Favorite Native American, Egyptian, Klingon, Michael Ansara, Dies

Michael Ansara, 91, TV, screen, and voice actor best known for his portrayal of Cochise in the American television series “Broken Arrow”has taken his Final Taxi.  Another popular role was that of Klingon Commander Kang on three different Star Trek TV series.  He was one of only a handful of actors to boldly go from “Star Trek [the Original Series]” to “Deep Space Nine” to “Voyager” – playing the exact same character on each of them.

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Ansara played Kane in the 1979–81 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart on the NBC series, Law of the Plainsman. He guest starred on many of the most well-known television series of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,” “The Rifleman,” “The Untouchables,” “Perry Mason,” “The Outer Limits,” “Ben Casey,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Lost in Space,” “Bewitched,” “The Fugitive,” “The Mod Squad,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Hawaii 5-0” and “Kojak.” 

In later years he took on several voice acting roles, providing the voice for Mr. Freeze in “Batman: The Animated Series” and General Warhawk in the Rambo cartoon.  Ansara was married for 16 years to Barbara Eden who is best known for her role in the hit sitcom, “I Dream of Jeannie”.  They even acted together in that series three times.

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‘Private Benjamin’ Drill Captain, Eileen Brennan, dies

In 1978 just as actor Peter Falk was leaving his most famous role – that of Lt. Columbo – he took a part in a comedy called “The Cheap Detective.”  I was excited about seeing Falk in a different role than I had seen him in before.  I laughed at Falk throughout the film, but one actress kept stealing my attention. She was playing the role of Betty DeBoop, who  I had seen only a few months earlier in a film called “FM.”  In it she played a sexy voiced DJ named ‘Mutha’. This actress was Eileen Brennan.

Eileen Brennan, 80, has taken her Final Taxi.

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Eileen Brennan was best known for her supporting role as tough-talking drill captain Doreen Lewis in the film ” Pvt. Benjamin”

The actress played memorable roles as the brothel madam in “The Sting”, as a café waitress in “The Last Picture Show” and in “Scarecrow” alongside Gene Hackman and Al Pacino.

Brennan scored an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in 1980′s “Private Benjamin,” and won both an Emmy and Golden Globe for the role in the subsequent TV series adaptation in the early 1980s. She also had a memorable turn as Tess Skeffington, the blonde sidekick to Peter Falk’s San Francisco gumshoe Sam Diamond, in the all-star Agatha Christie spoof “Murder by Death”.

Other films include “Stella,” “Texasville” and “Jeepers Creepers” along with TV appearances in the likes of “Will and Grace,” “7th Heaven,” “E.R.,” and “Blossom”.

I will always remember Brennan for her brilliant work as Mrs. Peacock in one of my favorite films: 1985′s cult comedy classic “Clue”.

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Voice of Aquaman, Norman Alden, Character Actor for 50 Years Dies

The first celebrity I ever met was an actress called Judy Strangis. It was at Universal Studios in California in the mid 70′s. I watched her on a TV series called “Room 222″ and had seen her in a few TV appearances of “Batman.” During these shows she worked alongside Julie Newmar who played the slinky, conniving Catwoman. Electra Woman and Dyna GirlWhen I met Ms. Strangis she was working on “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl”, a children’s Saturday morning program. In this female version of Batman, the women donned outfits with capes and battled a bevy of costumed villains. They operated out of the secret Electrabase, which was headed by Frank Heflin. Heflin designed and built the heroines’ sophisticated equipment, and he helped them track down the bad guy of the week using the mysterious, high tech gadgetry that also gave them their special powers. Heflin was played by Norman Alden, a character actor who had parts in hundreds of films, TV shows and commercials.

Norman Alden has taken his final taxi at 87.

Alden entertained me – and countless other children – for many years. I was an avid Justice League of America comic book fan so when the cartoon “Super Friends” came out in 1972, I was jazzed to see some of my favorite heroes every Saturday morning. Alden was the voice of several characters on the show but is perhaps best known as the voice of Aquaman.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Alden got his start on “The Bob Cummings Show” in 1957 and appeared in hundreds of TV series episodes, including ” Rugrats,” “Honey West,” “Fay,” “My Three Sons,” “Bonanza” “My Favorite Martian,” “The Big Valley,” Lassie,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Hogan’s Heroes ,” “The Rookies,” “Adam-12,” “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters,” “Combat!,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “JAG” and “Rango” where he had a recurring role as Capt. Horton.Norman Alden In the mid 1970s, he starred in episodes of the comedy TV soap opera parody “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” until his character Coach Leroy Fedders drowned in a bowl of soup. I recall him being in the 1960s television series “Batman,” where he played one of the Joker’s henchmen.

