In Memoriam 2018: Film & Television – Behind the Cameras

Just a few hours after finishing the first part of this annual tribute, I learned Penny Marshall had passed away at age 75. Penny became a semi-regular on her producer-brother Garry’s sitcom THE ODD COUPLE, then shot to stardom in the HAPPY DAYS spinoff LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, costarring with Cindy Williams as a pair of working class Milwaukee girls who frequently found themselves in slapstick situations. After a successful seven year run, Penny turned to directing with the feature JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH, an action-comedy vehicle for Whoopi Goldberg. Her next film, 1988’s BIG, was a smash, with a 12-year-old kid wishing he was “big” – and, thanks to the fortune telling machine Zoltar, gets his wish, turning into Tom Hanks! BIG was the highest-grossing film directed by a woman at the time, and Penny went on to make AWAKENINGS with Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (my all-time personal favorite baseball film, with Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and so many more), RENAISSANCE MAN starring Danny DeVito, THE PREACHER’S WIFE with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, and RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS starring Drew Barrymore. Whether before or behind the cameras, Penny Marshall was a force to be reckoned with, and her talents will be missed.

Neil Simon’s  (91) talent was with words, and the writer produced a ton of them during his long career. Starting out in television, Simon contributed to Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and CAESAR’S HOUR, and Phil Silvers’ sitcom SGT. BILKO before scoring Broadway success with 1961’s COME BLOW YOUR HORN (later made into a film starring Frank Sinatra). His plays were adapted into movies and TV shows, including BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, THE ODD COUPLE, SWEET CHARITY, LAST OFTHE RED HOT LOVERS, THE SUNSHINE BOYS, and he wrote hits like THE GOODBYE GIRL, MURDER BY DEATH, and THE CHEAP DETECTIVE exclusively for the screen. Winner of numerous awards, Emmys, Tonys, Golden Globes – but strangely never an Oscar – Neil Simon’s work will still be performed long after we’re all gone.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci

Director’s chairs around the world will be a lot emptier. Italian Bernardo Bertolucci (77) gave us political thrillers like THE CONFORMIST and THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM before shocking the world with the X-Rated LAST TANGO IN PARIS, starring (of all people) Marlon Brando. Bertolucci’s international productions included the historical drama 1900 (with Robert DeNiro and an all-star cast), the provocative LUNA starring Jill Clayburgh, the Oscar-winning THE LAST EMPEROR, the Zen meditation LITTLE BUDDHA, and the sensuous STEALING BEAUTY. Czech Milos Forman (86) came to America and won two Oscars, for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and AMADEUS. Forman adapted well to his new country, and his sense of humor elevated films like HAIR, HEARTBURN, VALMONT, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, and MAN ON THE MOON.

Obsessed with film: Nicolas Roeg

Over in England, Nicholas Roeg (90) started as a cinematographer (MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, FARENHEIT 451, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD) before making his directorial debut with PERFORMANCE, starring Rolling Stone Mick Jagger. Roeg had success guiding rock stars to fine screen performances (David Bowie in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, Art Garfunkel in BAD TIMING: A SEXUALOBSESSION), made one of the 70”s most chilling films (DON’T LOOK NOW with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), and made daring films like WALKABOUT, INSIGNIFICANCE, and THE WITCHES. Fellow countryman Lewis Gilbert (97) helmed the classics SINK THE BISMARCK!, ALFIE, and EDUCATING RITA, as well as three 007 movies: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, and MOONRAKER.

Future director Robert Sheerer jitterbuggin’ in the 1940’s

Italian Gianfranco Parolini (93) filmed Peplum entries SAMSON, FURY OF HERCULES, and THE TEN GLADIATORS, but is best remembered for the SABATA trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns. Jorge Grau (88) gave us the cult classic THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE. Michael Anderson (98) directed the Oscar winner AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, THE DAM BUSTERS, 1984, SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL, and the sci-fi hit LOGAN’S RUN . Vincent McEveety (88) worked with icons Henry Fonda and James Stewart on FIRECREEK, and did ten comedies for Disney (THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK, THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD, HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO). Stan Dragoti (85) gave us the comedies LOVE AT FIRST BITE and MR. MOM. Hugh Wilson (74) was responsible (for better or worse!) for the original POLICE ACADEMY, as well as creating TV’s WKRP IN CINCINNATI. Robert Sheerer (89) was a member of the 40’s jitterbug dance troupe The Jivin’ Jacks and A Jill, appearing in WHAT’S COOKIN’, PRIVATE BUCKAROO, and GIVE OUT SISTERS before becoming a director for movies (ADAM AT SIX A.M., HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH COST OF LIVING) and TV (THE LOVE BOAT, FAME, MATLOCK, and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, DEEP SPACE NINE, VOYAGER). Geoff Murphy (80) made YOUNG GUNS II and FREEJACK.

Al Pacino in Martin Bregman’s “Scarface”

Megaproducer Martin Bregman (92) began as a talent manager before producing some of Al Pacino’s best (SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, SCARFACE). He also worked with Alan Alda on such films as THE FOUR SEASONS and SWEET LIBERTY. Gary Kurtz (78) and Gloria Katz (76) both worked behind the scenes producing the George Lucas hits AMERICAN GRAFFITI and STAR WARS . Hong Kong’s Raymond Chow (91) helped bring Martial Arts and Bruce Lee to American theaters. Phil D’Antoni (89) was the genius behind a trio of great 70’s cop flicks: BULLITT , THE FRENCH CONNECTION , and THE SEVEN-UPS . Steven Bochco (74) left his indelible mark on television with hits like HILL STREET BLUES, L.A. LAW, DOOGIE HOWSER M.D., and NYPD BLUE. Jerry Thorpe (92) produced and directed favorites THE UNTOUCHABLES, KUNG FU, and HARRY O. Paul Junger Witt (77) had the magic touch in both TV sitcoms (SOAP, BENSON, THE GOLDEN GIRLS, BLOSSOM) and movies (BRIAN’S SONG, DEAD POETS SOCIETY, THREE KINGS). John D.F. Black (85) worked as a producer/writer/director on a multitude of TV (STAR TREK ) and film (SHAFT,  TROUBLE MAN ) productions.

