Saturday, January 30, 2010

Zelda Rubinstein R.I.P.

Zelda Rubinstein, who played the psychic in the Poltergeist movies and Ginny Weeden on the series Picket Fences, passed on January 27 at the age of 76.

Zelda Rubinstein was born on May 28, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned a degree in bacteriology from the University of Pittsburgh. For many years she was a medical lab technician in blood banks and did not begin her acting career until she was in her forties. Her first work was voice work on The Flintstones Comedy Show in 1980. She made her film debut as Iris in Under the Rainbow. It was in 1982 that she appeared in the movie Poltergeist as psychic Tangina. She also appeared in the sequels Poltergeist II and Poltergeist III. In the Eighties she appeared in the movies Frances, Sixteen Candles, Angustina, and Teen Witch. She guest starred on the shows Jennifer Slept Here, Matt Houston, The Tortellis, and Sable.

In the Nineties she appeared in the movies Guilty as Charged, The Last Resort, Timemaster, Critics and Other Freaks, Mama Dolly, and Frank in Five. She appeared in the TV movie The Gambler: The Luck of the Draw and guest starred on the shows Tales from the Crypt, Martin, and Caroline in the City. She played Ginny on Picket Fences from 1992 to 1994. In the Naughts Rubenstein appeared in the films Maria and Jose, Wishcraft, Cages, Angels with Angles, Unbeatable Harold, and Southland Tales. She guest starred on The Pretender and was the narrator of the series The Scariest Places on Earth.

Zelda Rubinstein founded the Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theatre Company in Los Angeles, named in honour of the actor who played Glocken in Ship of Fools and best known as Dr. Miguelito Loveless on The Wild Wild West. The company was comprised entirely of little people. She was also an early AIDS activist, appearing as the mother in commercials for the Los Angeles Cooperative AIDS Risk-Reduction Education Service.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Late Great J. D. Salinger

Reclusive author J. D. Salinger died Wednesday at the age of 91. He is best known as the author of the classic novel The Catcher in the Rye.

Jerome David Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 in New York City. As of his birth, his family was living in Harlem, but soon moved to West 82nd Street and later Park Avenue. He attended McBurney School in New York City but flunked out after only two years. He was then shipped off to Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The he was the manager of the academy's fencing team and editor of the yearbook, Crossed Swords. Salinger attended New York University for a few weeks before dropping out to learn the business of selling ham from his father. Deciding he had little interest in the family business, Salinger then attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania briefly. For the most part higher education would make little impact on J. D. Salinger, with the exception of a night class he took at Columbia University under Whit Burnett in 1939. It was that class which would lead J. D. Salinger to his first sale, the short story "The Young Folks" to Story  magazine. Afterwards he sold stories to Esquire, Colliers, and The Saturday Evening Post.

It was in 1941 that he made his first sale to The New Yorker. The story, "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," made the magazine so nervous that they held off publishing it for five years. It was finally published in 1946 and would later provide fodder for one of the scenes in The Catcher in the Rye.  During World War II Salinger was draughted and served in the Counter-Intelligence Corps of the Fourth Infantry Division. He was among the troops who landed at Utah Beach and later saw action in the Battle of the Bulge. He ended the war hospitalised for combat fatigue.

Following the war J. D. Salinger returned to New York and resumed his writing career. In 1948 The New Yorker published "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" to much acclaim. This was the beginning of a close relationship between Salinger and the magazine, who afterwards published several of his stories including "For Esmé - with Love & Squalor," "Franny and Zooey (later the basis for the book of the same name)," "Just Before the War with the Eskimos," and others. He even became close friends with The New Yorker's legendary editor William Shawn.

It was on July 16,1951 that The Catcher in the Rye was published. The genesis of the novel apparently went back to the early Forties, as Salinger told several people that he was writing a novel based around Holden Caulfield, the hero of his short story "Slight Rebellion Off Madison." As published the novel followed Caulfield in New York City after his expulsion from an exclusive prep school. Initial reaction to the novel was decidedly mixed, with reactions ranging from rave reviews to attacks on Salinger's writing style and his use of both sex and profanity. By the end of the Fifties, however, the novel had developed a cult among the nation's youth. Even after becoming regarded as a classic, however, it would still be banned in many high school libraries, and even remains so to this day.

