Friday, December 11, 2020

Godspeed Dame Barbara Windsor

Dame Barbara Windsor, who starred in several "Carry On..." films and the soap opera EastEnders, died yesterday, December 10 2020, at the age of 83. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2014.

Barbara Windsor was born Barbara Ann Deeks on August 6 1937 in Shoreditch, London. In 1939 her family moved to Stoke Newington, Hackney, London. It was there that young Barbara attended St Mary's Infants' School. During World War II she was evacuated to Blackpool. She later attended  Our Lady's Convent in Stamford Hill. She trained at the Aida Foster School in Golders Green.

Young Barbara made her film debut in 1950 in Cinderella at the Golden Green Hippodrome in London. She mad her debut on the West End as one of the chorus in Love from Judy at the Saville Theatre. In 1953 she took the stage name "Barbara Windsor," taking inspiration from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II that year. She made her film debut in The Belles of St. Trinian's in 1953. She made her television debut on the TV show Dreamer's Highway in 1954.

In the Fifties Barbara Windsor appeared in the movies A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), Lost (1956),  Make Mine a Million (1959), and Too Hot to Handle (1960). It was in 1964 that Barbara Windsor appeared as Daphne Honeybutt in Carry On Spying. She would become a regular in the "Carry On..." films. Over the years she appeared in Carry On Doctor (1967), Carry On Camping (1969), Carry On Again Doctor (1969), Carry On Henry (1971), Carry On Matron (1972), Carry On Abroad (1972), Carry On Girls (1973), and Carry On Dick (1974). She would later appear in various "Carry On..." revues on stage, along with other members of the "Carry On..." crew.

In the addition to the "Carry On..." films, in the Sixties Barbara Windsor appeared in Sparrows Can't Sing, for which she was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She also appeared in On the Fiddle (1961), Hair of the Dog (1962), Death Trap (1962), Crooks in Cloisters (1964), San Ferry Ann (1965), A Study in Terror (1965), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). In addition to "Carry On..." films, in the Seventies Barbara Windsor appeared in the movies The Boy Friend (1971) and Not Now Darling (1973).

In the Eighties Miss Windsor appeared in the movies Comrades (1986) and It Couldn't Happen Here (1987). She would be absent from the big screen until 2010, when she provided the voice of the Dormouse for Alice in Wonderland in 2010. She voiced Mallymkun in Alice Through the Looking Glass in 2016.

Barbara Windsor appeared frequently on television From 1961 to 1962 she was a regular on the show The Rag Trade. She was later a regular on Wild, Wild Women. She guest starred on Armchair Theatre, The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, The Plane Makers, Before the Fringe, Dad's Army, The Rolf Harris Show, Ooh La La!, Comedy Playhouse, and Up Pompeii!. She appeared in the "Carry On..." TV movie Carry On Christmas.

In the Seventies Barbara Windsor was a regular on Carry On Laughing, the television show spun off from the "Carry On..." films. She also played Saucy Nancy on Worzel Gummidge. She appeared in the "Carry On..." TV movie Carry On Christmas: Carry On Stuffing. She guest starred on Ooh La La! and The Punch Review. She appeared in the TV movie Come Spy with Me.

In the Eighties she was a regular on the show Bluebirds. She guest starred on the shows Both Ends Meet, Super Gran, The Management, and Family Fortunes. It was in 1994 that she began playing Peggy Mitchell, landlady of the Queen Victoria Pub, on EastEnders. She took the role over from Jo Warne, who had played the character in ten episodes at the start of the series. Barbara Windsor continued to play Peggy until 2016. She guest starred as Peggy Mitchell in the 2006 Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts." In the Nineties Barbara Windsor guest starred on the show You Rang, M'Lord?, Frank Stubbs Promotes, The Great Bong, One Foot in the Grave, and Cor, Blimey! Her final appearance was in the TV movie Babs in 2017, a dramatization of her life.

