Monday, January 3, 2011

Goodbyes, 2010 and These Few New 2011 Days

Copying stuff; I hope legit'ly.  I don't endorse the obitchyary bits nor agree with everything - & some seems much too short, but this is mostly for looking-up-the-names.  The originals have more in hyperlink form than I'm goimg to try to re-trasmit.  God bless everyone!!!

New York Observer 1/5/2011       REX REED's COLUMN

The goodbye word takes on a somber and rueful new meaning as I begin the annual task of wrapping up an old year by waving adios to the bearded man with the scythe, and welcoming a new kid on the block with his year to grow. We lost so many famous and celebrated people in 2010 that by midsummer I already had 35 pages of handwritten names. So before we begin anew, join me in a toast to those who departed in the year just ending. “Attention must be paid,” wrote Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman, and that applies to one and all.

Topping the list of my personal losses is Jean Simmons, my loyal and cherished friend for 40 years, and a legendary star of the silver screen who truly earned the label. From the good old days when she was married to film director Richard Brooks and we were the unbeaten champion partners who staged annual canasta parties in their Beverly Hills home every New Year’s Eve, collecting money from all the guests on their way out, to strawberry picking in muddy Connecticut fields and crawling around on our hands and knees trying to find her lost reading glasses at the re-release of Spartacus, we had some laughs. Earlier this year, I helped her daughter Tracy stage a triumphant memorial at London’s Covent Garden. The attention she deserved was finally paid in a jam-packed royal sendoff, with poems and memories by Claire Bloom, Hayley Mills, Edward Fox, and Joss Ackland, among others, as well as critics, historians, friends and fans. When Dame Judi Dench ended the hour singing “Send in the Clowns” with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett at the piano, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. One of the warmest, most elegant and luminous stars of the last half-century, her departure was another nail in the coffin of a movie legacy that will never come again.

I will also miss my friend June Havoc, the equally legendary show business icon and sister of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee whose early days in vaudeville as Baby June were portrayed in two autobiographies and the Broadway musical Gypsy. Havoc, as she was called by friends, never approved of the way that show inaccurately portrayed her mother Rose, played by Ethel Merman. During the Depression she stayed alive by entering dance competitions, which she later chronicled in a brilliant 1963 play, Marathon ’33 starring Julie Harris. She died at 97, but never lost her radiant spark right up to the end, receiving guests in her Connecticut bedroom with her blonde curls tied in a baby-blue satin ribbon.

In a diminishing world of first-rate singers you can still listen to without an Excedrin, the sadness was overwhelming when Lena Horne died at 92, smoldering through her last eight bars with no reprise. In the pantheon of prejudice that poisoned so many illustrious careers in America’s ugly past, Lena broke every rule and crashed through every barrier with her supersonic talent and breathtaking beauty. She was an international star of films, Broadway musicals, concert stages, Las Vegas, and soignée supper clubs who was in a class by herself. Yet she never achieved the respect, personal happiness or household fame she deserved. Still, unlike other black icons who were victimized by the bigotry of race and class, Lena became a rabid civil rights activist, proud member of the NAACP, and got even with a life well lived in an unenlightened age. I loved my friendship with Lena. She always called Liz Smith and me her “adopted white children” and one of my fondest memories was sitting on her lap one night at a party where she fed me birthday cake with long, elegant fingers dazzled by diamonds. In the end, she unfortunately became a bitter recluse who spent her days in the dark, throwing things at the TV set, rarely seeing even her own grandchildren. But there was so much to be proud of. Her singing was unparalleled, she smashed stereotypes, made history, and inspired hundreds of girl singers. In 1981, when Tom Snyder gave me 90 minutes on NBC because I was the only interviewer she would talk to, she said: “You get into the habit of surviving.” If only she had enjoyed it more.

Who could forget Patricia Neal, 1964 Oscar winner for Hud, a model of talent and courage who endured the perils of Job, learning to walk and speak all over again after three paralyzing strokes, then returned to the screen in 1968 in The Subject Was Roses. Later she became a great favorite on the New York social scene, raising millions for the hospital named after her in her native Kentucky for brain injured children and adults. In a voice like a mello cello rubbed with rye whiskey, she polished off her trademark sarcasm in many unforgettable performances on stage and screen, but my favorite was the 1950 Hemingway noir, The Breaking Point, in which John Garfield asked her if she’s ever been to a cockfight. She curled her lip and snarled, “All that trouble for an egg.”