A sample of Robby Muller’s work from “To Live & Die in LA”

Cinematographer Robby Muller (78) lent his keen eye to SAINT JACK, PARIS TEXAS, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., and DOWN BY LAW. Richard Kline (91) manned the cameras on CAMELOT, HANG ‘EM HIGH , THE BOSTON STRANGLER, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE MECHANIC , KING KONG, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, and BODY HEAT. Art Director Michael Ford (90) won Oscars for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and TITANIC. Yvonne Blake (78) created the costumes for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and SUPERMAN. Pablo Ferro (83) gave us dazzling titles for DR. STRANGELOVE, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, and MEN IN BLACK. And let’s not forget the contributions of William Hobbs (79), fight choreographer on the films OTHELLO, THE THREE and FOUR MUSKETEERS, CATAIN KRONUS – VAMPIRE HUNTER, FLASH GORDON, EXCALIBUR, LADYHAWKE, WILLOW, DANGEROUS LIAISONS, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, and the series GAME OF THRONES.

Writer William Goldman

So many talented people are no longer with us: producers Gerald Ayres (82, THE LAST DETAIL), Arnold Kopelson (83, PLATOON), Allison Shearmur (54, THE HUNGER GAMES, ROGUE ONE), Ezra Swerdlow (64, SPACEBALLS, ZOMBIELAND), Craig Zadan (69, FOOTLOOSE); screenwriters William Goldman (87, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, THE PRINCESS BRIDE), Thad Mumford (67, TV’s MASH, THE COSBY SHOW), David Sherwin (75, IF, O LUCKY MAN);  cinematographers Michael Gershman (73), Ronnie Taylor (93, Oscar for GANDHI); editors Edward Abroms (82, THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS, BLUE THUNDER), Francoise Bonnot (78, Oscar winner for Z), John Carter (95), Anne V. Coates (92, Oscar winner for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA); production designers Terence Marsh (86, DR. ZHIVAGO, OLIVER!); composers Johann Johannsson (48, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, SICORRO), John Morris (91, Oscar winner for THE ELEPHANT MAN), Arthur Rubinstein (80, WAR GAMES, STAKEOUT), Patrick Williams (79, BREAKING AWAY, SWING SHIFT); documentarians Peter Clifton (77, THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME), Rick McKay (57, BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE); stuntman Jack N. Young; animator Rick Reinert (93).

Steven Hillenburg & Friend

Last but certainly not least, we salute Stephen Hillenburg, the animator who introduced the world to SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, the subversively silly Nickelodeon cartoon that’s enjoyed by young and old alike. Hillenburg died from ALS at the too-young age of 57, but his beloved creation will live on forever. Now pass the Krabby Patties, please!

Tomorrow: Music 

In Memoriam 2018: Film & Television – Performers

(The Grim Reaper was pretty busy this year, so busy this remembrance of film and television personalities will be broken into two parts)

At the end of every year, Cracked Rear Viewer salutes those both in front of and behind the cameras who are no longer with us. The biggest name was undoubtedly Burt Reynolds, who passed away at age 82. Burt was one of 70’s cinema’s hottest stars, from his breakthrough role in DELIVERANCE to rough’n’tumble films WHITE LIGHTNING and THE LONGEST YARD to his ‘yahoo’ classics SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and THE CANNONBALL RUN. Reynolds hit a career slump during the 80’s, but came back strong as a character actor in such 90’s films as BOOGIE NIGHTS (receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination) and MYSTERY, ALASKA. He was no stranger to the small screen, either; early in his career, he was a regular on RIVERBOAT, GUNSMOKE, and DAN AUGUST, later starring in the 90’s sitcom EVENING SHADE. Burt’s warm personality and unforgettable, infectious laugh will certainly be missed.

Tab Hunter & Dorothy Malone in “Battle Cry” (1955)

Burt wasn’t the only big name who left the stage. Oscar winning actress Dorothy Malone (93) first got noticed in Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP , sharing a brief scene with Humphrey Bogart, and went on to fame in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, TOO MUCH TOO SOON , BEACH PARTY , and the TV version of PEYTON PLACE (as the prime-time soap’s star Constance McKenzie). Tab Hunter (86), Dorothy’s BATTLE CRY co-star, was one of the biggest matinee idols of the 1950’s, whose credits include Joe Hardy in DAMN YANKEES, TRACK OF THE CAT, GUNMAN’S WALK, and the early beach movie RIDE THE WILD SURF. Tab scored a #1 hit song, “Young Love”, and later starred in John Waters’ POLYESTER and Paul Bartel’s LUST IN THE DUST opposite the immortal Divine.

