Tuesday, December 31, 2019

In Memoriam: After the Parade Passes By

As that exasperating year 2019 wanes, it feels appropriate to look back on the famous movieland folks we’ve lost. TCM has put together a short  but poignant video segment reminding us of some of the indelible faces and voices who now remain only in our movies and our dreams. I’ve written my own Beverly in Movieland tributes to some of these great performers: Doris Day,  Peter Fonda, Valerie Harper, Albert Finney, Bibi Andersson, Machiko Kyo. And I’ve lamented the loss of outstanding filmmakers like John Singleton, D..A. Pennebaker, Franco Zeffirelli, and Stanley Donen. In the field of music (for the screen as well as for the stage and the concert hall) there have been several indelible passings: André Previn, Michel LeGrand, and Broadway’s Jerry Herman, the exuberant composer of Hello, Dolly and Funny Girl.

Of course deaths don’t stop when the memorial video is posted online. Jerry Herman, who died last Thursday at the age of 88, didn’t make the final cut. A recent edition of The Hollywood Reporter also lists a few passings that TCM overlooked. One was D.C. Fontana, the very first female writer on Star Trek. (In an era less politically correct than our own, women writers found it smart to conceal their gender by turning their given names into male-sounding initials.) Another was Carroll Spinney, the gentle, spritely puppeteer who impersonated Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch and wore the feathers of Big Bird for nearly half a-century. I was particularly moved when Karen Pendleton passed on in October at the age of 73. Pendleton, one of the original Mouseketeers, was a regular on The Mickey Mouse Club for its entire nine-year run.  Though several of the Mouseketeers led tawdry adult lives, Pendleton was a major exception. After the show ended, she devoted herself to her education. When a 1983 car accident that damaged her spinal cord left her paralyzed from the waist down, she went back to college, earning a master’s degree in psychology. Putting her academic training to work, she served as a counselor at a shelter for abused women, while supporting the rights of the disabled by joining the board of the California Association of the Physically Handicapped. A life well lived, indeed.

I was sorry to read about the loss of masterful actors like Ron Leibman (so moving in Norma Rae) and Moonstruck’s Danny Aiello. And I shook my head ruefully at the passing of Jan-Michael Vincent, a talented action hero but one who cut his career short because of his personal weaknesses. (In later years he was reduced to appearing in Roger Corman war epics, like my own Beyond the Call of Duty, flying off to Manila to star in quickie flicks undermined by his drinking habits.)

But of courses the deaths that most moved me were those of celebrities with whom I’ve personally interacted. It seems like yesterday that I, as a writer of profiles for Performing Arts magazine, was welcomed at the home of the versatile character actor René Auberjonois, who lit up stage and screen with his eccentric portrayals. I will always think fondly of the late Dick Miller, my buddy in my New World Pictures days and years later a valuable source of information when I was researching my Corman biography. How wonderful that Dick          inspired both the loyalty of some of Hollywood’s finest directors and an affectionate 2014 documentary (That Guy Dick Miller) summing up his long career  And then there is good-guy Robert Forster, whose resonant baritone is—and always will be—on my answering machine. Hail and farewell. .

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