Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cliff Osmond and Fontella Bass Pass On

Cliff Osmond

Character actor Cliff Osmond died 22 December 2012 at the age of 75. The cause was pancreatic cancer.  Mr. Osmond appeared in many films made by Billy Wilder late in his career, including Irma la Douce (1963), The Fortune Cookie (1966), and The Front Page (1974).

Cliff Osmond was born Clifford Osman Ebrahim on 26 February 1937 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was raised in Union City, New Jersey and graduated from Dartmouth College. He made his television debut on an episode of The Dupont Show of the Week in 1962. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in How the West Was Won (1962). Throughout the Sixties he appeared in such movies as Irma la Douce (1963), The Raiders (1963), Wild and Wonderful (1964), Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), The Fortune Cookie (1966), Three Guns for Texas (1968),  and The Devil's 8 (1969). He appeared on such TV shows as The Rilfeman, Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Have Gun--Will Travel, Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, My Living Doll, The Red Skelton Hour, Laredo, Batman, Ironside, The Flying Nun, Gunsmoke, and The Mod Squad.

In the Seventies Mr. Osmond appeared in such films as Sweet Sugar (1972), Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973), The Front Page (1974), Sharks' Treasure (1975), The North Avenue Irregulars (1979), The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979), and Hangar 81 (1980). He appeared on such shows as The Chicago Teddy Bears, McMillan and Wife, Here's Lucy, All in the Family, Police Story, Emergency, The Bob Newhart Show, Kojak, and Vega$.

From the Eighties into the Nineties he appeared in such films as Lone Star Bar & Grill (1983), In Search of a Golden Sky (1984), and For Which He Stands (1996). He appeared on such TV shows as Hart to Hart, Trapper John M.D., Mama's Family, Matt Houston, Civil Wars, and Bodies of Evidence.

Cliff Osmond was also a screen writer. Among other things he wrote episodes of Street of San Franciscio and Serpico, as well as the films Power Play (1978) and The Penitent (1988). He also directed the films The Penitent (1988) and Bxx: Haunted (2012).  Mr. Osmond also taught acting, and in 2010 he published a book on acting and his life Acting is Living: Exploring the Ten Essential Elements in any Successful Performance.

Cliff Osmond was a gifted character actor, such that one could not really say that there was a specific character type for which he was best known. On My Living Doll he appeared as a pool shark, Fat Sam. In the movie The Front Page he appeared as a police officer, Jacobi. In The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again he appeared as wild west outlaw Wes Hardin (although it was a humorous take on the legendary outlaw). Over the years he appeared in everything from Billy Wilder comedies to cheap horror movies to Westerns. Indeed, he sometimes appeared in a major motion picture and a B-movie in the same year! Cliff Osmond was a consummate actor who was devoted to his craft, and it showed.

Fontella Bass

R & B singer Fontella Bass, best known for the hit song "Rescue Me," died on 26 December 2012 at the age of 72. The cause was complications from a recent heart attack.

Fontella Bass was born on 3 July 1940 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the daughter of  gospel singer Martha Bass. She took to music at a young age, even providing piano accompaniment for her mother. She toured with her mother until she was sixteen, when she left gospel to perform rhythm and blues.  She was seventeen when she began performing professionally at the Showboat Club near Chain of Rocks, Missouri Eventually she would play with blues guitarist Little Milton.  Originally playing piano with Little Milton's band, she went onto provide vocals as well.

Fontella Bass signed with Bobbin Records. While she would see some success in the St. Louis area, her records with Bobbin did not perform particularly well. After two years with Little Milton she left his band and went to Chicago. It was in 1965 that she was signed to Checker, a subsidiary of the legendary Chess Records. Her first singles, Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” and “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone)," were duets with Bobby McClure. Both did well on Billboard's rhythm and blues chart. Her third single would be her best known song and biggest hit. "Rescue Me" reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a hit in the UK as well, where it reached #11.

Fontella Bass released four more singles on the Checker label. While they did relatively well on the R&B chart, none of them matched the success of "Rescue Me." After only two years with Chess Records she left the label in a dispute over royalties owed to her. In 1969 she and her husband Lester Bowie moved to Paris, where she recorded two albums with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She late returned to the United States and released a solo album, Free, in 1972. Sadly, Free bombed on the charts. She then retired from singing professionally, except for the occasional vocal on her husband's albums and singing gospel music with her mother and her brother David Peaston.

Fontella Bass's career would be revitalised when there there was renewed interest in her records in the Nineties and Naughts. A greatest hits album, Rescued: The Best of Fontella Bass, was released in 1992. Over the years she would release three more albums: No Ways Tired (1995), Now That I Found a Good Thing (1996), and Travellin' (2001).

While Fontella Bass may not have a long career in rhythm and blues, she was still one of the genre's best singers. Her voice was powerful and emotive, and there can be no doubt that much of the reason for the success of "Rescue Me" was her powerful vocals. While others have covered the song, none have matched Miss Bass's vocals.

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