For a generation of filmgoers, Margot Kidder (69) was THE Lois Lane, costarring with Christopher Reeve in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and it’s sequels. Margot was much more than the Man of Steel’s main squeeze, starring in genre films SISTERS, BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and more mainstream fare like THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER, 92 IN THE SHADE, and WILLIE AND PHIL. John Gavin (86) played Janet Leigh’s lover in PSYCHO, Lana Turner’s lover in IMITATION OF LIFE, and Julius Caesar in SPARTACUS,  but his biggest role came when President Ronald Reagan appointed Gavin as Ambassador to Mexico. Gloria Jean (92) was a Universal starlet of the 40’s whose sweet soprano graced such films as THE UNDERPUP, IF I HAD MY WAY, A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN, and NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (starring the irrepressible W.C. Fields); she was teamed with Donald O’Connor for a series of teen-oriented pocket musicals with titles like GET HEP TO LOVE, IT COMES UP LOVE, and MR. BIG. Patricia Morison (103) was never a big star in movies, but did fine work in films of the classic era: PERSONS IN HIDING (as a Bonnie Parker-type), THE MAGNIFICENT FRAUD, BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON, HITLER’S MADMAN , THE FALLEN SPARROW, CALLING DR. DEATH, LADY ON A TRAIN , DRESSED TO KILL. Patricia left Hollywood behind in the late 40’s and achieved stardom on Broadway in KISS ME KATE and THE KING AND I.

Big Clint Walker (90) was popular in both television (CHEYENNE, KILLDOZER) and films (YELLOWSTONE KELLY, THE DIRTY DOZEN ), as was actor Bradford Dillman (87, COMPULSION, FRANCIS OF ASSISI, countless episodic TV and TV-Movies). Multi-talented Harry Anderson (65) was a comedian, magician, and sitcom star (NIGHT COURT, DAVE’S WORLD) who also acted in the Stephen King miniseries IT. Comedian Jerry Van Dyke (86) appeared with John Wayne in MCCLINTOCK!, on his brother Dick’s weekly series, and sitcoms MY MOTHER THE CAR and COACH. Ken Berry (85) kept fans laughing in F TROOP, MAYBERRY RFD, and MAMA’S FAMILY. John Mahoney (77) was in TIN MEN, MOONSTRUCK, EIGHT MEN OUT, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, but is best remembered as Kelsey Grammer’s cranky dad for nine seasons on FRASIER. Nanette Fabray (97) won a Tony for LOVE LIFE, three Emmys for CAESAR’S HOUR, and costarred with Fred Astaire in THE BAND WAGON. David Ogden Stiers (75) amused viewers as stuffy Major Charles Emerson Winchester on M*A*S*H.

Actress/writer Delores Taylor (85) worked with husband Tom Laughlin in the BILLY JACK films . Sondra Locke (74) received an Oscar nomination for THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, and costarred in a series of 70’s films with then-boyfriend Clint Eastwood (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE GAUNTLET , EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, SUDDEN IMPACT). Susan Anspach (75) gained fame in FIVE EASY PIECES, BLUME IN LOVE, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, and THE BIG FIX. Former Marine R. Lee Ermey (74) had a long career after debuting in Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET. Verne Troyer (49) made audiences laugh as Mini-Me in the AUSTIN POWERS movies. Jerry Maren (98) helped pave the way for Troyer and others; he was THE WIZARD OF OZ’s last surviving Munchkin. Maria Rohm (72) appeared in Jess Franco’s BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, 99 WOMEN, JUSTINE, VENUS IN FURS, and COUNT DRACULA. French star Stephane Audran (85) was known for Claude Chabrol’s LES BICHES and LE BOUCHER, BABETTE’S FEAST, and Luis Bunuel’s THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE. Mary Carlisle (104) started way back in the 1930’s; her films include COLLEGE HUMOR and DR. RHYTHM opposite Bing Crosby, KENTUCKY KERNALS with Wheeler & Woolsey, and the “old, dark house” comedy ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT.

Barbara Harris in “Freaky Friday” (above), Michele Carey in “El Dorado” (below)

Barbara Harris (83) played in A THOUSAND CLOWNS, NASHVILLE, Hitchcock’s final film FAMILY PLOT, and the original FREAKY FRIDAY with Jodie Foster. Michele Carey (75) starred opposite The Duke (EL DORADO), The King (Elvis in LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE), and The Chairman of the Board (Frank Sinatra in DIRTY DINGUS MAGEE). James Karen (94) was in everything from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER to THE CHINA SYNDROME, POLTEGEIST, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Soon-Tek Oh (85) was in such diverse fare as THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN , MISSING IN ACTION 2, and voiced the title character’s father in MULAN. Tim O’Connor (90) had ongoing roles in the series PEYTON PLACE and BUCK ROGERS. Jean Porter (95) played an autograph hound in THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION, rode the range with Roy Rogers in SAN FERNANDO VALLEY, and was part of the havoc in ABBOTT & COSTELLO IN HOLLYWOOD. Ann Gillis (90) played Becky Thatcher in 1938’s THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, the title role in LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, and voiced Faline in Disney’s BAMBI.

Zany Marty Allen
Mary Hatcher in “Variety Girl”

Other performers and personalities who’ve left screens large and small: actors Lassie Lou Ahern (97, Our Gang member), funnyman Marty Allen (90), Gary Beach (70, THE PRODUCERS), Patricia Benoit (91, MR. PEEPERS), Scotty Bloch (93), Phillip Bosco (88), Olivia Cole (75, ROOTS, BACKSTAIRS AT THE WHITE HOUSE), Bill Daily (91, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW), Hugh Dane (75, THE OFFICE’s Hank), Peter Donat (90), Frank Doubleday (73, ASSAULT ON PRECICNT 13, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Robert Dowdell (85, Lt. Cmdr. Morton on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA ), Fenella Fielding (90, the CARRY ON movies), Sean Garrison (80), Eddie Foy III (83), Eunice Gayson (90, DR. NO , FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE , REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN), Pamela Gidley (52, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, CHERRY 2000), James Greene (91, PARKS & RECREATION), Kenneth Haigh (86, CLEOPATRA, MAN AT THE TOP), Mary Hatcher (88, VARIETY GIRL, HOLIDAY IN HAVANA), Alf Humphreys (64, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, FIRST BLOOD), Ricky Jay (72), Diane Jergens (83), David Landsberg (73), Louise Latham (95), Deanna Lund (81, LAND OF THE GIANTS )…