One of my favorite Disney films is “The Sword in the Stone” (1963). In the movie, Alden voiced Sir Kay, King Arthur’s brother. He played Johnny Ringo in 1961′s “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” and also had movie roles in “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970), “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” (1977), “Semi-Tough” (1977), “They Live” (1988), “Ed Wood”(1994), “Patch Adams” (1998),”K-Pax” (2001) and in the 1986 animated film “Transformers” where he played the voice of a Kranix, a robot who narrowly escapes destruction by Unicron, voiced by Orson Welles. Many will remember him in 1985′s “Back to the Future” as the owner of the coffee shop who employs future mayor Goldie Wilson. One of the funniest scenes in the movies is his character’s exchange with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) about “Pepsi Free.”

This multi-talented man – and his face and voice – will be sorely missed.

 

Ginny Tyler, voice actress & Disney legend, passes away at 86

My wife Marlesa and I recently saw the Wes Anderson film, “Moonrise Kingdom.”   It really brought back a lot of memories to both of us about growing up in the 60′s. Most notable were the scenes with the children listening to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” on an old portable record player. This theme was repeated several times throughout the movie.  When one of the characters runs away from home she ‘borrows’ her brothers’ record player – leaving him an IOU – and takes it with her.  I remember those pre-ipod days of absolutely longing to carry my records wherever I went.

My parents gave me an allowance growing up, and almost all my money went into buying vinyl 45s. I can remember going to the downtown Sears and Roebuck store and shuffling through children’s records till I found one I couldn’t live without. These particular records didn’t have the big hole in the center that required a plastic spindle insert like other 45s, but instead were shaped with small hole in the center, just like a full-sized vinyl LP.

Most of what I collected were stories based on Disney movies or recordings of their characters singing songs.  Many of these records featured a particular female voice that I can still hear in my mind. It was the voice of Ginny Tyler, one of the Disneyland Storytellers.

Ginny Tyler has taken her final taxi at the age of 86.

Tyler was born Merrie Virginia Erlandson and adopted  her stage name Tyler when she started out in radio. She moved on to become host of a children’s show in Seattle, Washington.  Around 1950, she moved to Los Angeles and started narrating albums for Disney.  During that time she made friends with Art Clokey and became part of the group that made the breakthrough stop motion animation cartoon “Gumby.” Tyler voiced several characters on the children’s show.  This lead to another stop motion animation cartoon popular in the 60′s called  “Davey and Goliath.”

Disney tapped  Tyler to narrate short films for the “Mickey Mouse Club”  in the 1960′s. She would take older footage and update it with her more modern voice.  Also for Disney she voiced the two female squirrels in “The Sword in the Stone” (1963) and sang several parts of animated animals in “Mary Poppins” (1964).  A large movie role came for Tyler in 1967 when she worked alongside Rex Harrison in “Doctor Dolittle.” She voiced the part of Polynesia – the parrot who spoke over  two thousand languages (including Dodo and Unicorn.)

I will fondly remember her for the super-hero cartoons of my childhood.  In 1966 she worked for two seasons on Space Ghost. Tyler played the voice of Space Ghost’s sidekick Jan who was always the damsel in distress. Switching gears, she was also the female villain Black Widow.  In 1978 she voiced Sue Richards aka The Invisible Girl in The Fantastic Four cartoon. 

For years Ginny Tyler’s voice was a part of my life.

After the movie ‘Casper’ came out on DVD, I wanted to turn my children onto the old Casper TV shows from the 1960s. As we settled down with the popcorn and I hit the play button on the DVD player, I was pleasantly surprise to find the sweetly not-too-scary voice of Casper done by none other than Tyler. A haunting voice from my childhood that I’ll always remember….

Jonathan Frid, TV’s Barnabas Collins, Bites The Big One

As long as I can remember vampires have been popular.   Some may think it’s just a fad, but ever since “Dracula” was published in 1897, vampires have captured a place in our collective imagination. Currently there are several books and book series on the market in which vampires feature prominently.  Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire novels and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series are just two of my favorites.  Don’t forget Anne Rice’s classic “Interview with the Vampire” and the hugely successful Twilight series. Many of these tales have been translated into film, and there are hundreds of movies with vampire characters.  From the sympathetic Blade in the series of that name to the wide-eyed adolescents of The Lost Boys to real baddies like those in Fright Night – good guy or villain – we run to queue up at theatres to get our fix of romance/horror.

