In Memoriam 2017: Sports & Other Pop Culture

Since I’m a Massachusetts-based writer and unrepentant Boston sports fan, I’m dedicating this final “In Memoriam” post to two legends in their respective sports. The Red Sox’ Bobby Doerr was MLB’s oldest living player when he died in November at age 99. Doerr was a Hall of Fame second baseman, 9 time All-Star, and one of the best hitters and fielders at his position. Hockey Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt played 16 years with the Boston Bruins, eight of them on the feared “Kraut Line” alongside Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. Schmidt also coached the Bruins from 1954-66, and passed away in January at 98.

Boston Celtic Fab Melo

Perhaps the saddest loss in Boston sports was former Boston Celtic first round pick Fab Melo, who died at the tender age of 26 from a heart attack in his native Brazil. Quincy, MA native Sam Mele (98) roamed right field for Boston and 6 other teams; as a manager he guided the Minnesota Twins to the AL pennant in 1965, losing to the Dodgers. Jimmy Piersall (87) played center for the Sox and others; the film FEAR STRIKES OUT starring Anthony Perkins was based on his life. Big Don Baylor (68) went to the World Series with The Red Sox in ’86, the Twins in ’87, and the A’s in ’88. NHL defenceman Gary Doak (71) helped the Bruins win the 1970 Stanley Cup.

Patriots QB Babe Parilli

The New England Patriots  lost quite a few alumni: quarterback Babe Parilli (87) was the franchise’s Tom Brady before there was a Tom Brady. Wide receiver Terry Glenn (43) died in a car accident. A pair of Pats head coaches left the field: Dick McPherson (86) and Ron Meyer (76). Cornerback Leonard Myers died of cancer at 38. Lastly, I’ll ask we just remember Aaron Hernandez’s play on the field, and not the tragic mistakes that led to his demise at age 27.

Tennis champ Jana Novotna

Other sports stars gone include Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Congressman and Senator from Kentucky Jim Bunning (85), Detroit Tigers & Red Wings owner (and Little Caesar’s founder) Mike Ilitch (91), Chicago Bulls exec Jerry Krause (77), MLB player and World Series winning manager (with the Phillies) Dallas Green (82), Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney (84), Seattle Seahawks tackle Cortez Kennedy (48), baseball umpires Ken Kaiser (72) and Steve Palermo (67), 18 year MLB vet Lee May (74), Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian (94), TV sports producer Don Ohlmeyer (72), NBA superstars Darrall Imhoff (78) and Connie Hawkins (75), play-by-play man Bob Wolff (96), Wimbleton champ Jana Novotna (49), Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson (86), NY Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle (90), Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay (40), and premier sportscaster Dick Enberg (82). “Oh, my!” And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Leonard Reiffel (89), the physicist who invented the Telestrator!

Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

The world of professional wrestling was hit particularly hard in 2017. Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka (73) was an innovative high-flyer extremely popular with fans, while Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan (72) was one of the game’s most hated managers. George ‘The Animal’ Steele (79) was noted for chewing up turnbuckles, and portraying Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD. Ivan Koloff (74) won the WWWF title from Bruno Sammartino back in ’71. Other grappling greats who passed include announcer Lance Russell (91), ‘The Big K’ Stan Kowalski (91), Burrhead Jones (80), Bruiser Bob Sweetan (76), Otto Wanz (74), Buddy Wolfe (76), Chavo Guerrero Sr (68), ‘Outlaw’ Ron Bass (68), Dennis Stamp (68), Japanese hardcore star Mr. Pogo (66), Tom Zenk (59), Nicole Bass (52), Matthew ‘Rosey’ Anoa’i (47), and a pair of “Pretty Boy”‘s, Larry Sharpe (66) and Doug Somers (65). Boxing lost former middleweight champ and RAGING BULL subject Jake LaMotta (95), trainer/manager Lou Duva (94), and Muhammed Ali’s personal physician, “The Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco (89).

