Saturday, January 9, 2016

Haskell Wexler R.I.P.

Haskell Wexler, the Oscar winning cinematographer on such films as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Bound for Glory (1976), died on December 27 2015 at the age of 93.

Haskell Wexler was born on February 6 1922 in Chicago. His father, Simon Wexler, was the founder of Allied Radio (now Allied Electronics). Mr. Wexler attended the University of California, but dropped out after a year to join the Merchant Marine. During the Second World War his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and he spent two weeks in a lifeboat with 20 other people.

After his stint in the Merchant Marine, Haskell Wexler made industrial films. Both his first cinematography and directorial credit was on the documentary short "The Living City" (1953). In the Fifties he served as a camera operator on such films as Picnic (1955) and Studs Lonigan (1960), and as an additional photographer on Wild River (1960). He served as a cinematographer on the short "T is for Tumbleweed" (1958) and the feature films Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), The Savage Eye (1960), and Five Bold Women (1960).

Arguably the Sixties would be the height of Haskell Wexler's career as a cinematographer. He shot such well known films as The Loved One (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Medium Cool (1969. He won the final Oscar ever awarded for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). He also served as cinematographer on such films as The Runaway (1961), The Fisherman and His Soul (1961), The Hoodlum Priest (1961), Angel Baby (1961), Face in the Rain (1963), America America (1963), Lonnie (1963), The Best Man (1964), and One (1966). He directed the documentary The Bus (1965) and the feature film Medium Cool.

In the Seventies Haskell Wexler won his second Oscar for his work on Bound for Glory (1976). He was the original photographer for  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), but was replaced on the project by Bill Butler. He served as cinematographer on the films Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1971), The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972), Introduction to the Enemy (1974), Underground (1976), Coming Home (1978), War Without Winners (1978), and No Nukes (1980). He also served as cinematographer on such industrial shorts as "Polaroid Glasses" (1976), "STP Oil Treatment" (1977), and "Plymouth Fury" (1977).  He directed the documentaries Brazil: A Report on Torture (1971), Introduction to the Enemy (1974), Underground (1976), and War Without Winners (1978).

In the Eighties Haskell Wexler was the cinematographer on the films Second-Hand Hearts (1981), Hail Columbia! (1982), Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), Lookin' to Get Out (1982), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), Matewan (1987), Colours (1988), Three Fugitives (1989), and Blaze (1989). He directed the films Bus II (1983) and Latino (1985).

In the Nineties Mr. Wexler was cinematographer on the films Other People's Money (1991), The Babe (1992), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), The Sixth Sun: Mayan Uprising in Chiapas (1995), Canadian Bacon (1995), Mulholland Falls (1996), The Rich Man's Wife (1996), Limbo (1999), "Mexico" (2000), Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains (2000), "The Man on Lincoln's Nose" (2000), and Bus Rider's Union (2000). He directed the film Bus Rider's Union (2000).

In the Naughts Haskell Wexler was cinematographer on the films "SOA: Guns and Greed" (2001), Silver City (2004), Bastards of the Party (2005), Who Needs Sleep? (2006), From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks (2007), In the Name of Democracy: The Story of Lt. Ehren Watada (2009), and Something's Gonna Live (2010). He directed Who Needs Sleep? (2006) and From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks (2007).

In the Teens he served as cinematographer Bringing King to China (2011), Occupy Los Angeles (2012), "Medium Cool Revisited" (2013), and Four Days in Chicago (2013). He directed the films "Medium Cool Revisited" (2013) and Four Days in Chicago (2013)

There can be no doubt that Haskell Wexler was one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. Influenced by La Nouvelle Vague, he brought that sensibility to both his Hollywood films and his documentaries. He pioneered both the use of handheld cameras and natural lighting in cinematography. Ultimately the commercial films he shot often had the look more of a documentaries than commercial features. Even when a film's subject matter was somewhat outré (such as The Loved One), Haskell Wexler's cinematography had the look of realism to it. What is more, he was exceedingly versatile. Some cinematographers are very good at shooting sunsets and landscapes, but not so good at shooting interiors. Haskell Wexler excelled at both. His cinematography on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is as impressive as his cinematography on Matewan.

