February 14, 2014

The Big Valley: Season 2 on DVD

On April 8, 2014, Timeless Media Group is releasing The Big Valley - Season Two on DVD. Finally!

Ralph Waite, a TV father for the ages, passes away

Ralph Waite, a Palm Desert resident known for his role as John Walton Sr. on the 1970s TV series “The Waltons” has died, Waite’s longtime friend Jerry Preece told The Desert Sun.

Waite, 85, died at his Palm Desert home Thursday at about 11 a.m.

Preece, who spent a lot of time with Waite eating at different restaurants and going to the movies, had planned to pick him up at 1 p.m.

When he arrived, he found ambulances and Waite’s wife, Linda Waite.

“She just told me she thought he’d passed,” Preece said.

Linda Waite didn’t immediately respond to phone calls Thursday afternoon.

“We had talked a lot about it...he had been ill on and off lately and had a couple of spells in the hospitals. Everything was just wearing out,” Preece said.

“This last year or two, he had really gotten closer to realizing that his body was wearing out.”

Preece said his friend died of a “tired heart.”

He described Waite as a shy man that had a mischievous, childlike side.

Waite, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1946 attended Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., on the GI Bill.

He earned his master’s degree from Yale University Divinity School and became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

He later left the ministry and went into publishing with Harper & Row in New York City.

At 33, he sat in on an acting class.

“I said, ‘Let me try a scene,’ and I fell in love with it,” Waite told The Desert Sun in 2010.

He made his stage debut in 1960 in a production of “The Balcony” at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

He continued performing in Broadway and off-Broadway plays while also landing parts in high-profile movies, including “Cool Hand Luke” and “Five Easy Pieces.”

Waite’s favorite stage role was “King Lear, by far,” he said.

In 1971, he was called out to Hollywood to work on “The Waltons,” an hourlong drama about a rural Virginia family struggling through the Great Depression.

Waite — who was about 40 years sober at the time of his death — was an alcoholic when he first began shooting “The Waltons.”

It didn’t take long for Waite to realize he was living a life contradictory to the role of the hardworking, reliable father he was playing on TV.

“I was a caring, responsible father to all of these kids,” he said. “But I was drinking the night before and being a drunk on the side. I found a way to get sober.

“Hollywood changed my life,” he said. “It turned me into a human being.”

Ron Celona, founder of the Coachella Valley Repertory in Rancho Mirage, and former artistic director of the Joslyn Center theater in Palm Desert, said he met Waite more than 15 years ago when he volunteered at the center. Later, Celona asked Waite to participate in a Q&A for a Luminary Luncheon at the Coachella Valley Rep.

“What really surprised me from the interview was how candid he was about his struggles in real life and his alcoholism,” said Celona. “That really stuck with me that he was so open in conquering that and what an achievement it was in his lifetime. That was a powerful memory from the interview. Otherwise, he was just a down-to-earth, nice guy that was willing to support CV Rep and Joslyn.”

Though Waite gained popularity for his role on the Depression-era show and then for his role as Mark Harmon’s father, Jackson “Jack” Gibbs, on the popular CBS series NCIS, he established religious and political roots in the Coachella Valley.

In his later years, Waite discovered Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship.

“It was just what I was looking for,” Waite said.

“I spent a couple of months reacquainting myself with the Old Testament. ... It’s the root of our religion,” he said.

Waite also made his way onto the political scene in the 1990s.

Waite, a Democrat, entered the political fray in 1990 when he challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Al McCandless, representing the 37th district in Riverside County, losing by 5 percentage points.

Waite said he got involved in politics because “I thought our representative in Congress was not up to par. I ran and lost, but had a great time.”

In 1998, Waite ran in the special election for the unexpired 44th Congressional District seat left vacant when incumbent Republican Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident.

Waite was defeated in that election by Mary Bono, Sonny’s widow.

Waite won the Democratic nomination for the general election in the June primary, but dropped out before the November election.