Turning our attention to the world of comics, SWAMP THING co-creators Len Wein (69) and Bernie Wrightson (68) both passed away in 2017. Two underground legends, Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, were both age 72 when they passed. MAD magazine writer Stan Hart (88) also won Emmys for his work on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. Fran Hopper (95) was one of the few female artists working during the Golden Age. Dick Locher (88) was the artist on the strip DICK TRACY for decades. Marvel Comic’s Gal Friday ‘Fabulous’ Flo Steinberg (78) was an important part of that company’s emergence in the 60’s, as I’m sure was Stan Lee’s beloved wife Joan (93). Artists Rich Buckler (68), Dave Hunt (74), Sam Glanzman (92), Bob Lubbers (95), and Dan Spiegel (96) are also among the departed. And though he wasn’t in comics, painter Basil Gogos (88) will always be remembered for his FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND cover art.

Hef and his Bunnies

An era ended when PLAYBOY Magazine founder Hugh Hefner (91) died, as did three-time Playmate of the Month Janet Pilgrim (82). SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer and author (ALEX: THE LIFE OF A CHILD) Frank Deford was 78; New York Daily News columnist and author (THE GANG THAT COULDN’T SHOOT STRAIGHT) Jimmy Breslin was 88. Jean Stein (83) wrote the definitive oral history EDIE, about Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick. Robert James Waller (77) was known for his book THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY; Donald Bain (82) for COFFEE, TEA, OR ME? Authors Brian Aldiss (92), Louise Hay (90), Miriam Marx (daughter of Groucho, 90), and Nancy Friday (84) all left us this year. (Just before posting, I learned one of my favorites, Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Milhone “Alphabet” mysteries, passed away today at age 77). And finally, two names that won’t be familiar to you, but deserve their last bows. One is Stanley Weston (84), who is credited with inventing the action figure, prized possession of every fanboy! The other gentleman, Robert Blakely (95), was a graphic designer who created this iconic sign…

Let us all pray we don’t wind up running to one in 2018!

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The “In Memoriam” Roll Call Just Got Longer…

Rose Marie, whose career spanned from Vaudeville to the Internet, passed away at age 94. She began in show biz as a 3 year old child singer, featured in early talkie shorts and the 1933 film INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, along with W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Bela Lugosi, and a host of other luminaries of the era. Rosie opened for Jimmy Durante at Las Vegas’ brand new hotel/casino The Flamingo in 1946, ushering in that city’s birth as an entertainment destination. She’s best known as man-crazy Sally Rogers on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1961-66), and was a featured regular for years on THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. The word “legend” gets bandied about all too frequently, but in this case it’s more than appropriate. Rest in peace, Rose Marie; thanks for the laughter.

In Memoriam 2017: Music

The world of rock’n’roll lost two of its architects in 2017, giants who can never be replaced. Chuck Berry (90) was rock’s poet laureate, a smooth showman who chronicled the life and times of 50’s teens with songs like “Johnny B. Goode”, “School Days”, “You Never Can Tell”, and the anthem “Rock and Roll Music”. New Orleans pianist Fats Domino (89) contributed his barrelhouse, let-the-good-times-roll sound on hits like “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “I’m Walkin'”, and “Ain’t That a Shame”. Music will not see the likes of these two originals again, and Cracked Rear Viewer respectfully dedicates this post to their memories.

Gregg Allman & Tom Petty

Rock music suffered another one-two blow when Gregg Allman (69), who helped usher in the Southern Rock style with The Allman Brothers Band, passed away in May. Five months later, superstar Tom Petty died at age 66, taking his beautifully jangling guitar sounds with him. Both men remain staples of FM Classic Rock radio. Boston-based guitarist J. Geils , leader of the eponymous J. Geils Band, left us at age 71. Allman Brothers percussionist Butch Trucks (69) also departed, along with classic rockers Overend Watts of Mott the Hoople (69), prog rock drummer Clive Brooks (67), John Wetton of King Crimson and Asia (67), Steely Dan cofounder Walter Becker (67), AC/DC’s Malcom Young (64), Black Sabbath’s Geoff Nicholls (68), Steppenwolf’s Goldy McJohn (72), Prince percussionist John Blackwell Jr (43), and arranger Paul Buckmaster (71). All left us way too soon.

