Saturday, August 16, 2014

TV Writer Wilton Schiller R.I.P.

Wilton Schiller, who wrote episodes for television shows from Lassie to The Six Million Dollar Man and produced episodes of both The Fugitive and Mannix, died on 27 July 2014 at the age of 95.

Wilton Schiller was born in Chicago on 24 July 1919. Mr. Schiller attended the University of Chicago. Following his graduation he worked as a writer in the Chicago radio market and also performed stand up comedy. During World War II he served in the United States Army as a psychiatric assistant. Following the war he moved to Los Angeles where he worked as a literary agent for MCA.

Mr. Schiller began his television writing career in the Fifties, writing episodes of the show China Smith. During the decade he wrote episodes of such shows as The New Adventures of China Smith, Lassie, Adventures of Superman, Have Gun--Will Travel, Broken Arrow, The Millionaire, M Squad, Dragnet, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Rawhide.

In the Sixties Wilton Schiller wrote episodes of such shows as Rawhide; I'm Dickens, He's Fenster; Leave It to Beaver; Ben Casey; The Fugitive; Mannix; and Adam-12. He served as a producer on the shows Ben Casey, The Fugitive, and Mannix. He wrote the screenplay for the film The New Interns (1964). He also taught screenwriting at UCLA.

In the Seventies Mr. Schiller wrote episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, as well as the TV movie Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979). He served as a producer on the Canadian series Police Surgeon and as a script consultant on The Six Million Dollar Man. In the Eighties he wrote and produced an Australian television adaptation of Marcus Clarke's novel For the Term of His Natural Life. In the Naughts he served as the executive producer of the film Our of Omaha (2007).

As a television writer Wilton Schiller's speciality seems to have been episodes featuring original twists to them. In the Adventures of Superman episode "The Town That Wasn't" criminals created a mobile town that they used to get money from travellers through a speed trap, as well as to hijack trucks. His Have Gun--Will Travel episode, "The High Graders", dealt with the phenomenon of high grading, in which miners steal ore from their employers. In his Ben Casey episode "Pack Up All My Cares and Woes", Dr. Casey is pressured by lawyers to testify in court that brain surgery will cure a convict of his murderous tendencies. Even those times with Wilton Schiller's episodes might not have been that good, they were always entertaining due to the amount of originality he put into them.

Of course, Wilton Schiller was also a producer as well as a writer, and he was an excellent producer. Indeed, he produced two of the greatest shows ever on television, Ben Casey and The Fugitive. What is more he produced the last seasons of The Fugitive, including the two part series finale. At the time it aired "The Judgement Part I" and "The Judgement Part II" set a record for having the largest ever audience of any prime time show, a record that would stand until the 1980 Dallas episode "Who Done It", in which hit was revealed who shot J. R. Ewing. Both as a writer and a producer Wilton Schiller had a gift for creating entertaining television.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ed Nelson R.I.P.

Ed Nelson, known for appearing in many Roger Corman films as well as starring on the television show Peyton Place, died on 9 august 2014 at the age of 85. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Ed Nelson was born in New Orleans on 21 December 1928. He attended Tulane University for two years before going to the New York School of Radio and Television Technique. He served in the United States Navy as  a radioman aboard the light cruiser USS Dayton. For a time he was a director at  WDSU-TV in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles, California to take up acting full time.

Ed Nelson made his film debut in an uncredited bit part in The Steel Trap in 1952. He appeared in William Castle's New Orleans Uncensored (1955) before appearing in his first Roger Corman film, Swamp Women in 1956. Mr. Nelson would go onto appear in several more of Roger Corman's films, including Carnival Rock (1957),  Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Rock All Night (1957), Teenage Cave Man (1958), Night of the Blood Beast (1958), She Gods of Shark Reef (1958), The Cry Baby Killer (1958),  I Mobster (1958), and A Bucket of Blood (1959), as well as others. In the Fifties he also appeared in such films as Bayou (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Hell on Devil's Island (1957), The Brain Eaters (1958), Street of Darkness (1958), The Young Captives (1959), and Elmer Gantry (1960). He made his television debut in an episode of Men of Annapolis during the 1957-1958 season. He guest starred on such shows as Harbour Command, The Silent Service, Flight, Highway Patrol, Tightrope, Johnny Ringo, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and The Rebel.

