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

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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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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:

The Last Snapshot- Father Of The Digital Camera Dies

Almost everyone is carrying around a digital camera in some form or another. I have one in my phone as well as a nice Cannon that I take with me on vacations, family outings or to concerts. Today’s mega-pixel digital cameras have become smaller and far more powerful than my first one – a 1 pixel HP with comparatively poor visual quality.

The digital camera functions because of a charge-coupled device or CCD. The CCD is a device for the movement of electrical charge and converts this into a digital value. When integrated with an image sensor, it produces technology for digital imaging. This is used in professional, medical, and scientific applications where high-quality image data is required. At home we use it for our smartphones, camcorders, scanners and fax machines.

The CCD was invented in 1969 at AT&T Bell Labs by Willard S. Boyle and his partner George E. Smith. The two were brainstorming during lunch about ways to develop a new memory device for computers and came up with the CCD sensor during that time.

It is Willard S. Boyle who has taken his final taxi at the age of 86.

Besides being the father of the digital camera, Boyle can claim many other inventions and patents. In 1962 he invented the first operating ruby laser and later was named on the first patent for a semiconductor injection laser which is used in many electronic devices. In 1964 he worked with NASA helping choose lunar landing sites for the Apollo program.

In 2009 Boyle won the Nobel Prize in physics for the invention CCD. The Nobel Prize committee stated that “Digital photography has become an irreplaceable tool in many fields of research.” The tool is so commonplace now that we do not think twice about capturing images effortlessly and seeing the results immediately…even taking pictures of our family during embarrassing moments. So thank Mr. Boyle the next time you go through the ” naked” TSA scanner at the airport.

Sexy star of “Faster Pussy Cat Kill Kill” Tura Satana

I recently watched “Grindhouse”, a film by Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez, with a friend of mine who bought it on blu-ray. The film is a salute to the low-budget B-movies of the 60’s and 70’s. It has all the grainy video, bad edits, video lines running through, and poor dialogue that made these cheaply made films worth watching. There is a comic faction built into them for those of us with a twisted sense humor. One wonders why we were watching it on blu-ray and not VHS tape.

One of the actress in the film, Rose McGowan, becomes this strong female character, who does not like to be pushed around. She is the tough chick (a real bad ass). This is a character we have seen played before. One of my favorite no-nonsense female characters is in the Russ Meyer’s 1965 film “Faster Pusscat, Kill, Kill.” The film features gratuitous violence, sexuality, provocative gender roles, and campy dialogue. It is not a film for everyone, but is worth watching for the acting of actress, Tura Satana, who plays the leader of a gang of thrill-seeking go-go dancers.

The Japanese born Tura Satana took her Final Taxi this week at the age of 72 in Reno Nevada.

In “Faster Pusscat, Kill, Kill” Tura played “Varla” a very aggressive and sexual female character, like something out of a comic book. In the film she did all of her own stunts and fight scenes. She asked the director to do this because of all the martial art training she had taken as a child. She learned aikido and karate, after being sexually attacked. In an interview in with Psychotronic Video Magazine, she said that she later tracked and exacted vengeance on each of her attackers.

After being “discovered” by silent screen comic Harold Lloyd, she first worked in the movies with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine in 1963’s “Irma La Douce”. In the musical she played one of the Parisian prostitutes friend of the main character. That same year she played a dancer in “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?” with Dean Martin and Elizabeth Montgomery. Other films include the James Bond parody “Our Man Flint” (1966) with James Coburn, “The Astro-Zombies” (1968), “The Doll Squad” (1974) and “Mark of the Astro-Zombies” (2002).

In TV Tura appeared in “Burke’s Law”, “The Greatest Show On Earth”, “Hawaiian Eye”, and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”.

In her personal life Tura Satana at one time dated “the King of Rock and Roll'” Elvis Presley, but turned down his marriage proposal but she kept the ring. She also had a relationship with Frank Sinatra.

Tura Satana’s exotic looks, buxom frame and no-nonsense attitude paved the way for other actresses and can be seen in pop-cultural artifacts ranging from “Xena, Warrior Princess” to Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”