Saturday, September 22, 2007

Alice Ghostley Passes On

Performer of stage, screen, and television, Alice Ghostley passed yesterday at the age of 81 after a long struggle with colon cancer. She is perhaps best known for her roles as Esmerelda on Bewitched and Cousin Alice on Mayberry R.F.D..

Ghostley was born in Eve, Missouri on April 14, 1926. She spent most of her childhood in Henryetta, Oklahoma. She attended the University of Oklahoma, but ended her studies to pursue her acting career. Her first big break was in the Broadway production Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952. Besides playing characters in its various skits, Ghostley also sang the song "The Boston Beguine." Although she rarely displayed the talent in her roles in sitcoms and movies, Ghostley had a gifted singing voice.

While Ghostley was perhaps best known to the general public for her many parts in sitcoms and movies, she also had an extensive stage career. Among the Broadway productions she appeared in were Shangri-La, The Beauty Part, The Sign in Sidney Burnstein's Window, and Annie. She was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role in The Beauty Part in 1963. She won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role in The Sign in Sidney Burnstein's Window in 1965.

Of course, despite an acclaimed stage career, Ghostley was perhaps best known for her roles on television. She made her first appearance on the small screen in 1953 in an episode of the series Freedom Rings. She played one of the ugly stepsisters in the 1957 television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and appeared twice on The Hallmark Hall of Fame (once reprising her role from Broadway's Shangri-La. It was in the Sixties that her television career really took off. She guest starred on such shows as Car 54, Where Are You, The U.S. Steel Hour, Naked City, and Get Smart. By the early Seventies she started playing recurring roles on shows. It was in 1970 that she took the part of Cousin Alice on Mayberry R.F.D.. In 1970 she would also join the cast of Bewitched, as timid witch and housekeeper to the Stevens Esmeralda. Throughout the Seventies and into the Nineties she guest starred on such shows as Nichols, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Good Times, Trapper John M.D., Diagnosis Murder, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She had the recurring role of Bernice on Designing Women and Irna on Evening Shade. She was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for playing Bernice on Designing Women.

Ghostley also had an extensive movie career. Her first feature film appearance was in the classic To kill a Mockingbird, where she played Aunt Stephanie. She would go onto appear in My Six Loves, The Flim-Flam Man, Rabbit Test, Grease, and The Odd Couple II.

Ghostley was an immensely talented character actress who could play a wide variety of roles. Unlike many character actors who often found themselves playing the same sort of roles over and over, Ghostley played a wide array of parts in her career. This can perhaps best be seen in contrasting what may be her two best known roles. As Cousin Alice on Mayberry R.F.D., she was a self-sufficient woman (she had served in the Army for years) with a large number of talents (from cooking to music), which she could all perform equally well. As Esmeralda on Bewitched, she was exceedingly shy (she would literally fade from view any time Darrin was around) and even a bit inept when it came to performing witchcraft. Despite the vast difference in the roles, Ghostley played both equally well. She was a very gifted actress, with a talent particularly for comedy. I doubt she will be forgotten any time soon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Percy Rodrigues R.I.P.

Many of you might not recongise the name of Percy Rodrigues, but you probably recognise his face and his voice. A frequent guest star on television shows in the Sixties and Seventies, Rodrigues was the epitome of strength, moral fortitude, and intelligence in his many roles. He passed on September 6 at the age of 89 from kidney failure.

Of African and Portuguese descent, Rodrigues was born in Montreal, Quebec, on June 13, 1918. His father deserted the family while Rodrigues was still young, and he was forced to find work while still a teenager. He took up boxing professionally. He also began looking for work as an actor, eventually joining Negro Theatre Guild in Montreal. He won an acting award at the Canadian Drama Festival in 1939. Despite this, he had trouble finding roles, and for much of the Forties he worked as a tool maker and machinist.

Gifted with a deep, resonant voice, it was in the Fifties that Rodrigues began doing voiceover work. He narrated the 1955 Canadian documentary short No Longer Vanishing and the 1957 Canadian documentary short Honey Bees and Pollination. He also made his first appearance on television, in a guest appearance on the Canadian series Radisson (called Tomahawk in the States). In 1960 he made his first appearance on Broadway in Toys in the Attic. In 1964 he appeared on Broadway in Blues for Mr. Charlie.

