Saturday, February 14, 2009

Philip Carey and Estelle Bennett Pass On

Actor Philip Carey, who co-starred in the Sixties Western TV show Laredo, and Estelle Bennett, who was one of The Ronettes, have both passed on.

Philip Carey passed on January 6 at the age of 83. The cause was lung cancer.

Philip Carey was born Eugene Joseph Carey in Hackensack, New Jersey on July 15, 1925. He grew up in Long Island. During World War II he served in the United States Marines. He also served in the Korean War. Carey studied drama at the University of Miami, and acted in summer stock in Long Island. Eventually a talent scout from Warner Brothers asked him to try out for a supporting role in Operation Pacific, starring John Wayne.

Signed to Warner Brothers, Carey spent much of the Fifties appearing in movies such as I Was a Communist for the FBI, Springfield Rifle, Calamity Jane, and Mister Roberts. He made his television debut in 1953 in an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. By the Fifties he was appearing regularly on television in shows such as Four Star Playhouse, Celebrity Playhouse, and The Ford Television Theatre. He starred in the 1956-1957 TV series Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers as Lt. Michael Rhodes. He also played the title role on the 1959-1960 TV show Philip Marlowe.

By the Sixties Carey spent most of his career on television. He guest starred on such shows as Michael Shayne, Thriller, The Rifleman, Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, The Virginian, Daniel Boone, and Ironside. He still continued to appear on film, in the movies FBI Code 98, Dead Ringer, Town Tamer, The Great Sioux Massacre, and Once You Kiss a Stranger. He co-starred alongside Peter Brown and Neville Brand on the Western comedy Laredo. Carey played the commanding officer, Capt. Edward Parmalee, who had the thankless job of keeping three rather reckless Texas Rangers out of trouble.

In the Seventies Carey guest starred on such shows as All in the Family, Gunsmoke, McMillan and Wife, Room 222, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, McCloud, and Little House on the Prairie. In 1979 he started a long stint on the soap opera One Life to Live, which lasted until 2004.

While Philip Carey wound up doing a long stint on a daytime soap, I really think he belonged elsewhere. With rugged good looks, he was perfect for the Westerns in which he appeared. With a gift for timing, he was perfect for comedy. Indeed, besides playing the straight man to Neville Brand on Laredo, Carey also appeared in a number of humorous Granny Goose potato chip commercials on California television in the Sixties. A versatile actor, he was the perfect leading man for Fifties and Sixties television.

Estelle Bennett, one of the legendary Ronettes and Ronnie Spector's sister, passed on February 11 at the age of 67. The cause was colon cancer.

Estelle Bennett was born on July 21, 1941. She and her younger sister Veronica (AKA "Ronnie") grew up in Washington Heights in New York City. She started singing at a very young age, encouraged by her family. Along with their cousin Nedra Talley, Estelle and Ronnie formed a singing group called The Darling Sisters. In 1959 they won a talent contest at the Apollo Theatre. In 1961 they started performing at the Peppermint Lounge. The group received a record deal from Colpix, and released their first single "I Want a Boy" as Ronnie and the Relatives. during this period they also sang backup for such singers as Del Shannon, Bobby Rydell and Joey Dee. Later renamed The Ronettes, they continued to record single and even an album for Colpix.

It was in 1963 that Phil Spector noticed The Ronettes, who was looking for a replacement for his girl group The Crystals. Spector signed them to his Philles label and remoulded the group into a "bad girl" image. Their first single for Spector was the classic "Be My Baby," which went to #2 on the Billboard chart and #4 in the United Kingdom. The Ronettes followed this success with another hit, "Baby, I Love You." In 1964 The Ronettes were successful enough to tour England not only with rising rock group The Rolling Stones, but The Beatles as well.

It was that year that The Ronettes would produce even more hit singles, including "The Best Part of Breaking Up," "Do I Love You," and "(Walking) In the Rain." Unfortunately, with girl groups on the way out and the British Invasion well under way, The Ronettes' career faltered in 1965. Their first single of that year, "Born to Be Together," only went to 52. Other singles would not even chart. The Ronettes broke up in 1966.

The Ronettes were nearly as known for their fashion sense as their vocals, and much of that fashion sense was provided by Estelle Bennett. She had attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, and as a result helped a good deal in the group's choice of clothing.

Following the breakup of The Ronettes, Estelle Bennett recorded one single for Laurie Records, "The Year 2000/The Naked Boy." It did very little business. She then retired from entertainment, married, and raised a family. When The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Estelle Bennett did not perform with her sister and her cousin, being in declining health. According to Nedra Talley, however, it was the happiest she had seen her in a long time.

The Ronettes are my favourite girl group of all time. In fact, "Be My Baby" would rank in my list of the top ten greatest rock songs of all time. While much of the attention was concentrated on her younger and more outgoing sister Ronnie, much of The Ronettes' success was due to Estelle. Like her sister and her cousin, Estelle was gifted with an voice and could well have led a group of her own. While The Ronettes developed their look together, there can be little doubt that Estelle's education at the Fashion Institute of Technology helped a good deal. As a member of one of the most legendary vocal groups of all time, Estelle Bennett will no doubt be remembered.

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