Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Late Great Sir John Hurt

If ever an actor was a chameleon, it was Sir John Hurt. He was Quentin Crisp in the TV movie The Naked Civil Servant. He was Caligula in the TV mini-series I, Claudius. He was the title character, John Merrick, in The Elephant Man (1980), Winston Smith in 1984 (1984), Stephen Ward in Scandal (1989), Montrose in Rob Roy (1995), and Chancellor Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta (2005). He even played The Doctor on Doctor Who. Sadly Sir John Hurt died on January 27 2017 at the age of 77. He had been diagnosed with  pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Sir John Hurt was born on January 22 1940 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He attended St Michael's Preparatory School in Otford, Kent. It was there that he developed his love of acting. Afterwards he attended Lincoln Grammar School. Even though his mother was an amateur actress, his parents discouraged him from pursuing an acting career and encouraged him to become an art teacher instead. When he was 17, then, he enrolled at Grimsby Art School. In 1959 he won a scholarship to attend Saint Martin's School of Art in London. Despite this, the lure of acting proved too strong, and in 1960 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He attended RADA for two years.

It was in 1962 that Sir John Hurt made his television debut in an episode of Z Cars (1962). He made his film debut in The Wild and the Willing in 1962. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as Probation Officer, Once Aboard the Lugger..., Drama 61-67, First Night, Armchair Theatre, Love Story, Gideon's Way, and ITV Playhouse. He appeared in such films as This Is My Street (1964), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), Sinful Davey (1969), Before Winter Comes (1969), and In Search of Gregory (1969). In 1962 he made his stage debut in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger.

The Seventies would see Sir John Hurt's career begin to flourish. In 1975 he played Quentin Crisp in the TV movie The Naked Civil Servant. He played Caligula in several episodes of the mini-series I, Claudius in 1976. He guest starred on such shows as ITV Saturday Night Theatre, Ten from the Twenties, and The Sweeney. He appeared in the mini-series Crime and Punishment and the TV movie and series pilot Spectre. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Elephant Man (1980).  He played Max in Midnight Express (1978) and Kane in Alien (1979). provided the voice of Hazel in Watership Down (1978) and the voice of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (1978). He appeared in such films as 10 Rillington Place (1971), Mr. Forbush and the Penguins (1971), The Pied Piper (1972), The Ghoul (1975), Shadows of Doubt (1976), The Disappearance (1977), East of Elephant Rock (1978), The Shout (1978), and Heaven's Gate (1980).

In the Eighties Sir John Hurt starred as Winston Smith in 1984 (1984). He played English osteopath (and one of the central figures in the Profumo affair) in Scandal (1989). He appeared in such films as History of the World: Part I (1981), Night Crossing (1982), The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Hit (1984), Jake Speed (1986), From the Hip (1987), Spaceballs (1987), Windprints (1989), The Field (1990), and Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound (1990). He provide the voice of Snitter in The Plague Dogs (1982) and The Horned King in The Black Cauldron (1985). On television he appeared in a 1983 adaptation of King Lear. He was the on-screen narrator of the title of the TV series The Storyteller.

In the Nineties Sir John Hurt appeared in such films as King Ralph (1991), Monolith (1993), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), Great Moments in Aviation (1994), Dead Man (1995), Wild Bill (1995), Love and Death on Long Island (1997), Night Train (1998), All the Little Animals (1998), If... Dog... Rabbit (1999), New Blood (2000), and Lost Souls (2000). On television he guest starred on Saturday Night Live and provided the voice of General Woundwort in the animated series Watership Down.

In the Naughts he played Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001). He reprised the role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2011). He played Professor Broom in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). He played Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta (2005). He also appeared in such films as Tabloid (2001), Miranda (2002), Crime and Punishment (2002), Owning Mahowny (2003), Meeting Che Guevara & the Man from Maybury Hill (2003), The Skeleton Key (2005), The Proposition (2005), Boxes (2007), The Oxford Murders (2008), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), An Englishman in New York (2009), The Limits of Control (2009), Brighton Rock (2010), and Love at First Sight (2010). On television he played the title character in the series The Alan Clark Diaries.

