December 15, 2010

Blake Edwards, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' director, dead at 88

He was a master of film comedy, with a deft touch in exploring the emotional undercurrent of humor.

Blake Edwards, the prolific writer-helmer behind the enduring "Pink Panther" series as well as such notable pics as "Days of Wine and Roses," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "10," "S.O.B." and "Victor/Victoria," died Wednesday of complications from pneumonia. He was 88.

Julie Andrews, his wife of 41 years and frequent collaborator, and other family members were at his bedside when he died at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, publicist Gene Schwam said.

"He was the most unique man I have ever known -- and he was my mate," Andrews said in a statement. "He will be missed beyond words and will forever be in my heart."

Edwards' work has been compared favorably to that of other comedy auteurs such as Leo McCarey, Preston Sturges and Frank Tashlin. His slapstick visual style combined the best elements of silent comedy and often, an underlying pain.

"I would not be able to get through life had I not been able to view its painfulness in a comedic way," Edwards once told a reporter. "So when I put life up there on the screen, quite often it resembles things that happen to me or at least comic metaphors for those things."

Edwards demonstrated an underappreciated versatility in his early pics with such dramatic fare as the alcoholism drama "Days of Wine and Roses," which earned Oscar noms for stars Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, and the thriller "Experiment in Terror" (1962). He was also well known in the biz for chafing at the dictates of studio execs.

He was closely aligned with Peter Sellers through the "Pink Panther" series as well as "The Party" (1968), though the two were known for battling on the set. The indelible themes and scores by composer Henry Mancini were another constant in Edwards' pics.

Edwards hit his stride in the late 1950s and early '60s when he created the stylish TV detective series "Peter Gunn" and helmed such feature hits as "Operation Petticoat" (1959), "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) and "The Pink Panther" and its sequel, "A Shot in the Dark," both released in 1964.

While the quality of Edwards' pics was irregular, -- amid frequent battles with execs over creative control of his work -- his champions found good even in his most indifferent projects, such as the musical "Darling Lili" (1970), his first movie with Andrews.

But it was the box office success of "Panther" starring Sellers as the bumbling Inspecter Clouseau, and its many sequels that fueled Edwards' career -- and revived it more than once.

By the late 1960s, Edwards' ascent had been stalled by costly flops "The Great Race" (1965) and "Darling Lili." He moved to England and kept a low profile as a helmer until the success of "The Return of the Pink Panther" (1975). Edwards and Sellers teamed for three more Inspector Clouseau pics through 1982's "Trail of the Pink Panther." The helmer kept the franchise going in 1983's "Curse of the Pink Panther" and the 1993 Roberto Benigni starrer "Son of the Pink Panther." (MGM revived the title in 2006 with Steve Martin in the role.)

Edwards' later comedies offered both laughs and introspection, particularly "10" (1979), a musing on male midlife crisis starring Dudley Moore, Andrews and Bo Derek, which ranked as Edwards' single biggest box office success. On the heels of that triumph, Edwards delivered the vitriolic Hollywood satire "S.O.B." (1981) and the sexual identity farce "Victor/Victoria" (1982), for which he received an adapted screenplay Oscar nomination.

Edwards was born in Tulsa, Okla. His grandfather was the silent film director J. Gordon Edwards. When he was 3, his family moved to Los Angeles, where his stepfather, Jack McEdward, worked as a Hollywood production manager. Edwards did not meet his biological father until he was 40, an experience he described as interesting, but also unfortunate. "I never should have opened that Pandora's box," he said.

After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Edwards was briefly under contract to 20th Century Fox and landed roles in such films as "Ten Gentlemen From West Point" and "In the Meantime, Darling." In 1946, Edwards co-wrote and appeared in the Western "Panhandle" and produced it for Monogram Pictures, starring Rod Cameron and Edwards in a small role. He later created the radio series "Richard Diamond, Private Detective," for Dick Powell.

Paired with director Richard Quine, Edwards wrote low-budget musical comedies for Columbia including "Cruisin' Down the River" and "All Ashore" as well as the musical version of "My Sister Eileen."

The well-received melodrama "Drive a Crooked Road" helped Edwards land his first directing assignments. His inaugural efforts for singer Frankie Laine, "Bring Your Smile" and "He Laughed Last," were no laughing matters. But with a Tony Curtis vehicle, "Mister Cory" (1957), Edwards began to show some promise behind the camera.

Still it was the hugely successful TV series "Peter Gunn," with its jazzy Mancini score and suave leading man Craig Stevens, that led Edwards to such high-profile comedy features as "The Perfect Furlough" (1958) and "Operation Petticoat."

Edwards got a big break when John Frankenheimer dropped out of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and Audrey Hepburn consented to him as her director. Working with George Axelrod's adaptation of Truman Capote's novella, Edwards created a bubbly dramedy that was a major critical and box office hit.

The success of "The Pink Panther" however, steered Edwards toward slapstick comedy, a course from which he rarely veered. But it was the sexy "10" that brought Edwards his best notices and is regarded as a quintessential example of his work.

"A movie as personal in its way as 'Apocalypse Now,' " was how Newsweek film critic David Ansen assessed the film.

Edwards wrote and produced a stage version of "Victor/Victoria" starring Andrews that opened on Broadway in 1995 and played for two years.

In later years, Edwards' ability to walk was restricted because of knee problems. When the Academy gave him an honorary Oscar in 2004 for his body of work, Edwards arrived on stage in an electric wheelchair. Living up to his comedic reputation, Edwards zoomed across the stage, grabbed the statuette from presenter Jim Carrey and smashed into a wall before telling Carrey: "Don't touch my Oscar."

Edwards was also a devoted painter and sculptor. In June he displayed many of his works in the exhibit "Lenses" and Leslie Sacks Fine Art Gallery in Brentwood, with proceeds going to the nonprofit org Operation USA to support Haitian earthquake relief.

Edwards was married for 14 years to his first wife, Patricia, with whom he had a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, Geoffrey. After marrying Andrews in 1969, the couple adopted two Vietnamese orphans, Amy Leigh and Joanna Lynn.

Survivors also include seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A public memorial service is being planned for early next year. The family requests that donations be made to Operation USA.

December 14, 2010

Obituary: Neva Patterson / Actress played opposite Cary Grant

Neva Patterson, a character actress who portrayed Cary Grant's fiancee in the 1957 movie "An Affair to Remember" in a career that spanned six decades and more than 100 roles, has died. She was 90.

Ms. Patterson died Tuesday at her home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles of complications from a broken hip, said her daughter, Megan Lee.

The actress was a veteran of Broadway when she was cast as Lois, the socialite who would not make it to the altar with Mr. Grant in "An Affair to Remember."

"She just loved the fact that she kissed Cary Grant the first day on the set," her daughter said. "She really loved Cary Grant."

The characters she played were often "brittle, overwrought ladies, notoriously glamorous, usually business-oriented and more often than not, quite overbearing," according to an Internet Movie Database description that her family seconded.

After making her film debut in "Taxi" (1953), Ms. Patterson appeared in more than a dozen movies.

She played a worried mother in the well-reviewed "David and Lisa," a 1962 film about two teens with mental illness who fall in love. In the 1957 movie "Desk Set," she portrayed Spencer Tracy's prim, uptight computer expert.

On television, Ms. Patterson was the governor's secretary in the CBS sitcom "The Governor & J.J." that starred Dan Dailey and originally aired from 1969 to 1970. She also played a powerful matriarch opposite James Garner on "Nichols," a short-lived 1971 western on NBC.

Neva Louise Patterson was born Feb. 10, 1920, on a farm outside Nevada, Iowa, and was named for a friend of her mother, not her hometown, she told the Des Moines Register in 2002.

Ms. Patterson, the daughter of a letter carrier and his seamstress wife, moved to New York City in 1938.

On Broadway, Ms. Patterson debuted in "The Druid Circle," one of 10 plays that she appeared in on the Great White Way between 1947 and 1959.

Originating the role of Helen Sherman in 1952 in "The Seven Year Itch" on Broadway was a highlight of Ms. Patterson's life, her daughter said.

During the play's run, the twice-divorced Ms. Patterson met James Lee, who worked in the prop department.

After they married in the late 1950s, the couple adopted their daughter, who was an infant, and a 13-year-old Italian boy. Mr. Lee became a writer best known for contributing to the 1977 miniseries "Roots." He died at 79 in 2002.

