Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Late Great Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. died yesterday at the age of 95. He may be best known as the star of the TV shows 77 Sunset Strip and The F.B.I. He also appeared in the recurring role of Dandy Jim Buckley on Maverick and provided the voice of Alfred on Batman: The Animated Series.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was born on 30 November 1918 in New York City. His father was Russian born violinist and composer Efrem Zimbalist Sr. His mother was Romanian born soprano Alma Gluck. His mother's family had moved to the United States while she was very young, while his father had migrated to the U.S. in 1911. He attended Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts. He also attended Yale University, but was expelled for low grades. Afterwards he worked as a page at NBC. He studied acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. Among his fellow students was Gregory Peck.

In 1941 Mr. Zimbalist enlisted in the United States Army and served during World War II. He was injured in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, for which he earned a Purple Heart. Following the war he returned to acting. He made his television debut in 1946 production of Mr. and Mrs. North staged by WNBT.  He made his debut on Broadway in The Rugged Path in 1947. He made further appearances on Broadway in the late Forties in productions of King Henry VIII, What Every Woman Knows, A Pound on Demand / Androcles and the Lion, The Telephone / The Medium, Hedda Gabler, The Telephone, The Medium, and The Consul. He made his movie debut in House of Strangers in 1949. In 1950 Mr. Zimbalist's wife Emily died of cancer. He ceased acting for a time to work for his father at the Curtis Institute of Music.

In the Fifties he was a regular on the short lived daytime soap opera Concerning Miss Marlowe. He played the recurring role of Dandy Jim Buckley on Maverick and starred as Stu Bailey on 77 Sunset Strip. He guest starred on such shows as Star Tonight, The Phil Silvers Show, Conflict, Sugarfoot, and The Alaskans. He appeared in the feature films Band of Angels (1957), Bombers B-52 (1957) , The Deep Six (1958), Too Much, Too Soon (1958), Home Before Dark (1958), and The Crowded Sky (1960). His 1958 feature film Girl on the Run was the first time he played Stu Bailey. It was based on a series of novels by Roy Huggins and served as the pilot for 77 Sunset Strip. Roy Huggins would also serve as the show's producer. Mr. Zimbalist also appeared on Broadway one last time, in a production of Fallen Angels in 1956.

In the Sixties Mr. Zimbalist continued to play the role of Stu Bailey on 77 Sunset Strip. In 1965 he was cast in the role of Inspector Lewis Erskine on The F. B.I. He guest starred on the shows Bronco, Hawaiian Eye, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Rawhide. He appeared in the films A Fever in the Blood (1961), By Love Possessed (1961), The Chapman Report (1962), Harlow (1965), The Reward (1965), and Wait Until Dark (1967). In the Seventies he appeared in the film Airport 1975 (1974). He appeared on the mini-series Scruples and the TV movies A Family Upside Down, Terror Out of the Sky, The Best Place to Be, and The Gathering II.

In the Eighties Efrem Zimbalist Jr. had recurring roles on the TV shows Remington Steele and Hotel. He played the regular role of Don Alejandro de la Vega on the TV show Zorro. He guest starred on such shows as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Hardcastle and McCormick, Partners in Crime, Cover Up, Hunter, and Who's the Boss. He appeared in the film The Avenging (1982).

In the Nineties he provided the voice of Alfred on Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, also voicing the character for episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. He provided the voice of King Arthur in the animated series The Legend of Prince Valiant, as well as the voice of Dr. Octopus on the animated series Spider-Man and Justin Hammer in the animated series Iron Man. He guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote; Burke's Law; The Nanny; One West Waikiki; Picket Fences; and Babylon 5. He appeared in the films Hot Shots! (1991), Street Corner Kids (1994), and The Street Corner Kids: The Sequel (1995). He provided the voice of Alfred in the animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and the direct to video film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998).

In the Naughts Efrem Zimbalist Jr. provided the voice of Alfred in episodes of the animated television shows Static Shock and Justice League. He also provided the voice of Alfred in the direct to video films Batman: Vengeance (2001) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003).  He appeared in the film The Delivery (2008).

Although primarily known for his acting, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. studied violin for many years. Among his compositions was an eight-part choral setting of the 150th Psalm.

