Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pierre Étaix Passes On

Pierre Étaix, the French actor and director well known for his classic slapstick films, died on October 14 2016 at the age of 87. The cause was complications from an intestinal infection.

Pierre Étaix was born on November 23 1928 in Roanne, France. As a boy he was interested in both the circus and the classic silent films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and others. After finishing his education at the lycée (roughly the French equivalent of an American high school or British sixth form college), Mr. Étaix studied and worked for stained glass artist  Théodore-Gérard Hanssen. He eventually moved to Paris where he worked as an illustrator for magazines, as well as a comic at cabarets and a circus performer.

It was in 1954 that he worked for legendary filmmaker and actor Jacques Tati as a gagman and draughtsman on Mr.  Tati's film Mon Oncle (1958). He eventually became an assistant director on the film. He made his acting debut in Pickpocket (1959) and appeared in Tire-au-flanc 62 (1960--English title The Army Game).

Pierre Étaix made his directorial debut with the short "Rupture" (in which he also starred) in 1961.In the Sixties he directed and starred in the films "Heureux anniversaire" (1962), Le soupirant (1962), "Insomnie" (1963), Yoyo (1965), Tant qu'on a la santé (1966), and Le Grand Amour (1969). He appeared in all of these films, as well as a few he did not direct, including "Le pèlerinage" (1962), Une grosse tête (1962), and Le voleur (1967).  Pierre Étaix's films were critically acclaimed and some of them even won awards.

Unfortunately the critics would soon turn on Pierre Étaix. His 1971 film Pays de cocagne was a documentary made following the period of civil unrest in 1968. The film took a satirical look at French consumerism that was not well received by critics. It was pulled from theatres after only two weeks. Pierre Étaix  found it impossible to get funding for his films and directed no more films for the remainder of the Seventies. As an actor he appeared in Jerry Lewis's unreleased film The Day the Clown Cried (1972), as well as Sérieux comme le plaisir (1975) and Noctuor (1978). On television he appeared in the TV special Show Pierre Étaix and an episode of Cinéma 16.

Pierre Étaix returned to directing with L'âge de Monsieur est avancé (1987). Over the next many years he directed Le cauchemar de Méliès (1988), J'écris dans l'espace (1989), and En pleine forme (2010), as well as an episode of Souris noire in 1989.As an actor he appeared in the Eighties in the films Max mon amour (1986), Nuit docile (1987), and Henry & June (1990). From the Naughts into the Teens he appeared in Jardins en automne (2006), Lucifer et moi (2008), Mic Macs à Tire-Larigot (2009), Chantrapas (2010), Le Havre (2011), and Chant d'hiver (2011).

Pierre Étaix was a total genius and quite possibly the last great slapstick star. He was the last in a long line that included Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati, and others. What made Pierre Étaix one of the best among them is that he endowed his characters with a sense of poignancy that one might not find in most modern day slapstick comedies. This was no less true of  his film Yoyo, in which he played the title character as well as his wealthy father. There were only few great stars of slapstick remaining when Pierre Étaix was working. Except for Jerry Lewis, now it seems that there are none.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wolfgang Suschitzky R.I.P.

Photographer and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky died on October 7 2016 at the age of 104.

Wolfgang Suschitzky was born in Vienna on August 29 1912. His passion was zoology, but he could not make a living as a zoologist in Austria. He then followed his sister Edith (who would become famous herself as Edith Tudor-Hart) into the field of photography. He attended  the Höhere Graphische Bundes-Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna. In 1934, with Nazism on the rise, Mr. Suschitzky left Austria for Amsterdam. Among other things, there he took pictures for postcards for newsagents for a few months. It was in Amsterdam that he met Helena Voûte, called "Puck". The two married and opened a photography studio together there, but the marriage would not last. In 1935 Wolfgang Suschitzky moved to London. In the United Kingdom Mr. Suschitzky made a name for himself photographing places in the city of London. His interest in zoology would be reflected in many of the photographs of animals he took throughout his career. In fact, his first exhibition in London in 1940 consisted of his pictures of animals. That same year he published his first book Photographing Children, followed by his second book, Photographing Animals, in 1941. In 1956 he provided photographs for the book The Kingdom of the Beasts by Julian Huxley.

It was in the Forties that Wolfgang Suschitzky began his collaboration with documentary producer and director Paul Rotha. His first work with Mr. Rotha was the short "Life Begins Again" in 1942. Over the next few years he worked with Mr. Rotha on the shorts "Defeat Tuberculosis" (1943), "World of Plenty" (1943), "Children of the City" (1944), and  "New Builders" (1944). He also provided cinematography for many other documentary shorts in the Forties and Fifties.