The Sixties saw Rodrigues become a fixture on American television, as he began guest starring on many shows. Among the shows in the Sixties he guested on were Naked City, Route 66, Ben Casey, The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Star Trek (playing Commodore Stone in "Court Martial"). He also became a regular on the nighttime soap Peyton Place, playing neurosurgeon Dr. Harry Miles. He also appeared in the films The Plainsman, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and The Sweet Ride.

During the Seventies Rodrigues continued to make guest appearances on television shows, including Mission Impossible, Ironside, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons. He appeared in the films The Legend of Hillbilly John and Invisible Stranger. He also continued to do voiceover work, most notably for the trailer to a film called Jaws. He would also provide voice work for the film Galaxina and the animated feature Heavy Metal. Rodrigues retired from acting in 1987, but continued to do voiceovers on occasion.

Handsome and of a regal bearing, Percy Rodrigues was a trailblazer who broke the colour barrier on television and the stage. Immensely talented, he could convincingly play the leader of a nation or a power mad villain. Short of James Earl Jones, he perhaps had the best voice in the business. It is truly saddening to think he is gone.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brett Somers R.I.P.

Well, it seems as if the veterans of Match Game are going all at once. Charles Nelson Reilly died recently. Now actress Brett Somers is gone. She passed on September 15 at the age of 83 from stomach and colon cancer.

She was born Audrey Johnston in New Brunswick. She was raised near Portland, Maine. At the age of seventeen she left for New York City to become an actress. While appearing in various plays, she also appeared on various anthology series on television, such as Producer's Showcase, Robert Montgomery Presents, and Kraft Television Theatre. She would also guest star on such series as Have Gun Will Travel, The Defenders, The Fugitive, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Although a stage actress, Somers had only one Broadway credit to her name. The 1958 play Maybe Tuesday became a running joke for her--it closed after only five performances. Despite this, she had an extensive career in theatre, appearing in such plays as The Country Girl, Happy Ending, and The Seven Year Itch.

Brett Somers married Jack Klugman in 1953. It would be through Klugman that she gained much of her fame. She appeared in Jack Klugman's sitcom The Odd Couple as Oscar's ex-wife Blanche (Oscar was played by Klugman). It was during the first week of Match Game '73 that he recommended Somers as part of the game show's panel. Somers proved to be one of the three mainstays of the show, alongside Charles Nelson Reilly and Richard Dawson. Equipped with a razor sharp wit a keen sense of humour, Somers more than held her own with the boys on the panel.

As I've said before, I watched Match Game loyally as a child, and I always thought Brett Somers was hilarious. Alongside Charles Nelson Reilly, she was easily the best thing about the show. She was a gifted comedian who could come up with the funniest lines off the top of her head. It is very sad to think she is gone.

Monday, September 17, 2007

2006-2007 Emmy Awards

For once I cannot complain too much about the Emmy Awards. Oh, I harped a bit about the nominations (Why wasn't Lost or The Wire nominated for Outstanding Drama Series?), but I'll admit that I cannot complain about most of the winners.

I will confess that I would have rather Entourage had won Outstanding Comedy Series, but I must admit being happy that 30 Rock won. After Entourage it is easily be best comedy currently on the air. And it certainly deserved to win than Two and Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine (I am still not sure how they were even nominated). I do wish that Kevin Dillon had won the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy award. As Drama on Entourage he is easily one of the best things about the show. That having been said, I am at least glad that his co-star Jeremy Piven (who plays amoral agent Ari Gold) took the award. I am also happy The Office got some recognition, for Outstanding Writing on a Comedy Series.

As to the Drama category, I don't think anyone can complain that The Sopranos won the Outstanding Drama award, even if neither The Wire nor >Lost were nominated. And Terry O'Quinn, who plays Locke on Lost, definitely deserves his Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor on a Drama.

That having been said, I cannot say I was entirely happy with the awards. I was disappointed to see Kathrine Heigl won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama. I don't think anyone in the cast of Grey's Anatomy deserves an Emmy (although, I must admit, they are given very little to work with). I guess I can be happy that it was the only award the show walked away with. I'm also not too happy that James Spader too the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama. To me the award rightfully belongs to Hugh Laurie, House on, well, House.

