ROBERT V. BARON Died Dec. 1, 2000
Actor/writer/jack of all trades Robert V. Baron died just short of his 68th birthday. Mr. Baron gained a reputation as an excellent, hardworking theater actor. Mr. Barron was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Mr. Baron began working in Hollywood both in front and behind the camera. His film acting credits include "MacArthur," "Eating Raoul," "Disorderlies," Clint Eastwood’s "Honkytonk Man" and "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure." In the "Bill and Ted" film he played Abraham Lincoln. On stage, Mr. Baron garnered rave reviews as the 16th President in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois." Mr. Baron not only acted for director Paul Bartel in "Eating Raoul," he was the assistant editor also. Mr. Baron also acted in numerous TV series. His TV credits include "Quantum Leap," "L.A. Law," "Alien Nation," "The Dukes of Hazard," "Mannix," "Judd For the Defense" and "Bonanza." Robert Baron also wrote scripts. He wrote five episodes of "Bonanza" including the perennial favorite "Hoss and the Leprechauns." He also wrote for the series "The Wild, Wild West" and "Tammy." Speaking of "Tammy," Mr. Barron wrote the feature film "Tammy and the Millionaire." Mr. Baron also wrote the English dubbed versions of a number of foreign film including "My Life As a Dog" and "Like Water for Chocolate." Mr. Barron was also creative director for Saban Productions. He was involved in bringing Japanese anime to English speaking audiences.
GAIL FISHER Died Dec. 2, 2000
I grew up watching detective Joe Mannix solving crime after crime every Friday night. My dad and I would watch "The Wild, Wild West," "Mission Impossible" and "Mannix." Joe Mannix’s secretary was the pretty, widowed Peggy. She was tough and good looking. She was also Black. That was a rarity for network TV in the 1960s. Actress Gail Fisher was one of the first Black actresses to be allowed to play a dignified character on a regular basis during Prime Time. While Ms. Fisher was given limited duties on the show, she did pave the way for others who would challenge the Whites Only stranglehold on network TV. She won an Emmy for Best Actress in a Dramatic Supporting Role during the series 1970 season. Gail Fisher died of lung cancer at age 65. She appeared in a number of other series in guest roles, but she will be best remembered for her seven seasons on "Mannix."
DAVID COMMONS Died Dec. 2, 2000
Visual effects artist turned writer director David Commons died of leukemia at age 86. Mr. Commons was responsible for the visual effects on two of the most notorious monster movies of the 1950s. "Robot Monster" is a movie so bad, it has to be seen to be believed. The monster was a man in an ape suit with a fish tank head! Mr. Commons was also responsible for the cult classic "Cat Women of the Moon." He also provided the special effects for several other films. In 1968 Mr. Commons wrote and directed "The Angry Breed." The film dealt with a Vietnam vet trying to break into the movie business.
CHRIS ANTLEY Died Dec. 2, 2000
Famed jockey Chris Antley died of a drug overdose at age 34. Police first suspected murder due to a head injury. The coroner’s report stated that the head wound was superficial and that the real cause of death was a combination of four drugs in his system. The coroner stated that the head wounds could have been caused by Mr. Antley falling down in a drugged stupor. Mr. Antley played a jockey in Robert DeNiro’s "A Bronx Tale."
ROSMARIE FRANKLAND Died Dec. 2, 2000
British beauty queen Rosmarie Frankland died at age 57. Ms. Frankland was Miss World in 1961, the first ever winner from Great Britain. The brunette beauty played a show girl in Richard Lester’s "A Hard Days Night." She was the envy of many a young woman as she got to sit next to Beatle Paul McCartney during her short scene in the film. She also appeared in the Bob Hope comedy "I’ll Take Sweden." Bob Hope was the one who crowned Ms. Frankland Miss World.
SEYMOUR BORDE Died Dec. 2, 2000
Producer/distributor Seymour Borde died at age 89. Mr. Borde is the father of producer Mark Borde. Seymour Borde and Associates were nominated for a Best Live Action Short Subject Oscar for their 1971 film "Good Morning." Mr. Borde produced several exploitation films including "Knockers Up" and "Hollywood Hot Tubs."
