Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tom Lester Passes On

Tom Lester, best known for playing farmhand Eb Dawson on the classic sitcom Green Acres, died on April 20 2020 at the age of 81. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease. He was the last surviving cast member of Green Acres.

Tom Lester was born on September 23 1938 in Laurel, Mississippi. He attended Laurel High School and then the University of Mississippi, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry. He attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi before leaving the university to pursue acting.

He made his acting debut in 1961 in the very first production of the Laurel Little Theatre, Born Yesterday. He moved to California where he befriended actress Lurene Tuttle, who appeared in many radio shows and TV shows. She was able to get him cast in a variety of plays. He made multiple appearances at the North Hollywood Playhouse. Among the plays in which he appeared was one in which producer Paul Henning's daughter Linda Kaye Henning, who would play Betty Jo Bradley on Mr. Henning's show Petticoat Junction. Because of this he became friends with Paul Henning. When Paul Henning was casting a new show set in the universe shared by The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junciton, he cast Tom Lester as farmhand Eb Dawson, largely because he knew how to milk a cow.

Green Acres proved to be a hit and Tom Lester appeared in very nearly every episode of the show. He also guest starred as Eb on several episodes of Green Acres and episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. In the Seventies, after Green Acres left the air, Mr. Lester guest starred on episodes of Love, American Style and Marcus Welby, M.D. He appeared in the TV movie Charo and the Sergeant. He made his feature film debut in 1974 in Benji.

In the Eighties Tom Lester guest starred on episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Knight Rider, and Santa Barbara. He reprised his role as Eb Dawson in the television reunion movie Return to Green Acres. He appeared in the movie Intruder (1989). Since then he has appeared in the movies The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend (1991), Gordy (1994), and Campin' Buddies (2014). He was the voice of a radio announcer in the film Christmas Child (2004).

Both while he was on Green Acres and for years afterwards, Mr. Lester travelled the country as a Christian preacher. He also returned to farming and attended autograph shows and conventions, often in the role of Ed Dawson.

Tom Lester's acting career was not extensive, but he was also a delight to see on screen. On Green Acres he created one of the most memorable sitcom roles of the Sixties, that of childlike, but smart-alecky farm hand. He interactions with Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert), who he insisted on calling "Dad," were often the funniest bits in any given episode. While Tom Lester would always be typecast as Eb Dawson, he could play other roles. He played the main villain's henchman Riley Bonner in  the movie Benji. In the Love, American Style segment he played a deputy sheriff who must deal with a young couple who bet on literally everything. Tom Lester had considerable talent and a gift for comedy. If he is remembered so well as Eb Dawson, it is perhaps because he performed the character so well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Late Great Brian Dennehy

Brian Dennehy, who appeared in such films as Silverado (1985), Cocoon (1985), and Romeo + Juliet (1995) died April 15 2020 at the age of 81.

Brian Dennehy was born on July 9 1938 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His father, Edward Dennehy, was a a wire service editor at Associated Press. The family moved to Long Island, New York, where Brian Dennehy attended Chaminade High School. He began acting while still in high school, appearing in a school production of Macbeth. He attended Columbia University for a time on a football scholarship before serving five years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following his service he resumed his education at Columbia University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965.

Mr. Dennehy began acting in regional theatre, taking a succession of jobs to make a living. He worked as a butcher, a truck driver, and a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch, a job he did not particularly like. He made his film debut in Looking for Mr. Goodbar in 1977 and his television debut in an episode of Kojak the same year. In the late Seventies he appeared in the movies Semi-Tough (1977), F.I.S.T. (1978), Foul Play (1978), Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979), 10 (1979) and Little Miss Marker (1980). He guest starred on episodes of Serpico; Lanigan's Rabbi; M*A*S*H; Lucan, The Fitzpatricks; Lou Grant, The Tony Randall Show; Dallas; Big Shamus, Little Shamus; and Knot's Landing. He appeared in the mini-series Pearl and A Rumour of War.

