Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, 2016

2016 is a year that many people are anxious to see leave. It was a year that saw the deaths of more beloved celebrities than any in recent memory. What is more, for many (particularly in the United States) it was a bad year in other ways as well. If ever there was a year that the majority of people in the English speaking world hated, it was 2016.

As mentioned earlier, the year was marked by the deaths of several beloved celebrities. During most years I might cry only over one or two famous people. This year it was many more, as several of my absolute favourites died. The biggest for me was also the most recent. I think it is no secret that I have always loved Debbie Reynolds, and so I took her death particularly hard. Matters were made worse by the fact that she died only a little over a day after her equally beloved daughter Carrie Fisher (over whom I also cried). My favourite celebrities started dying very early in the year. David Bowie has always numbered among my favourite music artists, and so I took his death particularly hard. His death was followed by one of my favourite actors, Alan Rickman. The Beatles' producer, the legendary Sir George Martin, died this year, as did legendary cartoonist Jack Davis. Like many I grieved heavily over Gene Wilder, forever Willy Wonka for many. Ron Glass numbered among the deaths I took the hardest. He starred in two of my favourite shows: Barney Miller and Firefly. William Schallert was another of my favourites who died. He not only starred on Dobie Gillis and The Patty Duke Show, but made an incredible number of guest appearances during his career. Like most people I was shocked and saddened by the death of Prince. Even television heroes were not immune. Robert Vaughn, who starred in the movie The Magnificent Seven and the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Van Williams, The Green Hornet himself, both died. Even real life heroes died. John Glenn, astronaut and statesman, the last of the Mercury Seven, died late this year. Among my other favourites who died were actor, star of Mister Ed, and voice of Uncle Scrooge, Alan Young; character actor Jack Riley; character actor Marvin Kaplan; singer Bobby Vee; Dad's Army creator Jimmy Perry; horror host Zacherley; and Dr. Bombay himself, Bernard Fox.

As you can see, it is a very long list of my favourites that died this year. Sadly, they were far from the only beloved stars to die. Music saw the deaths of Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer; folk singer Glenn Yarborough; songwriting legend Leonard Cohen; Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer; and  Rick Parfitt of Status Quo. Film also saw its share of deaths, including Phantasm star and author Angus Scrimm; the legendary George Kennedy; cinematographer Douglas Slocombe; animator Willis Pyle;  John Carson of many British horror movies and TV shows; character actor David Huddleston; R2D2 himself, Kenny Baker; and comic legend Pierre Étaix. Besides Debbie Reynolds, two links to the Golden Age of Hollywood died this year: MGM contract player Gloria DeHaven and Lyn Wilde of the Wilde Twins. Several notable figures from television died, including comic actor Pat Harrington; Abe Vigoda of Barney Miller; Peter Brown of Lawman and Laredo; the legendary Patty Duke; creator of The Waltons Earl Hamner; comedian Garry Shandling; comedian Ronnie Corbett; Gareth Thomas of Blakes 7; character actor Doris Roberts; voice artist and voice of Judy Jetson, Janet Waldo; Ann Morgan Guilbert of The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Nanny; Lois Lane herself, Noel Neill; frequent guest star on Sixties TV shows, Lisa Gaye; producer and creator of many shows (not to mention film director) Gary Marshall; Steven Hill of Mission: Impossible and Law & Order; character actress Tammy Grimes; singer and Brady Bunch star Florence Henderson; TV executive Grant Tinker; and Peter Vaughan of many British TV shows. Radio saw the loss of Bob Elliott of Bob and Ray fame. In literature authors Umberto Eco and Harper Lee died.

As to why so many famous people died this year, the simple fact is that the stars from Sixties television shows, rock stars from the Sixties and Seventies, and movie stars from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, are all getting old. To make matters worse, many music stars did not lead lives conducive to longevity Ultimately, I think that even if the next few years don't see as many deaths as 2016, they probably will see nearly as many. Sadly, I think 2017 will bring more deaths of beloved actors and musicians.

Indeed, for much of this year there has been a tendency to see 2016 as nothing but death and disaster, but some good things actually did happen this year. My dear friend Lyndsy Spence published two books: her dream project, Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen and The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne. My friend Drew Morton had a book published as well, Panel to the Screen Style, American Film, and Comic Books during the Blockbuster Era. I also had two dear friends get married during 2016, a few who welcomed new children or grandchildren, and a few who got jobs that they absolutely love.

I really don't have too much to say about television and film this year. With regards to television it seems as if the networks debuted very little that interested me. The only new shows to debut on the networks in 2016 that I liked were Superstore and The Good Place. Like many people I find myself watching a good deal on streaming these days. In my case it is mostly older shows that originated on network, but I did watch two new originals on Netflix: Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. As to film, it seems as if this year was little more than sequels and remakes, which has been the trend the past several years. I am hoping that perhaps 2017 will bring more original material to the big screen.