JUN FUKUDA Died Dec. 3, 2000
Japanese director Jun Fukuda died of cancer at age 77. Mr. Fukuda directed the biggest star in Japan: Godzilla! Mr. Fukuda directed five films in the series: "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster," "Son of Godzilla," "Godzilla on Monster Island," "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" and "Godzilla vs. Megalon." He was also the assistant director on "Rodan!" Few directors have gotten to work with actors as big. Mr. Fukuda directed nearly 50 films during his long career.
ANN PEARCE Died Dec. 3, 2000
Ann Pearce, actress and former wife of director Stanley Kramer, died of natural causes at age 74. Mr. Pearce had small parts in several films during the late 1940s and early 1950s. During her marriage to Stanley Kramer she assisted him on several films including "Inherit the Wind," "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "Not as a Stranger" and "The Pride and the Passion."
HOYT S. CURTIN Died Dec. 3, 2000
Composer Hoyt S. Curtain died at age 78. Mr. Curtain composed music for over 90 films and TV shows. He is best known for writing the themes songs for "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons." He was the music director for Hanna-Barbera. While a majority of Mr. Curtain’s credits are for cartoons, he did compose the scores for the cult classic "Jail Bait" and "Lost Women." Of course, Mr. Curtain is better known for "Magilla Gorilla," "The Smurfs," "Top Cat," "Johnny Quest," "The Wacky Racers," "Josie and the Pussycats" and "Hong Kong Phooey." Mr. Curtain was nominated for an Emmy for one the "Flintstone" specials.
VINCENT M. FENNELLY Died Dec. 4, 2000
Western movie producer Vincent Fennelly died of ALS at age 80. In addition to producing nearly 60 B-movie Westerns, Mr. Fennelly was the executive producer of the hit TV series "Rawhide" from 1962 through 64.
CHET DOUGLAS Died Dec. 4, 2000
Western actor turned TV newsman Chet Douglas died of cancer just shy of his 65th birthday. Mr. Douglas’ credits include "Requiem for a Gunfighter," "Two Rode Together" and "The Underwater City." Mr. Douglas was an anchorman for KFWB in Los Angeles from 1968 to 1980.
JOHN CHRISTENSEN Died Dec. 5, 2000
Filmmaker John Christensen died tragically at age 28. Along with Mark Brauner, Mr. Christensen originated the cable-access show "Lube TV" in Austin Texas. He appeared in several student films including "Kung-Fu Dumpster Boy." He made a number of short films including "Manifesto," "Monologue" and "He Got Francine." Mr. Christensen did extra work in "Miss Congeniality," "American Outlaw," "Attack of the Bat Monsters" and "The New Guy." He appeared, in animated form in Richard Linklater’s "Waking Life." He played the "Social Lubricator of the Dream World." The title of his show "Lube TV" came from this and Mr. Christensen’s overall bent toward lubricating the social environment. Mr. Christensen was the Assistant Film Programmer for the Austin Film Festival in 1999. Before moving to Austin, Mr. Christensen played with the band "Menna" in Houston Texas.
THOMAS BABE Died Dec. 6, 2000
Playwright Thomas Babe died of lung cancer at age 59. Mr. Babe wrote and produced an number of plays during his lengthy career. Mr. Babe also wrote for film. His play "Fathers and Sons" was turned into "Will Bill" by director Walter Hill. He also wrote the soap opera "Ryan’s Hope." Other credits include "Lincoln and the War Within" and "Lincoln and Seward."
WERNER KLEMPERER Died Dec. 6, 2000
"Hooogannn!" From 1965 through 1971, actor Werner Klemperer uttered that frustrated line thousands of times as the incompetent German POW commandant Colonel Klink in the hit series "Hogan’s Heroes." Ironically, Mr. Klemperer was a Jewish actor playing a Nazi. Klemperer was horrified to discover that the TV series was going to be a comedy. He stated that if Col. Klink was ever portrayed as a hero he would leave the show. He never had to leave the show. The Nazis were always portrayed as buffoons. Actor Werner Klemperer died of cancer at age 80.
Though Mr. Klemperer was best known for his role as Col. Klink, he appeared in a large number of films and TV shows. He was also a successful stage actor. He delivered a chilling performance as the unrepentant Nazi Emil Hahn is Stanley Kramer’s "Judgment at Nuremberg." Stanley Kramer directed Klemperer again in the pre-WWII soap opera at sea "Ship of Fools." Klemperer was adept at both drama and comedy. He had a small part in Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Wrong Man." He provided nice support to Cary Grant and Sophia Loren in "Houseboat."
