January 9, 2011

2010: The Year We Make Funeral Arrangements


There are a number of people I know who will look back on 2010 and justifiably conclude that it was a pretty crappy year. In my own case, my longtime editor was fired, which was almost immediately followed by an economic collapse and some medical annoyances. To top it all off, I was forced out of my home by a family of affluent young fuckers. Other people I know lost their jobs, lost their businesses, and suffered family tragedies. But at least in the end, as the old chestnut goes, we didn’t die.

            Sadly in 2010 there were a number of notables who couldn’t make that final claim. Not all of them were household names, but each and every one made an impact, left a mark, and fled this mortal coil having changed the world in some grand or tiny way, but always in a way that made the world a more interesting place. As I do every year, I would like to pause a moment to remember a few of them, and the quiet, often unnoticed difference they made on all of our lives.

It always seems to be the case that few industries are hit quite as hard as the movie and television industry, and 2010 was no exception. We lost some greats, including Gumby and Davey and Goliath creator Art Clokey, Bad Ronald director Philip Capice, director Arthur Penn, and Jean Simmons, who appeared in Spartacus and so many other memorable films.

But there was also David Gerber, who produced Police Woman and many other fine television shows; Beverly Aadland, who appeared in Cuban Rebel Girls; Clive Donner from What’s New Pussycat?; reality show contestant Jennifer Lyon; soap actor James Mitchell; Pernell Roberts, star of Trapper John, M.D.; megaproducer David Brown; young Boston Legal actor Justin Mentell; TV producer Aaron Ruben; British comic actor Ian Carmichael; famed stuntman and Western actor Bobby Hoy; Steve Landesburg, who played the smart one on Barney Miller; Kathryn Grayson, who appeared in several musicals in the ‘40s and ‘50s; actress and consumer advocate Fran Lee; film producer Elliot Kastner, who gave us The Long Goodbye and Equus; French documentarian Severin Blanchet; Nan Martin, who was in everything from The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit to The Drew Carey Show; proverbial “troubled young actor” Corey Haim; the only occasionally great Robert Culp; Gypsy star June Havoc, who for some reason kept coming up in conversation this year; profoundly respected TV writer David Mills; Dynasty’s John Forsyth; Dynasty’s Christopher Cazenove; Corin Redgrave, who co-starred in Excalibur and Four Weddings and a Funeral; Lynn Redgrave—imagine that—who did not; Reinhardt Raabe, the Coroner of Munchkinland; Designing Women’s Dixie Carter; Emmy-winning filmmaker Bud Greenspan, who directed several documentaries about the Olympics; Peter Haskell, who starred in the Child’s Play movies; CBS executive Ron Scalera; David McLaughlin, the real-life woodsman behind American Logger; Furio Scarpelli, the screenwriter who gave us The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and so many other great films; Aldo Sambrell, who acted in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; blaxploitation star Vonetta McGee; Dorothy Provine, from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as well as That Darn Cat; soap star Helen Wagner; and director David Durston, who was behind I Drink Your Blood and other drive-in favorites.

            TV legend Art Linkletter died this year, as did shorter and crazier TV legend Gary Coleman, together with the great William Fraker, from Cuckoo’s Nest and many others; Golden Girls star Rue McClanahan; the very smart Joseph Strick, who had a knack for transforming impossible-to-film works of modern lit into highly entertaining films; character actor Richard Dunn; Dorothy de Borba, of Our Gang fame; Pretty Woman producer Steve Reuther; Grant McCune, the special effects designer who won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars; Jean Rollin, who was in The Grapes of Death; Blake Edwards, who directed so many classic comedies; producer Robert Radnitz; Broadway singer and actress Christine Johnson Smith; CNN co-founder Robert Wussler; Ronald Neame, to whom we should all be grateful, as he directed The Poseidon Adventure; famed Hollywood agent Ed Limato; Ilene Woods, who supplied the voice of Disney’s Cinderella; Rescue Me actor Robert Spillane; James Gammon of The Milagro Beanfield War and many other films; Peter Fernandez, who supplied the voice of Speed Racer; esteemed TV journalist Daniel Schorr; prolific actor Maury Chaykin; John Aylesworth, co-creator of Hee Haw; Dan Resin, who will forever be remembered for floating around in toilets as the Ty-D-Bowl Man; and Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for Grosse Point Blank.

