News has reached us that character actor Sid Haig has passed away at age 80. I’ll have a full tribute/career retrospective on Sid later tonight or tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, enjoy this pictorial tribute to the late, great Sid Haig…
RIP Pumpsie Green
Most people these days think of Boston (and the Northeast as a whole) as a modern Athens, the standard bearer for progressive, liberal thinking. But it wasn’t always so. The City of Boston in the 1950’s and 60’s was a hotbed of racial tensions, with frequent rioting over such issues as forced busing and integration. While Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Boston Red Sox (owned by avowed racist Tom Yawkey) didn’t add a player of color until 1959. That player’s name was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.
Green was born October 27, 1933 in the small town of Boley, Oklahoma. As a youth, he excelled at sports, as did his brother Cornell, who wound up playing 13 seasons as a Defensive Back for the Dallas Cowboys. After playing college ball at Contra Costa, Pumpsie turned pro in 1954, and toiled in the minor leagues for five years before finally being called up by Boston. He made his Major League debut on July 21, 1959 as a pinch runner, and continued to play for the Sox, mostly as a second baseman, until being traded to the New York Mets for Felix Mantilla in 1963. Green played a few more seasons in the minors before hanging up his spikes in 1965. After his career ended, he worked as a high school baseball coach and truant officer in Berkeley, California, where he settled with his wife Marie.
His career stats aren’t exactly Hall of Fame material – a lifetime .246 average with 13 home runs and 74 RBI in just 344 games – but as the first black player for the Red Sox, he broke the ground for future stars like George “Boomer” Scott, Jim Rice, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and so many others. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green died today at the ripe old age 85. He may never be a Hall of Famer, but his contribution to the game of baseball was important, and his name will live on. Job well done, Pumpsie. Rest in peace.
Make ‘Em Laugh: RIP Tim Conway
If comedy is a gift, then Tim Conway was America’s Santa Claus, delivering bags full of laughter directly into our homes for over fifty years. The cherubic Conway, who died May 14 at age 85, was mainly known for his television work, but also starred in films, on stage, and in the home video field, making him a true Renaissance Man of Comedy.
Young Tim got his start in his hometown of Cleveland, not exactly a hotbed of humor (with apologies to Jim Backus, Kaye Ballard, and British transplant Bob Hope ), writing and appearing in skits with local TV personality Ernie Anderson during breaks in a morning movie show. Anderson himself would later gain fame as a horror host (Cleveland’s Ghoulardi) and a network announcer, ‘The Voice of ABC’ (“Tonight on The Loooo-ve Boat….”).
Comic actress Rose Marie, on a cross-country tour promoting THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, saw some clips of Tim and Ernie’s skits and helped him land a spot on Steve Allen’s national program. This led to Conway being cast as the bumbling, naive Ensign Charles Parker on a new sitcom titled MCHALE’S NAVY, set during WWII and starring Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as the conniving Lt. Cmdr. Quenton McHale. Parker’s inept ensign was a constant thorn in the side of stuffy Capt. Binghamton (‘Old Leadbottom’), played to perfection by the nasal-voiced Joe Flynn, who was always trying to find a way to rid himself of McHale and his crew of reprobates. But it was Conway who was the comic glue holding things together during the series four-year run, and his slapstick antics delighted both kids and adults out there in TV land.
The series proved popular enough to inspire two feature films, the first (1964’s MCHALE’S NAVY) featuring the entire cast. 1965’s MCHALE’S NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE was made without Borgnine (who was busy filming FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX), giving Conway the chance to showcase his comedy talents. This one finds Ensign Parker embroiled in a case of mistaken identity with an Air Force lieutenant (Ted Bessel), and bumbling his way into becoming a war hero! Conway and Flynn made a great comic duo, but no more MCHALE’S films were made.
Tim tried and failed several times at starring in his own sitcom (RANGO, THE TIM CONWAY SHOW, ACE CRAWFORD PRIVATE EYE), but was in demand as a guest star on other programs. Most notoriously, he hosted the first (and as it turned out, only) episode of TURN-ON , a sketch show ripped off from the then-popular ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN that was so offensive, it was immediately cancelled after the first airing. Tim’s hometown of Cleveland didn’t even wait that long – station WEWS pulled the plug before the show was halfway through! Conway took his sitcom failures with good humor, though; his license plate read “13 WKS” (which was how long most of them lasted!).
It didn’t look like Tim would ever be more than a second banana, until Disney came a-calling. His first for the studio was 1973’s THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE, with the late Jan-Michael Vincent as a jungle boy who brings sports success to a failing college program. Tim’s next Disney movie was fortuitous indeed; 1975’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG paired him with another sitcom refugee, Don Knotts , as a pair of inept Wild West outlaws mixed up with a gold heist and a trio of cute kids. Critics trashed it, but families turned out in droves, and THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG was the tenth-highest grossing film released that year, spawning a sequel, 1979’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN.