Blues giant James Cotton

Reaching back into rock’s roots, legendary blues harpist James Cotton died at age 81. Other greats who passed include Lonnie Brooks (83), Guitar Gable (79), drummer Casey Jones (77), rockabilly pioneer Sonny Burgess (88), white soul shouter Wayne Cochran (78), Delta bluesman CeDell Davis (91), Chicago bluesman Robert Walker Jr (80), gospel blues singer Leo Welsh (85), and James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield (73). “The French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday (74) was little known in America, but a worldwide success elsewhere. R&B stars Della Reese (86), Al Jarreau (76), Junie Morrison of The Ohio Players (62), ‘Philly Sound’ singer/songwriter Bunny Sigler (76), Bobby Freeman (“Do You Want to Dance”, 76), Robert Knight (“Everlasting Love”, 72), Pete Moore of The Miracles (79), The Main Ingredient’s Cuba Gooding Sr (72), and soul man Charles Bradley (68) are also no longer with us.

70’s heartthrob David Cassidy

70’s Teenybop idol David Cassidy, who made all the little girls scream as star of TV’s THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY and had hits like “I Think I Love You”, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted”, and “Cherish”, succumbed to organ failure at 67. Tommy Page (“I’ll Be Your Everything”) was a young 46. Gary DeCarlo of Steam (75) will always be remembered for the sports anthem “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” . Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge (60) hit it big with “We Are Family”, which became the theme song for the 1979 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates. Songwriter Ritchie Adams (78) not only composed the 1961 hit “Tossing & Turning”, but the theme for TV’s THE BANANA SPLITS!

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell

More musicians we’ll miss: Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave (52), Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington (41), Husker-Du’s Grant Hart (56), Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip (53), The Afghan Wigs’ Dave Rosser (50), Faith No More’s Chuck Mosely (57), The Lollipop Shoppe’s Fred Cole (69), and Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens (62). Paul O’Neill (61) of the fantastic Trans-Siberian Orchestra is gone, so too are reggae stars Earl Lindo (64) and Michael Prophet (60), Mitch Margo of The Tokens (70), power pop singer Tommy Keene (59), gospel queen and Tony winner Linda Hopkins (92), “Bluer Than Blue” singer Michael Johnson (72), ‘Godfather of Jam’ Bruce Hampton (70), and Vegas entertainer Buddy Greco (90).

Country music fans mourned the passing of multi-talented Glen Campbell (81), Don Williams (“I Believe in You”, 76), M-M-Mel Tillis (85), Montgomery Gentry’s Troy Gentry (50), steel guitar wizard Billy Mize (88), and Cajun legend D.L. Menard (85). The world of jazz lamented the losses of singers Jon Hendricks (96) and Keely Smith (89), guitarists Larry Coryell (73) and John Abercrombie (72), drummers Ben Riley (84) and Sunny Murray (81), Big Band singer Dick Noel (90), saxophonist Arthur Blythe (76), accordionist Dick Contino (87), composer/arranger Dominic Frontiere (86), and producer Tommy LiPuma (80).

Shindig’s Jack Good and some friends

Those behind the scenes gone in 2017 include VILLAGE VOICE critic Nat Hentoff (91), Casablanca Records exec Larry Harris (70), AC/DC producer George Young (70, who also played with 60’s group The Easybeats and penned their hit “Friday On My Mind”), SHINDIG TV producer Jack Good (86), and producer/exec Pierre Jaubert (88). Each and every one of these individuals contributed to make music that’s accessible to everyone. May they rest in peace, and may YOU, Dear Reader, go out and enjoy as much live music as you can… before it’s too late.

Tomorrow: Sports & Other Pop Culture

In Memoriam 2017: Film & Television

Classic movie lovers suffered a huge loss when long-time TCM host Robert Osbourne passed away at age 84. Robert’s extensive film knowledge and warm personality were always a welcome presence in my home, as I’m sure it was in movie lover’s across the country. Cracked Rear Viewer respectfully dedicates this post to the memory of the gone-but-never-to-be-forgotten Robert Osbourne.

Jerry Lewis, 1977

Old movie buffs (some say weirdos!) like myself also mourned the loss of many of our favorite stars in 2017. First and foremost there was comedian/actor/writer/director… you name it, Jerry Lewis did it! From his early days clowning with partner Dean Martin to his final dramatic role in 2016’s MAX ROSE, Lewis was a show business legend in every respect. Beautiful Anne Jeffreys (94) starred at RKO with everyone from Frank Sinatra (STEP LIVELY) to Bela Lugosi (ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY ), and also made her mark in television with the ghostly sitcom TOPPER. Danielle Darrieux (100) was a star in America (THE RAGE OF PARIS) and her native France (THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE…). Another French icon, Jeanne Moreau (89), became an international star in THE 400 BLOWS, JULES AND JIM, and VIVA MARIA! Emmanuelle Riva (89) starred in HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR. Cool blonde Dina Merrill (93) is remembered for her work in DESK SET, OPERATION PETTICOAT, and THE YOUNG SAVAGES.

