Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"...now it's time to say good-bye..."

People always say deaths come in threes, and here they are.

I never watched the Mickey Mouse Club, which had faded away by the time I was old enough to watch TV. So, I never heard of this lady, but as she was part of the ensemble which included Annette Funicello and Cubby (I don't know who that is, either, I just like the name: Cubby), she deserves a mention. After her childhood success, Cheryl Holdridge continued to perform on television in her young adult years, on programs such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave It To Beaver, My Three Sons, and Bewitched. She died this week at the age of 64.

I do remember this guy. Jon Hager was the surviving member of the Hager Twins, a country duo who did not earn lasting fame. But I remember them clearly from the 70s. As young musicians, they snagged jobs at Disneyland, and were spotted by Buck Owens, who invited them to tour in his act. In 1969, Owens was pegged to host Hee Haw, which was sort of a country-western answer to Laugh-In. The Hagers accompanied Owens to television, and spent 19 years on the show. After its early seasons, CBS, in an attempt to become more cosmopolitan, cancelled all of its shows with a rural aura, including hits Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw. The show continued in syndication with great success.

Though initially hired as a musical act, Hee Haw producers soon discovered the Hagers had a gift for light comedy. They were a huge hit with the female viewers, and served as a counterpoint to the Hee Haw Honeys, a group of nubile ladies in scanty country attire. As I'm writing this, I can't believe I remember so much about this show, which was truly horrendous. In retrospect, I think the Hager Brothers may have been my first celebrity crush (sorry, John-Boy), though I was too young to realize it. And really, with thinning hair and a questionable fashion sense, I have no idea today why I was attracted to these guys.

...well, okay, maybe I do know why...

Jim Hager died in May of '08, and his brother Jon never really recovered. They had spent their entire lives together, and as it's said that when one long-term spouse dies, the other follows soon, so it is with this set of twins. Jon Hager died this week at the age of 67.

Here's an actor who spent his career "in support," and admirably so. Steven Gilborn was one of those character actors who worked so often, for so long, that everyone on the street recognized him. They just never knew his name. (To my shame, neither did I, until he died.) His list of film and TV credits is too long to mention, even as he became an actor relatively late in life, after earning a doctorate in dramatic literature and teaching at various high-end universities. He had substantial success in television in the 70s, 80s, and beyond. He may be remembered as the befuddled father of Ellen, the sitcom which introduced middle America to lesbianism, Jeremy Piven, and puppies. But I remember him quite fondly from his guest stint on The Wonder Years. He played the algebra teacher who tortured young Kevin for three episodes, using rigid discipline to get the best out of the kid. At the end of the story-arc, Mr. Collins disappeared from the classroom; the students later learned he had been struggling with cancer and died. Gilborn himself succumbed to cancer at the age of 72.