Alan Rickman – More Than Just Snape

I really hate how the media sometimes summarize someone’s life in a few words.king-louis

Many times they will look at an incredible actor and only see a few of the more popular roles he played and miss the greater body of work. They are doing that now with Alan Rickman.

Actor Alan Rickman took his Final Taxi at age 69 because of cancer. He has done so many wonderful films that have touched our lives but the news mostly focuses on the franchises, Harry Potter and Die Hard.

I first took notice of Rickman as an actor in the movie “Truly, Madly, Deeply” in 1990. This was two years after Die Hard. In it he plays Jamie, a dead musician so in love that death cannot keep him apart from his lover. It was kind of a thinking man’s “Ghost.”

 

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One of my daughter’s favorite Rickman films is Ang Lee’s ” Sense and Sensibility” from 1995. This adaption of Jane Austin’s book has Rickman playing Colonel Brandon as a rich and worthy suitor for Marianne, played by Kate Winslet. This would not be the only time Winslet and Richman worked together. In 2015 Rickman directed ” A Little Chaos” with her as his lead ( He gives a great portrayal of King Louis XIV.)

Many fans will remember his role in 1999’s Galaxy Quest. Playing Alexander Dane, a Shakespearean actor who had found himself trapped and most fondly remembered for an alien on a silly sci-fi TV show. He did not hide the fact he hated it and we all thought it was hilarious as it echoed reality with a great spoof of Star Trek’s Spock. ( “By Grabnar’s Hammer!” )

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I will always remember Rickman’s voice. It conveyed a wide range – from dripping sarcasm to great comic pomposity. He proved that in one of my favorite roles as Marvin the paranoid robot in 2005’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. With a brain as big as a Volkswagen, Marvin was utterly depressed by having to hanging out with other life forms that were less intelligent than him. Rickman was actually one of the best at that kind of deadpan comic delivery. He used his voice only again in 2010’s Alice In Wonderland as the Blue Caterpillar a role that he repeated for the 2016 sequel.

There are so many other great films by Rickman you should see- The Cohen Brother’s “Gambit,” “Bottle Shock” Lee Daniel’s “The Butler” and “Something The Lord Made”. Alan Rickman will be missed for many reasons — his dry wit, incredible English humor, and most importantly for his ability to completely capture our attention on the big screen with his incredible performances. ..and that unforgettable voice.

 

 

 

Edited by Lesa Rosato Burson

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Rock and Roll’s Chameleon – David Bowie

Ziggy Stardust. Halloween Jack. The Thin White Duke. Thomas Jerome Newton. Aladdin Sane. Major Jack Celliers. The Cracked Actor. The Elephant Man. The Goblin King. These are just some of the many faces of David Bowie. Bowie was a chameleon of an artist – always changing his looks, his musical style and his outlook on life.

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I was awoken on Monday morning January 11th 2016 by a text from my youngest son telling me that David Bowie had taken his Final Taxi because of cancer. He knew what Bowie’s music meant to me. How the music Bowie made took me through difficult times – growing up an oddball in a small Southern town to surviving heart surgery. It seemed like whenever I felt like an alien, David Bowie understood and had already put the feeling into words.

Being a pre- teen in the early 1970’s I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the 60’s hippy movement and punk rock scene of the late 70’s. David Bowie was making rock music that was mainstream enough to get airplay but strange enough to be interesting.

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in London in 1947. He changed his name to Bowie as to not to be confused with The Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones. The first song I remember hearing on early FM radio was Bowie’s “Space Oddity” which introduced the recurring character Major Tom. It was his striking androgynous looks as well as the music from “Ziggy Stardust” that launched Bowie as leader of the early 1970s glam rock era. The stuttering rock sound of “Changes” gave way to the disco soul of “Fame,” co-written with The Beatles’ John Lennon. Other collaborators included Freddie Mercury, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno, Trent Reznor and Pat Methany but his closest partner in music would have to be Iggy Pop. Together Pop and Bowie molded a new direction for each other as well as helping each other out of their respective drug addictions.iggybowie-624-1360253656

Bowie had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the “Let’s Dance,” an LP that took the world by storm with pop hits and MTV music videos. My wife, Lesa, worked at Captial records at the time and she recalls the huge promotion campaign for the record.

