his doting wife, played by Vivien Merchant, insists on cooking him elaborately prepared dinners of barely edible food. McCowen also played the role of "Q", the gadgets master, in Sean Connery's final James Bond film, "Never Say Never Again" in 1983. Click here for more.
Actress Barbara Hale has passed away at age 94. She started as a glamour girl in feature films and commercials before landing the role of Perry Mason's secretary Della Street in the long-running TV series that lasted from 1957-1966. Starring opposite Raymond Burr as Mason, Hale won an Emmy for her performance in 1959 and Della Street became her signature role. In 1985 she and Burr reunited for a Perry Mason TV movie. The show received very high ratings and the two would continue to reprise their roles periodically in other new TV movies about the famed attorney. Hale, the mother of actor William Katt, had many feature films to her credit including the 1970 blockbuster "Airport" in which she played the jilted wife of gigalo pilot Dean Martin.
Sir John Hurt, the chameleon-like British character actor with an ability to immerse himself in an astonishingly wide variety of roles, has died from pancreatic cancer at age 77. The son of a British clergyman and engineer, Hurt originally studied to be an artist before the lure of the stage led him to the acting profession. His first major film role was in the Oscar-winning 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons". Acclaim followed quickly and Hurt made his next big impression on screen in the 1970 British crime thriller "10 Rillington Place". He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the 1978 film "Midnight Express" and was nominated for Best Actor for his most acclaimed role as the tragic, disfigured John Merrick in the 1980 film "The Elephant Man". He earned a place in pop culture history for his role in Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi classic "Alien" for a scene in which the titular creature violently erupts from Hurt's stomach in one of the most famous scenes in the genre's history.
Many of Mary Tyler Moore's colleagues have shared their memories and thoughts on the passing of the acting legend whose character, Mary Richards on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", inspired a generation of independence-minded young women. Click here to read.
Mary Tyler Moore, the iconic star of TV and feature films, has died at age 80. During her life, she had battled alcoholism and diabetes but her career thrived from her very first major role, her Emmy-winning performances on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" beginning in 1961. Her own TV series, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" became a major hit and a great influence on women because of her portrayal as a strong, independent woman living a productive and happy life without a steady romantic relationship. Moore's success extended into feature films and she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the 1980 film "Ordinary People". For more click here.
William Peter Blatty, the novelist and screenwriter whose book "The Exorcist" became a literary phenomenon and a movie sensation, died Thursday at age 89. Blatty's success prior to the publication of the book in 1971 was largely based on comedic novels and screenplays. His greatest claim to fame in his early career was as screenwriter of the Pink Panther comedy "A Shot in the Dark". Blatty was studying at Georgetown University when he heard about a 1949 incident in which the Catholic church issued a rare approval for the exorcism of a young boy who was allegedly possessed by a demon. The story so intrigued Blatty that many years later it formed the basis of "The Exorcist", though he changed the victim to a young girl. The book was an overnight success and director William Friedkin's 1973 film version became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Blatty and Friedkin disagreed about the final cut of the film but did decide to release an alternate version in 2000 that contained scenes deleted from the original cut. Blatty directed and wrote the 1990 sequel "Exorcist III", feeling he could convey story elements that were not included in the first film or its disastrous 1977 sequel. However, "Exorcist III" opened to middling boxoffice and critical disinterest. Over the years Blatty complained that, despite the financial success "The Exorcist" franchise had afforded him, he was frustrated that he could no longer return to writing comedy, which was his first love. He said that studios and publishers always expected him to produce a horror blockbuster. For more click here.
(For an exclusive interview with William Peter Blatty, see Cinema Retro issue #19)
The belief that the year 2016 is the worst one on record in terms of celebrity deaths will only be reinforced with the news that show business legend Debbie Reynolds has passed away at age 84 just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died from heart-related problems. Reynolds was grieving the loss of Carrie when she was hospitalized on Wednesday night due to shortness of breath. Click here for more.
