Friday, June 29, 2012

Doris Singleton Passes On

Doris Singleton, who played Lucy's neighbour and rival Caroline Appleby on I Love Lucy, passed on 26 June 2012 at the age of 92.

Doris Singleton was born Dorthea Singleton on 28 September 1919 in New York City. As a child she trained as a ballerina and when she was a teenager even danced with the American Ballet Theatre. In the late Thirties she became a vocalist with Art Jarrett's orchestra. Miss Singleton went onto a career on radio. She was a regular on Lux Radio Theatre and appeared on such radio shows as The Whistler, The Jack Benny Programme, and many others. A guest appearance on My Favourite Husband would lead to a lifelong friendship with the radio show's star, Lucille Ball.

It was in 1953 that Doris Singleton first appeared in her semi-regular role as Caroline Appleby on I Love Lucy, Lucy's neighbour and at times rival. She was also a regular on the short lived Fifties and Sixties sitcom Angel. In the Fifties she also appeared on such shows as The Adventures of Superman, The Loretta Young Show, The Bob Cummings Show, The Great Gildersleeve, The Bob Hope Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Blondie, Make Room for Daddy, Frontier Doctor, Perry Mason, Mr. Lucky, and Tightrope.  She appeared in the films Terror at Midnight (1956), Affair in Reno (1957), and Voice in Mirror (1958).

In the Sixties Doris Singleon played a recurring role on My Three Sons. She also guest starred on both The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. She appeared on such shows as Pete and Gladys, Checkmate, Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, The Munsters, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Red Skelton Show, The F.B.I., Family Affair, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., and Hogan's Heroes. In the Seventies Miss Singleton guest starred on Make Room for Granddaddy, All in the Family, Marcus Welby M.D., Love American Style, Cannon, and Quincy M.E. She was a regular on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1976. In the Eighties she appeared on Dynasty and Just Our Luck. Her last acting appearance on screen was in the 1985 TV movie Deadly Messages. Miss Singleton continued to appear in commercials as well as do voice overs. She also appeared in an episode of American Masters looking back at Lucille Ball, as well as an E! True Hollywood Story episode dealing with I Love Lucy.

Doris Singleton was a prolific and talented television actress. Miss Singleton played Caroline Appleby perfectly. Caroline always seemed prettier and more accomplished than Lucy on I Love Lucy (even though in real life Lucille Ball was very beautiful and very accomplished) and, sadly for Lucy, Caroline seemed to realise this.  While best known as Caroline on I Love Lucy, Miss Singleton played on many other series and always gave impressive performances. Indeed, while best known for her roles on situation comedies, she was quite good at drama too. Her appearances on such shows as Perry Mason and Mike Hammer bear this. Even had Doris Singleton never became friends with Lucille Ball, there can be no doubt that she would have had a long and successful career.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Richard Lynch R.I.P.

Richard Lynch, known for playing the heavy in many films and television shows, passed on 19 June 2012 at the age of 72.

Richard Lynch was born on 12 February 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. From 1956 to 1960 he served in the United States Marine Corps, doing part of his tour in the Middle East. Following his demobilisation Mr. Lynch trained in acting at H.B. Studios in New York City and still later at The Actors Studio. He made his film debut in Scarecrow in 1973. During the Seventies he appeared in such films as The Seven-Ups, Open Season (1974), The Happy Hooker (1975), God Told Me To (1976), The Baron (1977), Stunts (1977), Deathsport (1978), Delta Fox (1979), and The Formula (1980). On television he appeared on such shows as Bronk, Switch, Baretta, Police Woman, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Buck Rogers in the 21st Century, Charlie's Angels, and Battlestar Galactica.

In the Eighties Richard Lynch appeared in such films as The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), Inferno in diretta (1985), Invasion U.S.A. (1985), Savage Dawn (1985), The Barbarians (1987), Little Nikita (1988), Bad Dreams (1988), High Stakes (1989), One Man Force (1989), Lockdown (1990), The Forbidden Dance (1990), and Invasion Force (1990). He appeared on such TV shows as Vega$, The Phoenix, Bring 'Em Back Alive, T. J. Hooker, Manimal, Masquerade, Blue Thunder, Matt Houston, Cover Up, The A-Team, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Airwolf, The Last Precinct, Once a Hero, Werewolf, and Hunter.