“Ralph was a very formidable opponent yet I grew to admire him very much. We had some fun with political jesting and jousting but his caring nature and keen wit always made me smile. I am grateful for his contributions to our community, most notably his support of the ABC Recovery Center,” the former congresswoman said in a statement Thursday. “The world has lost a great star and I join our community in remembering a very good man.”

Cathedral City Councilman Greg Pettis was Waite’s spokesman during his political campaign against Bono.

“He was just a wonderful man. Smart, caring, loved people. He just really had a passion for issues that affected everyday folk,” Pettis said. “We could sit and have conversations about everyday issues.”

February 12, 2014

Sid Caesar Dies at 91

Sid Caesar, a comedic force of nature who became one of television’s first stars in the early 1950s and influenced generations of comedians and comedy writers, died on Wednesday. He was 91.

The Associated Press reported that his death was announced by Eddy Friedfeld, a family spokesman.

Mr. Caesar largely faded from the public eye in his middle years as he struggled with crippling self-doubt and addiction to alcohol and pills. But from 1950 to 1954, he and his co-stars on the live 90-minute comedy-variety extravaganza “Your Show of Shows” dominated the Saturday night viewing habits of millions of Americans. In New York, a group of Broadway theater owners tried to persuade NBC to switch the show to the middle of the week because, they said, it was ruining their Saturday business.

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

“If you want to find the ur-texts of ‘The Producers’ and ‘Blazing Saddles,’ of ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Annie Hall,’ of ‘All in the Family’ and ‘M*A*S*H’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times when he was its chief theater critic, “check out the old kinescopes of Sid Caesar.”

A list of Mr. Caesar’s writers over the years reads like a comedy all-star team. Woody Allen and Mel Brooks did some of their earliest writing for him. So did the most successful playwright in the history of the American stage, Neil Simon. Carl Reiner created one landmark sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; Larry Gelbart was the principal creative force behind another, “M*A*S*H.” Mel Tolkin wrote numerous scripts for “All in the Family.” The authors of the two longest-running Broadway musicals of the 1960s, Joseph Stein (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Michael Stewart (“Hello, Dolly!”), were Caesar alumni as well.

Sketches on “Your Show of Shows” and its successor, “Caesar’s Hour” (1954-57), were as likely to skewer the minutiae of domestic life as to lampoon classic Hollywood movies, arty foreign films and even operas.

Mr. Caesar was funny whether working from a script or improvising: In a classic moment during a parody of the opera “Pagliacci,” as he was drawing tears on his face in front of a dressing-room mirror, the makeup pencil broke. Suddenly unable to draw anything but straight lines, he made the split-second decision to play tick-tack-toe on his cheek.

With a rubbery face and the body of a linebacker, Mr. Caesar could get laughs without saying a word, as he did in a pantomime routine in which he and his co-stars, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris and Mr. Reiner, played mechanical figures on a town clock that goes dangerously out of whack.

February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple Black, Screen Darling, Dies at 85

Shirley Temple Black, who as a dimpled, precocious and determined little girl in the 1930s sang and tap-danced her way to a height of Hollywood stardom and worldwide fame that no other child has reached, died on Monday night at her home in Woodside, Calif. She was 85.

Her publicist, Cheryl Kagan, confirmed her death.

Ms. Black returned to the spotlight in the 1960s in the surprising new role of diplomat, but in the popular imagination she would always be America’s darling of the Depression years, when in 23 motion pictures her sparkling personality and sunny optimism lifted spirits and made her famous. From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The little girl with 56 perfect blonde ringlets and an air of relentless determination was so precocious that the usually unflappable Adolphe Menjou, her co-star in her first big hit, “Little Miss Marker,” described her as “an Ethel Barrymore at 6” and said she was “making a stooge out of me.”