In 1953 J. D. Salinger followed The Catcher in the Rye with the publication of the anthology Nine Stories (known as For Esmé – with Love and Squalor in the UK).  It was that same year that Salinger moved from New York City to Cornish, New Hampshire. Initially in Cornish he was friendly to the local youth, until one of them interviewed him for the school paper. The interview appeared on the editorial page of the local newspaper. Salinger then cut off all contact with the local teenagers and only associated with one local resident, the renowned Judge Learned Hand, with any frequency.

Living the life of a recluse, J. D. Salinger continued to write stories for The New Yorker and other magazines. In 1961 he published the book Franny and Zooey, which examined the lives of sister and brother Franny and Zooey Glass. In 1963 he published Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Like Franny and Zooey, the book consisted of two novellas and centred on members of the Glass family. Salinger would publish only one more story, "Hapworth 16, 1924 (again centring on a member of the Glass family), in the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker. Reportedly Salinger continued to write for the rest of his life, but for his own pleasure and not for publication.

J. D. Salinger may well be better known for being a recluse than he is for his writing. After all, it doubtful that the average person can name any of his works besides The Catcher in the Rye. In many respects this is a shame. While The Catcher in the Rye is such a monolithic work that it is perhaps natural that it should overshadow every other thing Salinger wrote, his short stories were also masterworks. Perhaps no other author ever wrote so well about young people. Indeed, his style would seem to appear in youth. It was powerful, with dialogue that was both sparse and realistic. His characters were never cardboard cutoffs, but well rounded individuals with a life all their own. Indeed, in later years Salinger nearly did away with plots entirely, concentrating entirely on character. For any other writer this may have been a foolhardy manoeuvre at best, but Salinger made it work and work well. Although he was famous for his reclusiveness, he should perhaps be more famous as one of the great writers of the late 20th century.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Godspeed Character Actor Johnny Seven

Character actor Johnny Seven, perhaps best known for playing the recurring role of Lt. Carl Reese on Ironside, passed on January 22 at the age of 83. The cause was lung cancer.

Johnny Seven was born John Anthony Fetto II on February 23, 1926 in Brooklyn, the only son among six children. During World War II he served with the 187th Gun Battalion in the United States Army. It was while in the Army that he earned the nickname "Johnny Seven," which he retained as his stage name after the war. It was while he was in the United States Army that he took an interest in acting after appearing in several USO shows.

Following the war Johnny Seven returned to New York City, where he worked in various off-Broadway productions. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a longshoreman in On the Waterfront. In 1954 he made his television debut, in an episode of Inner Sanctum. Throughout the Fifties he appeared in such shows as The Phil Silvers Show, The D. A.'s Man, Mike Hammer, Peter Gunn, The Lawless Years, and Tightrope He also appeared in the films Johnny Gunman, Never Steal Anything Small, The Last Mile, and That Kind of Woman.

In 1960 Johnny Seven appeared as Karl Matuschka (Miss Kubelik's brother in law) in The Apartment. He guest starred in the shows Michael Shayne, Route 66, and Bat Masterson. In the Sixties Seven appeared in the shows 87th Precinct, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, The Untouchables, Naked City, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Get Smart, Batman, The Wild Wild West, and Lancer. He appeared in the movies The Greatest Story Ever Told, Navajo Run, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy, Gunfight in Abilene, The Destructors, and The Love God. It was in 1968 that Johnny Seven was cast in the role of Lt. Carl Reese on Ironside. He continued to appear on the show until it ended its run in 1968.

In the Seventies Johnny Seven guest starred on Barbary Coast, Switch, The Rockford Files, Police Woman, and Charlie's Angels. He appeared in the recurring role of Detective Contreras on Amy Prentiss. From the Eigities into the Nineties, Seven appeared on Vegas, CHIPS, Trapper John M.D., The Master, Murder She Wrote, and Can't Hurry Love. Seven also operated a real estate business in the San Fernando Valley for many years.