Ms. Patterson taught herself to speak six languages and always had a quip at the ready, her daughter said.

In the early 1980s, Ms. Patterson played an ambitious mother in the science-fiction NBC-TV movie "V" and its sequel, the miniseries "V: The Final Battle."

Fan mail and unexpected visitors continued to show up at her door, her family said. Last month, five "V" fans from France brought gifts and a request for her autograph.

November 28, 2010

Leslie Nielsen's Obit

Despite decades spent playing sober commanders and serious captains, Leslie Nielsen insisted that he was always made for comedy. He proved it in his career's second act.

"Surely you can't be serious," an airline passenger says to Nielsen in "Airplane!" the 1980 hit that turned the actor from dramatic leading man to comic star.

"I am serious," Nielsen replies. "And don't call me Shirley."

The line was probably his most famous - and a perfect distillation of his career.

Nielsen, the dramatic lead in "Forbidden Planet" and "The Poseidon Adventure" and the bumbling detective Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.

The Canada native died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home, surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.

Critics argued that when Nielsen went into comedy he was being cast against type, but Nielsen disagreed, saying comedy was what he intended to do all along.

"I've finally found my home - as Lt. Frank Drebin," he told The Associated Press in a 1988 interview.

Comic actor Russell Brand took to Twitter to pay tribute to Nielsen, playing off his famous line: "RIP Leslie Nielsen. Shirley, he will be missed."

Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.

Nielsen first performed as Thibault in the Paramount operetta "The Vagabond King" with Kathryn Grayson.

The film - he called it "The Vagabond Turkey" - flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.

His first film for that studio was auspicious - as the spaceship commander in the science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet." He found his best dramatic role as the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure."

Behind the camera, the serious actor was a well-known prankster. That was an aspect of his personality never exploited, however, until "Airplane!" was released in 1980 and became a huge hit.

As the doctor aboard a plane in which the pilots, and some of the passengers, become violently ill, Nielsen says they must get to a hospital right away.

"A hospital? What is it?" a flight attendant asks, inquiring about the illness.

"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now," Nielsen deadpans.

It was the beginning of a whole new career in comedy. Nielsen would go on to appear in such comedies as "Repossessed" - a takeoff on "The Exorcist" - and "Mr. Magoo," in which he played the title role of the good-natured bumbler.

But it took years before he got there.

He played Debbie Reynolds' sweetheart in 1957's popular "Tammy and the Bachelor," and he became well known to baby boomers for his role as the Revolutionary War fighter Francis Marion in the Disney TV adventure series "The Swamp Fox."

He asked to be released from his contract at MGM, and as a freelancer, he appeared in a series of undistinguished movies.

"I played a lot of leaders, autocratic sorts; perhaps it was my Canadian accent," he said.

Meanwhile, he remained active in television in guest roles. He also starred in his own series, "The New Breed," "The Protectors" and "Bracken's World," but all were short-lived.

Then "Airplane!" captivated audiences and changed everything.

Producers-directors-writers Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker had hired Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Nielsen to spoof their heroic TV images in a satire of flight-in-jeopardy movies.

After the movie's success, the filmmaking trio cast their newfound comic star as Detective Drebin in a TV series, "Police Squad," which trashed the cliches of "Dragnet" and other cop shows. Despite good reviews, ABC quickly canceled it. Only six episodes were made.

"It didn't belong on TV," Nielsen later said. "It had the kind of humor you had to pay attention to."

The Zuckers and Abraham converted the series into a feature film, "The Naked Gun," with George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley as Nielsen's co-stars. Its huge success led to sequels "The Naked Gun 2 1/2" and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3."

His later movies included "All I Want for Christmas," "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" and "Spy Hard."

Between films he often turned serious, touring with his one-man show on the life of the great defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

Nielsen was born Feb. 11, 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan.

He grew up 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle at Fort Norman, where his father was an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The parents had three sons, and Nielsen once recalled, "There were 15 people in the village, including five of us. If my father arrested somebody in the winter, he'd have to wait until the thaw to turn him in."

The elder Nielsen was a troubled man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. As soon as he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, even though he was legally deaf (he wore hearing aids most of his life.)

After the war, Nielsen worked as a disc jockey at a Calgary radio station, then studied at a Toronto radio school operated by Lorne Greene, who would go on to star on the hit TV series "Bonanza." A scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse brought him to New York, where he immersed himself in live television.

Nielsen also was married to: Monica Boyer, 1950-1955; Sandy Ullman, 1958-74; and Brooks Oliver, 1981-85.

Nielsen and his second wife had two daughters, Thea and Maura.

November 07, 2010

Jill Clayburgh obit

The actor Jill Clayburgh, who has died of leukemia aged 66, was one of the brightest female stars of the 1970s, yet was somewhat forgotten in the decade that followed. "If they don't give me good parts in movies, I'm just not going to do them. And there's a time when they just move on to the next person," Clayburgh said prophetically at the height of her fame in 1978. Perhaps conservative Hollywood did not really know how to cope with an independent-minded, intelligent performer who refused to be pigeonholed.

Born in Manhattan, New York, Clayburgh was the daughter of wealthy parents. Her father was the vice-president of two large companies and her mother was a secretary to the Broadway producer David Merrick. As a child, Clayburgh was inspired to become an actor when she saw Jean Arthur as Peter Pan on Broadway in 1950. She was educated in New York, at the exclusive, all-girl Brearley school and then at Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied religion, philosophy and literature.

She began acting as a student in summer stock and, after graduating, joined the Charles Street repertory theatre company in Boston, where she met another up-and-coming actor, Al Pacino, with whom she was to have a five-year relationship. The next step was New York, where she appeared in several off-Broadway productions.

She moved on to Broadway in the musicals The Rothschilds (1970) and Pippin (1972), and Tom Stoppard's philosophical farce, Jumpers (1974). But it was film acting that really excited Clayburgh. "One of the things I like about the movies is the adventure of it," she said. "I like going to different places and I like doing a different scene every day."

In 1963, while still at Sarah Lawrence, Clayburgh had made her screen debut as the bride-to-be in The Wedding Party, co-directed by her fellow student Brian De Palma in 16mm and grainy monochrome. However the film was not released until six years later when Robert De Niro (credited, in his supporting role, as Robert Denero) had made his name.

It took Clayburgh much longer to become a recognisable face. She had an absurd role as a Jewish Marxist in the unfunny Portnoy's Complaint (1972), and had little to do as Ryan O'Neal's ex-wife in The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973) and as the stripper murder-victim of George Segal in The Terminal Man (1974). Then she was unexpectedly cast as Carole Lombard opposite James Brolin's Clark Gable in the stunningly banal Gable and Lombard (1976), from which only she emerged with any dignity.

Clayburgh had the kind of warmth and witty sophistication barely seen in Hollywood since Lombard and Jean Arthur. This was demonstrated in Silver Streak (1976), an entertaining throwback to 1930s comedy-thrillers, where she played the lady on a train who tangles with Gene Wilder; and in Semi-Tough (1977), as the beautiful free-thinking woman living in a platonic threesome with two American football players (Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson) until one of them makes a forward pass.

These carefree, liberated characters led the director Paul Mazursky to give Clayburgh the title role in An Unmarried Woman (1978). Here, in one film, she proved that she was equally adept at drama and comedy. As a woman making herself a new life after being deserted by her husband, she overcame many of the superficial aspects of the script thanks to her ability to show both strength and vulnerability. Her performance earned her the best actress award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination.

The following year, she was nominated for another Oscar, this time for Alan J Pakula's Starting Over (1979), in which she played another unmarried woman, but with a different emphasis. Her character is a schoolteacher who, having been hurt by a relationship, keeps any emotional involvement at bay by remaining deliberately dowdy.

Clayburgh seized the chance to work with the director Bernardo Bertolucci in Italy on La Luna (1979), playing an internationally renowned singer who has an incestuous relationship with her spoiled teenage son. Clayburgh had all the strength and glamour required by this opaque, operatic film. However, in the 80s, she had a singular lack of success, despite luminous performances. She was splendid in It's My Turn (1980), as a mathematics professor who has an affair with an ex-baseball player (Michael Douglas), and as the first female judge appointed to the US supreme court in First Monday in October (1981), alienating and then attracting her shabby liberal colleague (Walter Matthau).

