Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The Year My Childhood Died

Today is the last day of 2015. In some respects I have to say that it was an event filled one for me, at least with regards to this blog A Shroud of Thoughts, and my life as a classic film buff. Sadly, it was also a year that once more saw the deaths of many beloved stars of classic film, television, and music.

For me probably the biggest thing to happen this year was being chosen as a Fan Favourite on Turner Classic Movies. It was in January that TCM announced in posts on Google+, Instagram, and Facebook that they were looking for four more fans for their next Fan Favourites segment. I replied to their post on Google+ and explained why the film I chose was A Hard Day's Night (1964).  Needless to say, I was chosen as one of the four for TCM's spring Fan Favourites segment. On April 11 2015 I could then be seen on Turner Classic Movies introducing A Hard Day's Night. It was a very enjoyable experience and I have to thank Noralil (who is in charge of social media at TCM), Courtney, Mardy, and Ben Mankiewicz for insuring everything went smoothly! Here I have to point out that in 2014 I was a guest on the radio show Hollywood Time Machine With Alicia Mayer on which Josh  Mankiewicz was also a guest, which makes me think that I can only be on radio or TV unless a Mankiewicz is involved....

With regards to A Shroud of Thoughts, several days ago 2015 became the year with the second most posts (the year with the most was 2010, with a grand total of 272 posts). Given the way years fall on Blogger, I am guessing I will have a total of 264 posts for 2015. Here I have to point out that as far as Blogger is concerned, 2015 did not begin for A Shroud of Thoughts until January 4 2015 and won't end until January 2 2016! Anyway, this year once more saw a good number of classic television anniversary posts in September. Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, The Wild Wild West, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, and several other shows celebrated anniversaries. Fortunately, I don't think September 2016 I will be quite as busy with anniversary posts!

Sadly, I also wrote all too many eulogies for those who have died in 2015. In fact, a number of my all time favourite television stars from my childhood died this year. In fact, so many passed on that it felt as if my childhood was dying all at once. For me there was no bigger star than the great Patrick Macnee. It is no secret that The Avengers is my favourite TV show of all time and, aside from his partner Emma Peel, John Steed is my favourite TV character. While I knew Mr. Macnee was 93 and hence fairly old, I still mourned him terribly. In fact, it is still difficult for me not to cry when I think about him being gone.

Of course, Patrick Macnee was not the only member of The Avengers cast and crew to die this year. Brian Clemens, the writer and producer who largely shaped the show as we know it, also died. Brian Clemens's death also hit me hard. He not only worked on The Avengers but several other projects I love, including the classic Hammer film Kronos (1974).

Unfortunately, 2015 wasted no time when it came to the deaths of my favourite classic television stars. In fact, Donna Douglas, forever Elly May on The Beverly Hillbillies, died on New Years Day of this year. As the year progressed yet more favourite TV stars from my childhood died. Leonard Nimoy, who played my favourite Star Trek  character, Mr. Spock, died in February. Martin Milner, star of one of may all time favourite shows, Route 66, as well as Adam-12, died in September. For many Baby Boomer and Gen Xer men 2015 was a year of heartbreak as their childhood crushes died. For many men Yvonne Craig, Batgirl herself, was their first crush. For others it might have been Melody Patterson, Wrangler Jane on F Troop. I must confess I always had a soft spot for Betsy Palmer, long time panellist on I've Got a Secret.

The list of classic TV stars who died this year is not a short one and I know I will miss many who died this year: Gary Owens of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In; James Best, who guest starred on many Westerns over the years (and starred on The Dukes of Hazzard); Jayne Meadows, star of television, stage, and screen; Dick Van Patten, a frequent guest star on Sixties and Seventies television (and star of Eight is Enough); Judy Carne of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In; Jack Larson, forever remembered as Jimmy Olsen on Superman; Al Molinaro,who was Murray the Cop on The Odd Couple and Al on Happy Days; David Canary, who played Candy on Bonanza; Nicholas Smith, the last surviving original cast member of Are You Being Served?; and Marjorie Lord of Make Room for Daddy.

