You’re Gonna Make It After All: RIP Mary Tyler Moore

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She was America’s TV sweetheart in the 60’s and 70’s. Beautiful and talented Mary Tyler Moore has passed away at age 80, her smile no longer brightening this world. Mary was Laura Petrie, the perky and perfect suburban housewife on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, then broke new ground as single career girl Mary Richards on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, both seminal sitcoms from television’s Golden Age of Comedy.

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Born in Brooklyn Heights in 1936, Mary became a dancer as a teen, and got her first show business break as ‘Happy Hotpoint’, a tiny dancing elf in TV commercials for Hotpoint stoves. Her next break got her noticed, playing the sexy secretary on RICHARD DIAMOND PRIVATE DETECTIVE, which starred David Janssen. Mary never fully appeared on the show, only her smoky voice and dancer’s legs, and viewers were left to speculate on the rest of the package.

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Then came THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1961-66), a sophisticated (for its time) half hour about a comedy writer, based on Carl Reiner’s experiences working for Sid Caesar. Laura Petrie was, like Mary, a former dancer who met husband Rob while working for the USO. Mary’s singing and dancing skills were sometimes on display, but it was her comic timing with partner Van Dyke that earned her an Emmy for Best Actress. The pair was pure gold together, and they reunited several times after the series ended its run, including a memorable 2003 PBS adaptation of the stage hit THE GIN GAME.

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Mary made a few movies following THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, most notably 1967’s THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE with Julie Andrews and 1969’s CHANGE OF HABIT, Elvis Presley’s final film. She returned to the small screen in 1970, headlining her own sitcom THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. As Mary Richards, a thirtysomething single girl who moves to Minneapolis and lands a job as associate producer of the local Six O’clock News program on fictional WJM, she was an independent working woman paying her own way through life, something rarely seen on weekly TV. The show featured what’s possibly the best supporting cast in sitcom history: there was gruff boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), newswriter Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod), sarcastic neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), bubbleheaded anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), man-hungry ‘Happy Homemaker’ Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), upwardly mobile neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Ted’s sweet, naïve wife Georgette (Georgia Engel). All had the chance to strut their comedic stuff while level-headed Mary was the glue that held it all together. The series won 29 Emmys during its seven-year run, including three for Mary herself.

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Mary never made it big in feature films, though she did receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination as the icy, uptight mother of a suicide victim in 1980’s ORDINARY PEOPLE, Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Television was her home, and she starred in popular TV movies like FIRST YOU CRY (1978), HEARTSOUNDS (1984, with James Garner), FINNEGAN BEGIN AGAIN (1985, with Robert Preston), and the 1988 miniseries LINCOLN, playing Mary Todd Lincoln opposite Sam Waterson’s President. She proved herself as adept at drama as she was with comedy in these roles. She had an abrupt change of pace in 2001’s LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON: THE STRANGE STORY OF SANTE AND KENNY KIMES, based on the true story of a murderous grifter and her equally homicidal son. But it’s still as America’s TV Sweetheart she’ll fondly be remembered for, the girl who “could turn the world on with her smile, who could take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seems worthwhile”. Sweet dreams, Mary.

Happy Birthday Elvis!: THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS (MGM 1969)

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Elvis Aron Presley was born on this date in 1935. The King of Rock’N’Roll got the older generation “All Shook Up” when he burst on the national scene in 1956 with hits like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog”. He also made his first film that year, the Western LOVE ME TENDER, and was an immediate box office sensation. His following three films, LOVING YOU, JAILHOUSE ROCK , and KING CREOLE, were well done, but after his stint in the Army, and the success of 1961’s BLUE HAWAII, Presley’s 60’s movies followed a strict formula, thanks to manager Col. Tom Parker, with interchangeable titles like KISSIN’ COUSINS, HARUM SCARUM, and DOUBLE TROUBLE.