Ultimately I think many of us are glad to see 2016 to go. It was not a particularly happy year for many of us. That having been said, I wish everyone the best for 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Godspeed Alan Thicke, Michèle Morgan, Coral Atkins, Rick Parfitt, and Liz Smith

Among the many things for which 2016 will be remembered is the sheer number of celebrities who died this year. What is more, some very big names died during the year. Indeed, December alone  has seen so many famous people die that there is little way that I can write the sort of in-depth eulogies I usually would for each of them, not unless I want to continue doing so well into the new year. I have then decided to do several short eulogies for some of my favourites who died this month. I feel as if I must apologise for having to do so, as each of these people truly deserve their own in-depth eulogy of the sort I usually write on the blog.

Alan Thicke died on December 13 2016 at the age of 69 after having collapsed while playing hockey with his son. The cause was an aortic dissection. Among Americans he may be best remembered as the father, Jason Seaver, on the hit show Growing Pains. That having been said, his career extended well beyond that popular sitcom. He was a successful composer who composed the themes to several game shows (including The Joker's Wild, Celebrity Sweepstakes, and Wheel of Fortune, among others), as well as the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. In his native Canada Alan Thicke may be best remembered for his success as a talk show host. He hosted the daytime talk show The Alan Thicke Show from 1980 to 1982, and then the night-time talk show Thicke of the Night. Over the years he also guest starred on a number of shows, including Murder, She Wrote; Burke's Law; Married...With Children; The Outer Limits; How I Met Your Mother; and Scream Queens.

Michèle Morgan, the French actress whose career literally spanned decades, died on December 20 2016 at the age of 96. Michèle Morgan saw success both in her native France and in Hollywood. She appeared opposite such leading men as Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher (1943), Humphrey Bogart in Passage to Marseille (1944), and Sir Ralph Richardson in The Fallen Idol (1948). In her native France she appeared in several notable films including Le Château de verre (1950), Obsession  (1954),  Les Grandes Manœuvres (1955), and Le Miroir à deux faces (1958).  She won the first ever Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in La Symphonie pastorale (1946).

Coral Atkins died on December 2 2016 at the age of 80.  She may be best known for her stint as Sheila Ashton on the British series A Family at War. Coral Atkins also had recurring roles on the shows Flesh and Blood and Emmerdale. She made frequent guest appearances on British television shows, including Emergency-Ward 10, Z Cars, The Avengers, Dixon of Dock Green, Callan, and Anne of Avonlea. In the Seventies she opened a home for disadvantaged children and a second one in the Eighties. Over a span of 26 years she cared for 37 children.

Rick Parfitt, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and founding member of Status Quo, died on December 24 2016 at the age of 68. The cause was a severe infection following a shoulder injury. Rick Parfitt learned to play guitar when he was only eleven years old. By 1963 he was playing with a band called The Feathers in a pub in Camden, London. In 1966 Rick Parfitt met Francis Rossi of The Spectres and joined that band. The Spectres eventually renamed themselves Traffic Jam and then The Status Quo. They soon dropped the definite article to become simply Status Quo.

Status Quo would have an international hit with "Pictures of Matchstick Men" in 1967, which peaked at no. 7 in the UK and no. 12 in the U.S. Status Quo never again saw such success in the United States, but had a long string of hits in Britain, including such songs as "Paper Plane", "Caroline", "Down Down", "Rockin' All Over The World", "What You're Proposing", and  "In The Army Now". They ultimately had over 60 hits in the United Kingdom, more than any other rock band.  In the New Year Honours 2010 both Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi were appointed Officers of the Order of the British Empire.

Rick Parfitt did have a few projects outside of Status Quo. He appeared on Band Aid's charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in 1984. On Roger Taylor's album 1984 Strange Frontier he played on the song "It's an Illusion". In 1985 he recorded a solo album, Recorded Delivery, that was never released. Prior to his death he had been planning a solo album as well as publishing his autobiography. Along with Francis Rossi he was the last original member of Status Quo who was still with the band.

Liz Smith was an actress well known for many roles in British shows, including  Annie Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared, Letitia on The Vicar of Dibley, Norma on The Royle Family, and Zillah on Lark Rise to Candleford. She died on December 24 2016 at the age of 96. Liz Smith served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy during World War II. She made her film  debut in an uncredited role in Leo the Last in 1970, when she was 49 years old. During the Seventies she was a frequent guest star on British shows, including Last of the Summer Wine, Emmerdale, and Crown Court. She appeared in films during the decade as well, including It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1976) and Agatha (1979). From 1975 to 1979 she was a regular on I Didn't Know You Cared.