The year also saw the deaths of several of my all time favourite movie stars. Among the biggest name movie stars to die was none other than Sir Christopher Lee. For me, like many others, he will always be the definitive Dracula, although he starred in many other films as well, from The Wicker Man to Lord of the Rings. In fact, according to Guinness World Records, Sir Christopher Lee holds the record for the most film and television credits of any actor ever. Sadly, Sir Christopher Lee died only a little over two weeks before his old schoolmate Patrick Macnee.

Of course, the biggest name in classic film stars to die this year was probably Maureen O'Hara. She was my mother's all time favourite actress and one of mine as well. Miss O'Hara starred in so many classic films I love that it is hard to name them all:  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939); The Black Swan (1942); Miracle on 34th Street (1947); Rio Grande (1950); The Parent Trap (1961); and McLintock! (1963).  Aside from her sheer acting talent, Miss O'Hara was known as a feisty Irish redhead who did not suffer fools. In fact, she was the first major star to ever successfully sue a tabloid. Her lawsuit against Confidential was one of the factors that led to the decline of the magazine.

Dean Jones was not as big a name movie star as Maureen O'Hara, but he will always be fondly remembered by many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. He was the star of many Disney films in the Sixties, including That Darn Cat! (1965), The Ugly Dachshund (1966), and The Love Bug (1968). Of course, Mr. Jones made movies for more than just Disney. Among my favourites were Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) and Any Wednesday (1966).

2015 saw the deaths of some truly big name stars. Lizabeth Scott was arguably one of the Queens of Film Noir. Among the films noirs in which she appeared were The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946),      Dead Reckoning (1947), Desert Fury (1947), Too Late for Tears (1949),  Dark City (1950), and many others. Rod Taylor starred in some truly classic films, including The Time Machine (1960), The Birds (1963), Sunday in New York (1963), Darker than Amber (1970), and many others. Colleen Gray was a beautiful and versatile star who appeared in such films as Kiss of Death (1947), Nightmare Alley (1947), Red River (1948), and Kansas City Confidential (1952).  For many Louis Jourdan will always be the personification of charm. He starred in such classics as The Paradine Case (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Three Coins in the Fountain (1953), and The V.I.P.s (1963). Omar Sharif was a true legend who starred in such films as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Night of the Generals (1967), and Top Secret (1984). Nova Pilbeam starred in such classic films as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Young and Innocent (1937).  Ron Moody was actually a star of film, TV, and the stage. He starred in such films as The Mouse on the Moon (1963), played Fagin on stage in Oliver!, and appeared frequently on television. Other stars who died this year included Theodore Bikel, Joan Leslie, Wally Cassell, Movita Castaneda, and Setsuko Hara.

Of course, when it came to classic film it was not simply stars who died this year. For many the loss of director Wes Craven was heartbreaking. The quiet spoken, friendly Wes Craven was responsible for transforming the horror genre more than once with such films as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Scream (1996). Haskell Wexler was widely regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. He won the very last  last Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Black & White)  for his work on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). He worked on such films as The Loved One (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Bound for Glory (1976). Screenwriter  Don Mankiewicz, producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr., and movie critic Richard Corliss also died this year.

The year also saw the deaths of many major music stars. The one that had the most impact on me was the songbird Monica Lewis. This was not simply because Monica was an extraordinarily talented and extremely beautiful singer, but she was also one of the few famous people with whom I have ever interacted online. Monica Lewis was one of the sweetest people I have ever interacted with online and also one of the funniest. She had a wonderful, often self-deprecating sense of humour. In fact, I suspect most classic film buffs were just a little bit in love with her. Monica Lewis was a true multimedia star. She appeared in films, on television, and was the original voice of Chiquita Banana in animated commercials.