By the late 60’s, things had changed. The Beatles  were top of the pops, the psychedelic revolution was in full effect, and Elvis hadn’t had a hit record in a few years. The movies were still profitable, but lacked energy. Presley’s 1968 Comeback TV Special put The King back on his throne, and he ready to move with the times. Reportedly, he was offered the Jon Voight part in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, which the Colonel adamantly refused to let him do, and Glen Campbell’s role in TRUE GRIT, the Colonel again vetoing on the basis of being billed lower than John Wayne (really, Colonel?). One of Elvis’ last movies was THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS, a departure from the usual formula casting Presley as the boss of a traveling Chautauqua show in 1927 Iowa.

allvip.us Elvis Presley The Trouble With Girls 1969

Elvis is the white-suited, cigar smoking Walter Hale, leader of the troupe of actors, orators, and musicians who pull into the sleepy town of Radford Center. His “Story Lady” who runs the children’s pageant, Charlene, is a union-advocating proto-feminist, refusing to give the mayor’s daughter the lead, preferring the much-more talented Carol. Carol’s mother Nita is constantly being sexually harassed at work by her druggist boss Wilby, and wants a better life for her kid. Young Betty wants to leave small town life behind too, and is eager to get noticed.

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There’s also an illegal blackjack game going on by the riverbank, run by Chautauqua worker Clarence, and when Wilby gets in a fight after accusing the dealer of cheating, his body’s found floating in the river the next day. Clarence is arrested for murder, but Walter discovers Nita did the deed, and finds a way to help her and profit from it by having her confess before a live audience. Charlene is appalled at his exploitation of her, and Walter’s charlatan attitude in general, and quits the company, but sly Walter figures out a way to get her thrown out of town and back on the train for the next stop.

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Walter Hale is a change of pace role for Elvis, as is the film. He does get to sing, but his musical moments are few and far between. His lead Bible Singer gets ill, so he fills in on the traditional Gospel number “Swing Down Sweet Chariot”. He does a bluesy rendering of “Clean Up Your Own Backyard”, and does an introspective “Alone” at the piano near the end. There’s a few bits and pieces of vocalizing, but mainly Elvis acts, and while Walter Hale’s no Joe Buck or Ranger LaBoeuf, it’s certainly different than his usual leading roles, and Elvis does a fine job.

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Presley’s surrounded by a cast of pros. Marlyn Mason (Charlene) is best known for her TV roles. Sheree North (Nita) was a 50’s starlet in HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR and THE LIEUTENANT WORE SKIRTS, and later appeared as The Duke’s ex-love in THE SHOOTIST Edward Andrews (Walter’s assistant Johnny) is always good. Dabney Coleman’s at his sleazy best as Wilby. Nicole Jaffe (Betty)may not look familiar to you, but you’ll recognize her voice… she’s the voice of Velma from SCOOBY DOO! (Frank Welker, who voiced Fred, is also in the cast) Anissa Jones (little Carol) was Buffy on TV’s FAMILY AFFAIR.

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There are some fun cameos here. Vincent Price plays the erudite Mr. Morality, giving the crowd a lecture on the evils of sin as only Price can. John Carradine pops up as Mr. Drewcolt, a Shakespearian actor (Betty: “Do you think Romeo and Juliet had pre-marital relations?” Drewcolt: “Only in the Des Moines company”). Carradine even gets to recite a snippet of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet”, which must’ve pleased him no end! Joyce Van Patten is comical as distance swimmer Maude, who discovers Wilby’s body.

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THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS is entertaining, though anachronistic in places (all the women wear mini-skirts, for example), a solid comedy-drama that gave Elvis Presley a chance to break out of the formulaic “teen musicals” he was getting too old for anyway. There was one more movie on the way, CHANGE OF HABIT with Mary Tyler Moore, before his film career ended, with only a couple of tour documentaries in the 70’s before his tragic death in 1977 at age 42. Elvis left an indelible mark on the world of music, but in movies only a handful tested his mettle as an actor. THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS tries to break the “Elvis movie” mold, and will satisfy even non-Presley fans. Happy birthday, King Elvis, long may you reign!

2016 IN MEMORIAM (S through Z)

This is the final entry in our tribute to those artists, entertainers, and pop culture figures who passed away in 2016. Let’s all hope the 2017 list is much, much shorter.