While Efrem Zimbalist Jr. had the looks of a leading man, his talent was such that he could play a number of different roles. Even the characters for which he was best known were markedly different from each other. On Maverick Dandy Jim Buckley was an educated and urbane, but not particularly honest, con man and gambler. On 77 Sunset Strip Stu Bailey was a suave, refined former secret agent turned private detective. While Dandy Jim and Stu had their fair share of character flaws, Inspector Erskine on The F.B.I. was about as straight an arrow as there could be. He was very nearly stoic and almost never questioned his job or how he went about it. His role on Remington Steele brought Mr. Zimbalist full circle back to playing a con man. Steele's mentor Daniel Chalmers would have fit in quite well with Dandy Jim and Brett and Bart Maverick.

Of course, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. played far more characters than Dandy Jim, Stu Bailey, Inspector Erskine, and Daniel Chalmers. He was the voice of Alfred Pennyworth for years, and made a large number of guest appearances in television shows over the years, as well as appearances in films. As an actor he proved extremely adaptable. Indeed, he was one of the few American actors in television who could convincingly do an English accent. Even when the material was not necessarily good, Efrem Zimbaliast Jr. always delivered fine performances, regardless of what sort of character he was playing.

The 50th Anniversary of The Who

It was fifty years ago today that Keith Moon first played with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle. And while Messrs. Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle had been calling themselves "The Who" since 14 February 1964, a very strong argument can be made that on that evening of 2 May 1964 they truly became The Who.

The Who had evolved out of a band called The Detours, a skiffle band formed in 1961. That same year Roger Daltrey, lead guitarist of The Detours, persuaded bassist John Entwistle to join the band. It was John Entwistle who brought Pete Townshend into The Detours as an additional guitarist. The band would undergo some membership changes before they became "The Who". Original vocalist Colin Dawson left the band in late 1962, to be replaced by Gabby Connolly, who left in 1963. Afterwards Roger Daltrey handled the lead vocals, leaving the guitar work mostly to Pete Townshend.

It was in February 1964 that The Detours learned that there was another band going by that name. It was Pete Townshend's room mate of the time, Richard Barnes, who suggested that they call themselves "The Who".  It was following a failed audition with Fontana Records in April 1964 that their drummer of the time, Doug Sanborn, left the band. Afterwards The Who relied upon session drummer Dave Goulding until they could they could find a permanent replacement. It was at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford, London that Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and John Entwistle met Keith Moon, who had been drumming with a cover band called The Beachcombers. After an extemporaneous audition, Keith Moon was hired as the new drummer for The Who. His first official gig with the band was at a birthday party held at a pub on the North Circular in London.

While it could be said that The Who, at least as most of us knew them (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon), was born on 2 May 1964, the band would undergo a few more changes in the coming year. It was in the summer of 1964 that The Who hired Peter Meaden as their manager. It was Peter Meaden, a Mod himself, who would shape The Who so as to appeal to the Mod subculture. He renamed the band "The High Numbers" and dressed them in Mod fashions. He also wrote their first single, "Zoot Suit", backed by "I'm the Face". "Zoot Suit" was based on The Dynamics' song "Misery", while "I'm the Face" was based on Slim Harpo's "I Got Love If You Want It". The single failed to chart and in August 1964 Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp took over the management of The High Numbers from Peter Meaden.

It was in November 1964 that The High Numbers once more became The Who. It was also in late 1964 that the band signed with American music producer Shel Talmy, who had already produced The Bachelors and The Kinks. Shel Talmy arranged to have their records released through Decca. Their first single as The Who, "I Can't Explain", was released in the United States in December 1964 and in the United Kingdom in January 1965. While the single only reached #93 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, it went all the way to #8 on the UK singles chart. At last The Who had arrived. The rest, as they say, is history.

It may well be impossible to gauge the entirety of The Who's impact on rock music. In fact, it seems likely that every single rock 'n' roll artist who has followed them has felt their impact in some way. Indeed, The Who would play a pivotal role in the creation of entire subgenres of rock music. It was in in the 20 May 1967 issue of The New Music Express that Pete Townshend coined the term "power pop" to describe the music The Who was playing at the time. It should then come as no surprise that the subgenre of power pop owes more to early sound of The Who than any other band except perhaps The Beatles and The Kinks. The Who's influence can be heard in such power pop bands as Cheap Trick, The Posies, Weezer, and Fountains of Wayne.

