Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wally Cassell R.I.P.

Character actor Wally Cassell died on April 2 2015 at the age of 103. He appeared in the films White Heat (1949) and City That Never Sleeps (1953), and such TV shows as The Untouchables  and The Beverly Hillbillies.

Wally Cassell was born Oswaldo Castellano on March 3 1912 in Agrigento, Sicily. He was only two years old when his family moved to the United States. His first film role was an uncredited bit part as a photographer in Fingers at the Window in 1942. For the next several years he appeared in small, uncredited roles in such films as  Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), Thousands Cheer (1943), Maisie Goes to Reno (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), and National Velvet (1944). With The Thin Man Goes Home in 1945 Mr. Cassell began playing somewhat larger roles. Throughout the rest of the Forties he appeared in such films as Story of G.I. Joe (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Gallant Bess (1946), The Guilty (1947), Saigon (1948), Streets of San Francisco (1949), White Heat (1949), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and Quicksand (1950).

In the Fifties Wally Cassell appeared in such films as Little Big Horn (1951), The Wild Blue Yonder (1951), Thunderbirds (1952), City That Never Sleeps (1953), Island in the Sky (1953), Timberjack (1955), Until They Sail (1957), and I Mobster (1958). During the Fifties his career turned increasingly towards television, and he guest starred on such shows as Mr. & Mrs North, The Lone Wolf, Fireside Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, Gunsmoke, Date with the Angels, The Ann Sothern Show, The Untouchables, and Rawhide.

The Sixties saw the end of Wally Cassell's career in film and television. He appeared on the TV shows  Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, The Blue Angels, The Case of the Dangerous Robin, 87th Precinct, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Following his appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies he retired from acting and went into business.

Wally Cassell was a very talented actor. He may be best known for his roles as a gangster in films noirs and television shows. In fact, his best known roles in both film and television may well have been gangsters. In White Heat he played Cotton Valletti, one of  Cody Jarrett's men who just happens to have a conscience. In both the pilot for The Untouchables that aired on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and two Untouchables episodes he played Phil D'Andrea, one of Al Capone's men.  While Mr. Cassell played several gangsters over the years, he also played a variety of other roles and did them well. In fact, in the Forties and Fifties he was often cast in the role of soldiers and sailors. He played a private several times in such films as Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and Thunderbirds (1952). Over the years he played everything from police officers to Old West gunmen. In his very last role on an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies he played a front office executive for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mr. Cassell's parts were often not very big, but he gave solid performances in nearly all of them.

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Help Me Rhonda" by The Beach Boys

It was fifty years ago today that The Beach Boys hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Help Me Rhonda".

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tanith Lee Passes On

Fantasy, horror, and science fiction writer Tanith Lee died at age 67 after a prolonged illness on May 24 2015.

Tanith Lee was born on September 18 1947 in London. Her parents were Bernard and Hylda Lee (her father was not the actor who played M in the James Bond movies), who were professional dancers. As a child she had some difficulty learning to read due to a mild form of dyslexia. Her father taught her how to read in around a month. By the time she was 9 years old she started writing. Miss Lee was drawn to the fantastic genres while young, reading the works of such authors as Theodore Sturgeon, Saki, and C. S. Lewis, as well as more mainstream authors such as Virginia Woolf.

Tanith Lee made her first professional sale when she was 21, the 90 word vignette "Eustace". It was in 1971 that her first children's book, The Dragon Hoard, was published. Her first novel, The Birthgrave, was published in 1975. It was that year that she gave up her job at a library to pursue writing full time. Tanith Lee would prove extraordinarily prolific. She wrote over 90 novels and more than 300 short stories. She also wrote in a number of different genres, including fantasy, horror, science fiction, and even historical novels. She wrote several different series of books throughout her career, including "The Birthgrave Trilogy", "The Wars of Vis", "Tales From The Flat Earth", "The Secret Books of Paradys", "The S.I.L.V.E.R. Series", and others. She became the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award for Death’s Master, the second  book in the “Tales from the Flat Earth series.

Tanith Lee also wrote two episodes of the British sci-fi TV series Blake's Seven.