Mr. Klemperer was nominated for five Emmy Awards for his work in "Hogan’s Heroes." He won twice. He was the son of famed conductor Otto Klemperer. His family fled Germany shortly after Hitler took power. Mr. Klemperer served in the US Army during WWII.
LIONEL ROGOSIN Died Dec. 8, 2000
Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Lionel Rogosin died of a heart attack at age 76. Mr. Rogosin was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for his 1955 film "On the Bowery." The movie won the Best Documentary BAFTA. Other credits include "Come Back Africa," "Good Times, Wonderful Times," "Black Roots," "Black Fantasy" and "Arab Israeli Dialogue." "Come Back Africa" is considered a classic anti-apartheid film.
TAD TADLOCK Died Dec. 8, 2000
Dancer/choreographer Tad Tadlock died of lung cancer at age 69. She was a featured dancer on the TV series "Your Hit Parade." She choreographer several notable films including Lawrence Kasdan’s "Body Heat." (Remember Ted Danson’s dancing?) She also assisted in the choreography in Curtis Harrington’s best film "What’s the Matter With Helen?" She also choreographed the complex dance scenes in Michael Cimino’s disastrous "Heaven’s Gate." She worked on the TV series "Charlie’s Angels" and "Dance Fever." She also choreographed a number of "Miss USA" and "Miss Universe" pageants. She was also famous for her appearance in the Gm/Frigidaire promotional film "Design for Living," in which she danced ecstatically among cars and appliances.
MARIE WINDSOR Died Dec. 10, 2000
Film Noir goddess Marie Windsor died in her sleep the day before her 78th birthday. Ms. Windsor appeared in over 150 films and TV shows. In addition to her work in some of the best Noir films, Ms. Windsor worked in a number of Westerns and Sci-Fi films. Ms. Windsor played women with hearts of vinegar is such films as Abraham Polonski’s "Force of Evil," Stanley Kubrick’s "The Killing," John Auer’s "The City That Never Sleeps," Franklin Adreon’s "No Man’s Woman" and especially Richard Fleischer’s "The Narrow Margin."
Ms. Windsor appeared in a number of sci-fi and horror including the cult classic "Cat Women of the Moon." Other genre films include "The Day Mars Attacked Earth," "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy," "Chamber of Horrors" and "Salem’s Lot." She also appeared on the small screen in a number of genre series including "Climax!," "The Unexpected," "Science Fiction Theater" and "The Incredible Hulk."
She also worked in a number of major films. Her A-List credits include "Song of the Thin Man," the 1948 version of "The Three Musketeers," "The Fighting Kentuckian," "The Tall Texan," "Bedtime Story," "One More Train to Rob," "Cahill: U.S. Marshall," "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and the original version of "Freaky Friday."
RENE WHEELER Died Dec. 11, 2000
Oscar-nominated writer Rene Wheeler died at age 88. Mr. Wheeler wrote screenplays for over 40 films. His script for the 1945 film "A Cage of Nightingales" was nominated for a Best Writing, Original Story Oscar.
N. RICHARD NASH Died Dec. 11, 2000
Writer N. Richard Nash died at age 87. Mr. Nash is best known for his play "The Rainmaker." The play was brought to the big screen starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn. He also wrote the screenplay for the film version of "Porgy and Bess." Other credits include "Nora Prentiss" and "Helen of Troy."
DAVID LEWIS Died Dec. 11, 2000
Actor David Lewis died after a lengthy illness at age 84. Mr. Lewis was best known for portraying Edward Quartermaine on the soap opera "General Hospital" from 1978 through 1993. Other film and TV credits include "Captain Video and His Video Rangers," Billy Wilder’s "The Apartment," "Kid Galahad" with Elvis Presley, "The Boston Strangler" and "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home."
PAULINE CURLEY Died Dec. 11, 2000
Silent film actress Pauline Curley died of pneumonia just shy of her 97th birthday. Ms. Curley appeared over 50 films between 1912 and 1929. She began her career as a child actress. She retired at 26. Her film credits include "Bound in Morocco" with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and "The Fall of the Romanoffs." Ms. Curley spent most of her career working in Western films."