Tim and Don teamed in a pair of comedies that Conway co-wrote: THE PRIZE FIGHTER (1979) and THE PRIVATE EYES (1980). The former has Tim as a broken down boxer and Don his manager, the latter finds the duo as slapstick sleuths on the loose in London. Both give Tim and Don plenty of opportunities to strut their silly schtick, and were box office hits for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. They would team one more time in a cameo as goofy Highway Patrolmen in CANNONBALL RUN II, and we fans wish they would’ve made more movie madness together!
Tim had been making guest appearances on Carol Burnett’s weekly variety show since it began in 1967, and became part of the regular ensemble in 1975. He was given free reign to create crazy characters and out-there comic skits, and really began to shine. His pairings on the show with fellow funnyman Harvey Korman are TV classics, as Tim never failed to break Harvey up with his insane antics and ad-libs. A case in point is the classic skit “The Dentist”, which you can find here . His shuffling, stumbling World’s Oldest Man was another comedic highlight, as was his Swedish boss Mr. Tudball, constantly frustrated with blonde bimbo secretary Mrs. Wiggins (Carol in a blonde wig and tight dress). He also joined in on ‘The Family’ sketches (which later morphed into the sitcom MAMA’S FAMILY) as Korman’s bungling employee Mickey, and this outtake shows why Tim was the Comic’s Comic:
Life after Carol found Tim hitting the lucrative home video market with DORF ON GOLF (1987) as a so-called sports expert. Dorf talked in the same accent as Mr. Tudball, but was only about four feet tall (Tim achieved this by effect by sticking his knees in a pair of shoes). More Dorf videos ensued, each as popular with home audiences as the next.
Tim made new fans later in his career as the voice of Barnacle Boy, sidekick to superhero Mermaid Man (voiced by Tim’s old buddy Ernest Borgnine) on the Nickelodeon cartoon show SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. Tim Conway delighted TV and movie lovers for generations, and he was rewarded for his efforts with six Emmys. Inventive, fertile comedy minds like his don’t come around too often, but fortunately for us, we can still enjoy his peculiar brand of silliness for generations to come. Thanks for all the laughter, Tim, and rest in peace.
Pulp Fiction #3: Batman At 80
Whether you call him the Caped Crusader or the Dark Knight, it’s hard to believe Batman has been in the public eye for eighty years! Making his debut in Detective Comics #27 (cover dated May 1939) in a story titled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has gone from mere comic book crimefighter to king of all media! Not bad for a poor little rich kid from Gotham City!
Artist Bob Kane (1915-1998) had been toiling in the nascent comic book field for three years when DC’s superhero character Superman took off like a rocket. Comic houses were scrambling to compete in this new genre of costumed cavorters, and Kane came up with some sketches of a masked vigilante, basing his design on Lee Falk’s Phantom, Douglas Fairbanks’ ZORRO, and the 1930 horror/mystery THE BAT WHISPERS. Kane asked writer Bill Finger (1914-1974) to look at them, and it was Finger who came up with some suggestions: Batman’s iconic cape and cowl, gauntlets, and dark color scheme. Though Kane got sole credit for decades in Batman’s creation, without Bill Finger, the character probably would’ve faded into obscurity like a thousand other masked men gracing the pages of early comics. Finger also wrote that first story, and contributed to much of the Batman Mythos, like secret identity Bruce Wayne.
The Bat-Man (as he was originally called in that first story) was heavily influenced by the pulps of the era, especially Walter Gibson’s The Shadow. He worked outside the law, and even carried a gun, but soon evolved into his own (bat) man. Batman’s utility belt was introduced in Detective #29, complete with chemical pellets, grappling hook, and sundry other Bat-devices added later on. The Batarang, Batman’s most well-known weapon, debuted in Detective #31, along with the Batplane. The Batmobile was at first just a red car, but as time went on morphed into the familiar batwinged vehicle we all know and love.
Batman’s origin wasn’t explained until Detective #33, as we learned millionaire Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a mugger when he was just a child. Young Bruce vowed to wage war on crime, and studied voraciously, learning everything he could about the criminal mind, becoming proficient in science, and immersing himself in the fighting arts. Batman proved so popular he was given his own comic in 1940, and featured in other books like World’s Finest (where he’d have a long-running team-up series with DC’s top superhero Superman beginning in 1954).