Roger Moore as 007

Roger Moore  (89) took over the role of Agent 007, James Bond, and made it his own. Marvelous Martin Landau (89) lent his talent to everything from Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST to Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Lugosi. Don Gordon (90) is one of my favorite character actors, appearing in BULLITT and PAPILLION alongside his good friend Steve McQueen. Skip Homeier (86) made a name for himself in TOMORROW, THE WORLD!, THE GUNFIGHTER, and HALLS OF MONTEZUMA, among many, many more great films. Lola Albright (92) was superb in CHAMPION , THE SILVER WHIP, and A COLD WIND IN AUGUST, but most fans remember her as sexy singer Edie on TV’s PETER GUNN. Elsa Martinelli (82) was another international star noted for American films HATARI! (with John Wayne) and THE VIP’S.

The great Harry Dean Stanton

The list of supporting players gone in 2017 is long indeed: Francine York (80), Dick Gautier (85), Howard Leeds (97), Richard Karron (82), Miriam Colon (80), Clifton James (96), Anita Pallenberg (75), Richard Anderson (91), Frank Vincent (80), Harry Dean Stanton (91), Don Pedro Colley (79), Roy Dotrice (94), John Dunsworth (71), Jack Bannon (77), Karin Dor (79), John Hillerman (84), Ann Wedgeworth (83), Earl Hyman (91), Rance Howard (89), Robert Hardy (91), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (80), and Bernie Casey (78).

John Hurt in “Alien”

John Hurt (77) graced us with his presence in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, ALIEN, and the HARRY POTTER films. John Heard (71) was so underrated in CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER and CUTTER’S WAY; even in sub-par movies like C.H.U.D. he gives it his all. Alec McCowan (91) gave sterling performances in FRENZY and TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT. Bill Paxton (61) left us much too soon; his parts in APOLLO 13, TWISTER, and A SIMPLE PLAN were just the tip of the iceberg for his talent. ROCKY and THE KARATE KID director John G. Avildsen (81) will be sorely missed.

Spaghetti Western superstar Tomas Milian

More losses: Our Gang’s Juanita Quigley (86) and Leonard Landy (84), CLERKS’ Lisa Spoonauer (44), writer John Gay (SEPARATE TABLES), Spaghetti star Tomas Milian (84), W.C. Fields’ IT’S A GIFT daughter Jean Rouvenol (100), porn director Radley Metzger (88), Tim Piggot-Smith (70), beautiful Israeli actress Daliah Lavi (74), Tino Insana (69), actor/stuntman Sonny Landham (76), Gleane Hedley (62), ANIMAL HOUSE’s Stephen Furst (63), Hywel Bennett (73), Barbara Sinatra (90), actor/playwright Sam Shepard (73), Joseph Bologna (82), documentarians Bruce Brown (80) and Murray Lerner (90), Czech actor Jan Triska (80), Dennis Banks (80), peplum hunk Brad Harris (84), GROOVE TUBE and MODERN PROBLEMS director Ken Shapiro (75), director (THE LION IN WINTER) and editor (DR. STRANGELOVE) Anthony Harvey (87), producer Martin Ransohoff (90), THE SOUND OF MUSIC’s Heather Menzies (68), director George Englund (91), sound mixer (THE GODFATHER, STAR WARS , THE DEER HUNTER) Richard Portman (82), director Robert Ellis Miller (89), and cinematographers Gerald Hirschfield (95), Fred J. Koenekamp (94), and Harry Stradling Jr. (92).

