Saturday, September 26, 2009

Magazine Illustrator Bernie Fuchs and TV Producer Arnold Laven

Bernie Fuchs

Illustrator Bernie Fuchs, whose art has adorned everything from advertisements to magazines to postage stamps, passed at the age of 76 on September 17. The cause was oesophageal cancer.

Bernie Fuchs was born in 1932 in O'Fallon, Illinois. As a child he enjoyed drawing, but his passion was music. Until he was 18 his goal  in life was not to be an artist, but rather to be a jazz trumpeter. Working in a machine shop while in high school, an accident cost him three fingers on his right hand and hence any career he might have had as a jazz musician. He then enrolled in the art school at Washington University in St. Louis. He graduated from Washington University in 1954.

Bernie Fuchs was an admirer of the finer examples of illustration in advertisements. He had been particularly impressed by one particular illustration of a beer bottle with condensation dripping from it. His goal was to be good enough to simulate drops of water as the artist in that illustration had. He entered advertising illustration not long after his graduation from Washington University, first working for commercial studios which created art for the automotive industry. Bernie Fuchs approached illustrating automotive ads differently from any artist before him. Rather than simply featuring a car in an automotive showroom or on a city street, Fuchs placed his vehicles in more natural situations. His illustrations centred on Americans enjoying their car while on a picnic or at the beach. His illustrations were much more detailed than those of other artists when it came to  the individuals and surroundings in the ad.

While Bernie Fuchs' originally used the realist style common in advertising illustration in the Fifties, he eventually developed an impressionistic style all his own. His art was dominated by fluidity and a strong use of light. Becoming very much in demand in Detroit, it was not long before he was illustrating much more than automotive ads. He was soon handling ad campaigns for companies such as Coca-Cola and Seagram's. He also expanded into magazine illustration. He rendered art for magazines ranging from Look to TV Guide to Ladies Home Journal. He even created illustrations for the covers of many paperback books of the time.

By the mid-Seventies Bernie Fuchs was hired to provide illustrations for both postage stamps and children's books. By the Nineties his style of illustration had become passée, although Fuchs continued to create art. His works became very much in demand in art galleries.

There can be little doubt that Bernie Fuchs shaped the way the United States saw itself in the Fifties and Sixties. During the period he was the dominant illustrator in advertising, his work found in everything from magazines to the covers of paperback books. In fact, he might well be the most famous American illustrator short of Norman Rockwell. It was not simply that Fuchs was a great artist. He was also an innovator. In his car ads he focused as much, if not more so, on the people and the surroundings in the illustration as the car. What is more, he broke with the realistic style which had dominated American advertising for years. Fuchs broke new ground and did very well doing it. We probably won't see his like for some time to come.

Arnold Laven 

Arnold Laven, one of the founders of American television and film production company Levy-Gardner-Laven, passed on September 17, 2009 at the age of 87. The cause was complications from pneumonia. Levy-Gardner-Laven produced such shows as The Rifleman, Law of the Plainsman, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, and Big Valley.

Arnold Laven was born on February 13, 1922 in Chicago. His family moved to Los Angeles in the Thirties. It was there that he received his first job in the entertainment industry, as a mail room messenger at Warner Brothers. During World War II he served as part of the United States Air Force's First Motion Picture Unit, based out of Hal Roach Studios in Culver City. It was there that he met Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner, the co-founders of Levy-Gardner-Laven.

Following the war Arnold Leven worked as a script supervisor on films ranging from The Adventures of Gallant Bess to D.O.A. It was in 1951 that Laven, Levy, and Gardner formed Allart Productions, later to be renamed Levy-Gardner-Laven. The company's first production was the film Without Warning.  It was also the first film which Arnold Laven ever directed. Over the  next few years Levy-Gardner-Laven produced films such as Vice Squad, Down Three Dark Streets, The Monster That Challenged the World (all three films were directed by Laven), and The Vampire. In 1958 Levy-Gardner-Laven entered television production with an episode of Zane Grey Theatre.

It was in 1958 that Levy-Gardner-Laven produced the television series The Rifleman for Four Star Productions. The series centred on homesteader and widower Lucas McCain, well known for his skill with a rifle, and his son Mark. It had been Arnold Laven who suggested to writer Sam Peckinpah that the series focus on a father/son relationship. It was perhaps because of that relationship that the series would be a success. It ran for five years and 168 episodes. It produced a spinoff in the form of Law of the Plainsman, which debuted in 1959. It was also produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven for Four Star Productions. It would prove less successful than The Rifleman, lasting only one season. It was in 1959 that The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor would also debut. It was another series which would be produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven. The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor ran for three full seasons.

