Classic Movies/TV/Celebs - Meredy's Book Reviews

Meredy's random ramblings about classic movies and TV, vintage celebrities, her other interests, book reviews and updates.

June 26, 2014

Eli Wallach Dead at 98

Eli Wallach, a celebrated stage and film actor who excelled at playing impulsive characters across the ethnic spectrum, memorably as Mexican bandits in the 1960s movie westerns “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” died June 24 at his home in Manhattan. He was 98.

The son of Polish Jews, Mr. Wallach was in constant demand to play nearly every kind of ethnic character on stage and screen in a career that spanned seven decades. He initially burst to prominence on Broadway, where he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of a prideful and buffoonish Sicilian named Mangiacavallo in Tennessee Williams’s “The Rose Tattoo” (1951).

Mr. Wallach became one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood, with more than 150 credits in films and on television. He portrayed a Cambodian warlord in “Lord Jim” (1965), based on a Joseph Conrad novel; the Shah of Khwarezm opposite Omar Sharif in the title role of “Genghis Khan” (1965); and a candy-loving mobster in “The Godfather: Part III” (1990).

Reviewers singled out Mr. Wallach for praise as a villain in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), a high-profile Hollywood remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” that featured Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.

Mr. Wallach also had a pivotal role in Italian director Sergio Leone’s violent “spaghetti western” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). His character, Tuco, was the “Ugly.”

Although the film proved wildly popular, Mr. Wallach was criticized for drifting into bandido caricature and confusing accents. “Mexican . . . laced with Riverdale,” New York Times critic Renata Adler wrote.

Mr. Wallach’s other movie highlights included a psychopathic hit man in Don Siegel’s “The Lineup” (1958) and a sad-eyed widower who elicits more sympathy than attraction from divorcee Marilyn Monroe in “The Misfits” (1961).

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther found Mr. Wallach “dynamic, arrogant and droll” as the Sicilian who ruins his scheming rival (played by Karl Malden) in “Baby Doll” (1956), based on two short plays by Williams.

Mr. Wallach performed in more than two dozen Broadway shows since the 1940s — several opposite his wife, actress Anne Jackson. He earned a reputation as a skilled interpreter of modern playwrights, including the absurdist Eugene Ionesco (“Rhinoceros”) and the comic writer Murray Schisgal (“Luv”). He was an early member of the Actors Studio, a workshop in New York founded by director Elia Kazan, producer Cheryl Crawford and other prominent theatrical figures.

As a performer, Mr. Wallach drew from “the Method,” an acting technique that uses the performer’s emotional memory to add realistic touches to a role.

Describing how he prepared for the part of a hit man with no conscience in “The Lineup,” he told an interviewer, “I make up imaginary circumstances, but I draw on remembered emotions . . . like recalling being so annoyed by a mosquito you wanted to kill it.”

On television, he won an Emmy Award for a supporting role as a Mafia drug dealer in the drama “The Poppy Is Also a Flower” (1966), and joked that he received fan mail for decades for his guest role as Mr. Freeze on the campy 1960s TV series “Batman.”

“I got $350,” he said, with mock anger. “And 30 years later, Arnold Schwarzenegger did the same part and got $20 million.”

Eli Herschel Wallach, whose father was a tailor, was born Dec. 7, 1915, in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a youngster, he was captivated by comics and dramatized the strip panels using different voices. This led to his interest in movies and acting, a passion cemented after watching Ronald Colman in the 1926 silent film version of “Beau Geste.”

“When I came back from ‘Beau Geste,’ my bedroom was the Sahara,” he told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2005. “The blankets were all sand. My mother would call me to dinner and I’d say, ‘I can’t . . . I’m bleeding . . . I’ve been . . . shot.’

“So everyone in the family was used to this. But my father’s point of view was, ‘From this, you can make a living?’ They wanted me to go to college and become a teacher.”

He entered the University of Texas because of the low tuition rates and joined a college theater club. After graduating in 1936, Mr. Wallach received a master’s degree in education at City College of New York at his family’s behest. He said he flunked the teacher’s exam but was secretly pleased so he could pursue acting.

He won a scholarship to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, a theater school in Manhattan that taught the “Method,” but his professional stage career was delayed by Army Medical Corps service during World War II.

In 1946, he met Jackson when they appeared together in a Tennessee Williams one-act play, “This Property is Condemned.” They married two years later. Besides his wife, survivors include three children, Peter Wallach, Roberta Wallach and Katherine Wallach; a sister; and three grandsons.