In the Teens on television Sir John Hurt played The War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special,  "Day of the Doctor", and appeared briefly in the role in two other episodes. He provided the voice of the Dragon on Merlin and starred on the series The Confession and The Last Panthers. He guest starred on the series The Hollow Crown and Labyrinth. He appeared in such films as Regret Not Speaking (2011), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Immortals (2011), In Love with Alma Cogan (2012), King Lear: Scene 133 (2013), Look Again (2013), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Snowpiercer (2013), Hercules (2014), Break (2015), Snowpiercer (2013), ChickLit (2016), Jackie (2016), and The Journey (2016). He is set to appear in That Good Night (2017), Damascus Cover (2017), My Name Is Lenny (2017), and The Darkest Hour (2017).

As an actor Sir John Hurt was always hard to define. He was definitely a character actor, playing a wide variety of unusual characters over the years. At the same time, he could also be a leading man, even if he did not particularly look like one. He  had the uncanny ability to vanish within characters, to the point that one might not even realise it was Sir John Hurt in the role.

Indeed, over the years he played a wide variety of roles. He played more than his share of villains. He played the unscrupulous Rich in A Man for All Seasons, the mad Emperor Caligula on I, Claudius, the corrupt Marquis Montrose in Rob Roy, and the stern Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta. He voiced the chief villain of The Black Cauldron, the Horned King. He also played his share of heroic roles. After all, he played one of the best known heroes of British popular culture, The Doctor in Doctor Who, if only briefly. He provided the voice of Hazel in Watership Down and Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. He was Professor Broom (AKA Professor Trevor Bruttenholm) in the Hellboy movies.

Of course, most of the roles played by Sir John Hurt were not villainous or heroic, but instead somewhere in between. He played Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place, a man wrongly convicted for murders committed by his neighbour, John Christie. In Midnight Express he played Max, a heroin addict in a Turkish prison. For the role he was nominated for the Oscar for Beset Actor in a Supporting Role. In Love and Death on Long Island he played Giles De'Ath, who becomes obsessed with a young film actor. Aside from Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich in A Man for All Seasons, Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place, Caligula in I, Claudius, and John Merrick in The Elephant Man, Mr. Hurt played a number of historical figures, including Quentin Crisp (whom he played twice), Stephen Ward in Scandal, and Christopher Marlowe in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Not only did Sir John Hurt play a large variety of different sorts of roles, but he also appeared in a wide variety of roles. He is certainly remembered for the various fantasy and science fiction films in which he appeared, including Alien, The Black Cauldron, Monolith, the Hellboy movies, and V for Vendetta. He starred in several literary adaptations over the years, from 1984 to Crime and Punishment. He appeared in horror movies besides Alien, including The Ghoul and Frankenstein Unbound. He even appeared in Westerns, including Heaven's Gate and The Proposition. Sir John Hurt seemed to be willing to take on any role in any genre. What is more, he had the talent to do so. As mentioned earlier, Sir John Hurt had the ability to vanish into roles, to the point that viewers might forget that he was even Sir John Hurt. For such an actor, no genre, no role, would be off limits. Sir John Hurt had the talent to play a wide variety of characters, and he did so throughout his career.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Late Great Barbara Hale

For many of us Barbara Hale will always be Della Street, Perry Mason's beautiful, intelligent, and resourceful legal secretary on the TV show Perry Mason. Perry Mason is one of my all time favourite shows and, I must admit, when I picture Barbara Hale in my head it is always in the role of Della. And while Della Street will probably always be Barbara Hale's most famous role, it must be remembered that she had a highly successful film career prior to starting her long run on Perry Mason. She played opposite some of Hollywood's most popular leading men, including Robert Mitchum in West of the Pecos (1945 film), Jimmy Stewart in  The Jackpot (1951), James Cagney in  A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), and Rock Hudson in  Seminole.(1953). She even received top billing in two films: The Window (1949) and Lorna Doone (1951). While many of us loved her as Della Street, she played so many more roles during her career.

Sadly Barabra Hale died yesterday, January 26 2017, at the age of 94. The cause was complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Barbara Hale was born on April 18 1922 in DeKalb, Illinois. She grew up in Rockford. While attending Rockford High School she won a beauty contest. She attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Art with the intention of becoming an artist and began modelling to help pay for her education.

