Wednesday, February 27, 2013
A couple of days ago, I was combing through a book of celebrity photos and autographed pictures that my wife and I have been tasked with selling. These belonged to a now-deceased friend. Remarking that there were certainly a lot of photos of actor Dale Roberston, I looked him up and was surprised to find out he was still alive. A day later, yesterday, I was equally surprised to find out he had died. In tribute, here are our friend's photos, a couple signed, many unseen outside of Dale's official fan club in the early sixties.
If anyone has any interest, as I said, we are selling these photos and a whole album of similar items of late fifties/early sixties stars for our friend Delores's estate. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
I just today learned of the passing of actor Paul L. Smith, so perfectly cast as Bluto in Altman's 1980 POPEYE. Although born in America, he found his initial success in movies--after years of small roles--in Italy, where he was often employed due to his resemblance to Italian star Bud Spencer. In fact, he and an Italian actor made several ersatz Terence Hill/Bud Spencer flicks that really weren't all that bad. On a larger scale, though, were memorable roles in major productions such as DUNE and MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. According to online reports, he had retired to Israel in 2006 and changed his name, as unlikely as it may sound, to Adam Eden.
Monday, February 25, 2013
# 5-William Conrad: Perhaps best remembered as "the fat detective" from the era when all TV detectives had to be pigeonholed in some way, Louisville, Kentucky native William Conrad was a writer, actor, producer and director and perhaps second only to Orson Welles in the diverse collection of characters he created over the radio airwaves. Conrad's best known role on radio was that of Marshal Matt Dillon on GUNSMOKE for nine years, a role for which he was deemed unfit on TV, being short and overweight.
Conrad's mellifluous voice can also be heard intoning the narration for a number of movies, TV series and documentaries through the years, most notably--if perhaps unbelievably--the adventures of ROCKY & BULLWINKLE! After his TV success as CANNON, he went on to star in JAKE & THE FAT MAN and NERO WOLFE, both of which cast him to type. Known privately for his naughty sense of humor, there are some pretty funny TV blooper reels out there with him as well. He died in 1994.
# 4-Victor Mature: Another Louisville native, Victor Mature was known throughout his Hollywood career for his hunkiness, beginning right from his first starring role as a caveman in ONE MILLION YEARS BC in 1940. After that he starred in a long line of diverse films from westerns like MY DARLING CLEMENTINE to a lot of musicals. He is probably best remembered for his Biblical and similarly-styled epics, most of which required him to be shirtless a good deal of the time. It was SAMSON AND DELILAH that reportedly inspired Groucho Marx's famous statement that he didn't like a picture where the leading man's chest was bigger than the leading lady's.
He was not above kidding his own image in such later films as 1966's AFTER THE FOX and the Monkees cult film HEAD in '68 but the actor made only a handful of film appearances after those. He passed at the age of 86 in 1999.
# 3-Rosemary Clooney: Rosemary Clooney, the pride of Maysville, Kentucky, had a film career of some note but it was eclipsed by both the drama of her personal life and her success as a jazz, big band and pop singer. Originally a double act on radio with her sister Betty in the mid-forties, her solo career moved her swiftly to the top of the pop charts where she was then whisked away to Hollywood. Though her acting career in films and TV wasn't extensive, it did include one of the most beloved movies of all time, the holiday classic, WHITE CHRISTMAS, with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen (also a local native from just across the river in Ohio).
After two much publicized marriages to actor Jose Ferrer, her personal problems got the best of her and Rosemary's career was sidetracked for several years by a nervous breakdown. Eventually, she returned, at the top of her game, and continued touring, recording and acting for the rest of her days, which ended in 2002.
# 2-George Clooney: Talent running in the family, Lexington, Kentucky's George Clooney, Rosemary's nephew, is just about the hottest thing in Hollywood these days. From his humble beginnings working in the shoe department at a local Northern Kentucky department store (a job he beat me out of) he entered show biz by driving his Aunt's tour bus. After some small success on TV, he hit it big with ER and parlayed that into small films and then bigger films and then ultimately blockbusters, eventually becoming the producer/director/actor he is today, having just shared the Oscar for Best Picture this past evening for ARGO.
Along the way, George Clooney has demonstrated himself to be an extremely class act as well, the handsome modern equivalent of Cary Grant, but determined to use his position and fame to make a positive difference in the world away from the Silver Screen.
