Friday, February 3, 2023

Godspeed Sylvia Syms

Dame Sylvia Syms, who starred in such films as My Teenage Daughter (1956) and Victim (1961), died on January 27 2023 at the age of 89.

Sylvia Syms was born on January 6 1934 in London. During World War II she was evacuated to Kent and later Monmouthshire. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She started her career in repertory theatre in Eastbourne and Bath. She made her television debut on an episode of Terminus in 1955. She made her film debut in 1956 in My Teenage Daughter. In the late Fifties she appeared on the television shows Life with the Lyons, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, London Playhouse, ITV Television Playhouse, and After Hours. She appeared in the movies Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), No Time for Tears (1957), The Birthday Present (1957), The Moonraker (1958), Ice Cold Alex (1958), Bachelor of Hearts (1958), No Trees in the Street (1959), Ferry to Hong Kong (1959), Expresso Bongo (1959), Conspiracy of Hearts (1960), and The World of Suzy Wong (1960).

In the Sixties Miss Syms appeared in the mini-series Bat Out of Hell. She guest starred on the TV shows Suspense, The Saint, Love Story, The Human Jungle, Danger Man, The Baron, Armchair Theatre, Half Hour Story, The Root of All Evil?, Strange Report, ITV Playhouse, and Brian Rix Presents... She appeared in the movies Le vergini di Roma (1961), Flame in the Streets (1961), Victim (1961), The Quare Fellow (1962), The Punch and Judy Man (1963), The World Ten Times Over (1963), East of Sudan (1964), Operation Crossbow (1965), The Big Job (1965), Danger Route (1967), The Desperadoes (1969), Run Wild, Run Free (1969), and Hostile Witness (1969).

In the Seventies Sylvia Syms starred on the television series My Good Woman. She guest starred on the TV shows Paul Temple; The Adventurer; Comedy Premiere; Jackanory Playhouse; and I'm Bob, He's Dickie. She appeared in the movies Asylum (1972), The Tamarind Seed (1974), Give Us Tomorrow (1978), and There Goes the Bride (1980).

In the Eighties she appeared in the television mini-series Nancy Astor, Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced, and Intimate Contact. She guest starred on the show Time for Murder, Rockcliffe's Folly, Doctor Who, and May to December. She appeared in the movies Absolute Beginners (1986), A Chrous of Disapproval (1989), and Shirley Valentine (1989).

In the Nineties Sylvia Syms starred on the TV show Peak Practice. She appeared in the mini-series The Glass Virgin and Original Sin. She guest starred on the shows Natural Lies, Mulberry, Ghosts, Screen Two, Kavanagh QC, Heartbeat, and Ruth Rendall Mysteries. She appeared in the movies Shining Through (1992), Dirty Weekend (1993), Staggered (1994), Food of Love (1997),and  The House of Angelo (1997).

In the Naughts she starred on the TV series The Jury, At Home with the Braithwaites, and EastEnders. She appeared in the mini-series Collision and Bouquet of Barbed Wire. She guest starred on the shows Holby City, Where the Heart Is, Born and Bred, Family Affairs, Judge John Deed,. Dalziel and Pascoe, New Tricks, Agatha Christie's Marple, Blue Murder, Above Suspicion, Missing, and Doctors. She appeared in the movies What a Girl Wants (2003), I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003), The Queen (2006), Is Anybody There? (2008), and Bunny and the Bull (2009).

In the Teens Sylvia Syms appeared in the movies Booked Out (2012), Run for Your Wife (2012), and Together (2018). She guest starred on the TV shows Case Histories, Rev, Playhouse Presents, and Gentleman Jack.

Sylvia Syms was a remarkable actress. What is more, her talent was obvious from the beginning. In her film debut, My Teenage Daugther, she gave a solid performance as a teenager taking a turn towards delinquency. She also gave a great performance in Victim, playing a wife who learns her husband is a homosexual. In the Amicus horror classic Asylum, in the segment "Frozen Fear," she played a controlling wife who has a fascination with voodoo. She gave good performances on television as well. She made several appearances on The Saint, the best of which may have been "Best Laid Schemes." In the Danger Man episode "It's Up to the Lady" she played the wife of a British diplomat planning to defect to China. Sylvia Syms was a wonderful and prolific actress who leaves behind a number of great performances.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Louise Harrison Caldwell, George Harrison's Older Sister, Passes On

George & Louise
Louise Harrison Caldwell was never a household name, but her brother was. Her younger brother was none other than George Harrison, lead guitarist for The Beatles. Mrs. Caldwell played a pivotal role in the history of The Beatles, and was quite probably her brother's greatest admirer. Sadly, she died on January 29 2023 at the age of 91.

