1. Was arguably the first black man to win an Oscar for acting?
2. Starred on Broadway in three roles that, when filmed, won Best Actress Oscars for the women who took her place?
3. Was called "the best guitar player in the world, or any other world" by George Harrison?
4. Was the one degree of separation between Doris Day and Charles Manson?
5. Fathered triplets at 69 and wrote a TV play about it?
6. Was revered by her countrymen as the sweetest mother in films, yet was charged with cruelty by her own daughter-in-law?
7. Was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records for "the longest sentence ever to appear in a newspaper"?
8. Had the longest-running talk radio show in history 58 years?
9. Talked publicly about his mother's suicide, then killed himself?
10. Was the only person to play for three New York sports teams: the Yankees (baseball), the Knicks (basketball) and the Rangers (hockey)?
Answers at the end of this column.
At the beginning of each year, to help plan forthcoming columns in this series, I go through the Internet Movie Database to see which show business figures were born 100 years ago. In 2004, that research provoked centennial musings on S.J. Perelman and Ted (Dr. Seuss) Geisel, and will cue appreciations this year of Anna May Wong, Harold Arlen and Greta Garbo. Then, toward the end of the year, I go back to IMDb to tabulate the notable deaths. Thus, in the tradition of The New York Observer's Rex Reed, Psychotronic Video's Michael Weldon, Media Funhouse's Ed Grant, "CBS Sunday Morning" and Turner Classic Movies, I offer this retrospective of significant lives that ended, though their radiance will linger as long as there are DVDs, CDs and the memories of those who thought fondly of the greats and the gargoyles of popular culture.
Here are an even 100 who will be missed. Yes, 100. I got carried away. And, damnit, I will keep getting carried away until I'm carried out.
MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES!
You heard about the deaths of Marlon Brando, 80, and Ronald Reagan, 93. (But did you read my analysis of Reagan's film career?) Now let's call the honor roll of other American actors, many of whom juggled film and theater work.
Tony Randall, 83, was nonpareil at playing the, well, Tony Randall character: sweetly neurotic, his cello voice rising to a spoiled child's whine when Doris Day rejected him for Rock Hudson whom the Randall character was not so secretly in love with in a few films. He was all that, without the homoeroticism, as neatnik Felix Unger on TV's "The Odd Couple." Randall ran a Broadway rep troupe late in life, but his signal achievement was as a pitch-perfect comic actor, perhaps the most delicate farceur of Hollywood's last half-century. ... Ron O'Neal, 66, got detoured from a distinguished Broadway career ("No Place to Be Somebody") when he starred in "Superfly!" ... John Drew Barrymore, 72, had the genes for stardom his father was John Barrymore, his mother the lovely Dolores Costello, and J.D. was certainly dishy enough but not the disposition. After a featured role as the villain in Fritz Lang's "While the City Sleeps," he concentrated on being a mystic and/or derelict. His daughter is Drew Barrymore.
John Randolph, 88, born Emanuel Hirsch Cohen, was the soul-weary white-collar guy whom plastic surgery transforms into Rock Hudson in "Seconds." But he had a fuller career on the Broadway stage: with Shirley Booth in "Come Back, Little Sheba," John Garfield in "Peer Gynt," Jack Lemmon in "Room Service" and Henry Fonda in "Our Town," and in the first run of the musicals "Paint Your Wagon," "House of Flowers" and "The Sound of Music." ... The estate of Jerry Orbach, 69, will be flush as long as "Law and Order" is rerun; but his historical importance is as the originator of the male leads in the musicals "The Fantasticks," "Carnival," "Promises, Promises," Fred Ebb's "Chicago" and "42nd Street."
Standup comics have the two essentials to be good actors: poise and the capacity to handle rejection. So brash raconteur Alan King, 76, the Abbot of the New York Friars Club, easily slipped into rabbi roles in "Bye Bye Braverman" and "Enemies: A Love Story." In a 1965 City Center revival of "Guys and Dolls" he played Nathan Detroit to Orbach's Sky Masterson. (Jake LaMotta was Big Julie.) A lavish benefactor of charities on Long Island and in Israel, King was married for 57 years, until his death of lung cancer, to Jeanette Sprung. ... Rodney Dangerfield, 82, whom fame kissed relatively late in his life, took naturally to film comedy in "Caddyshack" and "Back to School." The chronic self-depreciator on-stage ("When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them") and clinical depressive off-stage, Rodney deserves a final respectful salute. ... Sidney Miller, 87, a perpetual second banana (to Mickey Rooney in eight MGM films and Donald O'Connor on his 50s TV show), played the nerdy Jewish kid in 30s Warner Bros. films some of the taunting he takes looks pretty repellent today and Hitler in "Which Way to the Front?" He directed episodes of "The Mickey Mouse Club," "The Monkees" and "Get Smart." His son Barry Miller was John Travolta's second banana in "Saturday Night Fever."