The Fifties saw Wolfgang Suschitzky begin work in narrative feature films, beginning with Paul Rotha's No Resting Place in 1951. In the Fifties he also worked on the films The Oracle (1953) and Cat and Mouse (1958), as well as the TV shows The New Adventures of Charlie Chan and The Invisible Man and several documentary shorts.

In the Sixties he worked on the films Den hvide hingst (1961), The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963), Sands of Beersheba (1964), Ulysses (1967), The Vengeance of She (1968), Ring of Bright Water (1969), and Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970), as well as several documentaries and shorts.

In the Seventies Mr. Suschitzky worked on the films Get Carter (1971), Some Kind of Hero (1972), Living Free (1972), A Better Mousetrap (1973), Theatre of Blood (1973), Moments (1974), and Falling in Love Again (1980). He worked on the TV series Worzel Gummidge, as well as several documentaries and shorts.

In the Eighties Wolfgang Suschitzky worked on the films The Young Visiters (1984), The Chain (1984), Claudia (1985), and Riders to the Sea (1987).

As both a photographer and a cinematographer, Wolfgang Suschitzky tend towards naturalism. His photographs were almost always shot with natural lighting and without any flourishes. His ability to find art in natural settings proved not only to serve him well in shooting documentaries, but in narrative films as well. Many of the films Mr. Suschitzky shot had the look of cinéma vérité, particularly Get Carter. Wolfgang Suschitzky was not only very talented when it came to naturalistic photography, but he was also very adaptable as well. The films upon which he worked ranged from action thrillers (Get Carter) to horror movies (Theatre of Blood) to comedies (The Oracle) to dramas (Ulysses). As both a photographer and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky was a most singular talent.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Who's "Pictures of Lily"

 It was today in 1853 that legendary actress Lillie Langtry was born. Extremely popular in her lifetime, the actress would have an impact on popular culture that lasts to this day. Even rock music has felt her impact. An example of this is the song "Pictures of Lily" by The Who. It is commonly believed that the song is about Lillie Langtry, despite the spelling of the name in the song. Miss Langtry's image was featured on many postcards in her lifetime, so many that it would not be unusual for someone in the Fifties or Sixties to own a few. Perhaps the biggest clue that Lillie Langtry is the subject of the song is the line "She's been dead since 1929." Miss Langtry died on February 12 1929.

At any rate, I rather suspect that many classic film and television buffs could easily identify with the song. Given pictures of Lily by his father, the song's protagonist finds himself in love with Lily, who unfortunately died in 1929. It's something most classic film and television buffs could sympathise with. After all, many of our beloved stars died long ago, some even before we were born.

By the way, it was in an interview about the song with New Music Express in its May 20 1967 issue that Pete Townshend coined the phrase "power pop", now applied to a popular subgenre of rock music. Anyhow, without further ado, here is "Pictures of Lily" by The Who

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Patricia Barry Passes On

Patricia Barry, who appeared in a large number of B-movies, made numerous guest appearances on television, was a regular on the sitcom Harris Against the World, and regularly starred on soap operas, died on October 11 2016 at the age of 93.

Patricia Barry was born Patricia White in Davenport, Iowa on November 16 1922. She studied theatre at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and later studied acting under Sanford Meisner in New York City.

She made her professional debut on stage in 1944 in the play Laughing Water. She later won a Rita Hayworth lookalike contest, which led to a contract with Warner Bros. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in Her Kind of Man (1946). Over the next few years she appeared in small roles in such films as Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), The Man I Love (1947), and Cry Wolf (1947). She signed with Columbia Pictures in the late Forties, where she was soon playing female leads. In the late Forties she appeared in such films as When a Girl's Beautiful (1947), Rose of Santa Rosa (1947), The Wreck of the Hesperus (1948), Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948), Singin' Spurs (1948), Manhattan Angel (1949), The Undercover Man (1949, and The Tattooed Stranger (1950). In 1950 she made her television debut in an episode of The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. She also guest starred on Robert Montgomery Presents.

The Fifties saw Patricia Barry's career shift towards television. She was a regular on the soap opera First Love. She guest starred on such shows as Armstrong Circle Theatre, Man Against Crime, Suspense, Goodyear Playhouse, The Alcoa Hour, Studio One, Playhouse 90, Maverick, The Third Man, 77 Sunset Strip, Sugarfoot, Westinghouse-Desilu Playhouse, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Laramie, The Rifleman, Tales of Wells Fargo, Perry Mason, and Bachelor Father. She made her debut on Broadway in The Pink Elephant in 1953 and later appeared in Goodbye Again in 1956.