THE FRIENDS OF BATMAN
Commissioner Jim Gordon was featured in that first Bat-story in Detective #27, at first an antagonist to the cowled crusader, later becoming a trusted friend and ally. Gordon’s main way to communicate with Batman was through the Bat-Signal, introduced in Detective #60. His daughter Barbara later became Batgirl during the height of the camp craze (but we’ll get to that later).
Butler Alfred Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16. Originally a chubby comic relief character, Alfred later lost weight and became Batman’s sounding board. Alfred was popular enough with readers to have his own four-page featurette in Batman Comics lasting thirteen issues, with the (then) bumbling butler solving crimes on his own.
Now we come to Robin The Boy Wonder, introduced to the world in Detective #38 as an eight year old, growing over the years into a teenager. Robin was the first comic book teenage sidekick, for better or worse, created to give kids someone to identify with, but I never identified with any of those those (as Mad Magazine once called them) “icky teenage sidekicks” – I’d rather be Batman! Be that as it may, young Dick Grayson debuted in 1940, a circus aerialist whose parents are murdered by gangsters. Bruce Wayne adopted Dick as his ‘ward’, leading Batman into some hot water with a certain psychologist – but like Batgirl, we’ll get to that later, too!
Robin was popular enough to be featured in his own solo adventures, in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics from 1947-52. The Boy Wonder was also one of the founding members of Teen Titans, along with other “icky teenage sidekicks” Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Aqualad. They made their debut in The Brave and the Bold #54 back in 1964, getting their own mag in ’65, and have been comic book staples ever since.
BATMAN’S ROGUE’S GALLERY
One of the best things about Batman has always been his enemies, the most colorful collection of costumed criminal creeps in comic book history! With apologies to all you Bane enthusiasts, here are Batman’s Top 10 Most Wanted:
THE JOKER (Batman #1, 1940) – The Dark Knight’s greatest adversary, this chalk-white, green-haired killer has been a thorn in Batman’s side from the get-go. According to legend, Joker was a crook called the Red Hood, chased by Batman into a chemical vat, causing his grotesque visage, and warping his mind as well. The killer became the Clown Prince of Crime after the arrival of the Comics Code, but returned to his murderous glory in the 70’s thanks to the Bat-team of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Joker is one of the few super-villains to star in his own comic series, back in 1975.
CATWOMAN (Batman #1, 1940) – Selina Kyle was a slinky jewel thief whose relationship with the Caped Crusader has always been a bit complicated. Though she’s usually on the wrong side of the law, let’s just say she and Batman are more than just frenemies!
DR. HUGO STRANGE (Detective #36, 1940) – This maddest of mad scientists was Batman’s first recurring foe, until he was killed off in Detective #46, brought back to nefarious life in Detective Comics during the 70’s by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers in the story arc “Strange Apparitions”.
THE PENGUIN (Detective #58, 1941) – Oswald Cobblepot, that waddling master of foul play, used bird and umbrella motifs to commit his heinous crimes, always fouled by Batman. Penguin is certainly the most dapper of Batman villains!
THE SCARECROW (World’s Finest #3, 1941) – Psychologist Jonathan Crane, bullied as a child, used chemically-induced fear on the Dynamic Duo for two appearances in the Golden Age, returning with a vengeance during the 1960’s to become even more scarier!
THE RIDDLER (Detective #140, 1948) – Edward Nigma (E. Nigma, get it?) was a puzzle-obsessed crook compelled to leave cryptic clues at the scenes of his crimes. Riddler was really a minor figure in Batman’s world until Frank Gorshin brought him to life in the 60’s TV series (yes, we’ll get to that later, I promise!).
POISON IVY (Batman #181, 1966) – The beautiful botanist’s kiss put a spell on Batman, and like Catwoman, there’s more than meets the eye in their love-hate relationship. Poison Ivy emerged in full bloom in her debut, and it wasn’t until much later readers were given her full back story. In an interesting side note, Ivy’s look was originally based on pin-up girl Bettie Page!
MAN-BAT (Detective #400, 1971) – Dr. Kirk Langston, seeking a cure for his hearing loss, mutated into the hideous Man-Bat, terrorizing Gotham City. Code restrictions were loosened during the early 70’s, and horror-themed anti-heroes proliferated (ie, Spider-Man’s vampire foe Morbius). Like The Joker, Man-Bat also had a brief run in his own title.
RA’S AL GHUL (Batman #232, 1971) – This ancient eco-terrorist believes the world can achieve balance by wiping out most of humanity. Ra’s replenishes his life by frequenting The Lazarus Pit, and is leader of the League of Assassins, chief among them his daughter Talia, another villainess who’s more than fond of Batman! Speaking of more than friends….
THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT
In 1954, eminent psychiatrist and world-class kook Dr. Fredric Wertham published an ominous tome titled Seduction of the Innocent, in which he claimed comic books were the leading cause of warping young American minds. Not just EC’s graphic horror and crime comics, but… well, I’ll let Dr. Wertham state his case:
“Sometimes Batman ends up in bed injured and young Robin is shown sitting next to him. At home they lead an idyllic life… Bruce Wayne is described as a ‘socialite’ and the official relationship is that Dick (Grayson) is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases… Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown… It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”
Well. Who knew?
Apparently nobody who read comics, but adults were up in arms about Wertham’s claims, which not only painted Batman and Robin as gay lovers, but Superman as a fascist and Wonder Woman a bondage-loving lesbian! Of course, newspaper editorials expressed their outrage over these four-color abominations corrupting American morals, and of course a Senate subcommittee was formed, led by headline-hunting presidential wannabe Estes Kefauver.
The comics industry, rather than succumb to governmental oversight, created its own Comics Code Authority, to which every publisher was to adhere. Among the many do’s and don’ts were no more use of the words horror or terror in their titles (effectively killing off EC Comics), all crime must be punished, respect for authority, no sexual perversion or abnormalities, no excessive violence, and no drawings of excessive female pulchritude. Or as Dean Wormer said in ANIMAL HOUSE, “No more fun of any kind!!!”.
Batman and his costumed cohorts (of which there were few, superheroes having gone out of vogue) were essentially deballed. The Dark Knight took on a much lighter tone, and the Dynamic Duo wren’t so dynamic anymore. Batwoman and Bat-Girl were introduced, just to prove Bruce and Dick weren’t sexual deviants after all. They were even given a pet pooch, Ace the Bat-Hound, who aided in their crimefighting efforts. Stories about inter-dimensional imp Bat-Mite were played for “laughs”, and all in all it was a terrible time to be a Bat-Fan.
ENTER JULIUS SCHWARTZ
Batman was boring, so boring DC was seriously considering cancelling it’s line of Batman comics, until editor Julius Schwartz took over stewardship in 1964. Schwartz, a literary agent who’d once represented Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft, entered the comics field as an editor in 1944. He helped usher in the Silver Age of Comics with revivals of The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Justice League of America, and now set his sights on returning Batman to his former glory. The “New Look” was initiated; gone were Batwoman, Bat-Mite, and all that silliness, and the writer/artist team of John Broome and Carmine Infantino brought back the detective aspect of Detective Comics. Batman was even given a little costume freshening, with the now-familiar yellow oval encircling the bat on his chest. Things worked out for the best, and Batman was Batman again… thank you, Julie Schwartz!
HOLY CAMP CRAZE!
Batman first appeared onscreen in a 1943 serial starring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft as the Dynamic Duo, battling the evil machinations of Japanese spy Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish). They wouldn’t return until 1949, this time with Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan taking on criminal mastermind The Wizard (Leonard Penn). Batman and Robin wouldn’t be seen in live action form until 17 years later, this time on television.
BATMAN debuted as a mid-season replacement on ABC January 12, 1966. To say it was an immediate hit is to put it mildly. This was the age of James Bond and THE MAN FROM UNCLE, of pop art and rock’n’roll, and the series’s style reflected the era. It was camp, it was hip, and it self-knowingly winked at its audience. Every kid in America with access to a TV set was talking about the show at school the next day (including Yours Truly!). Adam West and Burt Ward were perfect as the Dynamic Duo, helping to make BATMAN not only must-see TV for the small set, but getting teens and adults all a-buzz about it (remember kids, back in the day, there were only three TV networks!).
High camp was in, and every star in Hollywood wanted to get in on the act. Special Guest Villains were a prestige gig, and stars like Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Julie Newmar (Catwoman) and the aforementioned Frank Gorshin (Riddler) were the Big 4 in Bad Guys. But there were plenty of others: Victor Buono (King Tut), Vincent Price (Egghead), David Wayne (Mad Hatter), Roddy McDowell (The Bookworm), Joan Collins (The Siren), Cliff Robertson and Dina Merrill (Shame and Calamity Jan). Mr. Freeze was played by three different actors: George Sanders , Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach . Rock stars Chad & Jeremy and Paul Revere and the Raiders took part in the fun, and a cameo role on BATMAN became the in thing to do; Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Devine , Phyllis Diller, Jerry Lewis , George Raft, and Edward G. Robinson all popped up in brief bits.
Despite the initial outbreak of Batmania, the show lasted just two and a half seasons. Even bringing on Yvonne Craig as Batgirl failed to boost ratings, and the Bat-Craze of the mid-60’s came to an end just as fast as it began. But oh, what a glorious time to be a Bat-Fan it was!
