I was a bit under the weather yesterday, so I was offline resting my brain and had no idea Kirk Douglas had “left the building” as they say until very early this morning. Needless to say, that wasn’t a good thing to wake up to. Still, at age 103, you could safely say the man lived quite a long life and as an actor, producer and person of some talent and merit for a good deal of those years. Turner Classic Movies has posted two videos about Douglas so far today, but I bet there will be more on a few performances from his individual films at some point.
I don’t have a favorite role of his, but the first film that comes to mind is the monumental and powerful Paths of Glory, which kept an entire theater silent when I first saw in at a Stanley Kubrick retrospective a few decades ago. There are a good deal of other films and performances of his as well to consider, but I’m too weary to cover more here at the moment. I’ll bet on a blogathon of his work in the future that tosses in a few films will likely help some in discovering or recalling the man’s work, but let’s wait and see, shall we?
My first memory of Doris Day was her long-running TV series that ran on CBS from 1968 to 1975, which I understand she initially wanted no part of. Although I can’t recall a single episode (I was four years old when it premiered) other than each one I saw being as blandly wholesome and clean-cut as it gets with the usual sitcom of the era comedic flourishes (well, up until the last two seasons when network programming drastically changed).
It’s been that sort of a mean and insane day (well, one of too many to count), but let’s skim to the memory bank, happier times wing for a spell. I actually have three Stan Lee stories, but two of them are less “stories” and more “sightings” in that sort of “Hey, is that Stan Lee?” followed by someone saying “No it’s not… wait a minute… Oh yeah! It’s Stan Lee!” followed by a “Hi, Stan!” if he was within a few feet inside not quite yelling distance. Boring, mundane, nothing special, THE END.
Now, the third Stan Lee story isn’t mine at all, actually. It was told to me maybe 25 years ago by a friend of a friend and it struck me as a pretty amusing anecdote about Lee being the biggest of people in the smallest of spaces.
Anyway, back around 1982 or ’83 (although one retelling noted this may have happened in 1981, but I doubt that because that was the year Lee moved to California), the FoF was attending a comic convention where he’d heard rumors of Stan making an appearance at some point. He was sharing a hotel room with six other people and on the second day, he and five of the roomies decided to crawl out of bed after a night of partying for an early breakfast before the con got underway. The seventh person was a heavy sleeper, so it was decided that someone in the breakfast club would get something to go for Snoozy McBoozy to nosh on.
I’d (way too) old enough to still remember seeing Burt Reynolds appear on Dan August way back in 1970-71 and liking the show just for the rather dynamic opening of Burt doing all those stunts (and that catchy title theme):
Amusingly enough, I was also watching Mannix over on CBS back then and yep, both shows were cut from the same (and literal) rough and tumble Quinn Martin cloth. meaning they were reliably action-packed and very guy focused (although both Mike Connors and Burt clearly had appeal to anyone hooked into those shows). I still recall in school one day some fearless (but none to bright) kid tried to copy that floor slide Burt did in the opening only to find out the laws of physics and a non-waxed floor made for a painful-looking science lesson. Hey, I got a laugh out of that foolishness, so it was all good.
I read Burt said this was his favorite film. I heartily agree. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth the watch.
I didn’t see any of Burt’s movies until John Boorman’s brutal, brilliant Deliverance popped up in heavily edited form (I think on ABC) and yes, I was creeped out big time by it, but it also became a favorite flick whenever it aired. Now, I wasn’t one to follow all of his work, but much of everything I saw was well made and Burt always came off as a pretty cool cat. Even in his more dramatic work up to a point, he did quite okay portraying an interesting variety of characters. I liked his work on Sharky’s Machine a lot because the film works as both cop drama and intentionally amusing dark comedy. yeah, Burt was a pretty decent director, too. Foo. I hate writing these posts because it’s hard to put words into proper sentences when one’s mind is racing like a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am about to clear a huge jump. Go watch a Burt flick at some point, I say. Pick a good one.
I’d overslept and woke up late (again), oddly enough, dreaming about The Blues Brothers probably for a few too timely reasons not at all related to the news of Aretha Franklin’s passing (which I just found out about). The woman could sing the roof off any building and as far as I can recall, always gave her best whenever she stepped up to a microphone. I’ll leave the more thoughtful essays to those who do a lot better at them. In the meantime, I’m going to go and get a bit more work done but in a more maudlin mood.
At some point, I actually stopped keeping track of all the entertainment industry deaths this year because it was getting too depressing. I just watched this clip earlier this afternoon and my brain is still spinning inside my skull. Yes, there are some people not included in this list (including a few who recently passed away within the last week). But it’s been one of those long years where the tendency to get overwhelmed by both expected and sudden demises is only a tiny percentage of the stress one has to deal with. Everyone here will be missed, but not forgotten as long as their work remains and there are people who preserve and share it for future audiences to appreciate.
Ugh. I was in bed the entire day thanks to not feeling so hot, but now that I’m up and find out Jerry Lewis has left the building, I’m wanting to go crawl back under the covers for a bit. Anyway, the first film that sprung to mind that I think you should catch was The Bellboy, written, directed and starring Jerry as Stanley, a silent bellhop hardly working at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. It’s weird and funny as hell with a few fun cameos and a corker of an ending.