In the Sixties Patricia Barry was a regular on the sitcom Harris Against the World. She guest starred on such shows as The Donna Reed Show, Ben Casey, My Three Sons, Thriller, Route 66, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour, The Virginian, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dr. Kildare, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Green Hornet, The High Chaparral, Ironside, The Flying Nun, and Gunsmoke. She appeared in the films Send Me No Flowers (1964), Kitten with a Whip (1964), and Dear Heart (1964).

In the Seventies Mrs. Barry had a recurring role on the crime drama Monty Nash. She was a regular on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. She guest starred on the shows The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, Insight, Police Woman, Columbo, Visions, Charlie's Angels, Three's Company, and Quincy M.E. She appeared in the film The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971).

In the Eighties Patricia Barry appeared in the films The End of August (1982),Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), For Keeps? (1988), Dance to Win (1989), and Sea of Love (1989). She had recurring roles on the soap operas All My Children and The Guiding Light. She guest starred on Finder of Lost Loves, Simon & Simon, and Nine to Love.

In the Nineties she guest starred on Knot's Landing; Dallas; Hunter; Ghostwriter; Loving; and Murder, She Wrote. In the Naughts she guest starred on Providence. In 2014 she made her last appearance on screen, in the film Delusional.

Patricia Barry was certainly a prolific actress. She guest starred on numerous TV shows and appeared in several movies throughout her career. There can be no doubt that much of the reason she was so much in demand was that she was a very pretty woman, but she was also a very talented one as well. Patricia Barry could play anything. She had a particular gift for comedy, which was on display as the soon to be divorced Linda Bullard in Send Me No Flowers and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "Goodbye, George". That is not to say that she was not equally adept at drama, as shown by appearances on Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone. Ultimately she could play nearly anything she wanted. She could be the charming woman who could twist men around her little finger, as in the High Chaparral episode "The Widow from Red Rock", or she could be an ordinary housewife, as on Harris Against the World. Not many in the general public may recognise Patricia Barry's name, but they will remember her from many, many hours of television and films.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lyn Wilde R.I.P.

Lyn and Lee Wilde, the Wilde Twins
Lyn Wilde, who with her sister Lee was one half of the Wilde Twins, died on September 11 2016 at the age of 93. Lee died before her on September 7 2015.

Lyn Wilde was born on October 11 1922 in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her sister Lee was born several minutes before her, on October 10 1922. As little girls they sang at their church. They were around 16 when they began singing hymns at 6:00 AM every day on local radio station WTMV. After they graduated high school they received their own radio show, The Sundown Club, on radio station KXOK. In 1940 they began performing on the showboat the Admiral. It was not long before they were singing with Ray Noble and His Orchestra.

In 1941 Lee and Lyn Wylde made their film debut in the short subject "Jingle Belles". It was in 1942 that the Wilde Twins became vocalists with the Charlie Barnett Band and later Bob Crosby and His Orchestra. That same year they made their feature film debut in Juke Box Jenny. The Wilde Twins went onto sing in the films Reveille with Beverly (1943), Presenting Lily Mars (1943), and Two Girls and a Sailor (1944). Lee and Lyn Wilde made their acting debut in Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble in 1944. They appeared in the films Twice Blessed (1945), Campus Honeymoon (1947), and Look for the Silver Lining (1949). They sang in the film Till the Clouds Roll By (1949).

In 1942 Lyn married Jim Cathcart. Her sister Lee married Jim Cathcart's brother Tom in 1947. Lee Wilde retired from show business, but Lyn continued to appear in various films for several years. Those films included Tucson (1949), Sheriff of Wichita (1949), Show Boat (1951), Invitation (1952), The Belle of New York (1952), Bronco Buster (1952), Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952), I Love Melvin (1953), and The Girl Next Door (1953).

The Wilde Twins were certainly pretty. They were also very talented singers. Lee and Lyn Wilde had mellifluous voices and, given that they were twins this should not be surprising, they could in perfect harmony. For me, and I am guessing this is true for many others, one of the high points of any given MGM musical from the Forties was when the Wilde Twins performed. They were also fairly good actresses, with a knack for comedy. I really wish that MGM had utilised them more often than they did. Lee and Lyn Wilde, the Wilde Twins, may not be household names like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, but classic film buffs will remember them for many years to come.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Raquel Welch: The Most Desired Woman Of the Seventies

If one were asked to name a sex symbol from the Sixties, it would very likely be Raquel Welch. If one were asked to name a sex symbol from the Forties, it might well be Rita Hayworth. Beyond both being major sex symbols of their eras, I have always thought the two women had a great deal in common. They both studied dance. Rita Hayworth was the daughter of dancers who took dance lessons from an early age. Raquel Welch studied ballet from age seven to seventeen. Both women became famous through lightweight feature films--Rita Hayworth in musicals, Raquel Welch in genre films. Both women were popular pinups in their respective eras. Among the greatest similarity between the two women is the fact that both Rita Hayworth and Raquel Welch are Latinas, but the general public did not realise it when they were at the height of their fame.

