Saturday, February 26, 2011

Composer John Strauss Passes On

John Strauss, who composed the classic theme song to the sitcoms The Phil Silvers Show (AKA Sgt. Bilko) and Car 54, Where Are You?, passed at the age of 90 on 14 February 2011. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

John Strauss was born in New York City on 28 April 1920. He took piano lessons as a child. During World War II he served in the United States Army in both France and North Africa. Following the war he studied music composition at Yale.

John Strauss would enter the television industry in a big way. He composed the theme song to the classic sitcom The Phil Silvers Show and also as its music supervisor. His songwriting partner, the multi-talented Nat Hiken, was the show's producer. Mr. Strauss would also work on Nat Hiken's next series, Car 54, Where Are You?, also serving as that show's music supervisor and the composer of its theme song. He would serve as sound editor on the films Blast of Silence (1961) and Take the Money and Run (1969). He also served as music supervisor on the latter film.

From the Sixties into the Naughts, John Strauss served as music editor, music supervisor, or composer on such films as Little Big Man (1970), Bananas (1971), Slaughterhouse Five (1972), Cops and Robbers (1973), Hair (1979), The Blues Brothers (1980),  Ragtime (1981), Amadaeus (1984--on which he also served as conductor), Valmont (1989), Impromptu (1991), and When Danger Follows You Home (1997). On television he served as music editor on L.A. Law and on the mini-series Wild Palms.

Mr. Strauss also composed an opera, The Accused, with a libretto by Sheppard Kerman. Based around the Salem witch trials, it aired on the series Camera Three on CBS in 1961.

There can be no doubt of John Strauss's talent as a composer, music supervisor and conductor. Indeed, he won an Emmy for sound editing on the telefilm The Amazing Howard Hughes. It will perhaps be his status as the man who composed the themes for The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You? for which he will be best remembered. It is notable that, even though Car 54, Where Are You? only lasted two years, its theme songs (with lyrics by Nat Hiken) is remembered to this day. Not many composers can boast a song with such a life span, let alone a television theme. John Strauss can.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Late, Great Dwayne McDuffie

Comic book writer Dwayne McDuffe, who founded Milestone Media and with aritst John Paul Leon co-created Static, passed 21 February 2011, at the age of 49. The cause was complications from emergency heart surgery.

Dwayne McDuffie was born in Detroit, Michigan on 20 February, 1962. He attended the Roeper School, a school for gifted children there. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1983 and attended film school at the Tisch School for the Arts at New York University. Mr. McDuffie wrote under a pen name for stand up comedians and late night comedy shows, and also co-hosted  a radio comedy show. He began his career in comic books in 1987 as a special projects editor at Marvel Comics. His first major work for the company was Damage Control, a mini-series about a company which cleans up the destruction left in the wake of superhero and supervillian battles. At Marvel he also worked on Spicer-Man, Iron Man, and Deathlok. In 1990 he left Marvel to become a freelance writer. He wrote various titles for DC, Marvel, Archie, and even Harvey Comics.

It was in 1992 that Dwayne McDuffie co-founded Milestone Media with Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle. The company was entirely owned by African Americans and was intended to give minorities a greater presence in comic books. While published by DC Comics, Milestone was a separate company who retained the copyrights on its characters. Dwayne McDuffie had a hand in creating many of Milestone's major characters: Static, Icon, and Hardware, among others. The Milestone line of comic books would last only until 1997 due to poor sales.

In 20002 Dwayne McDuffie would enter the field of television animation as the Milestone comic book Static was developed into the animated series Static Shock. He served as the series' story editor and wrote several of its episodes. He would go onto write scripts for What's New Scooby Doo, Teen Titans, Justice League, and Ben 10.  He served as a producer on Justice League and Ben 10. He also wrote the animated feature All-Star Superman. Mr. McDuffie later returned to comic books, writing Firestorm and Justice League at DC Comics and Fantastic Four at Marvel.

There can be no doubt that Dwayne McDuffie had a huge impact on the comic book industry. If minorities are now more visible in comic books than they were before the Nineties, it is largely because of him. While Milestone's comic book line ultimately failed financially, it was a success not only artistically, but in forcing the major companies of DC and Marvel to realise the need for more minority characters. Beyond giving minorities a greater presence in comic books, Mr. McDuffie was also, quite simply, one of the best comic book writers of the late 20th Century. He had an understanding of the importance of such legends as Batman and Superman, but at the same time was able to bring realism and originality. It was because of his understanding of the most important characters of the medium that he was able to create significant characters himself. Static's title may have only lasted a few years, but he remains one of the best remembered characters of the Nineties.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Actress Peggy Rea R.I.P.

Actress Peggy Rea, who appeared in shows such as The Waltons and Grace Under Fire, passed on February 5, 2011. She was 89 years old.

Peggy Rea was born in Los Agneles, California on March 31, 1921. She  had attended UCLA, but dropped out to attend business school. She was a production secretary at MGM in the Forties when she started acting in small productions. Eventually she would play in a major touring production of  A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947. She would reprise her role in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway in 1950.

Miss Rea made her debut on television in 1953 on I Love Lucy as one of  "Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League" members among other guest appearances on the show. She also guest starred several times on Have Gun--Will Travel. In the Sixties she guest starred on such shows as Saints and Sinners, Ben Casey, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Burke's Law, Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, The Red Skelton Show, The Good Guys, and The Immortal. She made her film debut in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), Loooking for Love (1964), Strange Bedfellows (1965), Walk Don't Run (1966), Valley of the Dolls (1967),  and The Learning Tree.

In the late Seventies, Peggy Rea would be a semi-regular on The Waltons, playing Olivia Walton's cousin Rose Burton. She would also be a semi-regular on The Dukes of Hazzard. She guest starred on such shows as Bonanza, Ironside, Marcus Welby M.D., Love American Style, The Odd Couple, Adam 12, The Doris Day Show, The Magician, Ellery Queen, Maude, All in the Family, Charlie's Angels, Quincy M.E., and Sanford. She appeared in the films What's the Matter with Helen (1971), Win, Place, or Steal (1975), Lipstick (1975), and A Rainy Day (1978).

In the Eighties she guest starred on MacGyver and The Golden Girls. She appeared in the movies Hamburger: The Motion Picture (1986), Curfew (1989), and in In Country (1989). In the Nineties she was a regular on the shows Step by Step and Grace Under Fire. She appeared in the movies Love Field (1992), Made in America (1993), and Devil in a Dress (1995).