CLICK HERE FOR NEW YORK TIMES OVERVIEW OF MS. REYNOLDS' REMARKABLE CAREER.
Actress and novelist Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and the late singer Eddie Fisher, has died from complications related to a heart attack she suffered on a flight from London to Los Angeles last Tuesday. Fisher had been hospitalized in Los Angelessince and was described as being in "stable condition" as doctors worked feverishly to save her. Fisher is best known for playing the character of Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" film series. She was 60 years old.Fisher had been in London to promote her recently-published memoirs. Click here for more. For Washington Post story click here.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, one of the first entertainers of whom it could be said became a mega-celebrity based on a modicum of actual achievements, has died at age 99. A Hungarian immigrant, Gabor made a splash when she arrived in Hollywood with her exotic good looks and even more exotic accent. Although she gave credible performance sin "Moulin Rouge" and "Touch of Evil", Gabor quickly became enamored of playing one character she loved- herself. In the staid early days of television, she was an oddity and audiences loved her penchant for making quips and telling outrageous stories. She called everyone "Darling" and bedazzled viewers by parading about in expensive dresses and over-the-top displays of jewelry. The first casualty of her persona was her career as a promising actress. When Gabor did appear in movies it was generally in B-level fare such as her most famous cult film, the sci-fi turkey "Queen of Outer Space". Gabor always wanted to become a legitimate princess. She married a succession of rich men before fulfilling her dream by marrying a German prince thirty years her junior in 1986, thus bestowing on her the title of "Princess". Over the decades, Gabor continued to act occasionally, on stage and in the movies where she mostly spoofed her own image in films such as "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" and "A Very Brady Sequel". In 1988 Gabor made headlines when she was arrested for slapping a police officer who stopped her for speeding. She was sentenced to 72 hours in jail. Gabor's personal life was the stuff of high drama. She was estranged from her daughter who died at age 67 in 2015. It is doubtful Gabor ever knew about her death because she had been in very frail health since a serious car accident in 2002. In the following years she suffered from a variety of health problems and had a partial amputation of a leg performed. Gabor had two sisters, Eva (who found success emulating Zsa Zsa in the long-running sitcom "Green Acres") and Magda, who was the least known among the public.
The Youtube channel for Listopedia provides a sobering look back at ten stars who died tragically on set. The inclusion of Clark Gable, however, is a bit of a stretch. While there is no doubt that Gable's exhausting activities in the making of "The Misfits" contributed to his death, he did not pass away until shooting had been completed.
Cinema Retro hosted Fritz Weaver at a screening of "Fail Safe" at the Players club in New York City. Here Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer (L) and contributor Paul Scrabo present Weaver with marketing materials for "To Trap a Spy", the feature film made from an extended version of the "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV show pilot, "The Vulcan Affair". Weaver discussed how surprised he was at the level of interest there was in the fact that he was the first U.N.C.L.E. villain. (Photo: GeorgeAnn Muller).
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Weaver, who won acclaim for his work in film, TV and on the Broadway stage, has
passed away at age 90. Weaver was primarily a character actor but sometimes
top-lined in stage productions.He played Sherlock Holmes in the 1960s Broadway
musical production of "Baker Street". He won a Tony in 1970 for his
performance in "Child's Play". Weaver also earned strong reviews over
the years for his performances in Shakespeare classics. He made his big screen
debut in 1964 in the Cold War thriller "Fail Safe", giving an intense
and memorable performance as a U.S. general who cracks under pressure when the
U.S. accidentally launches a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. When this
writer interviewed him at a screening of the film some years ago, Weaver said
he still found the movie difficult to watch because of its chilling
implications. Weaver's big screen appearances also include "Black
Sunday" (1977), "Marathon Man", "The Maltese Bippy",
"Creepshow" and "Demon Seed". He continued working in film
up to this year. His TV appearances include an Emmy nominated performance in
the 1978 mini-series "Holocaust" and two classic episodes of
"The Twilight Zone". From a pop culture standpoint, he is also
remembered as the very first villain in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV series, having appeared in the pilot episode, "The Vulcan Affair" in 1964
opposite series star Robert Vaughn, who coincidentally also passed away two
weeks ago. For more, click here.
