Saturday, February 16, 2008

Actor David Groh Passes On

David Groh, perhaps best known for playing Joe Gerard on the sitcom Rhoda, passed on Tuesday at the age of 68 from kidney cancer.

David Groh was born in Brooklyn on May 21, 1939. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated Brown University with a degree in English literature. He served in the United States Army for a time. Groh acted with the American Shakespeare Theatre and studied acting in London under a Fullbright scholarship.

Groh made his screen debut in the Italian thriller Colpo rovente in 1969. He made his television debut on the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, appearing as a ghost in two episodes. Groh would appear in the movies Irish Whisky Rebellion and The Ringer in 1972, but the majority of his career would be spent on television. He was a regular on the soap opera Love is a Many Splendored Thing from 1972 to 1973. In 1974 he was cast in the role for which he was perhaps most famous, Joe Gerard on Rhoda. Rhoda was a spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which Mary's best friend Mary moved back to New York City. In the seventh episode of the series, Rhoda married Joe. The episode received immense publicity and drew incredible ratings. Groh would remain with the show until 1977, when Joe was written out as having divorced Rhoda.

For the next many years Groh would guest star on such TV shows as Police Story, Love Boat, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. He also appeared in the telefilms Victory at Entebbe, Murder at the Mardi Gras, and The Dream Merchants. In the Eighties Groh was a regular on General Hospital as D. L. Brock from 1983 to 1985. He would later make guest appearances on L. A. Law, Sisters, The X-Files, and Walker Texas Ranger. He was a regular on the series Black Scorpion. He had a small, recurring role on Law and Order as Dr. Jacob Lowenstein.

Although much of his career was spent in television, Groh also appeared in feature films. He appeared in the films Two-Minute Warning (1976), A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich (1978), The Return of Superfly (1990), Get Shorty (1995), and Blowback (2000).

Groh also had a career on stage. He appeared off Broadway in the play Be Happy for Me in 1985 and Road Show in 1987. He appeared on Broadway in the plays Chapter Two in 1978 and Twilight of the Golds in 1993.

David Groh was not simply a talented actor, but he was a dedicated one as well. A perfect example of this is the fact that he left the popular role of Brock on General Hospital to act in the off Broadway play Be Happy for Me, even though his cost of living in New York City was actually more than what he was being paid for the play. Not many actors would have probably done so, but for David Groh, his craft was more important than the bottom line.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Steve Gerber Passes On

A fellow Missourian and one of the giants of the comic book industry died recently. Steve Gerber, best known as the creator of Howard the Duck, died on Sunday at the age of 60 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis.

Steve Gerber was born in St. Louis on September 20, 1947. As a youngster Gerber corresponded with legendary comic book fans (and also fellow Missourians) Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas. While he was in his teens Gerber founded one of the earliest comic book fanzines, Headline. Gerber attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis, finishing his degree in Broadcasting at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He later attended St. Louis University where he earned a degree in Speech-Communications. After graduation he worked as a copywriter for a St. Louis ad agency.

Gerber entered the world of comic books through is friendship with Roy Thomas. In 1972 Thomas was editor in chief at Marvel Comics. He brought Gerber on board as an associate editor. This being a time when most editors wrote as well as edited, Gerber started fill in work on second string titles, such as Daredevil, Sub-Mariner, and The Defenders. He eventually moved onto Marvel's more popular titles, such The Fantastic Four, as well as writing for Marvel's various horror titles such as Creatures on the Loose and Adventure into Fear. It was during this period that he would either create or expand upon such characters as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Morbius the Living Vampire, and Shanna the She-Devil.

It was while writing for the series Man-Thing in the pages of Adventure into Fear that Gerber created his most legendary character. Howard the Duck first appeared in Adventure into Fear #19, December 1973. He was soon given his own series as a back up feature in Giant-Size Man-Thing. By 1976, Howard had graduated to his own title. Howard the Duck was primarily a work of satire, with the anthropomorphic, surly duck facing a variety of bizarre opponents from Bessie the Hellcow (a vampiric cow) to Relf the Elf with a Gun. Howard the Duck developed a large cult following that survives to this day. Just as things did not always go smoothly for Howard the Duck in the pages of his own comic book, so too did things not always go smoothly for Howard in the real world. Disney, believing Howard the Duck resembled their own Donald Duck a bit too much, sued Marvel Comics for what they felt was copyright infringement. While Disney's suit failed, it did result in Howard starting to wear trousers. When Howard the Duck finally made it to the big screen 1986 (produced by George Lucas), the movie failed at the box office and failed with critics as well.

