Monday, January 2, 2012

Charon's Lighter Load

Regular visitors to these pages are likely to bump into the occasional obituary/tribute to someone whose life, I think, had importance.  Well, "occasional" is an understatement, but I'm doing better than earlier years.  Last year at this time, I made a resolution to reduce the number of eulogies I write.  And, believe it or not, I have done so.  2010 saw well over 100 of these little obits, while 2011 saw only (drumroll please) 74.
You wouldn't expect me to dispense with the tributes altogether, would you? 
Elizabeth Taylor makes a cameo on "General Hospital"
When a superstar/humanitarian/serial matrimonialist like Elizabeth Taylor dies, attention must be paid.  She was the only true superstar we lost this year, though I might put playwright/screenwriter/director/librettist Arthur Laurents in the superstar category.

Laurents wasn't the only stage guru to leave us this year, we also lost Michael Langham, who guided several high-profile regional theaters, and Ellen Stewart, whose Cafe LaMama helped invent the Off-Off-Broadway movement. Doric Wilson wrote gay plays (and witnessed the Stonewall riots first-hand), and Lanford Wilson wrote plays with gays in them (and they also have great parts for actors of all persuasions).  Pam Gems gave us bio-dramas such as Piaf and Marlena, and Russell Warner researched old musicals in order to recreate their original orchestrations.

Margaret Whiting, with husband/porn legend Jack Wrangler

And speaking of the world of music, we lost pop writer/singer Nick Ashford and pianist Roger Williams, as well as Mercer maven Margaret Whiting.  I was "Mad About" Andrew Gold, and we passed the peacepipe when composer Hugh Martin died. Dolores Fuller wrote a few negligible tunes for Elvis, but is secretly revered as Ed Wood's clueless ingenue
Jerry Leiber's final chart hit

When Jerry Leiber died, I wondered "Is that all there is?", and when one of the most famous of all film composers, John Barry, died, I remembered his lush, evocative score for Mary, Queen of Scots.  Coincidentally, the director of that historical snoozefest, Charles Jarrott, also died this year.  Somehow, he was able to turn the turbulent, highly dramatic lives of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, and Mary, Queen of Scots into dry history lessons which were a little fuzzy on the facts. 
Director Charles Jarrott's historical bio-pics

But with Richard Burton, Genevieve Bujold, Glenda Jackson, and Vanessa Redgrave playing the royals, Jarrott did do something right.

Lots of others behind the camera did something right, too. 
William Holden/Robert Duval/Peter Finch in "Network"

Sydney Lumet, Peter Yates, and Ken Russell all delivered distinctive product,  and while Bert Schneider made Jack Nicholson a star, Michael Cacoyannis did the same for Euripides.  TV's Sherwood Schwartz created not one, but TWO iconic series. 
Elizabeth Montgomery casts her spell in "Bewitched"

 Sol Saks had a little luck with a beautiful witch, and Madelyn Pugh spent her entire career creating stunts for Lucy.   And ego-maniac Joseph Brooks implanted an entire generation's brains with "You Light Up My Life," and like an inoperable tumor, there it remains.

Anne Francis clashed with a Funny Girl; her role was slashed
Speaking of TV, we lost some famous and not-so-famous stars.  Peter Falk's Columbo, James Arness's Marshall Dillon, and Anne Francis's Honey West will always be remembered, as will Harry Morgan's Col. Potter and Alice Playten's newlywed who can't cook.  Livewire Alan Sues always wanted to be a dramatic actor, and Clarice Taylor always wanted to be Moms Mabley
Marian Mercer's rare dramatic turn in "St. Elsewhere"

 Marian Mercer and Sada Thompson died within days of each other, and I felt their loss particularly strongly, just as I mourned the death of one of the queens of the British mini-series, Margaret Tyzack. 
Maggie Smith refused to come to Broadway without Margaret Tyzack, seen here playing Derek Jacobi's mother in "I, Claudius"

Suzannah York needs a shower, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
The Brits were well represented at the morgue this year, as John Wood, John Neville, Susannah York, Pete Postlethwaite, and Anna Massey all ended up there.  We lost Michael Gough, who played "Alfred" opposite several Batmen, and Jill Haworth, who was the first woman to ever sing "Cabaret." 
Jill Haworth was trashed by the critics as the first musical Sally Bowles
Helen Stenborg

Everybody knows I'm a sucker for supporting actors, so Helen Stenborg, Bill Erwin, Jay Garner, Michael Tolan, and Peggy Rea all made the cut.  The death of Cammie King, whose career peaked when she was 5 years old, leaves only Olivia DeHaviland surviving Gone With the Wind. 
Tom Aldredge narrates "Into the Woods"

One of the longest marriages in the American Theatre ended this year, when designer Theoni Aldredge died, followed a few months later by her long-time husband, actor Tom Aldredge.

I eulogized comics Kenneth Mars and Charlie Callas together, as well as the "Disney Sweethearts," Willie Boag and Betty Taylor. 
Doris Belack discovers Tootsie has balls

I keenly felt the loss of Betty Garrett, whom I used to wait on in a restaurant in L.A., and Doris Belack, who appeared in several of my favorite films and TV series. 
Jeff Conaway, and his hair

We also lost former boytoys Jeff Conaway, Michael Sarrazin, and Farley Granger, as well as sex machine Jane Russell, whose statuesque figure inspired the invention of a specific kind of bra.

The soap opera world, reeling from the loss of All My Children and One Life To Live, also lost one of its premiere villains, As The World Turns's Anthony Herrera
Anthony Herrera returned from the dead, repeatedly, as villainous James Stenbeck
Jacqueline Courtney as Alice Frame

The soaps mourned several trailblazers this year, including Jane White (the first black actress to receive a contract on a soap), Jacqueline Courtney (part of the first soap "supercouple"), and Christopher Templeton, a disabled actress who spent years as a supporting character on The Young and the Restless.  Dan Frazer played the first soap character to have Alzheimer's, and Mary Fickett, an original cast member of All My Children, won the very first acting Emmy awarded for a daytime performance.

Mary Fickett spouted anti-war rhetoric and won the genre's first Emmy.

David Nelson stretches his acting muscles.

I mentioned a few people who were famous primarily because of their relationship with someone even more famous.  So, Carol Channing's husband, Groucho Marx's son, and Ozzie and Harriet's first born, all made the cut.  Being inhuman did not preclude a mention in these pages:  a possible Cheetah died recently, as did a polar bear famous for mauling zoo visitors
Knut teaches tourist to read the signs at the zoo.

Finally, two entrepreneurs bit the dust.  The inventor of Doritos died this year, as did the gentleman who, for over 60 years, ran a little bookshop in Paris which became world-renown.

And that's all 74!  I deliberately overlooked several high-profile deaths this year, such as Amy Woodhouse and Steve Jobs, mostly because they were being eulogized ad nauseum elsewhere. 
Charon crosses the River Styxx

I prefer to acknowledge other, lesser-known folks who may have slipped through the cracks, but who deserve some mention. Rest in peace, everybody.