Happy New Year, darlings. All of you reading this piece have something in common: you survived 2010. Not everyone was so lucky, and a lot of people, as always, took the off-ramp from Life. I've a few thoughts to share about some of the most-famous departures this year, in what will be a light-hearted look. No Gloomy Gusses allowed.
Would it be more pleasant to discuss all the great or famous people born this year? Yes, but sadly, we don't know at birth who is destined for fame, and who is just one more non-entity. In 1890, no newspaper reported: "Great Comedian Groucho Marx was born this year. He will be beloved."
A word of warning; not every death is a tragedy. Who weeps for Hitler? Every year, there are people who die whom we are better off without and glad to be rid of. This year is no exception. Those folks will be designated "GRL," for "Good Riddance List." Sadly, that list is far shorter than the list of folks who will indeed be missed. If you are one of those who are entrenched in the rule: "Don't speak ill of the dead," or who think any humor involving the recently-departed is horrifyingly inappropriate, I suggest you go read something else. Comments complaining that this post is in bad taste will not be received well. I know it's in bad taste; that's the whole point.
Are the humorless all gone now? Good. One last point: inclusion or exclusion from this article is entirely at my whim. Few will be the sports figures mentioned, because sports bore the hell out of me. Okay, all set? Then let's go.
First off, the good news; I'm not dead. Now that your mind has been put at ease, We did lose a very great movie star this year, one of the towering figures of film, namely...
Tony Curtis. Gorgeous "Bernie Schwartz" was as big and beautiful a movie star as ever there was. A genuine movie star, as opposed to an actor. The one time he tried to do a big stage play, it was a catastrophe. Tony would be the first to tell you this, because he was nothing if not frank and open about his own shortcomings. Also, he shagged every woman in Hollywood but me, and the only one complaining about it is me. But then, "nobody's perfect."
Now, in no particular order:
Blake Edwards. What kind of perv lusts for Mary Poppins? And then, displays Mary Poppins's boobies to the entire world? My kind of perv, that's who, because S.O.B. was one of the funniest movies ever. (And Robert Preston just strolls away with it.) If that were the only movie Blake Edwards had ever made, it would be enough (Like Laughton only directing Night of the Hunter), but he went and made dozens of great comedies, and a few fine dramas as well. And he wasn't the first man in Hollywood to fall in love with the nanny.
Lena Horne. Great singer, good actress, barrier breaker. I had the joy of meeting her and seeing her work live. Her last screen performance was as Glinda in The Wiz, where she had to sing while dangling from wires in a most-undignified manner. Sidney Lumet should have been shot for doing that to her. But then, given the rest of that movie, he should have been shot for all of it. What shouldn't have been shot was the film itself.
Dino De Laurentiis. Speaking of extremely bad movies, we come now to the man who made the 1976 remake of King Kong. Was that one, isolated abomination in a stellar career? Well, he also made Dune, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising, King Kong Lives (If you've never seen his Kong sequel, don't miss it. One of the most hilariously-deranged movies of all time), Maximum Overdrive, Conan the Barbarian, that other Conan movie, Flash Gordon, Orca, The Bible: In the Beginning, Mandingo, oh this list goes on. He made 166 movies, so he did make some good ones also, like Serpico and La Strada. Well, everyone has their off days.
Ted Sorenson. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." JFK said it, but the great Ted Sorenson wrote it. He also wrote the book Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy. Ted will be very much missed, and quoted forever.
Jill Clayburgh. Good actress, who is no longer dancing as fast as she can.
Sparky Anderson. Something to do with some sport. I know nothing about him, but how can I resist including someone named "Sparky"? Feel free to say something nice about him in the comments.
Barbara Billingsley. To one generation, she was America's Mom. To the next, she was a jive-talking granny. To me, she's the reason I make my cook wear a pearl necklace and high heels while preparing my dinner, though he hates it!
