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.