Although Levy-Gardner-Laven had entered television production, it did not mean that they had ceased producing films nor did it mean that Arnold Laven stopped directing movies. In 1962 Levy-Gardner-Laven produced the film Geronimo, directed by Laven. It was in 1965 that the company produced The Glory Guys, also directed by Laven. A film which Laven did not direct, but which Levy-Gardner-Laven produced, was the Elvis Presley vehicle Clambake.

It was in 1965 that Levy-Gardner-Laven produced another television series, again in conjunction with Four Star Productions. The Big Valley centred on a widower and her family on a ranch in California in the 1870's. The show proved successful, running four seasons before going onto a strong syndication run. The Big Valley would be the last show produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven. Thereafter the company produced movies, including Underground, The McKenzie Break, Kansas City Bomber, Brannigan, and Gator. Their last film was Safari 3000 in 1982, although Levy-Gardner-Lavne maintains an office in Hollywood to this day.

Arnold Laven directed his last film, Sam Whiskey, in 1969. He would continue to direct TV shows, including Dan August, Marcus Welby M.D., The Magician, Mannix, Ironside, Rafferty, The Rockford Files, Planet of the Apes, Hill Street Blues, and The A-Team. His last work as a director was on the short lived show Lady Blue.

As a producer Arnold Laven was involved in two classic television series, The Rifleman and The Big Valley. He several hours of television shows and even motion pictures. He had a talent for working with a limited budget as a director, often producing surprisingly good results on a shoestring budget.  As both a producer and a director he was very talented.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Actor Frank Coghlan Jr. & Rocker Jim Carroll Pass On

Frank Coghlan Jr.

Actor Frank Coghlan Jr., the actor who played Billy Batson in the classic serial Adventures of Captain Marvel, passed at the age of 93 on September 7.

Frank Coghlan Jr. was born in New Haven, Connecticut on March 15, 1916. While he was still an infant, his parents moved to Los Angeles, California. Billed as Junior Coghlan, he made his film debut in a bit part in Daredevil Jack in 1920. He soon found steady employment as a child actor, appearing in such films as Rookies, The Fourth Muskeeteer, and The Spanish Dancer. As his career progressed, his parts became more visible, and he appeared in such films as The Yankee Clipper, The Country Doctor, and The Girl Said No.

Frank Coghlan Jr.'s career was very steady throughout the Thirties. He appeared in a small part in The Public Enemy in 1931. He played Uncas in the 1932 version of The Last of the Mohicans. He also had roles in Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Angels with Dirty Faces, The Angels Wash Their Faces, and Meet Dr. Christian. He had an uncredited role as a collapsing Confederate soldier in Gone With the Wind, and as a messenger in Knute Rockne All American. It was in 1941 that he played the role of Billy Batson, the alter ego of Captain Marvel, in Adventures of Captain Marvel. He went onto appear in such films as The Courtship of Andy Hardy, Andy Hardy's Double Life, Presenting Lily Mars, and Corvette K-225.

Frank Coghlan Jr. served as an aviator in the Navy during World War II. Ultimately, he spent 23 years in the Navy. For many years he served as the Navy's liaison with Hollywood. In this capacity he served as a technical advisor on films ranging from PT 109 to The Caine Mutiny. He retired in 1965 with the rank of lieutenant commander and over 4500 hours of flight time.

Frank Coghlan Jr. resumed acting in 1965 with a guest appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies. He went onto appear in small parts in the films # The Shakiest Gun in the West, Valley of the Dolls, The Love-Ins, and The Sand Pebbles. He also guest starred on the shows The Outcasts, Dragnet 1966, and, fittingly, Shazam (the Saturday morning TV show about Captain Marvel).

Frank Coghlan Jr.'s career in talkies was spent primarily in bit parts. It is for this reason that he is primarily known as Billy Batson from Adventures of Captain Marvel. Coghlan did very well in the part, so much so that it is surprising that his roles in other films weren't bigger. Beyond his acting career, Coghlan had an extraordinary career in the Navy, for which he should also be remembered. During his naval career he flew during both World War II and the Korean War.

Jim Carroll

Punk rocker and author Jim Carroll passed on September 11, 2009 at the age of 60. The cause was a heart attack.

Jim Carroll was born in New York City on August 1, 1949. He started out in public schools, but soon won a scholarship to the private Trinity High School. He was interested in both writing and basketball. His talent in the latter led him to participate in the National High School All Star Game in 1966. He attended both Wagner College and Columbia University in New York.