Miss Hale proved very successful as a model, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would come calling. She signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. She made her film debut in 1943 in an uncredited, bit part in Gildersleeve's Bad Day (1943). She appeared in uncredited roles in such films as Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event (1943), The Seventh Victim (1943), and Government Girl (1943). It was with Higher and Higher (1943) that she received her first substantial role. In the film she got to sing opposite Frank Sinatra. In The Falcon Out West (1944) she played the secondary female lead. With Goin' to Town (1944) she played her first female lead role.

Barbara Hale's film career flourished in the late Forties. She appeared in such films as West of the Pecos (1945), Lady Luck (1946), The Boy with Green Hair (1948), The Clay Pigeon (1949), Jolson Sings Again (1949), And Baby Makes Three (1949), and The Jackpot (1950). She played her first lead role in The Window in 1949.

Barbara Hale's film career continued to do well in the Fifties. She starred in the title role in Lorna Doone. She appeared in such films as The First Time (1952), Last of the Comanches (1953), Seminole (1953),  A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), Unchained (1955), The Far Horizons (1955), 7th Cavalry (1956), The Oklahoman (1957), and Desert Hell (1958). She made her television debut in 1953 in an episode of Schlitz Playhouse. She guest starred on such shows as Studio 57, Screen Directors Playhouse, Science Fiction Theatre, Climax!, The Loretta Young Show, The Ford Television Theatre, The Millionaire, Playhouse 90, and G.E. Theatre. It was in 1957 that she began a nine year run as Della Street on the hit show Perry Mason.

In the Sixties Barbara Hale continued to star as Della Street on Perry Mason. She appeared in the films Buckskin (1968), Airport (1970), and The Red, White, and Black (1970). She guest starred on the shows Custer, Insight, Lassie, and The Most Deadly Game.

In the Seventies Miss Hale guest starred on Ironside; Adam-12; The Doris Day Show; Marcus Welby, M.D.; and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour. She appeared in the films The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) and Big Wednesday (1978).

In the Eighties she guest starred on The Greatest American Hero, on which her son William Katt starred. In 1986 she reprised her role as Della Street in the television reunion movie Perry Mason Returns alongside Raymond Burr in the title role. The TV movie proved so successful that there would be 26 more Perry Mason TV movies starring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale. After Raymond Burr died there would be four more movies aired under the title A Perry Mason Mystery. The first stared Paul Sorvino, while the others starred Hal Holbrook. Barbara Hale played Della Street in all of them.

In the Seventies Barbara Hale was a spokeswoman in commercials for Amana appliances.

Barbara Hale will probably always be best remembered as Della Street. And there is good reason for that. She was remarkable in the role. In fact, she won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series in 1959 and was nominated for the same award in 1961. What is more, Della Street was an absolutely revolutionary character on television at the time. She was a working woman at a time when nearly every other female character on television was a housewife. And Della showed no interest in settling down or having children either. Her boss, Perry Mason, and the detective often utilised by Perry, Paul Drake, both treated her as an equal. They respected her opinions and often looked to her for help. Before Emma Peel, Honey West, or Mary Richards, Della Street was an intelligent, independent woman who was very good at what she did.

Of course, Barbara Hale played many more roles than Della Street. After all, before joining the cast of Perry Mason she had a thriving film career. In the film noir The Window she played the mother of a boy who has witnessed his neighbours kill a man. In West of the Pecos she plays a woman who persuades her father to quit his meat packing business in Chicago for a ranch in Texas. In The Houston Story she played a blonde femme fatale. Not only was Barbara Hale capable of playing a wide variety of roles, but she was also adept at playing in a number of different genres. She was paired twice with Robert Young in comedies: Lady Luck and And Baby Makes Three. She appeared in numerous Westerns, including The Lone Hand, The Far Horizons, and The Oklahoman. She starred in adventure films, films noirs, and even a science fiction film (The Giant Spider Invasion). As an actress Barbara Hale could play nearly anything she set her mind to.

I must confess I have always had a bit of a crush on Barbara Hale. It is not simply that she was drop dead gorgeous. It is that she brought to her roles, particularly that of Della Street, intelligence and charm. She was known for playing nice girls, but it must be pointed out that she also played bright, competent women throughout her career, of which Della Street may have been the best known.  Ultimately she was more than simply the actress who played Della Street. There are movie stars and there are TV stars. Barbara Hale happened to be both.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Late Great Mary Tyler Moore

To paraphrase the words from the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she could turn the world on with her smile. Ever since I was a lad I was just a little bit in love with Mary Tyler Moore, whether she was Laura Petrie or Mary Richards. And I know I was not alone in just being a little bit in love with her. I think it was true of very nearly every person I know. Other classic sitcom and film stars might have their detractors, but Mary Tyler Moore never seemed to. If America ever had a sweetheart, she was it.