Of course, Haskell Wexler was also a documentarian. In between the commercial films he made for Hollywood, he shot and often wrote and directed documentaries for those causes dear to him. What is more, Mr. Wexler did not simply make documentaries on the big issues of the day, such as the Civil Rights movement or Vietnam, but often issues the average person might not have been aware of. Who Needs Sleep? addressed the long hours and effects of sleep deprivation on set workers in Hollywood.

As a director Haskell Wexler was as skilled as a cinematographer. What is more, it was not simply his documentaries that displayed his skill as a director. His film Medium Cool is a classic that leaves one wishing Mr. Wexler had directed more narrative films. Medium Cool is utterly unique and was so even in the decade of the Sixties when unusual films were virtually the norm. Haskell Wexler would be remembered if his only accomplishment was Medium Cool. As it is he was one of the greatest cinematographers of all time and a documentarian of considerable skill. There had been no one like him before and it seems likely there will never be anyone like him again.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Godspeed Frank Armitage

Frank Armitage, who served as a background artist on several classic Disney films, died on January 4 2016 at the age of 91.

Frank Armitage was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1924. He began drawing while he was still very young. During World War II he served in the  Royal Australian Air Force. He attended an art institute in Melbourne. While there he picked up a book on Mexican mural painters at the National Gallery of Victoria. Afterwards he quit school and migrated to Montreal. He worked there for 18 months to earn enough money to move to Mexico City. Frank Armitage won an international mural contest sponsored by social realist painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. He afterwards became David Alfaro Siqueiros's assistant. In Mexico he worked on several different murals.

In 1952 Frank Armitage moved to Los Angeles and started working for Walt Disney Productions. At Disney he served as a background artist on Peter Pan (1952), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Sleeping Beauty (1959), Mary Poppins (1964), and The Jungle Book (1967). as well as the Disneyland episode "Man and the Moon".  He also worked on the launch of the theme park Disneyland, particularly contributing to Storybook Land.

Frank Armitage did work outside of Walt Disney Productions. He worked as a background artist for UPA on the TV shows Mister Magoo and The Dick Tracy Show. He later served as a graphic designer on the feature film Fantastic Voyage (1966). In 1977 he returned to Disney where he did work for the Wonders of Life Pavilion at Epcot. He would later create concept art for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris and a murals for a restaurant in Disney World's Animal Kingdom and Tokyo DisneySea. He also worked as an art consultant on the PBS series Cosmos.

Frank Armitage retired from Disney in 1989. He studied medicine and acupuncture and continued to paint medical artwork.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pat Harrington Jr. Passes On

Actor and voice artist Pat Harrington Jr., who guest starred frequently on TV shows in the Sixties, voiced The Inspector in the DePatie-Freleng theatrical cartoon series of the same name, and played Schneider on the sitcom One Day at a Time, died on January 6 2016 at the age of 86.  He had been in declining health and was suffering from Alzheimer's.

Pat Harrington Jr. was born on August 13 1929 in New York City. His father, Daniel Patrick Harrington Sr., had been an actor on vaudeville and on Broadway. His parents did not particularly want him to pursue a career in entertainment, knowing all too well its uncertainty. He attended the La Salle Military Academy on Long Island and received a bachelor's degree in philosophy and government as well as a master's degree in political philosophy from Fordham University in New York City.

Pat Harrington Jr. made his television debut on an episode of The Ford Theatre Hour in 1949.  He later appeared on Toast of the Town (later known as The Ed Sullivan Show) in 1952 and episodes of The Plymouth Playhouse and The Motorola Television Hour in 1953. During the Korean War he served in the United States Air Force. After being demobilised he worked as an advertising salesman for NBC. It was during this period that he created the character of  Italian immigrant Guido Panzini for use as a sales tool for clients. It was Jonathan Winters who overheard him playing Guido Panzini in the bar of the New York City restaurant Toots Shor's. This led to several more appearances on television.

In the late Fifties Pat Harrington Jr. appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Tonight Show, The Jack Paar Show, and the game show Laugh-Line. He guest starred on The Elgin Hour, The Alcoa Hour, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was a regular on The Danny Thomas Show (AKA Make Room for Daddy) during the 1959-1960 season.

