Friday, January 27, 2017

Be Gentle, 2017: Some Recent Passings

Sir John Hurt, CBE, aged 77. Long familiar as one of Great Britain's finest stage and screen actors: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, a terrifying Caligula in I CLAUDIUS, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, ALIEN, THE ELEPHANT MAN (wish I could BOLD that), 1984, TV's THE STORYTELLER, Roger Corman's FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, HEAVEN'S GATE, the quietly uproarious LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND, the HELLBOY films, three Harry Potter pictures, one Indiana Jones, V FOR VENDETTA, and most recently, he reteamed with V's Natalie Portman in JACKIE. When I saw him recently in JACKIE, I silently marveled to myself that this venerable player - who looked a pack of cigarettes and half a bottle of gin away from death when he was in his thirties - was still around, showing the youngsters how it is done at age 77. I didn't know he was fighting cancer. One of the greats.

Emmy Award-winning actress Barbara Hale - PERRY MASON's Della Street in more than 270 (!) episodes and 30 (!!) made-for-TV movies, and also featured in such films as THE FALCON OUT WEST, THE WINDOW, THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, A LION IN THE STREETS, THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (!!!) and BIG WEDNESDAY - has passed away at age 94. As a lifelong PERRY MASON addict, I've long considered her the most compelling "listening" actress around; she had the uncanny ability to insinuate her Della Street character into scenes where she had no dialogue, allowing the viewer to read her thoughts as she silently reacted to the information being discussed. She was the widow of actor Bill Williams (d. 1992) and the mother of actor William Katt. As Paul Drake might say, "Sweet dreams, Beautiful."

Mary Tyler Moore, 80, made the earliest of her many marks on television as commercial spokesperson "Happy Hotpoint" in ads shown on THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET. She could be glimpsed on album covers, as a dance hall girl in the first Rowan & Martin comedy ONCE UPON A HORSE, and she - or, rather, her shapely legs - were all that were seen of her secretary Sam on David Janssen's early series RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE - a definite forerunner of Diane, FBI special agent Dale Cooper's unseen Girl Friday on TWIN PEAKS. Appearances on many other crime series followed - 77 SUNSET STRIP, BOURBON STREET BEAT, HAWAIIAN EYE and JOHNNY STACCATO, to name several, but she also had two guest appearances on Boris Karloff's THRILLER ("The Fatal Impulse" and "Man of Mystery") before making her debut as Laura Petrie on TV's perennial hit THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  Her seven-year run on MARY TYLER MOORE was a comedic milestone, as were the spin-off series she produced, but dramatic performances in ORDINARY PEOPLE (Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning), FIRST YOU CRY and the TV miniseries LINCOLN proved that she had a great deal more to offer than being one of the best second bananas in TV comedy. 

Mike Connors, aged 91. He was known the world over as the star of TV's MANNIX, but some of us remember him as Touch Connors, an early discovery of Roger Corman, who starred him in FIVE GUNS WEST, DAY THE WORLD ENDED, SWAMP WOMEN and OKLAHOMA WOMAN. Under that name he also starred in Edward L. Cahn's THE FLESH AND THE SPUR and VOODOO WOMAN and (as Michael Connors) Paul Henried's LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, also for AIP. , 

Actress Mary Webster, 81. She was the ingenue in such films as THE DELICATE DELINQUENT, THE TIN STAR and EIGHTEEN AND ANXIOUS, but she is best remembered as the female lead of the AIP Jules Verne adventure MASTER OF THE WORLD and two classic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, "A Passage For Trumpet" and "Death Ship," both of which also featured Jack Klugman.

CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit, 78. Jaki was arguably the greatest drummer in the world - he was such a complete player that the bass guitar almost seemed unnecessary on his watch; it needed to find some other way to contribute to the overall sound. He was sometimes called the "mensch-machine," his neat, precise rhythms and polyrhythmic playing were essential to the "motorik" sound that distinguished so much of the new German rock movement of the 1970s. He also played in later years with The Phantom Band, Jah Wobble, David Sylvian, and made essential 12" EPs with Wobble, U2 guitarist The Edge and CAN's Holger Czukay. He's the kind of musician you can only deeply thank, like a soldier, for his lifetime of service.

Mott the Hoople bassist Peter "Overend" Watts, age 69. His muscular, driving bass lines locked into Verden Allen's growling organ parts to produce a formidable rock motor on the classic albums BRAIN CAPERS and ALL THE YOUNG DUDES. His thigh-high platform boots and long prematurely grey locks also made him a key focus of the band's live presentation. I got to meet the band on their Mott tour, but interacted least with Overend and drummer Buffin, both of whom were quiet and retiring; even so, everyone who caught that show remembers how a certain young lady in the front row reached up to Overend's looming swagger and, shall we say, managed to get "past security." It seems in later years he became a dedicated hiker and published a book of his adventures, THE MAN WHO HATED WALKING, a few years ago.

And last, but not least, musician and personal friend Gil Ray, age 60. We never met, we never spoke, but it seems to me that we spent almost every day together on Facebook since that friendship began in August 2009 - and he was a longtime Classic Horror Film Boards contact and a VIDEO WATCHDOG subscriber since our early days. In fact, in VW 33 we reproduced a picture that Gil sent us of his new tattoo - based on a sketch that Federico Fellini had done of the ball-bouncing Devil in his SPIRITS OF THE DEAD short, "Toby Dammit." It was only after knowing him on Facebook for a few years that I learned Gil was a cult celebrity in his own right; he had been a critically acclaimed drummer with the bands Game Theory and The Loud Family. But we never really talked about that, only about the many enthusiasms we shared. I would like his posts, sometimes send him words of support when he was having a bad day (he shared his ongoing struggle with cancer on his page), or words of approval when he shared music we both loved. He was a frequent respondent on my wall, always so enthusiastic, generous and supportive. He liked the pictures I posted of my cats, and sent his sympathies when we lost them. He could see that I can be moody and cynical, but he was always effusive about my work, what I brought to Facebook, and he was particularly very encouraging about my writing there about music. He commiserated with me when I twice failed to pass the test to get book proposals accepted for the 33 1/3 series. In my inbox I found words of encouragement that he sent, urging me to write that Francoise Hardy book I've been flirting with, on and off, for a few years. One day, out of the blue, he sent me a couple of brand new albums from the record store where he'd been working - MC5's BACK IN THE USA and FLOATING IN THE NIGHT by Julie Cruise - "because you've given me so much," he said. That was Gil. I'm going to miss his online presence and the spirited warmth I always felt coming from his corner. Just two weeks ago, he posted a picture of his cat resting on his ankle, preventing him from getting out of bed and offered words of support to everyone who was going to participate in the marches. His last words on FB: "Fight the power." My deepest sympathies to his wife Stacy and family, and to the many, many people who surely loved him. Here's to his well-earned rest and flight from pain. RIP, my friend.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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