Sadly the past several years Miss Moore's health was not the best. She had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was only 33. Over the past few years she had suffered from heart and kidney ailments, and in 2011 she had a benign brain tumour removed. Today, January 25 2017, Mary Tyler Moore died at the age of 80.  The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest after having contracted pneumonia.

Mary Tyler Moore was born on December 29 1936 in Brooklyn, New York. Her family moved to Queens and, when she was eight years old, her family moved to Los Angeles, California. She was only 17 when she played Happy Hotpoint in a series of commercials for Hotpoint brand domestic appliances. The commercials aired during episodes of the long running sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. She made her debut in a television show as a dancer on an edition of The Eddie Fisher Show. She made her film debut in Once Upon a Horse... (1958) as a dance hall girl. She guest starred on the shows The George Burns Show, Schlitz Playhouse, and Steve Canyon.

In 1959 she received her first recurring role on a show. She played Sam, the sexy operator for Richard Diamond's answering service on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. Viewers never got to see much of Mary Tyler Moore on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, as only her legs and sometimes her hands or mouth would ever be shown. For the remainder of the Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Bronco, Bourbon Street Beat, Johnny Staccato, 77 Sunset Strip, The Millionaire, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Bachelor Father, and Thriller.

It was in 1961 that she began playing one of her two best known roles, that of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  The show was a sharp break from other sitcoms of the era. Not only was the wife of comedy writer Rob Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke) stylish, fashionable, and attractive, but she was not afraid to speak her own mind. The Dick Van Dyke Show prove to be a hit and has persisted in reruns ever since. For the rest of the Sixties Mary Tyler Moore appeared in the films Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Don't Just Stand There (1968), What's So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968), and Change of Habit (1969).  In 1969 she appeared in the TV special Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, on which she got to show off her song and dance skills. 

It was also in 1969 that Mary Tyler Moore founded MTM Enterprises with her then husband Grant Tinker. The company's first show would be The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on which she played the other of her two best known roles, that of Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Richards was an independent, liberated woman with a sisterly quality, not to mention plenty of spunk. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show before it, The Mary Tyler Moore Show proved to be a hit upon its debut in 1970 and has persisted in reruns ever since. As to MTM Enterprises, the company would produce several other classics, including The Bob Newhart Show, Lou Grant, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and Newhart.

Mary Tyler Moore continued to star in The Mary Tyler Moore Show for much of the Seventies. In 1978 she starred in a short-lived comedy-variety series titled Mary. In 1979 she starred in another short-lived comedy variety show called The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. In the film Ordinary People (1980) she played an  emotionally withdrawn, angry mother who had lost one of her sons in a drowning. It was as far from Laura Petrie or Mary Richards as one could get. For her role, Miss Moore received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She also appeared on Broadway in a revival of Whose Life is it Anyway?.

In the Eighties Mary Tyler Moore starred in the short-lived sitcoms Mary and Annie McGuire. She played Mary Todd Lincoln in the mini-series Lincoln. She appeared in the TV movies The Last Best Year and Thanksgiving Day. She appeared in the films Six Weeks (1982) and Just Between Friends (1986).  She appeared on Broadway in Noises Off, The Octette Bridge Club, Joe Egg, Benefactors, Sweet Sue, and Safe Sex.

In the Nineties she starred in the drama New York News. She appeared in a few episodes of the comedy The Naked Truth. She guest starred on the show Fraiser and was a guest voice on King of the Hill. She appeared in the TV movies Stolen Babies,Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden, and Payback. Miss Moore appeared in the films Flirting with Disaster (1996), Keys to Tulsa (1997), and Labour Pains (2000).

In the Naughts Miss Moore appeared in the films Cheats (2002) and Against the Current (2009). She appeared in the TV movies Miss Lettie and Me, The Gin Game, Blessings, and Snow Wonder. She appeared in the TV reunion special The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. She guest starred on That '70s Show and Lipstick Jungle. In the Teens she guest starred on Hot in Cleveland, which would be her last appearances.