As a writer Jim Carroll published his first book, Organic Trains, when he was 17. His poetry was published in such periodicals as The Paris Review. By 1973 he had two collections of poetry published--4 Ups and 1 Down and Living at the Movies. It was in 1978 that Carroll wrote his most famous work, The Basketball Diaries. It was later adapted into a motion picture.

It was also in 1978 that Jim Carroll formed his own band. Carroll had met Patti Smith in 1970 and the two were soon living together. It was Smith who brought Carroll in the punk rock fold. He released his first album, Catholic Boy, in 1980. It featured what remains his best known song "People Who Died." He would release four more albums (Dry Dreams, I Write Your Name, Pools of Mercury, and Runaway.

Carroll published four more collections of poetry, as well as the follow up to The Basketball Diaries, Forced Entries.

While I've never read any of Jim Carroll's poetry or prose, I know that he was well regarded in both media. In fact, The Basketball Diaries was considered for the Pulitzer. I have heard his songs and I must say he was very talented as a lyricist. Indeed, his lyrics seemed the perfect expression of the nihilism inherent in the punk movement. I am not sure any other lyricist captured the genre quite so well.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Television Writer George Eckstein and Columnist Army Archerd Pass On

George Eckstein

George Eckstein, who wrote for such TV series as The Untouchables and The Fugitive (including that show's two part final episode), passed on September 12 at the age of 81. The cause was lung cancer.

George Eckstein was born in Los Angeles, California on May 3, 1928. He attended Beverly Hills High School. He graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in theatre arts and from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a master's degree in theatre arts. He served in the United States Army from 1953 to 1955. Afterwards he received a legal degree at the University of Southern California. In 1959 he produced the Broadway show The Billy Barnes Revue.

George Eckstein was working as a casting director and business manager when he sold his first script for a television series for The Untouchables in 1961. He went on to write eight more episodes of the show. Eckstein wrote for such shows as Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, and Felony Squad before his work on The Fugitive. He wrote his first episode for the show in its first season, and went onto write eight more. Eckstein's final episode for the show was its two part season finale, the half of which was for a time the highest rated hour of television. It was through The Fugitive that Eckstein entered television production, becoming a producer on the show in 1965.

Following his work on The Fugitive, Eckstein continued to write for various shows, including The Invaders, The Outcasts, and Cannon. He also wrote teleplays for various TV movies, including House on Greenapple Road, the 1985 television version of The Bad Seed, and a television adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel Murder with Mirrors. George Eckstein produced such series as The Name of the Game, Banacek, Griff, Love, Sidney. He produced several television movies, among them Duel, the first film directed by Stephen Spielberg. Others he produced were a 1971 TV version of Death Takes a Holiday, Tail Gunner Joe, Travis McGee, and Six Against the Rock.

Army Archerd

Army Archerd, longtime reporter and columnist for Daily Variety, passed on September 8, 2009 at the age of 87. He had worked for the newspaper for over fifty years.

Army Archerd was born Armand Archerd in the Bronx on January 13, 1922. In 1939 he moved with his family to Los Angeles. There he attended the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduation he enlisted in the Navy. He would attend officer training at Columbia University. While waiting to go to officer training, Archerd worked in the Paramount mail room. He served aboard a destroyer mine sweeper in the Pacific, on which one of his duties was movie officer. In love with film even then, he would sometimes trade some of the ship's fresh vegetables to get newer movies from larger ships.

In 1944 Army Archerd was hired by reporter Bob Thomas for Associated Press as legman to help gather Hollywood items for his column. In 1947 Archerd left Associated Press to work for columnist Harrison Carroll of The Los Angeles Herald-Express. It was in 1953 that Army Archerd was hired by Daily Variety as a replacement for columnist Sheilah Graham. His first column, "Just for Variety," debuted on April 27 of that year. He wrote the column for 53 years. Archerd also reported Hollywood news for a time on the 11 o'clock news on Los Angeles television station KNXT-TV. For 47 years he served as the official greeter on the red carpet for the Academy Awards. For many years he was the host of the People's Choice Awards.

Army Archerd would appear in movies and on TV shows, most often as himself. He made his television debut in an episode of The Roaring Twenties and went onto appear in such shows as Burke's Law, Batman, The Big Valley, That Girl, Mannix, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Adam-12, Murphy Brown, and Ellen. Among the movies he in which he appeared were Teacher's Pet, What a Way to Go,, The Oscar, Planet of the Apes, Wild in the Streets, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Devil and Max Devlin, California Suite, and Gable and Lombard.