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TV AND DINNERS
In these web pages a year ago, I elegized Jack Paar, 85, the neurotic, innovative host of "The Tonight Show" host, who was to the current crop of late-night emcees what Brando was to Adam Sandler. But some of those connected with Paar also died. Genevieve, 83, for instance, a frequent Paar guest who was to France what Zsa Zsa Gabor was to Hungary: an apotheosis and a parody, a kind of show biz eau de Europe. Paul Keyes, 79, wrote and produced TV shows for Paar, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, but he's best known for "Laugh-In," the late 60s vaudeville skein that introduced Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin and Alan Sues to prime-time. It was Keyes who persuaded his pal Richard Nixon, then on his second run for the White House, to intone "Sock it to me!" on "Laugh-In." Keyes watched the 1968 election returns and said he was the first man to address Nixon as Mr. President (aside from Nixon, in his mirror, many times).
Two TV voices were stilled: Danny Dark, 79, the NBC announcer who lent his cheerful basso to Starkist Tuna commercials ("Sorry, Charlie!"), and Gene Wood, 78, announcer for many a Goodson-Todman game show (whisper along with me: "The password is..."). In the beyond, Wood can warm up the audience for the mellow, almost-too-handsome Art James, 74, host of "The Who, What or Where Game."
Old-movie fans who watched AMC, back when that channel really did air American movie classics (and without commercials), remember Gene Klavan, 79, as one of the genial hosts. (Bob Dorian and George Clooney's father Nick were the others.) Decades before, Klavan anchored one of New York radio's two morning comedy teams. Bob and Ray were on WOR, Klavan and Dee Finch on WNEW. In 1952, Klavan had succeeded Gene Rayburn, as Finch had followed Jack Lescoulie; both Rayburn and Lescoulie became TV announcer-hosts; Klavan stayed on the radio, and on NEW, for 30 years.
A familiar voice in radio drama ("Boston Blackie," "That Hammer Guy"), Jan Miner, 86, was probably not thrilled to be elegized for her 27-year run as Madge, the Palmolive manicurist ("You're soaking in it"). In her legit life she co-starred in Tennessee Williams' "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" on Broadway and as Lenny Bruce's mother Sally Marr in Bob Fosse's film "Lenny." ... Isabel Sanford, 86, was Weezy, the heart medicine that tried to keep Sherman Hemsley's George Jefferson from exploding. ... The most visible woman in 50s TV was never seen. June Taylor, 86, put chorines in Busby Berkeley-like geometric patterns, photographed by a camera in the flies, on shows hosted by her brother-in-law, Jackie Gleason. The June Taylor Dancers were, for a decade or so, the nation's Rockettes.
A couple generations of kids had an expert morning babysitter in Bob Keeshan, 76, aka "Captain Kangaroo." Their self-improving parents cooked along with PBS' French chef, Julia Child, who trilled like a Frank Oz Muppet while attempting to rescue another souflee from collapsing. She elevated Americans' culinary sophistication, though, as did restaurant critic Seymour Britchky, 73, who wielded words with a sushi chef's acuity and vigor. One of the superb prose stylists, his reviews can be read with pleasure and envy by folks who would never set foot in a New York eatery. My tribute to Britchky appears here.
United forever: Archibald Cox, 92, the Nixon Attorney General who resigned, in the "Saturday Night Massacre," when forbidden to pursue allegations of chicanery in the Watergate scandal, and Sam Dash, 79, Democratic counsel to the Senate's Watergate Committee, both died on May 29. ... Robert Lawrence, 90, a film editor who cut "Spartacus," "El Cid" and several films directed by Irvin Kershner, died four days in September before Robert Lawrence, a TV cartoon producer (‘Casper," "Spiderman"). ... Artie Shaw, 94, who made Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" a worldwide hit three years after it was written, died last year, as did his ex-wife, actress Doris Dowling, 81. She was Ray Milland's favorite barfly in "The Lost Weekend," and Bianca in Welles' "Othello." The year before Ingrid Bergman went to Italy to be in "Stromboli," Dowling was there for "Bitter Rice." Dowling was Shaw's seventh (of eight) wives; he was her first (of three) husbands.
An Olympic pair. Eleanor Holm, 90, won a gold medal (backstroke) in the L.A. games of 1932. She was to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics but was thrown off the team for her misbehavior, whatever that might have been, on the boat trip to Europe. Hollywood was happy to have her: she played the female lead in the 1938 "Tarzan's Revenge," opposite Glenn Morris. Holm was married to Broadway producer Billy Rose for 15 years. ... Three days before Holm died, the clock ran out on Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, 80, a star halfback and offensive and defensive end for the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan, and then a standout for the L.A. Rams (1949-57). While playing for the Rams, Hirsch also starred in his own biopic, "Crazylegs," from B-minus director Francis D. Lyon (who the following year would direct "The Bob Mathias Story," starring the two-time Gold-medal Olympic decathlete). Hirsch also toplined in the drama "Unchained," whose theme, by Alex North, was a top 10 hit for Al Hibbler in 1954 and the Righteous Brothers in 1965 and 1990 (when it was used again in "Ghost").