In the 60’s and 70’s there was one vampire that I would literally run to see every weekday.  He was on TV every afternoon at 3:00. The problem was that my bus did not bring me home until about 3:10 or 3:15. This gothic soap opera was a half hour program and I barely got to see the last 10 to 15 minutes of it. The program was called “Dark Shadows” and the vampire who made himself at home among the unsuspecting citizens of Collinwood was named Barnabas Collins. This particular blood sucker was played by a Shakespearean actor named Jonathan Frid. Frid has taken his final taxi at the age of 87.

The character Barnabas Collins was a 200-year-old vampire who roamed in search of fresh blood and his lost love, Josette. He was brought into the ghost-infested soap in hopes of boosting its low ratings. Originally this was to be a brief role for Frid. He was booked for only 13 weeks, but the unheard of introduction of a vampire into a daytime series caused ratings to rise from the crypt and soar like a winged bat fluttering outside a heavily curtained castle window.  Frid/Barnabas became the star of the show.

Frid did not expect Barnabas to be the one character that would define his acting career. He had only taken the role to pay for a move to the West Coast but scrapped other projects once the ‘short role’ became a major one. He played Barnabas untill “Dark Shadows” ended in 1971, after a five year run. He also played the vampire in the 1970 movie “House of Dark Shadows.” Frid had a few other TV and movie roles, but type casting bogged him down.  He eventually returned to his first love, theater, in 1978.

Frid had a love/ hate relationship with Barnabas but eventually embraced the character, showing up at Dark Shadows conventions and even reprising the role in the new soon-to-be-released Tim Burton movie by the same title.  Frid will play the older Barnabas Collins catching a glimpse of his younger self, as played by Johnny Depp.

To show you the popularity of the role Jonathan Frid developed, one of my favorite memories is of being in second grade and getting permission from my Mom to buy a book through the “Weekly Reader” book sale.   I dashed in that autumn afternoon, clutching my copy of a little vampire joke book called “Barnabas Collins In A Funny Vein” just in time to tune in to Dark Shadows.

 

Oscar’s Obit Reel: Who Was Left Off?

The 84th Academy Awards ceremony has come and gone and from what I saw it was a good one. Billy Crystal proved once again why he is the best host for the Oscars.

I tried a little something new this year and watched some of the backstage cameras on the ABC.com website. It was an interesting peek into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of everyone from presenters, caterers, and production assistants to statuette-wielding winners. The Thank You camera, in particular, gave honorees a way of delivering the ‘shout out’ messages that got cut from their acceptance speeches.

Fun – but you still needed to watch the whole event to get the full scope of the occasion.

As a writer for a blog about recently deceased entertainers I always anticipate seeing who the Academy lists among the talented individuals from the film industry who left us during the previous year. Here is the roll call of who we saw last night – for those who missed it.

Jane Russell
Annie Girardot
John Calley (executive producer)
Polly Platt (production designer/producer)
Ken Russell (director/actor/writer)
Donald Peterman (cinematographer)
Farley Granger
Whitney Houston
Bingham Ray (executive)
Tak Miyagishima (design engineer)
Bert Schneider (producer)
Michael Cacoyannis (director/writer/producer)
David Z Goodman (writer)
James Rodnunsky (engineer)
Peter E. Berger (film editor)
Jack J. Hayes (composer/arranger)
Peter Falk
Cliff Robertson
Laura Ziskin (producer/humanitarian)
Sidney Lumet (director/producer/screenwriter)
Sue Mengers (talent agent)
Steve Jobs (executive)
George Kuchar (experimental filmmaker)
Hal Kanter (writer/director)
Theadora van Runkle (costume designer)
Tim Hetherington (documentarian)
Gene Cantamessa (sound)
Gary Winick (director/producer)
Bill Varney (sound mixer)
Jackie Cooper
Gilbert Cates (director/producer)
Richard Leacock (documentarian)
James M. Roberts (Academy executive director)
Marion Doughtery (casting director)
Norman Corwin (writer/producer)
Paul John Haggar (post production executive)
Joseph Farrell (marketing research)
Ben Gazzara
Elizabeth Taylor

Note that there were only nine actors listed while the rest of the 39 were people who worked behind the camera. Also, there was not nearly enough video footage used during this montage – perhaps because so many of these were not on-screen, recognizable faces.