When she turned from a magical child into a teenager, audience interest slackened, and she retired from the screen at 22. But instead of retreating into nostalgia, she created a successful second career for herself.

After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

After winning an honorary Academy Award at the age of 6 and earning $3 million before puberty, Shirley Temple grew up to be a level-headed adult. When her cancerous left breast was removed in 1972, at a time when operations for cancer were shrouded in secrecy, she held a news conference in her hospital room to speak out about her mastectomy and to urge women discovering breast lumps not to “sit home and be afraid.” She is widely credited with helping to make it acceptable to talk about breast cancer.

A statement released by her family said, “We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black.”

Shirley Jane Temple was born in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 23, 1928. From the beginning, she and her mother, Gertrude, were a team (“I was absolutely bathed in love,” she remembered); her movie career was their joint invention. Her success was due to both her own charm and her mother’s persistence.

In “Child Star,” her 1988 autobiography, Mrs. Black said her mother had made a “calculated decision” to turn her only daughter into a professional dancer. At a fee of 50 cents a week, Mrs. Temple enrolled 3-year-old Shirley in Mrs. Meglin’s Dance Studio.

In 1932, Shirley was spotted by an agent from Educational Pictures and chosen to appear in “Baby Burlesks,” a series of sexually suggestive one-reel shorts in which children played all the roles. The 4- and 5-year-old children wore fancy adult costumes that ended at the waist. Below the waist, they wore diapers with oversize safety pins. In these heavy-handed parodies of well-known films like “The Front Page” (“The Runt Page”) and “What Price Glory” (“War Babies”), Shirley imitated Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and — wearing an off-the-shoulder blouse and satin garter as a hard-boiled French bar girl in “War Babies” — Dolores Del Rio.

When any of the two dozen children in “Baby Burlesks” misbehaved, they were locked in a windowless sound box with only a block of ice on which to sit. “So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche,” Mrs. Black wrote in “Child Star.” “Its lesson of life, however, was profound and unforgettable. Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble."

“Baby Burlesks” was followed by five two-reel comedies and a year of casting calls and bit-part auditions, which garnered young Shirley half a dozen small roles. By Thanksgiving 1933 she was growing older. She was 5½, and in the previous two years she had earned a total of $702.50. Her mother did the sensible thing: she shaved a year off her daughter’s age. Shirley would be shocked to discover, at a party for her 12th birthday in April 1941, that she was actually 13.

Her career began in earnest in 1934, when she was picked to play James Dunn’s daughter in the Fox fantasy “Stand Up and Cheer,” one of many films made during the Depression in which music chases away unhappy reality. She was signed to a two-week contract at $150 a week and told to provide her own tap shoes.

Within an hour of completing her song-and-dance number “Baby, Take a Bow,” she was formally placed under contract to Fox for a year at $150 a week. The studio had an option for seven more years and would pay Gertrude Temple an additional $25 each week to take care of her daughter.

In its review of “Stand Up and Cheer” (1934), Variety called Shirley Temple a “sure-fire potential kidlet star.” She made eight movies in 1934 and moved from potential to full star in February, when Fox lent her to Paramount for “Little Miss Marker,” based on a Damon Runyon story.

Playing a child left with a bookie (Adolphe Menjou) as a marker for her father’s gambling debts, Shirley reforms a gang of gamblers, bookies and horse dopers. She would play a similarly wise and maternal miniature adult, dominating the adults around her and solving their problems with unbounded optimism and common sense, in most of her films.

She brought peace to a British regiment fighting rebels in India in “Wee Willie Winkie” (1937) and to white men and Indians in “Susannah of the Mounties” (1939). She was frequently cast as an orphan, the better to show adults how to cope with adversity: her father committed suicide in “Little Miss Marker”; her aviator father crashed and her mother was killed by a car in “Bright Eyes” (1934); she was the sole survivor of a shipwreck in “Captain January” (1936).

“People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog, Rin Tin Tin, and a little girl,” Mrs. Black often said in appraising her success.