CIRCA 1963: Pop singer Rick Nelson and his wife Kristin Nelson pose for a portrait in circa 1963. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Katherine MacGregor (93, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), Vanessa Marquez (49, ER, STAND AND DELIVER), Robert Mandan (86, SOAP), Wayne Maunder (80, CUSTER , THE SEVEN MINUTES), Jan Maxwell (61), Peggy McCay (90), Allyn Ann McLerie (91), Laurie Mitchell (90, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE ), Donald Moffat (87), Alan O’Neill (47, SONS OF ANARCHY’s Hugh), Yosuke Natsuki (81, YOJIMBO, GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER), Kristin Nelson (72, OZZIE & HARRIET, ADAM-12, wife of Ricky Nelson, mother of Matthew and Gunnar, sister of Mark Harmon), Daniel Pilon (77), Jacqueline Pearce (74, THE REPTILE), Roger Perry (85), William Phipps (96, FIVE)…

Charlotte Rae and “The Facts of Life” girls

Charlotte Rae (92, THE FACTS OF LIFE), Meg Randall (91), Siegfried Rauch (85, PATTON, THE BIG RED ONE), Donnelly Rhodes (80, SOAP), Mark Salling (35, GLEE’s Puck), Connie Sawyer (105, “The Oldest Working Actress in Hollywood”), Carole Shelley (79, THE ODD COUPLE), Diana Sowle (88, WILLY WONKA), Naomi Stevens (92, THE APARTMENT, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS), Kin Sugai (92, GODZILLA ), Ken Swofford (85), Greta Thyssen (90, several Three Stooges shorts, JOURNEY TO THE 7TH PLANET), Charles Weldon (78), Scott Wilson (76, IN COLD BLOOD, THE WALKING DEAD), Robert Wolders (81), Peter Wyngarde (90, JASON KING, FLASH GORDON), Celeste Yarnell (74, EVE), Louis Zorich (93).

Death does not discriminate: porn queen Jennifer Welles (top), preacher Billy Graham (bottom)

Former child stars Donna Butterworth (62, PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE, THE FAMILY JEWELS), Joseph Wayne Miller (36, HEAVYWEIGHTS), John Paul Steuer (33, GRACE UNDER FIRE), original Mouseketeer Doreen Tracy (74); voice actors Douglas Rain (90, 2001’s HAL), Simon Shelton (52, TELETUBBIES’ Tinky Winky), Doug Young (98, Hanna-Barbera’s Ding-A-Ling Wolf, Doggie Daddy); porn stars Jerry Butler (58), Johnny Keyes (82, BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR), Jennifer Welles (81). Evangelist Billy Graham (99) first appeared in America’s living rooms in 1951; his Crusades can still be watched today on TBN and his website. Jim Hendricks (68) hosted CAPTAIN USA’s GROOVIE MOVIES in the early days of cable. Chuck McCann (83) hosted Laurel & Hardy comedies on local New York television before branching out as a voice and onscreen actor; longtime fans haven’t forgotten his series of commercials for Right Guard (“Hi, guy!”). Robin Leach (76) took us on weekly tours inside the LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH & FAMOUS. Will Jordan (91) made a career out of imitating Ed Sullivan, while Will Vinton’s (70) Claymation marvels introduced us to The California Raisins. Finally, there’s Alan Abel (91), a prankster who perpetrated hoaxes on the media for decades, and made the mockumentary IS THERE SEX AFTER DEATH? Hey, Alan, let us know…

Next: Film & Television – Behind the Cameras 

Confessions of a TV Addict #11: The Small Screen Adventures of Larry Cohen!


I was a Larry Cohen fan before I even knew there was a Larry Cohen! Before IT’S ALIVE! , before  BLACK CAESAR , I was watching the following Cohen Creations on my parents big, bulky TV console:

BRANDED (ABC 1965) – Cohen’s first series as creator debuted as a midseason replacement for Bill Dana’s failed sitcom. THE RIFLEMAN’s Chuck Connors  returned to TV as Jason McCord, a disgraced Cavalry officer court martialed and drummed out of the service after being falsely accused of cowardice. McCord then wanders the West getting involved in a new adventure every week while trying to clear his name. Viewers welcomed Connors back to the small screen, and the half-hour black and white Western was renewed for a full season – this time “in living color”! The show featured a memorable opening theme song by Dominic Frontiere and Alan Arch…

… unfortunately, Jason McCord never did get to clear his name, as the show was sent scampering away by ratings juggernauts THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW and THE FBI. BRANDED can be viewed Saturday afternoons on the INSP Network’s Western lineup, and still holds up well today!

BLUE LIGHT (ABC 1966) – Spies were the “in” thing, and this half-hour World War II drama cast deep-voiced singer Robert Goulet as David March, a traitorous American journalist now working for the Nazi propaganda machine – only he’s really a double agent working for the Allies undercover in a project called  “Code: Blue Light”! All his fellow spies have been discovered and assassinated, and now March is pretty much on his own, trying to maintain his cover and do what he must without getting killed himself. French actress Christine Carere costarred as French underground agent Suzanne Duchard, under deep cover as a member of the Gestapo. and one of only a handful of people who know David’s true identity. Larry co-created the series with film director Walter Grauman (LADY IN A CAGE), and BLUE LIGHT was noted for being one of TV’s most violent at the time (are you surprised, with Cohen and Grauman at the helm?). The show was a midseason replacement for Sally Field’s GIDGET, who moved into THE DONNA REED SHOW’s old time slot,  and from what I can remember was pretty darn good, but didn’t catch on and lasted just 17 episodes.