Actress Florence Henderson has died at age 82 apparently from heart failure. Henderson became a beloved TV icon on the long-running sitcom "The Brady Bunch" which aired between 1969-1974. Born in Indiana, Henderson always had show business in her blood. She was a star long before the "Brady" era, having impressed Rodgers and Hammerstein with her performance in a road show production of "Oklahoma!" in 1952. The famed composers chose her to play the female lead in a Broadway revival of the play. She also made TV history as the first female guest host for "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". However it was her role as Carol Brady that ensured her enduring popularity. The show was the first to deal with a situation in which two single parents merged their families. The success of "The Brady Bunch" was somewhat improbable as it presented the image of a squeaky clean sitcom family during an era of radical social change. However, if older teens and twenty-somethings wouldn't be caught dead watching the show (or at least admitting to it), the series did catch on with pre-teens and older viewers, the latter audience primarily wanting to escape the images of hippies and protesters that permeated the evening news. In many ways "The Brady Bunch" was a throwback to the kind of comforting family sitcom that dominated TV in the 1950s through mid-1960s. The irony was that the male lead in the show, actor Robert Reed, who played Henderson's husband Mike, was a gay man. Although this information would have been damaging to his career if known publicly at the time, the cast and crew were aware of it and embraced him. Thus, the corniest TV sitcom family of all time was actually fighting back against prejudices in real life.
The series managed to thrive even after the 1970 debut of "All in the Family", which brought a new wave of realism into American households and changed the face of the traditional sitcom forever. Henderson, like her fellow cast mates, recognized the sheer corniness of the show but continued to embrace her image as Carol Brady. She and her co-stars reunited for several TV specials as the Brady family and over the decades she relished the fact that the show had developed a cult following. In 1995 Brady played the grandmother in the hit feature film spoof of "The Brady Bunch" that depicted the characters as being unwittingly out of touch with modern society. Henderson remained an active and popular performer and in recent years published her memoirs. Her last appearance on TV was earlier this week when she attended a taping of "Dancing with the Stars" to support her "Brady" TV daughter Maureen McCormick, who was competing. For more click here.
Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose blood-drenched, over-the-top horror films built a loyal cult audience, has passed away at age 87. Lewis never achieved mainstream recognition but apparently took satisfaction that his bizarre, low-budget films had resonated with their intended audiences. Lewis, a former teacher, became involved in show business by producing and directing commercials, as well as voicing some of them. In 1963 he wrote and directed "Blood Feast", a horror flick on a tiny budget. The film became popular with the "so-bad-its-good" crowd and benefited from a creative marketing campaign. Over the decades, Lewis would continue to market his films to a growing fan base and found a particularly receptive audience in the rural drive-in markets that responded to his humorous approach to horror and sexploitation films. Among his productions: "Scum of the Earth", "Two Thousand Maniacs", "Monster-a-Go-Go", "Something Red" and "The Gruesome Twosome".
It has just been announced that movie comedy legend Gene Wilder has passed away at age 83 after years of battling heath problems. The official cause of death was complications related to Alzheimers disease. Wilder made his feature film debut in the 1967 classic "Bonnie and Clyde", playing an undertaker who is kidnapped and befriended by the infamous outlaws. He hit pay dirt when Mel Brooks cast him opposite Zero Mostel in the 1968 comedy "The Producers". Wilder's performance as the neurotic accountant earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor. He collaborated again with Brooks on two other 70s comedy classics, "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein". He also starred in the 1972 children's film favorite "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". In the 1980s Wilder teamed with Richard Pryor for several big screen comedy hits. He married comedienne Gilda Radner of "Saturday Night Live" fame but the marriage was short-lived when Radner died from cancer. Wilder became involved in raising funds to battle the disease that killed his beloved wife. He also wrote a memoir detailing their love affair. Wilder had not been seen on the big screen since 1991, as his health began to decline. He did, however, occasionally appear as a guest star on TV shows and won an Emmy in 2003 for his performance on the sitcom "Will & Grace". For more click here For a look at Wilder's most memorable roles, click here.