Raquel Welch was born Jo-Raquel Tejada on September 5 1940 in Chicago. Her father was an aeronautical engineer originally from  La Paz, Bolivia. Her mother was the daughter of architect Emery Stanford Hall, whose ancestry traced back to England (his family had arrived in North America on the Mayflower). Her parents moved to California, where they later divorced. Young Raquel took an interest in the performing arts from early on. As mentioned above, as a young girl she studied ballet. She studied acting at San Diego State College and was only 19 when she played the lead role in the Ramona Pageant, the annual outdoor play based on the novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson held in Helmet, California. She married James Welch, her high school sweetheart in 1959. The two would be divorced in 1964.

Before she became famous Raquel Welch worked as a weather girl for KFMB in San Diego and later moved to Dallas where she was a model for Neiman Marcus and a cocktail waitress. She moved back to Los Angeles in 1963 where she met Patrick Curtis, who had played Melanie's baby in Gone With the Wind (1939). Mr. Curtis became her manager and it was he who suggested that she use her married name, Welch, rather than her given name, Tejada, to avoid typecasting as a Latina. Together the two of them decided to make Raquel Welch a sex symbol.

Miss Welch tried out for the role of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, but failed to get the part. She made her feature film debut in a bit part in A House Is Not a Home in 1964 and made her television debut in a bit part in the TV series The Virginian that same year. She had slightly more substantial guest roles on the TV shows McHale's Navy, Bewitched, and The Rogues, and a bit part in the movie Roustabout (1964). The year 1965 saw Raquel Welch have more substantial roles. She had a major role in the movie A Swingin' Summer, as well as guest appearances on Wendy and Me and The Baileys of Balboa. For the 1964-1965 season she was the "Billboard Girl" on the variety show Hollywood Palace.

Eventually Miss Welch came to the attention of producer Saul David's wife. It was Saul David who brought her to the attention of 20th Century Fox, who signed her to a seven year contract. Miss Welch was then cast in the lead female role in the science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (1966). Arguably, it was Fantastic Voyage that turned her into a star, but it would be another film that would turn her into a sex symbol. 20th Century Fox loaned Miss Welch to Hammer Films for their caveman fantasy One Million Years B.C. (1966).  As part of the promotion for the film, Raquel Welch was prominently featured in posters and promotional art in what can only be described as a deerskin bikini. Not only did One Million Years B.C. see a good deal of success, but Miss Welch was soon the most popular pinup of the year.

Raquel Welch appeared in two Italian films, Spara forte, più forte... non capisco (1966) and Le fate (1966), as well as a French film, Le plus vieux métier du mond (1967), before appearing in her first lead role in a film. Fathom (1967) was one of many spy comedies released in the mid-Sixties to capitalise on the spy craze. It starred Raquel Welch as Fathom Harvill, a skydiver who gets involved in espionage. Unfortunately the film opened to negative reviews and poor box office. Sadly, Fathom would be a sign of things to come in Raquel Welch's career in the late Sixties. She appeared either as the secondary lead or in supporting roles in the films Bedazzled (1967), The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), Bandolero! (1968),. Lady in Cement (1968), and 100 Rifles (1969).  While some of those films did quite well, it seemed that when Miss Welch played the lead the results would be less than impressive. Flareup (1969) received unenthusiastic reviews and did poorly at the box office. Myra Breckinridge (1970) not only bombed at the box office, but is counted by many among the worst films of all time.

While Raquel Welch sometimes fared poorly in movies in the Sixties, she fared somewhat better on television. In 1967 she guest starred on The Hollywood Palace, the variety show on which she had the Billboard Girl only a few years before. She also guest starred on The Dean Martin Show and two Bob Hope specials. In 1970 she starred in her own television special, Raquel!. The special did extraordinarily well in the ratings.