THE LEGEND OF CUSTER (ABC 1967) – Or “Counter-Culture Custer”, in this series “suggested by Larry Cohen”. Young Wayne Maunder, with his long golden locks, starred as young Lt. Col. Custer, in charge of a bunch of misfits and reprobates known as the 7th Cavalry. Custer’s methods were always at odds with his commanding officer General Terry (Robert F. Simon), representing the establishment. Western vet Slim Pickens was cast as scout California Joe to give the series some sagebrush cred, but after 17 episodes CUSTER was defeated, not by the Sioux at Little Big Horn, but by another establishment figure – James Drury’s ratings monster THE VIRGINIAN. As for Maunder, he survived to costar on the Western LANCER for two seasons, the short-lived Jack Webb/Stephen J. Cannell crime drama CHASE, and the Russ Meyer film THE SEVEN MINUTES. Maunder recently passed away on November 11 at age 82.

CORONET BLUE (CBS 1967) – Cohen switched from ABC to CBS for this summer replacement series, which only lasted 13 episodes. The pilot found Frank Converse as a man attacked, drugged, tossed in the river, and left for dead… but lives, and the only thing he remembers is the phrase “Coronet Blue”! The now-amnesiac man assumes the name ‘Michael Alden’ and wanders about seeking to uncover clues to his true identity while trying not to get killed by assassins. This was a good premise, one I really enjoyed, and apparently CBS did too, wanting to renew CORONET BLUE for another season. However, they waited too long, and star Converse had already accepted a part in ABC’s new crime drama NYPD, alongside Jack Warden and Robert Hooks (which as I recall was also pretty damn good!). Oh well, I guess we’ll never find out who ‘Alden’ really was, or who was out to kill him.

THE INVADERS (ABC 1967-69) – This was Larry Cohen at his best, a paranoia-filled science-fiction extravaganza, and one of my favorite shows of the era. Aliens have infiltrated Earth bent on conquering the human race, and architect David Vincent (actor Roy Thinnes) runs around America trying to expose them (they can only be identified by their crooked pinky fingers and a tendency to turn red and disintegrate when killed!), while warning everyone he comes across of impending doom! Yep, it’s another 60’s Cold War allegory, substituting spacemen for Commies, and it clicked with viewers young and old (my Dad loved it!) for different reasons. The kids dug the sci-fi stuff, and THE INVADERS proved a marketing cash cow, with comic books, paperback novels, and even an Aurora plastic model spaceship (just don’t sniff the glue, kiddies!). The series debuted as a midseason replacement for another show Cohen was associated with – THE FUGITIVE, which concluded it’s run when David Janssen finally caught up with that One-Armed Man (Larry had written a couple of early episodes).

Larry Cohen soon moved to feature films, and his singular, somewhat loopy  vision has kept fans like me happy for decades. But don’t discount his TV efforts, many of which are available on YouTube and DVD collections. Catch them when you can, they’re a blast!

Confessions of a TV Addict #9: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 2

Last week, I did an overview of producer Irwin Allen’s first two sci-fi shows, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and LOST IN SPACE. Today, Allen’s final shows in the quartet, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS! 

Where Allen’s LOST IN SPACE was juvenile fantasy, his next series THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC, 1966-67) took a more serious tone. Scientists Dr. Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert ) and Dr. Tony Newman (James Darren), working on the top-secret government Project Tic-Toc, become “lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages… (and) tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time” (at least according to the opening narration!). Project director Lt. Gen. Kirk (Whit Bissell ), ‘electrobiologist’ Dr. Ann McGregor (Lee Meriwether), and electronic genius Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) track the pair through those “infinite corridors” and try to assist in navigating them home safely.

The handsome Colbert was the more level-headed of the two, but teen idol James Darren, with his cool green turtleneck sweater, was the one that set young audience’s hearts a-flutter. Darren, who played Moondoggie in the GIDGET films and scored a few hit records in the early 60’s (“Goodbye, Cruel World”, “Her Royal Majesty”), was the hot-head who got them trapped in time in the first place, impulsively trying to prove to a visiting senator (guest star Gary Merrill) the project was successful in the series’ first episode. While Colbert never quite made star status (though he later had a long run on the soap THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS), Darren went on to a long career, appearing in Jess Franco’s erotic nightmare VENUS IN FURS, as Jim Corrigan opposite William Shatner’s TJ HOOKER, the hologram lounge singer Vic Fontaine on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, and as a director in episodic TV.

Doug and Tony’s travels through time took them to famous dates in history like the sinking of the Titanic (with guest Michael Rennie as the ship’s captain), Pearl Harbor, the War of 1812 (Carroll O’Connor plays a dual role), Custer’s Last Stand, the French Revolution, the battle of the Alamo (DALLAS patriarch Jim Davis as Jim Bowie), an encounter with Billy the Kid (Robert Walker Jr), and plenty of stock footage from the 20th Century-Fox vaults. They also moved forward in time on a mission to Mars, the year 8433, and smack dab in then middle of the great alien invasion of 1978! THE TIME TUNNEL was a hit, and scheduled for a second season, until a regime change at ABC caused it to be cancelled in favor of THE LEGEND OF CUSTER – a series that barely made it through half a season!

Allen bounced back with LAND OF THE GIANTS (ABC, 1968-70), a fantasy adventure that found the sub-orbital spacecraft Spindrift caught in a space warp and transported to a planet where everything is twelve times the size of Earth! The stranded crew featured Gary Conway (of I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN fame) as Captain Steve Burton, with Don Matheson, Deanna Lund, Heather Young, and Don Marshall, the first black male actor to costar in a sci-fi series. Also on board were Stefan Arngrim as young Barry (with his faithful canine companion Chipper), and “Special Guest Star” Kurt Kasznar as on the lam bank robber Alexander Fitzhugh. Kasznar’s character was modeled somewhat on Jonathan Harris’s Dr. Smith of LOST IN SPACE, right down to the relationship between Fitzhugh and Barry.