It is difficult to sum up just how important Mary Tyler Moore was to television history and to American popular culture. Over the years various women have been called "the First Lady of American Television," including Ruth Lyons, Betty White, and Lucille Ball. That title could also be applied to Mary Tyler Moore, who starred in two highly popular shows that remain extraordinarily popular to this day. She certainly was America's Sweetheart. Men loved her. Women loved her. She was the crush of many a little boy and a role model for many a little girl. It would be difficult to find another woman in American television who had quite the same impact as Mary Tyler Moore.

Much of the reason for Mary Tyler Moore's impact was that her two most important roles reflected the changes American women were undergoing at the time. Laura Petrie was a sharp break from previous housewives on American sitcoms of the past. She was spirited, strong willed, and very much her husband Rob's equal. It was a rare thing for Rob to make a decision without her. On those few times that they disagreed, Rob still respected her. Even her wardrobe was a sharp break from housewives in the sitcoms of the Fifties. Laura did not run around the house in prom dresses, pearls, and high heels. She wore Capri pants and flats. Laura was extremely attractive, independent, and intelligent, a housewife as never had been seen before on American television.

If Laura Richards was a sharp break from women in earlier sitcoms, Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was even more so. Like many women in 1970, Mary Richards was a part of the American work force. What is more, she held a job of considerable responsibility--she was originally an associate producer on WJM's Six O'Clock News (she was eventually promoted to producer). Mary was independent, single, and not particularly interested in getting married and having children. She was strong-willed while still remaining compassionate. Mary Richards was not the first career woman on television (that would be Ann Sothern as Susan Camille "Susie" MacNamara on Private Secretary), but she was the one who had the most impact.

Of course, Mary Tyler Moore played many more roles than Laura Petrie and Mary Richards. She played the sweet but naive Dorothy Brown, Millie's friend, in Thoroughly Modern Millie. She gave an incredible performance in Ordinary People. She played Mary Todd Lincoln in the mini-series Lincoln, for which she was nominated for another Emmy. Although best known as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, Mary Tyler Moore was a versatile actress who could play nearly any role. It is little wonder that she was nominated for Emmy Awards 15 times and won seven of those 15, not to mention receiving an Oscar nomination.

While Mary Tyler Moore was a great actress, she was also a great dancer. Indeed, she entered show business as a dancer. Miss Moore's talent as a dancer was displayed on The Dick Van Dyke Show, not to mention various specials and her variety shows. If Mary Tyler Moore had been born in an earlier era, I do not think it would be too far fetched to say that she would have been a star of Hollywood musicals. She not only had acting talent, she was an incredible dancer as well.

In the end it is difficult to sum up the importance of Mary Tyler Moore to American television and American popular culture. Very few women (or very few men, for that matter) were as pivotal as she was in American television history. It was not simply that she starred in two shows that are still incredibly popular, but also that she played groundbreaking characters who changed the rules of American television. Quite simply, Mary Tyler Moore was a woman of incredible talent who changed American television forever.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The 100th Birthday of Ernest Borgnine

It was 100 years ago today that Ernest Borgnine was born in Hamden, Connecticut. He had a very long and prolific career. He was also extremely versatile. He was Marty Piletti in the film Marty (1955). He as Ragnar in The Vikings (1958). He was Lt. Commander Quinton McHale on the TV series McHale's Navy. And he was Major General Worden in The Dirty Dozen (1967). Mr. Borgnine appeared in a wide variety of films as well, everything from dramas to action movies to Biblical epics to comedies. He also never stopped working. He was still working when he died at the age of 95!

Ernest Borgnine died only a few years ago, and you can read my eulogy for him here. In tribute to him on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, I'll then leave you with a few pictures from his long career.

Ernest Borgnine as Staff Sergeant James R. "Fatso" Judson in From Here to Eternity
Ernest Borgnine as Marty
Ernest Borgnine as Lt. Commander McHale from the TV show McHale's Navy
Ernest Borgnine with a Popsicle in a behind the scenes shot from The Wild Bunch
Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine in The Poseidon Adventure
Ernest Borgnine as Harry Booth in The Black Hole
Ernest Borgnine as the cabbie in Escape from New York
Ernest Borgnine as Henry the Records Keeper in Red