In the Eighties she was a regular on One by One, Now and Then, and Valentine Park. She appeared in such films as Little Dorrit (1987), Apartment Zero (1988), High Spirits (1988), and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). The Nineties saw her stints on The Vicar of Dibley and 2point4 Children, as well as Cluedo. She guest starred on shows such as Young Indiana Jones, Lovejoy, and Casualty. She began her stint on The Royle Family in 1998. Liz Smith's last appearance was in the series The Tunnel in 2013.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Late Great Debbie Reynolds

These days the word "legend" is often tossed around with regards to movie stars. It is even sometimes applied to those who have done nothing particularly worthy of being regarded as legends. That having been said, Debbie Reynolds was one of those who was truly legendary.  She was only nineteen years old when she starred in what many consider the greatest movie musical of all time, Singin' in the Rain (1952). Miss Reynolds held her own with her co-stars, seasoned song-and-dance men Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. It should come as no surprise that the film launched her on the path to superstardom. Throughout the Fifties into the Sixties she starred in a string of hits that included Susan Slept Here (1954), The Catered Affair (1956), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). In the Fifties she also had a string of hit records, an outgrowth of her roles in movie musicals.  "Aba Daba Honeymoon" (from the film Two Weeks with Love) peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard  pop chart. Her song "Tammy" (from Tammy and the Bachelor) was certified gold. She went onto a successful career on stage, and the Nineties would see a revival in her film career. Debbie Reynolds was one of the earliest people to preserve film history, amassing a huge collection of movie memorabilia. Her life was often unhappy, but through it all she remained like Molly Brown, unsinkable.

Sadly, last night Debbie Reynolds died at age 84. She had been in poor health the past few years. It was on December 27 that her beloved daughter Carrie Fisher died after suffering cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles on December 23. Last night Miss Reynolds was rushed to hospital after suffering a severe stroke. According to her son and Carrie Fisher's brother, Todd Fisher, she wanted to be with Carrie. It would then seem reasonable to say, quite simply, that Debbie Reynolds died of heartbreak.

Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds on April 1 1932 in El Paso, Texas. Her father, Ray Reynolds worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Her mother, Minnie Reynolds, took in laundry to help ends meet. It was in 1939 that the family moved to Burbank, California. As a little girl Debbie Reynolds dreamed of becoming a gym teacher. It was in 1948 that she won the Miss Burbank contest. Her talent in the contest had been an imitation of her idol Betty Hutton. She had entered the contest simply for the free blouse and scarf given to each contestant. As it turned out, two of the judges were talent scouts. She was soon placed under contract to Warner Bros. It was Jack L. Warner himself who gave her the name "Debbie", feeling that "Mary Frances" was too old fashioned a name. Miss Reynolds did not particularly want to be called "Debbie".

Warner Bros. would make little use of their new star. She appeared in an uncredited role in her film debut, June Bride (1948), and then in a slightly more substantial role in The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950). Fortunately, 18 months into her contract with Warner Bros., MGM expressed interest in the starlet. She was loaned to MGM for Three Little Words (1950), and studio head Louis B. Mayer was impressed with her. She was soon under contract to MGM. Her first film under that contract was Two Weeks with Love (1950), which gave her the hit single "Aba Daba Honeymoon".

The early Fifties would see Debbie Reynolds become a superstar. Following her role in  Mr. Imperium (1951), Louis B. Mayer cast her in the musical Singin' in the Rain over the objections of both Miss Reynolds (because she could not dance) and star Gene Kelly (because she could not dance). Mr. Mayer's instincts proved to be right. After extensive training from Mr. Kelly, Debbie Reynolds was able to hold her own with both Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. The film launched her on the path to stardom. She proved to be one of the biggest stars of the Fifties. She played the title character in Susan Slept Here (1954), opposite Dick Powell in his last film role. She appeared in the hit Bundle of Joy (1956). Her film Tammy and the Bachelor was not only a hit at the box office, but produced the hit single "Tammy".  Debbie Reynolds starred in several other well-remembered films in the Fifties, including I Love Melvin (1953), The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), The Tender Trap (1955), The Catered Affair (1956), This Happy Feeling (1958), The Mating Game (1959), and The Rat Race (1960). In 1959 she released her first pop album, Debbie. It was followed in 1960 by her album Am I That Easy To Forget?.

Debbie Reynolds's career was still going strong in the early Sixties. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for playing the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). She also appeared in the all-star movie How the West Was Won (1962). Unfortunately, as the Sixties progressed her career began to decline. The sort of movie musicals and light comedies for which Miss Reynolds had been best known were going out of fashion. Regardless, she still appeared in several films during the decade, including The Pleasure of His Company (1961), The Second Time Around (1961), My Six Loves (1963), Mary, Mary (1963), Goodbye Charlie (1964), The Singing Nun (1966), Divorce American Style (1967), and How Sweet It Is! (1968).