This was Allen’s most expensive series, but there was still lots of stock footage between all those giant-sized props. The Liliputian members of the Spindrift encountered perils around every corner, as well as a slew of Familiar Faces: Jack Albertson, Richard Anderson , Michael Ansara, John Carradine , Broderick Crawford , Bruce Dern , Sam Elliott, Paul Fix, Ronny Howard , John Marley, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, and William Schallert . Robert Colbert and Lee Meriwether from THE TIME TUNNEL showed up in different episodes (and as different characters), as did Jonathan Harris. Kevin Hagen appeared from time to time as Inspector Kobick of the Special Investigations Department, hunting down our pint-sized heroes.

After LAND OF THE GIANTS was cancelled, Irwin Allen returned to the big screen and became The Master of Disaster Movies , but for six years he ruled the airwaves with his sci-fi/fantasy shows. Since then, LOST IN SPACE has been rebooted as a feature film and a Netflix series, but neither captures the charm of Allen’s goofy original. All his 60’s sci-fi series are sterling examples of what can be accomplished with a small TV budget, solid acting, and a whole lot of chutzpah!

More CONFESSIONS OF A TV ADDICT:

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane.. No, It’s CAPTAIN NICE  – A Fan’s Appreciation of Adam West  – The Marvel Super Heroes Have Arrived!  – How TURN-ON Got Turned-Off  – Aaron Ruben, Man Behind the Laughter  – Justin Wilson “Guar-On-Tees” You’ll Have a Happy Mardi Gras!  – TJ HOOKER and His Amazing Hair Helmet!  – The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 1

 

Confessions of a TV Addict #8: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 1

Irwin Allen  (1916-1991) wore many different hats during his long career: magazine editor, gossip columnist, documentarian, producer, director. He helped usher in the Age of the Disaster Movie with such 70’s hits as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO, but before that he was best known as the producer of a quartet of sci-fi series from the Swingin’ 60’s. From 1964 to 1970 he had at least one sci-fi show airing in prime time… during the 1966-67 season, he had three, all complete with cheezy-looking monsters, campy humor, stock footage, guest stars (some on their way up… some down!), special effects by Oscar winner L.B. Abbott, and music by John Williams (who later scored a little thing called STAR WARS )! Here’s a look at the Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen:

Allen’s first foray into sci-fi TV was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (ABC, 1964-68), based on his hit 1961 film. Richard Basehart starred as Admiral Nelson, head of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, in charge of the nuclear-powered sub Seaview, with David Hedison as Commander Crane. The first season was more a straightforward adventure series, filmed in black and white, with Nelson and his crew up against many Cold War threats. From the second season on, now in color, the Seaview began battling more outre’ enemies: aliens, giant sea monsters, even werewolves became the norm!

The series started to introduce futuristic gadgets like the Flying Sub, compete with laser beam, to confront these new monsters-of-the-week. The 1966 debut of BATMAN ramped up the camp quotient a few notches, as the plots got more and more out there. Among the many guest stars featured in the course of the series were Nick Adams , Eddie Albert , Edgar Bergen (without Charlie McCarthy), James Brolin (pre-stardom and Streisand), John Cassavetes, Michael Dunn (diminutive Dr. Loveless of THE WILD WILD WEST), Jill Ireland, Leslie Neilsen, and Vincent Price as a mad puppeteer out to take over the Seaview!

Space Family Robinson (back row, from left) Angela Cartwright, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, The Robot, Jonathan Harris, Guy Williams (front row) June Lockhart, Billy Mumy)

Next up for Allen was LOST IN SPACE (CBS, 1965-68), a take on Swiss Family Robinson set in outer space. The Jupiter-2, due in large part to sabotage by stowaway foreign agent Dr. Zachary Smith, hits a meteor storm and veers off course from its destination Alpha Centauri, causing the Robinson family and crew to become hopelessly lost in space (hence the series title). The cast consisted of TV veterans Guy Williams as Prof. John Robinson (ZORRO), June Lockhart as wife Maureen (LASSIE), Mark Goodard as pilot Maj. Don West (THE DETECTIVES), Angela Cartwright as youngest daughter Penny (MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY), and Billy Mumy as ten-year-old Will (practically every TV show made calling for a precocious kid!). Marta Kristen (Lorelei the mermaid in BEACH BLANKET BINGO ) played eldest child Judy, who served as Major West’s love interest.

Jonathan Harris (the TV version of THE THIRD MAN) received “Special Guest Star” billing as the nefarious Dr. Smith, and at first played him as a straight villain. The character was not originally intended to last the entire series run, but Harris, with Allen’s blessings, began to tweak the role, rewriting his dialog to turn Smith into something completely different than originally intended, a comically cowardly character who managed to create chaos wherever he went. Dr. Smith became pals with young Will, though their roles were reversed, as the boy was much more mature than the older doctor!

Dr. Smith  was constantly at odds with The Robot (Bob May inside the suit, Dick Tufeld providing the voice), another popular character on the show (“Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!”), berating the mechanical marvel with sobriquets like “You blithering booby” and “You cackling cacophony”. Harris’s portrayal, relationships with Will and The Robot, and catch phrases (“Oh, the pain!”, “IN-deed!”), helped turned the show from straight sci-fi to high-camp fantasy, with the plots getting more and more ridiculous during the series’ three year run. The Robinson family, thanks to Smith’s blundering, encountered space pirates, circuses, cowboys, and Vikings, an intergalactic collector (Michael Rennie of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL in a two-parter), a “devilish” alien (Gerald Mohr), a cosmic toymaker (Walter Burke), a band of far-out hippies (twice!), and sentient vegetables!