She gave another excellent, yet unappreciated, portrayal in I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can (1982), as a pill-popping film-maker who goes cold turkey. It was adapted, from Barbara Gordon's autobiographical book, by the Tony-award winning playwright David Rabe, whom Clayburgh had married in 1979.

Sadly her powerful performance as a lawyer defending a Palestinian in Costa-Gavras's Hanna K (1983) was little seen, due to pressure from pro-Israeli groups, who deemed it "anti-Israeli" and managed to limit its circulation. Upset by the film's reception, Clayburgh gave up cinema for three years, during which time she was busy bringing up her children and tending the garden of the family's home in Mount Kisco, New York.

In 1984 she returned to Broadway in Noël Coward's Design for Living, alongside Raul Julia and Frank Langella. Her return to cinema was unpropitious: in the silly whodunnit Where Are the Children? (1986) she was required to cry a lot. But she was amusing as a snooty New York journalist researching an article in the Louisiana bayou in Andrey Konchalovsky's comedy-melodrama, Shy People (1987), which flopped. There followed a series of minor roles in best-forgotten movies. Parallel to her film career, she appeared regularly on television, including five episodes (from 1999 to 2001) of the legal comedy Ally McBeal, as Ally's mother; and as the wealthy socialite Letitia Darling in all 23 episodes of Dirty Sexy Money (2007-09).

In her last Broadway performance, Clayburgh played the mother in a 2006 revival of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park. The New York Times critic Ben Brantley praised her "winning way with dialogue that can make synthetic one-liners sound like filigree epigrams".

She is survived by David, her children Michael and Lily (who is also an actor), her stepson, Jason, and her brother, James.

• Jill Clayburgh, actor, born 30 April 1944; died 5 November 2010

October 29, 2010

Tom Bosley obit

The actor Tom Bosley, who has died of lung cancer aged 83, played Howard Cunningham, the tolerant, unflappable paterfamilias, in all 255 episodes of the nostalgic American sitcom Happy Days, from 1974 to 1984.

Set in Milwaukee during the 1950s, Happy Days, as the title suggests, was a rosy view of an earlier era. Mr C, as Bosley's character was called by "the Fonz" (Henry Winkler) – the cool, leather-jacketed ladies' man – was the ideal middle-class TV father, a hardware store owner, lodge member and member of a bowling team. The stocky Bosley, often seen behind his newspaper, imbued the character with a certain amount of humorous cynicism towards his homemaker wife (Marion Ross), who sometimes called him "Fatso", and his teenage children, naive Richie (Ron Howard) and pesky Joanie (Erin Moran).

This was in contrast to the weak or tyrannical fathers seen in the rebel teen movies of the 1950s, and to the grumpy, conservative father in That '70s Show (1998-2006) – of which Happy Days was the model – who keeps calling his son a "dumb ass". Any sign of rebellion in Happy Days was either satirised or sanitised.

Bosley will also be remembered for playing another sympathetic father – the Catholic priest and amateur sleuth in the series The Father Dowling Mysteries (1987-91). Actually, the Chicago-born Bosley was Jewish, the son of Benjamin and Dora Bosley. His father worked in real estate; his mother was a concert pianist before bringing up her two sons. After high school, as the second world war neared its end, Bosley joined the navy. He went on to study law at DePaul University in Chicago, but decided, halfway through his studies, to pursue an acting career, despite having "looked in the mirror and realised that I was short and kind of heavy".

In fact, it was his build that helped him land the lead role of the New York City mayor Fiorello H La Guardia in the Broadway musical Fiorello! (1959), for which Bosley won a Tony. Though not a singer, he stopped the show each night with the energetic number The Name's La Guardia. After a few years of bit parts on stage and on television, and odd jobs, Fiorello! made sure Bosley would never have to struggle again.

His first film role was in Robert Mulligan's Love With the Proper Stranger (1963), as a shy, clumsy Italian-American courting Natalie Wood, who doesn't hear the "bells and banjos" she associates with romantic love. In The World of Henry Orient (1964), Bosley offered a foretaste of Howard Cunningham as the understanding father of a teenage girl who has a crush on a concert pianist (Peter Sellers). When reminded of his wife's infidelity, he remarks: "The less said about that the better."

But it was television that took up most of Bosley's time and charm. He made significant appearances in a multitude of shows before Happy Days claimed him. He was offered the role of Mr C only when Harold Gould had to turn it down because of another commitment. Bosley initially rejected it himself, but, "after rereading the pilot script, I changed my mind, because of a scene between Howard Cunningham and Richie. The father/son situation was written so movingly, I fell in love with the project," he recalled.

It was Bosley who had the last word at the end of the final series: "Marion and I have not climbed Mount Everest or written a great American novel. But we've had the joy of raising two wonderful kids, and watching them and their friends grow up into loving adults. And I guess no man or woman could ask for anything more. So thank you all for being part of our family."

Bosley's major post-Happy Days role, apart from Father Dowling, was as Sheriff Amos Tupper in 19 episodes of Murder, She Wrote (1984-88). Tupper tries to help the crime novelist Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) solve real murder mysteries, but is mistaken most of the time, often arresting the wrong suspect.

In 1994 Bosley returned to Broadway after a 25-year absence to appear in the long-running musical Beauty and the Beast, in which as Maurice, Belle's loving, eccentric inventor father, he sang No Matter What. In 2002 he took over the role of Herr Schultz, the Jewish fruit-shop owner, in Cabaret.

Bosley is survived by his second wife, Patricia, and a daughter, Amy, from his first marriage.

October 15, 2010

Johnny Sheffield obit

After three hit Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller in the title role and Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, MGM decided to give a son to the apeman and his mate in Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939). However, he had to be a foundling because, according to the Legion of Decency, the scantily clad jungle couple were not married, and presumably never had sex. "Boy", as he was named, was played by Johnny Sheffield, who has died aged 79 of a heart attack at his California home after falling off a ladder while pruning a tree.

In the Tarzan films, the fact that the orphaned offspring of a British couple killed in a plane crash in the jungle had an American accent was never explained. Neither Tarzan, whose dialogue was limited to grunts and monosyllables, nor Boy bore much resemblance to the original characters as conceived by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose novels portrayed both the apeman, Lord Greystoke, and his son, Jack "Korak" Clayton, as cultivated and articulate. Burroughs, however, complained all the way to the bank.

In the eight Tarzan films he made, from the age of seven to 16, the curly-haired Sheffield followed Weissmuller through the Culver City backlot jungle in California (amplified by stock shots), swimming, vine-swinging and imitating the famous apeman cry. Like Weissmuller, Sheffield, who had a physical grace and a carefully arranged loincloth, had to cope with a variety of wild animals, revolting natives and dastardly white adventurers.

Sheffield was born in Pasadena, California, the son of British-born Reginald Sheffield, who had also been a child actor in films, credited as Eric Desmond. His American mother, Louise, was a Vassar College graduate with a liberal arts education who loved books and lectured widely. In 1938, aged seven, Sheffield appeared in Los Angeles in the role of Pud, the juvenile lead of the sentimental Paul Osborn play On Borrowed Time, before taking over the part for a short period on Broadway. In the same year, he played Napoleon's small son in The Man On the Rock, in MGM's Historical Mysteries series of short films.

It was Weissmuller who picked Sheffield for the role of Boy out of 300 applicants. Weissmuller, whom Sheffield called Big John, "was like a father to me. He was always looking out for me. We worked with a lot of live animals, and a lot of times, when they got tired, the animals would get feisty. There was this one big chimp who got pretty mad one day and was about to bite me while we were on the set. But Big John stuck his leg between me and the chimp, and he was the one who was bitten."

Boy plays an important role in Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941), when he discovers some gold and is captured by evil natives before being rescued by Tarzan and his elephants. Unusually, Boy befriends a young African lad, one of the few black people to say something more than "Yes, Bwana!" in the films. The last of the MGM Tarzan films with Weissmuller, O'Sullivan and Sheffield was Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), which transplanted the trio from the never-never jungle to the harsh realities of Manhattan, where Boy is held, having been kidnapped.

In 1942, RKO acquired the Tarzan franchise, as well as the services of Weissmuller and Sheffield. O'Sullivan left, citing boredom, to be replaced by Brenda Joyce. Boy, who had always called O'Sullivan "Mother", addressed Joyce as "Jane". "With Maureen I related more to Jane as a child," Sheffield recalled. "Then I became old enough to notice how attractive Brenda was."