At any rate, given the nominations this year, it could have been much much worse. Grey's Anatomy could have won Outstanding Drama. Two and a Half Men could have won Outstanding Comedy. Worse yet, Grey's Anatomy could have swept. Given the alternative, I will gladly accept the Emmy Awards as they unfolded in reality.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The 119th Annual Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair

This weekend (well, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday actually) was the 119th Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair. It is a time honoured tradition that has taken place the second week of September for decades, come rain or shine. It has also changed a good deal over the years.

Fairs date back centuries ago, so long ago that I doubt anyone can say precisely when they began. Rome had its holidays when all labour ceased. In the Middle Ages at various religious festivals tradesmen would bring their wares out for sale. Naturally, when the British, French, and Spanish settled the Americas, they brought their own fairs with them. And, eventually, as in the case of the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair, we created a few of our own.

The Old Settlers Reunion was created to honour the earliest settlers of Randolph and Macon Counties, even though it is now an event peculiar to Randolph County alone. In fact, the first reunion was held in Macon itself. In those the days the fair was rotated from town to town. Several of the early reunions were held in Jacksonville (in Randolph County), I suppose because it is the town in Randolph closest to Macon County. It was first held in its current home, the Randolph County Seat of Huntsville, in 1896. It remained in Huntsville until 1901 (I think it was held in Moberly that year, although I am not absolutely certain of that). In 1902 the reunion returned to Huntsville, where it has remained all these years.

I have no idea when Macon County dropped out of the reunion, although I assume it was fairly early. I believe it was in the Thirties that Randolph County held its first fair in the summer. After only a few years, that fair would merge with the Old Settlers Reunion, so that it would become "the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair," as it is known today.

One thing I do know is that it is not nearly as big an event as it once was. Quite simply, it was the social event of Randolph County of the year. I remember when I was a child, there would be many booths with games (generally operated by the various local organisations, such as the Boy Scouts and so on), vendors' booths, and usually a carnival would come to town as well. We have not had a carnival at Old Settlers in years and there are hardly any more booths with games any longer. Only the vendors' booths remain, and it seems to me they are far fewer than they once were. It also seems to me that the events are fewer in number as well, although I cannot be certain of that. Maybe it seems that way to me now because I miss so much of the fair because of work. I do know that my parents told me and people their age still tell me that the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair was even bigger when they were young than when I was a child!

It is hard to say why the Randolph County Reunion and Fall Fair is smaller now. I think much of it has to do with the school schedule. Until I was in about fifth grade, they would let school at 1:00 PM on the Thursday and Friday of Old Settlers. This gave children a chance to participate in the various events at the fair. I suspect that they stopped letting school out early because of Missouri laws regarding how long schools should be open. Personally, I think that instead they should have simply given up Columbus Day or Labour Day or some other national holiday, one that is ultimately less important to Randolph County than Old Settlers.

Of course, I think something else that may have made Old Settlers smaller is the possibility that many Randolph Countians may be convinced that it is primarily a Huntsville event. For that reason many people from the various towns in Randolph County, beyond Huntsville, don't even bother to attend Old Settlers. Indeed, the past few years Cairo has been holding their Pioneer Days the same weekend! The fact is that the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair is a county wide event for everyone living here. It is open to all Randolph County residents. I am a bit puzzled, then, why Cairo is now scheduling Pioneer Days during the second weekend of September, in direct competition with Old Settlers. Old Settlers has always been the second week of September, with but a few exceptions. And I believe that originally Pioneer Days was held the third week of September. Since the second weekend of September is the traditional date of the Randolph, since Pioneer Days was originally held the third week of September, and since many Huntsvillians would like to attend Pioneer Days (I know I would) and many Cairo people would probably like to attend Old Settlers, I think Cairo should move Pioneers Days back to the third week of September.

At any rate, I would like to see the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair returned to its former glory. Every single school in Randolph County should let out early during the fair. Every single town in the county should take part. We should have more booths and more events. And we should try to make sure there is a carnival every single year. The Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair is a very old tradition in this county and a very important one. It is certainly much too important to let it die on the vine.