It’s been a terrible time for the Redgrave acting dynasty. Following Natasha Richardson, this year marked a final curtain call for her uncle, Corin Redgrave, and her aunt, Lynn Redgrave, who lost her long battle with cancer at age 67, leaving Vanessa and her daughter Joely Richardson as the last two survivors of a historic family legacy. 2010 also framed final closeups for Kathryn Grayson, the trilling soprano who was one of the brightest stars in MGM musicals like Show Boat, Anchors Aweigh and Kiss Me Kate, and Bronx-born dese-dem-and-doser Tony Curtis, whose career never amounted to much more than a T-shirt and a tight pair of jeans until Sweet Smell of Success in 1957. Then he made up for lost time with Spartacus, Some Like it Hot, and others. Somewhere along the way, he also learned to act.

Who will take up the hell-raising reigns surrendered by Dennis Hopper? At 74, the cinema’s raunchiest rebel without a cause had long ago overcome his Easy Rider mantle as psychedelic guru to become a grizzled character actor riddled with repercussions from his excessive early years. He was, to put it succinctly, a mess. But he was also a far cry from his National Enquirer image. Nervously seated next to him at a Toronto Film Festival lunch a few years ago, I was jarred when he spent the entire time discussing recipes for turkey stuffing. Also: Jill Clayburgh, who lost her 21-year battle with leukemia at a still-young 66; Lina Romay, famous “latin from Manhattan” and the pepper pot who sang with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra in a series of lavish MGM Technicolor musicals in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s; Peter Graves, impossibly handsome, square-jawed hunk who never became a star until he spoofed his own image in Airplane! as the closeted all-American pedophile pilot with a special passion for little boys visiting his cockpit; Nan Martin, distinguished character actress who graced every medium; child star Corey Haim (The Lost Boys) who shocked the world when he died of a drug overdose at 38; Betty Lou Keim, lovely actress who played rebellious teenagers in some excellent Fifties films, holding her own opposite James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, Frank Sinatra and Ginger Rogers; James Mitchell, the brilliant American Ballet Theatre star who danced with Cyd Charisse in the MGM musical extravaganza The Bandwagon, before he threw away his toe shoes, played the dramatic role of an illegal Mexican immigrant in Border Incident, and joined the soap opera “One Life To Live” for the next 30 years; Adele Mara, B-movie actress at Republic studios who co-starred with John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima; Lionel Jeffries, British comic famous for family flicks like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Ian Carmichael, Peter Sellers’ owlish cohort in comedies like I’m All Right, Jack; Christopher Cazenove, another English star of Dynasty and PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre” who recently toured America in a revival of My Fair Lady. Critics pointed out one major difference between him and the original star, Rex Harrison: “Mr. Cazenove could sing.”

The list of sayonaras goes on. Corey Allen, 75, was the last surviving member of the ill-fated Rebel Without a Cause cast. He played Buzz, the handsome tough guy who challenged James Dean to the fatal “chicken race”. Ursula Thiess, 86, was the German B-movie siren and widow of screen legend Robert Taylor. Ilene Woods, 81, was the voice of Cnderella in Disney’s timeless classic. Have you forgotten Cecile Aubry, the beautiful French actress who co-starred with Orson Welles and Tyrone Power in the epic spectacle The Black Rose? She landed on the cover of Life magazine, then disappeared. It was rumored she was being held captive in a Turkish harem. Turns out she was secretly married to the son of a Moroccan pasha for six years, after which she returned to France and authored a series of children’s books. Also destined for obscurity but saved by the obituary page was 1970’s Albanian heartthrob Bekim Fehmiu, the first actor from Yugoslavia (now Bosnia) to become a Hollywood star. He played opposite Candice Bergen and romanced both Ava Gardner and Brigitte Bardot, but life in the fast lane backfired. This year, he committed suicide. What memories were conjured by the death of Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy in eight Tarzan films although he could not swim. Later, he dragged his old loin cloth out of moth balls for the Bomba, the Jungle Boy series, retired in 1955, and went into business, importing lobsters from Baja. It was one last gaze into the crystal ball for Zelda Rubenstein­the four-foot-three actress who played Tangina the Psychic in Poltergeist and became an advocate for the rights of “little people”. Last but not least, let’s raise a glass to Shirley Bell Cole, the radio voice of Little Orphan Annie (“Leapin’ lizards!”) who was an inspiration to children during the Depression, and to Meinhardt Raabe, the Munchkin coroner, and Olga Hardone­at three feet tall, the tiniest of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. Olga danced as the center member of the Lullaby League and was one of the first to welcome Judy Garland to Oz. That leaves only three remaining Munchkins alive today.

