Sunday, December 31, 2017

Farewell to 2017

I think I can speak for many when I say that 2017 was not the best of years, and for many reasons. As to myself, it was this past October that we had to put our old cat George down, as he was going into kidney failure and there was nothing more we could do for him. That is not to say that 2017 was all bad. With regards to myself, I published two short books this year (That Was Halloween: Essays on the Holiday and Country Comedies: The Rural Sitcoms of the Sixties). I also finally broke down and got a smart phone, although I mostly use it for posting to Instagram. One of the best things about last year is that I started reading more last year. I have always read a lot of non-fiction, but most of it the past many years has been as research for my writing. This year I started reading fiction regularly again. I read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon this year, which has been a goal of mine since childhood.

With regards to popular culture, 2017, like previous years of late, saw the deaths of several important figures in pop culture. For classic film buffs this usually would mean the passings of beloved actors from the Golden Age. That having been said, I think this it is safe to say that for most classic film buffs, at least those who are fans of Turner Classic Movies, the death that had the most impact was the passing of TCM host and film historian Robert Osbourne. Robert had been with Turner Classic Movies from the beginning and was much loved by the channel's fans. Quite simply, he was the face of the channel. Always congenial when meeting fans, he was a much loved figure among TCM fans. Even those of us who never met him thought of him as a friend or even a dear uncle. While some truly big names died in 2017, I don't think any of them saw the outpouring of grief among TCM fans that Robert's death did.

At any rate, 2017 could be a truly brutal year at times with regards to the deaths of beloved actors and actresses. The week of January 22 saw the deaths of Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara Hale, Mike Connors, Sir John Hurt, Emmanuelle Riva, and yet others. It was a particularly rough week for me. Like many men my age I'd had a crush on Mary Tyler Moore since I was toddler watching her in reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show. I saw the entire run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as it originally aired. She was a true television pioneer. Of course, as much as it hurt to lose Mary Tyler Moore, it hurt me even more to lose Barbara Hale the following day. Like many I first took notice of Miss Hale as Perry Mason's intelligent, efficient, and beautiful secretary Della Street. It was as an adult that I learned that she had also been a bona fide movie star. Seeing her in many interviews over the years, I have to confess I was always a little bit in love with Barbara Hale. She wasn't simply beautiful, but intelligent, warm, and filled with an enthusiasm for life that shined from her. Like many fans I also mourned the loss of Sir John Hurt, who only died a few days later. A true chameleon, he played many different roles in his career and played all of them well.

Mary Tyler Moore wasn't the only veteran of The Dick Van Dyke Show to die this year. Rose Marie died only a few days ago. She was a true pioneer with a career that spanned nine decades. She began performing as a toddler and never really retired. While best known as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, as Baby Rose Marie she had been a superstar on vaudeville and radio in the Thirties. Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie were not the only icons from my childhood to die this year. Indeed, some of my boyhood heroes also died. Many might best remember Sir Roger Moore as James Bond, but for me he will always be Simon Templar on The Saint. In fact, he played the role so well that I honestly can't see anyone else in the role. Like many, Adam West was the first actor I ever saw as Batman. And while many have since played the character, often in movies that were more faithful to the comic books than the classic Sixties TV series, when I picture Batman in my head it is always Adam West I see. Martin Landau played another one of my childhood heroes, master of disguise Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible. Of course, he was an extremely versatile actor who played many other roles as well, including Commander John Koenig on Space 1999, Leonard in North by Northwest, Judah Rosenthal in Crimes and Misdemeanours, and many more.

While many notable musicians died in 2017, the two that had the most impact on me were Tom Petty and Pat DiNizio. Like many people my age, Tom Petty provided much of the soundtrack for my teens and young adulthood. Pat DiNizio was the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter for one of my all time favourite bands, The Smithereens. Of course, 2017 saw some true music legends die. An argument can be made that Chuck Berry and Fats Domino invented rock 'n' roll. Chris Cornell was the lead vocalist of one of my favourite bands of all time, Soundgarden. Malcolm Young also belonged to one of my favourite bands of all time, AC/DC. Over the course of 2017, we lost such music legends as Pete Overend Watts of Mott the Hoople, J. Geils of The J. Geils Band, George Young of The Easybeats, and singer Della Reese.

Several other celebrities who meant a good deal to me died this year: June Foray (possibly the greatest voice artist of all time), Professor Irwin Corey (comic and activist often billed as "The World's Foremost Authority"), actor Powers Boothe, Anne Jeffreys (who made many movies, but may be best known as ghost Marion Kerby on Topper), Robert Guillaume (a versatile actor best known as TV's Benson), Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.), and David Cassidy (forever Keith Partridge for many of us). The death of character actor Brent Briscoe was a bit personal for me. He was only a few years older than me and a native of Randolph County. While I did not know Brent well, I had spoken to him from time to time, and I was always happy to see him on screen. Not only was he a terrific actor, but he was a truly nice guy as well.

Ultimately 2017 saw the deaths of so many it would be difficult to summarise them all in one article. There were deaths of movie stars (Bill Paxton, Clifton James, Jeanne Moreau, and Harry Dean Stanton), television stars (Francine York, Dick Gautier, Miguel Ferrer, Lola Albright, Tim Pigott-Smith, Jay Thomas, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Richard Anderson, Bernie Casey, and John Hillerman), comedians (Bill Dana, Dick Gregory, and Don Rickles), comic book legends (Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson), and more.

With regards to television, I think 2017 saw viewers move further away from the broadcast networks, and more towards cable channels and streaming services. This year most of the new shows I watched were either on Netflix, Hulu, or some cable channel. While I continued to watch old favourites on the networks (the DC superhero shows on The CW, Superstore, and The Good Place), I didn't watch anything new on them. I don't know if my viewing habits reflect those of the average viewer, but if they do, the networks could be in trouble.

As to movies, I have to confess I saw no new movies in theatres this year. It's not that I don't want to see movies in the theatre. It is a simple case that ticket prices are such that I often cannot afford to go. For that reason I really can't address any of the new movies that came out this year. I am hoping I can actually start attending movies again regularly in 2018.

Over all I don't think 2017 was a very good year for many of us. I think I speak for many when I say that I hope 2018 will be much better.

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