Finney with Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Albert Finney, who rose to fame and acclaim as one of Britain's generation of actors known as "Angry Young Men", has died at age 82. A chest infection was cited as cause of death. Finney was among an exciting new generation of British actors who burst upon the scene in the 1950s and 1960s, reaping critical praise for their realistic portrayals often of troubled men who were being constrained by socio-economic conditions that afflicted the lower income class in post-War Britain. His star-making role came in director Karl Reisz's "kitchen sink" classic, the 1960 film "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" which reflected the frustrations of the working class. Finney called upon his real life experiences growing up in Northwest England under somewhat spartan living conditions.
As a newly-minted star, he screen tested for director David Lean for the title role of "Lawrence of Arabia" but Finney didn't want to sign a five picture deal with the film's producer Sam Speigel. Peter O'Toole took the role and became a major name in international cinema. Finney was somewhat opaque compared to other young actors that emerged in the UK in the 1960s. He wasn't the publicity seeker that Richard Burton was, nor was he the hard-drinking, towel snapping joker Richard Harris was. He was thought by some critics to have not achieved his full promise on stage or screen, despite having been nominated for five Oscars and thirteen BAFTAs. (He won two of the latter.) Finney was a remote figure in a publicity-hungry industry. He rarely gave interviews and was often cynical about the shallowness of fame. He refused to attend any of the ceremonies at which he was nominated. Perhaps his best-loved role was in "Tom Jones", the 1963 screen adaptation of Henry Fielding's bawdy comedic novel. Yet, Finney's work on the big screen was spotty. He didn't work very frequently and sometimes chose projects that were not especially successful at the boxoffice. His more prominent films include "Murder on the Orient Express", "Erin Brockovich", "Two for the Road", "The Victors", "Scrooge", "Wolfen", "Shoot the Moon", "Annie", "Traffic", "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Bourne Legacy". He was off screen for a number of years while he waged a successful battle against cancer. His final role was a memorable one: as Kincade, the grumpy old farmer and boyhood friend of James Bond in the 2012 blockbuster "Skyfall". For more click here.
Michele Legrand, the French composer who won three Academy Awards, has died at age 86. Legrand originally hit the big time as a crooner and pianist with his 1954 album "I Love Paris" which went on to be an international sensation, selling more than 8 million copies. Other hit albums followed and he began to score feature films. With more than 200 films to his credit, Legrand's style of scoring films would is considered "old school" today, employing lush, romantic melodies that have included some of the most memorable film scores of all time. He first gained international attention in film scoring with the 1964 French production "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", a romance in which literally every word of dialogue was sung. The film earned him three Oscar nominations and the best known song from the film, "I Will Wait for You" became a major hit that was covered by many artists. He would also create the score for the related 1967 film "The Young Girls of Rochefort".
The following year, Legrand won an Oscar for Best Song for "The Windmills of Your Mind", a puzzling but hypnotic piece with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn that perfectly fit the stylish crime caper "The Thomas Crown Affair". Noel Harrison sung the piece in the film but it was covered by many artists and Dusty Springfield had a Top 40 version of it. Other Oscars followed for his haunting score for "Summer of '42" and "Yentl". For more about his life and career click here.
Cinema Retro mourns the passing of our friend and colleague Nick Redman,
film historian and Oscar-nominated documentary maker as well as
recognized scholar of the works of Sam Peckinpah. Nick passed away after
a long illness we all had hoped he would prevail over. The film
industry has lost a major champion of classic cinema. Nick, his wife
Julie Kirgo, a fellow film historian, and Brian Jamieson were the
founders of Twilight Time, the boutique video label that puts out first
rate limited editions of retro movie classics. Nick and Paul Seydor were nominated for documentary Oscars for their 1996 film "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage".
