Monday, June 29, 2009

A LIttle Late to the Wake

Since my Internet access has been limited lately, and with no television service in my digs, I've been unable to mention several folks who recently died, but who deserve some attention. At the top of this list has to be Dr. Jerri Nielson Fitzgerald. You may recognize this picture, which swept the world back in 1999:
This sunny scientist was stationed at the South Pole when she discovered a lump in her breast. Bad weather marooned her there for many months, during which time she performed a biopsy on herself, and discovered a malignant tumor. Chemo was airdropped to the station, and she treated herself. Her cancer went into remission, and she became the poster gal for courage and stamina. According to her husband, her cancer returned several years ago, and she died last week at the age of 57.

Quite a few weeks ago, this guy died:

He was actor Frank Aletter, who was one of those workhorses of the Hollywood industry, appearing in hundreds of episodics and features. He worked constantly, but probably had his greatest fame in the 60s, when he headlined a couple of forgettable sitcoms, including It's About Time, in which he played an astronaut who was transported back to the era of the caveman (Imogene Coca was in the cast). His death caught my eye a while back, as he was one of our neighbors when I lived in Los Angeles. His daughter, Kyle, was a classmate of my little sister's, and his wife at the time was Lee Meriwether (the above pic is their wedding photo).

Regular readers of these pages know that I have a lot of respect for actors who spend their careers "in support," and Aletter was one of the best. Also in that class would be the guy at left. He was T. Scott Cunningham, a stage actor who spent his career Off-Broadway and in regional theatres. He was well known in New York circles as a great interpreter of the works of Nicky Silver, and appeared in the original productions of Pterodactyls, Fit to be Tied, and The Eros Trilogy. He was a founding member of the Drama Department, and appeared in the biggest hit to come from that troupe, As Bees in Honey Drown. He was only 47 at the time of his death a few weeks ago.

Here's a bigger star who died just this past weekend, or at least she WAS a big star back in the day:


She was Gale Storm, and she had quite a career in the 1950s. Though she started in movies, she never hit the big time until she moved to television, where she starred in two top sitcoms, My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show. She defined the perky, plucky, trouble-causing, lovable heroine of the period. She reemerged decades later when she wrote frankly of her alcoholism, at a time when such openness was still a bit taboo. She died this weekend at age 87.

I can't say I'll miss this guy. Billy Mays was a leader in the tacky world of the infomercial, and if it can be said there is a star of the genre, he was it. He also appeared in millions (well, it seems like millions) of shorter commercial shots, hawking cleaning products, kitchen gadgets, and just about everything else nobody needs. He died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 50. (An autopsy is planned. He was reportedly knocked on the head on Saturday when his airplane made a rough landing, but walked away from the incident. Remind anyone of Natasha Richardson's awful death recently?) Anyway, Mays carved a huge career out of the theory that American consumers will buy things if you shout at them. I have hopes his commercials will be yanked from the airwaves, but that's probably too much to ask for.

Keep that mute button handy.

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