In the Sixties Pat Harrington Jr. continue to appear frequently as a performer on talk shows, variety shows, and game shows. He appeared on such shows as The Jackie Gleason Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Spike Jones Show, Password, and The Steve Allen Show. He was a regular on The Jack Paar Show and the host of the game show Stump the Stars. He guest starred on such shows as Grindl, Kentucky Jones, The Littlest Hobo, Kentucky Jones, The Bing Crosby Show, Mr. Novak, The Lucy Show, The MunstersMcHale's Navy, F Troop,The Beverly Hillbillies, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Run For Your Life, and The Flying Nun. He also voiced Speedy in the "Teen Titans" segment  and The Atom in the "Justice League of America" segment of the Saturday morning cartoon The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. During the Sixties he appeared in such films as The Wheeler Dealers (1963); Move Over, Darling (1963); Easy Come, Easy Go (1967); 2000 Years Later (1969); and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969). From 1965 to 1969 he provided the voice of The Inspector and Sergeant Deux-Deux in DePatie-Freleng's series of "The Inspector" theatrical animated shorts.

In the Seventies Pat Harrington Jr. played building superintendent Dwayne Schneider on the sitcom One Day at a Time. Schneider became one of the main characters on the show, and possibly the most popular. Pat Harrington Jr. won an Emmy for the role. He also wrote several episodes of One Day at a Time. Mr. Harrington was also a regular on the legal drama Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law. He guest starred on such shows as The New Andy Griffith Show, Marcus Welby M.D., Nanny and the Professor, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Rookies, The Partridge Family, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Banacek, Columbo, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, McMillan & Wife, Ellery Queen, and The Love Boat. He provided voices on the animated TV shows Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, and Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels. He appeared in the films Every Little Crook and Nanny (1972) and The Candidate (1972).

In the Eighties Pat Harrington Jr. guest starred on the shows The Love Boat, Glitter, Who's the Boss, Comedy Factory, Crazy Like a Fox, Hotel, Duet, The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Sydney and Murder, She Wrote.  In the Nineties he provided voices for the Saturday morning cartoon Yo Yogi. He guest starred on such shows as Civil Wars, Silk Stalkings, The George Carlin Show, Empty Nest, Burke's Law, Kirk, Fantasy Island, and Diagnosis Murder. He appeared in the films Round Trip to Heaven (1992).

In the Naughts into the Teens he guest starred on the shows Las Vegas, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Hot in Cleveland. He appeared in the film Ablaze (2001).

Many today remember Pat Harrington Jr. best as Schneider on One Day at a Time. And it must be admitted that he was incredible in the role. That having been said, Mr. Harrington had a long career in which he played many other roles, most quite different from Schneider. He was a Texas good old boy in The Wheeler Dealers, a superspy and master of disguise in the F Troop episode "Spy, Counterspy, Counter Counterspy", a district attorney in the film Move, Over Darling, and shady businessman Buddy Castle in the Columbo episode "An Exercise in Fatality".

Of course, much of the reason Pat Harrington Jr. could play so many different roles was his very versatile voice. It should be no surprise that he had a very good career as a voice artist. What is more he voiced a wide array of characters, everything from The Inspector with his faux Belgian accent to the superhero The Atom to incidental voices in various Hanna-Barbera cartoons. It must also be pointed out that Pat Harrington Jr. was a very funny man. His appearances on the various variety shows in the Fifties and Sixties should really be seen today. With perfect comic timing and his gift for voices, he could be very funny. Pat Harrington Jr. was an enormous talent of the sort that is very rarely seen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wayne Rogers R.I.P.

Wayne Rogers, best known for playing Trapper John on the classic TV show M*A*S*H, died on December 31 2015 at the age of 82. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

Wayne Rogers was born in Birmingham, Alabama on April 7 1933. He attended Ramsay High School there and graduated from the preparatory school Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. He graduated from  Princeton University and afterwards served in the United States Navy.