Veteran CBS News journalist Morley Safer (“60 Minutes”)

Actress Theresa Saldana (“Raging Bull”, “The Commish”)

DC comic book letterist Gaspar Saladino

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Actor Joe Santos (“The Rockford Files”)

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Prolific character actor William Schallert

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Horror star Angus Scrimm (the “Phantasm” series)

Comedian/actor Garry Shandling

Grand Ole Opry star Jean Shepherd

Actress Madeleine Sherwood (“The Flying Nun”)

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Actor/singer/conductor Frank Sinatra Jr.

MMA fighter Kimbo Slice

Actor James Stacy (“Lancer”)

Singer Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”)

Music & film producer Robert Stigwood

ruthGolden Age actress Ruth Terry

Actor/host Alan Thicke (“Growing Pains”, “Thicke of the Night”)

Television producer/executive Grant Tinker

Futurist writer Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”)

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Mexican actress Lupita Tovar (1931’s Spanish language “Dracula”)

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pvBritish character actor Peter Vaughn (“Game of Thrones”)

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 Actor Robert Vaughn (“The Man from UNCLE”, “The Magnificent Seven”)

 Southern rocker Jimmie Van Zandt

Singer Bobby Vee (“Rubber Ball”, “Take Good Care of My Baby”)

Actor Abe Vigoda (“The Godfather”, “Barney Miller”, “Fish”)

Voice actress Janet Waldo (Judy of “The Jetsons”)

Author Bill Warren (the seminal “Keep Watching the Skies”)

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Maurice White of Earth, Wind, & Fire

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The fabulous Gene Wilder

Charlton Comic artist George Wildman (“Popeye”)

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Actor Van Williams (“The Green Hornet”)

Actor Douglas Wilmer (“The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, “The Vampire Lovers”, British  TV’s “Sherlock Holmes”)

Musician Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic, Talking Heads)

Porn star/heavy metal icon Tera Wray

Singer Glenn Yarbrough (“Baby, the Rain Must Fall”)

CAR & DRIVER editor/screenwriter Brock Yates (“The Cannonball Run”)

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Actor Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”)

alanyActor Alan Young (“The Time Machine”,   TV’s “Mr. Ed”, voice of Scrooge McDuck)

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TV Horror Host Zacherley

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Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmund

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Cajun music legend Buckwheat Zydeco

May The Force be with them all.

RIP The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

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One day after the tragic death of her daughter Carrie Fisher, the unsinkable Debbie Reynolds has passed at age 84. I’m not going to update my previous IN MEMORIAM  post; Miss Reynolds deserves a post of her own.

Full shot of illustration of Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden, and Donald O'Connor as Cosmo Brown walking together in rain, holding umbrellas during the opening musical number "Singin' In The Rain."

One of the last of the old studio contract players, Debbie got good notices in such musical films as THE DAUGHTER OF ROSIE O’GRADY, THREE LITTLE WORDS, and TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE, but it’s her role as Kathy Seldon in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that made her a star. This joyful ode to the transition from silent movies to sound isn’t just my favorite musical, it’s one of my favorite films ever! Debbie shines as the ingénue forced to lip-synch for catty star Lina Lamont (the wonderful Jean Hagen), and more than holds her own in the dancing and clowning departments with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Like CASABLANCA and CITIZEN KANE, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is a perfect movie, and 20  year old Debbie played a big part in making it a dream come true for film fans.

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More hits followed: THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS, SUSAN SLEPT HERE , THE TENDER TRAP, THE CATERED AFFAIR (a dramatic change-of-pace costarring Bette Davis), BUNDLE OF JOY. Another signature role was up next as Debbie portrayed backwoods tomgirl Tammy Tyree in the romantic comedy TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR, singing the hit title tune as well:

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1964’s THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN brought Debbie her first (and only) Oscar nomination in this adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical. Her output slowed down as the decade wore on, and Debbie did more television and stage work, garnering a Tony nomination for the 1973 revival IRENE. She kept busy in Vegas, amassed a huge collection of Hollywood memorabilia, and was given the honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar in 2015 for her work in raising awareness on mental health issues (daughter Carrie suffered from bipolar disorder).

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Debbie Reynolds had her share of tragedies and scandals… first husband Eddie Fisher had a notorious affair with Elizabeth Taylor, resulting in divorce, and second husband Harry Karl’s gambling addiction almost bankrupted her. Her difficulties dealing with Carrie’s mental health and drug issues have been well documented. But through it all, Debbie Reynolds kept smiling and moving forward, a true star not only of show biz, but a star of life. This final tragedy of Carrie’s death was more than she could take, however. Bless you, Debbie Reynolds, I hope you find peace at long last.