I also loved David Bowie as an actor. I could not wait to see “The Man Who Feel To Earth” when it was released. I don’t know how I did it but I got in to see it even though it was rated “X” and I was 15. (This film is very tame by today’s standard and was X because of pubic hair being seen.) In it Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien trapped on Earth trying to get home to his family. This spoke to those of us who felt like we were all aliens too, in a world of Legionnaires’ disease ,Tomahawk cruise missiles and Gerald Ford politics.

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The ‘cracked actor’ emerged again in several films including ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ playing Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers and as the goth vampire John Blaylock in ‘The Hunger,’ both from 1983.  It was 1986’s Labyrinth that struck a chord with most people as Bowie was both actor and singer in the family musical. Playing Jareth- The Goblin King Bowie wrote and sang most of the music for the film.

He also had film roles including historical figures Nicolas Testla, Andy Warhol and Pontius Pilate.

Returning to music it is fitting that David Bowie’s last single, Lazarus, was a ‘parting gift’ for fans – a skillfully craftedfinale. The producer of his new CD Blackstar confirms David Bowie had planned his poignant final message, with videos and lyrics show how he approached his death- as a work of art.

As a friend of mine posted on Facebook, ” Rock and roll used to be for outsiders, rebellion against the mainstream.. he(Bowie) helped embrace alienation. That meant you were more accepting of the different. Rock isn’t like that anymore. It’s heartbreaking. Bowie’s gone and we’ll never see a combination of rebellion, innovation and art like that again...”

David Bowie was 69.

The generation before me asked “Where were you when JFK died?” Will Bowie’s death be as poignant to my generation?

 

 

 

Thanks to Marlesa Burson for editing this and to Marjorie Boykin for the quote.

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)

‘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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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.

The Black Carpet of the 2011 Academy Awards

Being someone who loves movies I have to watch the Academy Awards every year. So on Sunday night I sat with my girl by my side and watched as we found out who was best actor or actress or what was the best picture of the year. My favorite section is the part where Oscar remembers those who died in 2010, [pays final respects to them and honors their accomplishments]. This year the death reel was fronted by Celine Dion singing “Smile” as the list of names rolled by.

Here is who we saw this year:

John Barry (composer)
Grant McCune (visual effects)
Tony Curtis
Edward Limato (agent)
Tom Mankiewicz (writer)
Gloria Stuart
William Fraker (cinematographer)
Joseph Strick (director)
Lionel Jeffries
Sally Menke (editor)
Ronni Chasen (publicist)
Leslie Nielsen
Robert Radnitz (producer)
Claude Chabrol (director)
Pete Postlethwaite
Bill Littlejohn (animator)
Pierre Guffroy (art director)
Patricia Neal
George Hickenlooper (director)
Irving Ravetch (writer)
Robert Culp
Bob Boyle (art director)
Mario Monicelli (director)
Lynn Redgrave
Elliott Kastner (producer)
Dede Allen (editor)
Peter Yates (producer-director)
Anne Francis
Arthur Penn (producer-director)
Theoni Aldredge (costume designer)
Susannah York
Ronald Neame (director)
David Wolper (producer)
Jill Clayburgh
Alan Hume (cinematographer)
Irvin Kershner (director)
Dennis Hopper
Dino De Laurentiis (producer)
Blake Edwards (writer-director)
Kevin McCarthy
Lena Horne

I almost wish that they had left Kevin McCarthy for last and use the scene in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where he screams “Your Next!!” but it would have spoiled the mood.