In 1964 Ed Nelson was cast as Michael Rossi on the TV show Peyton Place. He remained with the show for its entire run, appearing in 436 of its 514 episodes. Following the cancellation of Peyton Place in 1969 he played Ward Fuller on the short lived show The Silent Force. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as Have Gun--Will Travel, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, Thriller, Maverick, Bonanza, Death Valley Days, Rawhide, The Virginian, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Untouchables, The Outer Limits, Wagon Train, Combat, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, and Perry Mason. He appeared in the films Judgement at Nuremberg (1961), Soldier in the Rain (1963), and The Man from Galveston (1963).

In the Seventies Mr. Nelson guest starred on such shows as Marcus Welby M.D., Night Gallery, The Sixth Sense, Alias Smith and Jones, Mission Impossible, The Streets of San Francisco, Kung Fu, The F.B.I., Adam-12, Medical Centre, McMillan and Wife, Dallas, The Rockford Files, and Barnaby Jones. Mr. Nelson appeared as Michael Rossi in the television movie Murder in Peyton Place. He appeared in the films Airport 1975 (1974), That's the Way of the World (1975), Midway (1976), For the Love of Benji (1977), and Acapulco Gold (1978).

In the Eighties Ed Nelson appeared on such shows as Trapper John M.D., Vega$, Quincy M.E., Bret Maverick, Capitol, Hotel, Cagney & Lacey, and MacGyver. He appeared as Michael Rossi in the TV movie Peyton Place: The Next Generation. He appeared in the films Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986), Deadly Weapon (1989), and Brenda Starr (1989). From the Nineties into the Naughts Ed Nelson appeared in the films Cries of Silence (1996), Who Am I? (1998), Tony Bravo in Scenes from a Forgotten Cinema (2000), and Runaway Jury (2000).

Ed Nelson was an extremely prolific actor who appeared in a large number of films and TV shows throughout his career. The reason that he was so much in demand may have been because there was always a sincerity about his performances. Whether it was in one of Roger Corman's B movies, one his many guest appearances on TV Westerns, episodes of Peyton Place, or big budget motion pictures, there was always an honesty about Mr. Nelson's performances that made him convincing in any role. It was a quality that allowed him to play everything from medical doctors to generals to villains. Even when the films or TV shows might not be particularly good, one could always be guaranteed Ed Nelson would give a good performance.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Late Great Arlene Martel

To many Star Trek fans she will always be T'Pring, Spock's betrothed in the episode "Amok Time", but anyone who has watched a number of American TV shows from the Fifties to the Seventies would recognise the face of actress Arlene Martel. While T'Pring may be her best known role, she guest starred on many TV shows throughout the Sixties, playing everything from Montenegrin princesses to Russian spies. She appeared on some of the best known shows of the era, including Have Gun--Will Travel, The Twilight Zone, Route 66, The Outer Limits, and The Monkees. Sadly, Arlene Martel died 12 August 2014 at the age of 78 from a heart attack.

Arlene Martel was born Arline Sax in The Bronx, New York on 14 April 1936. Her parents were Austrian Jews. She spent her earliest years in extreme poverty, living in one of the poorest slums in The Bronx. When she was around eight years old her mother's boss noticed the extreme poverty in which the family lived. He then paid for young Arline's education at Cherry Lawn School, an upper class boarding school in Datien, Connecticut. It was there that her talent for acting was discovered. When Miss Martel was twelve years old she auditioned for the New York High School of Performing Arts. Among her classmates was another dark haired beauty, Suzanne Pleshette. In the summers she performed at the Berkshire Playhouse, lying about her age to do so (one had to be at least 18 to act there). While still in school she had an affair with James Dean, which led to her appearance in Robert Altman's documentary The James Dean Story in 1957. 

For the first several years of her acting career she would be credited under her given name of "Arline Sax", and it was with that name she  made her debut on Broadway in the play Uncle Willie in 1957. She made her television debut in 1958 in an episode of Behind Closed Doors. In the late Fifties she guest starred on the shows The Restless Gun, This Man Dawson, G.E. Theatre, Death Valley Days, and The Rebel (in which she played opposite Leonard Nimoy for the first time).