Fay Wray, 96, starred 75 years ago in Erich von Stroheim's "The Wedding March" and more than 100 other films, but will be forever feted as the scream queen of "King Kong," where she gets toted by the big lovelorn ape to the top of the Empire State Building. .... The exotically-monikered Acquanetta, 83, born plain old Mildred Davenport, starred in "Captive Wild Woman," "Jungle Woman" and a lesser jungle-man production (Sol Lesser, producer), "Tarzan and The Leopard Woman." She junked her movie career when she married a car salesman and moved to Phoenix, where she did TV spots for his dealership. ... Carrie Snodgress, 57, was Oscar-nominated for "Diary of a Mad Housewife." She lived with Neil Young for eight years, which must have been fun, and was bludgeoned with a handgun by another beau, arranger-songwriter Jack Nitzsche. He got three years' probation, at the end of which he co-wrote the Oscar-winning ballad "Up Where We Belong." Up the river, apparently.
Muriel Angelus, 95, shuttled between Hollywood and Broadway, where in the 1938 musical "The Boys from Syracuse" she introduced the Rodgers and Hart standards "Falling in Love with Love" and "Sing for Your Supper." She played Brian Donlevy's wife in "The Great McGinty," Preston Sturges' first film as director, and her last movie. After two more Broadway shows the Sigmund Romberg-Oscar Hammerstein "Sunny River" and Fats Waller's "Early to Bed" she retired and wed Radio City Music Hall conductor Paul Lavalle. They were married for 50-plus years, until his death. ... Jan Sterling, 82, played blond floozies with brains in "Caged," "Ace in the Hole," "The High and the Mighty" and "High School Confidential." ... Virginia Grey, 87, appeared in 100-plus movies, including 10 Ross Hunters; Patricia Clarkson did a Grey impersonation in "Far from Heaven." She is not to be confused (as I used to do) with Virginia Gregg, a busy radio, TV and film actress who provided the voice of Mother Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."
One legacy of "Psycho" is its anointing of Janet Leigh, 77, as the cinema's prime slasher victim. The sharply seductive Leigh could have settled for being Tony Curtis' wife (for 11 years) and Jamie Lee's mother. But she was the whole package: intelligent, with terrific movie diction, at ease in comedy or melodrama, and what a body! Her muscular back, displayed after her dress is ripped off in "The Vikings," was a primal priapic event to a certain impressionable teen in Avalon, N.J. Nor was I her only love slave. Hitchcock practically slobbered as he told François Truffaut that, for the first scene of "Psycho," he had wanted to film Leigh topless, her nipples grazing John Gavin's bare chest. Hitch, and I, appreciated another of Leigh's gifts: she had a gaze as alert and sexy as any in movies. It bored into Frank Sinatra's frazzled psyche in "The Manchurian Candidate" and mixed fear and fire as a kidnap caper captive in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil." Even after she'd been killed in the "Psycho" shower (a model doubled her in some shots), Leigh's unblinking eye held the viewer's in that agonizingly long, slow back-tracking shot that was her farewell to the movie. Decades later, it still does.
Mercedes McCambridge, 87, who in "Touch of Evil" is a killer bitch, hot to carve Leigh up, had done a lot of radio (Welles' "Mercury Theatre on the Air," " I Love a Mystery") before going to Hollywood, where she won a Supporting Actress Oscar for "All the King's Men" and another nomination for "Giant." She was niftily feral and butch as a female Joe McCarthy (if you believe some critics) in Nicholas Ray's western, "Johnny Guitar." She provided Linda Blair's demonic voice in "The Exorcist" which makes her the first Oscar-winning actress to speak the phrase, "Your mother sucks cocks in hell." On stage, she replaced Uta Hagen (see below) in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and apparently dispensed with underwear. A college pal of mine, Frank Hargadon, had told me he had a front-row ticket for a hit Broadway play; when I next saw Frank, I asked him what he'd seen, and he replied, "Mercedes McCambridge's twat." McCambridge was married to radio and TV producer Fletcher Markle ("Studio One," "Thriller"). According to IMDb, she "had one son, John Lawrence Fifield who later adopted the Markle surname. In 1987 he [the son] killed his wife, children and then himself."
CINEMA CINEMA CINEMA!
The international film community bade farewell to Ingrid Thulin, 77, the severe, worldly Swedish actress who lent her grave glamour to eight Ingmar Bergman films. The cool blond projected a knowing pessimism in Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" and "The Magician," desperate longing in "Winter Light" and "The Silence," and a mutilating self-hatred in "Cries and Whispers." She also shone as a soulful socialist in Alain Resnais's "La Guerre Est Finie" and as a Nazi-era matriarch in Luchino Visconti's "The Damned." Her fellow-countryman Keve Hjelm, brought a looming strength to "A Lesson in Love" (directed by Bergman) and "Best Intentions" (written by him), He was Thommy Berggren's stern father in "Raven's End," and appeared in two films by women directors (when there weren't so many): Mai Zetterling's "Night Games" and Susan Sontag's "Brother Carl."