In 1959 he made his television debut in episodes of the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. He made his film debut in a bit part in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). In the late Fifties he guest starred on the shows Zane Gray Theatre, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Millionaire, and Johnny Ringo. He was a regular on the TV Western Stagecoach West and appeared three times on the Western Law of the Plainsman in the role of  Deputy Billy Lordan.

In the Sixties Mr. Rogers guest starred on such shows as The Dick Powell Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun - Will Travel, Arrest and Trial, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Honey West, The Fugitive, Combat!, 12 O'Clock High, The Invaders, The Big Valley, and Lancer. He appeared in the films Dr. Sex (1964), The Glory Guys (1965), Cool Hand Luke (1967), and WUSA (1970).

In the Seventies Wayne Rogers was cast in the role of Trapper John McIntyre on M*A*S*H. While the character of Trapper John proved very popular on the show, he left after three seasons due to a contract dispute. Wayne Rogers went on to star in the shows City of Angels and House Calls. He guest starred on the shows Men at Law, Barnaby Jones, and Cannon. He appeared in the films Doomsday Machine (1972), Pocket Money (1972), and Once in Paris (1978).

The Eighties saw Wayne Roger appear frequently on Broadway. He made his Broadway debut in Einstein and the Polar Bear in 1981. During the decade he went on to appear on Broadway in Grown Ups, Duet for One, Little Me, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and The Odd Couple. On television he continued to star on House Calls in the early part of the decade. He starred in the mini-series Chiefs. He appeared in such TV movies as He's Fired, She's Hired; I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later; and One Terrific Guy. He appeared in the films The Hot Touch (1981) and The Killing Time (1987).

In the Nineties Wayne Rogers appeared in the films The Goodbye Bird (1993), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) , Love Lies Bleeding (1999), and Coo Coo Cafe (2000). He had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. In the Naughts he appeared in the films Frozen with Fear (2001), Three Days of Rain (2002), and Nobody Knows Anything! (2003).

There can be little doubt that Wayne Rogers will always be remembered as the practical joker Trapper John on M*A*S*H. He was very good at playing affable characters, whether it was Trapper John on M*A*S*H or Dr. Charley Michaels on House Calls. While his best known roles were friendly, likeable fellows, however, Wayne Rogers could easily play villains. He played a child molester in the TV movie One Terrific Guy and a very unsympathetic used car dealer in the film The Gig. Wayne Rogers was a very versatile actor who could create three-dimensional characters, whether they were likeable or not.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Stevie Wright of The Easybeats Passes On

Stevie Wright, perhaps best known as the lead singer of Sixties Australian band The Easybeats, died on December 27 2015 at the age of 68. The cause was pneumonia.

Stevie Wright was born on December 20 1947 in  Leeds, West Yorkshire. It was in 1958 that his father moved the family to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. In 1960 the family moved to Villawood, New South Wales. There Stevie Wright became the lead vocalist for the local band The Outlaws. By 1964 he had become a founding member of Chris Langdon & the Langdells. It was following a Langdells performance that he met  Johannes Hendrikus Jacob van den Berg, later better known as Harry Vanda, and Dingeman Adriaan Henry van der Sluijs, later better known as Dick Diamonde. The two of them convinced Stevie Wright to form a band with their friend George Young. It was then in 1964 that Stevie Wright, Henry Vanda, Dick Diamonde, George Young, and drummer Gordon "Snowy" Fleet formed The Easybeats.

The Easybeats became the resident band for the Beatle Village Club, where they were discovered by the music publisher and producer Ted Albert. Mr. Albert signed them to his own Albert Productions and secured a record deal with EMI/Parlophone. The Easybeats had success early, with their first single "She's a Woman" going to no. 33 on the Australian chart in 1965. That same year they would have major hits with "She's So Fine" and "Wedding Ring". Their first album, Easy, released in September 1965, went to no. 4 on the Australian chart.

The year 1966 saw the band move to London, England. It would also see even more success for The Easybeats.Their single "Women (Make Me Feel Alright)" went to no. 4 on the Australian chart. Their single "Come and See Her" went to no. 3. They had their first no. 1 with "Sorry". It would be "Friday on My Mind" that would be the biggest success of their career. "Friday on My Mind" not only went to no. 1 on the Australian chart, but proved to be their first international success. It went to no. 6 on the UK singles chart and no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Their album It's 2 Easy went to no. 7 on the Australian chart.

