Cemeteries get creative to draw visitors

Originally posted on WIAT 42:

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – They are the end of road for many of us, the places where life officially comes to a close. Now, the mission is underway to bring some “fresh blood” to final resting places.

143 years ago, Oak Hill Cemetery was originally located on the outskirts of Birmingham.

“The cemetery itself is 23.6 acres. It’s not super large, but we have close to 11,000 burials in here,” says Oak Hill Memorial Association Director Stuart Oates.

Thanks to Birmingham’s early population boom, these days you will find Oak Hill in the city’s center, right across from the BJCC. You may even find some of Oak Hill’s early tenets beyond the gates.

“They were excavating on the other side of 17th street. They found a casket, probably from the late 1860s, 1870s. It was a wealthy family, a steel casket with a glass top,” Oates…

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Oh Captain My Captain- Goodbye Robin Williams

faces of Robin

Back in 1974 director George Lucas created a fad with the film “American Graffiti”. Nostalgia for the 1950’s echoed throughout the movie and soon all the media were recalling the decade. Movies, music and TV series started popping up recreating that innocent chapter in American life. One of the more popular TV shows was “Happy Days”, starring Ron Howard and Henry Winkler. This series was so popular that it spawned several others including “Laverne & Shirley”, “Joanie Loves Chachi” and “Mork & Mindy”, among others.  In “Mork & Mindy” a space alien lands on Earth to report observations on its inhabitants back to his home planet, Ork. The only thing the show had going for it was a fresh faced comedian, Robin Williams. Williams’ wild antics and manic improvisational comedic talent made the show worth watching.

Sadly, Robin Williams, often labeled the “Funniest Man in the World”, has taken his Final Taxi.

Two entertainers shine the brightest in my memories of high school in the 70’s. Steve Martin in his white suit, with his “wild and crazy guy” act, and Robin Williams sporting rainbow suspenders while delivering an Orkiain handshake, saying “Na-Nu Na-Nu” as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The catchphrase among my classmates back in the day was “Shazbot”, a made-up swear word from the show that made us feel like we were all in on the joke.

Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, a great-great-grandson of Mississippi Governor and Senator Anselm J. McLaurin. Robin briefly studied political science before enrolling at Juilliard School to study theatre. After he left Juilliard, he performed in nightclubs, which is where he was discovered for the role of Mork.

In 1980 the first movie Williams did was Robert Altman’s “Popeye” based on the comic / cartoon created by E.C. Segar. He was able to capture the style of the early Popeye and the comedy came from the low mutterings under his breath.  It was a great role from him but the film did not do so well at the box office.

I was lucky to be working as a theatre manager for a chain in 1982 when “The World According to Garp” came out. The trailer made the film look like a comedy- and several people came to the movie excepting to see “Mork” on the big screen. The film was very dark and preachy with a few black comedy bits scatter about. I had many people walk out during the movie. This was Williams telling the public he was not “Mork” and making it clear he wanted more serious roles. “Garp” continues to be one of my favorite Robin Williams movies – giving us what life is really like. It has ups and downs, happy and sad moments and before you know it – it’s over.

From that point on Williams was able to mix comedy and drama. He knew how to wear the mask. There was a palpable energy around him. Whether he was Adrian Cronauer of “Good Morning, Vietnam” or Patch Adams, there was that fine balance of drama and comedy. Even with “Mrs. Doubtfire” he so eloquently portrayed the sadness of a father missing his children while hamming it up as the crazy nanny he played just to be near them. The balance was there. It echoed throughout “Hook,” Bicentennial Man” and “The Fisher King.”

William played pure comedy roles in “The Survivors,” “Aladdin,” “Flubber,”Night At The Museum,” and “RV” to name a few. He could also play very creepy and dark characters such as  twisted Seymour Parrish in “One Hour Photo”  or villains in “Insomnia” and TV shows like  “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

After being nominated for an Academy Award several times for films ( including my favorite, “Dead Poet’s Society”) William won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Sean Maguire in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting“.

Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite actors. While my policy here on the Final Taxi has been to never write about someone who took their own life, this is different. Williams suffered from a sickness which was kept in the shadows up until his death. Depression can make you do things you would not normally do and we need to not judge him by this.

I thought about Juan de Dios Peza‘s famous poem about English actor David Garrick, “To Laugh While Crying.” The poem is about a man who is depressed and goes to see a doctor.

It reads:
“Nothing holds any enchantment or attractiveness;
I don’t care about my name or my fate
I die living an eternal melancholy
and my only hope is that of death”.

The doctor tells him go to see Garrick. He will make him laugh and forget his worry and pains. The man begins to cry that he is Garrick.

The last lines are moving and remind me of Williams:

How many are there who, tired of life,
ill with pain, dead with tedium,
make others laugh as the suicidal actor,
without finding a remedy for their illness!

Ay! How often we laugh when we cry!
Nobody trust the merriment of laughter,
because in those beings devoured by pain,
the soul groans when the face laughs!

If faith dies, if calm flees,
if our feet only step on thistles,
the tempest of the soul hurls to the face,
a sad lighting: a smile.

The carnival of the world is such a trickster,
that life is but a short masquerade;
here we learn to laugh with tears
and also to cry with laughter.

God Bless Robin Williams—Thanks for all the joy you gave us.

Quote from Robin Williams in the movie” Jack”:

“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish, and think of me. Make your life spectacular.”

( Written by Jeff Burson; Edited by Lesa Rosato)

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.

 

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