Every year the Academy leaves off people that should have been on the list and this year is no exception. First off the list is Peter Graves. Graves deserves to be on that list of beloved actors not for bad sci-fi movies he did or the laughs he gave us as Captain Over in the Airplane( 1980) movies but at least for his involvement in the 1953 World War II film Stalag 17 (1953), acting as a German spy pretending to be a prisoner of war.

Another Airplane ( 1980) actor who was left off the list was Barbara Billingsley. Many will remember her as the mother on Leave It To Beaver but she had a strong start in films with movies like The Bad and the Beautiful (1950), Three Guys Named Mike (1950), with Jane Wyman, and the sci-fi movie Invaders from Mars (1953).

James Gammon should not have been left off the list either. The scruffy actor will be best known as the coach in the Major League movies but he was also in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Urban Cowboy (1980), Silverado (1985), Noon Wine (1985), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), Wild Bill (1995), Truman (1995), Cold Mountain (2003), and more recently, Appaloosa (2008).

Harold Gould who again will be known for his TV roles was also in the films The Yellow Canary(1963), The Satan Bug (1966); Inside Daisy Clover; and Harper (1966) with Paul Newman. He will also be known for playing Kid Twist in The Sting (1977) and as a villain in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1976).

Betty Garrett, a comedic actress who was a fixture in such MGM musicals as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” “Neptune’s Daughter” with Red Skelton and “On the Town” with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, was missing from list.

Others missing include Maria Schneider, a French actress best known for playing Jeanne, opposite Marlon Brando, in the 1972 film, Last Tango in Paris and Maury Chaykin who acted in WarGames (1983), My Cousin Vinny (1992) and had a small but pivotal role in the film Dances with Wolves (1990), portraying Major Fambrough.

The person whose omission from this years’ list was most shocking was Corey Haim. Haim’s may have ended his career with a list of bad direct-to -video movies, but the body of his work is well worth a nod from the Academy. His first noted film was 1984’s thriller Firstborn, starring alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr as a boy whose family comes under threat from his mother’s violent boyfriend, played by Peter Weller. After that the list just gets better with films such as Lucas ( 1986) , Silver Bullet( 1985), Murphy’s Romance (1985), License to Drive (1988) and Dream a Little Dream(1989). The movie that must be remembered is The Lost Boys (1987), which made Haim a household name. It is regarded as a 80s classic and bonded him alongside his friend Corey Feldman to fight teenage vampire Kiefer Sutherland.

Actor Pete Postlethwaite Takes Final Taxi

I get knocked down – But I get up again – You’re never going to keep me down

Pissing the night away – Pissing the night away

He drinks a whisky drink- He drinks a vodka drink – He drinks a lager drink – He drinks a cider drink

He sings the songs that remind him Of the good times – He sings the songs that remind him Of the better times………..

These are some lyrics to the song, “Tubthumping” by the band Chumbawumba. In August 11 1997. It reached #6 on the US Billboard Hot 10.

The album version of the song opens with a sample of a monologue used in the 1996 film Brassed Off and goes: “Truth is, I thought it mattered. I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.”

That clip was performed by Pete Postlethwaite who starred in the film. It is Postlethwaite who has taken his Final Taxi at the age of 64.

One of my favorite roles he was in was in 1995’s hit film “The Usual Suspects”. Postlethwaite played the menacing criminal mastermind Kobayashi. The thought was that he was the major villain in the film, but he was not as it turned out.

He was recently seen in 2010 in the films “Clash of the Titans” and “Inception”. Other films include “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Aliens 3”, “Dragonheart” and “James and the Giant Peach”. He worked with director Steven Spielberg in the dinosaur adventure film “The Lost World: Jurrassic Park”, and Amistad, about a slave mutiny on a ship.

Postlethwaite received an Oscar nomination for his performance, as Guiseppe Conlon in the 1993 film In “The Name Of The Father”. He will be seen in April in the film “Killing Bono”