It was in 1969 that she starred in her own situation comedy on NBC, The Debbie Reynolds Show. The show featured Debbie as the wife of a successful sportswriter. The show received respectable ratings, but would ultimately only last one season. Debbie Reynolds was unhappy that during the show's debut an advertisement for Pall Mall cigarettes was aired. She continued with the series only after NBC explained to her that banning cigarette commercials from the show would not be possible. In the end Miss Reynolds would leave the show after only a single season.  In 1970 she made a guest appearance on Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour. In 1963 she released another album, Tammy And 11 Other Great Folk Hits. That same year Debbie Reynolds made history as the first singer to appear in an American made Scopitone film. She sang "If I Had a Hammer".

In the Seventies Debbie Reynolds left movies for the stage. She made only two films during the decade. She starred in the psycho-biddy film What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)  and provided the voice of Charlotte the spider in Charlotte's Web (1973). While she made few films, she had a highly successful stage career. In 1973 she made her Broadway debut in Irene, for which she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her daughter Carrie Fisher also appeared in the show. In 1976 she appeared in her own revue, simply titled Debbie. She appeared in Annie Get Your Gun in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She released two more albums, ..."And Then I Sang" and An American Christmas Album.

The Eighties saw Debbie Reynolds return to television and films. In 1981 she starred in the short-lived, semi-anthology series Aloha Paradise. She guest starred on Madame's Place, Alice, The Love Boat, Jennifer Slept Here, and Hotel. She appeared in the TV movie Sadie and Son and the Perry Mason TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder. She provided the voice of Madame in the English language version of Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). She appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year as the replacement for Lauren Bacall. She recorded the album Do It Debbie's Way. She appeared in a national tour of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

The Nineties saw Debbie Reynolds with two recurring roles on TV shows. She was the voice of Lulu Johnston on Rugrats and she played Grace Adler's mother Bobbi on Will & Grace. She guest starred on the shows The Golden Girls, Wings, and Roseanne. She provided the voice of Aggie Cromwell for the TV movie Halloweentown (1998) and appeared in the TV movie The Christmas Wish (1998).  Miss Reynolds also resumed her film career. She appeared in the films The Bodyguard (1992), Heaven & Earth (1993), Mother (1996), In & Out (1997), and Zack and Reba (1998). She provided voices for the animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998).

In the Naughts Debbie Reynolds was the voice of Nana Possible on the animated series Kim Possible. She guest starred on the TV shows Touched by an Angel and First Monday. She was a guest voice on Family Guy and The Penguins of Madagascar. She appeared in the TV films These Old Broads (2001), which was written by her daughter Carrie Fisher, and Generation Gap (2002). She reprised the voice of Aggie in the TV animated movies Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge (2001), Halloweentown High (2004), and Return to Halloweentown (2006). She provided the voice of the Queen in the animated feature Light of Olympia (2008).

In the Teens Debbie Reynolds appeared in the feature film One for the Money (2012) and the short subject "In the Picture" (2012). She played Liberace's mother in the TV movie Behind the Candelabra (2013). She was a guest voice on the animated series The 7D last year.

Debbie Reynolds also wrote books. Her autobiography, Debbie--My Life, was published in 1988. Her book Unsinkable: A Memoir was published in 2013. Her book Make 'Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends was published just last year.

Debbie Reynolds was a founding member of The Thalians, a charitable organisation dedicated to awareness of mental health issues. She was a Girl Scout growing up, and she continued to support the Girl Scouts of America her entire life. As most classic film buffs are well aware, Debbie Reynolds was responsible for the preservation of a good deal of Hollywood memorabilia.

I think my fellow classic film buffs will agree with me when I say that news of Debbie Reynolds's death last night was met by the classic film fan community with a combination of shock and grief.  News of her death would have brought extreme sorrow to classic film fans regardless, but the fact that she died only a day after her equally beloved daughter Carrie Fisher has made the pain all the more intense. For many of us it hurts to think that a beloved star spent her last few days worrying about and then grieving over her daughter. And I think I can speak for all of us when I say that our sympathies go out to Debbie Reynolds's son and Carrie Fisher's brother Todd Fisher and Carrie Fisher's daughter and Debbie Reynolds's granddaughter Billie Lourd. I cannot imagine what they must be going through right now.

Of course, I must say that regardless of the circumstances I would grieve over Debbie Reynolds quite heavily. I suppose to many that might seem silly, particularly given I never even met Miss Reynolds. That having been said, those of you who know me well know that I have had a crush on Debbie Reynolds since I was a kid, and I never did quite recover from it. The fact is that I cannot remember where I first saw Debbie Reynolds, it might have been her TV show or it might have been one of her movies, but I have had a crush on her for as long as I can remember. Indeed, as a boy it always seemed to me that it was inconceivable that Eddie Fisher had left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor. In the Fifties Elizabeth Taylor was regarded as "the most beautiful woman in the world", but to a young boy in the Seventies Debbie Reynolds was, well, Debbie Reynolds.