The Sixties would see Arlene Martel at the peak of her career. Able to do a number of accents and dialects, she was very much in demand throughout the decade. In fact, she would appear in some of the best known episodes of a number of classic shows. On Have Gun--Will Travel she played Princess Alisna Serafina of Montenegro, one of the women to actually win Paladin's heart. On one of two episodes she did of The Twilight Zone, "Twenty Two", she played both a nurse in a morgue and a stewardess at the door of plane, uttering the sinister line, "Room for one more, honey." Billed for the first time as "Arline Martel", she played Consuelo Biros in the classic Outer Limits episode "Demon with a Glass Hand", written by Harlan Ellison. She played the Russian spy Madame Olinsky in the Monkees episode "The Spy Who Came in from the Cool" (the first of her two appearances on the show).

Of course, her best known appearance would ultimately be as T'Pring on Star Trek. She was one of the actresses considered for the role of Dr. Elizabeth Dehner  in the show's second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", but lost the role because her sensitive eyes could not handle the silver contact lenses she would have been required to wear. She auditioned for the role of  Sylvia in the episode "Catspaw", but failed to win that role. Arlene Martel was disappointed that she did not get the role, but what she did not know at the time was that she was being considered for a bigger and more important role, that of T'Pring in the upcoming episode "Amok Time" Airing as the first episode of the second season of Star Trek, "Amok Time" would become one of the show's most popular episodes and provided Arlene Martel with her most famous part.

While best known as T'Pring on Star Trek, Arlene Martel played many more roles on other TV shows of the Sixties. In fact, she had a recurring role on Hogan's Heroes as French resistance leader Tiger. She also guest starred on such shows as Hong Kong, The Detectives, Route 66, The Untouchables, Ben Casey, Bus Stop, Cheyenne, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Favourite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie, Perry Mason, The Fugitive, The Wild Wild West, and Mission: Impossible. Although primarily a television actress, Miss Martel also appeared in movies during the Sixties. She made her film debut in 1964 in The Glass Cage, playing the female lead opposite John Hoyt. Miss Martel also appeared in the biker film Angels from Hell (1968).

Arlene Martel remained busy in the Seventies. On television  She appeared as the evil witch Malvina in a two part episode of Bewitched, as well as as the lover of a murder victim (played by Bradford Dillman) in the Columbo episode "The Greenhouse Jungle" (one of three appearances on the show). Miss Martel also guest starred on such shows throughout the decade as The Doris Day Show, McCloud, Mannix, The Delphi Bueau, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rookies, Gunsmoke, The Rockford Files, and Battlestar Galactica. She also appeared in the television movies Indict and Convict and Conspiracy of Terror. It was in the late Seventies that Arlene Martel began being credited as "Tasha Martel". She would continue to be billed as such until about the mid-Eighties

Arlene Martel also appeared in movies in the Seventies, most notably in the cult film Dracula's Dog (AKA Zoltan, Hound of Dracula) in 1978. Despite appearing in the film for only a few minutes, Miss Martel received top billing above the actual leads of the film, and her name was actually in bigger letters. She also appeared in a small part in the low budget comedy Chatterbox (1977).

Arlene Martel's career slowed in the Eighties, and she continued to billed as "Tasha Martel" for the first part of the decade. She appeared in several episodes of the soap opera The Young and The Restless in 1986, and guest starred on the shows Knot's Landing and Berrenger's. She also appeared in the TV movies The Day the Loving Stopped and Eleanor: First Lady of the World.

For much of the Nineties she was absent from television and movie screens, making her first appearance on screen in years in the movie What Do Women Want in 1996. In the Naughts she returned to acting on a more regular basis, appearing in the feature film A Walk to Remember (2002), as well as as the film shorts "The Beat That Her Heart Skipped" (2013), "The Extra Mile" (2013), and "Matter of Family" (2012). She guest starred on the show "Brothers & Sisters" and appeared in the unofficial, web-based three part mini-series Star Trek: Of Gods and Men as a Vulcan priestess. In 2012 her book Mixed Messages, written with Jeff Minniti, was published.