Although Barbara Windsor was well known her appearances in movies and television, she had a very successful stage career. In the Fifties she appeared in such productions as Many Happy Returns at the Watergate Theatre in London in 1955, Red Riding Hood at the Shakespeare Theatre in Liverpool in 1955 and 1956, and Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be at the Theatre Royal in Stafford from 1959 to 1960 and then the Garrick Theatre in London from 1960 to 1962.

In the Sixties Barbara Windsor made her debut on Broadway in Oh, What a Lovely War! at the Broadhurst Theatre. She received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Later in the decade she appeared in Twang! at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in 1965 and Come Spy with Me at the Whitehall Theatre in London from 1966 to 1967. Her stage career would continue to thrive over the next several decades. In the Seventies she appeared in such productions as Cinderella at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, The Owl and the Pussycat on tour in the United Kingdom, Carry On London! at the Victoria Palace Theatre from 1975 to 1977, and Dick Whittington at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon and then the Richmond Theatre from 1979 to 1980.

In the Eighties Barbara Windsor appeared in such productions as Entertaining Mr. Sloane at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith in 1981, The Mating Game  (various theatres),  Babes in the Woods at the London Palladium from 1987 to 1988, and a British tour of Guys and Dolls. In the Nineties she appeared in productions of Cinderella, Guys and Dolls, Aladdin, and Entertaining Mr. Sloan. From 2010 to 2011 she appeared in Dick Whittingdon at the Bristol Hippodrome from 2010 to 2011.

Because of her association with the "Carry On..." films (now regarded as classics, but derided in their time), I sometimes think Dame Barbara Windsor was underrated. In truth, she was an incredible talent with a real gift for comedy. One could not look at Barbara Windsor without smiling. Indeed, people forget that Barbara Windsor was nominated for both a BAFTA Award and a Tony Award, as well as nominations for British Soap Awards for her role as Peggy Mitchell on EastEnders. What is more, while Barbara Windsor was an enormous talent when it came to comedy, she was very good at drama too. After all, both Bluebirds and EastEnders were dramas. Chances are good that Barbara Windsor will always be remembered for the "Carry On..." films and EastEnders, but she had a full career in which she played a wide variety of roles.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Godspeed David Lander

David Lander, perhaps best known for playing Squiggy on the hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley, died on December 4 2020 at the age of 73.  The cause was complications from multiple sclerosis. He had been diagnosed with the disease in 1984.

David Lander was born David Landau on June 22 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. He decided he wanted to be an actor when he was only 10 years old. He attended the High School for the Performing Arts and then continued his education at both Carnegie Tech and New York University. It was while he was in college that he teamed up with Michael McKean. Together the two moved to Los Angeles where they became part of the comedy ensemble The Credibility Group.

David Lander made his television debut in 1970 providing the voice of Jerry Lewis in the Saturday morning cartoon Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down?. In the early Seventies he guest starred on the shows Love, American Style; The Bob Newhart Show; Rhoda; Barney Miller; and Viva Valdez. He provided the voice of Jud in the animated TV movie Gidget Makes the Wrong Connection, which aired on The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie. It was in 1976 that he began playing Andrew "Squiggy" Squiggman on Laverne & Shirley. Along with Leonard "Lenny" Kosnowski (played by Michael McKean), Squiggy was a greaser who lived upstairs from Laverne and Shirley's apartment. The characters of Lenny and Squiggy were created by Michael McKean and David Lander while they were still in college. Both Michael McKean and David Lander would remain with Laverne & Shirley until the end of its run. In 1979 David Lander guest starred as Squiggy on Happy Days, from which Laverne & Shirley had been spun off. In the Seventies David Lander also appeared in the movies 1941 (1979), Wholly Moses (1980), and Used Cars (1980). In Used Cars David Lander played Freddie Paris and Michael McKean played Eddie Winslow, two techies who film commercials for the New Deal car lot.