THE LEGEND CONTINUES
Batman soldiered on in comics, with memorable pairings of writer/artist teams like the previously mentioned O’Neil/Adams, Englehart/Rogers, and Bob Haney/Jim Aparo in the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold. Frank Miller’s 1986 miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns” restored Batman to his dark roots. In 1989, He returned to the screen in BATMAN, with Michael Keaton donning the cape and cowl, and Jack Nicholson a memorable Joker, and hasn’t left since (despite those two awful Joel Schumacher versions!). Batman continues to fascinate fans, whether in comic form, animated TV, live-action movies, or in his super-cool Lego incarnation. So happy 80th anniversary, Caped Crusader… here’s to 80 more! Now everybody Batusi!!:
RIP Larry Cohen: Maniacal Movie Maverick
While everyone on TV and social media are babbling about The Mueller Report, I came across some bigger news: Larry Cohen has passed away at age 77. You can debate politics all you want, but you can’t debate the fact that Cohen was a true artist, despite working within Exploitation genres and dealing with budgetary limitations throughout most of his career. Cohen’s unique vision was his own, and he made some truly great films – some turkeys too, granted, but his overall batting average was high indeed.
I’ve written extensively on this blog about Cohen’s film and television work because I love his style. Like a cinematic Rumpelstiltskin, he frequently turned straw into gold. Born in Manhattan in 1941, Larry Cohen was obsessed with B-movies and hard-boiled fiction, and after graduating from CCNY with a degree in film studies, he got a job as a page at NBC. Cohen worked his way into writing, and had scripts produced for series like SURFSIDE 6, CHECKMATE, THE DEFENDERS, THE FUGITIVE, and KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER before getting the green light on a show he created, BRANDED.
From there, Cohen created the TV spy drama BLUE LIGHT, the noirish thriller CORONET BLUE, the youth-oriented Western CUSTER, and his small screen magnum opus, the paranoiac sci-fi series THE INVADERS. I wrote a post on the Small Screen Adventures of Larry Cohen, which you can peruse by clicking this link . Cohen then turned his attention to the Big Screen, but didn’t abandon TV completely, writing the mystery TV Movie IN BROAD DAYLIGHT (starring Richard Boone), three episodes of COLUMBO, and (much later) an episode of NYPD BLUE.
Cohen’s first film screenplay was 1967’s RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT 7, a sequel to John Sturges’ 1960 classic. Yul Brynner was actually the only one of the originals who “returned”, joined by Robert Fuller and Warren Oates in this enjoyable Western. He wrote a pair of low-budget shockers (SCREAM BABY SCREAM and DADDY’S GONE A-HUNTING) and another oater (the Spaghetti-influenced EL CONDOR with Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef) before getting his shot in the director’s chair with 1972’s BONE, a disturbing black comedy about a home invasion featuring Yaphet Kotto, Joyce Van Patten, and Andrew Duggan (who’d make several later appearances for Cohen). BONE wasn’t a box office hit, but it got Larry noticed by someone who would have a big influence on his career – AIP’s Samuel Z. Arkoff.
At American-International, Cohen was given free rein to bring his demented vision to the screen. The Blaxpolitationer BLACK CAESAR , with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson as Harlem gangster Tommy Gibbs and a score by “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, was a smash, and Arkoff pressed for an immediate sequel. Having no story written whatsoever, Cohen and his crew virtually improvised HELL UP IN HARLEM , a slam-bang actioner that was another slam-bang hit!
Cohen’s best-known picture is undoubtedly IT’S ALIVE! , an out-and-out horror movie about a killer mutant baby that became a drive-in sensation! IT’S ALIVE! finds Larry coming into his own; a totally preposterous premise, deranged special effects, tongue firmly in cheek, and a dash of social commentary thrown in to boot! IT’S ALIVE! spawned a pair of sequels, including the completely over-the-top IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, and a 2009 remake which Cohen did not direct and completely disowned.
Speaking of over-the-top, 1976’s GOD TOLD ME TO is my absolute favorite Larry Cohen film, a totally twisted sci-fi saga of mass murders taking place in New York, aliens who impregnate humans, and the nature of God himself. This one finds Tony LoBianco as a cop who learns more about his past than he ever wanted to discover and Richard Lynch as… well, you just have to watch this weirdly insane little gem to find out! It’s Cohen at his bizarre best, in my opinion, and well worth seeking out for yourselves.