Lon Chaney Jr. courts Elena Verdugo in “House of Frankenstein”

Horror film fans were shocked by the passing of two titans of terror: directors George A. Romero (77) and Tobe Hooper (74). Elena Verdugo (92), who fell in love with the Wolf Man in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN , also left us, as did WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMINTORY’s Curt Lowens (91), EXORCIST author/filmmaker William Peter Blatty (89), THE BLOB producer Jack H. Harris (98), Kathleen Crowley (TARGET EARTH, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, 87), WAR OF THE PLANETS and WILD, WILD PLANET star Tony Russel (91), SILENCE OF THE LAMBS director Jonathan Demme (73), Ed Wood stock player Conrad Brooks (86), THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI’s Quinn O’Hara (76), the man in the GODZILLA suit, Haruo Nakajimi (88), Nancy Valentine of THE BLACK CASTLE (89), Hammer star Jennifer Daniel (THE REPTILE, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, 81), Elizabeth Kemp of HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (65), Suzan Farmer (DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS , DIE, MONSTER, DIE!, 75), Italian director Umberto Lenzi (EATEN ALIVE, CANNIBAL FEROX, 86), THE BOOGEYMAN director Ulli Lommel (72), THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD director Peter Duffell (95), actress Suzanna Leigh (THE DEADLY BEES, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, 72), and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD sheriff George Kosana (81).

Mary!

Television lost some of it’s biggest stars of the 60’s and 70’s. America’s Sweetheart Mary Tyler Moore left us, as did MANNIX he-man Mike Connors (91), PERRY MASON’s Barbara Hale (94), GOMER PYLE himself, Jim Nabors (87), Robert Guillaume of SOAP and BENSON (89), and TWIN PEAKS’ Miguel Ferrer (61). Another TWIN PEAKS vet,  Michael Parks (77) also departed, along with my favorite Philip Marlowe of all, Powers Boothe (68). TV’s Caped Crusader, the one, true BATMAN, Adam West (88), is no longer Mayor of Quahog, R.I. Erin Moran (56), kid sister Joanie on HAPPY DAYS, is gone, so too is “America’s top trader, TV’s big dealer”, Monty Hall (96), creator and host of LET’S MAKE A DEAL. BRONCO’s Ty Hardin (87) will no longer be riding the range. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Richard Hatch (71) will no longer roam the galaxy.

The Merchant of Venom, Don Rickles

“Mr. Warmth” Don Rickles (90) left us with a huge comic void to fill. Vaudevillian Professor Irwin Corey (102), king of double-talk, is silenced. LAUGH-IN alums Chelsea Brown (74) and Patti Deutsch (73) both took their smiles away, as well as Shelley Berman (92), Dick Gregory (84), Bill “My name Jose Jimenez” Dana (92), and Jay Thomas (69). Voice actress supreme June Foray (99), rotund stand-up comic Ralphie May (45), sitcom writer Bob Schiller (98), Eddie’s bro Charlie Murphy (57), WALLACE & GROMIT’s Peter Sallis (96), and THE GONG SHOW impresario Chuck Barris (87) have all left, making the world a sadder place.

77 Sunset Strip’s Roger Smith

Other TV names pass us by: 77 SUNSET STRIP’s Roger Smith (84), DALLAS’ Jared Martin (75), CAGNEY & LACEY’s Harvey Atkin (74), IRONSIDE’s Elizabeth Bauer (69), SNL’s Tony Rosato (62), voice actor Bill Woodson of SUPER FRIENDS (99), THE COSBY SHOW’s Earle Hyman (91), THE SOPRANO’s Frank Pellegrino (72), soap star Mark LaMura (68), THE PEOPLE’S COURT’s Judge Joe Wapner (97), director Peter Baldwin (THE WONDER YEARS, 86), SCOOBY DOO’s Daphne, Heather North (71), David Letterman’s mom Dorothy Mengering (95), and GREEN ACRES writer/director Richard L. Bare (101).

Animators Hal Geer (100) and Bob Givens (99) both left their marks with Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes. Stuntmen Red West (81) and his cousin Sonny West (78) were both part of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia. Critics who’ve gone on include Richard Schickel (84) and Roger Greenspun (87), and long-time New York gossip columnist Liz Smith (94), too. All these men and women have made watching films and television a better experience for us all, and we’re certainly grateful for their contributions. Rest in peace.