Lemmy was another major music star who died this year. One time bassist for Hawkwind and the founder, leader, and bassist of Motörhead, Lemmy transformed rock music. He would have an impact on such genres as punk, speed metal, and thrash metal, even though Lemmy insisted that he simply performed "rock and roll". Legendary blues artist B. B. King would have even a bigger impact on music, his influence being felt on whole genres (blues, rock 'n' roll, and rhythm and blues). He had an extraordinarily long career, performing his last concerts this year.

Lesley Gore was one of the biggest female pop stars of the mid-Sixties. Her song "It's My Party" would be a major hit, followed by such hits as "She's a Fool", "You Don't Own Me", and "California Nights". Cilla Black was one of the biggest female singers in Britain in the Sixties. She had several hits and was friends with The Beatles. Ben E. King had an extraordinary career, first with The Drifters and then solo. His song "Stand By Me" remains a standard. Chris Squire was a founding member of Yes and one of the leaders in the subgenre of progressive rock. Percy Sledge was a legendary R&B singer whose "When a Man Loves a Woman" remains a standard. With The Enemys and then Three Dog Night, Cory Wells became one of the best loved vocalists in rock music. Trevor "Dozy" Ward-Davies was the bassist for the highly successful British band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. Stevie Wright was the lead vocalist for The Easybeats, the first Australian band to achieve international stardom.

2015 also saw the death of beloved British author Sir Terry Pratchett. Well known for his Discworld series, he was extremely prolific. P. D. James was perhaps best known for her series of mysteries centred on Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. Fantasy author Tanith Lee was known for The Birthgrave Trilogy as well as her "Flat Earth" series. George Clayton Johnson wrote episode of The Twilight Zone, co-wrote the novel Logan's Run, and wrote many short stories. With regards to comic books, 2015 marked the end of an era. Irwin Hasen was known as the co-creator of the comic strip Dondi, but before that he had a career in comic books, working extensively on Green Lantern and co-created the superhero Wildcat. It is believed that he was the last surviving DC Comics artist from the Golden Age.

Of those who died in 2015, Stan Freberg was in a class all his own. He was a comedian, satirist, radio personality, voice artist, and advertising man. His career lasted seventy years and throughout it he did so many things that it is impossible to put him in one single category. One could call him "a jack of all trades", but he seemed to be a master of all of them. I figure he was a true renaissance man if ever there was one.

In some respects 2015 was a drab year with regards to popular culture. Once again theatres will filled with sequels and reboots. That is not to say that weren't a few things I would liked to have seen in theatres. Kingsman: The Secret Service looked to be an interesting take on the superspy genre. The Man From U.N.C..L.E. looked to be superior to most feature film remakes of TV shows. SPECTRE saw James Bond facing his old enemies once again (the first time since Diamonds Are Forever). I guess I don't have to mention that there is also a new Star Wars film out. The Force Awakens looks as if it is on course to become the highest grossing film of all time when not adjusted for inflation.

Television saw the end of two of my favourite shows of late. Mad Men is one of my favourite shows of all time. It is also widely considered one of the greatest shows of all time, with 16 Emmys to its name. It ended its run in a very good fashion (and fittingly with an iconic commercial). Downton Abbey also ended is run, although being in the U.S. I have yet to see it.

Of course, the big news in television may be the continued rise of streaming services. Netflix had several hit shows in the year, including Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Amazon Prime achieved its highest viewed original series with their adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. While I think it is far too soon to sound the death knell of broadcast television (in fact, I think it will take decades to die off), streaming television is certainly now a force to be reckoned with.

Right now it is impossible to say what 2016 will hold in store. I am certainly hoping Death will take a  holiday with regards to classic film and TV stars! I don't make resolutions myself (it seems to me resolutions are made to be broken), but I do make plans. Right now I plan to get my next book out early next year (with any luck). I also plan to post even more in this blog, if that's possible. And, of course, 2016 marks the centennial anniversary of actress Margaret Lockwood's birth. I have big plans for that. To all of you reading, then, "Happy New Year!"

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