Although best known for Howard the Duck, Gerber made other notable contributions to comic books as well. He was the creator and writer on the cult series Omega the Unknown. He was also the creator of one of Marvel Comic's better supervillains from the Seventies, The Foolkiller. a psychopathic murderer bent on killing fools. He also wrote what may have been the best run of The Defenders.

Gerber left Marvel around 1979. It was at that point that Gerber began a long struggle with Marvel over ownership of Howard the Duck. Sadly, Gerber never won ownership of Howard, although Marvel did eventually reach a settlement with him. In the years after he left Marvel, Gerber wrote Destroyer Duck (meant to raise money for his legal battle with Marvel) and Stewart the Rat for Eclipse Comics and various bits of work for DC Comics. Eventually he would return to Marvel, once more writing Howard the Duck as well as Void Indigo for the company's Epic Comics imprint. He would write Nevada for DC Comics under their Vertigo imprint, as well as the Hard Time (a mix of the superhero and prison genres...).

Although best known as the creator of Howard the Duck, Gerber's influence on the comic book industry goes much further than that. Gerber endowed so much of his work with his own creativity and his own personality that it is inconcievable that anyone else could write his characters. Quite simply, he took the medium of comic books and turned it into a tool for his own self expression. In this respect, he paved the way for such writers as Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison, Gerber also took comic books to places where they had rarely been before. At a time when the medium was still dominated by superheroes, Gerber not only turned Howard the Duck against many of the comic book cliches, but pop culture and current events. Of Howard's many opponents, Reverend Jun Moon Yuc was clearly a poke at Reverend Sun Myung Moon, while the leader of the group called S.O.O.F.I. (Save Our Offspring from Indecency) was clearly Anita Bryant. If writers in the comic book industry are now freer to express themselves than they once were, we largely have Steve Gerber to thank.

Beyond the impact he would have on writers in the comic book industry, Gerber would have an impact on the comic book industry in another way as well. Gerber was one of the first writers to express the idea that a creator should retain the rights to his characters. From the very beginnings of the comic book industry, it had always been understood that characters created for a comic book company belonged to that company. Gerber challenged this view. While he may not have been the first to do so, and while he ultimately lost in his fight to gain ownership of Howard the Duck, in the end he did succeed in legitimatising the rights of creators to control their creations. Today it is very common for creators to retain the ownership of their characters. This was certainly not the case in the Seventies when Gerber began his fight with Marvel. Steve Gerber was outspoken, bluntly honest, and even courageous. He once said, "I wouldn't describe myself as fearless, but I think you have to accept the possibility of failure if you want to achieve anything, in any field." It seems no one conquered his fear better than Steve Gerber.

Special Thanks: I must thank fellow mid-Missourian Winter of the Mid-Missouri Comics Collective for alerting me to Steve Gerber's death. You can read his eulogy of Gerber here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day 2008

Today is Valentine's Day. On this day lovers will exchange gifts and Valentine cards. Husbands will bring their wives chocolates and roses. Not a few couples will have romantic outings. And there will be many, many marriage proposals today. Sadly, not everyone out there has someone with whom to share this day. These people will spend today observing all the happiness around them without sharing in it. Not a few of them will long for some of that happiness for their very own. I would then like to take this time to remember those lonely people with a suitable video for today.....

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Roy Scheider R.I.P.

Roy Scheider, the Oscar nominated actor best known for his role in Jaws, passed this Sunday at the age of 75. He had fought multiple myeloma for many years. The immediate cause was a staph infection.

Roy Scheider was born November 10, 1932 in Orange, New Jersey. He attended Columbia High School in Mayfield, New Jersey. As a teenager he participated in boxing and baseball. He attended the both Rutgers University in New Jersey and Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. Scheider majored in history with the intention of going of into law. He served three years in the United States Air Force. Upon his release from the Air Force, he came back to Franklin and Marshall to perform in Richard III.

