Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mission: Obituary

Once again, I've fallen a bit behind on the obits, but hey, I'm working.

You don't need to hear much about this guy, do you?

Corey Haim


or this one?

Andrew Koenig


They were just two in a very long line of child stars and teen idols who could not handle celebrity, or rather, their loss of celebrity as they aged. Haim's death may have been an accidental overdose, while Koenig's was surely suicide (he was found hanging in a tree, so unless he was pulling a David Carradine, it was intentional). Truthfully, both guys look vaguely familiar to me, but I would be unable to pick either of them out of a lineup. So, if you want further details regarding their lives and deaths, go elsewhere.

I'd rather mention this quirky gal, whose career I followed, as she was one of the ladies In Support:

Caroline McWilliams


She spent the early 70s in New York, splitting her time between stage work (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rothschilds) and her day job on soaps (Guiding Light, Another World). Her training in daytime drama served her well when she moved to Hollywood and snagged a regular role in the second season of Soap, a parody of the soap opera genre.

When Robert Guillaume moved from that series to his own, she went with him, spending three years as a regular on Benson. Her television career included recurring spots on Beverly Hills 90210 and Judging Amy.

She was married to Michael Keaton in 1982, a marriage which ended in divorce but produced a son, Sean Douglas Keaton. Caroline died February 11th from multiple myeloma at the age of 64.

Everybody has heard this guy died a few days ago:

Peter Graves

Born in Minnesota, he headed to Hollywood after a stint in the Air Force near the end of WWII. He spent some time in low-budget sci-fi flicks, and appeared for several seasons on Saturday morning television in Fury, a live-action series about a boy and his horse. He delivered a strong supporting performance as a Nazi in Stalag 17, and included Night of the Lonely Hunter and The Long Gray Line in his list of higher-profile credits. While his older brother James Arness was sleepwalking through two decades of Gunsmoke, Graves had a bit more variety to his career. It was his appearance in two unsold pilots in the mid-60s which brought him to the attention of Desilu Studios, who were looking to replace Steven Hill in their new espionage series Mission: Impossible. (Hill made a career-long habit of deserting hit shows: decades later, he left Law and Order in its prime). As the cool-headed Mr. Phelps, Graves led the series for six seasons (and returned to the role in a remake in the late 80s, which lasted two years).

Graves joined fellow leading men Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Leslie Nielson in the parody film Airplane, and returned in its sequel.

He won an Emmy for hosting the documentary series Biography, a program so successful it spawned its own cable network.

But for me, Peter Graves will always be Mr. Phelps. Mission: Impossible was appointment television in our house, for its edge-of-your-seat suspense. The show made stars of our man Peter, as well as the husband-and-wife team of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. In its later seasons, such stars as Leonard Nimoy (post-Star Trek), Sam Elliot, Lee Meriwether, and Lesley Ann Warren (who dropped her middle name at the time, in hopes it would improve her standing as a serious actress) joined the Impossible Mission Force.

Graves won a Golden Globe for his work in the original Mission: Impossible, a series which spawned a national catchphrase ("your mission, should you decide to accept it...") and a musical score by Lalo Schifrin which became one of the most widely recognized of all television themes. It accompanied the title sequence of each episode, right before Mr. Phelps received his instructions via tape recorder (which always self-destructed). This sequence was either an editor's dream or nightmare, as it always included scenes from "tonight's episode." At the time, it was very unusual for a weekly TV series to employ such labor intensive jump-cut editing to its opening every single week, but it was always beautifully executed, at a time when digital editing was unavailable. Take a peek:

Here's the opening from a later season, with the same tension-building editing:

Peter Graves died last week from a heart attack, after a family brunch, just shy of his 84th birthday. That was some breakfast burrito!