Louise Harrison was born on August 16 1931 in Liverpool. She was the oldest of four children. It was in the Fifties that she married an American and moved to the North America. In 1963 she was living in the small town of Benton, Illinois with her husband. In September of that year George Harrison visited her in Benton. The two siblings hiked through the Garden of the Gods in Herod, Illinois  and George got to see his first movie in a drive-in theatre. He also bought a Rickenbacker guitar. He even performed with a local band, The Four Vets, at the VFW in Eldorado, Illinois, making George Harrison the first Beatle to perform in the United States.

Louise Harrison Caldwell would be pivotal in spreading Beatlemania in the United States, even writing radio stations and record stores about her brother's band. She even toured with the band during the tours of the United States in 1964, 1965, and 1966. She would continue to promote her brother and The Beatles for the rest of her life. She made numerous personal appearances and give numerous interviews. In 2005 she formed The Beatles tribute band, Liverpool Legends, who perform in Branson, Missouri. A book on her experiences as the sister of a Beatle, My Kid Brother's Band a.k.a. The Beatles was published in 2016.

Louise Harrison Caldwell spent much of her life living in either Illinois or Missouri, so it was not unusual to see her on the various local television stations from time to time. She was filled with various stories of The Beatles, which she would eagerly tell. She was obviously proud of her brother George, as well as the other Beatles. Those who met her remarked on her kindness. While Louise Harrison Caldwell was not as famous to her brother, she was well loved by Beatles fans.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Late Great Cindy Williams

Cindy Williams, best known for playing Shirley Feeney on the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley, and who appeared in such movies as American Graffiti (1973) and The Conversation (1974), died on January 25 2023 at the age of 75 following a brief illness.

Cindy Williams was born on August 22 1947 in Van Nuys, California. She was only one year old when her family moved to Dallas, where they spent the next nine years. When Cindy Williams was eleven, her mother moved to the San Fernando Valley in California. She took an interest in acting while very young and acted in plays at Birmingham High School. She graduated from high school in 1965 and then attended Los Angeles City College, majoring in theatre. She worked as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes and later the nightclub the Whiskey A Go Go, where she served such music legends as Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, and Joe Cocker.

She signed with the the Paul Kohner Agency and made her television debut in an episode of Room 222 in 1969. She also guest starred on My World and Welcome to It and Barefoot in the Park. She made her movie debut in Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It in 1970. |

In the Seventies she was one of the regulars on the short-lived sketch comedy program The Funny Side. It was in 1975 that she guest starred on Happy Days as Shirley Feeney. Cindy Williams guest starred alongside Penny Marshal as Shirley's roommate and best friend Laverne one more time before the two characters were spun off into their own series, Laverne & Shirley. During the decade she also guest starred on the TV shows Nanny and the Professor; Room 222; Getting Together; Love, American Style; Hawaii Five-O; Cannon; Insight; Police Story; Petrocelli; Laugh-In; and CHiPs. She appeared in the movie American Graffiti (1973), for which she was nominated for the BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actress. She also appeared in the movies Drive, He Said (1971), Beware the Blob! (1972), Travels with My Aunt (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), The Conversation (1974), Mr. Ricco (1975), The First Nudie Musical (1976), and More American Graffiti (1979).

Cindy Williams continued to appear on Laverne & Shirley in the Eighties. She also provided the voice of Shirley on the Saturday morning cartoon Laverne & Shirley in the Army and guest starred as Shirley in two more episodes of Happy Days. She guest starred on the shows The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour and The Wonderful World of Disney. She had regular roles on the shows Just Like Family and Normal Life. She appeared in the movies The Creature Wasn't Nice (1981), UFOria (1984), Big Man on Campus (1989), and Rude Awakening (1989).

In the Nineties she starred on the shows Getting By, Strip Mall, and For Your Love. She guest starred on the shows Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The Magic School Bus, Night Stand, Touched by an Angel, Hope & Gloria, and Girl Across the Lake. She appeared in the movies Bingo (1991) and Meet Wally Sparks (1997).