Sadly, later in her career Tanith Lee had some problem selling her books. Even publishers who had previously worked with her were even unwilling to look at so much as a proposal from her. Through it all she never stopped writing and continued to publish books through smaller publishers.

Tanith Lee has been one of my favourite fantasy writers since my youth. She was so prolific that one could spend nearly a lifetime reading every single one of her works. In fact, I have to confess I have not read the majority of her books. It is not because I don't want to; it is because there are so many of them. That having been said, I particularly loved her "Tales From The Flat Earth", which numbers among my favourite fantasy series of all time. I also loved "The Birthgrave Trilogy" and "The Wars of Vis" among others.

Of course, the reason I loved Tanith Lee's work so much is that she was utterly unique. She had a lush, descriptive, and poetic style that evoked the romances of the 19th Century more than fantasy and science fiction of the 20th Century. Most of her work was based heavily in folk tales and mythology, although always with some macabre twist. In fact, many of her works seemed less like modern day fantasy novels than they did dark, twisted, and erotic versions of some fairy tales undiscovered by the Brother's Grimm. This set her apart from many of her contemporary fantasy and science fiction writers, who were often much more straight forward (and in many cases dry). It should be little wonder that over the years she won or was nominated for a number of awards. Tanith Lee was a true original.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"That'll Be the Day" by The Crickets

It was today in 1957 that the single "That'll Be the Day" by The Crickets was released. It was not the first single featuring Buddy Holly ever released. He had already released two singles, "Blue Days, Black Nights" and "Modern Day Don Juan" under his own name, Buddy Holly, on Decca. In fact, it was because he was still under contract to Decca that "That'll Be the Day"was released under the name "The Crickets" rather than "Buddy Holly"--"That'll Be the Day" was released on the Brunswick label.  While "That'll Be the Day" was not Buddy Holly's first single, it was very important nonetheless. It was not only the first single by Buddy Holly and The Crickets to chart. It was their first single to reach number one on the Billboard singles chart. Neither of Buddy Holly's first two singles had charted.

As to the song itself, "That'll Be the Day" was written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison (the drummer for The Crickets). It took its title from a line used by John Wayne as Ethan Edwards repeatedly in the movie The Searchers, "That'll be the day." Here it must be noted that The Searchers would not only inspire the song "That'll Be the Day" by The Crickets. The film's title would would also serve as the inspiration for the name of British Invasion era Liverpudlian band The Searchers.

Here, then, is "That'll Be the Day" by The Crickets

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Late Great Anne Meara

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara
Anne Meara, who formed one half of the comedy team of  Stiller and Meara with her husband Jerry Stiller, and appeared as an actress in television, on film, and on stage, died May 23 2025 at the age of 85. She was the mother of writer Amy Stiller and actor Ben Stiller.

Anne Meara was born in Brooklyn on September 20 1929. She grew up in Rockville Centre on Long Island. Her mother committed suicide when Miss Meara was only eleven years old. She studied for a year at the  Dramatic Workshop at The New School in Manhattan before beginning her acting career in summer stock in 1948.

It was in 1953 that Anne Meara met Jerry Stiller. The two married not long after, but it would be some time before they would begin working together as a comedy team. In 1954 Anne Meara made her television debut on the short lived soap opera The Greatest Gift in 1954. That same year she appeared on an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse. Later in the Fifties she guest starred on the show The DuPont Show of the Month and a television production of Ninotchka. Anne Meara also appeared on Broadway in the Fifties. She made her debut on Broadway in a revival of A Month in the Country in 1956. She also appeared in The Good Woman of Setzuan and Miss Lonelyhearts.

While Anne Meara had not considered comedy, her husband Jerry Stiller persuaded her to become one half of a comedy team with him. She consented because work was hard to find at the time. The two of them joined The Compass Players, the legendary comedy troupe which over the years had boasted  Theodore J. Flicker, Nichols and May, and others as members. Eventually they left The Compass Players to strike out on their own as the comedy team of Stiller and Meara. Among their best known comedy routines was an entire series involving the relationship between Hershey Horowitz, a short Jewish man, and Mary Elizabeth Doyle, a tall Catholic woman, who met and fell in love. By 1961 Stiller and Meara were playing nightclubs in New York City. By 1962 they were one of the biggest comedy teams around.