Tomorrow: Music legends we lost in 2017

Last of the WOOD-en Soldiers: RIP Conrad Brooks

It was a fateful day in 1948 when 17-year-old Conrad Brooks, trying to break into movies, met a 24-year-old would-be filmmaker named Edward D. Wood, Jr. at a coffee and donut shop. The two men hit it off, both dreaming of Hollywood success, and worked together on an unreleased short “Range Revenge”, beginning a lasting collaboration and friendship. Conrad Brooks, who died today at age 86, will never be remembered as an actor the stature of Olivier or Brando, but his participation in the films of no-budget auteur Ed Wood will always hold a special place in the hearts of lovers of uniquely strange (some would say bad) cinema.

Young Conrad Brooks with horror icon Bela Lugosi

Brooks played several parts in Wood’s first film, 1953’s gender-bending GLEN OR GLENDA, about a man who loved to dress in women’s clothing. The director managed to get veteran horror icon Bela Lugosi , down on his luck and suffering from an opiate addiction, to appear as well, his first of three with Wood. Brooks did double duty in 1954’s JAIL BAIT, playing both a medical attendant and a photographer. His bit in 1955’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER was brief and uncredited; the movie, while no DRACULA, gave Lugosi a final chance to strut his thespic stuff onscreen, and in my opinion is Wood’s best film.

Brooks came into his own in Wood’s magnum opus PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE , as Patrolman Jamie, a bigger role than usual and the one most Wood fans remember him by. He filmed NIGHT OF THE GHOULS that same year, a “sequel” of sorts that sat unreleased for decades because the perennially cash-strapped Wood couldn’t afford to pay the film lab bill! The movie finally saw the light of day in 1984. 1960’s THE SINISTER URGE was Brooks’ last role for Ed, a fight scene that was actually filmed for Wood’s unfinished HELLBORN. Ed Wood slid further down the scale to porn movies after that, while Conrad Brooks disappeared from films entirely after a part in Coleman Francis’ awful THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, starring fellow Wood player Tor Johnson .

Brooks reemerged in the 80’s after a resurgence of interest in Ed Wood’s career, sparked in part by being named “Worst Director” in the Medved Brothers’ 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards”. He appeared in a trio of Mark Pirro’s Crown International flicks: A POLISH VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, DEATHROW GAMESHOW, and CURSE OF THE QUERWOLF. In Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic ED WOOD, Conrad has a cameo as a bartender. He went on to play in Direct-To-Video/DVD epics by Fred Olen Ray and Donald G. Johnson, as well as becoming, like his friend Ed, a writer/director/actor of his own films.

Conrad later became a popular figure on the Horror Film Convention Circuit, signing autographs and reminiscing with fans about his days with Ed Wood. When he died earlier today, he was the last of the Ed Wood Stock Company, and a piece of Hollywood history died with him. The Indie Film Crowd, whether they want to admit it or not, owes a debt of gratitude to men like Conrad Brooks and Ed Wood, who went out and made movies their way, as best they could, for better or worse. Our hats are off to you, Conrad Brooks, may you rest in peace. Say hi to Ed, Bela, Tor, Paul, and the gang in low-budget heaven!

Pulp Fiction #1: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

“The roar of the .45 shook the room. Charlotte struggled back a step. Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving witness to truth. Slowly, she looked down at the ugly swelling in her belly where the bullet went in.

“How c-could you”, she gasped.

I only had a moment before talking to a corpse. I got it in.

“It was easy”, I said. “

– from I, THE JURY by Mickey Spillane, first published in 1947 by EP Dutton

Mickey Spillane’s PI Mike Hammer made his debut in I, THE JURY, and set the shocked literary world on its collective ear with its sex-and-violence laden story. Critics savaged Spillane, but the book buying public ate it up, turning I, THE JURY into a best seller and launching Hammer as a pop culture icon. Hammer’s roots were deeply set in the bloody pulps and another 20th century phenomenon… the four-color comics!

Spillane got his start writing for both mediums. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, the tough-talking Irishman found he had a knack for storytelling, and by the 1930’s managed to make a few sales to the pulps. Spillane soon joined the fledgling comic book world, cranking out stories for Timely’s (later known as Marvel Comics) Human Torch, Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, and a ton of those two-page “fillers” publishers used to print to meet the cheaper second-class postal rates. Like most red-blooded American males of the era, Spillane joined the service during WWII, and when it was over he returned to grinding ’em out. Only this time, Spillane had an idea.