The Who would also prove to have an impact on other subgenres of rock as well. Proto-punk bands MC5 and The Stooges were both heavily influenced by The Who. As a result, punk bands from The Sex Pistols to Green Day would also feel The Who's impact. While garage rock had developed to some degree before The Who, they would have an impact on the garage bands that followed them, including The Ramones,  The Chesterfield Kings, and The Fuzztones. The Who would even have an impact on heavy metal. The band's use of power chords and the excessive volume of their music in the mid to late Sixties would prove pivotal in the development of metal.

Beyond making lasting contributions towards various subgenres of rock music, The Who would have a lasting influence in other ways. They recorded one of the earliest concept albums in rock history. The Who Sell Out was released in December 1967 and was made to sound like a broadcast of Radio London, complete with commercials. The Who would also prove pivotal in the development of rock opera. It was in 1966 that The Who recorded "A Quick One, While He's Away" for the album A Quick One. "A Quick One, While He's Away" was essentially a 9 minute and 10 seconds medley that Pete Townshend has described as a " mini-opera". May 1969 would see The Who release a full fledged rock opera, Tommy. While it was not the first rock opera (British band Nirvana's The Story of Simon Simopath, side two of Small Faces' album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, and The Pretty Things' S. F. Sorrow all came out before it), Tommy may well be the most influential rock opera of all time.

The Who would also have a lasting impact on rock culture in general. The Union Jack imagery, as well as the target motif (both borrowed from the Mod subculture),  often utilised in the band's early days has remained a part of rock iconography ever since. The film Quadrophenia, based on their 1973 rock opera of the same name, would help spark the Mod Revival that lasted from 1978 into the early Eighties. As might be expected, many of the Mod Revival bands, such as The Jam and The Chords were heavily influenced by The Who.

Of course, The Who's most obvious legacy may be their music. From the release of "I Can't Explain" in 1964 onwards The Who have created one of the most lasting catalogues of songs in rock history. While The Who might not boast as many top 40 hits as other artists, many of their songs have remained memorable nonetheless. "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Happy Jack", "Pinball Wizard", "Behind Blue Eyes", The Real Me", and many other songs by The Who have remained popular through the years when other bigger hits by other artists have long been forgotten. And it was through those songs that The Who changed rock music forever. In the end, it would seem The Who's lasting contributions to rock music are such that any reasonable accounting of the greatest rock bands of all time would have to include them at the top.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Late Great Bob Hoskins

British actor Bob Hoskins died yesterday at the age of 71 The cause was pneumonia. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2011.

Bob Hoskins was born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk on 26 October 1942. His mother had been evacuated to Bury St. Edmunds due to the German bombing of London during World War II. He grew up in in Finsbury Park, London. Mr. Hoskins left school at age 15 and worked as a porter, a lorry driver, and a window cleaner. He took a course in accounting, but dropped out before finishing it. It was in 1968 that he accompanied his friend, actor Roger Frost, to an audition. While waiting Mr. Hoskins was mistaken for an auditionee and asked to try out for one of the parts. He tried out and was awarded the lead role.

It was in 1972 that Bob Hoskins made his television debut in an episode of The Main Chance. In 1973 he appeared in a three part episode of Crown Court. During the Seventies he was a regular on the television programmes Thick as Thieves, Pennies from Heaven, and Flickers. He also appeared on such shows as Villains, Kate, New Scotland Yard, Sir Yellow, Softly, Softly: Task Force, Shoulder to Shoulder, and Thriller. He made his film debut in 1972 in Up the Front. He appeared in the films The National Health (1973), Inserts (1974), Royal Flash (1975), and Zulu Dawn (1979). In 1980 he appeared in one of his most famous roles, that of gangster Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday. For the role Mr. Hoskins received a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

It was in 1988 that Mr. Hoskins appeared in what could possibly be his best known role, that of detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He received an Oscar nomination for his role as ex-convict George in the 1986 neo-noir film Mona Lisa. He also appeared in such films as Pink Floyd The Wall (1982), The Honorary Consul (1983), Lassiter (1984), The Cotton Club (1984), Brazil (1985), The Woman Who Married Clark Gable (1985), Sweet Liberty (1986), A Prayer for the Dying (1987), The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987), Heart Condition (1990), and Mermaids (1990).  On television he appeared in a 1981 adaptation of Othello and a 1983 adaptation of The Beggar's Opera. Mr. Hoskins also appeared as Benito Mussolini in the TV movie Mussolini and I. He appeared on the show Weekend Playhouse.

