Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ron Palillo, Harry Harrison, and Phyllis Thaxter Pass On

Ron Palillo

Ron Palillo, best known for playing Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, died on 14 August 2012 at the age of 63. The cause was a heart attack.

Ron Palillo was born on 2 April 1949 in Cheshire, Connecticut. His father died of lung cancer when Ron Palillo was only 10 years old. About the same time he developed a stutter and his mother thought getting him involved in theatre would help with that. As a result, Mr. Palillo found his life's work. He attended the University of Connecticut. 

Prior to Welcome Back, Kotter Ron Paillo appeared on stage, often in Shakespearean productions. He was cast as Arnold Horshack in 1975. It was his first job acting on TV. He would play the role for the entirety of the series' run. He also appeared as Horshack on a 1976 episode of Mr. T and Tina. In the late Seventies and Eighties he guest starred on such shows as $weepstake$, The Love Boat, Alice, The A-Team, CHiPs, Matt Houston, Trapper John M.D., and Cagney & Lacey. He also appeared in the films Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979), Snake Eater (1989), Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster (1989), and Hellgate (1990).

In the Nineties he provided voices for the animated series Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone and Darkwing Duck. He guest starred on the shows Mr. Rhodes and Ellen, and had a recurring role on the series One Life to Live. He appeared in the movie Wind (1992). In the Naughts he appeared in the films Trees 2: The Root of All Evil (2004), The Curse of Micah Rood (2008) , The Guardians (2010), and It's a Dog Gone Tale: Destiny's Stand (2010). 

Mr. Palillo also appeared on stage, in productions such as Amadeus, Guys and DollsThe Diary of Adolf Eichmann, and his own play The Lost Boy. He was also a teacher at G-Star School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida.

If Arnold Horshack is a memorable character, it is because Ron Paillo did such a good job of bringing him to life. Unfortunately, he may have done it too well. For years after Welcome Back, Kotter he was typecast as Horshack--producers either would not hire him or wanted to place him in Horshack-like parts. What producers overlooked is that he could play many different roles. Indeed, on stage he played Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and Mozart. While he did a marvellous job playing Horshack, then, it is sad that he is not remembered for many other roles.

Harry Harrison

Science fiction writer Harry Harrison died on 15 August 2012 at the age of 87. 

Harry Harrison was born Henry Maxwell Dempsey in Stamford, Connecticut on 12 March 1925. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Corps. Following the war he worked as a freelance, commercial artist. Among other things, he contributed to EC Comics' Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. In the Fifties he also served as the primary writer on the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip. It was in 1957 that he broke into science fiction writing, selling a story to Astounding. Perhaps fittingly the story featured his best known character, Slippery Jim DiGriz AKA The Stainless Steel Rat.

It was in 1960 that his first novel was published, Deathworld. It would be followed by 6 more "Deathworld" novels. In 1961 one of his best known novels was published, The Stainless Steel Rat. At the centre of the novel was con man and thief Slippery Jim DiGriz. The novel would be so popular that it would be followed by eleven more. Over the years Mr. Harrison would publish well over 50 novels, including Planet of the DamnedBill, the Galactic Hero (one of his most popular novels, a parody of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers), Make Room! Make Room! (the basis for the film Soylent Green), and West of Eden.

Harry Harrison definitely stood out from other science fiction writers of all time. For one thing, his stories were generally filled with humour, something at which Mr. Harrison excelled. For another thing, his stories were often the literary equivalent of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler movie. There was never any shortage of action and adventure, much of it tongue in cheek. That is not to say that Harry Harrison did not have his serious side. Make Room! Make Room! was  a very realistic look at an overpopulated Earth in the 1990's (it was published in 1966). Whether humorous or serious, what set Mr. Harrison's work apart from many other science fiction writers of the time is that it was largely character driven. If people remember The Stainless Steel Rat and Bill the Galactic Hero, it is because they come across as fully realised characters, not caricatures. It is that for which Harry Harrison will be remembered.

Phyllis Thaxter

Actress Phyllis Thaxter, who appeared in such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and The Breaking Point (1950), died on 14 August 2012 at the age of 92.

Phyllis Thaxter was born on 20 November 1919 in Portland, Maine. She studied acting at the Montreal Repertory Theatre. She made her debut on Broadway in There Shall Be No Night. She would go onto appear on Broadway in Sundown Beach (1948) and Take Her, She's Mine (1960). In 1944 she was signed to MGM and made her movie debut the same year, playing the female lead in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. In the late Forties she would go onto appear in such films as Bewitched (1945), Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), The Sign of the Ram (1948), Act of Violence (1948), and The Breaking Point (1950).

In the Fifties Miss Thaxter would appear in such films as Fort Worth (1951), Jim Thorpe--All-American (1951), She's Working Her Way Through College (1952), Springfield Rifle (1952), Women's Prison (1955), and  Man Afraid (1957). After an attack of infantile paralysis Phyllis Thaxter switched primarily to television. She made her television debut on an episode of  Willys Theatre Presenting Ben Hecht's Tales of the City in 1953. In the Fifties she would appear on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Stage 7, The U.S. Steel HourFireside Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, Lux Video Theatre, Studio 57, Studio One, Climax, Suspicion, Wagon TrainAlfred Hitchcock Presents, and Outlaws.

In the Sixties Phyllis Thaxter appeared on such shows as Thriller, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Coronet  Blue, The Invaders, Bonanza, Medical Centre, and The F.B.I. She appeared in the film The World of Henry Orient (1964). In the Seventies she appeared in such shows as Cannon, Marcus Welby M.D., Barnaby Jones, and Visions. She played Ma Kent in the movie Superman (1978). In the Eighties she appeared on the shows American Playhouse and Murder, She Wrote.

For much of her career Phyllis Thatxter played devoted wives and girlffriends, but she was capable of playing many more sorts of roles. She played a psychotic fiancee in the film noir Bewitched (1945) and one of a homicidal family in the Thriller episode "Last of the Sommervilles." Indeed, while the movie industry seemed content to cast Miss Thaxter as wives and girlfriends, television appeared to realise her full potential as an actress. She played everything from a murderer to a former spy to a newspaper editor (in the Wild West, at that) to a teacher. What is more, she did all of these diverse parts quite well. While Miss Thaxter may have been underutilised in feature films, in television her versatility was there for everyone to see. 

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