I certainly was not alone in my adoration of Debbie Reynolds. As I said above, Debbie Reynolds was among the most beloved of movie stars. She was certainly talented. Miss Reynolds could sing. She could dance. She could act. She was one of those performers who seemed as if she could do it all. And she gave so many memorable performances. Miss Reynolds may have had no experience dancing prior to appearing in Singin' in the Rain, but one would never know it watching the movie. After Singin' in the Rain Debbie Reynolds would become one of the last big stars of movies musicals, singing and dancing in such films as I Love Melvin (1953), Hit the Deck (1955), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964).

While she was fantastic in her musical roles, it would be a mistake to think of Debbie Reynolds only as a musical star. She was also very adept at comedy. Debbie Reynolds was great in Susan Slept Here opposite Dick Powell. She proved a match for legendary comic actor Tony Randall in the sex comedy The Mating Game. She was fantastic opposite Tony Curtis in The Rat Race. She still had a gift for comedy in her later years, shining in such films as Mother and In & Out. Miss Reynolds rarely played dramatic roles, but when she did, she was quite good. She was excellent in The Catered Affair. Later, in the psycho-biddy film What's the Matter with Helen?, she gave a nuanced performance rare for the genre.

Even in interviews Debbie Reynolds's talent was obvious. Indeed, it was obvious from whom Carrie Fisher inherited her intelligence and sense of humour. Miss Reynolds was whip-smart, and could always tell the funniest stories. She never took herself too seriously, and could be wonderfully self-deprecating. She could even be irreverent and inappropriate at times. Of course, Debbie Reynolds was also strong-willed and adaptable. She survived the scandal surrounding her husband Eddie Fisher leaving her for Elizabeth Taylor. She took care of Carrie Fisher through her daughter's battles with bipolar disorder and addiction. When her film career began to fail in the late Sixties, she reinvented herself as a star on the Broadway stage. In the Eighties and Nineties she returned to television and film with a vengeance. Miss Reynolds not only played unsinkable Molly Brown--she seemed unsinkable herself.

Of course, beyond Debbie Reynolds's talent, her intelligence, her sense of humour, her strength, and her adaptability was the fact that she truly cared about her fans. I have never heard anyone speak ill of Debbie Reynolds. She always had time for her fans and would treat them warmly and with affection. It was not unusual for her to greet her fans as if they had known each other all their lives. She was from all reports a warm and wonderful woman, one of the sweetest people one could ever hope to meet. In Singin' in the Rain Debbie Reynolds sang the song "Lucky Star". I think my fellow classic film buffs will agree with me when I say that we were very lucky to have had Debbie Reynolds to entertain us all these years. Bright, funny, strong, unsinkable, Debbie Reynolds was truly one of a kind.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Godspeed Zsa Zsa Gabor

During the late 20th Century, arguably the Gabor sisters were the very definition of celebrities. They were renowned for their beauty, their glamour, and their many marriages. Magda Gabor may have been the least famous, having a relatively short acting career. Eva Gabor may have been the most famous among Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, having starred on the sitcom Green Acres and having provided voices for such Disney animated features as The Aristocats (1970) and The Rescurers (1977). While Eva may have been best known among younger generations, it was Zsa Zsa who was the most famous of the Gabor sisters for much of the 20th Century. From the Fifties into the Naughts she regularly made headlines. And while her sisters were married many times, it was Zsa Zsa who was best known for her multiple marriages (which included such husbands as Conrad Hilton and George Sanders). Sadly, Zsa Zsa Gabor died on December 18 2016 at age 99. She was the last of the Gabor sisters.

Zsa Zsa Gabor was born Sári Gábor on February 6 1917 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. She was the second of the three daughters of soldier Vilmos Gabor and his wife Jolie Gabor. Miss Gabor and her sisters were raised in relative wealth. They were also groomed for stardom from an early age. They attended acting classes, music classes, dancing classes, and even classes for fencing. It was on a trip to Vienna in 1934 that Zsa Zsa Gabor was discovered by opera tenor Richard Tauber. Mr. Tauber hired her to appear as the soubrette in his new operetta Der singende Traum. It was in 1936 that she was crowned Miss Hungary.

Prior to World War II Zsa Zsa Gabor left Budapest for the United States. In 1944 she co-wrote a novel with writer Victoria Wolf entitled Every Man For Himself, which reportedly drew upon Miss Gabor's life. In 1949 Zsa Zsa Gabor was offered the lead in a film adaptation of Lady Chatterly's Lover, but turned it down due to the controversial nature of the novel. Miss Gabor made her television debut on a 1951 edition of the British show This is Show Business. She made her film debut in Lovely to Look At (1952), playing herself. That same year she played Eve Melrose, the gold-digging wife of Freddie Melrose (played by Louis Calhern) in We're Not Married!. It was in 1953 that she played one of her best known roles, that of Rosalie in Lili.