In the Nineties Bob Hoskins appeared in such films as Shattered (1991), Hook (1991), The Inner Circle (1991), Passed Away (1992), The Big Freeze (1993), Rainbow (1995), Nixon (1995) , Michael (1996). 24 7: Twenty Four Seven (1997), Cousin Bette (1998), Let the Good Times Roll (1999), Felicia's Journey (1999), Captain Jack (1999),and The White River Kid (1999). He appeared in the 1994 TV movie World War II: When Lions Roared as Winston Churchill, as well as television adaptations of David Copperfield and Don Quixote. He appeared on the TV shows Tales from the Crypt and Saturday Night Live.

From the Naughts to the Teens Mr. Hoskins appeared in such films as Enemy at the Gates (2001). Last Orders (2001), Maid in Manhattan (2002), The Sleeping Dictionary (2003), Den of Lions (2003), Vanity Fair (2004), Beyond the Sea (2004), Mrs Henderson Presents (2005), Hollywoodland (2006), Outlaw (2007), Ruby Blue (2007), A Christmas Carol (2009), Outside Bet (2012), and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). He appeared in television adaptations of The Lost World, The Wind in the Willows, The Englishman's Boy, and Pinocchio. He also appeared on the TV show The Street, and the mini-series Neverland.

Mr. Hoskins also directed two films, The Raggedy Rawney (1988) and Rainbow (1995), as well as the episode "Fatal Caper" of Tales from the Crypt

When the average movie viewer thinks of Bob Hoskins, he or she is likely to think of Eddie Valiant from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was certainly a role of which Mr. Hoskins could be proud. He was incredible in the part. Mr. Hoskins was so convincing as the Los Angeles private eye that one might find hard to believe that he was an Englishman raised in London and not an American. That Mr. Hoskins could transform himself into an American private detective from the Forties (and one in a world where "Toons" are real at that) should not be surprising, as his talent as an actor was such that he could transform himself into nearly any character he wished.

Indeed, it is not many actors who can boast that they had played Benito Mussolini (in Mussolini and I),  J. Edgar Hoover (in Nixon), Winston Churchill (in World War II: When Lions Roared), and Nikita Khrushchev (in Enemy at the Gates) and played every one of them convincingly. The number of different sorts of characters that Bob Hoskins played throughout his career was simply amazing. He not only played gangsters such as Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday, but also theatre impresario Vivian Van Damm in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Captain Hook's boatswain Smee in both Hook and Neverland, shop owner Lou Landsky in Mermaids, and Catholic priest Father Michael Da Costa in A Prayer for the Dying. While many actors are confined to only playing certain types of roles, this was not the case with Bob Hoskins. He had the talent to play nearly any role he was given and be entirely convincing in that role. Indeed, even when a film in which he appeared might not be very good, his performance always was.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Arlene McQuade R.I.P.

Arlene McQuade, who was probably best known for playing daughter Rosalie on the early television comedy The Goldbergs, died on 21 April at the age of 77. She had suffered from Parkinson's disease for some time.

Arlene McQuade was born on 29 May 1936 in New York City. She began her career as a child actor in radio plays. It was in 1948 that she made her only appearance on Broadway, appearing as "Young Alma" in Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke. In 1949 the popular radio show The Goldbergs made the transition to television, and young Miss McQuade was cast as teenage daughter Rosalie on the show. She remained with The Goldbergs until it ended its run in 1956. She made her feature film debut in a movie spun off from the television show, The Goldbergs, in 1950.

In addition to her regular role on The Goldbergs, during the Fifties Arlene McQuade guest starred on the programmes The Milton Berle Show, Telephone Time, The Lawless Years, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Have Gun--Will Travel. She appeared in the films Fight for the Title (1957) and Touch of Evil (1958), in which she menaced Janet Leigh's character. During the Sixties Miss McQuade appeared in the TV shows Hawaii Five-O and Death Valley Days.

Arelene McQuade was also an artist who worked in both watercolour and oil paintings, as well as wood and glass sculpting.