There’s way too much to say about the man from his comedic talents (and some fine dramatic work in film and on TV) to his charity work that a great deal of today’s younger folks probably have little to no idea about (those MDA telethons used to be wonderful family time gatherings back in the day).
I suppose I could say a few more words, but it’s late in the day and I’m gathering a few thousand other writers have popped their own opining up. Me, I haven’t yet read my email since yesterday evening. Anyway, go watch some of his work at some point if anything just to see how remakes often don’t do the originals much justice.
George A. Romero created one of the most influential, essential horror movies back in 1968 with Night Of The Living Dead, a film that still packs a punch on a few fronts. As his feature film debut, Romero’s flesh-eating ghouls would inspire a legion of filmmakers to copy and attempt to improve upon his film’s strengths. Some did, most didn’t. He stayed primarily and comfortably within the horror genre, making six follow-ups to the original along with some solid films such as Martin, Knightriders, and Creepshow.
I can still recall the first time I saw Night on broadcast TV late at night (I think it was ABC that ran it first), the network placed an on-screen overlay during the “news” segments that ran during the film so people wouldn’t think actual dead folks weren’t rising up to chomp on flesh. I forget how young I was, but even in its edited for, the movie had me half under a blanket and that surprise ending gave me nightmares for a few days afterward. A few years later when TV spots for Dawn Of The Dead popped up, I was actually so scared I decided not to try and attempt to buy a ticket. I saved that underage trial by fire for ALIEN, released a year later.
Side note: George lived up here in the Bronx – I believe in the same area I’m in now. Not that it matters much, but finding that out always made me think of another neighborhood guy who did well for himself.
Many will mention the frightening, eternally brilliant The Silence of the Lambs today as the late Jonathan Demme‘s best film and yes, you’ll hear about Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, Married to the Mob, Philadelphia, or even Rachael Got Married as other strong entries in his career. While I love all of these dearly, 1984’s Stop Making Sense is probably going to be my go-to Demme flick when I need a fix. Go track down a copy even if you’re not a Talking Heads fan because it may make you one. I saw this probably a dozen times upon its initial release and can still recall packed screenings where the energy in the theater was so powerful, some people got up and danced during a few of the songs.
In thinking about his body of work, I’ve probably always seen Demme as an ‘invisible’ director because his best stuff looked almost effortless in that way the camera caught perfect, natural or unnatural moments where everything was where it needed to be. Re-watching all the Hannibal Lecter-related films a little while ago showed me that of all the directors who’d made films with the character, it was in Demme’s where he (as well as the other characters) seemed the most human (especially Hannibal… in the most twisted manner, of course). Naturally, that’s also a result of great actors doing their thing. But you can watch much of Demme’s work and see moments where you’re being addressed by a character as if you’re in the same space they inhabit. In addition to movies and TV work, Demme also directed a number of music documentaries about Neil Young that are worth tracking down. In terms of his other music video work, this New Order classic still gives me a charge after all these years, so I’m sharing it for those that may have never seen it:
I don’t remember the first time I saw the late, great Don Rickles on TV, but if it was a comedic appearance, I laughed my ass off. I think it was one of his appearances on an episode of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast from 1974, but I think it may have been a few years earlier thanks to X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes airing on what I think was WPIX’ late, great Chiller Theater. Anyway, Don was the master of perfectly timed insults, the Prince of the Putdown, The Man You Went To See When You Needed To Be Taken Down A Few Notches And Wanted To Pay For The Privilege Of Being Insulted By The Best. Period. That sort of insult comedy was a great deal bigger back when Rickles was playing the circuit, when people were less triggered and more willing to laugh at themselves thanks to a man who could peg you with zingers, moving onto the next lucky or unlucky sap who dared to sit too close to the stage. Don made it work because you knew he was a total pussycat off stage, but once he got up to perform, all bets were off and if he singled you out, you’d better be prepared for the worst with an entire room full of people laughing at you.
Watching him in these old clips still makes me laugh loudly and that’s the best medicine for pretty much anything that ails you. I recall working for a guy many moons ago who was a bit of a stingy sourpuss, yet he paid good money to see Don live a few times around the country. Let me tell you, his mood was so much lighter after he returned that he was quite the nicest guy on the planet for a few days. I got a random raise once after one of his trips to see Rickles perform, apparently thanks to an ugly tie I’d given him as a birthday gift and a guy and his wife seated next to him who wanted to switch seats at the last minute. So I own an indirect thanks to the funnyman for getting me more money at one point in my life. Thanks, Don, er… Mr. Rickles. I’d probably not know what to say to the man if I ran into him at Patsy’s here in NYC, but I understand that he was pretty good with fans who approached him. Off stage, he was still a big prankster with his close friends, but treated regular folk just right.
Now, you probably don’t need to buy both seasons of CPO Sharkey on DVD if you need a Rickles fix (although you should, as it was quite a hilariously wacky show for the era. My suggestion is to grab a copy of the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project for a nice and hilarious look at the man at work. Yes, he also did a few dramatic performances and of course, younger folks will remember him as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story movies. I’ll stop here because I need some laughs, and Don would probably give me one of those looks and lay into me something fierce for trying to be too damn sentimental.