Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book 'em Obits

I continue my trek to catch up on dead people. Here are a few more souls of interest, who have died in the past month or so.

James MacArthur


Everybody remembers him by the catch-phrase he never got to say. In just about every episode of the classic detective series Hawaii Five-0, star Jack Lord uttered the famous, "Book 'em, Danno" to MacArthur's character, detective Dan Williams. James snagged the role after the pilot's original actor didn't test well with audiences; the 11-year gig made his career.

He spent a lot of time onstage, which is no surprise, considering his adoptive parentage. His mother was the First Lady of the American Stage, Helen Hayes, and his father was acclaimed playwright Charles MacArthur.

During his childhood, he accompanied his mother during many summer stock stints, often appearing onstage with her. His Broadway debut, in 1960's Invitation to a March opposite Jane Fonda, earned him a Theatre World Award.

He spent much of his career on episodic television, and appeared in two Disney films which are still well-regarded, Kidnapped and The Swiss Family Robinson. He apparently enjoyed funny women; his first wife was sitcom actress Joyce Bulifant:

(The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Marie Slaughter)

His second wife was Melody Patterson:

(F-Troop's Wrangler Jane).

His third wife, H.B.Duntz, was a golf pro before meeting and marrying James in Hawaii; she survives him.

It was his stage heritage which gave James's death last week added significance to the DC theatrical world. Our hero made his stage debut at Olney theatre in suburban DC in The Corn is Green in 1949, appearing with his sister Mary; she unexpectedly died the same year from polio.

In 1983, the Helen Hayes Awards, which honor DC area stage productions and actors, were created, and named after James's mother, who was born in DC. Helen's son has been particularly proud to make an annual trip to the awards ceremony to present the award named after his father, the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical, granted to, obviously, the best new play of the season.

Charles MacArthur died last week at age 72.

Everybody has already heard about the death of this scandal-plagued star, who is best remembered for his inability to keep it in his pants:

Eddie Fisher


He was a golden boy of the recording industry in the 1950s, with dozens of songs landing in the Top 40, including #1 tunes "Oh My Pa-Pa," "Wish You Were Here," and "I Need You Now." He headlined two variety series on television, including the provocatively titled Coke Time with Eddie Fisher (named after the show's sponsor, Coca Cola). His star continued to rise when he married one of America's sweethearts, Debbie Reynolds, in the mid-50s.

They were media darlings and became national treasures with the birth of their daughter Carrie, who would grow up to be Princess Leia and a funny drunk. The Fishers were often photographed with their best friends, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Todd. The death of his friend Todd, in an airplane crash in 1958, was the incident which derailed Fisher's upward trajectory. He began an affair with Todd's widow, Elizabeth Taylor, and the subsequent scandal surrounding his divorce from Reynolds was enough to sink his career. NBC cancelled his series, and RCA dropped him from their recording label. Fisher later became the cuckold when, after marrying Taylor, she dumped him for Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra.

Fisher's career never recovered from his marital scandals, though he continued to record under various labels, and to appear on the nightclub stage. He was the first artist to record "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof, though his recording is not well-remembered. He issued an autobiography in 1981, then reissued it in 1999 with spicier details of his love life (he had five marriages in total). After the release of the latter book, his daughter Carrie Fisher remarked, "I'm having my DNA fumigated."

In addition to Carrie, Eddie is also father to TV sitcom actress Joely Fisher (by Connie Stevens). He died last month after complications arose from a hip replacement.

Edwin Newman


This erudite newsman had been retired for more than a quarter of a century, but his death still made international news. He was a respected and beloved part of the NBC News team for the majority of his television career, appearing on literally every news series produced by the network from 1952-1984. He was a frequent panelist and host on Meet the Press, and anchored several presidential nominating conventions, back when those monsters were covered "gavel to gavel." He was the NBC bureau chief in Paris and Rome for a time, giving him insight into the international mindset. He covered the funeral of George VI and the subsequent coronation of Elizabeth II. He was the only Western journalist to interview Japan's Emperor Hirohito, though he was equally at home interviewing Kiss:

He was known for his wit, for his depth of understanding of the issues, and for his superior knowledge of the English language (in his later years, he published several books on language which topped the New York Times bestseller list). He was unflappable and fair; he famously expelled George Jessel from The Today Show in 1971, when the comic made sweeping accusations of communism in various news organizations. His vast cultural knowledge came in handy during live coverage of the JFK funeral train, which took 8 hours to arrive at its destination, rather than the expected four. Newman was able to keep the TV audience interested with historical facts about each of the train's stops.

He poked fun at his own reputation as a grammar guardian during several appearances as host of Saturday Night Live.

In one sketch in 1984, he repeatedly corrected the grammar of a desperate woman calling a suicide hotline.

Edwin Newman died in August from pneumonia, at the age of 91.

Simon MacCorkindale


He had a bigger career in his native England than in the states. Back home, he was a regular player on many British television series of the past several decades, and he spent time on the stage as well. American audiences first saw him as a supporting player on the BBC import I, Claudius, and may remember him from his two year stint on Falcon Crest. He was considered a frontrunner to replace Roger Moore as 007, which would have given him the superstardom which eluded him. Instead, he headlined one of the most ridiculous programs ever to grace American television.

Manimal's premise was that the leading character, played by Simon, could shape-shift into the form of any animal he wished. He used this bizarre ability to solve crimes. The show was one of the more spectacular flops of the early 1980s, lasting only 8 episodes. Its failure to succeed is often blamed on NBC's lamebrained decision to schedule the show opposite the CBS juggernaut, Dallas. But the series was a big hit overseas, and has since become a bit of a cult classic.

MacCorkindale's film credits include Death on the Nile and Jaws 3. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, and last year, announced that it had spread to his lungs, and that he was terminal. He died October 14, at the age of 58.

Alex Anderson


Though he retained half-interest in his most famous creation, this cartoonist headed to court when a documentary about that creation was released in the early 90s, and his name was never mentioned. He received no compensation when the franchise went to video, and no recognition from his former business partner, Jay Ward, who is commonly remembered as its sole creator. Of course, we are talking about this superstar:

Alex came from a family of cartoonists, his uncle having formed Terrytoon Studios in the middle of the century (Uncle Paul created Mighty Mouse). Our hero had joined artistic forces with Jay Ward in college, with Ward handling the business side of things. Alex had a dream one night, about a moose playing poker, and awoke with the idea that those noble creatures were ripe for caricature ("it was that long schnozzola"). There was a car dealership across the street named Bullwinkel Motors. A cartoon star was born.

Rocky and Bullwinkle hit network television in 1959, and stayed through 1964. The humor poked fun at the Cold War and was aimed over the heads of the children who fell in love with the flying rodent and the goofy moose. Dudley Do-Right, the dimwitted Canadian mountie, was also a creation of Anderson's, as was Crusader Rabbit, who was the star of the first animated series on television in 1949.

By court order, Alex is now acknowledged as co-creator, with Jay Ward, of the Bullwinkle franchise. He died last month from Alzheimer's at the age of 90.