Mr. Wallach’s big break onstage came when director Joshua Logan hired him as a replacement for a supporting actor in the wartime comedy “Mister Roberts,” starring Henry Fonda. He said Logan spotted his potential during an impromptu speech he gave at the Actors Studio about raiding houses of prostitution while in the Medical Corps.

He spent two years in “Mister Roberts” before being cast opposite Maureen Stapleton onstage in “The Rose Tattoo.” After winning the Tony for best featured actor, he turned down a supporting part that won Frank Sinatra an Academy Award in “From Here to Eternity” (1953). Instead, he took the leading role of Kilroy in Williams’s odd fantasy stage drama “Camino Real” (1953), which flopped.

He said that whenever he ran into Sinatra in later years, the singer would call out to him, “Hello, you crazy actor.”

Also onstage, Mr. Wallach played a nonagenarian in Ionesco’s “The Chairs” and a young intellectual in S.N. Behrman’s “The Cold Wind and the Warm.” In 1955, he replaced David Wayne on Broadway as the Okinawan interpreter in “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” In 1964, he and Jackson began a three-year Broadway run in Schisgal’s “Luv,” with Mr. Wallach as a farcically childish husband in an unhappy marriage.

In 1982, as Mr. Wallach was appearing in Schisgal one-act plays, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote: “It would be pointless to imagine anyone but Mr. Wallach playing Mr. Schisgal’s irascibly childish middle-aged men, who bare their teeth in futile rage as soon as a sensible woman appears to deflate their egomaniacal masculine logic.”

Mr. Wallach became a fixture of television dramas on anthology programs in the 1950s, including Tom in Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” the gypsy Rafael in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and as an aide to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin in “The Plot to Kill Stalin.”

Despite promising movie roles early on, Mr. Wallach was gradually reduced to supporting parts, but he often made the most of limited screen time.

He played a wounded American soldier in “The Victors” (1963); an art collector opposite Audrey Hepburn in “How to Steal a Million” (1966); a Jewish bail bondsman in “The Hunter” (1980), Steve McQueen’s final movie; and a hit man after aged robbers Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in “Tough Guys” (1986).

Writing of the last, Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley singled out Mr. Wallach for “a show-stealing, side-splitting role as a nearsighted gunman in pursuit of the heroes.”

He also played an unbilled role of a liquor store owner in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” (2003). He had known Eastwood ever since both suffered through director Sergio Leone’s demands on the set of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Leone had asked the actors to do their own stunts, to create a sense of gritty realism. This meant Mr. Wallach was forced — during two takes — to place himself against railroad tracks as an oncoming train cut his character’s handcuffs. Each time, his head was nearly severed by the iron step of a passenger car.

Mr. Wallach, who in recent years had small roles in films such as Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010. The citation called him “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”

He wrote a memoir, “The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage” (2005), in which he credited his long and stable marriage to appearing with his wife in plays “that had tremendous fights in them. . . . Onstage we could, with the help of brilliant writing, air our personal grievances and thus avoid expensive psychiatric sessions.”

Jackson said the marriage worked because he did the ironing.

June 17, 2014

Book Review: In Velvet by Burt Weissbourd

In Velvet
by Burt Weissbourd

A non-stop thriller set in some of North America's wildest country, In Velvet takes you deep into the hearts of a hard case local detective and a Chicago cop as they take on a corrupt sheriff, a pathological poacher, and a lethal black ops manager to solve this ghastly mystery and restore the natural order in Yellowstone National Park.

In Velvet is an uncommon thriller. Rachel, a bear biologist, is discovering some very unusual behavior in the grizzly bear population in Yellowstone Park as well as what appears to be sightings of extinct species and horrific animal mutations. Just exactly what is going on in Yellowstone? This book begins with high intensity and doesn't let up until the very last page. The situations are eerie, the characters are creepy and the plot is exciting. It’s everything the synopsis promises and more.

There are many characters in In Velvet. The cast can be complex, however, I found they are relatively easy to keep organized. A few of the characters have similar personalities and speak using similar dialogue/dialect. This may cause problems for some readers, but these instances are rare.

The plot was exhilarating, intriguing and a bit terrifying but only because it is so frighteningly possible. Is it really that impossible to consider corrupt behaviors that result in mutations in what should be protected species?

In Velvet is a thrill and chill from start to finish! While I expected a good read, it easily surpassed my expectations.