During the Nineties Mr. Lynch appeared in such film as Trancers II (1991), Maximum Force (1992), Inside Edge (1992), Merlin (1993), Showdown (1993), Necronomicon: Book of Dead (1993), Dangerous Waters (1994), Death Match (1994). Takedown (1995), Midnight Confessions (1995), Total Force (1997), Shattered Illusions (1998), Eastside (1999), Lone Tiger (1999), and Lima: Breaking the Silence (1999). He appeared on such shows as Dark Justice, Jake and the Fatman, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murder She Wrote, and Mike Hammer.

In the Naughts Richard Lynch appeared in such films as Death Game (2001), Outta Time (2002), Crime and Punishment (2002), Final Combat (2003), Ancient Warriors (2003), Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy (2007), Halloween (2007), Laid to Rest (2009), and Lewisburg (2010).  He appeared on the TV series Six Feet Under and Charmed. In 2011 he appeared in the film Gun of the Black Sea. This year he is set to appear in Lords of Salem.

Richard Lynch had silver hair and a scarred face (reportedly from setting himself on fire while on LSD in 1967), but even if he had not, he would have been ideal for playing villains. His voice and very demeanour were menacing. He could convey more of a threat with a look than many actors could with a long speech. It is perhaps for his particular gift for playing bad guys that he found himself appearing in a string of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and action movies throughout his career, not to mention his many television series appearance. While Richard Lynch was best known for playing villains, however, he was quite adept at playing more ordinary roles. He played police officers on more than one occasion, and in Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween he played Principal Chambers. And while it was rare to see Richard Lynch is a big budget, mainstream film, there can be no doubt that those who did see him in his many low budget movies would remember him. Richard Lynch was a fine actor with a gift for playing villains, an actor who certainly made an impression.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don Grady R.I.P.

Don Grady, most famous for playing eldest son Robbie Douglas on My Three Sons, died yesterday at the age of 68. The cause was cancer.

Don Grady was born in San Diego, California on 8 June 1944. His mother was a talent agent. He made his television debut as one of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. He also appeared in one of the serials on the show, "The Adventures of Spin and Marty." In the late Fifties he guest starred on various television shows, including The Ann Southern Show, Buckskin, The Restless Gun, Wichita Town, Zane Grey Theatre, Laws of the Plainsman, The Rifelman, Wagon Train, and Have Gun--Will Travel. He appeared in the films Cash McCall (1960), Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960), and The Crowded Sky (1960). It was in 1960 that he was cast as Robbie Douglas on the long running sitcom My Three Sons. He remained with the show until it went off the air in 1971.

In the Sixties he guest starred on the shows The Eleventh Hour, The Lucy Show, Mr. Novak, To Rome With Love (as Robbie Douglas from My Three Sons), and The F.B.I. In the Seventies he guest starred on Love American Style, and appeared in the film The Wild McCulloughs (1975). In the Eighties he guest starred on Simon and Simon.

Following his acting career, Mr. Grady worked as a composer in television and motion pictures. He served as  a composer on the films Switch (1991), Passings (2000), and Good Neighbour (2001). He composed the theme song for The Phil Donahue Show and music for the mini-series The Revolutionary War. He adapted music for Blake Edwards' movie Skin Deep (1989).

While I cannot say I thought Don Grady was a great actor, he was very good at what he did. I do not think they could have cast anyone better in the role of Robbie Douglas on My Three Sons, and he did very well in the various guest appearances he made on television shows. He seemed to have a gift for playing in Westerns, appearing on several Western television shows early in his career.

Although best known as Robbie Douglas on My Three Sons, arguably his biggest legacy will be as a composer. He was very good when it came to writing music. Indeed, while may afternoon talk shows have outright forgettable themes, The Phil Donahue Show theme is quite memorable. While I suspect that there are many who wish his acting career had been longer, Don Grady arguably made a bigger contribution to movies and television through his music. Regardless, he was a multi-talented man, both a good actor and a great composer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Late, Great Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron, the screenwriter responsible for such films as When Harry Met Sally (1989) and You've Got Mail (1998), passed today at the age of 71. The cause was pneumonia which resulted from acute myeloid leukaemia.