# 1-Who could be bigger than George Clooney? Why, Johnny Depp, of course. Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, Depp began acting in small roles in the early eighties before becoming the proverbial overnight success on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET. Known for a long line of well-crafted film personas, Depp has been Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Willy Wonka, Hunter S. Thompson, Sweeney Todd, Captain Jack Sparrow, Ichabod Crane, Barnabas Collins and, coming soon, Tonto.
Long associated with Producer/director Tim Burton, Depp has demonstrated his chameleon-like tendencies on outlandish characters so often that ordinary acting roles seem somehow beneath him now. No doubt, his movie appearances will continue to thrill and surprise audiences from Kentucky and around the world for many, many years yet to come.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Kentucky is known for its bluegrass, its bourbon, its tobacco, its horses...it is not known for its actors, however, although the commonwealth has, in fact, turned out many both great and successful.
Here we have a list of--in my opinion--the ten most successful actors to have come out of Kentucky. In reverse order.
# 10-Harry Dean Stanton: Born in West Irvine, Kentucky, Harry Dean Stanton may never have become a big star but he has long been the ultimate character actor! A WWII veteran, he started in movies and television in the fifties, appearing memorably in small roles over the years before finally getting bigger parts in the seventies. In 1979, Harry was part of the emsemble crew of the original ALIEN and. in 1984, he took the lead in PARIS, TEXAS, an acclaimed and inspirational picture directed by Wim Wenders.
This past year, 2012, Harry Dean Stanton not only had a notable cameo in THE AVENGERS but also became the subject of an artsy documentary entitled HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION. Now 86, his credits continue to pile up.
# 9-Una Merkel: Born in my own hometown of Covington, Kentucky, Ms. Merkel is best remembered today for her catfight with Marlene Dietrich in the 1939 classic western, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN starring Jimmy Stewart. She had been working in films since the silent days, however, and would continue to do so up into the mid-sixties, transforming her image from that of a flirty young blonde to that of a middle aged matron. Appropriately Ms. Merkel had a major role in 1955's THE KENTUCKIAN. Among her later pictures were Disney's THE PARENT TRAP and Elvis Presley's SPINOUT. In her career, she was nominated for an Academy Award once and won Broadway's Tony Award for her stage work.
There is a historical marker for Una Merkel at Covington's Goebel Park and she was buried near here upon her death in 1986.
# 8-Tom Ewell: From Owensboro, Kentucky, Tom Ewell apparently disappointed his family by going on the stage at age 19 but in just a few short years, he was appearing on Broadway. Best known for his dramatic and comedic supporting roles in plays and, increasingly, motion pictures, he took the lead in Broadway's THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. He took the Tony for his acting and re-created his role on film, that version co-starring Marilyn Monroe in what would become one of her most iconic roles. He similarly appeared opposite Jayne Mansfield in the now classic early rock & roll flick, THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT. After that, he spent much time on stage or on televisoon, memorably costarring with Robert Blake on BARETTA in the seventies.
Upon his death in 1994 at the age of 85, Tom Ewell was surprisingly survived by his mother who went on to live another four years before passing at age 109!
# 7-Warren Oates: From the small Kentucky town of Depoy, Warren Oates, one of Hollywood's legendary "bad boys," began acting in plays at The University of Louisville in the fifties. By the end of that decade, he was in Hollywood doing character roles in TV dramas and small parts in films. Bigger and bigger roles kept coming and in 1969, he co-starred in Sam Peckinpah's controversially violent THE WILD BUNCH. Throughout the seventies, he played a number of memorable roles including a brilliant turn in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Not long after his memorable performance in an atypical role in Bill Murray's 1981 STRIPES, Warren Oates died of natural causes brought on, no doubt, by hard living.
After his death, several more films were released posthumously and, in 1993, a documentary about the actor was made. The acclaimed biography, WARREN OATES: A WILD LIFE, came out in 2009.
# 6-Ned Beatty-Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Ned Beatty is yet another of the truly great character actors. Believe it or not, his classic, oft-parodied performance in 1972's DELIVERANCE marked his film debut! In short order, though, he was in just about everything throughout the seventies including a number of Burt Reynolds pictures and SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. He even briefly had his own TV series, done in by its unpronounceable title: SZYSZNYK (Siz-Nik, as I recall).
Beatty has worked steadily ever since, in roles both big and small, and is always a familiar and welcome presence in films or on television. Most recently, he's even been doing voice work in animated features such as RANGO and TOY STORY 3.