Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sing-A-Long Obits

Patricia Neal


I hadn't seen nor heard about Neal in so long, I though she was already gone. Turns out she has been battling lung cancer in Massachusetts. That husky voice is unmistakable, and was put to good use in a career which spanned stage, screen, and television. She had some success on Broadway, more on that in a mo', but is best known for her film appearances. And for her private life, which was a stormy one. She was already in the midst of an affair with a very married Gary Cooper (who was 25 years her senior!) when she co-starred with him in 1949's The Fountainhead.

The affair, during which Cooper persuaded Neal to undergo an abortion, ended when Cooper's wife and daughter started making noise. A few years later, Neal met and married British children's author Roald Dahl, with whom she stayed for 30 years. They had their share of trouble, with one child being hit by a taxi which resulted in brain damage, and another child dying from the measles.

Neal won the Oscar for her performance in Hud opposite Paul Newman, but only a few years later, suffered a series of strokes which left her in a coma, and with debilitating handicaps. She was pregnant at the time, but delivered a healthy daughter. Her husband helped her learn to speak and to walk again, but her health was to be a problem for the rest of her life. She earned another Oscar nod when she returned to the screen in The Subject Was Roses, and was the original matriarch of the Waltons when that famous family first appeared in the TV-movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. When the film spawned a series, its creator declined to offer Neal the gig, believing her health to be too precarious for the grind of weekly television. (In fact, Ellen Corby was the only one of the four parental actors in the original film to make it into the cast of The Waltons.)

Patricia was nominated for the Emmy for her performance as Olivia Walton, and won the Golden Globe. She was to appear in various screen projects over the years, though she was one of a number of stars to turn down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Her lengthy film resume includes A Face in the Crowd and Breakfast at Tiffany's, and she made a cameo appearance in a well-regarded TV-film about her own life, The Patricia Neal Story, in which Glenda Jackson played the title role, with Dirk Bogard as Willy Wonka creator Dahl..

On stage, Neal played Mrs. Keller in the original Miracle Worker and appeared in a revival of The Children's Hour, among other projects. Her death Sunday has added significance to the theatre world, as she was the last surviving winner from the first year's crop of Tonys. In 1946, she picked up the very first award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Another Part of the Forest. She lost her actual Tony along the way, and was presented with a replacement trophy during the award show in 2006.

Larry Keith


Keith was a regular player on Broadway and regional stages, beginning a long career with the original production of My Fair Lady. He replaced Alfred Drake in the stage version of Gigi, and was one of many replacements for Ron Rifkin in the long-running Cabaret revival, playing Herr Shultz. He originated two high-profile roles in musicals: in 1997, he warbled the love song "Still" to his wife as the boat sank in Titanic, and in 2004, he played the inscrutable head of household in Caroline, or Change.

Larry was known to a wider audience as an original cast member of All My Children, a role he played on and off for over three decades. He received two Emmy nominations for his performance as Nick Davis (he's on the far right):

Recently, he had a recurring role on Damages. He died last month at the age of 79.

This guy had a bigger impact on pop music than you might think:

Mitch Miller


He played the oboe, of all things, and appeared on many jazz recordings of the 1930s. He was part of Orson Welles's infamous War of the Worlds radiocast, and produced some of Charlie Parker's finest recordings. It was as a producer that Miller's greatest influence was felt. He headed Columbia Records during its heyday, guiding hits for Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Patti Page, and Frank Sinatra. He had a knack for picking commercial products (though his distaste for rock and roll made him pass on signing Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly), and in 1950, he famously forced Rosemary Clooney, a little-known band singer under contract to Columbia, to record "Come On-a My House," which soared to #1 and elevated her to stardom. His novelty tune "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause," recorded by a 13-year old, is still recognized today.

"You've got to work out a gimmick that'll get people's attention and hold it," he once told Time, a mantra he repeated when he began recording his own, feel-good music. He often recorded folk music, and had a hit with "The Yellow Rose of Texas," among other homespun standards. His recording of "Colonel Bogey's March" is better known as that whistling tune from Bridge on the River Kwai.

He brought his old-fashioned musical sensibility to his own variety show in the early 60s. Sing Along With Mitch received lousy reviews but was popular with audiences, and he became such an icon of Americana that Norman Rockwell sketched his portrait:

It can be argued that Miller's sing-along style, upon which he capitalized over and over in his recordings, was the first step toward the invention of karaoke. He died last week at the age of 99.

Here's another of those character actors that nobody knows but everybody has seen a hundred times:

Maury Chaykin


He spend much of his career in Canada, and won the Gemini Award (the Canadian Oscar) for his starring role in Whale Music in 1994. On our side of the border, he was seen to good effect in Dancing With Wolves, Wargames, and My Cousin Vinny, among many other films. On television, he starred for two seasons in the title role of A Nero Wolfe Mystery, opposite Timothy Hutton. More recently, he has had a recurring gig on Entourage, playing a role which is a send-up of blustery movie producer Harvey Weinstein. He died last month, on his 61st birthday.

This guy is remembered for one of the strangest commercial ad campaigns in TV history:

Dan Resin


Many folks may recognize him as Dr. Beeper from Caddyshack (a film I cannot sit through: that floating Baby Ruth is just too sick), but Resin had a nice stage career going as well. He was a replacement in the original My Fair Lady, and was in the cast of Once Upon a Mattress when it jumped to Broadway from Off-. Other Main Line credits included Don't Drink the Water, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and Fade Out- Fade In. He was a regular on the sitcom On Our Own, which provided Dixie Carter one of her first TV gigs, and spent some time on Edge of Night. But none of those appearances had the impact of this series of commercials:

Wearing a captain's hat and a snazzy blazer, Resin spent years rowing around the toilet tank selling Ty-D-Bowl cleanser. As you can see in the above clip, he eventually got a speedboat, and in one memorable spot, was on a raft with two calypso players crooning "we put the lemon in the Ty-D-Bowl for you!"

The whole idea of somebody rowing around in toilet water is just plain gross, and I still remember the Carol Burnett lampoon of the commercial, in which she flushes him down the toilet. But the campaign was successful enough to continue for many years, with several other actors playing the unlucky sailor. Resin retired from acting and became a minister. He died last week from Parkinson's disease at the age of 79.