Johnny Seven also directed. He directed, wrote, and produced the Western Navajo Run in 1964, as well as the TV movie Gina and Me in 1995. He also wrote and produced his own plays.

Johnny Seven was a very prolific actor, appearing in many television series over the years. While he primarily played tough guys, often appearing as gangsters on the TV shows of the Sixties, he was capable of playing a wide variety of roles. Indeed, his best known role was that of a police officer, Lt. Carl Reese on Ironside, and his brief appearance as Miss Kublik's brother in law in The Apartment was impressive. While Johnny Seven played a wide array of hoodlums in his career, his talent extended beyond such roles.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Actor James Mitchell R.I.P.

Actor James Mitchell, a star of Broadway and a regular on All My Children, passed on Januaary 22 at the age of 89. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease complicated by pneumonia.

James Mitchell was born on 29 February, 1920  in Sacramento, Washington to English immigrants. His mother returned to England in 1923 with his brother and sister, and Mitchell had no further contact with her. Having difficulty making ends meet, his father fostered him to vaudevillians Gene and Katherine King. He returned to his father after he remarried. When he was 17 he moved to Los Angeles, where he resumed contact with the Kings. It was while at Los Angeles College that he took an interest in dance, and enrolled at the school of choreographer Lester Horton. After receiving his associates degree, he joined Horton's company, where he remained for four years.

It was in 1944 that Horton went to New York with the intention of founding a new dance company, taking James Mitchell with him. Unfortunately, the company soon collapsed. Mitchell would not remain out of work long, as he successfully auditioned for choreographer Agnes de Mille. de Mille offered Mitchell the positions of principal dancer and assistant choreographer. It was then in 1944 that James Mitchell made his debut on Broadway in the musical Bloomer Girl. Mitchell then embarked on a successful Broadway career, often collaborating with de Mille. He appeared in Billion Dollar Baby (1945), Brigadoon (1947), Paint Your Wagon (1951), Livin' the Life (1957), a revival of Carousel (1957), and First Impressions (1959).

While Mitchell was appearing on Broadway, he also had a career on film. He made his debut as one of the dancers in Moonlight in Havana in 1942. For many years Mitchell appeared in movies as a dancer or in bit parts. His first significant role in a movie was in the Western Colorado Territory in 1949. The Fifties saw Mitchell appear in such films as The Toast of New Orleans, The Band Wagon (in which he played Paul Byrd), Oklahoma, and The Peacemaker. He made his television debut on an episode of Gruen Guild Playhouse in 1952. Throughout the Fifties he appeared on such shows as Producer's Showcase, Casablanca, and Decoy.

The Sixties saw James Mitchell appear on Broadway again, in the plays Carnival and The Deputy. On television he appeared in the shows The Edge of Night, Blue Light, and Hawk. He was a regular on the series Where the Heart Is. He appeared in the film A Touch of Magic. From 1967 to 1969 he was part of Jerome Robbins' American Theatre Laboratory. The Seventies saw James Mitchell appear on Broadway in Mack & Mabel. He appeared in the film The Turning Point. On television he appeared on Charlie's Angels and Lou Grant, as well as the TV movies The Silence and  Women at West Point. It was in 1979 that he joined the cast of All My Children, as Palmer Cortlandt Sr. He remained with the show until 2008.