There can be no doubt that Arlene Martel was beautiful. In fact, it was probably due in part to her striking, exotic looks that she was cast as T'Pring on Star Trek and as femmes fatales on so many other shows. While Miss Martel was incredibly beautiful, however, she was also an extremely talented actress. In fact, executives at Universal Studios nicknamed her "the Chameleon" due to her ability to transform herself into any different role she chose. Miss Martel was expert in an number of different dialects, and over the years played Native Americans, gypsies, Russians, Frenchwomen, and so on. She also was not adverse to wearing wigs or make up for parts. In fact, her skill at changing herself was so great that it was possible to see Miss Martel in two different roles on two different shows in the same week and not realise it was the same actress (for the longest time I did not realise that T'Pring on Star Trek and Madame Olinsky on The Monkees were both played by Arlene Martel).

Not only did Arlene Martel have a real talent for transforming herself, but she did as well playing comedy as she did drama. She was hilarious on My Favourite Martian as scatter brained silent movie star Viola Normandy. She also excelled as Dracula's niece Lorelei in The Monkees episode "Monstrous Monkee Mash". Of course, it may be her dramatic roles for which she may be best remembered, of which there were many more besides T'Pring. She played Princess Alisna Serafina in the Have Gun--Will Travel episode "The Gunfighter and the Princess", delivering a poignant performance. She was also touching a pregnant Pueblo woman on Route 66. While many actresses of the Sixties and Seventies tended to play the same sorts of roles consistently, Arlene Martel played a wide variety of roles in her many guest appearances, very few of them the same.

While Arlene Martel was often recognised for her beauty and her talent, many outside of Star Trek fandom might not realise that she was also a very nice woman. When fans talk of the honour of meeting Miss Martel, it is not her beauty (which she kept until the very end) that they talk about the most, it is how sweet and how thoughtful she was. She always had a kind word for her fans and would often have long chats with them as if they had known each other their whole lives. Arlene Martel had a gift for making other people feel that they were important, perhaps because she believed that they were. Quite simply, Arlene Martel was not simply an incredible beauty and a talented actress, but a great lady as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Late Great Lauren Bacall, Hollywood's Queen of Cool

There is perhaps no Hollywood romance more legendary than that of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Even though the majority of Mr. Bogart's career unfolded before he met Miss Bacall and the majority of her career unfolded after his death from oesophageal cancer in 1957, to this day it is difficult to think of one without thinking of the other. As legendary as Bogie and Bacall were together, however, Lauren Bacall was very much an actress in her own right. Glamorous and mysterious, she was very much Hollywood's Queen of Cool. What is more, she was capable of delivering impeccable performances in nearly any role. Almost seventy years after the release of her first film (To Have and Have Not in 1944) Miss Bacall has remained a name easily recognised by the average person. Sadly, Lauren Bacall died yesterday at age 89 from a stroke.

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on 16 September 1924 in The Bronx, New York. Her parents,  Natalie (née Weinstein-Bacal) and William Perske, divorced when she was five years old. Her mother would take the surname "Bacall" following the divorce. While she would continue to be called "Betty" for the rest of her life (even after director Howard Hawks changed her stage name to "Lauren"), she took her mother's surname of "Bacall".  Betty Bacall was fascinated by the theatre from a very young age. She was particularly a fan of both Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

At age 16 Betty Bacall took up modelling, getting jobs with both dress manufacturer David Crystal and evening gown maker Sam Friedlander. She also served as an usherette at Broadway theatres and worked at the Stage Door Canteen. She studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where Kirk Douglas numbered among her classmates. Miss Bacall made her Broadway debut in a walk on role in Johnny 2 X 4 in 1942. In July 1942 in the magazine Esquire drama critic George Jean Nathan named her "the prettiest theatre usher—the tall slender blonde in the St. James Theatre right aisle, during the Gilbert & Sullivan engagement". She appeared in a production of Franklin Street, directed by George S. Kaufman, later in 1942.