DON DEVLIN Died Dec. 11, 2000
Actor turned producer Don Devlin died of lung cancer at age 70. Mr. Devlin produced Richard Lester’s "Petulia," "My Bodyguard," "Loving," "Harry and Walter Go to New York" and the Mike Nichols’ films "The Fortune" and "The Witches of Eastwick." Mr. Devlin began acting in the 1950s but turned to writing and eventually producing. His acting credits include "The Brides of Dracula," "Rin Tin Tin," "Escape From San Quentin," "Tank Battalion" and "Anatomy of a Psycho." He also wrote "Anatomy of a Psycho." His son is producer Dean Devlin (Stargate, Independence Day).
GEORGE MONTGOMERY Died Dec. 12, 2000
Actor George Montgomery died of heart failure at age 84. George Montgomery was a heavyweight boxer before he turned to acting. Montgomery starred in numerous Western films before being cast in romantic leads. He appeared in nearly 100 films during his lengthy career. During the later part of his film career, Mr. Montgomery concentrated on producing rather than acting. He left showbiz altogether during his last 20 years and concentrated on business interests and his sculpting. Mr. Montgomery became a well-respected sculptor and furniture maker. Mr. Montgomery was married to singer/actress Dinah Shore between 1943 and 1962. He lived with Ann Lindberg for the last 20 years of his life.
Mr. Montgomery received the Ralph Morgan Award from SAG, a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Golden Boot Award for his career in Western films. Mr. Montgomery’s film credits include "Billy the Kid Returns," the movie serial "The Lone Ranger," "The Arizona Kid," "Hi Yo Silver," "Jennie," "Roxie Hart," "China Girl," "Davy Crockett, Indian Scout," the TV series "Cimarron City" and "Battle of the Bulge."
ALEJANDRO CRUZ Died Dec. 16, 2000
Mexican wrestler Alejandro Cruz died at age 78. Mr. Cruz was a masked wrestler who went by the name the Blue Demon. He began his career in 1948 and became one of the most popular wrestlers in Mexico. He appeared in over 30 films during his wrestling career. He was mentor to another wrestler named Alejandro Cruz who wrestled under the name the Black Shadow. The movies were usually horror films that pitted the popular wrestler against such evil beings as the Aztec Mummy, zombies and other Satanic beings. As usual, the wrestler triumphed over evil.
ROBERT W. STUM Died Dec. 16, 2000
Cinematographer Robert Strum died at age 80. Mr. Strum was the head cinematographer at Brigham Young University. He shot over 150 films promoting the Mormon religion.
MARGO MOORE Died Dec. 16, 2000
Actress Margo Moore died of breast cancer at age 69 after a full and eventful life. Ms. Moore began her career as a model with the Ford Modeling Agency. She appeared on the covers of "Vogue" and "Mademoiselle." She also appeared in many TV commercials and was a favorite on "The Arthur Godfrey Show." Ms. Moore appeared in several films and TV shows during the late 1950s and early 1960s. She made her film debut in Fabian’s first film "Hound-Dog Man," directed by "Dirty Harry" helmmer Don Siegel. Ms. Moore also had a nice supporting role in "The George Raft Story." She co-starred with Ernie Kovacs and Dick Shawn in the hilarious "Wake Me When Its Over." Her other film credits are "Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?" and "Bachelor Flat." Her TV credits include "Surf Side 6," "Run For Your Life" and "Perry Mason." She was a lifetime member of SAG and AFTRA. Ms. Moore turned to business after her acting career. She owned a photography studio in San Francisco during the 1970s, a specialty chocolate shop in N.Y.C. in the 80s and most recently The Toy Robot & Pig Museum in Adamstown PA. Ms. Moore co-owned The Toy Robot & Pig Museum with her husband Joe Knedlhans, retired member of New York’s finest. Ms. Moore also was Corporate Events Manager for "Working Woman Magazine."