            North by Northwest’s production designer the great Robert Boyle died in 2010, as did Lorene Yarnell who was at one time America’s most popular female mime as one-half of Shields & Yarnell; TV producer and writer Bernie West; the great Patricia Neal; David Wolper, the producer who gave us Roots; Edward King, the Howdy Doody writer who introduced “cowabunga” into the American lexicon; highly respected anime writer, director and producer Satoshi Kon; Glenn Shadix, who appeared in Heathers, Beetlejuice and other films; familiar and ubiquitous character actor Harold Gould; Lena Romay, the Mexican-American character actress who appeared in Esther Williams and Laurel & Hardy films; writer Irving Ravetch, who gave us Hud; Gloria Stuart, who co-starred in The Old Dark House; Joe Mantell, who co-starred in Chinatown; The A-Team’s Stephen J. Cannell; that non-jive talking Mr. C, Tom Bosley; political activist and exploitation screenwriter William W. Norton; Tarzan’s original “Boy,” Johnny Sheffield; Bullwinkle co-creator Alexander Anderson; That Certain Summer director Lamont Johnson; James MacArthur, co-star of Hawaii Five 0; Jim Wall, who played the enigmatic Mr. Baxter on Captain Kangaroo; George Hickenlooper, writer and director of Hearts of Darkness; Sopranos actress Denise Borino-Quinn; game show announcer Charlie O’Donnell; Shannon Tavarez, the young and much-publicized star of Broadway’s The Lion King; Albert Brooks’ longtime screenwriter Monica Johnson; reality show contestant Julien Hug; Jill Clayburgh, the queen of ‘70s feminist cinema; John Davis Chandler, the electrifying star of The Young Savages; Dino De Laurentiis, perhaps the most influential producer of the past 40 years; murdered Hollywood publicist (and sister of the great Larry Cohen) Ronni Chasen; The Wicker Man’s Ingrid Pitt; Irvin Kershner, who gave us The Empire Strikes Back; wild and crazy Italian director Mario Monicelli; and sort-of actor and Monday Night Football host Don Meredith.

            Like the move and TV industries, the music industry was also hit hard by the Reaper in 2010—especially when it comes to drummers and bassists.

White gospel singer Sherrill “Shaun” Nielsen (who sang with Elvis) was promoted to glory, as was R&B producer Willie Mitchell. Speaking of which, we also lost R&B great Teddy Pendergrass. He didn’t sing R&B, but dying anyway was Bobby Charles, the singer/songwriter who gave us the novelty rock and roll classic “See You Later Alligator.” Also passing on were country legend Carl Smith; Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle; Jane Jarvis, who played organ for both Muzak and the New York Mets; jazz saxman Sir John Dankworth; the often terrifying (and great) Rowland S. Howard, guitarist for The Birthday Party; Dale Hawkins, known as the architect of Swamp Rock Boogie; white soul singer Teena Marie; Knack singer Doug Fieger; Lee Freeman of The Strawberry Alarm Clock; Saturday Night Live bass player “T-Bone” Wolk; Bobby Espinosa of the ‘70s Latin soul band El Chicano; Bernard Coutaz, founder of the Harmonia Mundi classical music label; composer Nathan Scott; Lolly Vegas, who sang and played guitar for Leon Redbone; Ron Banks of The Dramatics; jazz pianist and NPR regular Billy Taylor; Sparklehorse vocalist Mark Linkous; bossa nova king Johnny Alf; Soca musician Arrow Cassell; Richard Wagner’s grandson Wolfgang, director of the Bayreuth festival; and Cherie DeCastro, last of the DeCastro Sisters singing group.