Broadway legend Carol Channing has passed away from natural causes at age 97. To call her inimitable would be a misstatement as Ms. Channing was one of the most impersonated stars of all time. With her shocking white hairdo, expansive smile and gravelly voice, she endeared audiences and inspired careers for countless entertainers on the drag queen circuit. Channing became a Broadway star in 1949 with "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and later became inextricably linked to the title role in the 1964 Broadway smash "Hello, Dolly!", for which she received the Tony Award. She was frustrated however, when she was not cast in the film versions of either musical, losing the roles to Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand respectively. Ms. Channing also starred in her own television variety series in the 1960s. Surprisingly, she appeared in only a handful of feature films. She earned a Golden Globe and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the 1967 movie musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and was among the all star cast in director Otto Preminger's bizarre 1968 comedy flop "Skidoo". Seemingly ageless, Channing performed on stage for decades often in revivals or road productions of "Hello, Dolly!" in which she starred over 4500 times. For more click here.
Bloom with Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter".
Veteran actress Verna Bloom has died at age 80. Bloom made her screen debut as the female lead in Haskell Wexler's acclaimed 1969 film "Medium Cool". Her performance gained her much traction in the film industry and she went on to star opposite Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" and "Honkytonk Man". She also memorably appeared in director John Landis's "National Lampoon's Animal House" playing the dean's wife who had a penchant for bedding college students. Her other film credits include "Badge 373", "The Hired Hand", "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the Frank Sinatra TV movie "Pickup on Cherry Street". Click here for more.
Once again TCM has created a hauntingly beautiful video tribute to the artists from the film world who passed away in 2018. Inevitably, we find ourselves shocked that some names from the past had left us without getting any attention or fanfare. You will probably be surprised, as well. It's always sobering to recognize how many irreplaceable talents have left us in any given year and 2018 was no exception. The TCM tributes are truly wonderful and makes one wonder why the Academy can't expand their memorial segment on the Oscars broadcast to include the wealth of talents that are represented here. Inevitably, the Oscars tribute, while sensitively done, causes controversy because of the prominent names who are not deemed worthy of mention, including people who were once nominated for Academy Awards. Thanks, TCM, for doing it right.
Actress, producer and director Penny Marshall has died at age 75 from complications with diabetes. In addition to starring in the iconic 1970s sitcom "Laverne and Shirley", Marshall was a trailblazer as a female director who broke barriers by helming big studio productions that became major boxoffice hits. Among them: "Big", "A League of Their Own" and "Awakenings". Comedy played a major element in Marshall's life. Her career was jump-started when she was cast as Oscar Madison's secretary in "The Odd Couple" television series. She and Cindy Williams introduced the characters of Laverne and Shirley on the "Happy Days" TV series. The lovable but unsophisticated blue collar ladies became so popular that a spin-off series was created for them to star in. The show proved to be a ratings smash, running for eight seasons. It was the brainchild of Marshall's brother Gary Marshall, who was a major force in the entertainment industry. Marshall gradually fulfilled her dream of becoming a director at a time when doors were largely closed to females who wanted to enter the profession. However, she proved she could bring in big budget productions on time and her direction was instrumental in making them major boxoffice hits. Marshall was once married to Rob Reiner, himself an actor and director who had become popular on an iconic 1970s sitcom, "All in the Family". For more on her life and career, click here.
Actress and director Sondra Locke has died at age 74. She passed away in November but for reasons unknown, her death wasn't reported until six weeks later. Locke first gained attention in the film industry when she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the 1968 film "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". She worked steadily in films and television in supporting roles until 1976 when she co-starred with Clint Eastwood in "The Outlaw Josey Wales". The film formed the basis of a long-time working and personal relationship between Locke and Eastwood. They would go on to co-star in five more films together but their relationship was an increasingly tumultuous one, complicated by the fact that although Locke was living with Eastwood, she was married to another man in what she described as a platonic marriage. Ultimately, the couple's personal troubles resulted in their breakup and a high profile palimony suit against Eastwood by Locke. It all became fodder for the gossip columns with Locke publicly accusing Eastwood of mistreating her both emotionally and financially and claiming he pressured her into getting two abortions. The palimony suit was eventually settled when Eastwood arranged for Locke to get a deal at Warner Brothers to direct and act in films she would develop. However, this, too, resulted in lawsuit when Locke claimed that the one feature released under the deal, the 1986 film "Ratboy", was virtually buried by the studio, which never gave the green light to any of her other projects. Locke filed suit accusing Eastwood of concocting a phony production deal with Warner Brothers that was designed to ensure that none of her films went into production. After a high profile trial in which Eastwood was compelled to give testimony, he made an undisclosed financial settlement with Locke. Although Locke claimed to take satisfaction from a woman prevailing over one of the industry's most powerful men, her career never recuperated, though she did present her side of the story in her autobiography titled "The Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly". In recent years, she had been battling bone and breast cancer. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest related to the illnesses. For more click here.