In the Eighties David Lander had a recurring role on the TV show Twin Peaks. He provided the voice of Milo de Venus on the Saturday morning cartoon Galaxy High School and provided voices for the animated series Potsworth & Co. He guest starred on The Love Boat, Highway to Heaven, George Burns Comedy Week, Tall Tales & Legends, Matlock, Simon & Simon, Father Dowling Mysteries, Monsters, Married with Children, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Not Necessarily the News, Knight & Daye, Freddy's Nightmares, Head of the Class, Partners in Life, and Talespin. He appeared in the movies Pandemonium (1982), Imps* (1983), The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), Steele Justice (1987), Funland  (1987), and Masters of Menace (1990). He provided voices for the English version of Le big-Bang (1987), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).

In the Nineties David Lander continued his recurring role on Twin Peaks. He was a regular on the TV shows On the Air and Pacific Blue, and he appeared on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful from 1997 to 1998. He provided voices for the animated TV shows ProStars, The Little Mermaid, Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills, Jungle Cubs, and 101 Dalmations: The Series. He guest starred on the shows Matrix, Family Album, Getting By, Family Matters, Dream On, The Nanny, Homeboys in Outerspace, The Drew Carey Show, L.A. Heat, Nash Bridges, The Weird Al Show, Diagnosis Murder, Mad About You, and Arli$$. He appeared in the movies A League of Their Own (1992), Ava's Magical Adventure (1994), The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1998), and Scary Movie (2000). He provided voices for the films Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992), A Bug's Life (1998), and Titan A.E. (2000).

In the Naughts David Lander was the voice of Henry on the animated TV series Oswald and the voice of Doc Boy on The Garfield Show.He guest starred on the shows Black Scorpion, The Simpsons, and Raising the Bar. David Lander appeared in the movies Say It Isn't So (2001), Jane White is Sick and Twisted (2004), Christmas with the Kranks (2004), and Zoom (2006). He provided voices for the movies Dr. Doolittle 2 (2001) and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001). In the Teens he appeared on the show Break a Hip. He was a guest voice on the animated shows SpongeBob Squarepants and Goldie and Bear.

David Lander was a wonderful comedian and actor, creating a number of memorable and at times humorous characters, often in tandem with Michael McKean. He was able to do a number of different voices, which not only helped him create characters in live action film, but made him in demand for animated projects as well. Even when he was only on-screen briefly, his characters remained memorable. Of course, it is likely he will always be best remembered as Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley. It was because of his considerable talent that Mr. Lander was able to create one of the most famous characters on television. That having been said, he did so much more.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The 40th Anniversary of John Lennon's Death

It was forty years ago today that John Lennon was shot and murdered by a deranged fan. Even now, forty years later, I can remember the morning of December 9 1980 when I learned the news. I was only 17 at the time and I was staying home from school with the flu. It is for that reason that come 7:00 AM I was still in bed. I was awake when my brother came into my room and said, "John Lennon's dead. He's been shot." I cannot repeat exactly what I said here as it is not family friendly, but it was to the effect that he was lying. It was then that I dragged myself out of bed and went into the living room to see the awful news on The Today Show on NBC. John Lennon was dead. I immediately broke down crying and I would continue crying on and off all day. I also listened to every Beatles album we had. Ultimately, I would cry more over John Lennon than I have any celebrity except my dearest Vanessa Marquez, whom I knew intimately and was in love with. It is sad fact that the remaining Beatles and I have something in common: someone we hold dear was murdered through gun violence.

It might seem odd to some for someone to cry over a person they did not know, let alone even met. When David Bowie died I know there were a few who mocked the widespread mourning that took place following his death. That having been said, the plain truth is that music artists, writers, actors, directors, and other artists have an impact on our lives, often in ways that we cannot understand and cannot adequately measure. Their works help us get through our bad times, add more joy to our good times, give meaning to our lives, and even help shape our attitudes to life. Among the things we have learned during this pandemic, it is that the arts--music, books, movies, TV shows, and so on--are essential to maintaining people's mental health. In those dark days following Vanessa's murder, it was in part the music of The Beatles that helped me get through it all. Although he had been gone for 37 years at that point, John Lennon had saved my life once again. Among the songs I was privileged to select for Vanessa's first memorial was John Lennon's song "In My Life." It was a song that Vanessa loved and a song that also expressed my feelings for her.