GERARD BLAIN Died Dec. 17, 2000
Actor/director Gerard Blain died at age 70. Mr. Blain began his career as a teen actor. He achieved stardom as an adult in the 1950s. Mr. Blain appeared in over 60 films and TV shows. As a director Mr. Blain achieved critical success. He was nominated for two Golden Palms at Cannes for directing "A Child in the Crowd" and "Pierre and Djemila." As an actor, Mr. Blain’s film credits include "Children of Paradise," "The Cousins," John Wayne’s rousing "Hatari!" and "The Pelican."
NICK STEWART Died Dec. 18, 2000
Veteran actor Nick Stewart died at age 90. Mr. Stewart founded the Ebony Showcase Theater in Los Angeles. His aim was to help destroy the stereotyping of Black actors in Hollywood. Mr. Stewart fell victim to such typecasting first hand. He was one of the most recognizable Black actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. He played bumbling buffoons and servants in films dating back to the 1930s. He supplied the voice of Br’er Bear in Disney’s "Song of the South." Among Mr. Stewart’s many film credits are "Cabin in the Sky," "Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble," "Zombies on Broadway," "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood," the TV series "Amos and Andy," "Carmen Jones," "It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," "Silver Streak" and "Hollywood Shuffle." Mr. Stewart helped many Black actors get a start in the business through his Ebony Showcase Theater. Among the alumni of the Ebony were Margaret Avery, John Amos, Isabel Sanford and Nichelle Nichols.
KIRSTY MACCOLL Died Dec. 18, 2000
Singer/composer Kristy McColl was killed by a speedboat while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico. Ms. McColl was scuba diving with her sons. When they surfaced, a speedboat approached. Ms. McColl pushed her two teens clear but she was struck and killed instantly. Ms. McColl was diving in a National Park area where boats were forbidden. The boat’s owner is a powerful corporate president in Mexico. A boat hand was charged with the accident. Ms. McColl first hit was Tracey Ullman’s "They Don’t Know." She was a guest performer with The Pogues. Her songs appeared on the soundtracks of the TV series "G-String Divas," "Picking Up the Pieces," "Moving Story" and "Dream Stuffing."
JOHN LINDSAY Died Dec. 19, 2000
Former New York mayor John Lindsay died of complications from pneumonia and Parkinson’s Disease at age 79. Mayor Lindsay oversaw the Big Apple during the late 1960s and early 70s. He also sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. In addition to appearing in several documentaries through archived footage, Mr. Lindsay played a US Senator in the Otto Preminger terrorist film "Rosebud."
ROEBUCK STAPLES Died Dec. 19, 2000
Pops Staples, the patriarch of The Staple Singers died from a concussion sustained in a fall. Pops Staples was 85. The Staple Singers charted 12 hits. They appeared in the studio-filmed segment of Martin Scorsese’s "The Last Waltz." He also appeared in the documentary "Wattstax," "Wag the Dog" and "True Stories." He wrote the theme song to my favorite Bill Cosby/Sidney Portier comedy "Let’s Do It Again." The Staple Singers hit songs include "Respect Yourself" and "I’ll Take You There."
RICHARD HAZARD Died Dec. 20, 2000
Emmy-winning composer Richard hazard died of cancer at age 79. Mr. Hazard shared a Daytime Emmy Award for the score of the soap opera "The Guiding Light." He was nominated three more times for "The Guiding Light" and "Another World." Mr. Hazard’s composer credits include "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla," "Airplane 2," "All Night Long," "Heroes" and Peter Bogdanovich’s "Nickelodeon." His orchestration credits include "The Color Purple," "Terms of Endearment," "Looker" and "The Wiz."
VICTOR BORGE Died Dec. 23, 2000
Composer/actor Victor Borge died of heart failure at age 91. Mr. Borge was one of the classiest acts of the 20th Century. He brought classical music to the masses by combining a Chaplinesque touch of comedy to his concert. Borge mixes Chopin with Chico Marx. With appearances on such TV shows as "The Tonight Show," "What’s My Line," "The Ed Sullivan Show" and countless others, Victor Borge performed with a magic that appealed to all generations and social classes. He appeared in a few films from the 1930s through the 1960s. He was best when he just played himself. It didn’t matter if it was a guest spot on a TV show, a TV special or commercials, Victor Borge was always welcome in our home. He received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1999. The Danish born Borge fled his native land when Hitler came to power. He had lampooned the tyrant and was also a Jew. Best to leave Europe. He became a US citizen in 1948.