Scheider made his profession acting debut in 1961 in Romeo and Juliet at the New York Shakespeare Festival. He made his television debut on the daytime serial The Edge of Night in 1962. He made his film debut in 1964 in William Friedkin's B movie The Curse of the Living Corpse. In 1965 he was a regular on the soap opera Love of Life. He guest starred on the TV shows N.Y.P.D. and Coronet Blue. After appearing in small parts in such films as Loving and Puzzle of a Downfall Child, Scheider received his big break in 1971. It was that year he had significant roles in two extremely popular films--Klute and The French Connection. For his role in The French Connection he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

It was in 1975 that Scheider would appear in what may have been his best known role, that of Police Chief Martin Brody in Jaws. It was Brody who utter what may be the movie's absolute best line, "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Over the next several years Scheider would appear in the films Marathon Man, Sorcerer, All That Jazz (for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor), Blue Thunder, 2010, The Russia House, The Rainmaker, Naked Lunch (as Dr. Benway), and the upcoming film Iron Cross

Scheider also continued to appear, albeit infrequently, on television. He starred in the 1983 telefilm Jacobo Timerman: Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number and the 1990 telefilm Somebody Has to Shoot the Picture. He was the star of SeaQuest DSV for two seasons. He appeared in the HBO movie RKO 281 in the role as George Schaefer. He made a notable guest appearance on Law and Order: Criminal Intent in the episode "Endgame" as one of the few criminals who could successfully match wits with Detective Robert Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio).

Scheider also continued to appear on stage. In 1965 he made his Broadway debut in the play Tartuffe. In 1982 he appeared opposite Blythe Danner on Broadway in Betrayal.

There can be little doubt that Roy Scheider was one of the great actors of our time. If Jaws is one of the great films of recent memory, it is largely because of the performances of its leads--Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss. Not only did he deserve to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for Bob Fosse's autobiographical All That Jazz, there are those of us who believe he should have won (Dustin Hoffman won for Kramer vs. Kramer). Later in his life Scheider stopped playing the lead and started playing character roles. He was great as Dr. Benway in Naked Lunch and Mafioso Don Falcone in Romeo is Bleeding. While most people remember Scheider from Jaws, he deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Writers Strike May Be Over

For those of you who have not heard yet, it appears the Writers Strike may almost be over. Yesterday leaders of the Writers Guild of America recommended a deal to the guild's membership. They also stressed that if holding out for something better could be catastrophic. Today the WGA board met and unanimously passed a resolution which asks the Guild's members to vote on the new contract and end the current strike. If the WGA approves the new contract, they could be back at work as soon as Wednesday.

The current Writers Strike began November 5 of last year (which, perhaps fittingly, is Guy Fawkes Day in Britain...). Its immediate effect was to disrupt the current television season, as the broadcast networks soon found themselves running out of episodes of their TV series. Because of the strike, 24 will not even air this season. Originally pushed back to January of this year, Fox decided to wait until next season so all 24 episodes of the series could be broadcast without interruption. Other shows will air with only a few episodes this season. After all of their episodes aired this season, shows such as Chuck, Heroes, and Pushing Daisies won't be back until next season. Other shows were not so lucky. NBC cancelled both Bionic Woman and Journeyman. The rumour is that CBS has cancelled Cane.

Eventually, the Writers Strike's impact would go further than the broadcast networks. Because of the strike, there was no Golden Globes Awards ceremony this year. Similarly, the People's Choice Awards also had to take a different route as to their awards show as well. There was some fear that if the strike continues there might not be an Oscars ceremony this year. Perhaps the greatest measure of the effect of the strike is not in the TV shows or awards shows it sidelined, but in the sheer bottom line of it all. It is estimated that the strike has cost the the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers around one billion dollars.

Of course, the whole reason for the strike was a more fair distribution of money for the writers from DVDs, VHS tapes, and residuals from the Internet. That brings us to the deal currently on the table before the WGA members. Basically, this deal will guarantee that residuals for films and TV series sold online and gives the Guild jurisdiction over content specifically for the Internet, provided it exceeds certain budgets. It also gave writers a 3.5% raise in the minimum pay rates for work on TV and movie scripts.

Basically, the deal on the table will guarantee that residuals for films and TV series sold online and gives the Guild power over content created specifically for the Internet, provided it exceeds certain budget limits. The writers will also receive a 3.5% raise in the minimum pay rates for work on television and movie scripts. I must admit that so far the deal sounds good to me, although I do have one caveat with it. amely, the studios will be able to stream content for 17 to 24 days without paying the writers one red cent. Quite frankly, I think the studios should pay the writers the moment that they start streaming content.

That having been said, over all I think the writers have gotten a fairly good deal. And admittedly, had the strike continued longer, it could have had more far reaching, more severe effects than simply stopping the Academy Awards ceremony. Quite simply, it could have not only put a total stop to this TV season, but could have postponed the next one as well. And while this would seriously hurt the producers, it would also hurt the writers as well. After all, if no product is being produced, it means that there is also no money to made, not simply for the producers, but for everyone else invovled as well. While I do have that one misgiving about the deal currently on the table before WGA members, I can fully understand why they may well bring the strike to an end.