News has reached us that singer/actress/comedian Nanette Fabray has passed away at age 97. She surely lived up to that old adage as a “star of stage, screen, and TV”, and was a trouper in the best sense of the word. Nanette began her career as a child in vaudeville, became a sensation on the Broadway stage, and moved to TV in the 50’s as part of CAESAR’S HOUR , with Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris. She was a regular on HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, and later became a professional TV mom to the likes of Mary Tyler Moore (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW), Bonnie Franklin (ONE DAY AT A TIME), and her real-life niece Shelley Fabares (COACH). Miss Fabray long suffered from hearing loss, and was noted for her work in deaf and hard-of-hearing causes.
Her best known film is undoubtedly THE BAND WAGON (1953), a backstage musical comedy starring Fred Astaire , Oscar Levant, and Jack Buchanan. Most fans fondly remember the number “Triplets”, with Nanette, Astaire, and Buchanan as babies, but for me the show biz anthem “That’s Entertainment” really sums up what Nanette was all about. Keep your eyes on her, she’s delightful:
Most people know John Gavin, who died today at age 86, as the nominal hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, who saves Vera Miles from a ghastly fate at the hands of maniacal Anthony Perkins. What most people don’t know is Gavin was once signed, sealed, and ready to go as the movie’s most popular secret agent of them all, James Bond!
It’s true! Gavin had signed the contract with producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to star as 007 in 1971’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER , taking over the role from George Lazenby. He would have been the first (and only) American actor to portray MI-6’s suave secret agent, except the powers that be at United Artists wanted someone with more star power to take the role. Saltzman and Broccoli then threw an enormous (at the time) sum of money at original Bond Sean Connery to return to the part that made him famous. It was an offer Connery couldn’t refuse, and poor John Gavin was the spy left out in the cold – although he did receive his full pay for the contract he signed!
John Gavin was born in Los Angeles in 1931. After serving in the Korean War, he signed on with Universal as a contract player. He did his time in small roles, with the studio looking to make him the next Rock Hudson. Gavin got his big break in a pair of pictures for director Douglas Sirk : the WWII drama A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE (1958), told from the German point of view, and the remake of the soap opera IMITATION OF LIFE (1959), starring Lana Turner in the part originated by Claudette Colbert.
He had a supporting role as Julius Caesar in Stanley Kubrick’s epic SPARTACUS (1960), then Hitchcock came a-calling with PSYCHO. Gavin was Sam Loomis, lover of Janet Leigh’s doomed Marion Crane, who along with Vera Miles’ Lila Crane tries to find out where the missing Marion is, leading them to the run-down Bates Motel and Anthony Perkins’s looney Norman Bates. Gavin doesn’t really have a lot to do but look good, but the role of Sam is crucial to the plot and the film’s shocking conclusion.
Major stardom eluded Gavin, though he did keep busy with films here and abroad, television, and the stage. He was president of the Screen Actor’s Guild from 1971-73, and in 1981 accepted the position of Ambassador to Mexico from President Ronald Reagan , a post he held until 1986. Gavin then embarked on a business career, leaving Hollywood behind for good. But for one brief, shining moment, John Gavin was James Bond, if only on paper. I wonder what it would have been like if Saltzman and Broccoli had gone through with their plan, and let an American actor play Agent 007. Alas, the world will never know. Rest in peace, John Gavin.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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).
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.
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.
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 (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 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 (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.
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).
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).
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!