BILLY BARTY Died Dec. 23, 2000
Actor Billy Barty died of heart failure at age 76. Mr. Barty was the most famous ‘little person’ in the history of Hollywood. The 3-foot-10 actor appeared in over 150 films and TV shows. He began his showbiz career as a child playing Mickey Rooney’s brother in the "Mickey" series. The pair made 16 of the comedy shorts together. Mr. Barty was success as a child and in the twilight of his career. Ron Howard gave Mr. Barty a great supporting role in his wonderful fantasy "Willow." I remember Mr. Barty as the but of Goldie Hawn’s paranoia in the Hitchcock inspired comedy "Foul Play."
Among Mr. Barty’s numerous film appearances is a bit part in James Whale’s classic "Bride of Frankenstein." He played the infant in a jar, which was miniaturized by Dr. Pretorius. He also had a bit part as the court jester in George Pal’s "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm." He worked with Elvis on two films: "Roustabout" and "Harum Scarum." He delivered a dramatic performance in the dark "Day of the Locust."
Billy Barty was also an activist. He established the advocacy group Little People of America to aid and assist others with dwarfism. He labored to show that Little People were just as capable as anyone else of succeeding in life.
GREG BONIFACE Died Dec. 24, 2000
Stuntman/actor Greg Boniface was killed with his brother in an automobile crash. He was 30 years old. Mr. Boniface performed stunts in the films "Vampirella" and "Whatever It Takes." He appeared in an episode of "The X-Files" and Steven Soderberg’s "Traffic."
FREIDA PUSHNIK Died Dec. 24, 2000
Frida Pushnik died of bladder cancer at age 77. Ms. Pushnik was one of the world’s special people. Born without arms or legs, Ms. Pushnik was an entertainer for the "Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus." Ms. Pusnik was present at the 1949 fire that killed hundreds of circus goers and performers. Ms. Pushnik appeared in several films including "House of the Damned" and its Argentinean remake "El Castillo de los Monstruos." She also appeared in Made for TV movie "Side Show."
JOAN CAMDEN Died Dec. 25, 2000
TV and film actress Joan Camden died at age 71. Ms. Camden was a familiar face to TV fans in the 1950s. She appeared in a number of great shows like "Perry Mason," "The Outer Limits," "Riverboat," "Sugarfoot" and "Broken Arrow." Among her feature film credits are Roger Corman’s "The Tower of London," "The Catered Affair" and "Gunfight at the OK Corral." Ironically, Ms. Camden died the day before "The Tower of London" writer Leo Gordon.
LEO GORDON Died Dec. 26, 2000
Actor/writer/director Leo Gordon died of heart failure at age 78. Leo Gordon appeared in over 60 films and TV shows. He also wrote some of Roger Corman’s campiest classics. Leo Gordon was a tough-guy’s tough-guy. He made his career playing some of the screen’s most menacing villains. He appeared in everything from B Westerns, TV shows to A list feature films. Not a bad life for a man raised in poverty and sentenced to San Quentin for robbery. Leo Gordon proved that rehabilitation can happen. He was married to actress Lynn Cartwright for 50 years!
Mr. Gordon appeared with John Wayne in three films: "Hondo," "McLintock!" and "The Shootist." Mr. Gordon’s other acting credits include "The Man Who Knew Too Much," "Kitten With a Whip," "The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre," "The Egyptian," "Seven Angry Men," "Baby Face Nelson," "Tobruk," the mini-series "The Winds of War," "Big Top Peewee" and the feature version of "Maverick."
While I always enjoyed Mr. Gordon’s menacing screen persona, his scripts brought me more enjoyment as a child. Many a Friday night was spent watching Roger Corman’s cheesy horror films from the 50s. I can’t begin to say how the Gordon penned "Attack of the Giant Leeches" affected my growth. The sight of Yvette Vickers being sucked dry by the rubber monsters, after she herself had done the same to a number of swamp dwelling Lotharios warped me permanently. Gordon’s "The Wasp Woman" was nowhere as kinky, but I appreciated the tight sweaters. I was a forward thinker for a 7-year-old. Leo Gordon also wrote and played a dual role in Corman’s "The Haunted Palace." The horror genre wasn’t Gordon’s only forte. The tough-guy actor also penned a number of TV Westerns. He also wrote 28 episodes of the cop drama "Adam 12." Leo Gordon’s first feature screenplay was "The Cry Baby Killer." Jack Nicholson made his screen debut in the title role.