 

2016 IN MEMORIAM Part 3 (L through R)

Continuing to pay tribute to those who have departed in 2016:

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Musician Greg Lake of King Crimson and ELP

50’s crooner Julius LaRosa

Cartoonist Mell Lazarus (“Miss Peach”)

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Actress Madeleine LeBeau (“Casablanca”)

Author Harper Lee (“To Kill A Mockingbird”)

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Grindhouse director Herschell Gordon Lewis 

Character actor Richard Libertini (“The In-Laws”, “Fletch”)

Singer/songwriter John D. Loudermilk

Rockabilly guitarist Lonnie Mack

ECW wrestler Balls Mahoney

Actor David Margulies (“Ghostbusters”)

Actor Don Marshall (“Land of the Giants”, “The Thing with Two Heads”)

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Producer/director/writer/actor Garry Marshall

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Beatles record producer Sir George Martin

Soap villain Joseph Mascolo (Stefano on “Days Of Our Lives”)

Singer Gayle McCormick of Smith (“Baby It’s You”)

Comedian Kevin Meaney

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Singer George Michael

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Grindhouse filmmaker Ted V. Mikels (“The Astro-Zombies”, “The Corpse Grinders”)

Film noir actress Kristine Miller (“I Walk Alone”, “Too Late For Tears” )

Actor/singer Mike Minor (“Petticoat Junction”)

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Actress Michele Morgan (“Higher and Higher”, “Passage to Marseille”)

Wrestler Blackjack Mulligan

Warhol superstar Billy Name

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TV’s Lois Lane, Noel Neill

Soap Opera writer/creator Agnes Nixon (“All My Children”)

‘Singer Behind the Stars’ Marni Nixon (Deborah Kerr in “The King and I”, Natalie Wood in “West Side Story”, Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”, so many more)

Hugh O'Brian, US actor, in costume leaning against a post, with a horse in the background, in a publicity portrait issued for the US television series, 'The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp', USA, circa 1958. The western series starred O'Brian as 'Marshall Wyatt Earp'. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Actor Hugh O’Brian (“The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”)

Actor Kevin O’Morrison (“The Set Up”,  “Sleepless in Seattle”)

Golfing legend Arnold Palmer

MLB pitcher Milt Pappas

Singer Billy Paul (“Me & Mrs. Jones”)

Singer/record producer Gary S. Paxton (“Alley Oop”, “The Monster Mash”)

MLB second baseman Tony Phillips

Actor Jon Polito (“Miller’s Crossing”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Homicide: Life on the Streets”)

prince2The simply amazing Prince

Songwriter Curly Putnam (“Green, Green Grass of Home”)

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Actress and former First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan

Singer/songwriter Mack Rice (“Mustang Sally”)

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Actor Alan Rickman

Actress Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”)

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‘Master of Time and Space’, musician Leon Russell

NFL coaching legend Buddy Ryan

(to be concluded tomorrow… )

2016 IN MEMORIAM Part 2 (F through K)

Continuing the roll call of those in arts & entertainment taken from us in 2016. Sadly, another name has been just been added to this list. RIP Carrie Fisher.

Singer Joey Feek

Actor Abel Fernandez (TV’s “The Untouchables”)

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Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez

Actor Frank Finlay (“The Three Musketeers”)

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‘Princess Leia’, actress/author Carrie Fisher

Jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 02: Glenn Frey of The Eagles performs live for fans at Qantas Credit Union Arena on March 2, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)

Glenn Frey of The Eagles

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Iconic nurse Greta Zimmer Friedman

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Character actor Bernard Fox (“Bewitched”, “Hogan’s Heroes”)

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Wrestling’s Mr. Fuji

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Actress/socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor

Actress Rita Gam (“The Thief”, “No Exit”, “Klute” )

Major League catcher/announcer Joe Garagiola

Actress Lisa Gaye (“Rock Around the Clock” )

Actor Ron Glass (“Barney Miller”)