The first RKO feature, Tarzan Triumphs (1943), struck a topical note, pitting Tarzan against a gang of Nazi agents. He declared "Now Tarzan Make War", an unusually verbose utterance, though he might have said, "Now Tarzan Make Bs", because of the diminished production values. After Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943), Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) and Tarzan and the Huntress (1947), Sheffield, by then a big Boy, was dropped by the studio.

Monogram, the Poverty Row studio, picked him up for the series of quickie movies based on the books about Bomba, the Jungle Boy, written in the 1920s and 30s under the nom de plume Roy Rockwood. Sheffield appeared in 12 of them, starting with Bomba, the Jungle Boy (1949) and ending with Lord of the Jungle (1955), all directed by Ford Beebe, splicing generous stock footage from the 1930 documentary Africa Speaks into each film. The almost identical plots usually included Bomba rescuing a young woman from some beast, animal or human.

At the age of 24, Sheffield retired from show business to study for a business degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and invested his jungle money in real estate. He later spent many years working as a representative for the Santa Monica Seafood Company.

He is survived by his wife, Patty, whom he married in 1959, two sons and a daughter.

September 29, 2010

Tony Curtis obit

Born into a family of Hungarian Jews who had emigrated to the US, Bernard Schwartz – the boy who became the actor Tony Curtis – could scarcely have dreamed of the wealth, fame and rollercoaster life that awaited him. Curtis, who has died aged 85, starred in several of the best films of the 1950s, including Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958) and Some Like It Hot (1959). He enjoyed a long career thanks to his toughness and resilience (despite insecurities that demanded years of therapy).

He grew up in the Bronx, New York, the eldest of three sons. As a child, he was ill-treated by his mother, Helen, and spent time in an orphanage. One of his brothers, Robert, was a schizophrenic and the other, Julius, was killed in a traffic accident when Tony was 12. At school he became a member of a gang involved in petty crime, but he escaped into the Scouts. He endured poverty and the Depression and, in 1943, joined the US navy, serving as a signalman in the second world war.

He emerged, aged 20, into a world of opportunities – the first being postwar government funding for GIs to train for a career. He decided on acting (his father, Emanuel, had been an actor before becoming a tailor) and entered the Dramatic Workshop in New York. He took the lead in a Greenwich Village revival of Golden Boy, written by Clifford Odets, and was spotted by a studio talent scout and offered a contract by Universal. He first chose Anthony Adverse as his professional name, inspired by the eponymous hero of a novel by Hervey Allen. A casting director persuaded him otherwise, so he kept "Anthony" and added "Curtis", anglicising a common Hungarian surname.

Like the far grander MGM, or the Rank Organisation's "charm school" in the UK, Universal had a policy of training promising talent. The prerequisites were good looks and ambition. Curtis had both in abundance. He made his uncredited film debut in Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949), as a gigolo who dances with Yvonne de Carlo, watched by the male lead, Burt Lancaster, who later played a significant part in Curtis's career.

After this 30-second screen exposure, he notched up 10 appearances in two years, including the westerns Sierra and Winchester 73 (both 1950). He later said that the performances were "guided by testosterone, not talent". He and the other Universal proteges, including Rock Hudson, were trained in acting, fencing, riding and dancing. By 1951 he was considered ready for the lead in a swashbuckler, The Prince Who Was a Thief, and was married to the starlet Janet Leigh, who later appeared alongside him in films including The Vikings (1958).

Curtis went on to star in a slew of second-grade movies, such as Son of Ali Baba (1952) and Houdini (1953). His big break into A-features came when Lancaster chose him as his co-star in Trapeze (1956). They made a convincing pair of high flyers, and the glossy movie, directed by Carol Reed, was an international hit.

After playing the lead in Blake Edwards's Mister Cory (1957), Curtis joined Lancaster again in Sweet Smell of Success, produced by Lancaster's company. A superb screenplay, co-written by Odets, was the launchpad for Alexander Mackendrick's vividly achieved portrait of obsession and betrayal. Lancaster played the reptilian, all-powerful, New York columnist besotted with his sister. Curtis was Sidney Falco, an unprincipled press agent in thrall to (and fear of) the man who could make him king of the jungle, and willing to sell his pride and soul for the title. It gave Curtis the reviews and credibility for which he had yearned.

Routine movies followed until The Defiant Ones gave him his first and only Oscar nomination, for best actor. This modestly liberal story – an archetypal Stanley Kramer film – proved important for Curtis, who insisted that his black co-star Sidney Poitier share top billing. It was significant as a commercially successful film, making a plea for racial tolerance, directed and acted with force and integrity. Although he did not get the Oscar (which went to David Niven for Separate Tables), Curtis was soon to receive a greater prize – the second great movie of his career, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot.

Appearing alongside Jack Lemmon and – less happily – a difficult Marilyn Monroe, Curtis enjoyed three sublime manifestations in the film. First, as one of two jazz musicians who flee from gangsters after witnessing the St Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago in 1929. Second, in drag as a member of the all-girl band which provides his camouflage. And last as a fake oil millionaire – out to seduce Marilyn – played as a wonderful homage to Cary Grant. "Marilyn was an enigma," he later said. "She was very difficult to read. Marilyn and I were lovers in 1949, 1950, 1951 ... It was an important relationship for me."

After this movie, Curtis's career declined in quality, if not quantity. Edwards capitalised on his two best roles and cast him opposite his hero Grant in the bright and funny Operation Petticoat (1959), where he played a jokey variation of Sidney Falco. The following year he was in heady if duller company in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, playing Antoninus, the handsome slave who flees from the overtures of his master, Laurence Olivier.

He then made two films with the director Robert Mulligan – The Rat Race (1960) and The Great Impostor (1961) – and starred in The Outsider (1961) as Ira Hayes, the Native American hero of the battle of Iwo Jima during the second world war. As Curtis's career progressed, his marriage to Leigh – who had sacrificed her work for him and their children, Jamie Lee and Kelly – began to disintegrate. They divorced in 1962, and the following year he married the actor Christine Kaufmann, with whom he had two daughters, Alexandra and Allegra. He had some success with Jerry Lewis in the comedy Boeing Boeing (1965) and rejoined Edwards on The Great Race (1965), parodying his charismatic persona with a cocky grin and effortless charm.

He had less success with Mackendrick's Don't Make Waves (1967), a slow-burn comedy which suffered from studio interference. He then made a strenuous effort for critical acclaim with his role as the serial killer Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler (1968), flashily directed with use of a split screen. More routine films, and a lucrative two-year stint in the television series The Persuaders (1971-72), kept him busy, as did his increased interest in his painting, art collecting and writing. He married the model Leslie Allen in 1968 (having divorced Kaufmann the year before) and dedicated his frantic, exhausting novel, Kid Andrew Cody and Julie Sparrow (1977), to her. He had two sons with Allen, Nicholas and Benjamin.

Occasional meaty parts continued to come his way, including the eponymous gangster in Lepke (1975) and the fading, impotent movie star in the lugubrious The Last Tycoon (1976). He returned to the stage in the 1979 Los Angeles run of Neil Simon's play I Ought to Be in Pictures. His best work on television was in The Scarlett O'Hara War (1980), as the producer David O Selznick, and the series Vega$ (1978-81). But he had lost his comic lightness of touch and decent parts were rare, although he relished his role as the Senator in Nicolas Roeg's Insignificance (1985). He was admitted to the Betty Ford clinic for treatment for his alcohol and drug abuse, and his other 80s credits, such as Lobster Man from Mars (1989), revealed his diminishing standing.

Curtis and Allen had divorced in 1982, and he married the lawyer Lisa Deutsch in 1993. They divorced the following year. Curtis talked of quitting show business to open an art gallery in Europe. There were also rumours of a return to the stage opposite Lemmon and of a second novel. In the event, he returned to big and small screens in a desire not to earn money but to keep working. His autobiography was published in 1993, and in the mid-90s he suffered personal trauma as he underwent heart surgery and his son Nicholas died of a heroin overdose.