JASON ROBARDS Died Dec. 26, 2000
Oscar, Tony and Emmy Award winning actor Jason Robards died of cancer at age 78. Mr. Robards was my all time favorite actor. He had a bit of the devil in every one of his characters. There was a twinkle in the eye that charmed no matter if his character was going to kiss you or kill you. Jason Robards could play comedy, drama, hero, villain, leading man, character actor, high class, low class: you name it, it was within his range. Jason Robards lived hard and lived full. His craft benefited from his real life. Audiences all over the world are worse off for his passing. A renowned stage actor, Jason Robards will never tread the boards again. Fortunately for movie fans, he left behind over 100 films and TV shows for our enrichment.
Sergio Leone’s "Once Upon a Time in the West" gets my vote as the greatest
Western of all time. Jason Robards costarred with Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda in Leone’s mythic exploration of how the west was won. Robards played Cheyenne, a bandit with a heart of gold. He was a deadly killer who was more admirable than anyone else in the film. His death at the end leaves you empty. This was rare in a Leone film. You root for most of the characters in his movies to die. Robards and Rod Steiger in "A Fistful of Dynamite" are the two exceptions. Both are anti-heroes in the classic sense. Though Robards won his numerous awards for his work in other films, "Once Upon a Time in the West" shows the full range of talent. If that was the only performance he ever delivered, it would be enough to earn the admiration of acting fans worldwide. Luckily, Jason Robards gave us much more.
Sam Peckinpah was known as the master of violence. In many ways, his best film was the lyrical Western "The Ballad of Cable Hogue." Robards is excellent in the title role. Cable Hogue is another rogue with a heart of gold. He doesn’t take crap off of anyone. Even though he is shifty, Cable deals from the top of the deck. Robards embues Hogue with both a world-weary wisdom and childlike faith. Again, you cry at the end. This time the tears are bittersweet. Hogue himself has a genteel and noble acceptance of his death. His wake is a celebration. The other character’s tears are for themselves. They no longer have Cable Hogue. Again, Robards was not given any awards for this film, but he was, as always in top form. "Cable Hogue" wasn’t Robards first collaboration with Sam Peckinpah. He starred in the excellent TV adaptation of Katherine Ann Porter’s "Noon Wine" two years earlier. I saw the broadcast in 1966. I was just a kid, but the guy in the lead role caught my imagination. As I got older, I wondered just what the name of that show was. In high school we read Ms. Porter’s short story and it came back to me. "Noon Wine" Olivia De Havilland costarred. Mr. Robards worked once more with Bloody Sam, delivering a nice cameo as Governor Lew Wallace in the much maligned and highly underrated "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid."
My junior high school put on Herb Gardner’s "A Thousand Clowns." I saw the film version much later. Jason Robards and Barry Gordon played the father and son. Robards followed this up with one of my all time favorite Western/comedies: "A Big Hand for the Little Lady." Joanne Woodward and Henry Fonda costarred. Robards serves up some great ham in this one. In "The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre" he added a liberal dose of cheese to the ham in his over the top performance as Al Capone. Of course, this was a Roger Corman movie, so his work fit the theme of the movie.
Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Cannes, New York Drama Critics, LA Film Critic Association, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critic: they all honored Jason Robards for his work. In addition to winning all of those awards, Mr. Robards was also nominated for the Golden Globe, SAG, Laurel and BAFTA awards. Jason Robards won back-to-back Oscars as Best Supporting Actor in the films "All the President’s Men" and "Julia." In both, he played real life men of letters. He portrayed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in Sidney Pollack’s true-life Watergate thriller. In "Julia" he portrayed detective writer Dashiell Hammett. Mr. Robards received a third Oscar nomination for his cameo as Howard Hughes in Jonathan Demme’s "Melvin and Howard." Robards appears in the film’s bittersweet opening. He and actor Paul Le Mat share a drive through the early Nevada morning. I like to believe that Howard Hughes really did the things portrayed in this film. Guess we’ll find out on judgment day.