Next up was Q, Cohen’s take on classic monster movies, concerning the Aztec god-beast Quetzalcoatl, with an off-the-wall performance by Michael Moriarty as a cheap crook who discovers the beast on top of a New York skyscraper and holds the city for ransom. Candy Clark, David Carradine, and Richard “SHAFT” Rountree also take part in the madness. After SPECIAL EFFECTS, a behind-the-scenes thriller with Eric Bogosian as a demented director, Cohen came up with THE STUFF, a cult classic about some sentient goo marketed as ice cream to an unsuspecting public. Moriarty starred again, with Andrea Marcovicci and Paul Sorvino in support.
More movie madness followed: RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT, a sequel to the Stephen King novel with Moriarty and cult director Sam Fuller; DEADLY ILLUSION, an action thriller with Billy Dee Williams and Vanity; WICKED STEPMOTHER, a not quite successful film taken out of Cohen’s hands and featuring Bette Davis’ last role; THE AMBULANCE, an action comedy with Eric Roberts. Cohen’s last great movie as director was ORIGINAL GANGSTAS, returning to his Blaxploitation roots and costarring genre vets Williamson, Rountree, Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal , and Jim Brown.
Cohen kept writing, creating the zombie/slasher flick MANIAC COP and its sequels (all directed by William Lustig), the neo-noir PHONE BOOTH with Colin Farrell, the thriller CELLULAR starring Chris Evans and Jason Statham, and the “torture porn” CAPTVITY with Elisha Cuthbert. Larry Cohen never ran out of ideas, but unfortunately he did run out of time. He leaves a distinctive body of work behind, a truly original, maniacal movie maverick with a singular vision and an independent streak. He made his movies his way, and we can all be thankful for that. We salute you, sir, and we’ll miss ya.
RIP 20th Century-Fox (1935-2019)
The failing Fox Film Corporation merged with Darryl F. Zanuck’s independent 20th Century Pictures in 1935, and quickly joined the ranks of the major studios of the day (MGM, Paramount, Warners, Universal, Columbia). Over the decades, the trumpet blows sounding the logo for 20th Century-Fox became familiar to film fans around the world. Now, the studio has been purchased outright by The Walt Disney Company, and will be just another subsidiary to the House The Mouse Built. In tribute to 20th Century-Fox, Cracked Rear Viewer presents a small but glittering gallery of stars and films from the vault of that magnificent movie making machine, 20th Century-Fox:
What A Glorious Feeling: On Stanely Donen and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (MGM 1952)
I constantly tout CASABLANCA as my all-time favorite movie here on this blog, but I’ve never had the opportunity to talk about my second favorite, 1952’s SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Sadly, that opportunity has finally arisen with the death today of Stanley Donen at age 94, the producer/director/choreographer of some of Hollywood’s greatest musicals. Donen, along with his longtime friend Gene Kelly, helped bring the musical genre to dazzling new heights with their innovative style, and nowhere is that more evident than in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
The plot of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is fairly simple: Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are a pair of silent screen stars for Monumental Pictures. Lina believes the studio publicity hype about them being romantically linked, though Don can barely tolerate her. At the premiere of their latest film, Don is mobbed by rabid fans, and jumps into a car driven by young Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), who tells him she’s a serious stage actress and looks down on the movie crowd. In reality, Kathy’s a chorus girl, as Don finds out when she pops out of a cake at a studio party! Don falls for her, while Lina fumes.
When THE JAZZ SINGER is released, Monumental Studios boss R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) wants to jump on the talkie bandwagon with the next Lockwood/Lamont epic, THE DUELING CAVALIER. But try as they may, the studio can’t fix Lina’s squeaky, Bronx-accented voice. Music department head Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor as Kelly’s former vaudeville partner) comes up with a brilliant idea: they can dub Kathy’s pleasant voice to replace Lina’s Bronx screech. Lina finds out about the subterfuge, and invokes a clause in her contract to not give Kathy screen credit… or else! At the movie’s premiere, Lina is exposed, Don and Kathy are united and, as they say in Hollywood, live happily ever after!