Book Review: Tumor Me: The Story of My Firefighter by Judith DeChesere-Boyle

Great Read - Have Kleenex Handy

Tumor Me: The Story of My Firefighter
by Judith DeChesere-Boyle

Haven't read such a wonderfully written memoir about a mother's and son's journey through his illness and untimely death from a brain tumor since John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud. The emotions the author conveys are real, raw and powerful. Losing a child is the ultimate pain. Alex was an awesome man and touched many people in his abbreviated life. He was a man, who, when the chips were down, had 4,482 hours of leave (as opposed to the usual 100-200 hours) donated to him by his co-workers through CAL FIRE’s Catastrophic Leave Bank. Make sure you read this book and have some Kleenex handy.

June 12, 2014

Screen, Stage Legend Ruby Dee Dies at 91

Ruby Dee, the award-winning actress whose seven-decade career included triumphs on stage and screen, has died. She was 91.

Dee died peacefully at her New Rochelle, New York, home on Wednesday, according to her representative, Michael Livingston.

Dee -- often with her late husband, Ossie Davis -- was a formidable force in both the performing arts community and the civil rights movement. She was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and received the Frederick Douglass Award in 1970 from the National Urban League.

Davis preceded his wife in death in 2005.

Dee earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in "American Gangster" (2007). She also won an Emmy and Grammy for other work.

Broadway star Audra McDonald paid tribute to Dee when she accepted a Tony Award last Sunday, crediting Dee, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll and Billie Holiday for making her career possible. McDonald won a best actress Tony in 2004 for playing the same role Dee played on Broadway in 1959 and in the 1961 film version of "A Raisin in the Sun."

Her acting career started in New York in the 1940s, but it was her role in the 1950 movie "The Jackie Robinson Story" that first brought her national attention.

June 10, 2014

Four New Trivia Pages on

Ronald Reagan -

Lynn Redgrave -

Michael Redgrave -

Vanessa Redgrave -

Martha Hyer, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dies at 89

Martha Hyer, an Oscar-nominated movie actress who starred alongside Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine in the 1950s and 1960s, died on May 31 at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by Raymond Lucero of Rivera Funeral Home in Santa Fe.

While Ms. Hyer was never a top star herself, she shared the screen with plenty of people who were.

In the 1954 comedy “Sabrina,” starring Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, she played the fiancĂ©e of the Bogart character’s brother, played by William Holden. In the 1958 drama “Some Came Running,” based on a novel by James Jones and starring Sinatra and Martin, she played an emotionally reserved schoolteacher wooed by a war veteran and writer played by Sinatra. Although Ms. Hyer was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress, the actress in the film who received the most notice was Ms. MacLaine, playing a less reputable woman also attracted to the Sinatra character. Ms. MacLaine was nominated for best actress, her first Oscar nomination.

Ms. Hyer enjoyed her fame and was not shy about flaunting her rising wealth. In 1959, Life magazine ran a multipage photo feature highlighting her luxurious life. It depicted her admiring her Sheffield silver and a Pissarro landscape painting and indulging in a massage, covered by only a towel. She extolled fur coats, solitude and her expansive view of Los Angeles. The accompanying text noted that she had been married briefly and was “now a bachelor girl.” (That marriage was to Ray Stahl, who directed a 1954 film in which she appeared, “The Scarlet Spear.”)

“If this is transitory, that is fine,” she told Life. “I’ve dreamed a dream and it has come true. I am happy.”

Her glamorous looks were sometimes compared to those of Grace Kelly and her social life drew steady attention from gossip columnists. Yet her career began to slow in the 1960s, when few of her films were well received. In 1964 she appeared in “Bikini Beach” and had a modest role in “The Carpetbaggers,” a commercial success based on the 1961 novel by Harold Robbins. In 1965 she had a supporting role in “The Sons of Katie Elder,” a western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin.

The next year she married one of that film’s producers, Hal B. Wallis, one of the most prominent executives in Hollywood. She also made headlines that year for selling her Pissarro at a Sotheby’s auction for $103,000. She later complained that Mr. Wallis limited one of her favorite hobbies: spending money.

Martha Hyer was born on Aug. 10, 1924, in Fort Worth. Her father, Julien, was a judge and a state lawmaker. She attended Northwestern University before moving to California, where she hoped to become an actress. She found small roles in low-budget westerns and other marginal films before being cast in “Sabrina.”

Information on survivors was not immediately available. Mr. Wallis died in 1986.