This year’s was a pretty complete record but sometimes actors or writers get left off the Academy obit reel. There were more than a few character actors left off, many of whom were in Oscar nominated movies.

Screenwriter Arthur Laurents is one that should have been listed. He wrote film scripts including Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ (1948), ‘The Way We Were’ (1973) and ‘The Turning Point’ (1977). One wonders if the stigma of being blacklisted still lingers and kept his name off? Laurents was blacklisted and labeled a communist when one of his plays was reviewed in the Daily Worker, a communist newspaper. Laurents spend 3 months trying to clear his name – since he was not and never had been – a communist but was never able to do so since the blacklisting stopped before he was cleared.

Harry Morgan was more known for his television roles in MASH and Dragnet but he made over 100 films, many of which were Westerns or Disney family movies. He also he did several films of note. Significant roles include ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ (1943);’High Noon’ (1952); ‘The Glenn Miller Story ‘(1954) and ‘Inherit the Wind’ (1960). He even played Ulysses S. Grant in ‘How the West Was Won’ (1962).

The 1969 film, ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ was nominated and won several Academy awards… so shouldn’t the lead male actor of that film get noticed? Michael Sarrazin’s starring turn opposite Jane Fonda in that movie made it memorable. Sarrazin also played in other films including ‘The Flim-Flam Man’ (1967) with George C. Scott; ‘For Pete’s Sake’ (1974), and the ‘The Reincarnation of Peter Proud’ (1975).

Michael Gough started out in horror films like ‘Dracula’ (1958), and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1962) most will remember him from his films with Tim Burton. They worked together on 1999′s ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and 2005′s ‘Corpse Bride’ and then again in 2010’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Gough’s most recognizable role is that of Alfred Pennysworth the butler of Batman/ Bruce Wayne in the films from the 80’s and 90’s.

John Boorman’s 1981 epic, ‘Excalibur’, was one of my favorite movies about King Arthur. I was captivated by the beauty and the acting. The standout character was that of the wizard Merlin, played by the late Nicol Williamson. His portrayal was magical in every way. Williamson was also one of the most well-received Sherlock Holmes when he played the character 1976’s ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’. This film gained two Oscar nominations. Other roles include Williamson as Little John in the 1976 Richard Lester film ‘Robin and Marian’ and the dual roles of Dr. Worley/The Nome King in ‘Return To Oz’ (1985).

One of the biggest disappoints with the Academy this year was the exclusion of Charles Napier, who was one of the most easily recognizable character actors in Hollywood. He has been in several Oscar winning films including ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Philadelphia’. Other films include ’Swing Shift’ (1984); ‘Something Wild’ (1986); ‘Married to the Mob’ (1988); ‘The Grifters ‘(1990) and many more. Napier will be most remember as the lead singer of ‘The Good Ole Boys’ band in in ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980) or as Rambo’s commanding officer in ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II‘(1985).

Another year, another list and another listing of luminaries whose lights will be missed.

Alan Sues – One Nutty Guy

I think I grew up eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches.

There was always that satisfying mix of peanut butter with jellies, jams, bananas, honey or even apples served in our kitchen. Mom always had first choice of getting the brand name but sometimes us kids were given a chance to pick what type we would get. There was Koogle peanut butter flavored with chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and banana. Other favorites were Jif, Skippy and the local Bama brand. There was even one pre- mixed with grape jelly…but the one I always wanted to buy was Peter Pan.

Sure I knew who the character was from the Disney cartoon and the old Mary Martin television specials, but the real reason I like this brand was because of the crazy commercial that aired on TV featuring an insane and bumbling adult dressed as Peter Pan pushing the product. In the 70’s this was played by comedian Alan Sues.

Alan Sues took his Final Taxi this week at the age of 85.

Sues will be better known by some people as the flamboyant regular comic on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He played mostly effeminate characters, such as Big Al, in a time when ‘coming out’ meant the end of your professional career. Sues joined the weekly cast of Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Jo Anne Worley, Arte Johnson and Henry Gibson in the hip and wacky comedy show.

Sues played in a few films such as “The Americanization of Emily” (1964) and “ Snowballing” (1984) but I adored him in the 1980 movie “O Heavenly Dog” with Chevy Chase, Jane Seymour and Benji. He also appeared in episodes of “The Twilight Zone”, “The Wild Wild West”, and “Punky Brewster”. He was the jealous reindeer in “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July”.

Alan Sues was one nutty guy.

 

Youtube commercial for Peter Pan:

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