Producer Arthur Freed wanted to build a film around songs from older musicals he’d written with his partner Nacio Herb Brown: tunes from BABES IN ARMS, BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, COLLEGE COACH, GOING HOLLYWOOD, and HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929, among others, and screenwriter Betty Comden and Adolph Green came up with the deliciously funny script. The many, many musical highlights include the wistful “You Were Meant For Me”, with Kelly serenading Reynolds on an abandoned studio set; O’Connor’s hilarious solo slapstick number “Make ‘Em Laugh”; Kelly and O’Connor dueting on the tongue-twisting, energetic fast-tap “Moses Supposes”; all three doing the bright, peppy “Good Morning”; and of course, the glorious, life-affirming “Singin’ in the Rain”:
The film also features the ambitious, exhilarating 13-minute “Broadway Melody Ballet”, a fantasy sequence in which Kelly describes to Mitchell “the story of a young hoofer who comes to New York”. It’s a highly stylized cinematic wonderland that incorporates tap, ballet, comic dancing, and athleticism, not to mention the long-limbed Cyd Charisse as “The Vamp”, exuding pure sex in her dance with Kelly. Any film fan who isn’t thrilled by this brilliant piece of movie magic better check their pulse!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jean Hagen’s sparkling performance as Lina Lamont. Hagen plays the character to the comic hilt as the dizzy, petulant “shining star of the cinema firmament” who believes her own pub, yet lost the Best Supporting Actress Award to Gloria Grahame’s brief (not even ten minutes!) turn in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL – Another Oscar Crime!! Familiar Face spotters will want to be on the lookout for Dawn Addams, Madge Blake, Mae Clarke , King Donovan, Douglas Fowley (as movie director Roscoe Dexter), Bess Flowers, Kathleen Freeman (Lina’s frustrated diction coach), Robert Foulke, Joi Lansing, Rita Moreno (as Lina’s pal Zelda), and silent comic Snub Pollard (the man who winds up with Kelly’s umbrella).
Stanley Donen first met Gene Kelly while working in the chorus on Kelly’s Broadway hit PAL JOEY. The two hit it off, and Donen became assistant choreographer for Kelly’s next stage hit, BEST FOOT FORWARD. He travelled to Hollywood for the film version, and assisted Kelly in creating the dance numbers for COVER GIRL , including the marvelous “Alter Ego” scene which found Kelly dancing with himself! ANCHORS AWEIGH found the pair creating the memorable animated sequence with Tom & Jerry; LIVING IN A BIG WAY and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME followed. The success of the latter film led to MGM giving Kelly and Donen co-directing chores for ON THE TOWN, much of which was shot in New York City, bringing the Hollywood musical outside the studio confines for the first time and opening up a whole new vista for the genre. While Kelly was making AN AMERICAN IN PARIS with Vincente Minnelli, Donen was given his first solo project, 1951’s ROYAL WEDDING, featuring Fred Astaire doing the unique “dancing on the ceiling” number, which Donen helped recreate when he directed this 1986 Lionel Ritchie video:
After SINGIN’, Kelly and Donen teamed once more for IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, but tensions between the two caused a falling out. Donen had had success with his SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, while Kelly’s solo directorial efforts were met with mixed reviews. Donen went on to make three more classic musicals: FUNNY FACE with Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, THE PAJAMA GAME starring Doris Day, and the baseball-themed DAMN YANKEES. He also directed a string of non-musical romantic comedies beginning with 1958’s INDISCREET, featuring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman reuniting for the first time since Hitchcock’s NOTORIOUS . He guided Grant again in 1963’s Hitchcock-influenced CHARADE, with Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy all involved in international intrigue. 1966’s ARABESQUE continued in this vein, only with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren the glamorous stars. TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967) starred Audrey and the late Albert Finney as a couple examining their 12 year relationship while journeying through France. Told in flashbacks and out-of-sequence, it can be difficult to follow at times, but is worth the effort.
Donen’s later career was hit and miss: I liked his BEDAZZLED (with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Raquel Welch), LUCKY LADY (with Burt Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, and Gene Hackman) has its moments, and MOVIE MOVIE is an enjoyably nostalgic tribute to the days of the double feature. I can’t say much for SATURN 5 or BLAME IT ON RIO, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Donen was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1998 for his body of work, but when the Academy announced their new voting rules a few years back, he was a staunch critic of the obvious ageism. Stanley Donen was one of the last living great directors of The Golden Age, and will surely be missed by the film community, especially by his companion of the past twenty years, the multi-talented Elaine May. Bogart says in CASABLANCA, “We’ll always have Paris”; for all us Stanley Donen lovers, we’ll always have SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
Confession of a TV Addict #13: Remembering Peter Tork and The Monkees
Before the advent of cable and MTV and music videos, there was The Monkees. Now I know some of you are going give me flak about “The Pre-Fab Four”, how they weren’t a real band, just a commercialized, bubblegum TV concept, so let me put this in perspective… if you were an eight-year-old kid like me back in The Monkees’ heyday, you watched the show every week, bought the records, and actually enjoyed them! That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s why I’m writing this tribute to the late Peter Tork, who passed away today of cancer at age 77.