Ken Berry, who rose to fame in the 1960s as one of the stars of the "F Troop" TV series, has died at age 85. Berry entered show business thanks to the efforts of Leonard Nimoy, who was Berry's sergeant in the U.S. Army. After Nimoy left the service and entered the acting profession, he helped find opportunities for Berry, who went on to stardom in the mid-1960s as Captain Parmenter, the likable but inept commanding officer of U.S. Cavalry post in the old West that was populated by con men and incompetents. Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch co-starred with Berry in the show that ran from 1965 to 1967. When Andy Griffith decided to retire from his immensely popular sitcom, he created a spin-off series, "Mayberry R.F.D" that featured Berry as the male lead. The show defied expectations and began a ratings hit, thanks in no small part to Berry's pleasant, "guy next door" persona. Despite this, "Mayberry R.F.D" was a casualty of CBS's infamous cancellation of its most popular sitcoms because they skewed towards older, rural audiences. Berry went on to co-star in a spinoff of "The Carol Burnett Show", "Mama's Family" in the 1980s. He was also occasionally seen in feature films such as Disney's "The Cat from Outer Space" and "Herbie Rides Again". For more click here.
Nicolas Roeg, the supremely talented British cinematographer who ultimately became an acclaimed director, has died at age 90. Roeg's unique eye for filming scenes in a creative manner gained him a reputation in the movie industry in the 1960s. He was a second-unit photographer on David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and contributed to Lean's "Doctor Zhivago". By 1964, he was credited as Director of Photography on Roger Corman's "The Masque of the Red Death", one of the most stylishly filmed Corman horror productions. Soon, he found himself constantly in demand. Other films he photographed included "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", "Far from the Madding Crowd" and "Petulia". He also contributed to the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale".
Roeg next moved into the Director's chair with the bizarre and controversial 1970 crime film "Performance" that has since become a cult classic. Better received was "Walkabout", which- as with "Performance"- he both directed and served as DP. In 1973, Roeg directed his most acclaimed film, the horror thriller "Don't Look Now" which maintains its reputation as one of the most terrifying films ever made. His other notable movies include "The Man Who Fell to Earth", "Bad Timing" and "Castaway". Most of his films made since the 1980s were quirky in content and made little impact. Roeg's sometimes crusty nature also put him out of favor with major studios and he turned to the television industry where he occasionally directed TV movies. However, his best films are still revered by movie scholars worldwide. Click here for more.
Bertolucci on location for "Last Tango in Paris" with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in 1972.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Bernardo Bertolucci, the acclaimed Italian director, has died in Rome at age 77. The cause of death was not immediately revealed. Bertolucci won an Oscar for his direction of the 1987 film "The Last Emperor" and also received acclaim for his earlier films that included "The Spider's Stratagem" and "The Conformist". A left-wing Marxist through much of his life, Bertolucci also directed the 1976 epic "1900" which was steeped in political overtones. His most famous and notorious film was "Last Tango in Paris" (1972), which was non-political but highly controversial. It's graphic sexual content was the cause of international controversy and resulted in Bertolucci being charged with obscenity in his native Italy. The film starred Marlon Brando in the tale of a depressed, middle-aged American ex-pat who indulges in a series of anonymous sexual encounters with a teenage Parisian girl (Maria Schneider.) The movie was highly praised in some quarters while being denounced as pretentious pornography in others. Largely on the strength of Brando's powerful performance, the movie was an international boxoffice smash despite the fact that it was basically fare for art house cinemas. Both Brando and Bertolucci received Oscar nominations for the film. Bertolucci also directed the 1979 drama "Luna" which was also controversial for its overtones of an incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son. He would go on to also direct "The Sheltering Sky", "The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man". "The Sheltering Sky", "Stealing Beauty". "The Dreamers" and "Me and You". For New York Times coverage, click here.