Arguably the Fifties marked the height of Zsa Zsa Gabor's acting career. She played Jane Avril in Moulin Rouge (1952), Mrs. Ryan in Death of a Scoundrel (1956), a night club owner in Touch of Evil (1958), and the title character in Queen of Outer Space (1958). She also appeared in the films The Story of Three Loves (1953), L'ennemi public n° 1 (1953), Sang et lumières (1954), Ball der Nationen (1954), The Girl in the Kremlin (1957), The Man Who Wouldn't Talk (1958), For the First Time (1959), La contessa azzurra (1960) , and Pepe (1960). Miss Gabor appeared frequently on television in the Fifties. She guest starred on such shows as Climax!, The Red Skelton Hour, The Ford Television Theatre, The Bob Cummings Show, Playhouse 90, Matinee Theatre, The Life of Riley, General Electric Theatre, Lux Theatre, and Make Room for Daddy.

The Sixties saw Zsa Zsa Gabor's acting career shift more towards television. She guest starred as socialite Erica Tiffany-Smith on Gilligan's Island, the fortune teller Madame Marova on Bonanza, and the villain Minerva on Batman. She also guest starred on such shows as Mister Ed, The Dick Powell Theatre, Burke's Law, F Troop, The Rounders, The Name of the Game, and Bracken's World. She provided the voice of the Queen of Hearts in the animated special Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1966). Miss Gabor continued to appear in movies, including Boys' Night Out (1962), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), and Jack of Diamonds (1967).

In the Seventies Miss Gabor appeared in the films Up the Front (1972), Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and Every Girl Should Have One (1978).  She guest starred on the TV shows Night Gallery, 3 Girls 3, Supertrain, and The Love Boat. In the Eighties she guest starred on The Facts of Life, As the World Turns, Knott's Landing, Matt Houston, The Munsters Today, and City. She appeared in TV special Christmas at Pee Wee's Playhouse. She appeared in the films Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie (1984), Smart Alec (1986), A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and Johann Strauss - Der König ohne Krone (1987). She was a voice in the animated film Happily Ever After (1990).

In the Nineties she appeared in the films The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), The Naked Truth (1992), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), and A Very Brady Sequel (1996). She guest starred on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Empty Nest, Cybill, and Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills.

Throughout her career Zsa Zsa Gabor was a favourite on talk shows, variety shows, and game shows. She appeared on several, including Tonight Starring Steve Allen, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Tonight Starring Jack Paar, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, I've Got a Secret, What's My Line?, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The David Frost Show, and Hollywood Squares

It was often said of Zsa Zsa Gabor that she was famous for being famous. It was certainly true that she was extremely famous long after the peak of her film career in the Fifties. That having been said, I don't think Zsa Zsa Gabor was merely famous for being famous. She, like her sisters Magda and Eva, was actually very talented. In her acting career she gave some very good performances. Her turns in Moulin Rouge and Lili are particularly notable. But then Zsa Zsa Gabor displayed a good deal of talent even when she was just being Zsa Zsa. She possessed a fine sense of humour, quite a bit of wit, and she never took herself too seriously. She was not afraid to joke about her many marriages or her expensive tastes. When combined with her platinum blonde hair and her air of glamour, this made Zsa Zsa Gabor immensely entertaining. I submit that it is then wrong to say that Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous only for being famous. The woman had a good deal of talent. Instead, I would say, quite simply, Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous for being Zsa Zsa. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Late Great Carrie Fisher

There are those artists who have been a part of one's life for so long that he or she nearly seems like family. Carrie Fisher was one of those artists for many of us. We first encountered her as Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977), but she transcended that role soon enough. She appeared in numerous other films, including The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and When Harry Met Sally... (1989). She wrote five novels, starting with Postcards from the Edge in 1987. She also wrote screenplays, doctored yet other screenplays, and wrote stage plays. She was a clever, funny woman who was open about her struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. She had little patience for fools, but she was never unfair. For many young women who grew up with her, as well as many young men, she was a hero, and not simply because she played an indomitable space princess. It was because she was indomitable in real life.

Sadly, Carrie Fisher died today at age 60 following cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles on December 23, although in her book Wishful Drinking she wrote, "I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra." She is survived by her mother Debbie Reynolds, her daughter Billie Lourd, her brother Todd Fisher, her half-sister Joely Fisher, and her half-sister Tricia Leigh Fisher.