Peter Thorkleson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, and as a child loved music, learning to play piano, guitar, bass, and banjo early on. After college, he shortened his name to Tork and hit New York City, becoming part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. He was always a musician first and foremost, but when his friend and fellow folkie Stephen Stills (who went on to a pretty damn successful career of his own!) tried out for a part in a new “rock and roll sitcom”, he was turned down, but recommended his pal Pete audition. The young Tork was cast, along with ex-CIRCUS BOY star Mickey Dolenz, Broadway singer/actor Davy Jones, and another musician, Michael Nesmith.
THE MONKEES made its network debut on September 12, 1966, and was an immediate smash! A mash-up of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT , Marx Brothers-style madness, quick jump cuts, and what would later be known as music videos, Monkeemania swept the country, as kids and teenyboppers drank in the weekly ‘youth culture’ antics of these four telegenic stars. Peter was the ‘Ringo’ figure of the group, his character a lovable loser with a sad sack face and not much sense. The Monkees soon found themselves on the covers of teen magazines and racked up such #1 hits as “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”, and “Daydream Believer”:
Though all four were accomplished musicians, only Tork was allowed to play on their first two albums. The musicians used were definitely no slouches; session players like Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Jim Gordon, Louie Shelton, and Larry Taylor all contributed to various tracks. But The Monkees, now bona fide superstars, rebelled, and beginning with their third LP played their own instruments (and yes, that’s really Tork doing the piano intro on “Daydream Believer”). But like most fads, Monkeemania subsided, and the show ended its run in 1968. The boys went on to star in HEAD , a Jack Nicholson-penned, Bob Rafelson-directed piece of psychedelia that bombed at the box office – the younger kids were turned off by it, and the older hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead watching The Monkees! The movie has since become somewhat of a cult classic, and is worth a look.
Peter was the first to leave the group, dissatisfied over their musical direction and off-screen bickering. He drifted back to his roots, trying to get a folk-blues band called Peter Tork And/or Release off the ground without success. He was pretty well broke by 1970, a scant two years after Monkeemania, and a bust for possession of hashish landed Tork three months in a Oklahoma prison. The end of the 70’s found Tork working as a teacher in California (teaching music of course!) and gigging around in small clubs.
Then came the 80’s, and MTV began rerunning THE MONKEES episodes, and suddenly The Monkees were hot again! A tour was put together with Tork, Jones, and Dolenz (Nesmith declined to participate), and the band continued to tour sporadically over the years. I was fortunate enough to catch them in the early 90’s (along with 60’s favorites The Turtles, The Grass Roots, and Gary Puckett), and their combination of comedy and nostalgic hits was one fun night! Over the years, Peter Tork continued to tour with The Monkees and in smaller venues on his own, playing with his blues/rock band Shoe Suede Blues. 90’s kids will remember him for his guest appearances as Topanga’s dad on BOY MEETS WORLD. Peter Tork certainly had a wild ride during his lifetime, but was blessed to spend it doing what he loved – playing music. Say what you will about The Monkees, but the eight-year-old boy in me will sure miss him.
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.
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 (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.
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 )…
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 (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).
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
Yesterday, When We Were Young: A Brief Tribute to Roy Clark
It seems like we’ve lost an old friend, one who was welcomed into homes across America for decades. Roy Clark, Country Music’s King of Strings, adept on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and one of TV’s most Familiar Faces thanks to his 14 year gig as co-host of HEE HAW, passed away yesterday at age 85. Clark was born in Virginia on April 15, 1933, and picked up his first guitar at age 14. He was a two-time National Banjo Champion by age 15, and made his Grand Ole Opry debut at 17. Roy joined Jimmy Dean’s band in the early 50’s, but was fired for his chronic tardiness. He then began playing backup for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson.
When Dean got a guest host spot on THE TONIGHT SHOW, he brought his old bandmate Roy on, and Clark’s expert playing, coupled with his unassuming, warm personality, tore the house down. Soon Roy was all over the small screen: variety shows like Jackie Gleason and Flip Wilson, sitcoms like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (as the Clampett’s bumpkin Cousin Roy), LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, THE ODD COUPLE ,THE MUPPET SHOW. But it was HEE HAW, which he cohosted with Buck Owens, that skyrocketed his popularity. Between the corny down home humor and classic country music, the show was a phenomenon, debuting in 1969 and running continuously until 1993. All the genre’s biggest stars performed, and Roy was a large part of it’s success.
Roy Clark sold out concerts around the world, and he was a huge draw in both Vegas and Branson, MO. When I heard the news he died, I immediately thought of his most-loved song, the poignant “Yesterday, When I Was Young”, which topped the charts in 1969. It’s one of the most bittersweet ballads ever, originally written in French by Charles Aznavour, and serves as a fitting tribute to Roy Clark:
God bless ya’ll, Roy.