James MacArthur. Between Disney's Swiss Family Robinson and the original Hawaii Five-0, little Jimmy spent more time on islands than Jacob on Lost. As a young man he was so dreamy, I wanted to be marooned with him. His mother once beat me out for an Oscar, that bitch!
Dame Joan Sutherland. This Aussie lass could warble fairly well. She's the reason that in Australia, the phrase is: "It's not over until the tall, big-boned, lantern-jawed woman sings."
Tom Bosley. In the 1980s, he pretended to have been America's Dad in the 1950s, which was news to Robert Young. I saw him onstage in Fiorello. He was better than the show. Little Dougie was called in to audition for roles on his TV series Father Dowling Mysteries a few times, but never got cast. We like Tom anyway.
Arthur Penn. Revolutionized American Cinema in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde, in which he proved that the Penn is mightier than the tommy-gun. This Miracle Worker said I could get anything I want at Alice's Restaurant, but when I asked Alice for Paul Newman nude on a platter, she said he was out of season! Such liars!
Bob Guccione. A major sleaze-merchant. He somehow managed not to win an Oscar for his film of Caligula. He was robbed!
Alexander Anderson Jr. The creator of Crusader Rabbit & Rocky the Flying Squirrell. Bless him. Bless him twice.
Eddie Fisher. A fair singer who didn't manage his romantic life too well. He was the father of Carrie Fisher, which means - Gasp! - Eddie Fisher was Darth Vader! Don't believe me? Ask Debbie Reynolds.
Stephen J. Cannell. Popular TV producer, mostly of silly, unrealistic crime procedurals, but very well-liked. Little Dougie was called in to audition for roles on his series Hunter a couple times, but never got cast. Even so, we liked him. Now best-remembered as Castle's poker-buddy.
Solomon Burke. Popular Rhythm & Blues singer, who could really fill up a room, though there wasn't much space left for an audience.
Paul Conrad. The brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning, political cartoonist. He was famous for regularly making Richard Nixon look like a fool, as was Nixon. I loved Paul Conrad! Nixon, not so much.
John Wooden. I'm told he coached some sport. We were not related, though in my films, I've often been called "Wooden".
Gloria Stuart. She was taken too soon, as a mere lass of 100. A favorite of the genius James Whale. Married to Arthur Sheekman, one of Groucho's closest friends, so she hung out with Jimmy Whale and Groucho Marx, two of my all-time favorite humans! She stayed overnight here once, and the next day I found all my jewelry in the bottom of my swimming pool. America's diamonds are safe again.
Daryl F. Gates. Former Chief of Police for Los Angeles. Did you enjoy the Rodney King riots? Well then thank Daryl.
Art Gilmore. "The story you have just seen is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." When Art said that at the end of every episode of Dragnet, he was lying! He also was the announcer for The Red Skelton Show, which, unlike Dragnet, was not a celebration of American Fascism. A golden voice now silent.
Roy Ward Baker. Even if he hadn't directed my dear friend Martine Beswick in her campy Hammer classic Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, I'd still love him for all his other films. He survived directing Bette Davis in the hilarious campfest The Anniversary, for which he should have gotten at least a Purple Heart. He directed A Night to Remember. He was a director to remember. And Martine says he was a darling man who was great fun.
Edwin Newman. Strong, earnest newsman who spent years on 60 Minutes, which only takes most of us an hour. [Oops. As has been pointed out a couple times now, I goofed here. Newman was at NBC, so he was at the wrong network. It's his mistake, not mine. Who in their right mind is at NBC any more? Certainly not the viewers.]
Simon MacCorkingdale. The handsome British actor who wasn't Michael York, just looked and sounded exactly like him. Here's how to tell the difference between Simon and Michael: 1. Simon was younger. 2. Simon was on Falcon Crest; Michael was on Knot's Landing. 3. Michael was never Manimal. 4. Michael is alive.
George Blanda. Professional athlete. Played some game or other.