Carrie Fisher was born on October 21 1956 in Beverly Hills, California. Her parents were Hollywood royalty. Her mother is Debbie Reynolds, the screen legend then at the height of her career. Her father was Eddie Fisher, one of the most successful singers of the Fifties. Carrie Fisher was only two years old when her parents divorced. As a child Carrie Fisher was a bit of a bookworm, reading books voraciously and writing poetry. She made her screen debut in a cameo in her mother's television special Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children in 1969. She attended Beverly Hills High School until she was 15, at which point she made her Broadway debut in Irene, which starred her mother Debbie Reynolds. Miss Fisher never returned to high school.

In 1975 she made her big screen debut in Shampoo.  In 1977 she appeared for the first time as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope). That same year she appeared in the television movie Come Back, Little Sheba. The following year she appeared in Ringo Starr's TV special Ringo, the TV movie Leave Yesterday Behind, and the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special. In 1980 she reprised her role as Leia in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. She also appeared in the film The Blues Brothers and on the TV show Saturday Night Live.

The Eighties proved to be a busy decade for Miss Fisher. She reprised her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). In When Harry Met Sally... (1989) she played Sally's best friend Marie. She appeared as April in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). She also appeared in the films Under the Rainbow (1981), Garbo Talks (1984), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), The Time Guardian (1987), Appointment with Death (1988), The 'Burbs (1989), Loverboy (1989), She's Back (1989), Sweet Revenge (1990), and Sibling Rivalry (1990). She wrote the screenplay for Postcards from the Edge (1990). She guest starred on the TV shows Laverne & Shirley, Faerie Tale Theatre, George Burns Comedy Week, The Wonderful World of Disney, Amazing Stories, and Trying Times. She appeared in such TV movies as Frankenstein (1984) and Liberty (1986).  Her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, was published in 1987. Her second novel Surrender the Pink was published in 1990. She appeared on Broadway in Agnes of God.

In the Nineties Carrie Fisher appeared in the movies Drop Dead Fred (1991), Soapdish (1991), Hook (1991), This Is My Life (1992), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Scream 3 (2000), and Lisa Picard Is Famous (2000). In 1995 she was the host on the TV series Carrie On Hollywood. She guest starred on the TV shows Frasier, Gun, It's Like, You Know..., and Sex and the City.  She was a guest voice on the animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. She wrote episodes of Young Indiana Jones and Roseanne. She was one of the writers on the The 69th Annual Academy Awards. Her novel Delusions of Grandma was published in 1993.

In the Naughts Carrie Fisher appeared in the films Heartbreakers (2001), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), A Midsummer Night's Rave (2002), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Wonderland (2003), Stateside (2004), Undiscovered (2005), Cougar Club (2007), The Women (2008), White Lightnin' (2009), Fanboys (2009), and Sorority Row (2009). On television she provided the voice of recurring character Angela on Family Guy. She guest starred on A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Jack & Bobby, Smallville, Odd Job Jack, Side Order of Life, 30 Rock, and Entourage. She appeared in the TV movies These Old Broads (2001), and Wright vs. Wrong (2010). Miss Fisher wrote the TV movie These Old Broads (2001). the TV movie Wishful Drinking, and The 79th Annual Academy Awards (2007). She appeared on Broadway in her one woman show Wishful Drinking. She published the novel The Best Awful There Is and the autobiographical book Wishful Drinking.

In the Teens Carrie Fisher returned to the Star Wars franchise as Leia. She appeared in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015) and will appear Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017). She also voiced Leia in the video game Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016). She also appeared in the film Maps to the Stars (2014). On television she played the role of Ma in the series Catastrophe. She guest starred on the shows The Big Bang Theory, Legit, and Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce. Her non-fiction book Shockaholic was published in 2011. Her memoir The Princess Diarist was published this year.

Carrie Fisher achieved fame as Princess Leia Organa. And there can be no doubt that the role won her a legion of fans. Leia was a princess as never had been seen on film before. She was strong, intelligent, independent, and could fight as well as, if not better than, her male comrades. That having been said, I suspect Carrie Fisher was beloved for more than having played an iconic role in what may be the most popular science fantasy franchise of all time. The simple fact is that Carrie Fisher was a force to be reckoned with. She appeared in many roles besides that of Leia, and she played all of them remarkably well. She was an incredible writer, possessed of a razor sharp wit and a keen sense of humour. Both her novels and her non-fiction books are immensely readable. Indeed, Miss Fisher was so talented as a writer that she was called upon as a script doctor on more films than many people realise.