Spillane dreamed up a tough private eye named Mike Danger and, together with artist Mike Roy, looked to sell it to the lucrative syndicated newspaper comics market, without success. Undaunted, Spillane took his project and wrote a novel based on the character, now renamed Mike Hammer. The writer (“I’m not an author”, he once claimed) elevated the levels of sex and violence, whipping up his lurid adaptation in a little over a week. Publisher E.P. Dutton bought the book, titled I, THE JURY, and history was made. The critics lambasted Spillane’s literary style (or lack thereof), but post-war readers grabbed onto all the sex and violence within the book’s pages and begged for more.

“The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the floor and my gun in his hand”

  • – from VENGEANCE IS MINE , first published in 1950 by EP Dutton

Mike Hammer is Spillane’s macho fantasy alter ego. The PI was, like his creator, a World War II vet, now a Cold War Anti-Communist who played by his own set of rules. He was a law-and-order guy dishing out vigilante justice, not interested in waiting for an incompetent system that rarely worked for the little guy. Hammer had a way with the ladies, yet the love of his life was loyal secretary Velma. His two best friends were NY Homicide Captain Pat Chambers and his trusty Colt .45, which served him well when delivering just desserts to the lowlifes and corrupt officials who deserved them. Say what you will about Hammer’s misanthropic methods or misogynistic viewpoints; he was a stand-up guy who got the job done… by any means necessary!

Ralph Meeker as Hammer in “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955)

Spillane’s terse, graphic novels exploded in the public conscience like a .45 slug through flesh and bone, and it was inevitable Mike Hammer would blast his way to the Silver Screen. Tough guy actor Biff Elliot was the first to play Hammer in a 1953 adaptation of I, THE JURY, which of course was considerably toned down for the screen. Probably the best known movie Hammer was Ralph Meeker, who starred in director Robert Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY (1955), as bleak and violent a film noir as you’re likely to find. Robert Bray next stepped into Hammer’s shoes for 1957’s MY GUN IS QUICK, a low-budget but fairly entertaining entry. A syndicated television version of MIKE HAMMER was run from 1958-60, with Darren McGavin as the PI, a series decried by critics for its excessive violence – hey, what did they expect?

Mickey Spillane as his creation Mike Hammer in “The Girl Hunters” (1963)

Mike Hammer took a ten-year hiatus before Spillane resurrected him in the 1962 novel THE GIRL HUNTERS. Believing his beloved Velma dead, Hammer’s been on a booze soaked bender before learning she’s actually alive, and he begins his regeneration from drunken bum to instrument of vengeance. This book was made into a film a year later with none other than Spillane himself cast as Hammer! It’s as violent as you’d think with the author doing a not-bad job. Spillane had always been a self promoter, and in later years he made the rounds of TV talk shows and even starred in a series of commercials for Miller Lite Beer!

Stacy Keach, TV’s greatest Mike Hammer

Hammer was back with (what else?) a vengeance, and a new audience was turned on to Spillane’s sex-and-violence fueled world. In the Reagan-era 1980’s a new TV version was broadcast on CBS, starring Stacy Keach, by far the most popular of Hammer portrayers. The stylish series was a hit, that is until Keach got busted in Britain on cocaine smuggling charges and had to serve time in prison. He returned to the role in (appropriately enough) the 1986 TV movie THE RETURN OF MIKE HAMMER, and again the 90’s with the  syndicated MIKE HAMMER, PRIVATE EYE series.

“There isn’t a Coliseum anymore, but the city is a bigger bowl, and it seats more people. The razor-sharp claws aren’t those of wild animals, but man’s can be just as sharp and twice as vicious. You have to be quick, and you have to be able, or you become one of the devoured, and if you can kill first, no matter how and no matter who, you can return to the comfortable chair and the comfortable fire. But you have to be quick. And able. Or you’ll be dead”

-from MY GUN IS QUICK, first published in 1950 by EP Dutton

Tough as a two dollar steak, Mike Hammer refuses to die, even though his creator Spillane passed away in 2006. Mystery writer Max Allan Collins, who once took over the Dick Tracy comic strip and penned the graphic novel THE ROAD TO PERDITION, has been chronicling the hard-boiled adventures of Hammer since 2007, working from Spillane’s own unfinished manuscripts. As long as there’s a need for a ruthless avenger to take on the dirty jobs no one else can, there will be a need for Mike Hammer, political correctness be damned!