Kevin McCarthy. Dependable leading man, and later, character actor, with a long career. I met him a couple times, and he always kept shouting at me: "YOU'RE NEXT!!!" although I never was. He could have snatched my body anytime. His sister Mary wrote The Group, but none of them ever wrote back.
Claude Chabrol. I'm told he was a master director, particularly of mysteries, but whenever I saw one of his films, I couldn't understand a word they were saying. It was all Greek to me, which is unusual from a Frenchman. Talk about mystery. What are they saying?
Dan Rostenkowski. This former U.S. representative from Chicago was the powerful chairman of The Ways and Means Committee, and a foe of President Reagan's policies. Sounds like a good guy, yes? Oops. He was forced from office in a corruption scandal, and served time in prison. I hate it when Democrats behave like Republicans. (Actually , I hate it when Republicans behave like Republicans also.) [GRL]
David L. Wolper. Prolific TV & film producer best remembered for Roots. On his resume I find: "He produced The Crucifixion of Jesus (1972)." First off, they have the date wrong by almost 2000 years. Secondly, I'd think that would make him awfully unpopular with Christians. I guess producing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory bought him a lot of goodwill.
Dennis Hopper. Popular actor, avid art collector, uneven director, and a good friend of my darling Vincent Price, which may be why he could be so incredibly scary in movies like Speed and Blue Velvet. He died on my birthday, which I felt was quite thoughtless.
Harold Gould. Excellent character actor, best remembered as Rhoda's dad, where he had to pretend to be sexually attracted to Nancy Walker. That took acting!
Robert F. Boyle. Another child who passed away at the tender age of 100. He was the brilliant, Oscar-wining production designer on Hitchcock's magnificent North by Northwest and The Birds. Of course, he also designed the wretched movie Mame, but production design wasn't what was wrong with that turkey. It was the cast, or rather, one fake-redheaded cast member.
Jimmy Dean. Singer and actor turned meat-peddler. He is dead, but his sausage lives on. What man could ask for more?
Senator Ted Stevens. Insane babbling fool of a politician from the state that brought us Sarah Palin. Thanks to Ted, Alaskans can get to Nowhere via a lovely bridge. Famous for screaming "NO!" repeatedly on the Senate floor whenever anyone suggested doing something good for America. And yet, in the end, he did do something good for America. He died. [GRL]
John Forsythe. Popular character actor with a velvety voice, best remembered as the bull-headed, homophobic oil baron Blake Carrington on Dynasty. He was also "Charlie" on Charlie's Angels. Well, Charlie is an angel now.
J.D. Salinger. Reclusive novelist who claims to have died, though I suspect it's just his latest attempt to get people to leave him alone. He ruined a vat of my finest rye by leaving a catcher's mitt in it. Hated being photographed, and with that face, who can blame him? Wrote awfully well.
Gary Coleman. Short character actor with a long childhood. Played, and stayed looking like, a child well into his dotage. Screwed over by his parents financially, he had anger issues he never really worked out. A sad funnyman if ever there was one.
Art Linkletter. Speaking of exploiting kids on TV for laughs, here's Art Linkletter! He would ask kids on his 1950s TV show House Party: "What did your parents tell you not to say?" That was a risky question to ask on live TV. Though devoid of any observable talent, he was a TV star for decades. Though devoid of sex appeal, he had about 90 kids, one or two of whom outlived him. He hosted the opening day TV special at Disneyland.
Teddy Pendergrass. Extremely sexy Rhythm & Blues singer who became a paraplegic in a tragic automobile accident. Didn't let it end his career though.
Patricia Neal. Someone else almost as famous for a recovery, in her case, from a massive stroke, as for their performing. She said "Klaatu Barada Nikto" and saved the world, so she can be forgiven for starring in The Fountainhead. Her husband wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so someone had a sweet tooth. In Hud she won an Oscar for refusing to have sex with Paul Newman! Admittedly, that took major acting, but honestly, is a mere Oscar worth turning down Paul Newman?