Ms. Hyer had stopped making movies by 1971 but continued to appear on television until 1974. Her last role was in an episode of “McCloud.” Among the other shows on which she was seen were “Rawhide,” “The Virginian” and “Burke’s Law.”

In 1990 she published a memoir, “Finding My Way.”

June 01, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Actress Joan Lorring Dead at 88

Joan Lorring
Joan Lorring, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the 1945 film “The Corn Is Green,” died on Friday in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. She was 88.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter Santha Sonenberg.

“The Corn Is Green” starred Bette Davis as an idealistic schoolteacher in a Welsh mining town. Ms. Lorring was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a scheming young woman, but lost to Anne Revere.

Joan Lorring was born Mary Magdalene Ellis in Hong Kong on April 17, 1926. She left for the United States with her mother in 1939 to escape the coming Japanese invasion.

The two settled in San Francisco, where Ms. Lorring started working in radio before going on to a career as a stage, screen and television performer. Her first film was the 1944 MGM production “Song of Russia.”

Ms. Lorring was also in two 1946 movies with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, “Three Strangers” and “The Verdict.”

She appeared on Broadway four times, most notably in “Come Back, Little Sheba,” with Shirley Booth, for which she won a Donaldson Award in 1950.

On television she was seen on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” as well as on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Love Boat” and other prime-time series. She was also in “The Star Wagon,” a 1966 PBS production starring Orson Bean that included Dustin Hoffman in the supporting cast, and a 1956 television version of “The Corn Is Green,” in which she repeated her Oscar-nominated role.

In addition to her daughter Santha, Ms. Lorring is survived by another daughter, Andrea Sonenberg, and two grandchildren. Her husband, Dr. Martin Sonenberg, an endocrinologist, died in 2011.

‘Brady Bunch’ actress, Ann B. Davis, dead at 88

The Emmy-winning actress took a tumble in her bathroom and hit her head early Saturday morning, sources told TMZ.

Ann B. Davis

Ann Branford Davis, the actress who played the sometimes wacky housekeeper who maintained law and order on “The Brady Bunch,” has died on Sunday morning after falling at her San Antonio home.

Episcopal Bishop William C. Frey, a close friend of Davis, said she she hit her head and suffered a subdural hematoma during a rough fall in a bathroom on Saturday and never woke up, according to CNN.

The couple Davis had been living with at a religious commune told TMZ she was a healthy 88-year-old and even walked downstairs to say goodnight before going to bed.

Her path as an actress took charge after a performance of "Oklahoma" featuring her brother, Evan, changed her ambitions while attending University of Michigan as a pre-med student.

The actress gained notoriety in the 1950s for her regular role as Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz on "The Bob Cummings Show" and won two Emmys.

She appeared in every episode of the Brady Bunch sitcom during its five-year run on the ABC network as a witty maid for the big household.

In a 2004 interview with the Archive of American Television, Davis looked toward her own life while creating a backstory for Alice.

"It was close to my family as Alice would ever get," Davis said.

She continued to act even when the Brady Bunch ended in 1974 and appeared in several reunions for the show.

She joined the Episcopal community and traveled the country with Frey for church activities.

Her church is arranging her funeral. Davis was born in Schenectady, New York on May 3, 1926.

May 03, 2014

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., star of 'The FBI,' dead at 95

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the son of famous musical parents who established his own lasting celebrity in two of television's most popular series, "77 Sunset Strip" and "The F.B.I.," died Friday at age 95.

Zimbalist died at his Solvang home in California's bucolic horse country, said family friend Judith Moose, who released a statement from his children Stephanie Zimbalist and Efrem Zimbalist III.

"We are heartbroken to announce the passing into peace of our beloved father, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., today at his Solvang ranch," the statement read. "He actively enjoyed his life to the last day, showering love on his extended family, playing golf and visiting with close friends."

Zimbalist's stunning good looks and cool, deductive manner made him the ideal star as the hip private detective ferreting out Hollywood miscreants in "77 Sunset Strip," which aired from 1958 to 1964. As soon as that show ended he segued seamlessly into "The F.B.I." which aired from 1965 to 1974.

At the end of each episode of the latter show, after Zimbalist and his fellow G-men had captured that week's mobsters, subversives, bank robbers or spies, the series would post photos from the FBI's real-life most-wanted list. Some of those pictures led to arrests, which helped give the show the complete seal of approval of the agency's real-life director, J. Edgar Hoover.