            Rock photographer Jim Marshall stepped into the ultimate dark room, as did Johnny Maestro of “16 Candles” fame. John Ciambotti, bassist for the band Clover, kicked, as did German big band leader Peter Herbolzheimer; former Madonna manager Caresse Henry; Graciela Perez Grillo, known as The First Lady of Latin Jazz; Bernie Wilson of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; Type-O Negative frontman Peter Steele; and You Say Party! We Say Die!’s drummer Devon Clifford, who ironically enough died onstage of a brain hemorrhage.

            Hip-hop stylist Guru ate a little dirt, together with the legendary Lena Horne; jazz drummer Francisco Aguabella; Dave Fisher of The Highwaymen; Agathe von Trapp, eldest daughter of the family portrayed in The Sound of Music; heavy metal god Ronnie James Dio; jazz pianist Hank Jones; Slipknot bassist Paul Gray; Ali-Ollie Woodson, one of those later-generation vocalists for The Temptations; Grand Ole Opry star Judy Lynn Kelly; Stuart Cable, ex-drummer for Stereophonics; Isley Brothers bassist, Marv (Isley); Jimmy Dean, who gave us “Big Bad John” as well as some mighty fine breakfast sausage; Crispian St. Peters, who sang the hit song “Pied Piper”; P-Funk’s guitarist Garry “Diaperman” Shider; original Kinks bassist Peter Quaife; original Lynyrd Skynyrd backup singer Jo Jo Billingsley; and Leonard Skinner, the Florida gym teacher who inspired the name “Lynyrd Skynyrd,” yet ironically enough outlived most of the band.

            Former KISS manager Bill Aucoin is pushing up daisies together with TV composer Allyn Ferguson; R&B producer Harvey Fugue; country great Hank Cochran, best known for his song “Make the World Go Away”; reggae singer and producer Sugar Minott; Nashville studio musician Fred Carter, Jr.; bluesman Philip Walker; sing-along king Mitch Miller; Bobby Hebb, the one-hit wonder who gave us “Sunny”; Boney M. vocalist Bobby Farrell; Little Feat’s drummer Richie Hayward; Bootsy Collins’ brother and guitarist, “Catfish” Collins; Gap Band bassist Robert Wilson; Richard “Scar” Lopez, co-founder of Cannibal & the Headhunters; Jack Parnell, who composed all that great music for The Muppet Show; Michael Been of The Call; George David Weiss, who wrote the unintentionally depressing “What a Wonderful World”; ELO cellist Mike Edwards; Rich Cronin of the boy band LFO; the grossly overrated Eddie Fisher; jazz saxophonist Buddy Collette; soul singer Solomon Burke; and hip-hop mainstay Huddy Combs.

            They were playing “Taps” for General Norman Johnson, the Grammy-winning producer and songwriter who graced us with “Patches.” Same goes for annoyingly-monikered rap artist Eyedea; The Slits’ great Ari Up; reggae singer Gregory Isaacs; Rudolf Barshai, conductor of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra; and jazz saxophonist James Moody.

Even the world of writing, publishing and journalism was not immune to the icy fondlings of death this year, with the loss of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and editor Deborah Howel; emo poet Jay Reatard; novelist Erich Segal, who helped define the ‘70s with Love Story; Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series of detective thrillers and Dick Francis, author of countless mysteries set at racetracks (to be honest I always had a hard time telling them apart).

Prolific author on endless subjects Louis Auchinloss died, together with novelist and recluse J.D. Salinger, who somehow influenced several generations with a book about a private school brat; National Book Award-winning poet Lucille Clifton; Southern writer Barry Hannah, author of Geronimo Rex and other novels; Australian author Patricia Wrightson; renowned editor Dede Allen; Alan Sillitoe; who wrote The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; the always proper Emily Post; novelist Robert Serling, who wrote The President’s Plane is Missing; mathematician, columnist, author, and master of the math puzzle Martin Gardner; poet Andrei Voznesensky; novelist David Markson; Nobel prize-winning Portuguese novelist José Saramago; British novelist Beryl Bainbridge; F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, better known to the world as “Froggy,” a cranky and incredibly popular online columnist and recluse; Hollywood columnist James Bacon; Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione; and Norman Mailer’s widow Norris Church Mailer who, it must be noted, was a writer and actress in her own right.