The cameras stopped rolling for Kevin McCarthy, respected actor regrettably best known as the panicky doctor who tried to save the world from alien pods in the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers; James McArthur, forever youthful son of Helen Hayes and star of a string of Disney classics; Simon McCorkindale, 58, handsome leading man who played the suave, romantic murderer in the all-star Agatha Christie thriller Death on the Nile; Gloria Stuart, 100, glamorous blonde in Thirties horror flicks who made a miraculous, Oscar-nominated comeback in 1997 as the oldest living survivor in the blockbuster, Titanic; and Norman Wisdom, 95, England’s most beloved slapstick comic­a silly, baggy-pants clown whose stumbling, bumbling pratfalls were a smash in his Broadway debut in the 1967 musical Walking Happy. He was a great favorite of Queen Elizabeth, who knighted him in the year 2000. It was one last double-take for Leslie Nielsen, a serious actor who never lived up to the potential of his early dramatic work on live TV and films like Ransom! and Forbidden Planet. Sidetracked in dumb Naked Gun farces, he got rich, but the acting career went over the falls in a barrel.

Among the TV pioneers who watched their final test pattern fade in 2010: living-room sitcom favorites Tom Bosley, who went from doorman at Tavern on the Green to Tony-winning star of the Broadway musical Fiorello!, followed by 11 years of “Happy Days”, and Barbara Billingsley, who, as June Cleaver on “Leave it to Beaver”, was the perfect Eisenhower-era wife and mother, wearing high heels and pearls even when running the vacuum cleaner, and at the end of the day was always home with freshly baked cookies. No more cable re-runs for Pernell Roberts, the eldest Cartwright son on “Bonanza”, a show he hated, equating his participation with “Isaac Stern playing with Lawrence Welk”. He later moved to “Trapper John, M.D”, but few people remember he sang the leading role in the pre-Broadway tryout of Mata Hari, directed by Vincente Minnelli. No more ratings wars for Art Linkletter, the unpretentious CBS House Party host for 18 years, or for precocious midget Gary Coleman (Diff’rent Strokes),John Forsythe (Dynasty), Robert Culp (I Spy), Harold Gould (Valerie Harper’s father on Rhoda and Betty White’s boyfriend on Golden Girls), and blonde flapper Dorothy Provine (The Roaring 20’s). Fess Parker, TV’s Davy Crockett, hung up his coonskin cap, and sportscaster Don Meredith called his last shot from the 40-yard line on “Monday Night Football”. It was a cheerless sign-off for Buff Cobb, a popular staple of TV’s “golden age” who co-hosted two of the first “live” talk shows with then-husband Mike Wallace and appeared as a regular panelist on Masquerade Party with Ilka Chase and Ogden Nash; for David Wolper, who produced the mini-series Roots and The Thorn Birds; for witty, rumpled and eternally grumpy newscaster and Today show anchor Edwin Newman; for award-winning news analyst Daniel Schorr; for Clay Cole, producer of Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and rock guru who gave teens their first look at the Rolling Stones; for crusading 48 Hours news correspondent Harold Dow; and for controversial Mitch Miller, who, during his tenure as an influential recording-industry producer at Columbia Records, steered the careers of Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and Doris Day, before becoming a TV star himself with a nauseating crop of corn called Sing Along With Mitch. One critic suggested it would be best watched with the sound off. Ever the curmudgeon, he called rock and roll “a disease” and turned down contracts with Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, while plugging polkas and insipid pap like “Mule Train” and forcing Frank Sinatra to record a gimmicky horror called “Mama Will Bark”, accompanied by a pack of howling dogs. Sinatra never spoke to him again. His bad taste proved the American people will buy anything, while he went on record saying “I would never buy that stuff for myself.” I was devastated by the early exits of my two favorite Southern belles­oversexed Golden Girl Rue McClanahan and honey-dripping Tennessee glamourpuss Dixie Carter, who used her languid Julia Sugarbaker accent from Designing Women in several seasons of acclaimed cabaret performances at New York’s swanky Café Carlyle. A multi-talented actress, lady to the manner born, and ex-wife of the former editor of the New York Observer, you could rockabye your baby to her Dixie melody. I guess I should not overlook Eddie Fisher, whose wonky voice crooned its way off-key through TV shows, hit records and unfathomable marriages and scandalous divorces (Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Connie Stevens). It was the mystery career of the century, somewhat explained now in his trashy autobiography and daughter Carrie’s sarcastic tell-all monologues and one-woman confessionals. But my favorite summation came the night Debbie Reynolds walked out on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, cased the joint, and said, to tumultuous applause: “Look at this place. I guess I married the wrong Fisher.”