It would be an encounter with Nicolas de Gunzburg, an editor at Harper's Bazaar, that would change her life forever. It led to a full colour photo of Betty Bacall standing in front of a door, the glazed glass window of which read ""American Red Cross" and "Blood Donor Service". The photo appeared on the cover of the March 1943 issue of Harper's Bazaar. Because of the magazine cover it was not long before Hollywood came calling. Some fairly well known Hollywood personages expressed interest in Betty Bacall, among them Howard Hawks (at the insistence of his wife Slim Hawks), Howard Hughes, and David O. Selznick. Ultimately Miss Bacall signed a seven year contract with Howard Hawks, and she and her mother left New York City for Hollywood.

It was Howard Hawks and his wife Slim who essentially shaped the image of "Lauren Bacall". Indeed, it was Mr. Hawks who gave Betty Bacall the stage name "Lauren", even though she would continue to known as "Betty" to her friends and acquaintances. Mr. Hawks trained Miss Bacall to lower her voice and make it deeper. Miss Bacall was also taught all about fashion and trained in acting, singing, and so on.

Ultimately Lauren Bacall would make her film debut in Howard Hawks' film To Have and Have Not (1944). It would be a life changing experience for Miss Bacall in more ways than one. The role of Marie "Slim" Browning in the film would transform Miss Bacall into a star over night. She also developed a romance with Humphrey Bogart. It was the first and last time Mr. Bogart ever had an affair with one of his leading ladies. With Mr. Bogart trapped in an unhappy marriage, the couple kept their relationship discreet, meeting secretly and writing letters when they are were apart. Torn between his love for Miss Bacall and his commitment to his marriage, Humphrey Bogart and his wife divorced in 1945. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart were married that same year. They remained married until his death in 1957. While "Bogie and Bacall" would become the stuff of legends, Lauren Bacall would have a brief relationship with Frank Sinatra and was married to Jason Robards from 1961 to 1969. Howard Hawks did not particularly approved of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart's relationship, and the director and actress eventually parted ways.

While To Have and Have Not made Lauren Bacall a star, her next film to be released seriously damaged her career. Lauren Bacall was not particularly enthusiastic about Confidential Agent (1945). She did not like the script and thought she had been miscast. Worse yet, director Herman Shumlin, who had only directed one previous film (although he had considerable experience on Broadway), offered her nothing in the way of guidance. Ultimately her fears about Confidential Agent proved justified.  Confidential Agent received  negative reviews, with Miss Bacall's performance often singled out for criticism.

Fortunately Miss Bacall's career would be saved by another film in which she appeared with Humphrey Bogart. The Big Sleep (1946), based on Raymond Chandler's novel of the same name, had actually been shot before Confidential Agent. With World War II coming to an end Warner Bros. elected to delay the release of The Big Sleep so that they could release their various films related to the war first. In the meantime To Have and Have Not became a veritable phenomenon. Various scenes in The Big Sleep were then reshot to take advantage of the chemistry between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. While many critics complained that the film's plot was confusing, Miss Bacall received good notices for her performance as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge. The 1945 cut of the film would be released in 1997, when it once more received good notices from critics. The Big Sleep was followed by two more films with Humphrey Bogart. Dark Passage (1947) received mixed reviews, but did well at the box office. It is now regarded as a classic. Key Largo (1948) received largely positive reviews and also did very well at the box office. It too is regarded as a classic.

Lauren Bacall would finish out the Forties appearing in the films Young Man with a Horn (1950)  and Bright Leaf (1950). Her career slowed in the Fifties. From 1951 to 1952 Miss Bacall co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in the syndicated radio show Bold Venture. In 1953 she appeared in her first film in three years, the classic comedy How to Marry a Millionaire. The remainder of the Fifties saw Lauren Bacall appear in the films Woman's World (1954), The Cobweb (1955), Blood Alley (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), Designing Woman (1957), The Gift of Love (1958), and North West Frontier (1959). Miss Bacall had a cameo in the film Patterns (1956). She made her television debut in an adaptation of The Petrified Forest that appeared on Producer's Showcase. She guest starred on  Ford Star Jubilee and played Elvira in a television adaptation of Blithe Spirit. She finished the Fifties appearing on Broadway in Goodbye, Charlie. In the Sixties she appeared on Broadway in Cactus Flower.