Ron Howard’s best film is hands down "Parenthood." No other film comes close to capturing the pain and beauty of an extended family. Robards personifies unconditional love as the patriarch of a very dysfunctional group of people. It is the opposite of the dying Earl Partridge from "Magnolia." We don’t see the dark side of Robards’ character in "Magnolia" except through the pain of his son played by Tom Cruise. The movie was a fitting swan song for this grand actor.
Other notable credits include "Enemy of the State," "Crimson Tide," "The Paper," "Philadelphia," "Bright Lights, Big City," "The Atlanta Child Murders," "Something Wicked This Way Comes," "Max Dugan Returns," "Comes a Horseman," "A Boy and His Dog," "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "Johnny Got His Gun," "Tora! Tora! Tora!," "Julius Caesar," "Isadora," "The Night They Raided Minsky's," "Hour of the Gun" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
Jason Robards was the son of actor Jason Robards Sr. He served his country during WWII, winning the Navy’s second highest honor, the Navy Cross. Robards was present and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was married four times including rounds with actresses Lauren Bacall and Rachel Taylor. His children include actors Sam Robards and Jason Robards III. He credited the theater with keeping him alive. Mr. Robards fought and won the battle of the bottle. He had 16 years of sobriety at the time of his death. Thanks for making life a little more richer.
HERB WILLIS Died Dec. 29, 2000
Assistant director/special effects tech/production manager Herb Willis died at age 86. Mr. Willis was part of the special effects team on the 1949 Oscar winner "Mighty Joe Young." Mr. Willis assisted Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Marcel Delgado and others in bringing Mr. Joseph Young to life. Mr. Willis shared a DGA Award for his work as assistant director on the landmark mini-series "Roots." Fans of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" may have seen his work on the truly awful "The Slime People." Mr. Willis was the unit production manager on several Made for TV films and Steven Speilberg’s "1941." I worked at the Grand Canyon when the film crew for "1941" shot the aerial scenes for John Belushi’s character. The crew stayed at our hotel. I may have met Mr. Willis, but can’t say for sure. The film crew stayed for several days, spent a lot of money, told a lot of jokes and left. Nice folks.
STUART LANCASTER Died Dec. 29, 2000
Actor Stuart Lancaster died at age 80. Though Mr. Lancaster was well known for his theatrical work, he was better known for appearing in a number of B movies in the 1960s and 70s. He worked in straight films and soft-core porn. Mr. Lancaster was a regular of nudie king Russ Meyers. He appeared in six films by Meyer including his masterpiece "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" Tom Laughlin cast Mr. Lancaster as the sheriff in the first Billy Jack film "Born Losers." Mr. Lancaster was also in the notoriously titled adult film "Thar She Blows." Director Tim Burton cast Lancaster in "Edward Scissorhands" and "Batman Returns." He also did a number of guest shots on TV series such as "The Outer Limits" and "The Invaders." He was the grandson of circus founder Charles Ringling.
JULIUS J. EPSTEIN Died Dec. 30, 2000
Oscar-winning writer Julius J. Epstein died at age 91. Julius, his twin brother Phillip and Howard Koch won the Best Screenplay Oscar for the classic "Casablanca." Epstein was nominated for three more Oscars. He wrote over 50 films during his lengthy career. Other credits include "The Strawberry Blonde," "The Bride Came C.O.D.," "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "Arsenic and Old Lace," "The First Time I Saw Paris," "Tall Story," "Send Me No Flowers," "Pete ‘n Tillie," Sam Peckinpah’s "Cross of Iron," "House Calls" and "Reuben, Reuben."
JOSE GRECO Died Dec. 31, 2000
Renowned flamenco dancer Jose Greco died of heart failure at age 82. Mr. Greco was the considered the greatest of all Spanish dancers. He worked on Broadway. He was knighted by the Spanish government in 1962. He appeared in several films and often performed on TV. His best dramatic performance was as the gypsy dancer/pimp in Stanley Kramer’s high seas soap opera "Ship of Fools." The movie features several exciting dance numbers. Greco’s ‘family’ is part of the shipboard entertainment. In addition to the nightly cabaret performances, Greco pimps his daughters to the ships wealthy clients. It is a subtle and villainous performance. One of the truly subversive elements of the film that still holds up.