He married Jill VandenBerg, more than 40 years his junior, in 1998, and said he had never been happier. Curtis relished being remembered for the Mackendrick movies above all, and for his quirky cameos (often uncredited) in numerous films – not least as the "voice" in Rosemary's Baby (1968). But he remained bitter about the lack of official recognition for his best work, convinced that he lost out on an Oscar for The Defiant Ones because of his "pretty boy" image. On the occasions I met him at his London home in Chester Square, Belgravia, he was always interested in showing his work as an artist. His paintings have been exhibited in Europe and the US, at galleries including the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Curtis is survived by Jill, his daughters Jamie Lee, Kelly and Allegra (who all became actors), another daughter, Alexandra, and his son Benjamin.

September 28, 2010

Arthur Penn obit

Arthur Penn, who has died aged 88, was one of the major figures of US television, stage and film in the 1960s and 70s when the three disciplines actively encouraged experimentation, innovation and challenging subject matter. "I think the 1960s generation was a state of mind," he said, "and it's really the one I've been in since I was born." He will be best remembered for Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a complex and lyrical study of violent outsiders whose lives became the stuff of myth.

The film, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, and based on the exploits of the bank-robbing Barrow Gang in the 1930s, became a cause celebre. It was praised and attacked for its distortion, bad taste and glorification of violence in equal measure. Newsweek's critic, Joseph Morgenstern, retracted his initial view of the film's violence, admitting that he had misread explicitness for exploitiveness. The film won two Oscars (best cinematography and best supporting actress) from a total of 10 nominations (including best picture and best director).

Penn was born in Philadelphia into a Russian-Jewish family, the younger of two sons. His brother, Irving, became a noted fashion photographer. His father was a watch repairer and engraver. By the time he was four, Penn's parents had divorced. The boys went first to New York with their mother, a nurse. When he was 14 Arthur went to live with his father in Philadelphia. It was at this time that he became fascinated by the theatre, acting in school productions and on local radio.

During the second world war, he was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to train as a rifleman, and in his spare time he set up a theatre group. It was there that Penn met Fred Coe, who was to play an important role in his professional life. Towards the end of the war, Penn spent time acting in Paris, then returned to the US to study at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He continued to stage theatre productions before heading back to Europe to study literature in Italy.

On his return to the US, he joined the Los Angeles branch of the Actors Studio. His first professional work, in 1951, was with NBC TV in New York as a floor manager working on The Colgate Comedy Hour. He began to write plays for television, and in 1953 Coe, who was also with NBC in New York, asked him to direct a live experimental drama series called First Person.

During the 1950s Penn also became active in the theatre. His not terribly inspired Broadway debut, The Lovers (1956), ran for only four performances. His next production, however, was a success. Two for the Seesaw (1958), starring Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft, ran for more than 700 performances. He had a Tony award-winning hit with William Gibson's The Miracle Worker (1959), the story of Helen Keller, which he had previously directed for TV. He also found success with Toys in the Attic and All the Way Home (both in 1960).

Coe produced some of Penn's stage work, and it was he who asked him to direct The Left Handed Gun (1958). This was based on Gore Vidal's television play which, rather than dealing with the outlaw Billy the Kid's notorious exploits, centred on him as a confused young man, desperately seeking love and recognition, who wreaks revenge on those who killed his boss, a kind rancher whom Billy has taken as a father figure. The film starred Paul Newman as Billy and was shot in only 23 days on an abandoned set. Warner Bros insisted on editing the film against his wishes and Penn always maintained that the treatment destroyed the rhythms of some of the scenes. Despite his reservations, it was an extraordinary debut by any standards and still resonates today, thanks to Newman's powerfully complex and touching performance.

The Left Handed Gun clearly signposted Penn's continuing preoccupations – family, father figures, the myths of American history and the contradictions they set up with reality. He was particularly interested in disillusioned outsiders in conflict with society and the law (albeit motivated more by emotion than logic), and their ensuing violence and pain, both of which were conveyed in a deeply sensuous way through the powerful performances Penn consistently drew from his actors.

His films can be seen as vividly allegorical, highlighting the traumas and conflicts of the times through which he and the nation were living. Penn openly admired the French new wave (the influence of directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard can be seen in his use of elliptical narratives and episodic structures) and Elia Kazan.

It was not until 1962 that he made another film, with his third interpretation of The Miracle Worker. Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars for their performances and Penn received a nomination for best director. This success was short-lived, however. His Broadway productions of 1962 and 1963 flopped, and only a week or two into shooting The Train, Burt Lancaster, for undisclosed reasons, insisted that he be taken off the film. Penn was always philosophical about this: "From that point they took this $2m film and proceeded to turn it into a $7m fiasco."

In 1965 he made Mickey One, a deeply paranoid noir thriller about a nightclub comedian (Beatty) on the run from mobsters who seems to be seeking punishment for an undefined sin. This was the first film on which Penn had full creative control and, to some extent, this may have proven his downfall. The film, shot in grainy black and white, was a strange mixture of naturalism and existentialism. Penn, who described it as "an allegory of a man's trip through purgatory", also said: "I was really operating on the symbolic and metaphorical level without engagement between audience and screen." The critic Robin Wood observed that the film "gives the impression of reversing Penn's usual method of working. In the other films he starts from the particular and the concrete ... and discovers the universal by a process of exploration. In Mickey One he appears to have started from an abstract conception and tried to impose the concrete on it."

The Chase (1966) was his first film in colour and, despite its problems, was rightly regarded by many as a (near) masterpiece. It perhaps most clearly enunciates Penn's stance on violence: "America is a country where people realise their views in violent ways – we have no tradition of persuasion, idealism or legality." In the film, Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) tries to protect an escaped convict, Bubber (Robert Redford), from the mob violence he has stirred up on his return to his home town.

The Chase's portrayal of small-town boredom fostering sexual philandering, racial and class hypocrisy and prejudice and random violence is deeply disturbing and often visually stunning. Penn's ability to give the feel of a wild west town, where the sheriff stands alone against lawlessness (albeit from within the town rather from outside), was impressive. Again, however, the editing was taken out of his control, which resulted in the loss of scenes in which Brando improvised his own dialogue. It has perhaps the most desolate ending of all of his films, none of which end on an optimistic note.

After two films which had been anything but commercially successful, Penn's film career looked bleak, but Beatty rescued it when he persuaded him to direct Bonnie and Clyde. Penn followed that film with Alice's Restaurant (1969), which he also co-wrote, a drama prompted by an Arlo Guthrie song. It was a highly episodic film which, for all its celebration of the protest movement and its rejection of Vietnam, racism and authoritarianism, remained pessimistic.

The Vietnam war clearly informed Penn's next – and greatest – film, Little Big Man (1970). Adapted from Thomas Berger's novel, this wildly comic, profoundly ironic and epic film recounts the memoirs of the 121-year old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who survived the massace of his family and was brought up by a Cheyenne tribe. His story is the vehicle by which the traditional history and myths of white men and Native Americans are completly subverted, along with the conventions of the western genre.

Aside from contributing a section (on pole vaulting) to Visions of Eight, a documentary about the 1972 Munich Olympics, Penn took time out until he returned to cinema in 1975 with Night Moves, taking a straight genre script and rewriting it to embody the alienation of contemporary America. This deeply pessimistic film, in which one can almost touch the sense of malaise generated during the Watergate era, is as narratively elusive as any he made.

He had hardly finished Night Moves when he made another film with Brando, The Missouri Breaks (1976), which centres on the violent clashes between ranchers and rustlers in Montana in the 1880s. Brando plays the cold, hired gunman brought in to kill the rustlers; Jack Nicholson is the genial leader of one of the gangs. The film had some wonderful and eccentric moments, but opinion was divided. Penn himself was disappointed with both Night Moves and The Missouri Breaks and he returned to the theatre, directing Sly Fox (1976) and Golda (1977) on Broadway.

From his 1981 movie Four Friends onwards, his film career began to falter. Target (1985), Dead of Winter (1987), and Penn and Teller Get Killed (1989), starring the successful American magicians, suffered from mediocre scripts which clearly failed to ignite Penn's talents. He directed the television film Inside (1998), which dealt with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and in 2000 became an executive producer on Law and Order, some episodes of which his son Matthew directed. In 2002, after a break of some 20 years, he returned to the New York stage to direct Alan Bates in Fortune's Fool, an adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's A Poor Gentleman, for which Bates won a Tony.

Penn's unrealised projects included an adaptation of George Orwell's Burmese Days; a film on the Attica prison riot in New York; and The Last Cowboy, dealing with the takeover of the ranges by big business agriculture. In his latter years he maintained relationships with the Actors Studio and the Berkshire theatre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 2007 he attended the Berlin film festival, which programmed a special tribute to his work.