Stiller and Meara appeared on most of the major variety shows and talk shows of the Sixties. Stiller and Meara made their debut as a comedy team on an edition of The Merv Griffin Show in 1962. Throughout the Sixties they appeared on such variety shows and talk shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Danny Kaye Show, Today, The Mike Douglas Show, The Skitch Henderson Show, and The Tonight Show. Stiller and Meara provided voices for episodes of the classic Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lion Hearted. They guest starred on the TV show That's Life and appeared in the film. Anne Meara appeared without Ben Stiller on The Summer Brothers Smothers Show and The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, and the film The Out of Towners (1970).

In the Seventies Stiller and Meara appeared on such variety and talk shows as The Kraft Music Hall, Flip, The Tonight Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and Tony Orlando and Dawn. They appeared on the game show Hollywood Squares. Stiller & Meara guest starred on the shows Love, American Style; The Courtship of Eddie's Father; The Paul Lynde ShowTime Express; and The Love Boat. They had recurring roles on Rhoda. They appeared in the film Nasty Habits (1977). Without Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara played the lead on the crime drama Kate McShane and was a regular on the TV shows The Corner Bar and Archie Bunker's Place. Without Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara guest starred on the shows Medical Centre and Temperatures Rising. Anne Meara appeared on her own in the films Irish Whiskey Rebellion (1972) The Boys from Brazil (1978), and Fame (1980).

In the Eighties Stiller and Meara appeared in the unsold pilot The Stiller and Meara Show. They guest starred on the shows The Love Boat, Breakaway, Saturday Night Live, and Monsters. Without her husband Anne Meara appeared in a regular role on Alf. She appeared in the films The Longshot (1986), The Perils of P.K. (1986), My Little Girl (1986), That's Adequate (1989),  and Awakenings (1990). She appeared on Broadway in Eastern Standard.

In the Nineties Stiller and Meara appeared in the films Highway to Hell (1991), Reality Bites (1994), Heavy Weights (1995), A Fish in the Bathtub (1999), The Independent (2000), and Chump Change (2000). They appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Anne Meara guest starred several times on her husband Jerry Stiller's TV show King of Queens. Without her husband she guest starred on Murder, She Wrote; In the Heat of the Night; Good Advice; Murphy Brown; Homicide: Life on the Street; and All My Children. She appeared on her own in the films Through an Open Window (1992), The Search for One-eye Jimmy (1994), Kiss of Death (1995), The Daytrippers (1996), Southie (1998), The Thin Pink Line (1998), Judy Berlin (1999), The Diary of the Hurdy-Gurdy Man (1999), and Brooklyn Thrill Killers (1999). She appeared on Broadway in Anna Christie.

In the Naughts Stiller and Meara appeared on the game show Hollywood Squares, on the show Sex and the City, and in the film Zoolander (2001), which starred their son Ben Stiller. From the Naugths through the Teens, without her husband,  Anne Meara appeared in the films Get Well Soon (2001), Like Mike (2002), The Yard Sale (2002), Crooked Lines (2003), Night at the Museum (2006), When the Evening Comes (2009), The Queen of Greenwich Village (2009), and Simpler Times (2014). She guest starred on such shows as Oz; Good Morning, Miami; Charlie Lawrence; Four Kings; Gravity; and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Anne Meara was an incredibly talented actress. Stiller and Meara were considered one of the hottest comedy teams of the early Sixties, and with good reason. They were very, very funny. Their routines centred around the universal theme of male and female relationships, and the differences and similarities between the two sexes. Even without Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara could be very funny, as shown by her roles in various comedy TV shows and films over the years. At the same time, however, Anne Meara was also very talented when it came to playing drama. She was a woman who could guest star on both Murphy Brown  Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and do both well. Both as part of Stiller and Meara and as a actress on her own, then, Anne Meara will be remembered.