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

‘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.

 

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:

‘Gilligan’ & ‘Brady’ Creator, Sherwood Schwartz, Final Taxi At 94

Mash-ups have become very popular in modern music. They’re created when a DJ mixes two popular songs together to make one new song. This is accomplished by seamlessly overlaying the vocal track of one song over the instrumental track of another. This has been used quite a bit in the TV show ‘Glee’ where they’ve even done an entire show based on mash-ups. Recently I played one of my favorites to my girlfriend, Lesa. Imagine Led Zepplin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and the theme to the TV show ‘Gilligan’s Island’ melded into one song. (This was recorded by Little Roger and the Goosebumps.)

Most everyone can sing the theme to ‘Gilligan’s Island’ if they’ve ever watched any of these shows. Remember these lyrics?

“Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip.
It started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure,
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three-hour tour.”

The music and lyrics for the song, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle,” were written by Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle. The TV show was also created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz.

Sherwood Schwartz has taken his Final Taxi.

Schwartz guided the little show through three seasons and garnered solid ratings during its run. It later appeared in syndication in the 70’s & 80’s making Gilligan a television icon and Bob Denver (who played the main character) a recognizable face.

Schwartz later took aim at the American family after hearing that in 1965 nearly one-third of American households included at least one child from a previous marriage. He then wrote the story of the marriage between a “lovely lady” with three daughters and “a man named Brady” with three sons. The series was called “The Brady Bunch”. It became the first sitcom to feature a family blended from two previous marriages. The show ran from 1969 to 1974 and had a theme song which, again, featured catchy lyrics written by Schwartz.

The show was so popular that it spun off a Saturday morning cartoon, a variety show, a reality show, TV movies, and several TV sitcoms. There was even a stage production called “The Real Live Brady Bunch” in the 90’s. A reboot in the movies came about in 1995 with “The Brady Bunch Movie” followed by “A Very Brady Sequel” (1996) and “The Brady Bunch in the White House,” a 2002 TV movie. Schwartz had his hand in all these projects in some form or another.

Schwartz also worked on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “I Married Joan,” “The Red Skelton Show,” and “My Favorite Martian” early in his career.