The son of violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist and acclaimed opera singer Alma Gluck, young Efrem initially appeared headed for a musical career. He studied violin for seven years under the tutelage of Jascha Heifetz's father, but eventually developed more interest in theater.

He became an actor and "77 Sunset Strip" made him a star.

His daughter Stephanie also took up acting — and small-screen detective work, in the hit 1980s TV series "Remington Steele." Her father had a recurring role in that show as a con man.

After serving in World War II, Zimbalist made his stage debut in "The Rugged Path," starring Spencer Tracy, and appeared in other plays and a soap opera before being called to Hollywood. Warner Bros. signed him to a contract and cast him in minor film roles.

He also had a recurring role in the hit 1950s Western series "Maverick," playing con man Dandy Jim Buckley.

Then in 1958 "77 Sunset Strip" debuted, starring Zimbalist as a cultured former O.S.S. officer and language expert whose partner was Roger Smith, an Ivy League Ph.D.

The pair operated out of an office in the center of Hollywood's Sunset Strip where, aided by their sometime helper, Kookie, a jive-talking beatnik type who doubled as a parking lot attendant, they tracked down miscreants.

Kookie's character, played by Edd Byrnes, helped draw young viewers to the show, and his constant hair combing created the national catchphrase, "Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb."

The program brought Zimbalist an Emmy nomination in 1959, but after a few seasons he tired of the long hours and what he believed were the bad scripts.

"A job like this should pay off in one of two ways: satisfaction or money. The money is not great, and there is no satisfaction," he said.

When the show faltered in 1963, Jack Webb of "Dragnet" fame was hired for an overhaul. He fired the cast except for Zimbalist, whom he made a world-traveling investigator. The repair work failed, and the series ended the following year.

Zimbalist had better luck with "The F.B.I.," which endured for a decade as one of TV's most popular shows.

Perceiving that the series could provide the real FBI with an important P.R. boost, Hoover opened the bureau's files to the show's producers and even allowed background shots to be filmed in real FBI offices.

"He never came on the set, but I knew him," Zimbalist said. "A charming man, extremely Virginia formal and an extraordinary command of the language."

In 2009 the FBI honored Zimbalist with his own special agent's badge, making him an honorary G-man in recognition of the contributions his show and his character, Inspector Lewis Erskine, made to the agency's reputation.

"We could not have asked for a better character, or a better man, to play his role," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said at the time.

During summer breaks between the two series, Warner Bros. cast Zimbalist in several feature films, including "Too Much Too Soon," ''Home Before Dark," ''The Crowded Sky," ''The Chapman Report" and "Wait Until Dark." In the latter, he played the husband of Audrey Hepburn, a blind woman terrorized by thugs in a truly frightening film.

Zimbalist also appeared in "By Love Possessed," ''Airport 1975," ''Terror Out of the Sky" and "Hot Shots."

But he would always be best known as a TV star, ironic for an actor who told The Associated Press in 1993 that when Warner Bros. hired him he had no interest in doing television.

"They showed me in my contract where it said I had to," he recalled.

"I ended up with my life slanted toward television and I just accept that," he said. "I think you play the hand the way it's dealt, that's all."

In the 1990s, Zimbalist recorded the voice of Alfred the butler in the cartoon version of the "Batman" TV series. That role, he said, "has made me an idol in my little grandchildren's eyes."

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was born in New York City on Nov. 30, 1917.

His mother, reasoning that living amid the musical elite was not the best upbringing for a boy, sent him to boarding schools where he could be toughened by others his age. But young Efrem was bashful and withdrawn in school. His only outlet was acting in campus plays.

"I walked onstage in a play at prep school, and with childish naiveté, told myself, 'Wow, I'm an actor!'" he once recalled.

He was kicked out of Yale after two years over dismal grades, which he blamed on a playboy attitude.

Afraid to go home, he stayed with a friend in New York City for three months, working as a page at NBC headquarters, where he was dazzled by the famous radio stars. Unable to break into radio as an actor, he studied at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse.

During World War II he served in the infantry, receiving a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound in his leg.

In 1945, Zimbalist married Emily McNair and they had a daughter, Nancy, and son, Efrem III.

After his wife died in 1950 he gave up acting for a time to teach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where his father was an artist in residence. He returned to Hollywood five years later, marrying Loranda Stephanie Spalding in 1956, and she gave birth to their daughter Stephanie.

He is survived by his children, four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.