Merlin Olsen. Large character actor best known for playing Father Murphy on TV. Also played some game with a ball.
Alexander Haig. Also known as Darth Haig. As Nixon's and Ford's White House Chief of Staff, he was already known as one of America's most-evil men even before becoming Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, a job for which he was uniquely unqualified. It was like appointing Mahatma Gandhi to the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff. He demonstrated that he worked under his own, personal version of The Constitution, when he spontaneously rewrote the Constitutionally-mandated order of Presidential Succession. His pomposity was so famous, the term "Haigisms" was coined just to describe his self-inflated manner of speech. Last heard in Hell in this exchange: Haig: "I'm in charge." Satan: "Oh yeah?" [GRL]
Pernell Roberts. Popular and handsome TV actor, first known for living out in the old west with a dad and two brothers, none of whom looked remotely related to each other, then he became a doctor, and turned into a bald Wayne Rogers.
George Steinbrenner. When asking around to find out who the hell this guy was, I was told he was called "The Boss." Nonsense. Bruce Springsteen looks nothing like this lox. I'm told he owned some sporting team. Wake me up when he's over. Oh wait; he is.
Daniel Schorr. This great TV journalist not only made Nixon's Enemies List, he also broke the news of its existence to America, discovering he was on the list as he read it live on TV. Any enemy of Nixon's is a friend of mine.
Ilene Woods. This warbling actress was the voice of Walt Disney's Cinderella. Most actresses with such a prominent role in such a famous and popular movie also have other credits. Ilene was the voice of Walt Disney's Cinderella.
Rue McClanahan. Contrary to popular rumor, Rue actually could act even when Bea Arthur wasn't around. I had dinner with Rue once, back in 1974, and I can testify that she was as charming and funny at dinner as she was on TV. With her death, Betty White has now won the Golden Girls tontine.
Harvey Pekar. I know this legendary underground comics writer and artist only from his curmudgeonly appearances on David Letterman's TV shows, but he had a reputation as a highly original, iconoclastic voice. He's now telling God what's wrong with Heaven.
Art Clokey. The beloved animated film producer who created Gumby. Could someone please explain to me just what the hell Gumby is supposed to be? I've been mystified by it for decades. Is it a person who looks nothing like a human being? An alien? Some sort of sentient lump of clay? And why does it hang around with a talking horse? Who does that, besides Gumby and Alan Young? Clokey also made the series Davey & Goliath, a subversive series of animated films intended to poison children's minds with religion. Well Clokey needs someone to animate him now, because this stop-motion mogul's motion has stopped.
Dixie Carter. Now I'm usually rather disdainful of Republicans (Perhaps you noticed), but I had the pleasure of working with Dixie Carter a bit over a quarter of a century ago, and she was charming, funny, self-effacing, unpretentious, and just a delight to be around, except in a voting booth. She was also fiercely talented.
Eric Rohmer. A pillar of the "French Nouvelle Vague". I've been vague for ages. Although acclaimed by the French, there were other opinions. Pauline Kael accused him of "directing to a metronome," and his films were famously slow-paced. Well now he's achieved his goal, and brought them to a dead halt. This stalwart of the French New Wave has now waved "Bye-bye."
Erich Segal. The infamous author of that turgid trash Love Story, he is most-famous for writing: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Never saying you're sorry is actually a sure-fire recipe for a bitter, recrimination-filled divorce. Now he's finding that Dead means never having to say anything at all.
Jean Simmons. My darling Jean. What a fine actress. What a wonderful human being. What a total charmer. Ophelia, Estella, Sister Sharon Falconer, Mrs. Spartacus, Sister Sarah Browne, Desir e (on film as Napoleon's Desir e, on stage as Desir e Armfeldt), so many memorable performances. I was lucky enough to have met her, and in 1974 she did me a personal favor I will not relate here, but which left me in her debt forever. Goodnight, sweet Sister. I loved you.