In the Naughts Cindy Williams had a regular role on the show Drive. She guest starred on the shows Son of the Beach, The Brothers Garcia, 7th Heaven, Less Than Perfect, 8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Law & Order: Special Victims Order, and Girlfriends. She appeared in the movies The Biggest Fan (2005) and The Legend of William Tell (2006).

In the Teens she guest starred on the shows Are We There Yet?, Sam & Cat, and The Odd Couple (2016). She appeared in the movies Stealing Roses (2012), Waiting in the Wings: Still Waiting (2018), and Canaan Land (2020). She will appear in the Amazon Prime series Sami, set to debut in March.

I believe it is certain that Cindy Williams will always be best remembered as Shirley Feeney. Aside from the continued popularity of Laverne & Shirley, she gave a great performance as the perky, always postive, yet senstive Shirley, in contrast to the great Penny Marshall as the tough as nails, outspoken Laverne. As good as Cindy Williams was as Shirley, it is important to remember she played many other roles throughout her career. She gave an excellent performance as Ann in The Conversation, the woman that surveilance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) has been assigned to spy upon. She also gave a great performance as Laurie in American Graffiti. She was very funny in UFOria, playing a religious grocery store clerk who belives in flying saucers. Cindy Williams played a wide variety of characters throughout her career.

Cindy Williams was also a very kind, very nice human being. One of my friends is the biggest Laverne & Shirley fan in the world. She had the opportunity to chat with Miss Williams on Zoom and to meet her in person. Miss Williams could not have been nicer. She talked to my friend as if she had known her all her life and could not have been sweeter towards her. Miss Williams was funny, bright, and very vibrant. I don't think I have ever seen a celebrity treat a fan better. If I am a bit shocked by Cindy Williams's death, it's not simply because 75 seems like a young age to go, but because she seemed so youthful and very much still full of life.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Godspeed Lisa Loring

Lisa Loring, who originated the role of Wednesday Addams on the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family, died on January 28 2023 at the age of 64. The cause was complications from a stroke.

Lisa Loring was born Lisa Ann DeCinces in Kwajalein Atoll, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (now the Marshall Islands). Her parents both served in the United States Navy, and divorced when she was very young. As a very young child she lived in Hawaii for a time before moving to Los Angeles to live with her mother. She was three years old when she began modelling, taking the stage name "Lisa Loring." She made her television debut in 1964 in an episode of Dr. Kildare.

It was also in 1964 that Lisa Loring was cast as Wednesday Addams on The Addams Family. Wednesday was an overly morbid six year old who owned headless dolls and kept pet spiders. The Addams Family only lasted two years, but proved to be a success as a syndicated rerun. In the Sixties she also played Suzy Pruitt on the short-lived sitcom The Pruitts of Southamptom. She also guest starred on The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

After The Pruitts of Southampton ended, Lisa Loring would not appear in television or films until the television reunion movie Halloween with the New Addams Family, in which she reprised her role as Wednesday Addams. In the late Seventies she guest starred on the TV shows Fantasy Island and Barnaby Jones. She appeared in the TV movie Annie Flynn.

From 1980 to 1983 Lisa Loring had the recurring role of Cricket Montgomery on the soap opera As the World Turns. She appeared in the TV movie Gabe and Walker. She appeared in the movies Blood Frenzy (1987), Savage Harbor (1987), and Iced (1989). In the Teens she appeared in the movies Way Down in Chinatown (2014) and Doctor Spine (2015).

It is safe to say that Lisa Loring will always be best remembered as Wednesday on The Addams Family. Aside from the show's continued popularity, I think it is primarily the case that she was so  good in the role. This is all the more remarkable given she was only five years old when she was cast and could not yet read. Someone had to read her lines to her and she memorized them that way. In interviews Miss Loring said that playing Wednesday was sometimes hard, because John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, and Ted Cassidy were all so funny, and yet she had to keep a straight face. In an interview at Monsterpalooza in 2017 she revealed that she was actually quite different from Wednesday, saying, "I liked lace and pearls and pretty things and Wednesday liked everything dark and spooky." Certainly, Lisa Loring's portrayal of Wednesday has shaped every portrayal of the character since.

And certainly Lisa Loring's portrayal of Wednesday Addams would have a lasting impact. I know many women who were inspired by Wednesday. Much of the message of The Addams Family, and Wednesday in particular, is that it is okay to be different, that it is okay not to conform to society's expectations of what you should be. In that respect, in some ways Wednesday could be considered a proto-feminist icon. While other little girls on television in the Sixties tended to conform to what was expected of them, Wednesday was very much her own person.