I have written a good deal about John Lennon on this blog, perhaps more than other single person besides Vanessa. Below are the posts I wrote on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death and on the occasion of what would been his 70th birthday.

"The 30th Anniversary of John Lennon's Death"

"In Honour of John Lennon's 70th Birthday"

Below, I have included some of my favourite John Lennon songs.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Godspeed Pamela Tiffin

Pamela Tiffin, who appeared in such movies as One, Two, Three (1961) and The Pleasure Seekers (1964), died on December 2 2020 at the age of 78.

Pamela Tiffin was born on October 13 1942 in Oklahoma City. She grew up in the Chicago suburb Oak Lawn, Illinois. By the time she was 13, Miss Tiffin had already begun a modelling career, primarily in print ads and at runway shows. After she and her mother moved to New York City, she attended Hunter College and continued her modelling career.

As to how Pamela Tiffin began her acting career, there are two stories. One is that while vacationing in Hollywood, producer Hal B. Wallis spotted her while she was having lunch with a friend in the Paramount commissary. The other is that director Billy Wilder had seen her in an ad in The New York Times Magazine and was searching for her to cast her in his upcoming film One, Two, Three. He was surprised to learn she had been in Hollywood only a short time earlier.

Pamela Tiffin made her film debut in Summer and Smoke (1961), produced by Hal B. Wallis. That same year she played Scarlett Hazeltine, the spoiled, hot tempered daughter of a Coca-Cola executive. Miss Tiffin would have a thriving career for the next several years, appearing in the movies State Fair (1962), Come Fly with Me (1963), For Those Who Think Young (1964), The Lively Set (1964), The Pleasure Seekers (1964), and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). On television she guest starred on The Fugitive. She appeared in the unsold TV pilot Three on an Island, which aired on Vacation Playhouse in 1965. She then starred in the episodic Italian film Oggi, domani, dopodomani (1965) with Marcello Mastroianni. Afterwards she retuned to the U.S. to appear in the movie Harper (1966) and then on Broadway in Dinner at Eight.

For the remainder of the Sixties, Pamela Tiffin appeared in movies made in Europe, with the exception of the comedy Viva Max! (1969), the TV movie The Last of the Powerseekers, and a guest appearance on the TV show . The films she made in Europe were Delitto quasi perfetto (1966), Straziami ma di baci saziami (1968), and L'arcangelo (1969). 

Miss Tiffin continued to make movies in Italy in the Seventies, appearing in such films as Cose di Cosa Nostra (1971), Il vichingo venuto dal sud (1971), Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971), Los amigos (1972), Amore mio, uccidimi! (1973), La signora è stata violentata (1973), and Brigitte, Laura, Ursula, Monica, Raquel, Litz, Florinda, Barbara, Claudia, e Sofia le chiamo tutte... anima mia (1974). She retired from acting in 1974, making one last appearance in the TV mini-series Quattro storie di donne in 1989.

I sometimes think people know Pamela Tiffin more for her remarkable talent than her considerable talent. I find that sad, as she was incredibly talented. I remember when I first saw her in One, Two, Three when I was a child. Of course, I was struck by how beautiful she was, but I was also impressed by her talent. For a long time I was convinced that she actually was from Georgia. I wouldn't learn she was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Illinois until I was an adult. And at the time I didn't realize that her performance in One, Two, Three was only her second acting job. When it came to acting, Pamela Tiffin was a natural. Indeed, she played a variety of roles in her career. She was an eager teenager in State Fair, the flirty daughter of a millionaire in Harper, the lover of a reporter investigating a string of murders in the giallo Giornata nera per l'ariete, and the prostitute who falls in love with a gunfighter in Los amigos. While Pamela Tiffin's career was brief compared to many stars, she also shined brighter than most of them too.