It is no surprise that Shirley Temple dolls were the best-selling dolls of the decade (and are valuable collectibles now). In many of her films she was a living doll, adored by entire groups of men: aviators in “Bright Eyes," a Yankee regiment in “The Little Colonel” (1935).

No Shirley Temple movie was complete without a song — most famously “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup” — and a tap dance, with partners including George Murphy, Jack Haley and Buddy Ebsen. But her most successful partnership was with the legendary African-American entertainer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. She may have been the first white actress allowed to hold hands affectionately with a black man on screen, and her staircase dance with Mr. Robinson in “The Little Colonel,” the first of four movies they made together, retains its magic almost 80 years later.

Not everyone was a Shirley Temple fan. The novelist Graham Greene, who was also a film critic, was sued by 20th Century Fox for his review of “Wee Willie Winkie” in the magazine Night and Day, which he edited. In the review, he questioned whether she was a midget and wrote of her “well-shaped and desirable little body” being served up to middle-aged male admirers.

After the failure of “The Blue Bird” (1940), a film version of the Maeterlinck fantasy that Fox expected to be the bonanza MGM’s “Wizard of Oz” had been a year earlier, the studio dropped 12-year-old Shirley’s contract. Even before the movie was released, her mother had decided it was time for Shirley, who had been educated in a schoolroom at Fox, to go to a real school.

She entered the private Westlake School for Girls in seventh grade, with little idea of how to cope. She had sat on 200 famous laps and found J. Edgar Hoover’s the most comfortable. Amelia Earhart had shared chewing gum with her. She had conversed with Eleanor Roosevelt. The Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood had created the Shirley Temple — a nonalcoholic drink of lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry — in her honor. But her playmates had been few and carefully chosen.

At Westlake, after months of being given the cold shoulder, she decided she might as well be herself. She eventually spent a happy five years there.

What Fox had dropped, MGM picked up eight months later. But the little girl was now entering adolescence. On her first visit to MGM, Mrs. Black wrote in her autobiography, the producer Arthur Freed unzipped his trousers and exposed himself to her. Being innocent of male anatomy, she responded by giggling, and he threw her out of his office.

She made “Kathleen” (1941) for MGM and “Miss Annie Rooney” (1942) for United Artists; played supporting roles for David O. Selznick in two 1944 films, “Since You Went Away” and “I’ll Be Seeing You”; and made “Kiss and Tell” on loan to Columbia in 1945. But her golden hair had turned brown and, as the film historian David Thomson observed, she had become “an unremarkable teenager.” The public had lost interest.

By then she was a strong-willed, chain-smoking 17-year-old. Determined to be the first in her Westlake class to become engaged, she had accepted a ring from a 24-year-old Army Air Corps sergeant, John Agar Jr., a few days before her 17th birthday. They were married on Sept. 19, 1945.

Unable to handle being Mr. Shirley Temple, Mr. Agar began drinking excessively. While his wife was appearing in “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and “That Hagen Girl” with Ronald Reagan, Mr. Agar tried acting, and failed.

They were divorced in December 1949, a year after the birth of their daughter, Susan. Less than 60 days after her divorce, Miss Temple, 21, met and became engaged to Charles Alden Black, the 30-year-old assistant to the president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, who claimed he had never seen a Shirley Temple movie. They were betrothed after a 12-day courtship. Their marriage lasted almost 55 years, until his death in 2005.

Mr. Black, who was dropped from the San Francisco Social Register for marrying an actress, told a reporter in 1988: “Over 38 years I have participated in her life 24 hours a day through thick and thin, traumatic situations, exultant situations, and I feel she has only one personality. She would be catastrophic for the psychiatric profession. You can wake her up in the middle of the night and she has the same personality everybody knows. What everybody has seen for 60 years is the bedrock.”