Hard to believe they all passed on in 2010, as well as some of the powers behind the scenes who guided them to greatness. Films won’t look the same without cameraman William Fraker, whose images go unchallenged in 45 films, including Rosemary’s Baby, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and especially Bullitt. Strapped to a Mustang going 100 m.p.h. with his white beard flapping across his eyes, his camerawork is as electrifying as anything else in the movie. In an industry dominated by cutthroats, gone are the rare gentleman producers David Brown and Robert Radnitz (Sounder), flamboyant Dino De Laurentiis, and directors Claude Chabrol (labeled “the French Hitchcock” for more than 80 crime thrillers about murder and mayhem with escargot), B-movie hack Clive Donner (when London stopped swinging, so did he), Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), James Hickenlooper (Casino Jack), Italy’s Mario Monicelli (Big Deal on Madonna Street), Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to Star Wars), Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Ronald Neame (despite distinguished films like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Tunes of Glory, it was to his everlasting dismay that he was best known for his least favorite, The Poseidon Adventure). We must also add boring Eric Rohmer. A favorite of many American critics, this overrated French yawn was aptly eulogized in Arthur Penn’s wonderfully unconventional thriller, Night Moves. Gene Hackman is asked by his wife to go to an Eric Rohmer film playing in an L.A. art house. “I don’t think so,” he replies. “I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kind of like watching paint dry.” Truer words were never spoken. His films re-defined narcolepsy. Claire’s Knee, My Night with Maud, among others. I slept through them all.

With one foot already in the toilet, the quality of today’s film scripts will never be the same after Irving Ravetch (who with wife Harriet Frank, Jr. turned out Hud, Norma Rae and The Sound and the Fury), and writer-director Joseph L.’s son, Tom Mankiewicz (who wrote several of the James Bond films). I will also miss reading Bob Thomas, the veteran syndicated columnist who covered Hollywood royalty for six decades. Joan Crawford could out-drink him, Marilyn Monroe told him first about her love affair with JFK, and when Clark Gable was whisked in secrecy to the hospital following his heart attack, Bacon was waiting. Aghast, Gable grinned and said, “How’s the food in this joint?” Those were the days.

Literature will be less readable without my favorite author, J. D. Salinger. One seriously weird dude, he drank his own urine and spoke in tongues, but he also raised the bar for aspiring writers throughout the world. Other men of letters who locked their typewriters and computers and threw away the keys were Erich Segal (they slammed Love Story, but it sold 22 million copies, proving “Success means never having to say you’re sorry”); Alan Stilltoe, the British novelist whose early works, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, were adapted into highly praised movies symbolizing the angst of the angry British working class; Dick Francis, champion steeplechase jockey turned best-selling mystery novelist; Robert B. Parker, who created the popular detective Spenser in more than 60 best sellers; and Robert Katz, American writer who lived in Italy, chronicling the Vatican’s complicity in the massacre of thousands of Jews under Mussolini in Death in Rome and The Cassandra Crossing. Broadway dimmed the marquees for veteran librettist Joseph Stein, who wrote the book for Fiddler on the Roof. He was followed, a few days later, by the great composer Jerry Bock, who wrote music to fit his partner Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics for such legendary musicals as Fiddler, She Loves Me and Fiorello! Ironically, Mr. Bock, Mr. Stein, and Fiorello! star Tom Bosley all died within a few weeks of each other, taking a chunk of Broadway history with them.