Kudos to the New York Times for recognizing the passing of Jerry Ohlinger, the famed Gotham movie memorabilia dealer who passed away this week at age 75. Collectors would travel far and wide, especially in the pre-internet age, to rummage through Ohlinger's early shops that boasted a wealth of vintage movie stills, magazines and rare posters. Over the years, he moved locations several times and his shops, by necessity, became better staffed and more organized. Ohlinger seemed to be omnipresent, holding court at the shop, chatting with customers, shouting out orders to staffers who were in search of that illusive something that a customer required. He was quite the character: eccentric, engaging and always seen with a soggy cigar in his mouth that, ironically, was never lit because he didn't like smoking cigars. Go figure. Jerry Ohlinger's Movie Memorabilia Shop went through some hard times in recent years due to the skyrocketing rents that have wreaked havoc on small businesses in major cities. With Jerry's passing, it truly is an end of an era for collectors of vintage movie memorabilia, though his presence will be felt due to the fact that the last location of his shop will remain in operation. For more click here.
(Goldman with James Caan on the set of "A Bridge Too Far"- 1976)
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There's an old joke among writers about the naive young starlet who thought she could make it in Hollywood by sleeping with screenwriters. Indeed, the people who made it possible for hit films to exist by writing the scenarios the actors carried out on screen were often regarded as being very low on the industry totem pole- and relatively low-paid as well. Not so with novelist and screenwriter William Goldman, who elevated regard for screenwriters while demanding- and receiving- the kind of breakthrough salaries that revolutionized the film industry's respect for writers. Goldman has died from cancer in Manhattan at age 87. He was known to be opinionated, abrasive and demanding, but no one questioned his talents. He won Oscars for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All the President's Men". Among his other screenplays: "Harper" (aka "The Moving Target"), "Marathon Man" (adapted from his own novel), "A Bridge Too Far", "The Princess Bride", "No Way to Treat a Lady", "The Hot Rock", "The Stepford Wives", "The Great Waldo Pepper", "Magic", "The Princess Bride" (adapted from his own novel), "Misery", "Year of the Comet", "Chaplin", "Maverick" and "The Ghost and the Darkness". Goldman was inspired to take up screenwriting after buying a book about the profession in an all-night Times Square book shop. His first novel to be adapted for the screen was "Soldier in the Rain", though the screenplay was written by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin. Goldman's book "Adventures in the Screen Trade", a scathing look at the film industry, is still widely-read. He famously wrote of his conclusion about competence among studio executives: "Nobody knows anything". Goldman's brother James, was also an Oscar winner, having written the play "The Lion in Winter" for which he received the award for Adapted Screenplay. Even if you've never heard of Goldman, you're familiar with some of his dialogue which has become ingrained in popular culture. The Washington Post provides examples. Click here to read.
Stan Lee, the man who transformed Marvel Comics into an entertainment phenomenon, has passed away at age 95. Lee, along with superb artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, introduced a line of super hero characters that were the antithesis of the popular heroes in rival D.C. Comics. Lee's characters, such as Spiderman, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four, were somewhat grounded in reality. They protagonists had plenty of human flaws, insecurities and resentments. In his WWII comic book "Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos" (the main character of which is better known today as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D), Lee broke new ground by making the commando squad integrated with a black soldier as well as a Jewish member of the unit. The series dealt realistically with matters of racial intolerance and also featured the unthinkable: the deaths of beloved characters. Over the decades, Lee became a guiding force that saw screen adaptations of Marvel characters evolve from low-budget, cheesy productions to major studio blockbusters. Click here for more.
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.