Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kenny Baker R.I.P.

Kenny Baker, best known for playing R2-D2 in the first two Star Wars trilogies, died today at the age of 81 following a long illness.

Kenny Baker was born in Birmingham, England on August 24 1934. His career in show business began in 1950 when he joined a performing troupe called Burton Lester’s Midgets. He later became a DJ with Mecca Leisure Group, an organisation that operated nightclubs, hotels, and other businesses. He worked for Billy Smart's Circus for a time. After leaving the circus he spent several years performing in ice shows and pantomimes. Afterwards he was a founding member of the comedy act The Minitones alongside Jack Purvis.

Kenny Baker made his film debut in an uncredited part in the movie Circus of Horrors in 1960. He guest starred in an episode of Man of the World in 1962. In 1975, immediately prior to being cast in Star Wars, he guest starred on Dave Allen at Large. He made his debut as R2-D2 in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope in 1977 and went on to play the droid in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002), and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005). He also appeared as R2-D2 on TV in The Star Wars Holiday Special and episode of The Muppet Show.

In the Seventies he appeared in the films Wombling Free (1978), Flash Gordon (1980), and The Elephant Man (1980). In the Eighties he appeared in the films Time Bandits (1981), Amadeus (1984), Mona Lisa (1986), Labyrinth (1986), and Sleeping Beauty (1987). On television he guest starred on Ben Elton: The Man from Auntie. He appeared in the mini-series Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the Nineties he appeared in the film U.F.O. and provided the voice of Captain Orton  in the animated The King and I (1999). In the Naughts he appeared in the films The Cage (2002) and The Battersea Ripper (2006). He guest starred on Swiss Toni and Casualty.

While Kenny Baker will probably always be remembered as R2-D2, he did play other roles in career. While may were bit parts, there were those occasions when he received a good deal of screen time. In fact, I suspect he should be best remembered as Fidgit in the movie Time Bandits. Not only did he receive more screen time in the film, but he gave one of its best performances. Even in the various small parts Kenny Baker played over the years, he showed a good deal of talent. He will will most certainly be always remembered as R2-D2, but he did many other remarkable parts as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Godspeed David Huddleston

David Huddleston, who appeared in such films as Blazing Saddles (1974) and The Big Lebowski (1998), died on August 2 2016 at the age of 85.

David Huddleston was born on September 17 1930 in Vinton, Virginia. As a child he performed in church pageants. He attended Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Virginia before serving as an engine mechanic in the United States Air Force. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Mr. Huddleston made his television debut in an episode of Shotgun Slade in 1960. In the Sixties he guest starred on the shows Harrigan and Son, Adam-12, Then Came Bronson, and The Name of the Game. He made his film debut in a small role in the film All the Way Home in 1963. During the decade he appeared in such films as Black Like Me (1964), A Lovely Way to Die (1968), Slaves (1969), and WUSA (1970). Norwood (1970) presented him with a somewhat more substantial role than the bit parts he had been playing. It was followed by Rio Lobo (1970), in which he also had a somewhat more substantial role. David Huddleston made his debut on Broadway in Woman Is My Idea in 1968.

The Seventies saw David Huddleston's career take off. He was a regular on the shows Petrocelli, How the West Was Won, The Kallikaks, and Hizzoner. He also played the role of Olson Johnson in the classic film Blazing Saddles. Mr. Huddleston appeared frequently on television in the Seventies. He guest starred on such shows as Room 222, Bewitched, McMillan & Wife, Cannon, Medical Centre, Bonanza, The Waltons, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Ironside, Dirty Sally, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kung Fu, Emergency!, Hawaii Five-O, Sanford and Son, The Rockford Files, Charlie's Angels, and Vega$. He also originated the role of Sheriff Bridges in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971), from which The Waltons was spun off (on the TV series Sheriff Bridges was played by John Crawford).

Amazingly enough given how often he appeared on television, Mr. Huddleston also appeared in several feature films in the decade. Besides Blazing Saddles they included such films as Fools' Parade (1971), Something Big (1971), Bad Company (1972), Country Blue (1973), McQ (1974), Nightmare Honeymoon (1974), Breakheart Pass (1975), Crime Busters (1977), The Greatest (1977), and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980). He also appeared on Broadway in The Roast in 1980.

In the Eighties David Huddleston played the title role in Santa Claus (1985). He also appeared in the films Go For It (1983), The Act (1984), and Frantic (1988). He guest starred on the shows Trapper John M.D.;The Fall Guy; Magnum P.I.;Blacke's Magic; Our House; J. J. Starbuck; Murder, She Wrote; and Columbo. He appeared on Broadway in The First and Death of a Salesman.

In the Nineties David Huddleston played the lead role in The Big Lebowski (1998). He also appeared in the films Life with Mikey (1993), Cultivating Charlie (1994), Something to Talk About (1995), Joe's Apartment (1996), The Man Next Door (1997), and G-Men from Hell (2000). He guest starred on such shows as The Wonder Years; Star Trek: The Next Generation; Walker, Texas Ranger; The Naked Truth; The Practice; The West Wing, and Gilmore Girls. He appeared on Broadway in Abe Lincoln in Illinois and 1776.

From the Naughts into the Teens he appeared in such films as Reveille (2004), The Producers (2005), Postal (2007), and Locker 13 (2014). He guest starred on the TV shows Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, Andy Parker P.I., and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

David Huddleston was an extremely versatile actor, as comfortable playing comedy as he was drama. He played his share of villains in his career, from the comic (the Big Lebowski in the film of the same name) to the downright frightening (Mayor Riddle in 1974's The Klansman). While Mr. Huddleston was very effective at playing bad guys, he was just as effective playing more lovable roles. He made a good Santa Claus in the film of the same name, and played Gramps Arnold in episodes of the TV show The Wonder Years. A veritable mountain of a man, Mr. Huddleston could play everything from a United States Senator (as he did on The West Wing) to a New York City police Inspector (in the TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York). He was one of the most talented character actors of his generation and one who was certainly prolific.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

I just wanted to thank everyone who participated in the Third Annual British Invaders Blogathon a success! Barring unforeseen circumstances, there will be a Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon. I am tentatively scheduling it for August 4, 5, and 6 (the first weekend of August) of next year.

Don't forget that next month I am hosting the Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon on September 13, 14, and 15.