Nora Ephron was born 19 May 1941 in New York City. Her parents were Phoebe and Henry Ephron, screenwriters who wrote such films as Three Is a Family (1944) and Carousel (1956). Miss Ephron was only four years old when her family moved to Beverly Hills, California. She attended Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. In college she wrote for the school newspaper. In the summer of 1961 she served as an intern in the John F. Kennedy White House (in an essay for The New York Times in 2003 Miss Ephron joked that she was probably the only intern at whom President Kennedy never made a pass). Following her graduation from college in 1962 she moved to New York City where she went to work in the mail room at Newsweek. After she and some of her friends published a parody of The New York Post, she was offered a job at the actual Post by then publisher Dorothy Schiff.  She worked at the Post for five years.

Following her stint at The New York Post, Nora Ephron began writing for magazines. Among the publications  for which she wrote were New York, Esquire, and The New York Times Magazine. In the Seventies she would become a regular columnist for Esquire. Her essays were often humorous and sometimes even controversial. In 1968 she wrote a parody of Women's Wear Daily  published in Cosmopolitan that was so scathing that the publishers of Women's Wear Daily threatened a lawsuit. Her essays would be published in several collections, the first being  Crazy Salad in 1972.

Miss Ephron's first encounter with screenwriting would come about due to her marriage to Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward broke the Watergate scandal. Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein were unhappy with the screenplay adaptation William Goldman had made of their book on the Watergate scandal, All the President's Men. Miss Ephron and Mr. Bernstein then rewrote the script. In the end their version would not be used for the film, but it would prove to be Miss Ephron's introduction to screenwriting. It was in 1973 that she wrote an episode of the short lived sitcom Adam's Rib (based on the classic film of the same name).

It would only be a few years later that Nora Ephron would receive her first screenwriting credit, co-writing the movie Silkwood (1983) with Alice Arlen. The film received several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Original Screenplay. She later adapted her novel Heartburn for the 1986 film of the same name and wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film Cookie. It was also in 1989 that what may be Nora Ephron's biggest cinematic claim to fame was released. When Harry Met Sally earned Miss Ephron another Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It also proved enormously popular upon its release, something which has continued to this day. When Harry Met Sally ranked at #6 on the American Film Institute's 2008 Top Ten Romantic Comedies and ranked at #15 on website Rotten Tomatoes' 25 Best Romantic Comedies.

From the Nineties into the Naughts, Nora Ephron would write the films My Blue Heaven (1990), This is My Life (1992), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Mixed Nuts (1994), Michael (1996), You've Got Mail (1998), Hanging Up (2000), Bewitched (2005), and Julie & Julia (2009). With This is My Life Nora Ephron began directing as well. She directed the films  This is My LifeSleepless in SeattleMixed NutsMichael, You've Got Mail, Lucky Numbers (2000), Bewitched, and Julie & Julia.

As an essayist there can be no doubt that Nora Ephron was one of the best of the 20th Century. Her essays were deeply honest, sometimes a bit irreverent, and sometimes even daring. Miss Ephron could often be self effacing and it could well be that the biggest target of her humour was herself. In the end Nora Ephron could be counted as one of the great American humourists, along with Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker.

Of course, as great as Miss Ephron's essays were, it was her screenplays that were her claim to fame. In my humble opinion Nora Ephron was one of the last great, American screenwriters. In many ways her romantic comedies seem more like they could have been made in the 1930's and 1940's than the 1990's and 2000's. In an age when most romantic comedies are shallow fantasies made for women in which the male protagonists are generally little more than cardboard cutouts, Nora Ephron wrote romantic comedies that were intelligent, witty, and character driven. Her characters were so four dimensional that they often reminded the average person of people he or she might know in real life.  Nora Ephron actually wrote about men and their feelings better than many male screenwriters!

Indeed, Nora Ephron wrote one of my favourite romantic comedies of all time, When Harry Met Sally. I also loved two of her other romantic comedies, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. All three of these films remind me of the romantic comedies of the 1930's and 1940's (here I must point out that You've Got Mail was based on the same source material as the classic The Shop Around the Corner and In the Good Old Summertime) more than they do more recent crop of so called romantic comedies. It is for that reason that Nora Ephron has many followers among classic film buffs who might never watch Rumour Has It or 27 Dresses. For that matter, Nora Ephron may well have wrote the last romantic comedies that could be enjoyed by both men and women. I know many men who love When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, men who would never willingly watch most modern day romantic films.

In the end Nora Ephron was an exceptionally talented, extremely funny woman. She was a great essayist, a great screenwriter, and, perhaps above all else, a great humourist. I rather suspect her collections of essays and her films will remain in distribution for centuries to come.