The Sixties saw Raquel Welch appear in films that are now considered classics in their genre. Fantastic Voyage, Bedazzled, Bandolero, and  One Million Years B.C. still have many fans. Unfortunately films like Fathom and Flareup would more resemble the films she made in the early Seventies. The Beloved (1971), Hannie Caulder (1971), and Kansas City Bomber (1972) received over all poor reviews. That having been said, Hannie Caulder and Kansas City Bomber were moderate successes at the box office. It was in 1973 that Raquel Welch's luck with films truly began to change. She was part of the ensemble cast of The Last of Sheila. The film received positive reviews, although it did poorly at the box office. She followed The Last of Sheila with two films that not only received positive reviews, but proved to be hits at the box office. She played Constance de Bonacieux in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge (1974), both directed by Richard Lester. Mr. Lester also directed Crossed Swords, also known as The Prince and the Pauper (1977). While Crossed Swords received positive reviews, it did not do very well at the box office. The opposite was true of Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), which did very well at the box office, but was not particularly successful with critics. L'Animal (1977) was a French film that was not released in the U.S. at the time, although it is somewhat respected now. The Wild Party (1975)  received poor reviews and disappeared from theatres swiftly.

As in the Sixties, in many ways Raquel Welch fared better on television than she did in movies. She appeared in two more specials, Really Raquel and From Raquel with Love. She also guest starred on The Muppet Show and Mork & Mindy, and hosted Saturday Night Live as well.

Unfortunately Raquel Welch's film career would come to a screeching halt in the Eighties. She was fired from Cannery Row (1982) after only a few days filming. Miss Welch sued MGM for breach of contract and ultimately won a settlement of $15 million. Sadly the whole ordeal would get Miss Welch labelled as being "difficult", so that she would be off the big screen for the entirety of the Eighties.

While Raquel Welch did not appear in any feature films in the Eighties, that did not mean she wasn't busy. She appeared in four TV movies throughout the decade: The Legend of Walks Far Woman (1982), Right to Die (1987), Scandal in a Small Town (1988), and Trouble in Paradise (1989).  She also took over Lauren Bacall's role in Woman of the Year on Broadway.

The Nineties saw Raquel Welch make guest appearances on the shows Evening Shade, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Seinfeld, and Spin City. She was a regular on the night time soap opera Central Park West. She appeared in the films Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), Chairman of the Board (1998), and Folle d'elle (1998). She appeared on Broadway in the title in Victor / Victoria.

In the Naughts Raquel Welch played the role of Aunt Dora on the drama American Family. She was also a regular on the short lived sitcom Welcome to the Captain. She guest starred on 8 Simple Rules. She appeared in the films Tortilla Soup (2001), Legally Blonde (2001), and Forget About It (2006). Since then she has appeared in the TV movies House of Versace (2013) and The Ultimate Legacy (2015), and guest starred on CSI: Miami.

As I mentioned above, I do think Raquel Welch has a lot in common with Rita Hayworth. One thing I did not mention is that both were consistently underestimated during their careers. I don't think either was ever really given credit as good actresses. In an interview with Jeannette Smyth of The Washington Post, Miss Welch said that she thought she had been good in some of the bad movies she had made, "...but being good in a bad movie doesn't do anything for your career." I certainly have to agree with her on that. Even in movies such as Kansas City Bomber Miss Welch delivered good performances. It is a sad fact of her career that she was too often given too little to work with. When she was given good material, such as the three films she made with Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers, and Crossed Swords) and the TV series American Family, she absolutely shined.

For much of her career Raquel Welch did not play Latinas, but it is too her credit that when she did they were never stereotypes. This was true of Hortensia in Tortilla Soup and particularly true of Aunt Dora on American Family. In HBO's animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child she played La Madrastra ("the Stepmother") on a Latin version of "Cinderella".

Of course, much of the reason for Raquel Welch's lasting popularity is that she was revolutionary as a sex symbol. Many of the sex symbols that preceded her in the 20th Century tended to cling to traditional female roles and were careful not to be too overt in their sexuality.  The characters played by Raquel Welch were strong and independent, and could generally handle themselves in any situation. And unlike some of the sex symbols who had preceded her, her image was openly sexual. There was nothing coy or submissive about Raquel Welch's image. She more resembled sex symbols of the Silent and Pre-Code Era, than the blonde bombshells of the Fifties.

While Raquel Welch has given good performances throughout her career, it seems likely she will be always remembered most for being a sex symbol. This is one more thing that she shares in common with Rita Hayworth. Indeed, while Rita Hayworth was one of the top pinups of the Forties, Playboy would name Raquel Welch "the Most Desired Woman of the Decade" during the Seventies. That having been said, she is also an actress, one who gave memorable performances in The Last of Sheila, The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers, Right to Die, American Family, and yet other films and TV shows. In her TV specials she proved to have some talent for dancing and singing. Raquel Welch will always be remembered as one of the most popular sex symbols of all time, but she has always been something more than that.