In the Sixties and Seventies Lauren Bacall's film career would slow even further. During the two decades she appeared in the films Shock Treatment (1964), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Harper (1966), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Shootist (1976), and HealtH (1980). On television she guest starred on the shows The DuPont Show of the Week, Dr. Kildare, Mr. Broadway, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, and The Rockford Files. She appeared in a 1973 television production of Applause and the TV movie Perfect Gentlemen. She appeared on Broadway in Applause, for which she won a Tony Award. Lauren Bacall would also appear in the London production of Applause on the West End.

In the Eighties Miss Bacall appeared in the movies The Fan (1981), Appointment with Death (1988), Mr. North (1988). Tree of Hands (1988), and Misery (1990). She appeared in the TV films Dinner at Eight and A Little Piece of Sunshine. She appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year, for which she received another Tony Award.

The Nineties would see Lauren Bacall make more films than she had since the Fifties. She not only received praise from critics for her performance in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), but also received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also appeared in the films A Star for Two (1991), All I Want for Christmas (1991), Prêt-à-Porter (1994), The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), My Fellow Americans (1996), Le jour et la nuit (1997), Diamonds (1999), The Venice Project (1999), and Presence of Mind (1999). She appeared on television in the TV movies The Portrait, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke. She guest starred The General Motors Playwrights Theatre, Great Performances, and Chicago Hope. She appeared on Broadway in a revival of Waiting in the Wings

From the Naughts into the Teens Lauren Bacall appeared in the films Dogville (2003), Amália Traïda (2004), Birth (2004), These Foolish Things (2005), Manderlay (2005), The Walker (2007), Eve (2008),  Wide Blue Yonder (2010), and The Forger (2012). She provided the voice of the Witch of the Waste in Howl's Moving Castle (2004).  On television  she guest starred on The Sopranos and she provided a guest voice on Family Guy.

Perhaps no other actress ever had as spectacular a debut as Lauren Bacall. Indeed, for many her most iconic scene occurred in her very first film, the scene in To Have or Have Not in which her character (Slim) tells Mr. Bogart's character (Steve), "You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” No other scene in her career would match the electricity of that one scene. Indeed, only a few other scenes in  any other classic film match the electricity in that scene. Quite simply, it was one of the most influential scenes in the history of Hollywood film making.

As important as that scene was to Miss Bacall's career and legend, however, it is important to realise that she should never be defined by it alone. Lauren Bacall was always much more than Humphrey Bogart's co-star and eventually his wife. She was a talent and star all her own. Lauren Bacall had a rare sort of glamour not seen in very many actresses of the time and seen even more rarely now. Very few of her contemporaries quite had her her mixture of class, independence, intelligence, wit, honesty, and sex appeal. In an era that produced many actresses who portrayed strong, independent women, Lauren Bacall ranked among the very best at doing so.

While the image most people have of Lauren Bacall remains that of Slim in To Have or Have Not or Vivian in The Big Sleep, she was more than capable of playing other, different sorts of characters. Beyond being sharp as a knife and tough as nails, Schatze Page in How to Marry a Millionaire was about as far from Slim or Vivian as one could get. a gold digger on the look out for another (preferably rich) husband. In Applause Lauren Bacall got the chance to play a role originated by her idol Bette Davis in All About Eve, Margo Channing. Margo Channing was bright, witty, and sharp tongued. She was also having to come to grips with ageing in a business where youth is a highly valued commodity. Arguably some of Lauren Bacall's best roles came when she was older, and they were not always in her better known films. While her performance as domineering mother Hannah Morgan in The Mirror Has Two Faces is often acknowledged, one rarely hears about good she was as a somewhat nicer maternal figure in All I Want for Christmas (1991), playing grandmother Lillian Brooks. Confidential Agent aside, Lauren Bacall had a long track record of delivering great performances playing a variety of characters.

It has been nearly seventy years since Lauren Bacall made her screen debut in To Have and Have Not. In that time she has remained a name familiar not just to classic film buffs, but to the average person as well. Through the years she has remained as recognisable as any current prime time TV star. The reason is quite simply that she was a singular performer, truly one of a kind. Even in the Golden Age of Hollywood few actresses could match Lauren Bacall when it came to her combination of glamour, intelligence, wit, independence, and sex appeal.  There will probably never be another one like her.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Late Great Robin Williams

There are those actors and comedians with an incredible talent to make us happy. Their talent is such merely thinking of them can bring a smile to our faces. Their talent is such that they can cheer us up even in our darkest hours. In the end it feels as if they are part of our lives, much like a beloved cousin or uncle who never ceases to bring joy into our lives. One of those actors and comedians with such phenomenal talent was Robin Williams. Sadly, Robin Williams was found dead at his home in Marin County, California yesterday morning, 11 August 2014. The cause was apparently suicide.