Mrs. Black had left the movies for good by Dec. 6, 1950, when she married Mr. Black. A son, Charles Alden Jr., was born in 1952; a daughter, Lori Alden, in 1954.

During the Korean War Mrs. Black followed her husband to Washington, where he was stationed at the Pentagon as a Navy lieutenant commander. In later years he would follow her to her diplomatic postings.

Late in the 1950s, with her old movies being shown on television all over America, she briefly returned to show business. From 1958 to 1961 she was the host and an occasional performer on the television series “Shirley Temple’s Storybook” (also known as “The Shirley Temple Show”), an anthology of fairy-tale adaptations.

By the early 1960s she was president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and co-founder of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, raising funds to fight the disease that afflicted her brother, George. She was representing the federation in Prague on Aug. 21, 1968, when Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks rolled in and brought to a premature end Alexander Dubcek’s effort to remodel the Communist system.

For many years the Black family lived in the San Francisco area, where she was active in civic and community affairs. She worked particularly hard for the development of the San Francisco International Film Festival, but she resigned from the festival’s executive committee in 1966 in protest against a decision to show the Swedish film “Night Games,” which she called “pornography for profit.”

Mrs. Black had become interested in politics when she lived in Washington. In 1967 she ran for Congress to fill a seat left vacant by the death of the Republican J. Arthur Younger. She hoped to emulate the California political successes of George Murphy, her dancing partner in “Little Miss Broadway,” who had become a United States senator, and Ronald Reagan, her co-star in “That Hagen Girl,” who had become governor.

A backer of the Vietnam War, she lost to a more moderate Republican, Pete McCloskey, in the suburban 11th Congressional District south of San Francisco. It probably did not help that the bands kept playing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” at her campaign stops.

But Mrs. Black pressed on with her decision to have a new career in public service. In 1969, President Nixon appointed her to the five-member United States delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. She acquitted herself well by all accounts, speaking out about the problems of the aged, the plight of refugees and, especially, environmental problems.

When she was appointed ambassador to Ghana in 1974, some career diplomats were outraged, but State Department officials later conceded that her performance was outstanding.

Among her duties as the government’s chief of protocol was heading a one-week training program for new envoys. She flashed her wit in describing it: “We teach them how to get used to being called Ambassador and having Marines saluting. Then, on Day 3, we tell them what to do if they’re taken hostage.”

When she arrived in Prague as ambassador — a post usually reserved for career diplomats — she discovered that there had been a Shirley Temple fan club there 50 years earlier. Officials brought “Shirleyka” old membership cards to autograph. Having been Shirley Temple was extremely helpful to Shirley Temple Black, she told reporters, “mainly because it provides name identification,” although she added that it had “little bearing on whether I succeed or fail thereafter.”

Mrs. Black succeeded beyond almost everyone’s expectations, winning praise during her three years in Prague from, among others, Henry Kissinger, who called her “very intelligent, very tough-minded, very disciplined.” Although she may always be best remembered as America’s sweetheart, the woman who left the screen at 22 saying she had “had enough of pretend” ended up leaving a considerable mark on the real world.

February 01, 2014

Oscar-winning actor Maximilian Schell dead at 83

Austrian actor Maximilian Schell, who won an Academy Award for his role as a German defense attorney in the 1961 film "Judgment at Nuremberg," has died at the age of 83.

The Vienna-born actor died overnight at a clinic in Innsbruck, his agent told the Austria Press Agency on Saturday.

Schell starred on stage and screen on both sides of the Atlantic after growing up in Switzerland, where his family settled to escape the Nazis after Germany's 1938 annexation of Austria.

The brother of actress Maria Schell, he also won a Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle award for his role in "Judgment at Nuremberg", which followed a TV drama version of the play.

He was nominated for two more Oscars for his acting, in 1976 for best actor for "The Man in the Glass Booth" and in 1978 as best supporting actor for "Julia."

Schell won the 1993 Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or made-for-TV movie for "Stalin."