In addition to being a talented actress, Lisa Loring was also a very nice person. She often attended conventions and other events, and everyone who had the privilege to meet her has said the same thing, that she was one of the nicest people one could ever meet. She certainly appreciated her fans. If many are sad today, it is not simply that Lisa Loring played a beloved character, it was because she was very much loved herself.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Alice Cooper on The Muppet Show

(This post is part of  The Great Muppet Guest Star Caper hosted by Taking Up Room and Realweegiemidget Reviews)

In the Sixties rock stars appeared on American television nearly every week. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Doors, and others appeared on variety shows from The Ed Sullivan Show to The Jonathan Winters Show to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. By the mid-Seventies this had changed and it was rare for rock stars to appear on television beyond such specialized shows as Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. The Muppet Show was then unique in that it actually guest starred the occasional rock star, among them Elton John, Paul Simon, Debbie Harry, and Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper guest starred on the seventh episode of the show's third season, the 307th episode of The Muppet Show over all.

Alice Cooper began his career with the band of the same name. He was one of the pioneers of shock rock, with his stage shows featuring everything from an electric chair to a boa constrictor. Much of the imagery of Alice Cooper drew upon classic horror movies. The band first met with success with their third album Love It to Death. Their song "School's Out" would turn out to be a major hit in 1972, peaking at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going all the way to no. 1 on the UK singles chart. It remains Alice Cooper's best known song. In 1975 Alice Cooper went solo with the album Welcome to My Nightmare. He proved to be a success as a solo act, with the hit singles "Only Women Bleed" (no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100), "You and Me" (no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100), and "How You Gonna See Me Now" (no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Given how successful Alice Cooper was in the Seventies, not to mention his highly theatrical stage act seemed well suited to television, it was perhaps no surprise that he appeared on The Muppet Show. It should also be no surprise that his episode is reminiscent of Vincent Price's guest appearance on the show in its first season. That episode capitalized on Vincent Price's status as a horror movie legend, complete with Kermit turned vampire. The episode guest starring Alice Cooper capitalized on his status as "the Godfather of Shock Rock," as he would eventually be called. Both episodes draw heavily on the mythos of horror movies.

From the beginning Alice Cooper's guest appearance on The Muppet Show is humorously macabre. At the start of the episode he informs Scooter that the monsters in his dressing room don't belong to the Muppets, but to him. Early in the episode Alice reveals himself to be an agent of the Devil and offers the Muppets "fabulous riches and worldwide fame" in exchange for the souls. While Kermit rejects the offer, Miss Piggy does a trial run of the offer before deciding its not for her. Gonzo also wants to take the deal, but spends most of the episode trying to get a pen to sign the contract before he finally decides it isn't worth it.

The running sketch in which Alice offers to buy the Muppets' souls is hardly the only part of the episode that deals with horror movie tropes. The whole episode does. The Muppet Labs invent a Germ Enlarger, inadvertently creating a gigantic germ that attacks Beaker. Fozzie is so freaked out by the creepy atmosphere of the episode that he takes refuge in the canteen with "clean cut kids," only to learn that they are not "clean cut" at all. On the Pigs in Space segment, Link is suffering from some strange space disease. An attempt to cure him simply turns him into a mere outline of himself.

As might be expected, Alice Cooper performs some of his songs on the episode. He performs "Welcome to My Nightmare" early in the episode, backed by The Vile Bunch (a group of monstrous Muppets). He sings "You and Me" to Beakie, who turns out to be Miss Piggy (who was transformed as part of the deal for her soul). Finally, Alice and some of the Muppet monsters perform "School's Out."

Here it must be pointed out that Alice Cooper's guest appearance on The Muppet Show marked the first appearance of Beakie, a bird-like, rainbow coloured monster. While in episode 307 she was simply a form Miss Piggy had been transformed into, she would later appear as an independent. background character in future episodes.

Early in the episode Kermit remarks, "Things weren't this spooky when Julie Andrews did the show." And while everyone I know (including myself) enjoyed Julie Andrews's guest appearance on The Muppet Show, I know there are a lot of us that loved Alice Cooper's guest appearance on the show as well, complete with its creepy atmosphere. Like Vincent Price's guest appearance on the show, it is a fun send up of horror movie tropes. The fact that one gets to hear three of Alice Cooper's most popular songs is an added bonus.