In a few weeks, when I get around to a column on Cole Porter and "De-lovely," I'll surely be limning, and humming, the songs Porter wrote for "Kiss Me, Kate." Two stars of the 1953 movie version died last year: Howard Keel, 85, MGM's handsomest, manliest baritone, who lent his roguish machismo to "Annie Get Your Gun," the 1951 "Show Boat," "Kismet" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" ... and Ann Miller, 80, who played a chorine in the film "Stage Door" at 14, tangled with the Marx Brothers in "Room Service" at 15 and lent her showbiz oomph to such top MGM musicals as "Easter Parade" and "On the Town." The divoon Miss M toured for years with Mickey Rooney in "Sugar Babies" and, a few years back, graced David Lynch's gloriously kinky "Mulholland Dr."
Ta-ta and toodle-oo to pairs of scribes whose work has already outlived them: playwrights Jerome Lawrence, 88, whose 50s collaborations with Robert E. Lee, "Auntie Mame" and "Inherit the Wind," are in many an amateur repertory and alterkocker's memory, and Jerome Chodorov, 93, whose play "My Sister Eileen" was adapted into the musical "Wonderful Town", still on Broadway with Brooke Shields ... also novelists Françoise Sagan, 69, who wrote "Bonjour Tristesse" in 1953, when she was 18, and saw it and a second novel, "A Certain Smile," both turned into Hollywood-backed films in 1958, and Hubert Selby, Jr., 75, whose transgressive tomes "Last Exit to Brooklyn" (1964) and "Requiem for a Dream" (1978) had to wait decades before they were filmed.
Movie director pairs: documentarists Charlotte Zwerin, 72 (studies of Capote, De Kooning, Horowitz, Monk and Ella, as well as the Rolling Stones Altamont doc "Gimme Shelter") and Jean Rouch, 86 (the seminal "Chronicle of a Summer" and 100 more). ... Some directors can do anything; others will do anything, no matter how outré or déclassé. In the 60s, Larry Buchanan, 81, made very bad horror movies; his "Attack of the the Eye Creatures," whose unproofread title is the first testament to its ineptness, surfaced on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Later, Buchanan (who seemed eerily ordinary in his Psychotronic Video interview), turned to religious films. His melancholy-twilight opus, "The Copper Scroll of Mary Magdalene," was completed just before his death. Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., 78, directed "The Blob," "4D Man" and "Dinosaurus," then, like Buchanan, got religion and made many Christian films. An ordained Methodist minister, Yeaworth died in Amman, Jordan, where he was building a theme park. What the theme was, I can't say.
Two generations of sex films are represented by Russ Meyer, 82, the sexploitation auteur whom I discussed in earlier columns, and Geoffrey Karen Dior, 37, dead of AIDS after a rowdy career as a gay porno star, director and gossipist. The website of this transvestite tootsie itemizes "his print and runway modeling; live solo performances and membership in the bands The Johnny Depp Clones and Goddess; and his encounters with stars (Drew Barrymore, Gerardo, kd lang, Janet Leigh, John Candy, Madonna, Hugh Hefner, David Faustino, and more)." Dior's memoir "Sleeping Under the Stars" ("I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living it!") cued one reviewer to proclaim it "about the closest thing you'll ever come to reading a porn movie.... His version of falling in love is a second fuck." And they say romance is dead.
BRUSHES WITH GREATNESS
In my job as a TIME movie critic and features writer, I am insulated from celebrity encounters by what's left of the TIME writer-reporter system. A correspondent interviews the actor or director and files a report, then I write it into a story. The result is that I haven't met many of the people I've written about, including cover subjects. But chance has thrown me together with a few eminences who died last year and left me with personal reminscences I'd like briefly to share.
A last, deep bow to two grand ladies: Phyllis Adams, 79, the actress, journalist, TV producer, Amnesty International fund-raiser and all-round blithe spirit whom I memorialized in a column last summer; and Frances Dee, 94, the University of Chicago grad who became a 30s star playing good girls in movies that, unfortunately for this lustrous brunette, rewarded spunk or sadness. In "An American Tragedy" she had the Elizabeth Taylor role, while Sylvia Sidney got the showier victim part. She was out-emoted by Bette Davis in "Of Human Bondage" and Miriam Hopkins in "Becky Sharp," and was Meg to Katharine Hepburn's Jo (no contest there) in the George Cukor "Little Women." Her favorite role of the decade: William Wyler's "The Gay Deception" with Francis Lederer. She's best remembered for a 40s B picture, "I Walked With a Zombie" (a Jamaican "Jane Eyre" that still has a spooky sheen). She made four films "One Man's Journey," "The Silver Cord," "Wells Fargo" and "Four Faces West" with her husband Joel McCrea, who died on their 57th wedding anniversary. Frances, who came out of retirement to test for the "Titanic" role that got Gloria Stuart an Oscar nomination, occasionally flew to New York to see her son Peter, a friend of my wife Mary. Ages after she had retired to raise a family on the McCrea ranch, Frances was beautiful, gracious and warm, an enduring symbol of American elegance.