Beyond being a talented actress and writer, however, Carrie Fisher was an impressive human being. She was brutally honest about having been diagnosed with bipolar, as well as her battles with addiction. She was a fierce advocate for mental health. She supported such charities as the Alzheimer's Association, Make a Wish International,  and The Midnight Mission. Those fans who were lucky enough to meet Miss Fisher found her to be a warm, friendly, and funny human being. She was genuinely interested in her fans and often spoke to them as if they were long lost friends. If Carrie Fisher has received an outpouring of mourning that the deaths of few other celebrities could match, it's not simply because she was Princess Leia or even a talented actor and writer. It's because she was a wholly wonderful human being as well.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Late Great George S. Irving

Tony Award winning actor and voice artist George S. Irving died today at the age of 94. He appeared on Broadway in such productions as Oklahoma!, Irene, and Me and My Girl. He was the narrator on Underdog and provided incidental voices as well. He as also the voice of Heat Miser on the cult TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus.

George S. Irving was born George Irving Shelasky on November 1 1922 in Springfield, Massachusetts. By his early teens he was singing in synagogues and churches.  During his senior year in high school he attended a drama school in Boston. In 1942 he was cast in the chorus of the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis (better known simply as the Muny). In 1943 he was part of the original Broadway cast of Oklahoma!, playing Joe. Unfortunately he was in the part for only a few days before he was drafted into military service during World War II.

Following the war George S. Irving returned to acting. In the late Forties he appeared on Broadway in Call Me Mister, Along Fifth Avenue, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the Fifties George S. Irving continued to appear on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also appeared in the productions Two's Company, Can-Can, Me and Juliet, Bells Are Ringing, Shinbone Alley, The Good Soup, and Irma La Douce. He made his television debut in 1955 in a guest appearance on The Goldbergs. He also appeared on Producer's Showcase. He provided the voice of the Wolf in the TV special Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf. It was in 1960 that he began a long association with animated cartoon production company TTV. He provided various voices for their Saturday morning cartoon King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.

In the Sixties George S. Irving continued his association with TTV. He was the narrator on Underdog and also provided various voices on the show. He provided various voices for Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and was the voice of Running Board on Go Go Gophers. He guest starred on Car 54, Where Are You?, The Naked City, and The Patty Duke Show. He appeared in a 1967 TV production of Anastasia. He appeared on Broadway in Romulus, Bravo Giovanni, Seidman and Son, Tovarich, A Murderer Among Us, Alfie!, Anya, Galileo, and The Happy Tree.

In the Seventies George S. Irving was one of the stars of the short-lived sitcom The Dumplings. He was the voice of Heat Miser on the TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus. He appeared in the 1976 special That Was the Year That Was. He guest starred on All in the Family. He appeared in the films Up the Sandbox (1972), Foreplay (1975), and Deadly Hero (1975). He provided the voice of the Captain in the animated feature Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977). On Broadway he won Tony Awards for An Evening With Richard Nixon and... and Irene. He also appeared in the productions Four on a Garden, Who's Who in Hell, All Over Town, So Long, 174th Street, Once in a Lifetime, and I Remember Mama.

In the Eighties George S. Irving appeared in several episodes of the soap opera Ryan's Hope. He appeared on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance, Copperfield, On Your Toes, and Me and My Girl. In 1996 he appeared on television on Live from Lincoln Centre in a production of The Merry Widow with the New York City Opera. In 2005 he appeared in the one night benefit event A Wonderful Life. In 2008 he reprised the voice of Heat Miser in the TV special A Miser Brothers' Christmas. He also appeared in the Off-Broadway production Enter Laughing. His last appearance on film was in the short "37" (2013).

I rather suspect most Gen Xers like myself remember George S. Irving best as the narrator on Underdog and Heat Miser on A Year Without a Santa Claus. To this day I can still hear his words as the narrator of Underdog, "Looks like this is the end...," as clearly as if I had just watched an episode of the show. Mr. Irving had an incredible voice that was adaptable enough for him to do a number of different characters. Indeed, it was also perfect for singing.

As beloved as George S. Irving was a voice artist, however, he also had a long and prolific career on Broadway. It spanned well over forty years, from 1943 to 1989. On Broadway he played a wide array of characters. He was Joe in Oklahoma!. He was Richard M. Nixon in An Evening With Richard Nixon and... He was Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. He was Mr. Micawber in Copperfield. In his long Broadway career Mr. Irving won two Tony Awards and was nominated for one other.

In the end George S. Irving was a particularly gifted performer. He could act. He could sing. He do a number of different voices. There aren't many performers who could grace both the Broadway stage and TV screens in Saturday morning cartoons.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Here it at A Shroud of Thoughts it is a custom to post classic pinups on Christmas Day. This year is no different. Without further ado, then, here are this year's pinups.

First up is English star Diana Dors dressed as an American cowgirl holding a sign with a French Christmas greeting!

Next up is French star Yvonne Furneaux with her presents (from her many admirers, no doubt)!

 Martha O'Driscoll with a holiday greeting!

The lovely and leggy Cyd Charisse is pitch hitting for Santa Claus!

The lovely Marguerite Chapman has her presents ready to go!

And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without Ann Miller!
Merry Christmas!