            Fewer and fewer people, it seems, pay attention to the radio anymore. I do, and this year we lost some greats, including CBS radio executive Joseph Dembo, WABC AM’s Ron Lundy, influential BBC deejay Charlie Gillett, syndicated gardening show host Ralph Snodsmith, and Fred Foy, the announcer best known for his now-classic opening to The Lone Ranger radio show.

Abstract expressionist painter Kenneth Noland was one of the first from the art world to bite the dust this year, but he was soon followed by photographer Dennis Stock; the great Frank Frazetta, who inflamed many a young boy’s imagination with his Conan covers, Popeye cartoonist Howard Post; the incomparable Louise Bourgeoise; political cartoonist Paul Conrad; and eccentric toilet paper artist Morris Katz.

            It’s not often that in any given year you’ll find more dead porn stars than dead wrestlers, but 2010 was an exception, and how! The lonely and horny masses are much poorer today than they were twelve months ago. Not only did we lose Juliet Anderson (better known to discerning audiences as “Aunt Peg”), but porn queen Erica Boyer, who died on the same day. We also lost the irreplaceable Jamie Gillis and John Leslie, together with director Joe Smo and actor Stephen Clancy Kill, who ironically enough fell off a cliff after killing a man with a sword.

            As is the case every year, there were also a double handful of deceased notables who don’t fit neatly into any regular category, which makes them no less notable.

For instance troubled socialite heiress Casey Johnson bought the farm this year—and she could afford it! James von Brunn, who shot up the Holocaust Museum, will probably be experiencing Dachau for eternity if the religious people are right. Former Coney Island strong man Joe Rollino passed away, as did Spaghetti-Os creator Donald Goerke; Canadian writer, filmmaker and musician Paul Quarrington; Charlie Wilson, the Texas congressman who inspired the film Charlie Wilson’s War; British fashion designer Alexander McQueen; Fred Morrison, inventor of the Frisbee; Felice Quinto, King of the Paparazzi and an inspiration for Felini’s La Dolce Vita; political entertainer Alexander Haig; He Pingping, the world’s smallest man; fashion photographer Peter Gowland; Jaime Escalante, the teacher who inspired Stand and Deliver; civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks; Daryl Gates, Chief of the LAPD during the Rodney King riots; Glen Walters, the evil business executive who first came up with the idea of cubicles; Dorothy Kamenshek, one of the players who inspired A League of Their Own; one-time Shell Answer Man Vince O'Brien; University of Wisconsin Army Math Research Center bomber Dwight Armstrong; Senator Robert Byrd; George Steinbrenner; magician Glenn Falkenstein; Cheez Doodles inventor Morrie Yohai; comedian Robert Schimmel; comedian Greg Giraldo; Robert Truax, the rocket engineer who, among other things, designed Evel Knievel’s Sky Cycle for the Snake River jump; Leona Gage, the controversial 1957 Miss America who lost her crown when it was learned she had a husband and kids; fractal geometry inventor Benoit Mandelbrot; John Warhola, Andy Warhol’s brother and founder of the Warhol Museum; Elaine Kaufman of Elaine’s; and James Heselden, president of the Segway company who died after driving his Segway off a cliff while touring his estate.

Now, as you were reading through all the above departed, you may have noticed a few coincidental pairs. I certainly did—in fact there were so many coincidental pairs this year that I pulled a few out in order to create a new section for this year’s list: The Coincidentally Demised.

For instance, Growing Pains actor Andrew Koenig killed himself in 2010. Koenig, as it happens, was the son of Star Trek’s Walter Koenig. Michael Blosil killed himself, too—and he was Marie Osmond son.