Music will sound sour without swinging pianist Hank Jones; Oscar Peterson’s guitarist Herb Ellis; jazz singer and political activist Abbey Lincoln (a softer, less toxic Nina Simone); harmonica virtuoso Jerry Adler; Duke Ellington vocalist Joya Sherrill; revered West Coast singer-pianist Joyce Collins; jazz drummer Ed Thigpen (called “Mr. Taste” for his sensitive accompaniment of Ella Fitzgerald); soul singer Teddy Pendergrass; John Dankworth, arranger-composer-saxophone wizard and husband of Cleo Laine; Claiborne Cary, zany but dependable cabaret singer-disciple (and sister of loopy actress Cloris Leachman); father of the jazz accordion Art Van Damme; be-bop Benny Goodman piano player John Bunch; Cherie De Castro, last surviving member of the singing De Castro Sisters, whose recording of “Teach Me Tonight” topped the charts in the 1950’s; ace trombonist and big-band-era orchestra leader Buddy Morrow; versatile jazz drummer Jake Hanna, who played with both Woody Herman and Harry James; the elegiac piano chords of Billy Taylor--musician, composer, historian, educator and eloquent voice of NPR, who won a Ph.D in music and instructed everyone to “Call me Doctor”; and Canada’s Rob McConnell, the last of the great jazz orchestra leaders who wrote and conducted big brass arrangements for Mel Torme’s “Velvet and Brass” album (for which I wrote the liner notes). What a shame we won’t be reading about them in the carefully worded erudition of biographer-songwriter-critic-jazz journalist Gene Lees, whose English lyrics for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Quiet Nights” made history and whose monthly Jazzletter, one of the first series of idiosyncratic essays on jazz, was a blog before the word was invented. No more arias by Blanche Thebom, the mezzo-soprano who specialized in Wagner, singing more than 350 performances at the Metropolitan Opera before joining Mario Lanza in MGM’s The Great Caruso, or Met sopranos Shirley Verrett (called “the black Callas”) and Dolores Wilson, who moved to Broadway to co-star with David Wayne in the ill-fated musical The Yearling. It was curtains for Cesare Siepi, who, like Ezio Pinza, also appeared on Broadway, and for Joan Sutherland, the diva with a voice rich and powerful enough to rise above every orchestra, blasting away at full tilt in three languages. After her 1961 Metropolitan Opera debut, singing the mad scene in Donizetti’s Lucia, was followed by a 12-minute standing ovation, she was labeled “La Stupenda” and it stuck.

Politics won’t seem as pithy without Theodore Sorenson, JFK’s main man, or Liz Carpenter, Washington powerhouse during the Lyndon Johnson administration and Lady Bird’s press secretary during her White House days. I ate my last meal at Elaine’s, but I’ll miss eternally agitated proprietress and genuine New York character Elaine Kaufman, who served inedible food to the rich and famous, threw garbage can lids at the paparazzi, and leaned on the tables of unwanted customers, snarling “You’re gonna hate it here!” It was a year of horrible losses, from Glen Bell, who invented Taco Bell, to Agethe von Trapp, the last of the singing “Sound of Music” family. She was little Liesel in the movie who sang “15 Going on 17”, but she died at 97. Time flies when you’re humming.

Hard to believe they all shuffled off this mortal coil in 2010, but for pure spirit and spunk, I’ve reserved a special place for Doris Travis, the last living Ziegfeld Girl, who lived to 106. Two weeks before she died, she appeared one last time on a New York stage as part of the annual Easter Bonnet Competition to benefit BroadwayCares/Equity Fights AIDS. She did a few kicks, then apologized that she no longer performed cartwheels. It brought down the house. I miss her already--and the others, too. When Boris Karloff died, he said “I’ll be back.” In my dreams, so will they all.