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Astronaut/U.S. Senator/American Hero John Glenn

Wrestler Archie Gouldie, aka The Mongolian Stomper

Singer Gogi Grant (“The Wayward Wind”)

Broadway & Hollywood actress Tammy Grimes

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Country legend Merle Haggard

Actor Dan Haggerty (“Grizzly Adams”)

Director Guy Hamilton (“Goldfinger”)

Writer Earl Hamner Jr (“The Twilight Zone”, “The Waltons”)

Director Curtis Hanson (“LA Confidential”)

Director Robin Hardy (“The Wicker Man”)

Comic actor Pat Harrington Jr (“One Day at a Time”)

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Singer/actress Florence Henderson (“The Brady Bunch”)

Musician Dan Hicks (of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks)

Director Arthur Hiller (“Love Story”, “Silver Streak”)

Actor Ken Howard (“The White Shadow”)

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NHL legend Gordie Howe

Actor Robert Horton (“Wagon Train”)

Character actor David Huddleston (“The Big Lebowski”)

MLB Hall of Famer Monte Irvin

Actress Anne Jackson (“The Secret Life of an American Wife”, “The Shining”)

Country singer Sonny James (“Young Love”)

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Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Starship

Comic actor Marvin Kaplan (“Top Cat”, “Alice”)

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Academy Award winner George Kennedy (“Cool Hand Luke”,  “The Naked Gun”)

Child star Tommy Kelly (“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”)

Baseball novelist W.P. Kinsella (“Shoeless Joe”, adapted onscreen as “Field of Dreams”)

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Actor Burt Kwouk (Cato in the Pink Panther films)

to be continued….

2016 IN MEMORIAM (Part 1, A through E)

This past year, the Grim Reaper took a bumper crop from the worlds of film, television, music, sports, literature, and pop culture. Here at Cracked Rear Viewer, we salute those men and women who in some way touched our lives:

Television director Norman Abbott

julius-adamsNew England Patriots great Julius Adams

Voice actor Joe Alaskey

Playwright Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”)

ali1‘The Greatest’, Muhammed Ali

Folk/Blues/Jazz star Mose Allison

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   Catholic TV host Mother Angelica

Actor Arthur Anderson (voice of the Lucky Charms Leprechaun)

Producer/voice actress Sylvia Anderson (“Thunderbirds”)

Actor Eddie Applegate (“The Patty Duke Show”)

r2d2Actor Kenny Baker (Star Wars’ R2D2  )

Lennie Baker of Sha-Na-Na

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Film & TV Car Customizer George Barris

Actress Patricia Barry

Actor Brian Bedford

Last of the Vaudevillians, Irving Benson

Actress Maggie Blye

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The incredible David Bowie

Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca

30’s child star Bobby Breen

Animation producer Al Brodax (The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”)

Actor Tony Burton (the “Rocky” movies)

Actor Don Calfa

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Pittsburgh Horror Host/Wrestling Announcer/”Night of the Living Dead” actor Bill Cardille, aka ‘Chilly Billy’

Child actress Joan Carroll (“Meet Me in St. Louis”)

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Child actor Billy Chapin (“Night of the Hunter”)

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Wrestling superstar/pornstar Chyna (aka Joanie Laurer)

Director Michael Cimino (“The Deer Hunter”, “Heaven’s Gate”)

R&B/Soul singer Otis Clay

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Singer/songwriter/poet for the ages, Leonard Cohen

Longtime TV tennis commentator Bud Collins

Singer Jerry Corbetta of Sugarloaf (“Green-Eyed Lady”)

Actress Noreen Corcoran (“Bachelor Father”)

Actress Adrienne Corri (“A Clockwork Orange”)

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MAD/EC comics illustrator Jack Davis

MGM musical actress Gloria DeHaven

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Jim Delligatti, inventor of the Big Mac!

Actor Larry Drake (“LA Law”, “Dr. Giggles”)

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Oscar & Emmy winning actress Patty Duke

Country singer Holly Dunn (“Daddy’s Hands”)

Novelist Umberto Eco (“The Name of the Rose”)

Comedian Bob Elliott of Bob & Ray

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Rock keyboard/synthesizer wizard Keith Emerson of ELP

(tomorrow… part 2, F through K)