Actor Steven Hill has died at age 94. Hill came to prominence in 1966 as the original star of the "Mission: Impossible" TV series. He played Dan Briggs, the head of the Impossible Mission Force, who led a select team of diverse members on highly dangerous espionage missions. Hill, who was an Orthodox Jew, found that the filming schedule conflicted with his religious obligations. He left the series after one season and was replaced by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, who remained with the franchise henceforth. Hill retired from acting for almost a decade before returning to TV as District Attorney Adam Schiff on the popular NBC show "Law & Order". He stayed with the series for years and earned two Emmy nominations. Among his feature films are "Billy Bathgate", "Yentl", "The Firm", "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Legal Eagles". For more click here.
Huddleston and John Wayne in Howard Hawks' 1970 Western "Rio Lobo".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Like many character actors, David Huddleston's name may not be familiar to movie fans- but they certainly would recognize him, especially if they are retro film fans. Huddleston, who this week at age 85, was a star of stage and screen. He began making feature films in the 1960s and became steadily employed in both low-budget and major Hollywood productions, generally playing folksy, good old boy Southern characters, though he did snag the title role in the 1985 Salkind production of "Santa Claus" as well as the 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic "The Big Lebowski". He scored with audiences for his performance as the foul-mouthed town dignitary in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" and appeared in "Capricorn One", 'Smokey and the Bandit II", "Haunted Honeymoon" and two films with John Wayne: Howard Hawks' "Rio Lobo" and John Sturges' "McQ". In the first he played a small town dentist who humorously performs painful dental surgery on Wayne's character in order to deceive the villains. In the latter film, he played a private detective named Pinky who works with Wayne's maverick police detective in Seattle. Huddleston also worked up until recent years in many major TV series. He was especially proud of his acclaimed performance as Ben Franklin in the 1997 Broadway stage revival of "1776". For more click here.
Garry Marshall, the man who helped create iconic sitcoms such as "Happy Days", "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy", has died at age 81. Greatly beloved in the entertainment industry, Marshall helped kick many actors' careers into overdrive including Julia Roberts, Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and Robin Williams. He also adapted Neil Simon's stage and screen hit "The Odd Couple" into a long-running TV series starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. He grew up in a modest home in the Bronx and never lost his almost stereotypical "New Yawk" accent. Marshall became a writer on some classic TV series of the 1960s including "The Dick Van Dyke Show", The Lucy Show" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". He even became a prolific actor graduating from an un-billed role in "Goldfinger" to some juicy character parts in major films. Marshall would go on to direct features himself including such smash hits as "Pretty Woman", "The Princess Diaries" and "Runaway Bride". He also directed Jackie Gleason in his last feature film "Nothing in Common" in 1986. For more click here.