In 1955 he married the actor Peggy Maurer. She survives him, along with Matthew, a daughter, Molly, and four grandchildren. Irving Penn died in 2009.

September 26, 2010

Gloria Stuart obit

When Gloria Stuart, who has died aged 100, was nominated for the best supporting actress Oscar for her spirited performance in James Cameron's Titanic (1997), there were few filmgoers who remembered her earlier acting career in the 1930s. Stuart played the 101-year-old Rose (portrayed in the rest of the film by Kate Winslet), who recalls the time when she was 17 onboard the doomed liner. ("I can still smell the fresh paint," she says.)

Sixty-five years earlier, Stuart stood out as a blonde ingenue in James Whale's comedy-thriller The Old Dark House (1932), in which she wore a tight evening gown and was chased by Boris Karloff as a sinister butler. Stuart recalled how Whale told her: "When Karloff chases you through the halls, I want you to be like a flame or a dancer." She was both.

The following year, again under the direction of Whale, Stuart touchingly played Flora Cranley, the fiancee in The Invisible Man. She overcame the difficulties of acting to an empty space, until the moment when she comforts the titular hero (Claude Rains) who reappears as he dies. In the same year, Stuart was once again in an "old dark house" in Secret of the Blue Room. She was very effective as a mysterious woman who forces her three suitors to prove their bravery by spending a night in a castle where three people were murdered 20 years earlier.

By way of contrast, in the Busby Berkeley-choreographed musical Roman Scandals (1933), she was a princess for whom Eddie Cantor plays Cupid. One of the writers on the film was Arthur Sheekman, whom Stuart married the following year. Sheekman was a friend of Groucho Marx, and had previously been a gagman on the Marx Brothers comedies Monkey Business (1931) and Duck Soup (1933). Stuart later claimed to be "one of the very few women that Groucho really liked".

Gloria Frances Stewart was born in Santa Monica, California. She later changed her surname so that its "six letters balanced perfectly on a theatre's marquee with the six letters in 'Gloria'". She was educated at Santa Monica high school and dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley. She embarked on an acting career after her brief marriage, aged 19, to the sculptor Blair Gordon Newell. (They divorced in 1934.) She was discovered at Pasadena Playhouse in a 1932 production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull by scouts from both Paramount and Universal studios. She went with the latter, who offered her more money, a decision she later regretted, because Paramount made "classier" films.

After three years at Universal, where she made the Whale pictures, she moved to 20th Century-Fox, which served her not much better. Between studios, at Warner Bros, Stuart was the juvenile lead in Gold Diggers of 1935 in which she played an heiress, performing two Berkeley numbers, I'm Going Shopping With You, during which she and Dick Powell go through a department store spending her mother's money, and The Words Are in My Heart, during which the couple, dressed in 19th-century costume, suddenly shrink into porcelain figures in a floral arrangement as 56 girls appear seated at 56 pianos. Stuart claimed: "All I got to do in the musical numbers was stand and stare at Dick Powell as he sang to me."

At Fox, Stuart provided the adult romance in two Shirley Temple movies, Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), though the casts of both films were upstaged by the curly-haired moppet. Stuart was more satisfied with her portrayal of Peggy Mudd, the wife of the doctor who gave refuge to John Wilkes Booth after he had shot President Abraham Lincoln, in John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). She was a doctor's wife once more in The Crime of Dr Forbes (1936), which dealt quite bravely with the subject of mercy killing. However, these were exceptions to the rule that continually cast her as a pretty ingenue in empty-headed movies.

"I was disappointed," she remarked. "There was no chance to do what I would have called real acting. I had much higher ambitions than when I started. I loved to act but it wasn't worth the crying every day in the dressing room over these stupid, cliched parts." So when her contract with Fox was up in 1946, Stuart decided to retire and enjoy herself. She took up painting, calling herself "a self-taught primitive", and had her work exhibited. She also continued to be active in the Screen Actors Guild, having been one of the first members in the 30s.

In 1975, Stuart decided to return to acting, this time on television, appearing in small roles in TV movies. Sheekman died in 1978. A few years later, Stuart renewed acquaintance with an old friend from her college years, Ward Ritchie, a printer. They lived together until his death in 1996, after which she devoted much of her time to designing handmade, letter-press artists' books in limited editions.

Meanwhile, Stuart occasionally returned to the big screen, appearing in a cameo role dancing with Peter O'Toole in a nightclub in My Favourite Year (1984). After Titanic, she was given rather more substantial parts, such as the grandmother of Kate Capshaw's character in The Love Letter (1999). She was also an iconic presence in two Wim Wenders films: The Million Dollar Hotel (2000) and Land of Plenty (2004), her last film.

Stuart is survived by her daughter, Sylvia, from her second marriage, and by four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

September 01, 2010

Actress who played Bonnie Blue Butler in 'GWTW' dies at 76

Former child actress Cammie King Conlon used to joke "that I peaked at age 5."

But what a peak.

Conlon was four years old when she portrayed the ill-fated Bonnie Blue Butler in the 1939 blockbuster film "Gone With the Wind." Three years later, she voiced the part of the doe Faline in "Bambi."

After that, she departed show business and eventually had a family and a new career. As she grew older, Conlon was a gracious link between the film and its millions of fans.

Those fans are mourning the passing of Conlon, who died of lung cancer Wednesday in Fort Bragg, California, where she lived for about 30 years, said friend and family spokesman Bruce Lewis. Conlon was 76.

Conlon, credited in the movie cast as Cammie King, was picked to play the daughter of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) in the 1939 adaptation of the classic novel by Margaret Mitchell.

"I'm a very lucky person," Conlon told the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California, last year. "[The film] has added dimension to my life. Of all the little girls, they picked me."

She earned $1,000 for her few scenes, she told the newspaper.

In the movie, Bonnie Blue Butler was her daddy's little girl, winning comfort from him when she was afraid of the dark.

Bonnie's death while riding a pony was a blow from which the tumultuous couple could not recover.

As an adult, Conlon had a family and eventually moved to Fort Bragg on California's north coast, where she was a publicist, promoted filmmaking in the area and served as a museum executive director, Lewis said.

"She made her mark. She used her fame to give back to the community" through fundraisers, Lewis said.

Conlon once talked to a school class about the Civil War and would have a "Tea With Bonnie Blue" every year.

She made many appearances around the country and was popular with "GWTW" fans, known as "Windies." Conlon, who published a memoir in 2009, recalled little from the movie but had a recollection of Gable, Lewis said.

The family is planning up to three memorial services, including one at the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum in Marietta, Georgia.

Connie Sutherland, the museum's director, said Conlon came to the museum several times for events.

"She was a warm person," said Sutherland, adding their friendship was not based on Conlon's celebrity. "She was very giving and patient with fans."

The blue dress worn by Conlon in "GWTW" survives at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, says memorabilia collector Herb Bridges, who has many items on display at the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, Georgia.

Bridges, who years ago sold much of his collection for $350,000 at Christie's, told CNN that Conlon was a relative latecomer to the "GWTW" shows circuit. "She was a delightful person."

Conlon, who was widowed and divorced, is survived by two children and three grandchildren.

Few key members of the "Gone With the Wind" cast are still alive.

Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie, is 94 and lives in France. Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett's sister, Carreen, is 89.

August 08, 2010

Patricia Neal, an Oscar Winner Who Endured Tragedy, Dies at 84

Patricia Neal, the willowy, husky-voiced actress who won an Academy Award for 1963's "Hud" and then survived several strokes to continue acting, died on Sunday. She was 84.

Neal had lung cancer and died surrounded by her family at her home in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard.

"She faced her final illness as she had all of the many trials she endured: with indomitable grace, good humor and a great deal of her self-described stubbornness," her family said in a statement.

Neal was already an award-winning Broadway actress when she won her Oscar for her role as a housekeeper to the Texas father (Melvyn Douglas) battling his selfish, amoral son (Paul Newman).

Less than two years later, she suffered a series of strokes in 1965 at age 39. Her struggle to once again walk and talk is regarded as epic in the annals of stroke rehabilitation. She returned to the screen to earn another Oscar nomination and three Emmy nominations.

The Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center that helps people recover from strokes and spinal cord and brain injuries is named for her in Knoxville, where she grew up.