# # #

Others, though not all~~~

January 02, 2011
By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times:

Denis Dutton, a scholar, author and Internet trailblazer who founded Arts & Letters Daily, a pithy website that links thousands of devoted followers around the world to smart, provocative writing online about books, culture and ideas, died Tuesday in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he taught philosophy at Canterbury University. He was 66.

The cause was complications of prostate cancer, said his brother, Doug, of the famous Dutton's Books family, which ran independent bookstores in Los Angeles for five decades.


Actor Pete Postlethwaite dies

Oscar nominee dies peacefully in hospital at age of 64 after long struggle with cancer

Matthew Weaver and agencies, Monday 3 January 2011 11.25 GMT

The actor Pete Postlethwaite (OBE) has died at the age of 64. Friends said he passed away peacefully in hospital in Shropshire yesterday having suffered from cancer for some time.

Postlethwaite was once described by the film director Steven Spielberg as "probably the best actor in the world today".

He worked with Spielberg on two films in 1997 – the fantasy adventure film The Lost World: Jurrassic Park, and Amistad, about a slave mutiny on a ship.

The craggy-featured actor received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Guiseppe Conlon in the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father, about the wrongful convictions of the Guildford Four.

His notable films included the 1996 film Brassed Off, in which he played the leader of colliery band in a Yorkshire community devastated by mine closures. The film was a favourite of the former deputy prime minister John Prescott, and became the inspiration for a coalfield regeneration programme.

Postlethwaite also played the menacing criminal mastermind Kobayashi in the 1995 hit film The Usual Suspects.

In recent years Postlethwaite became known as much for his political activism as his acting. He was the front man in the climate change film The Age of Stupid, arriving at the 2009 London premiere on a bicycle.

After the film's release he threatened to hand back the OBE he was awarded in 2004 in protest at the government's controversial decision to give the go-ahead for Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent.

He also adapted his home to become environmentally responsible, installing a wind turbine and other features.

In 2003 he marched against the war in Iraq and was a vocal supporter of the Make Poverty History campaign.

Born in Warrington, Postlethwaite had originally planned to be a priest. He became a teacher but eventually took to the stage, beginning his career at the Everyman theatre in Liverpool. In 2008 he returned to the Everyman to play the lead in King Lear, a role he had always wanted to play. The performance was one of the highlights of Liverpool's year as the European Capital of Culture.

He is survived by his wife, Jacqui, his son, Will, and daughter, Lily.


Anne Francis dies at 80; costarred in the 1950s science-fiction classic 'Forbidden Planet'

A shapely blond with a beauty mark next to her lower lip, the New York native also played the title role in 'Honey West,' the mid-1960s TV series about a sexy female private detective with a pet ocelot.

By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times January 3, 2011

Anne Francis, who costarred in the 1950s science-fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" and later played the title role in "Honey West," the mid-1960s TV series about a sexy female private detective with a pet ocelot, died Sunday. She was 80.

Francis, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy, died of complications of pancreatic cancer at a retirement home in Santa Barbara, said Jane Uemura, her daughter. Friends and family members were with her, said a family spokeswoman, Melissa Fitch.

A shapely blond with a signature beauty mark next to her lower lip, Francis was a former child model and radio actress when she first came to notice on the big screen in the early 1950s.

She had leading or supporting roles in more than 30 movies, including "Bad Day at Black Rock," "Battle Cry," "Blackboard Jungle," "The Hired Gun," "Don't Go Near the Water," "Brainstorm," "Funny Girl" and "Hook, Line and Sinker."'

She also achieved cult status as one of the stars of "Forbidden Planet," the 1956 MGM movie costarring Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen and featuring a helpful robot named Robby.

Francis, however, never became a major movie star and was more frequently seen on television as a guest star on scores of series from the late '50s and decades beyond, including an episode of "The Twilight Zone" in which she played a department store mannequin who comes to life at night.

But it's as the star of "Honey West," the first female detective to be featured in a weekly TV series, that Francis may be best remembered.

Based on the title character in G.G. Fickling's series of Honey West paperback mysteries launched in 1957, Francis' Honey West was introduced to TV viewers in an episode of "Burke's Law" in the spring of 1965.

The episode served as the pilot for the half-hour "Honey West" series, which was executive produced by Aaron Spelling and made its debut in the fall of 1965.