In the Eighties Mr. Dennehy appeared in the movies Split Image (1982), First Blood (1982), Never Cry Wolf (1983), Gorky Park (1983), Finders Keepers (1984), The River Rat (1984), Cocoon (1985), Silverado (2985), Twice in a Lifetime (1985), F/X (1986), The Check Is in the Mail... (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), The Belly of an Architect (1987), Best Seller (1987), The Man from Snowy River II (1988), Miles from Home (1988), Indio (1989), Georg Elser - Einer aus Deutschland (1989), The Last of the Finest (1990), and Presumed Innocent (1990). On television he had a recurring role on Dynasty in the show's first and second seasons and the lead role on the sitcom Star of the Family. He guest starred on the shows BBC2 Playhouse, Cagney & Lacey, Hunter, Tall Tales & Legends, Faerie Tale Theatre, and Miami Vice. He appeared in the mini-series Evergreen. 

In the Nineties Brian Dennehy appeared on Broadway in the productions Translations and Death of a Salesman. He won the Tony Award for Best Actor for the latter. He appeared in the movies F/X2 (1991), Gladiator (1992), Tommy Boy (1995), The Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995), Romeo + Juliet (1996), Out of the Cold (1999), and Silicon Towers (1999). On television he had a lead role on the TV series Birdland. He appeared in the mini-series To Catch a Killer, A Season in Purgatory, Dead Man's Walk, and Nostromo.

In the Naughts Brian Dennehy had the lead role in the television series The Fighting Fitzgeralds and a recurring role on the sitcom Just Shoot Me. He guest starred on the shows The Agency, The West Wing, The 4400, 30 Rock, Rules of Engagement, and Rizzoli & Isles. He appeared in the movies Summer Catch (2001), Stolen Summer (2002), She Hate Me (2004), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), 10th & Wolf (2006), The Ultimate Gift (2006), Welcome to Paradise (2007), War Eagle, Arkansas (2007), Cat City (2008), Righteous Kill (2008), Every Day (2010), Meet Monica Velour (2010), The Next Three Days (2010), and Alleged (2010).  He was the voice of Django in Ratatouille (2007).  He appeared on Broadway in Long Day's Journey into Night, Inherit the Wind, and  Desire Under the Elms.

In the Teens he had regular roles on the TV shows Public Morals and recurring roles on Hap and Leonard and The Blacklist. He guest starred on the TV shows The Good Wife and The Big C. He appeared in the movies The Big Year (2011), Twelfth Night (2012), Knights of Cups (2015), The Seagull (2018), The Song of Sway Lake (2018), and Driveways (2019).  He appeared on Broadway in Love Letters.

Brian Dennehy was truly a modern day character actor. Throughout his career he portrayed a wide variety of characters including heroes, villains, and everything in between. He was a villain in First Blood, playing the corrupt Sheriff Will Teasle. In Silverado he played Cobb, another corrupt sheriff. In F/X Mr. Dennehy played a more heroic role, that of police detective Lt. McCarthy, who finds more than he bargained for when he investigates a murder. Through the years Brian Dennehy played such a wide range of roles that it is difficult to say he was identified with any particular role. In Belly of an Architect he played Stourley Kracklite, whose life and health both begin to deteriorate. In the Miami Vice episode "Amen...Send Money" he played a televangelist. He played diverse historical figures, including John Wayne Gacy, Clarence Darrow, and the voice of Babe Ruth in the animated feature Everybody's Hero (2006). Brian Dennehy was an extremely talented actor capable of playing a wide array of roles and always gave a good performance.

Monday, April 20, 2020

TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition in Review

In most years it would usually be some time this week that I would write a post featuring links to the many blog posts that TCM Classic Film Festival attendees have written about the festival. I do this because it is a way that those of us who cannot attend the festival can experience it vicariously. Sadly, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it became necessary for Turner Classic Movies to cancel this year's TCMFF (as the festival is often abbreviated by TCM and their fans alike). To make up for the festival's cancellation, TCM then scheduled the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition, which TCM described as " on-air celebration of TCM Classic Film Festival movies and moments from the past decade that fans can enjoy from the comfort of their homes." Beginning on Thursday, April 16 at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central and running through Sunday, April 19, the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition was three days of the best programming ever on the cable channel.