Robin Williams was born on 21 July 1951 in Chicago. His early years were spent in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His family later moved to Woodacre, California, where he attended Redwood High School. As a child he was extremely shy and quiet. He would finally overcome his shyness participating in the drama programme at Redwood High. Mr. Williams attended Claremont Men's College in Claremont, California and the College of Marin in Marin County before receiving a full scholarship at Juilliard School in New York City. He was among only twenty students accepted into the freshman class in 1973 and only one of two students who would be accepted by the legendary actor John Houseman into the Advanced Programme that year (the other was Christopher Reeve). It was John Houseman who suggested that Robin Williams pursue a career in stand up. Mr. Williams left Julliard in 1976 before he could receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Robin Williams began his career on the stand up comedy circuit. He made his film debut in the sketch comedy film Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses? in 1977. That same year he made his television debut in two episodes of the short lived Richard Pryor Show. He made guest appearances on the revival of Laugh-In, Eight is Enough, and America 2-Night before a historic guest shot on the sitcom Happy Days in 1978. In the episode "My Favourite Orkan", Robin Williams played Mork, an alien whom Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard) encounters. Robin Williams' appearance as Mork from Ork proved so successful that the character was spun off into his own show. Mork & Mindy proved to be a hit and ran from 1978 to 1982. Mr. Williams guest starred as Mork on the short lived sitcom Out of the Blue. In 1980 he received his first lead role, playing the title character in Popeye.

It was in the Eighties that Robin Williams achieved movie stardom. In 1982 he appeared as T. S. Garp, a man with a very unconventional upbringing, in the film The World According to Garp. He appeared in the films The Survivors (1983), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), The Best of Times (1986), Club Paradise (1986), and Seize the Day (1986) before his breakthrough role in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). In the film Mr. Williams played  Adrian Cronauer, a DJ for Armed Forces Radio Service in Vietnam. Mr. Williams received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for the role. His role in Good Morning, Vietnam would be followed by another signature role, that of unorthodox English teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society (1989). Robin Williams would be nominated for another Oscar for Best Actor for the role. Robin Williams made cameos in Portrait of a White Marriage (1988) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), and starred in the films Cadillac Man (1990) and Awakenings (1990). Robin Williams continued to appear on television, guest starring on Faerie Tale Theatre, SCTV Network, and Pryor's Place, as well as appearing in the 1987 TV special Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge.

The Nineties would see Robin Williams in yet more high profile roles. He played Parry, a homeless man on a quest for the Holy Grail, in The Fisher King (1991). For the role Robin Williams was once more nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He provided the voice of Genie in the highly popular Disney animated feature Aladdin (1992). In 1997 he appeared as psychologist Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Robin Williams also had notable starring roles in Hook (1991), Toys (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Being Human (1994),  Jumanji (1995), Jack (1996), Father's Day (1997), Flubber (1997), Patch Adams (1998), What Dreams May Come (1998),  Bicentennial Man (1999), and Jakob the Liar (1999). Mr. Williams also appeared in the films Dead Again (1991), Shakes the Clown (1991), Nine Months (1995), To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995),  The Secret Agent (1996), Hamlet (1996), and Deconstructing Harry (1997). On television Mr. Williams guest starred on Homicide: Life on the Street, The Larry Sanders Show, Friends, and LA Doctors.