Although best known for his role in All My Children, James Mitchell should perhaps be best known as a song and dance man. He was possessed of a great and a natural talent for dance that showed every time he performed. He was also a very good actor. He more than held his own as choreographer Paul Byrd alongside such talents as Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Oscar Levant. Although many might remember him as Palmer Cortlandt Sr., he should perhaps best be remembered as the talented singer and dancer he was.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Actor Pernell Roberts Passes On

Pernell Roberts, the actor best known for playing introspective, eldest son Adam Cartwright on the TV series Bonanza, passed Sunday at the age of 81. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Pernell Roberts was born on May 18, 1928 in Waycross, Georgia. He attended Georgia Tech for a short time, before he joined the Marines. He was assigned to the Marine Corps Band due to his ability to play baritone horn, sousaphone, tuba and percussion. Following his service in the Marines, Roberts attended the University of Maryland for a time. It was there that he developed an interest in acting. He left school to work at the brand new Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

It was in 1952 that Pernell Roberts moved to New York City to pursue acting. He appeared in various off Broadway plays before making his debut on Broadway in Tonight in Samarkand in 1955. Over the next few years he appeared in several Broadway plays, including The Lovers (1956), A Clearing in the Woods (1957), a revival of The Taming of the Shrew, and The Duchess of Malfi (1957). He won a Drama Desk award for his performance in an off-Broadway revival of Macbeth in 1958.

In 1957 Pernell Roberts made his television debut in a guest appearance on Sugarfoot. The next few years he would guest star on Whirlybirds, Trackdown, Have Gun Will Travel, Northwest Passage, and General Electric Theatre. He his film debut in Desire Under the Elms in 1958. He also appeared in the films The Sheepman and Ride Lonesome (directed by Budd Boetticher).

It was in 1959 that Pernell Roberts was cast as Adam, Ben Cartwright's eldest son, on Bonanza. While the series would become one of the most successful shows of all time, Robert's tenure on Bonanza did not always run smoothly. He fought with producers to include more minority actors on the show and more minorities in the crew as well. He also complained about the quality of the scripts on the show, even referring to the show as "Junk TV." After six years with Bonanza, Roberts left the show. Adam was written out of the show as having left the Ponderosa. While the door was always left open for Adam's return, Pernell Roberts never returned to the show.

While Bonanza was still on the air, Pernell Roberts continued to appear elsewhere. He guest starred on The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor and appeared as himself in the movie The Errand Boy. After he have left the show, Roberts made several guest appearances, on such shows as The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, The Name of the Game, Hawaii Five-O, The Virginian, Alias Smith and Jones, Night Gallery, The Odd Couple, Mission: Impossible, The Odd Couple, Ironside, Baretta, The Rockford Files, The Man From Atlantis, and The Paper Chase. He also returned to the stage. He appeared on Broadway in the play Captain Brassbound's Conversion in 1972, Rhett Butler in a Los Angeles stage production of Scarlett, and in Welcome Home in Chicago. It was in 1979 that Pernell Roberts was cast in the title role in the M*A*S*H spinoff Trapper John M.D.  The series proved to be a hit, running seven years.

Following Trapper John M.D., Pernell Roberts appeared in the mini-series Around the World in 80 Days. He guest starred in the shows The Young Riders and Diagnosis Murder. He also appeared in the television movies Desperado, Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin, Night Train to Kathmandu, and Donor. He appeared in the film Checkered Flag.

Pernell Roberts was well known for his activism. Not only did he pressure the producers of Bonanza to hire more minorities, he also participated in the civil rights marches in both Selma and Montgomery.

Growing up I regularly watched Bonanza and it remains one of my favourite shows to this day. I must say that is much of the reason that Pernell Roberts' passing pains me so. Not only did he play Adam on the show, but he was the very last member of the cast to die. Not only are the actors who played the Cartwrights all gone now, but so are Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung), Sheriff Roy Coffee (Ray Teal), and Deputy Clem Foster (Bing Russell, Kurt Russell's father). While I obviously disagree with Pernell Roberts' assessment of Bonanza, I still had enormous respect for the man. Although best known as Adam Cartwright, he was capable of playing a wide variety of roles. He was convincing as shady gunman Sam Boone in Ride Lonesome, and did very well playing  a heavy in many Westerns. Pernell Roberts was also a man who believed in his convictions. He fought with the producers of Bonanza over the lack of minorities in that show's cast and crew, and participated in civil rights marches. Pernell Roberts was not simply a remarkable actor, he was also a remarkable man.