            Ralph Mcinerny, author of the Father Dowling series of mystery novels, passed away—and so did Merlin Olsen, the football player-turned-actor who starred in The Father Dowling Mysteries TV series.

            Joseph Stein, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof, died in late October. Less than a week later Jerry Bock, who composed the music for Fiddler on the Roof, also died.

Michael Pataki and Lisa Blount, who both starred in the film Dead & Buried, were both dead and buried.

            Stewart Udall, the last of JFK’s cabinet members, died—as did JFK’s speechwriter Theodore Sorensen.

            Chris Klucsaritis—aka Chris Kanyon—one of the very few openly gay pro wrestlers, and Baron Mikel Scicluna were the only two pro wrestlers to die this year. That may be a record.

            Sopranos Roxana Briban, Shirley Verrette, and the incomparable Joan Sutherland all died.

            Big Star is one of those bands that is “discovered” annually by dopey college freshman. Well, this year Big Star lost both bassist Andy Hummel and revered songwriter Alex Chilton.

            Although it means abandoning Day of the Animals and Poor White Trash references, three stars of Airplane! died this year: Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Barbara Billingsley.

            More significantly, with the loss of Dennis Hopper, Steffi Sidney, and Corey Allen over the past twelve months, every actor who appeared in Rebel Without a Cause is now dead.

            The great Roy Ward Baker directed one of my all-time favorite films, Quatermass and the Pit. Simon MacCorkindale starred in one of my all-time favorite BBC miniseries, Quatermass. Both are gone.

For those who have a liking for French New Wave cinema, both Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabron croaked.

            In an odd coincidence, filmmaker Errol Morris’s longtime editor Karen Schmeer, was struck and killed by a getaway car, while Quentin Tarantino’s longtime editor, Sally Menke, died after falling into a ravine.

            Finally, I would like to take a moment to pay homage to a few personal favorites—people I particularly admired for one reason or another, and whose loss was deeply felt. So with a tip of the hat, here’s to Zelda Rubenstein, best remembered for her role in Poltergeist, but who brightened so many dark films; author and activist Howard Zinn—we didn’t see eye to eye on anything, but I always had the greatest respect for him; Charles B. Pierce, director of The Legend of Boggy Creek (need I say more?); actor and vintner Fess Parker, who played Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and whose death cost me an autographed photo of Ed Ames; Malcolm McClaren, who was an absolute bastard, but a bastard with style; Lisa Hodapp (aka Lisa Angel of Morbid Opera)—I never met her, but it didn’t matter; the same is true for Beat poet Peter Orlovsky.

            The Great Richard Delvy founded several seminal surf bands in the sixties, but it wasn’t until he broke away and recorded the theme song to The Green Slime that he entered the Pantheon. Best movie theme song in history.

            Earlier this year I wrote a column about Harvey Pekar and Tuli Kupferberg. They were two unmatched personalities, and each deserves another mention here. And another.

            By accident or design, would-be actor and filmmaker Derf Scratch ended up being a co-founder of one of LA’s greatest punk rock bands, Fear. Even if it was all a joke that bit him on the ass, I’m grateful.

            It’s sad that Myles Wilder was remembered merely as the writer for TV shows like The Dukes of Hazard. Prior to that, he was his father’s—W. Lee Wilder’s—regular screenwriter. Together they crafted some of the oddest and most intriguing low budget films ever made.

            What can be said about the astounding Bruno S.? A drunken factory worker with an horrific background who acted in two films and two films only—though by happenstance Stroszek and The Enigma of Kasper Hauser turned out to be two of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen (in no small part because of Bruno’s presence).

            I’d also like to give a nod to Kevin McCarthy, star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Throbbing Gristle’s Peter Christopherson; newsman with an attitude Edwin Newman; that crrrrazy Tony Curtis (for The Manitou, if nothing else); Henry Gorecki, perhaps my favorite contemporary composer; Dennis Hopper again; and the brilliant, confounding, and unstoppable Captain Beefheart, who blew my mind.

            We will not see their like again, and they will be sorely missed.


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