The Naughts saw Robin Williams play roles that were dramatically different from most of those he had played before. He played an emotionally unstable photo technician in One Hour Photo (2004) and a murderer in Insomnia (2002). Among his most popular roles during the decade was that of Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum (2006) and its sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009). Mr. Williams also appeared in the films Death to Smoochy (2002), The Final Cut (2004), House of D (2004), Noel (2004), The Big White (2005), The Night Listener (2006), RV (2006), Man of the Year (2006), Licence to Wed (2007), August Rush (2007), Shrink (2009), World's Greatest Dad (2009), and Old Dogs (2009). He provided voices for the voice of Dr. Know in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), as well as voices in the animated features Robots (2005), Everyone's Hero (2006), and Happy Feet (2006). On television he guest starred on Life with Bonnie and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

In the Teens Robin Williams returned to television. This past season he played Simon Roberts on the sitcom The Crazy Ones. He also guest starred on Wilfred and Louie. He appeared in the films The Big Wedding (2013), The Butler (2013), The Face of Love (2013), Robin Williams in Multiple Exposures (2013), Boulevard (2014), and The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014) . He provided voices for Happy Feet Two (2011). Later this year he will appear in Merry Friggin' Christmas and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Next year his voice will be heard in Absolutely Anything (2015).

There can be little doubt that Robin Williams was a singular talent. He was very skilled at improvisation, so much so that he could create three dimensional characters in a matter of seconds. What is more he had an incredible talent for mimicry. He could change his voice as easily as most people change their clothes. Perhaps the only other comedian similar to Robin Williams was Jonathan Winters, whom Mr. Williams credited as an influence and who would also become a collaborator and friend. Like Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams could also be uproariously funny. Historically other comedians relied on teams of gag writers to provide them with material. Robin Williams could come up with material simply off the top of his head.

Beyond Robin Williams' talent as a comedian, however, there was also an incredible talent as an actor. As manic as his comedy routines could be, he was quite capable of delivering understated, subtle performances as a dramatic actor. Indeed, some of his performances have passed into pop culture. Both the irreverent DJ Adrian Cronauer from Good Morning, Vietnam and unorthodox English teacher John Keating from Dead Poets Society are instantly recognisable to most of the movie viewing audience. Mr. Williams' best known roles tended to be both eccentric and inspiring (Cronauer and Keating have a good deal in common), but he also had a very wide range as an actor. Although it was not often noted, he was very good at playing villains. He was incredible as sociopathic crime writer Walter Finch in Insomnia. Mr. Williams was also fantastic as a crazed engineer intent on teaching society a lesson in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Authority". The wide array of characters Robin Williams played was incredible, from Mork from Ork to Teddy Roosevelt. What is more, he was very prolific.

What makes Robin Williams' death all the more sadder is that we have not only lost a talented actor and comedian, but apparently a very good man as well. From all reports Mr. Williams was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, most humble men one could hope to meet. Director Terry Gilliam told how, during a particularly long night spent shooting The Fisher King, Robin Williams launched into a comedy routine. Mr. Williams had a joke or a reference for every single member of the crew. Conan O'Brien told how, when he was he was going through a rough period about five years ago, Robin Williams bought him a bicycle, even though the two did not know each other that well. When Mrs. Doubtfire co-star Lisa Jakub's school expelled her for taking time off to shoot the movie, Robin Williams wrote the school a letter, telling them, "...a student of her calibre and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work."  On the set of Old Dogs, when the strap of a golf bag carried by extra Susan Jeffer broke (she was playing golf in the film), it was Robin Williams who helped her carry the bag. Robin Williams was known to visit sick children often, even chartering a private jet to visit a young girl who was dying from cancer. Although he seemed unable to make himself happy (he suffered from depression most of his life), Robin Williams' primary desire in life seemed to be to make others happy.

As might be expected of a man known for his kindness, Robin Williams was active in charity work. He established the Robin Williams Scholarship at the Julliard School for drama students. He served on the board of the Christopher Reeve Foundation and supported St. Jude's Children's Hospital. With his former wife Marsha he founded the Windfall Foundation, an organisation that supports charities devoted to the arts, education, the environment, and health. As part of the USO Robin Willaims regularly performed for the troops. When Christchurch, New Zealand was struck by an earthquake in 2010 he donated money to help with rebuilding.

With the passing of Robin Williams it would seem we have not simply lost a phenomenally talented actor and comedian, but a man who truly cared about people as well. Indeed, tales of Robin Williams' kindness to fellow performers and ordinary people may well outnumber memories of his many performances in articles on his death. As rare as a talents of Robin Williams' calibre are, it seems that he was something rarer still. A truly kind and caring gentleman.