In it, West, who inherited a Los Angeles detective agency from her late father, had a partner named Sam Bolt (played by John Ericson), shared an apartment with her Aunt Meg ( Irene Hervey) and owned a manhating pet ocelot named Bruce Biteabit.

In what Francis later described as "a tongue-in-cheek, female James Bond," her karate-chopping private eye drove a custom-built Cobra convertible sports car and, when necessary, worked out of a specially equipped mobile surveillance van that masqueraded as a TV service vehicle.

Among her Bond-style gimmicks: a lipstick radio transmitter, a fake martini olive on a toothpick for bugging conversations, earrings that exploded with tear gas when they were thrown to the floor and a black garter with pink lace that doubled as a gas mask.

As the glamorous and sexy Honey, Francis was outfitted in an eye-catching wardrobe that included a black snakeskin trench coat, a white beaded gown trimmed in sable and a tiger- skin bathing suit with matching cape.

In a television era of Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson housewives, the independent, take-charge Honey West has been described as being a role model for young baby-boomer women.

"She was probably the forerunner of what we would call the good aspects of female independence," Francis told the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal in 1997.

"Producers and writers I work with, young women in their 30s and 40s, tell me all the time, 'You have no idea what an influence you had on me with Honey West. You showed that I could do something unusual with my life, that I could have my freedom and not be dependent on another human being for my livelihood.'"

Francis won a Golden Globe as best female TV star and received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal oHoney West.

The series received good ratings, but ABC canceled it in 1966 after 30 episodes. "They were able to buy 'The Avengers' [spy drama] from England for less than it cost to produce our show," Francis later said.

She was born Sept. 16, 1930, in Ossining, N.Y. At the age of 7, after her family moved to New York City, she was signed by the John Robert Powers modeling agency.

Her career as a child model led to acting roles on the children's radio shows "Let's Pretend" and "Coast-to-Coast on a Bus," and she then moved on to radio soap operas. In 1941, she also appeared on Broadway, playing Gertrude Lawrence as a child in "Lady in the Dark."

Francis arrived in Hollywood for the first time in 1946 and was signed to a contract with MGM. But after a year of "grooming" at the studio, during which she had a small part in the Mickey Rooney musical "Summer Holiday," the teenage Francis returned to New York, where she began appearing in live TV productions.

After playing a teenage prostitute with a baby in a girl's reform school in "So Young, So Bad," a 1950 moviedrama shot in New York, Francis was signed to a contract at 20th Century Fox. After three years at Fox, she was signed again at MGM and by the late '50s was freelancing.

While at MGM, she co-starred in "Forbidden Planet," a big-budget, box-office hit that received an Oscar nomination for special effects.

Francis played Altaira, the alluring daughter of the scientist character played by Pidgeon: the two sole-surviving human inhabitants of the mysterious, technologically advanced planet.

"I got that part because I was under contract to MGM and I had good legs," Francis, who wore futuristically abbreviated costumes, said in a 1992 interview for Starlog magazine.

At the time, she recalled, "I don't think that any of us really were aware of the fact that it was going to turn into a longtime cult film, probably much, much stronger today than it was then. … 'Forbidden Planet' just had a life of its own, something that none of us was aware was going to happen."

Francis, who wrote the 1982 memoir "Voices From Home: An Inner Journey," continued to appear on television throughout the '90s.

In addition to Uemura, the twice-divorced Francis is survived by another daughter, Maggie, and a grandson, Fitch said.

Anne Francis official site

<< 2010s deaths        (Category) 2011 deaths

For more recent deaths, see Deaths in 2011. For earlier deaths, see Deaths in 2009, Deaths in 2008, Deaths in 2007, Deaths in 2006, Deaths in 2005, Deaths in 2004, Deaths in 2003, Deaths in 2002, Deaths in 2001, Deaths in 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988, ...

Who's Alive and Who's Dead:

ZSA ZSA:  The ultimate in bouffant mitteleuropean glamor hiding the strength of the Budweiser Clydesdales - however, going in today for a leg amputation against a massive blood clot, at age 93 and after recent 'near-death experiences'.  May it be for her as she wishes, in all mercy.

No comments:

Post a Comment