Plots from films and fables past were recycled and adapted for the show: the legend of King Arthur, Sleeping Beauty, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD , FANTASTIC VOYAGE, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS. My favorite episode was a unique original titled “Visit to a Hostile Planet”, where the Jupiter-2 gets trapped in a time/space warp and returns to Earth – but it’s the Earth of 1947, and the small town population they land near thinks they’re being invaded by aliens! LOST IN SPACE enjoyed a long run in syndication after being cancelled by CBS, making it Allen’s most popular (and profitable!) space series.

Next week, part 2 of The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen, spotlighting THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS!

Cracked Rear Viewer’s 2017 Year in Review

Once again, it’s time to step back and take a look at how far Cracked Rear Viewer has come, and where it’s going in 2018. When I started writing this blog in June of 2015, I didn’t know what I was getting into! It takes a lot of time and effort, and you Dear Readers have certainly rewarded me far beyond my expectations. As of this writing, 2017 has seen 24,456 visitors (doubling last year) view my musings a record 36,756 times. As Sally Field once said, “You like me! You really like me!”. I thank you, one and all.

I’ve tried out some new things this year, some successful, some not so much. The Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook page has given this blog a huge boost; if you haven’t subscribed, please do so! Book reviews on classic film subjects have proved popular, and I’ll continue those in the New Year, as well as my “Familiar Faces” posts. But its movies that are the cornerstone here, and without further ado, here are the Ten most popular posts of 2017:

1- A tie between two classic cowboys: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (originally published April 2016)  and John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (Sept. 2017). The Clint post gained traction due to the recent Sofia Coppola remake, while The Duke reigns eternal in the hearts of film fans (including Yours Truly – expect more on Wayne as 2018 unfolds!)

2- THE VIOLENT YEARS (April 2017): I pulled out an old VHS copy of this Ed Wood-scripted movie when my DirecTV went down for a few days. The post took off like a comet, surprising and delighting me! This post is the one that got me thrown out of a certain Facebook page (no names, please) for this picture of the video’s hostess with the mostess, Mamie Van Doren:

Really? Really??

3- Top Ten Reasons CASABLANCA is The Greatest Movie Ever Made! (August 2015): Resurging interest in this post was due in large part to the film’s 75th anniversary. Like I’ve probably told you before (about a million times!), CASABLANCA will always be my favorite movie, and I did two other posts on it this year: a look at my experience viewing it on The Big Screen , and a review of Noah Isenberg’s book, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA .

4- Why I Think ERASERHEAD Sucks! (Nov. 2015) gained views because of David Lynch’s recent TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN on Showtime. I like Lynch, but still think ERASERHEAD is overrated. To each his own.

5- John Ford’s FLESH (July 2017): An obscure Ford entry, part of my “Pre-Code Confidential” series, starring Wallace Beery as a German grappler. The post exceeded expectations when a Pro Wrestling site called F4WOnline picked it up. Thanks, Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez!

6- Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg’s RABID (April 2017): I don’t know if it’s because of Cronenberg, porn icon Marilyn, or the fact it’s a great movie; all I know is RABID was one of this year’s most popular posts!

7- 1931’s THE MALTESE FALCON (May 2017): Another “Pre-Code Confidential” post, the original version of Dashiell Hammett’s pulp classic drew a lot of viewers. Most in the “Pre-Code” series do, so expect a lot more in 2018!

8- SEX IN THE CINEMA by Lou Sabini ( July 2017): My look at a book that covers over 100 Pre-Code films, written by film historian Lou Sabini, who also hosts a wonderful Facebook page titled MY “REEL” LIFE. Thanks for the autographed copy, Lou!

9- John Wayne in THE COWBOYS (Dec. 2017): Duke again, in one of his best 70’s Westerns. Like I said, John Wayne is eternal!

10- Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Nov. 2017): Number One in a new series spotlighting Pulp Fiction writers and their characters, featuring Spillane’s notorious gumshoe. I’m looking into more for 2018; stay tuned!!

As always, I thanks the crew at Through the Shattered Lens for letting me repost my ramblings on their fantastic site. And the biggest shout out of all goes to all you Dear Readers who make it worthwhile! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing and editing to do… see you Next Year!!

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

Confessions of a TV Addict #5: Aaron Ruben, Man Behind the Laughter

So what could a Jewish kid from Chicago possibly know about life among rural Southerners or the black experience in Watts? Probably not a whole heck of a lot, but if that kid’s name is Aaron Ruben, there’s one thing he  does know – funny! For Aaron Ruben was the producer/writer behind such classic sitcoms as THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and SANFORD AND SON, who used his comedic talents behind the scenes keep America laughing while glued to the boob tube for over forty years!

Milton Berle in his radio days

Ruben was born on Chicago’s West Side in 1914, and after service in WWII began his show biz career writing for comic Wally Brown on Dinah Shore’s radio show. He was soon hired by Burns & Allen for their program, and then wrote for Milton Berle alongside Nat Hiken, who would play an important role in Ruben’s later career. Berle brought Ruben on board for his smash TV series TEXACO STAR THEATER for the 1953-54 season, marking the writer’s first efforts on the small screen. They wouldn’t be his last!

(clockwise from top) Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, and Sid Caesar in “Caesar’s Hour”

Ruben’s next gig found him in heady comedy company indeed. Sid Caesar returned after his smash YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS in a new variety hour titled, appropriately enough, CAESAR’S HOUR, bringing back sidekicks Carl Reiner and Howard Morris along with newcomer Nanette Fabray (replacing Imogene Coca, who went out on her own). Aaron was added to a writing team that included Mel Brooks , Selma Diamond, Larry Gelbart, and Mel Tolkin, as well as Caesar, Reiner, and Morris, producing a live hour of mirth on a weekly basis! The show lasted three seasons, following which Ruben went to work for his old friend Hiken writing and directing THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW, subtitled YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH but better known to TV fans as SGT. BILKO.