Corey Haim. American child actor and troubled adult. One Corey down; one to go.
Peter Graves. Handsome, limited, rather stolid, but very popular actor of long duration. Although best remembered for TV series like Fury and Mission: Impossible, he made a couple unforgettable movie appearances: as the bank-robbing dad who shares a cell with Robert Mitchum in the great film Night of the Hunter (Oh, to have shared a cell with Bob Mitchum. Heaven in Hell.), and as the pedophilic pilot in Airplane!, in which he uttered the immortal line: "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" For the record, Peter, I have seen a grown man naked, though I'm always up for seeing another one. Oh, and his brother was The Thing.
Mitch Miller. In the 1950s, his TV show Sing Along with Mitch Miller was very popular. The 1950s were weird. On that show at least, unlike on American idol, the really bad singers were doing it at home.
Fess Parker. I found the idea of getting every little white boy in America to go about sporting an African-American-skin cap to be rather horrific, and I think that 3 year-olds should not be encouraged to try to kill "b'ars" (Sarah Palin and I differ on that last point, and possibly on the first also.), but like I said: the 1950s were weird. Anyway, Fess, who was about 15 feet tall, made a gigantic success as Disney's Davy Crockett (not to be at all confused with History's Davy Crockett), and had a fair success as Daniel Boone also. Prior to that, it was not widely known that Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were identical twins. On an episode of Burke's Law he proved he could even act when not clad in buckskin, which was a great relief to Buck Owens. He was one man you never had to tell to "Remember the Alamo". He was also the absent-dad who left young Tommy Kirk to kill his own doggie in Old Yeller. [Sob!]. Sarah was ready, willing, and eager to do it for Tommy.
Robert Culp. Handsome, popular leading man for many decades. He spy. On The Outer Limits he played Harlan Ellison's Demon with a Glass Hand, who would have to applaud very carefully. He played a murderer on Columbo four times. Columbo just could not keep him in jail. And in Bob and Carol and Ted And Alice, he played a man who, though married to Natalie Wood, still felt he had to sleep with Elliot Gould. That took acting!
Lynn Redgrave. Hey, where's Georgy Girl? Lynn was a magnificent, transcendent actress. Where did she get all that talent? I loved her.
Corin Redgrave. Could we lighten up on the Redgraves please? I love all of them. I'm still getting over losing Natasha Richardson. Put a guard or something on Vanessa. I don't want to lose any more Redgraves.
Frank Frazetta. A wonderful artist who specialized in science-fiction and fantasy subjects. His trademark was impossibly hunky men wearing little beyond a sword. He wasn't gay, but his art was. What? Oh. I'm told he also painted impossibly voluptuous females. I must have missed those.
Ronald Neame. A cinematographer-turned-director, Neame directed The Poseidon Adventure, but he also directed some good movies.
David Brown. Produced a lot of movies, but he earned his immortality the day he hired a pre-pubescent TV director named Steven Speilberg to direct his first movie. Though that film was not a whopping success, Brown had faith in the precocious child, and hired him again, to direct a little movie about a shark. It did well. David was married for centuries to Helen Gurley Browne, and the movie Sex and the Single Girl notwithstanding, she looked nothing like Natalie Wood. Nor was David any Tony Curtis. But he made some good flicks.
Johnny Sheffield. Boy dead. Jane sad. Tarzan mad. Cheeta asked if he could have Boy's old bedroom in the treehouse.
Clive Donner. Yes, we lost the director of Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, though I preferred the original title: Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Drag Queen, but it turns out that drag queens don't get "The Curse," so they had to change the title. He also directed What's New Pussycat?, which I rather enjoyed. And he directed a TV movie of Dickens's A Christmas Carol in which he completely forgot to mention to George C. Scott that Scrooge was supposed to be English. Well, sometimes stuff like that slips your mind.