Unfortunately The Easybeats were never able to repeat the success of "Friday on My Mind". Their highest charting single in 1967 was "Heaven and Hell", which went to no. 8 on the Australian chart. By 1968 The Easybeats, which had regularly seen their singles reach the top ten and top twenty of the Australian chart, only landed one single, "Land of Make Believe", in the top twenty. They did have some international success with "Hello, How are You", which went to no. 20 on the UK chart, and  "St. Louis", which peaked at no. 100 on the Billboard Hot 100.

While The Easybeats saw fewer major hits after 1968, their songs were often covered by other bands. , "Bring a Little Lovin'" was covered by Los Bravos and "Come In, You'll Get Pneumonia" was covered by Paul Revere & The Raiders. "Good Times", which saw some airplay in the United States and United Kingdom, would later be covered by Shocking Blue.

Despite this, by 1968 the band was in decline and its members increasingly drifted apart. Their last actual album, Vigil, was released in May 1968. A final album released under The Easybeats' name, Friends, was actually a compilation of demo tracks for other artists written by Harry Vanda and George Young save for the singles "St. Louis" and "Can't Find Love".  Their single "Peculiar Hole In The Sky" only went to no. 53 on the Australian chart in 1969. Their single "I Love Marie" did even worse, only going to no. 93. The Easybeats then broke up in 1969.

Once The Easybeats broke up Stevie Wright returned to Sydney, Australia. He produced the band Bootleg's first single, "Whole World Should Slow Down", in 1970.  For a time from 1971 to 1972 he was a member of the band Likefun. In 1972 he appeared as Simon Zealotes in an Australian stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. That same year he was briefly a member of the band Black Tank.

In late 1973 Mr. Wright signed with Albert Productions as a solo artist. He released the single "Hard Road" which failed to chart. His second solo single, "Evie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)", hit no. 1 on the Australian singles chart. His third single, "Guitar Band", went to no. 13. His first solo album, Hard Road, went to no. 2 on the Australian chart. Unfortunately his career lost momentum rather quickly. His next single, "You" (from his album Black Eyed Bruiser). The single "Black Eyed Bruiser" (from the album of the same name) peaked at no. 99.

Unfortunately Stevie Wright's career would stall in the late Seventies due to heroin addiction and health concerns. In an attempt to overcome his heroin addiction he admitted himself to  Chelmsford Private Hospital. There psychiatrist Harry Bailey treated him with the highly controversial deep sleep therapy, by which patients are kept unconscious for days or even weeks. As a result of the therapy Stevie Wright suffered brain damage.

In 1982 he recorded vocals for Harry Vanda and George Young's studio band Flash and the Pan's album Headlines. There were talks of an Easybeats reunion, but it never came to be. In 1983 there was talk of another solo album, but it never emerged. Sadly, Stevie Wright's heroin addiction would keep his career stalled for literally years. He briefly appeared with The Easybeats in a reunion tour in 1986. In 2005 he and the other Easybeats were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame . In 2009 he was the headliner at the Legends of Rock festival in Byron Bay, New South Wales.

It is sad that Stevie Wright's demons prevented him from having a fuller career, as he was very talented. As a performer he ranked right up there with other Sixties icons, such as Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. His performances as The Easybeats' lead vocalist were very energetic, complete with leaps and backflips. If The Easybeats' performances from the Sixties remain memorable, it is largely due to Stevie Wright.

But Stevie Wright was more than just a great performer. He was also a talented songwriter. With George Young he co-wrote the bulk of the songs on the band's first three albums, including the singles "She's So Fine", "Wedding Ring", and "Sorry". As The Easybeats' career progressed the writing would shift towards Harry Vanda and George Young (the team wrote the hit "Friday on My Mind"), but arguably it was Stevie Wright and George Young's songs that helped establish The Easybeats as Australia's first intentionally successful rock band. Indeed, while The Easybeats are best known for "Friday On My Mind" outside of Australia, they left behind a body of work that is easily as good, if not better, than many American and British bands. Stevie Wright had a large part in that body of work.