Ruben with Don Knotts & Andy Griffith

In 1960, Ruben got in on the ground floor for a true comedy classic, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. He was a producer/writer/director on the series set in the quaint little town of Mayberry, North Carolina, and did some of his finest work on the show. Among his many contributions are a few standouts: “Barney Mends a Broken Heart”, which introduced The Fun Girls from Mount Pilot (Joyce Jameson and Jeanne Carson), who returned in the Ruben-penned “The Fun Girls”. “Floyd, The Gay Deceiver” gave series regular Howard McNear a chance to shine. Ruben left the show after the final episode of 1964, but returned in 1968 with “Barney Hosts a Summit Meeting”, the improbable tale of Barney Fife trying to negotiate détente between the U.S. and Russia, which turned out to be Don Knott’s series swan song.

Frank Sutton and Jim Nabors in “Gomer Pyle USMC”

That last episode in ’64 was the pilot for GOMER PYLE, USMC (1964-69), a spin-off starring the late Jim Nabors as Mayberry’s hayseed gas station attendant, now in the Marine Corps, opposite apoplectic Frank Sutton as the beleaguered Sgt. Vince Carter. GOMER PYLE was Ruben’s baby all the way, played strictly for laughs despite the raging war in Vietnam at the time. The formula was simple; Gomer’s naivety constantly gets him in trouble, and Sgt. Carter usually takes the fall. GOMER was popular with both audiences and the Marines themselves, proving the Corps really does have a sense of humor. Semper Fi!

“The Comic” (1969) with Dick Van Dyke & Michele Lee

After GOMER’s run, Ruben cowrote the film THE COMIC (1969) with director (and former CAESAR’S HOUR cohort) Carl Reiner. This dramedy starred Dick Van Dyke (another TV icon) as a washed-up, alcoholic silent comedian, and costarred Mickey Rooney, Michele Lee, and Cornel Wilde. While it didn’t do well at the box office when first released, it’s well worth rediscovering for fans of classic comedy, of which Ruben was definitely one (he wrote some skits for the 1965 TV special A SALUTE TO STAN LAUREL, hosted by Van Dyke and featuring, among others, Lucille Ball, Danny Kaye, and the great Buster Keaton).

Ruben with Redd Foxx & Demond Wilson on the set of “Sanford & Son”

1972 found Ruben working for Norman Lear as producer/writer on a new sitcom, SANFORD & SON. The misadventures of junkyard proprietor Fred G. Sanford, played to perfection by cantankerous comedian Redd Foxx, and his hip son Lamont (Demond Wilson) was yet another feather in Ruben’s comedy cap, writing the first episode aired, “Crossed Swords” (with the Sanfords trying to raise the price of a porcelain piece they procured at an auction), and twenty others, including the classic “The Piano Movers”. Ruben stayed with the show for two seasons, and was a big part of its early success.

Aaron Ruben didn’t slow down, but the hits seemed to stop coming. His military sitcom CPO SHARKEY, starring Don Rickles , lasted two seasons (1976-78). Other attempts (THE STOCKARD CHANNING SHOW, TEACHER’S ONLY) failed to move the ratings meter. Old pal Andy Griffith hired Ruben as a creative consultant on his hit series MATLOCK, adding some comedy bits from 1990-92 to brighten things up. It was his last TV credit; soon Ruben settled into a comfortable retirement with his wife, actress Maureen Arthur. He was lauded for his work with abused children in the Los Angeles area, which he continued until his death from pneumonia in 2010 at the age of 95. Aaron Ruben will always be remembered by TV fans for his comedic talents, but it’s his work with children he was most proud of.  Most importantly, he helped put smiles on people’s faces, and when it’s all said and done, isn’t that what life’s all about? Thanks for the smiles, Aaron!

 

Halloween TV Havoc!: Boris Karloff in “The Crystal Ball” (from THE VEIL TV Series, 1958)

You all remember Boris Karloff’s pre-THRILLER supernatural anthology series THE VEIL, right? Of course you don’t!! That’s because it never aired! It was being filmed at Hal Roach Studios when they went belly up, and only 10 episodes were filmed. Karloff had a role in most of the episodes, including this spooky oddity entitled “The Crystal Ball”, presented here for your Halloween enjoyment. (The series itself is available through Something Weird Video for all you Karloff Kollectors!):

Halloween TV Havoc!: ALICE COOPER – THE NIGHTMARE (ABC-TV 1975)

This past August, I got to see Alice Cooper perform live in concert (on a triple bill with classic rockers Deep Purple and Edgar Winter!). The Coop’s Grand Giugnol antics, complete with a ten-foot Frankenstein, a murderous danse macabre with a ballerina, the famous guillotine routine, loads of pyro, and the incredible shredding of guitar goddess Nita Strauss, stole the show. Alice has always been the most theatrical of rockers, and the man’s still got it!

In 1975, Alice released his first solo LP without his longtime backing band, “Welcome to My Nightmare”, featuring Cooper classics like “Cold Ethyl”, “Black Widow”, “Only Women Bleed”, and the title track. A videotaped TV special was made to coincide with the album, and horror icon Vincent Price was brought in to play ‘The Curator of The Nightmare’ (Price did narration for ‘Black Widow’ on the record, predating Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). If you’ve got an hour to spare (and I know you do – it’s a three day weekend!), here’s you’re chance to watch Alice and Vinnie in this Emmy-winning Halloween spectacular: