January 31, 2011

5-time Oscar-winner composer John Barry dies at 77

Five-time Oscar-winning composer John Barry, who wrote music for a dozen James Bond films, including "You Only Live Twice" and "Goldfinger" and developed the twanging guitar riff in the suave spy's theme music, has died. He was 77.
Barry died in New York, where he had lived for some time, on Sunday, his family said. The family did not release the cause of death.
Though his work on the Bond films is among his most famous, the English-born composer wrote a long list of scores, including for "Midnight Cowboy," "Dances with Wolves" and "Body Heat." He was proud of writing both for big action blockbusters and smaller films.
He won two Oscars for "Born Free" in 1966, for best score and best song. He also earned statuettes for the scores to "The Lion in Winter" (1968), "Out of Africa" (1985) and "Dances with Wolves" (1990).
His association with Agent 007 began with "Dr. No" in 1962, although his contribution to that film was not credited and is in dispute.
Monty Norman, who was credited as the composer for "Dr. No," sued The Sunday Times in 2001 for reporting that Barry had composed the theme, working from scraps of Norman's work. Norman won the case, collecting 30,000 pounds ($48,000).
Barry testified that he was paid 250 pounds to work on the theme music, developing the guitar line from part of Norman's song "Bad Sign, Good Sign," but agreed that Norman would get the credit. Norman does not dispute Barry's orchestration.
In later years, Barry limited his comment on the case to saying, "If I didn't write it, why did they ask me to do the other ones?"
He subsequently wrote music for "Goldfinger," "From Russia with Love," "Thunderball," "You Only Live Twice," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "Diamonds are Forever," "The Man with the Golden Gun," "Moonraker," "Octopussy," "A View to a Kill" and "The Living Daylights."
Born John Barry Prendergast, he recalled growing up "exposed to the fantasy life of Hollywood" at the eight theaters his father owned in Northern England.
"Rather than talkie-talkie movies, I liked films with excitement and adventure, because they were the ones that had the music," Barry said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 1999.
"It was nice to have the very commercial Bondian thing ... and then at the same time have these smaller movies which were artistically more interesting to do," he said.
Other films included "Robin and Marian," "Somewhere in Time," "The Cotton Club," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Howard the Duck." He was also nominated for Oscars for his scores of "Mary, Queen of Scots" in 1971 and "Chaplin" in 1992.
Barry trained as a pianist, studied counterpoint with York cathedral organist Francis Jackson, and later took up the trumpet. He founded a jazz group, the John Barry Seven, in 1957.
The group teamed with singer Adam Faith, scoring hits with "What Do You Want?" and "Poor Me," and Barry moved into film work when Faith was tapped to star in "Beat Girl" (titled "Living for Kicks" in the United States).
"The James Bond movies came because we were successful in the pop music world, with a couple of big instrumental hits. They thought I knew how to write instrumental hit music," Barry said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1991.
In an interview in 2008 with The Irish Times, Barry said his success "was not that difficult."
"If you hit the right formula, if you have an instinct for music, if you apply it, if you have the good fortune to meet with certain people who teach you well ... I didn't find it all that difficult," he said.
Barry was divorced three times. He is survived by his wife Laurie, his four children and five grandchildren. A private funeral was planned, the family said.

January 24, 2011

Actor Paul Picerni of TV's 'Untouchables' dies

Hollywood character actor Paul Picerni, perhaps best-known as Robert Stack's FBI agent sidekick on television's "The Untouchables," has died. He was 88.
Picerni's daughter Maria Atkinson-Bates says her father died Jan. 12 at Palmdale Regional Medical Center north of Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack at his home in the desert community of Llano. The death was first reported in the Los Angeles Times.
Besides his role as agent Lee Hobson on "The Untouchables" from 1960 to 1963, Picerni starred in "House of Wax" with Vincent Price in 1953. It was the first 3-D movie produced by a major studio. His other films included "The Scalphunters" in 1968 and "Airport" in 1970.
Picerni's appeared in TV shows including "Gunsmoke," "Kojak," "T.J. Hooker" and "Perry Mason."

January 16, 2011

Oscar-nominated British actress Susannah York dies

British actress Susannah York, one of the leading stars of British and Hollywood films in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has died in London. She was 72.
York received an Oscar nomination in 1970 for her role in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and also appeared in the classic "A Man For All Seasons" before going on to play Christopher Reeve's biological mother in the Superman series of movies.
She died of cancer Saturday at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. Her son, the actor Orlando Wells, said York was an incredibly brave woman who did not complain about her illness and a "truly wonderful mother." He said she went into the hospital on Jan. 6 after experiencing shoulder pain.
York had a long, distinguished career on film, television and on stage, but she is best remembered for her early roles, when she had an immediate impact that started with her 1963 role as Albert Finney's love interest in the memorable period piece romp "Tom Jones."
With its tongue-in-cheek sensuality and gentle send-up of the British aristocracy, the film is remembered as an early landmark in 1960s cinema, and York's unmistakable presence added to its appeal. Her long blond hair, stunning blue eyes and quick-witted repartee brought her a string of excellent roles.
York acted with major stars like Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, George C. Scott and many others, stirring some controversy with her daring portrayal of a lesbian in the 1968 drama "The Killing of Sister George."
In 1972, York won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Her film work tailed off as London's "Swinging Sixties" era faded into cultural history, but she returned to play Superman's mother.
Actress and politician Glenda Jackson, who starred with York in the 1975 film version of "The Maids," said York's death "came as a shock."
Jackson said York had been a pleasure to work with and was "too young to go."
York branched out into television and stage work, earning a number of accolades and awards throughout her long career. She made appearances in several successful TV shows including "The Love Boat" in the U.S. and "Holby City" in Britain.
Her stage work continued for much of her career and included several one-woman shows.
British director Richard Bracewell, who worked with York later in her career, described her as "electrifying" once the cameras started to roll.
Wells said his mother was incredibly versatile throughout her working life.
"There was the glamorous Hollywood aspect — she has worked with everyone from John Huston to Sydney Pollack — as well as the big commercial films like Superman," he said.
Wells, an accomplished television actor, said his mother also had a passion for writing.
"She wrote two children's books, which is great for her grandchildren and something we will pass on to them," said Wells.
York was born in London and studied at the storied Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which has tutored many of Britain's top actors throughout the years.
York had two children — son Orlando and daughter Sasha — with her husband, Michael Wells, before they divorced. She is survived by her children and several grandchildren.

January 03, 2011

'Forbidden Planet' star Anne Francis dies at 80

Actress Anne Francis, who was the love interest in the 1950s science-fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" and later was a sexy private eye in "Honey West" on TV, has died at age 80.
Francis died Sunday at a Santa Barbara nursing home, said Bill Guntle, a funeral director at McDermott-Crockett & Associates Mortuary in Santa Barbara.
Francis, who had surgery and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, died of complications of pancreatic cancer, her daughter, Jane Uemura, told the Los Angeles Times.
Francis, a stunningly beautiful blonde with a prominent beauty mark, appeared opposite such stars as Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Robert Taylor and Glenn Ford in some of the most popular films of the 1950s. But "Forbidden Planet" and "Honey West" made her reputation.
"Forbidden Planet" was hailed in Leonard Maltin's "2006 Movie Guide" as "one of the most ambitious and intelligent films of its genre."
A science-fiction retelling of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," the 1956 film had Leslie Nielsen and other space travelers visiting a planet where expatriate scientist Walter Pidgeon, his daughter (Francis) and their helper, Robby the Robot, built a settlement.
Before filming began, the actors held a meeting and agreed "to be as serious about this film as we could be," Francis said in a 1999 interview.
"We could have hammed it up, but we wanted to be as sincere as we could," she said.
In "Honey West," which aired from 1965 to 1966, Francis' private detective character — who kept a pet ocelot, a wildcat — was a female James Bond: sexy, stylish and as good with martial arts as she was with a gun.
She was nominated for an Emmy for the role, which lasted 30 episodes.
"A lot of people speak to me about Honey West," Francis recalled. "The character made young women think there was more they could reach for. It encouraged a lot of people."
After a childhood career in New York radio and television and on the Broadway stage, Francis arrived in Hollywood when she landed a movie contract at MGM. She later went to 20th Century-Fox, then returned to MGM, and the two big studios afforded her the chance to act opposite the biggest male stars of the day.
In "Blackboard Jungle," the landmark 1955 film about an idealistic teacher (Ford) in a violent city school, Francis played his pregnant wife who is targeted for harassment by one of his students.
Among her other films: "Bad Day at Black Rock" with Tracy and Robert Ryan, "Rogue Cop" with Taylor, "The Rack" with Newman, "A Lion Is in the Streets" with James Cagney, and "Hook, Line and Sinker" opposite Jerry Lewis.
When her movie career declined, Francis became active in television, appearing in dozens of series, including "Mission Impossible," "The Virginian," "My Three Sons," "Ironside," "Gunsmoke," "The Twilight Zone," "Charlie's Angels," "The Golden Girls," "Home Improvement" and "Nash Bridges."
Her name was Ann Marvak when she was born Sept. 16, 1930, in Ossining, N.Y.
By age 5 she was working as a model, and by 11 she was appearing on daytime radio serials, winning the nickname the Little Queen of Soap Operas. She also had some small roles on Broadway.
After her first MGM contract, during which she attended studio school with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Powell and Natalie Wood, she returned to New York. There, she took part in television's Golden Age, acting in such acclaimed dramatic series as "Studio One" and "U.S. Steel Hour" before returning to Hollywood.
Francis' early marriage to actor Bam Price ended in divorce.
In addition to Jane, Francis and her second husband, Robert Abeloff, had another daughter, Maggie, before divorcing. She also is survived by a grandson.