Noel Neill with George Reeves in "The Adventures of Superman".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Yet another pop culture legend of the Baby Boomer era has left us. Actress Noel Neill, who played Superman's love interest Lois Lane, has died at age 95. Neill began her career in Hollywood with bit roles in mainstream films. She was chosen to play Lois Lane, the intrepid female reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper of the fictional city Metropolis that Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent called home. As colleagues on the newspaper, Lois and Clark were friends but it was always Superman that stole her heart. One of the more amusing aspects of the Superman legend is that Lois Lane, a top reporter, could never affirm her suspicions that Clark actually was Superman simply because his "disguise" consisted of a pair of eyeglasses. Nevertheless, the Lois Lane character was unusual for the era because she represented an emancipated woman who displayed just as much courage as the men around her. Neill first appeared opposite Kirk Allyn in two series of "Superman" serials that were shown in movie theaters in the late 1940s and early 1950s. When "The Adventures of Superman" TV series debuted a few years later it became an instant hit. However, Neill wasn't the producer's first choice to play Lois Lane in the show. Actress Phyllis Coates had the role and when she left the series Neill was brought on board to take over the part. Coates had played the part of Lois for only one season while Neill had the part for five years (1953-1958) until the show finally left the air. On the TV series, Neill starred opposite George Reeves in the role of Clark Kent/Superman and their chemistry became the stuff of TV legend. Inevitably Lois and fellow reporter Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) would get themselves in a bind and Superman would have to rescue them. Despite the predictability of the formula, the show's popularity has only increased over the decades. When the series ended, Neill decided to retire to become a self-described "beach bum". However, she often participated in fan events and autograph shows over the decades. She also continued her relationship with Superman by making cameo appearances in the 1978 feature film that introduced Christopher Reeve in the role and the 2006 film "Superman Returns". She had also appeared in a 1991 episode of the "Superboy" TV series. Perhaps the most meaningful tribute to her role in "The Adventures of Superman" came when the real-life city of Metropolis, Illinois, unveiled a statue commemorating Lois Lane in 2010. Appropriately, the image was based on Noel Neill, who was proudly in attendance.
Over the last year the entertainment industry has suffered incalculable losses of talented people. Some of them hit home personally, as is the case with producer Euan Lloyd, who passed away this weekend in London. I first met Euan in 1978 when I was attending college in New Jersey. I had the enviable gig of being the film critic for the campus newspaper, which afforded me the opportunity to routinely attend press screenings of forthcoming films in New York, which was a stone's throw across the river from my native Jersey City. I had read about the upcoming release of "The Wild Geese" which seemed to promise a "too-good-to-be-true" cast composed of some of my favorite actors (Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris above all) in the kind of gritty, macho British war flick that I had become addicted to ever since seeing "Zulu" at age 8. To say the film lived up to expectations would be an understatement. I thought it was a superbly crafted blend of rugged action, social commentary and splendid performances under the capable direction of Andrew V. McLaglen. The film was inspired by the exploits of a real life mercenary named Col. Michael Hoare (not so affectionately known as "Mad Mike"). He was a technical adviser on the film and was speaking at the post-screening press conference along with the film's producer Euan Llloyd. I had seen some of Lloyd's earlier films and liked them. The two men gave a riveting account of the making of "The Wild Geese", after which I approached Mr. Lloyd and introduced myself. I told him that I was greatly impressed with the film and would be writing an excellent review of it. I had hoped to just get a handshake and a few nice words since I wasn't exactly representing the New York Times. To my surprise, Mr. Lloyd spoke to me at length about my experience writing film reviews. He hung on every word. Whether he was just being polite or had a genuine interest, I can't say to this day. However, he astonished me by inviting me to breakfast at the Plaza the next morning. As a college kid, the Plaza on Central Park was a place you only saw in the kidnapping scene of "North By Northwest", as few people from my blue collar background had the kind of bankroll that would afford a trip to the bar or restaurant. The next morning I dined with Mr. Lloyd, who insisted that I call him Euan. After breakfast we took a long walk around the city and he related fascinating stories about the film trade. He even gave me an inside scoop on the next James Bond movie. He said he had recently screened "The Wild Geese" for Cubby Broccoli, who was so impressed by the sequence in which the mercenaries sky dive into Africa that he decided to plan a major aerial scene to start "Moonraker" off with - and indeed he did. Euan had asked me to bring him copies of some of my reviews, which he read in my presence (a nerve-wracking experience for me, as I recall.) He was highly complimentary and encouraged me to take up writing as a career. I had never heard such words of encouragement from anyone. He also told me that if my schedule permitted it, he could get me a bottom-rung job on the set of his forthcoming film "The Sea Wolves". It was an offer I wasn't able to take because of factors in my personal life at the time, not these least of which were that I needed a steady job and was about to get married. Still, the offer was an extremely kind gesture. I parted with Euan that day and was destined not to see him for many years. In the pre-E mail era, these types of casualties happened to people's relationships.
Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger in "The Wild Geese".
In 2002, my old friend and future Cinema Retro publishing partner Dave Worrall happened to meet Euan Lloyd and Andrew V. McLaglen at an event at Pinewood Studios. He asked Euan if he might have remembered a guy named Pfeiffer he had met many years ago. To his surprise, Euan recalled the day I had spent with him and relayed the message that we should visit him when next I was in London. A few months later we did just that and I was delighted to renew my friendship with this remarkable man. In 2006, he was our guest of honor for a black tie dinner we held at the Reform Club in London. His anecdotes were captivating but he never seemed pretentious or full of himself. He was always an example of humility and class. When we started Cinema Retro magazine a few years later, Euan was front and center and we ran an extensive interview with him over the first three issues that was conducted by writers Mac MacSharry and Terry Hine. Euan would always be there when you needed him. It should be said that Euan was one of the first very successful producers to eschew studio financing in favor of raising money for his films on his own, then selling distribution rights to the major studios. In his early days in the industry he worked for future James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and his (then) partner Irving Allen. Lloyd always credited Cubby for giving him a him this opportunity, which was actually arranged by Alan Ladd, who Euan had befriended. Euan helped oversee production on many successful movies for Cubby and Irving's Warwick Productions. When Cubby later teamed with Harry Saltzman to form Eon Productions, Euan continued to work with Irving Allen and co-produced the second Matt Helm film, "Murderer's Row" starring Dean Martin. From that point on, he would produce his own films. They included Sean Connery's first post-Bond film, "Shalako" in 1968. He struck pay dirt with the 1978 release of "The Wild Geese", which was a major hit internationally and spawned a loyal cult following that seems to be growing to this day. Some of his movies including "The Sea Wolves" and "Who Dares Wins" did not do well at the boxoffice in America but reaped large profits from the European markets. "Who Dares Wins", which was based on a real life incident in which the SAS fought terrorists to free the Iranian embassy in London, counted among its admirers Stanley Kubrick, who wrote Euan Lloyd a letter praising the film. Another admirer of the 1982 movie was President Ronald Reagan, who requested that it be screened at the White House. Euan was also a man who seemed to have no enemies. I once received an unexpected phone call from Sean Connery and in the process of speaking to him, I told him that I was a friend of Euan Lloyd's. Connery recounted his experiences making "Shalako" and said that although he had battled with producers many times over the course of his career, Euan was one of the most honorable men he had ever worked with. Similarly, Roger Moore, who starred in "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" for Euan, counted him among the most trustworthy producers in the industry.
Lee Pfeiffer introduces Euan Lloyd at a dinner in his honor at the Reform Club in London.
Over the years, Dave and I would try to see Euan whenever we were in London. He would occasionally join us at the royal premieres of James Bond films. On my last visit in October 2015, I knew he had been seriously ill. We planned to meet briefly at his apartment but his illness prevented this from happening. I think Euan was looking out for me even then, as I don't believe he wanted me to see him in a weakened state. Perhaps he was right. My only memories of him are of a vibrant, elegant man who was always "dressed to the nines" and the epitome of class, style and kindness. He was old school in the best sense of the term. Small wonder that producer Jonathan Sothcott titled his excellent 2004 documentary tribute to Euan "The Last of the Gentleman Producers". I realize now more than ever how that title perfectly encapsulates the man. Upon learning of Euan's passing, Sir Roger Moore referred to him as "a legend". Somehow, that word seems equally appropriate.