Of course, the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition did not simply consist of movies. TCM also aired interviews and tributes from past festivals, such as the tribute to Eva Marie Saint at the 2014 film festival and the tribute to Peter O'Toole form the 2012 film festival. TCM also provided fans with a good deal of material for social media. This included a video kick off from all five TCM hosts, video memories of the hosts about their various experiences at past festivals, and a number of tributes and interviews from past festivals.

The online material related to the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition did not end with the many videos TCM posted to the various social media platforms. On Twitter there were several live tweets, some organized by TCM themselves and some by TCMParty, the group of fans (of whom I am one) who live tweet to movies on TCM using the hashtag #TCMParty. On Friday I hosted the TCMParty for A Hard Day's Night (1964), tweeting my usual trivia that I do when the movie airs on TCM. I figure that will be as close as I will ever come to introducing a movie at the TCM Classic Film Festival! That night TCM host Alicia Malone live tweeted Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Among the other live tweets included Eddie Muller for They Live By Night (1949) on Saturday (this was very special, as Eddie said he would never live tweet), and on Sunday Maureen Lee Lenker for Singin' in the Rain (1954) and Floyd Norman himself for Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016). The live tweets were very enjoyable, particularly as I got to interact with many old friends that I hadn't seen at TCMParties of late.

Both Turner Classic Films and TCM fans attempted to bring as much of the feel of TCMFF to the weekend as they could. Turner Classic Films actually created tickets for TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition. Many fans posted photos of the various fashions they would have worn to the festival this year. On Twitter many of us fans joked about various films being at Grauman's Chinese or the Egyptian or poolside at the Roosevelt and stopping by Musso and Frank Grill or Mel's Drive-In for food.  Some past TCMFF attendees organized Zoom sessions so that they could chat as they would at the actual festival.

Creature of habit that I am, one of the things I liked about the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition is that it did not disrupt TCM programming as much as one might think. Turner Classic Movies aired cult classic Grey Gardens (1975) Friday night at 1:30 AM Eastern/12:30 AM Central, roughly the same time that TCM Underground airs.  On Saturday night TCM aired Night and the City (1950) at 11:45 PM Eastern/10:45 Central, roughly the same time that Noir Alley airs each week.

As to the line-up of films, I think it is one of the best line-ups Turner Classic Films has ever programmed. Among my favourites that aired over the weekend were The Seventh Seal (1957), Sounder (1972), A Hard Day's Night (1964), North by Northwest (1959), Some Like It Hot (1959), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Mad Love (1935), Safety Last! (1923), They Live By Night (1949), Network (1976), Casablanca (1942), Night and the City (1950), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Auntie Mame (1958), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and Baby Face (1933).

From where I stand, the TCM Classic Film Festival was a resounding success. In fact, it was so successful that it is interesting to consider what it might mean for the future of the festival. Given Governor of California Gavin Newsom has said that social distancing measures could remain in place until early to mid-2021, it is possible that next year's TCM Classic Film Festival could also be one that unfolds virtually. Beyond that, it seems possible to me that even once the TCM Classic Film Festival returns to Hollywood, that we might still have the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Edition in some form. While TCM might be unable to air many of the films shown at the festival, they could still air many of the films to which Warner owns the rights (which a good many) simultaneously as they are shown at the festival. Of course, this means those who do not attend could see many of the introductions and interviews that we once had to wait to see on TCM Backlot or the TCM YouTube channel. I have to also wonder that we might not see TCM much more active on social media outlets during the festival, much as they were during this year's TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition.

Regardless, the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition is the most fun I have had in a long time. It came at a time when I was feeling very down (not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but due to other matters in my life) and it helped lift my spirits in a way I wouldn't have expected. I am sure that the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition did the same for many others. Turner Classic Movies has long been a way that its fans have had of getting through rough patches in their lives, and this time was no different. What is more, TCM has always had a very special connection to its fans, to the point that many fans often regard their hosts and others at TCM as friends. Once again, TCM came through in what is a very dark time for many of us.