Tom Mankiewicz. The son of Joe Mankiewicz, Tom was a wonderfully funny writer. He wrote movies for James Bond and for Superman, giving them the quips that prevented them from becoming bores. I've spent so much time listening to him talk on DVD commentary tracks, I feel like we're old friends. I wish we had been.
(Baby) June Havoc. Baby June became Old Lady June, and now she's Dead June. The sister of Gypsy Rose Lee, she shared that same awful stage mother. In show business her whole life, she had a long career in vaudeville and movies. She was almost born a star, having headlined as Baby June. Whatever happened to Baby June? Well, she died. I don't know if everything's coming up roses, as her fictionalized mother sang in the musical about their family, but June is pushing up roses now.
Leslie Nielson. What with Babs Billingsley, Pete Graves, and now Leslie Nielson, this was a bad year for the stars of Airplane! Robert Hays must be sweating bullets. Every obituary has discussed his mid-career turnaround from dull, stolid dramatic leading man to dead-pan comedy actor. What they then omitted was how, once he became known for comedy, the dead-pan was replaced with shameless, cross-eyed mugging and overplaying, until the sublime silliness of Airplane! and Police Squad was replaced with the unwatchable sledgehammer over-broadness of Dracula: Dead & Loving It, and Mr. Magoo. But at his best, he was great fun, and without his JJ Adams in Forbidden Planet, we might never have had Captain Kirk.
Zelda Rubinstein. I had a slight acquaintanceship with this tiny giant with the big heart. Along with acting, she was actively involved in anti-AIDS campaigns. To paraphrase Spencer Tracy: not a lot there, but what there was, was "cherce".
Irvin Kirshner. This may be news to many, but The Empire Strikes Back was not the only movie Irvin directed. There was also Never Say Never Again and Robocop 2. I was shocked when Darth Vader told Robocop that he was his father, although the family resemblance was unmistakable.
Steve Landesberg. This straight-faced stand-up comedian became nationally known as the dour, intellectual cop Detective Sergeant Dietrich on Barney Miller, and went on to a long career as a popular supporting comedy player, most recently seen in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Now more than just his pan is dead.
Fred Foy. Hi-Yo Silver -- A fiery voice with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty "Hi-Yo Silver!" Fred Foy announces again! With his faithful companion, Microphone, the daring and resourceful unmasked announcer of the airwaves led the way for voice-over announcers in early broadcasting. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Fred was still alive. The Lone Announcer speaks again!
Don Meredith. This character actor (who had also played some game), was known for ... for ... You know, I have no idea. He liked to call his second wife "Chigger," which is undoubtedly why he ended up with a third wife.
Samuel T. Cohen. This is the man who invented the neutron Bomb, you know, the nuclear weapon that kills people and animals, but saves architecture, even though there's no one left to live in the buildings. He received a "Medal of Peace" from Pope John Paul I, that guy who was pope for about ten minutes, but found time to give a peace award to a man who invented a filthy weapon of mass-death. Typical Pope "thinking." President Reagan ordered thosands of them. Typical Reagan thinking: valuing stuff over human lives. Cohen is dead, but the good news is that his house is just fine. [GRL]
Joycee Katz. I want to end up here with Joycee. She was not widely known, often playing roles in films and TV programs with just a single scene, but whenever she showed up in anything, she was hilarious. Onstage in improvisational comedy, she was always a riot. Her father, Fred Katz, wrote the musical score for Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors (The original with Jack Nicholson), and she grew up surrounded by her father's professional colleagues, like Harpo Marx, who was a family dinner guest. As it happened, Joycee, who was merely 59 when she passed, was a friend of mine for 40 years, and I miss her.
That's our 2010 crop. Hey Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Michele Bachmann, and John Boehner, you don't want to miss out on making next year's list. Don't delay. After all, shameless publicity hounds like yourselves need the exposure. So die early and often.
And as for you, my beloved readers, cheers darlings.