(Click below to watch "The Last of the Gentlemen Producers")
Cimino and star Kris Kristofferson on the set of the ill-fated production of "Heaven's Gate".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Michael Cimino, whose fast rise to royalty in Hollywood was matched only by the sudden demise of his career, has died at age 77. He was born in Long Island and entered the film business with his first success as the co-writer of the 1973 Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry sequel "Magnum Force". (He had previously written the screenplay for the sci-fi cult film "Silent Running" starring Bruce Dern.) Eastwood was suitably impressed and gave Cimino the opportunity to make his directorial debut with the buddy crime caper "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". Released in 1974, the film was a hit and helped launch Jeff Bridges to stardom with the Oscar nomination he received. In 1978 Cimino released his ambitious Vietnam War epic "The Deer Hunter" starring Robert De Niro and newcomer Meryl Streep. The politics of the big budget film are still being debated, with some arguing Cimino was an apologist for either the pro-war hawks or the anti-war peaceniks. Either way, the film packed a powerful punch and spoke to a generation that had suffered through the war. Cimino received Oscars for producing and directing the film and a promising future seemed to be in store. However, his 1980 mega-budget Western "Heaven's Gate" would derail his career forever. Accused of having a giant ego and being fast and loose with other people's money, Cimino oversaw the filming of the bloated production that lasted eleven months and ended up costing $35 million on a budget that was not to exceed $11 million. The three -and-a-half hour film was also the victim of bad timing. It had a pro-Marxist story but was released within weeks of Ronald Reagan's election to the White House. The nation was veering to the political right and Cimino's film was an homage to socialists. The film was roundly panned by critics and lost virtually all of its production cost in a sea of red ink. United Artists, which had failed to reign in Cimino's excesses, paid the dearest cost. The fabled studio, which had recently come under new management, almost went into bankruptcy and diminished over the ensuing years to being little more than a trademark instead of a thriving studio. In desperation, UA ordered Cimino to create a much shorter version of the film for wide release, but the results were still terrible. The debacle resulted in UA executive Steven Bach writing his well-received book "Final Cut", which documented the disaster on celluloid. Bach took his share of the blame for giving Cimino carte blanche on the ever-soaring budget but put the bulk of the responsibility on Cimino himself, whose hubris was such that he refused to even show UA executives his final cut until its first public screening in New York. By the time the reviews came out, the damage was done. (Rex Reed claimed the audience of sophisticates actually threw popcorn at the screen.) Cimino dismissed Bach's allegations but rarely spoke of the film ever again (although he did provide a commentary track for Criterion's Blu-ray special edition of the film in which he extolled its virtues while skirting the controversies.)
Cimino's looks changed radically over the years, leading some to speculate his was undergoing a sex change operation.
Cimino went on to direct a scattering of minor films, the most successful being the crime drama "Year of the Dragon". His last film was the little-seen "Sunchaser", released in 1996. He did have the satisfaction of seeing the uncut version of "Heaven's Gate" re-evaluated and gain respect in many quarters of the film industry. Nevertheless, he kept a low profile and his always eccentric personal behavior became bizarre. He underwent radical plastic surgery which so altered his appearance that many speculated he was undergoing a sex change operation. Cimino issued a non-denial denial that was more cryptic than illuminating. He also told conflicting stories about his early life and even once stated that he had served in Vietnam (he hadn't). In more recent years, he wrote occasional novels and would come out of seclusion to attend a film festival or event every now and then. He rarely gave interviews and disdained appearing on television. Whatever one thinks of his reed-thin filmography, Cimino thought in grandiose terms and went to extremes to fulfill his artistic visions. Whether he was indeed a visionary, a psychologically disturbed artist or both, will be factors relating to his legacy that will be debated for many years to come.
Bud Spencer, the burly former Italian athlete who became an iconic film star in his native country, has died at age 86. Spencer, whose real name was Carlo Pedersoli, chose his stage name as a tribute to Budweiser beer, which he loved, and Spencer Tracy, his favorite film star. Although Spencer's film found some exposure in the American market, his greatest success was found in European comedy westerns that often co-starred his friend Terence Hill. Among the films that are best known to English-speaking audiences are "Ace High", "The Five Man Army", "They Call Me Trinity", "Trinity is STILL My Name!", "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" and "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die". Among the contemporary actors Spencer counted among his admirers was Russell Crowe. For more click here.