"She never forgot us after she went to Hollywood," said 85-year-old Bud Albers, who graduated with Neal from Knoxville High School in 1943, and still lives in the city.

Whenever she was in town, a bunch of her friends would always get together and have dinner, Albers said. She had wanted to be there next week for a golf tournament that benefits the center, he said.

"She was so courageous," he said of her battling back from her illnesses and losing her 7-year-old daughter to measles in 1962. "She always fought back. She was very much an inspiration."

In her 1988 autobiography, "As I Am," she wrote, "Frequently my life has been likened to a Greek tragedy, and the actress in me cannot deny that comparison."

Neal projected force that almost crackled on the screen. Her forte was drama, but she had a light touch that enabled her to do comedy, too.

She had the female leads in the 1949 film version of Ayn Rand's novel "The Fountainhead," the classic 1951 science fiction film "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and Elia Kazan's 1957 drama "A Face in the Crowd."

She made a grand return to the screen after her strokes in 1968, winning an Oscar nomination for her performance in "The Subject Was Roses."

In 1971, she played Olivia Walton in "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story," a made-for-TV film that served as the pilot for the CBS series "The Waltons." It brought her the first of her three Emmy nominations.

"You can't give up," she said in a 1999 Associated Press interview. "You sure want to, sometimes."

In 1953, she married Roald Dahl, the British writer famed for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and other tales for children. They had five children. They divorced in 1983 after she learned he was having an affair with her best friend and he died in 1990.

Even before her illnesses, her life often was touched by misfortune. Besides her daughter's death, an infant son nearly died in 1960 when his carriage was struck by a taxi. Neal also suffered a nervous breakdown, and had an ill-fated affair with Gary Cooper, who starred with her in "The Fountainhead."

"I lived this secret life for several years. I was so ashamed," she told The New York Times in 1964.

The strokes at first paralyzed her and impaired her speech. After recovering, she limped and had bad vision in one eye. A 1991 biopic about her travails starred Glenda Jackson as Neal.

Her family said her dedication to the rehab center and advocacy for stroke sufferers was a great source of hope for them and their families and a "constant inspiration to our family."

In 1999, she starred in her first feature film in 10 years in the title role in Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune." She said at the time that movie offers had been scarce in recent years.

"I don't quite understand it, but nobody calls me and nobody wants me. But I love to act." Neal was born in a mining camp in Packard, Ky., the daughter of a transportation manager for the South Coal & Coke Co. After leaving Knoxville, she attended Northwestern University and then struck out for Broadway.

Her Broadway credits included "A Roomful of Roses," "The Miracle Worker" (as Helen Keller's mother, Kate) and a revival of Lillian Hellman's drama "The Children's Hour."

She made her screen debut in 1949's "John Loves Mary," that also starred Jack Carson and Ronald Reagan.

Her three Emmy nominations were all for roles in notable drama specials: Besides "The Homecoming," they were "Tail Gunner Joe," a 1977 drama about Sen. Joe McCarthy, and a version of the tragic World War I story "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Among Neal's children is Tessa Dahl, who followed in her father's footsteps as a writer. Tessa Dahl's daughter is the model and writer Sophie Dahl.

Friends said her sorrows gave her an inner toughness that brought new power to her screen roles.

"I don't lie down. ... I'm fightin' all the way," she said in 1999.

The statement from Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy Dahl and others said that the night before her death, Neal told them, "I've had a lovely time."

May 02, 2010

Lynn Redgrave, Actress and Playwright, Dies at 67

Lynn Redgrave, an introspective and independent player in her family's acting dynasty who became a 1960s sensation as the unconventional title character of "Georgy Girl" and later dramatized her troubled past in such one-woman stage performances as "Shakespeare for My Father" and "Nightingale," has died. She was 67.

Her publicist Rick Miramontez, speaking on behalf of her children, said Redgrave died peacefully Sunday night at her home in Connecticut. Children Ben, Pema and Annabel were with her, as were close friends.

"Our beloved mother Lynn Rachel passed away peacefully after a seven year journey with breast cancer," Redgrave's children said in a statement Monday. "She lived, loved and worked harder than ever before. The endless memories she created as a mother, grandmother, writer, actor and friend will sustain us for the rest of our lives. Our entire family asks for privacy through this difficult time."

Redgrave was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2002, had a mastectomy in January 2003 and underwent chemotherapy.

Her death comes a year after her niece Natasha Richardson died from head injuries sustained in a skiing accident and just a month after the death of her older brother, Corin Redgrave.

The youngest child of Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, Lynn Redgrave never quite managed the acclaim - or notoriety - of elder sibling Vanessa Redgrave, but received Oscar nominations for "Georgy Girl" and "Gods and Monsters," and Tony nominations for "Mrs. Warren's Profession," "Shakespeare for My Father" and "The Constant Wife." In recent years, she also made appearances on TV in "Ugly Betty," "Law & Order" and "Desperate Housewives."

"Vanessa was the one expected to be the great actress," Lynn Redgrave told The Associated Press in 1999. "It was always, 'Corin's the brain, Vanessa the shining star, oh, and then there's Lynn.'"

In theater, the ruby-haired Red grave often displayed a sunny, sweet and open personality, much like her ebullient offstage personality. It worked well in such shows as "Black Comedy" - her Broadway debut in 1972 - and again two years later in "My Fat Friend," a comedy about an overweight young woman who sheds pounds to find romance.

Tall and blue-eyed like her sister, she was as open about her personal life as Vanessa has been about politics. In plays and in interviews, Lynn Redgrave confided about her family, her marriage and her health. She acknowledged that she suffered from bulimia and served as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. With daughter Annabel Clark, she released a 2004 book about her fight with cancer, "Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery From Breast Cancer."

Redgrave was born in London in 1943 and despite self-doubts pursued the family trade. She studied at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, and was not yet 20 when she debuted professionally on stage in a London production of "A Midsummer's Night Dream." Like her siblings, she appeared in plays and in films, working under Noel Coward and Laurence Olivier as a member of the National Theater and under director/brother-in-law Tony Richardson in the 1963 screen hit "Tom Jones."

"Before I was born, my father was a movie star and a stage star," the actress told the AP in 1993. "I was raised in a household where we didn't see our parents in the morning. We lived in the nursery. Our nanny made our breakfast, and I was dressed up to go downstairs to have tea with my parents, if they were there."

True fame caught her with "Georgy Girl," billed as "the wildest thing to hit the world since the miniskirt." The 1966 film starred Redgrave as the plain, childlike Londoner pursued by her father's middle-aged boss, played by James Mason.

Dismissed by critic Pauline Kael as a false testament to free thinking, the movie was branded "cool" by moviegoers on both side of the Atlantic and received several Academy Award nominations, including one for Redgrave and one for the popular title song performed by the Australian group The Seekers.

"All the films I've been in - and I haven't been in that many attention-getting films - no one expected anything of, least of all me," Redgrave said in an AP interview in 1999.

"Georgy Girl" didn't lead to lasting commercial success, but did anticipate a long-running theme: Redgrave's weight. She weighed 180 pounds while making the film, leading New York Times critic Michael Stern to complain that Redgrave "cannot be quite as homely as she makes herself in this film.

"Slimmed down, cosseted in a couture salon, and given more of the brittle, sophisticated lines she tosses off with such abandon here, she could become a comedienne every bit as good as the late Kay Kendall," he wrote.

Films such as "The Happy Hooker" and "Every Little Crook and Nanny" were remembered less than Redgrave's decision to advocate for Weight Watchers. She even referenced "Georgy Girl" in one commercial, showing a clip and saying, "This was me when I made the movie, because this is the way I used to eat."

At age 50, Redgrave was ready to tell her story in full. As she wrote in the foreword to "Shakespeare for My Father," she was out of work and set off on a "journey that began almost as an act of desperation," writing a play out of her "passionately emotional desire" to better understand her father, who had died in 1985.

In the 1993 AP interview, Redgrave remembered her father as a fearless stage performer yet a shy, tormented man who had great difficulty talking to his youngest daughter.

"I didn't really know him," Redgrave said. "I lived in his house. I was in awe of him and I adored him, and I was terrified of him and I hated him and I loved him, all in one go."

Redgrave credited the play, which interspersed readings from Shakespeare with family memories, with bringing her closer to her relatives and reviving her film career. She played the supportive wife of pianist David Helfgott in "Shine" and received an Oscar nomination as the loyal housekeeper for filmmaker James Whale in "Gods and Monsters." She also appeared in "Peter Pan," "Kinsey" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic."

On stage, she looked at her mother's side of the family in "The Mandrake Root" and "Rachel and Juliet." In 2009, her play "Nightingale" touched upon her health, the life of her grandmother (Beatrice Kempson) and the end of her 32-year marriage to actor-director John Clark, who had disclosed that he had fathered a child with the future wife of their son Benjamin.

"Redgrave, a cancer survivor, sits at a desk ... and works from a script because of what has been described as an unspecified medical ailment - but not a recurrence of cancer - requiring immediate treatment. It doesn't affect her touching, beautifully realized performance," the AP wrote last year.

"And reading gives the evening an almost storybook quality in which it seems as if the actress, buoyed by a radiant smile, has gathered a few good friends to hear her reminisce about this formidable woman - mother of Rachel, mother-in-law of Michael and grandmother to Lynn, Vanessa and Corin."

Lynn Redgrave is survived by six grandchildren, her sister Vanessa, and four nieces and nephews.

A private funeral with be held later this week.

March 14, 2010

Peter Graves, ‘Mission - Impossible’ Star, Dies at 83

Peter Graves, whose calm and intelligent demeanor was a good fit to the intrigue of "Mission: Impossible" as well as the satire of the "Airplane" films, has died.

Graves passed away Sunday just a few days before his 84th birthday outside his home in Los Angeles, publicist Sandy Brokaw said. Graves was returning from brunch with his wife of nearly 60 years and his family when he had what Graves' doctor believed was a heart attack, Brokaw said.

Graves first gained attention of many baby boomers with the 1950s TV series "Fury," but remained best known for the role of Jim Phelps, leader of a gang of special agents who battled evil conspirators in TV's "Mission: Impossible."

Normally cast as a hero, he turned in an unforgettable performance early in his career as the treacherous Nazi spy in Billy Wilder's 1953 prisoner-of-war drama "Stalag 17."

He also masterfully lampooned his straight-arrow image when he portrayed bumbling airline pilot Clarence Oveur in the 1980 disaster movie spoof "Airplane!"

Graves appeared in dozens of films and a handful of television shows in a career of nearly 60 years.

The authority and trust he projected made him a favorite for commercials late in his life, and he was often encouraged to go into politics.

"He had this statesmanlike quality," Brokaw said. "People were always encouraging him to run for office."

Graves was preceded in stardom by his older brother James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon on TV's "Gunsmoke."

Born Peter Aurness, Graves adopted his grandfather's last name to avoid confusion with his older brother, who had dropped the "U" from the family name.

Graves' career began with cheaply made exploitation films like "It Conquered the World," in which he battled a carrot-shaped monster from Venus, and "Beginning of the End," in which he fought a giant grasshopper.

He later took on equally formidable human villains each week on "Mission: Impossible."

Every show began with Graves, as agent Phelps, listening to a tape of instructions outlining his team's latest mission and explaining that if he or any of his agents were killed or captured "the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."

The tape always self-destructed within seconds of being played.

The show ran on CBS from 1966 to 1973, with Graves joining the cast in 1967, and was revived on ABC from 1988 to 1990 with Graves back as the only original cast member.

The actor credited clever writing for the show's success.

"It made you think a little bit and kept you on the edge of your seat because you never knew what was going to happen next," he once said.

He also played roles in such films as John Ford's "The Long Gray Line" and Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter," as well as "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell," "Texas Across the River" and "The Ballad of Josie."

Graves' first television series was the children's Saturday morning show, "Fury," about an orphan and his untamed black stallion. It lasted six years on NBC.

In his later years, Graves brought his white-haired eminence to PBS as host of "Discover: The World of Science" and A&E's "Biography" series.

He noted during an interview in 2000 that he made his foray into comedy somewhat reluctantly.

Filmmakers Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker had written a satire on the airplane-in-trouble movies, and they wanted Graves and fellow handsome actors Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack to spoof their serious images.

All agreed, but Graves admitted to nervousness. On the one hand, he said, he considered the role a challenge, "but it also scared me."

"I thought I could lose a whole long acting career," he recalled.

"Airplane!" became a box-office smash, and Graves returned for "Airplane II, The Sequel."

Graves was a champion hurdler in high school in Minnesota, as well as a clarinet player in dance bands and a radio announcer.

After two years in the Air Force, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota as a drama major and worked in summer stock before following his brother west to Hollywood.

He found enough success there to send for his college sweetheart, Joan Endress. They were married in 1950 and had three daughters - Kelly Jean, Claudia King and Amanda Lee - and six grandchildren.

January 23, 2010

"Guys and Dolls" actress Jean Simmons dies at 80

Jean Simmons, whose ethereal screen presence and starring roles with Hollywood's top actors made her a mid-century film icon, has died at age 80.

The actress, who sang with Marlon Brando in "Guys and Dolls;" costarred with Gregory Peck, Paul Newman and Kirk Douglas; and played Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, died Friday at her home in Santa Monica, her agent Judy Page told the Los Angeles Times. She had lung cancer.

Already a stunning beauty at 14, Simmons made her movie debut in the 1944 British production "Give Us the Moon."

Several minor films followed before British director David Lean gave the London-born actress her breakthrough role of Estella, companion to the reclusive Miss Havisham in 1946's "Great Expectations." That was followed by the exotic "Black Narcissus," and then Olivier's Oscar-winning "Hamlet" in 1948, for which Simmons was nominated as best supporting actress.

She would be nominated for another Oscar, for best actress for 1969's "The Happy Ending," before moving largely to television roles in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

She won an Emmy Award for her role in the 1980s miniseries "The Thorn Birds."

Her other notable films included "Elmer Gantry" (with Burt Lancaster), "Until They Sail" (with Newman), "The Big Country" (Peck), "Spartacus," (Douglas), "This Earth Is Mine" (Rock Hudson), "All the Way Home" (Robert Preston), "Mister Buddwing" (James Garner) and "Rough Night in Jericho" (Dean Martin).

Simmons had left Britain for Hollywood in 1950, accompanied by her future husband Stewart Granger. There, they were befriended by reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes, who flew them to Tucson, Ariz., for a surprise wedding.

"When I returned from the honeymoon," Simmons told a reporter in 1964, "I learned that Hughes owned me — he had bought me from (British producer) J. Arthur Rank like a piece of meat."
What followed was a string of films that she would later dismiss as terrible, although she took some solace in the fact Hughes, legendary in those days as a womanizer, never bothered her.
"I was married to Jimmy (Granger's real name was James Stewart), so Hughes remained at a distance," she recalled. "But those movies! So terrible they aren't even on videocassettes."
Among the titles: "Angel Face," "Affair with a Stranger" and "She Couldn't Say No."
Simmons finally ended up suing Hughes for the right to make more prestigious films at other studios, and the result was "Young Bess" (as young Queen Elizabeth I), "The Robe" (the first movie filmed in CinemaScope), "The Actress," "The Egyptian" and "Desiree."

In the latter film, in 1954, she played the title role opposite Brando's Napoleon.

The pair teamed again in 1955 for "Guys and Dolls," the Samuel Goldwyn-produced musical in which Simmons is Sarah Brown, a Salvation Army-style reformer conned into a weekend fling in Havana by gambler Sky Masterson.

She loved the rehearsals for that film, Simmons recalled in 1988, "especially the dancing routines with Marlon trying not to step on me and choreographer Michael Kidd looking very worried."

"I got to sing," she added, "because Sam Goldwyn said, `You might as well wreck it with your own voice than somebody else's.'"

By the 1970s, her career as a lead film actress had ended, but Simmons continued to work regularly on stage and in television.

In the 1980s and '90s she appeared on such television shows as "Murder, She Wrote," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Xena: Warrior Princess." She also appeared in numerous TV movies and miniseries, including a 1991 version of "Great Expectations," in which she played Miss Havisham this time.

The careers of both Simmons and her husband Granger had flourished in the 1950s, he as a swashbuckler, she as the demure heroine. But long absences on film locations strained their relationship, and they divorced in 1960. They had a daughter, Tracy.

Shortly after her divorce, Simmons married Richard Brooks, who had directed her in "Elmer Gantry" and would again in "The Happy Ending." Their marriage, which produced a daughter, Kate. The couple separated in 1977 and later divorced.