Tribute to those fallen in 2011 Part 5

This is the final of my tributes to the people who have passed this year, as with the rest  it is broken down alphabetically and the age of the person and their cause is in parentheses after.  In this final part I focus on the media entertainment industry, the field I have the most connection with.  There are sparse links here, but lots of indepth writing and analysis.

FILM and TELEVISION (Actors, Producers, Directors, Music, Crew)

James Arness (88- natural causes): For over 20 years, James Arness was one tough man, Marshall Matt Dillon (the cowboy, not the actor). For more than 5 years before that he appeared in Western films and amazingly as The Thing in the original adaptation of “Who Goes There?” by John Campbell and also as The FBI agent in Them! It’s of course notable to mention that James’ younger brother was Peter Graves, another brilliant actor who got known as another tough sonofagun IMF Agent, Jim Phelps, who unfortunately passed away in 2010.

Trevor Bannister (76- heart attack): This comedic actor who also appeared in lots of theater productions would probably be only known to fans of British comedy and most especially to fans of “Are You Being Served?” as he appeared as a major player in over 40 of the 69 episodes. He made appearances in other British programs including a run on the longest running sitcom in Britain, Last of the Summer Wine.

John Barry (77- heart attack): A true music master, a classical music legend living in modern times, he composed and orchestrated some of the most amazing music ever heard by ears everywhere. He made movies larger than life and gave them breath they didn’t have before him. Widely known as composing for James Bond films it is the work he did for movies such as Born Free, Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa and Midnight Cowboy that mesmerizes my ears and senses.

Jeff Conaway (60- complications of drug use): The true star of Grease and the main reason Taxi had something really touching and personal, at least for me personally. This particular scene in Taxi back before his drug abuse caused the writers and directors to completely not follow up this brilliance is a personal favorite.  Jeff was a man of immense talent, spirit and energy. On top of being the original Kenickie he also played Zuko for awhile on Broadway, but Kenickie and his story always resonated with me for some reason. Of course so did Bobby Wheeler. It is of course quite unfortunate that Jeff will be as remembered for his film and TV work as his appearance on the entertaining garbage of celebreality. I hope in years to come that part of his career is wiped clean and his amazing voice and quality artistic talent is what is praised and memorized.

David Croft (89- natural causes): Co-creator of ‘Allo, Allo, Are You Being Served?, this former soldier turned writer and producer is one of the most important individuals in sitcom television alongside his writing partners. There is no doubt that much of what was created and developed on the shows of his creation inspired not only British comedy, but American sitcom comedy for years and years to come.

Frank DiLeo (63- complications of surgery): Music executive and manager, famous on screen for Tuddy in Goodfellas and Frankie “Mr. Big” Sharp in the Wayne’s World flicks. His existence as a character definitely gave Chris Farley the funniest segment in the first Wayne’s World film.

Ryan Dunn (34- car crash): Stunt man, extreme sports enthusiast, and daredevil, the right hand man to Bam Margera and one of the stars of Jackass. One could say Ryan wasn’t playing with a full deck of cards, especially since he died stunt racing while highly intoxicated (read, drunk off his rocker) in the approximate same spot where he almost killed himself and Bam Margera while sober in 1996 with a roll. His loss was still felt though and his friends and fans cried their hearts out at the loss.

Peter Falk (83- complications of Alzheimer’s): I was never a fan of Columbo, but Peter Falk has contributed to so many other things that I did and do love. Be it as the grandfather and narrator in The Princess Bride or he starring roles in Arthur Hiller’s The In-Laws and John Cassavete’s Big Trouble and even the quirky Jeff Goldblum/Cyndi Lauper Vibes I have no choice to admit I admire and respect him as an actor, personality and presence.

Anne Francis (80- cancer): One of the most beautiful and popular actresses of the 1950’s, she became a perennial character actress through the 60’s and worked regularly until the late 90’s in film and television. In 1965 she starred in her own detective show, Honey West, the first show of its kind.

Michael Gough (94- illness/natural causes): Highly talented character actor whose fame was mostly in England he has held many notable roles, including appearing in some classic Hammer films. What a strange coincindence to lose three major players of Hammer in one year including writer James Sangster and director Don Sharp. Michael Gough went on from Hammer films to perform on Doctor Who, and many other minor, small but important film roles. To most he will be remembered as Alfred Pennyworth in the 90’s Batman films, which featured three different Batmen, two Harvey Dents, but one and only one Alfred. Beyond that he continued to work in various roles up until 2010. One of those actors who faces and voice you can’t forget.

Yoshio Harada (71- pneumonia during cancer): Only known to fans of Japanese cinema as he never made the American transition, he was one of those go to guys for some of the most classic Japanese films that are lesser known Internationally other than to those who truly follow. Nonetheless, his impact on cinema appearing in films greatly loved by the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Quentin Tarrantino can not be ignored.

David Hess (75- heart attack): Musician, song writer, and actor. Cult film fans would recognize him as Krug from The Last House on the Left. He also wrote the songs, Speedy Gonzalez made famous by Pat Boone and Come Along made famous by Elvis Presley.

Wyatt Knight (56- suicide by gun): Best known as the badboy Tommy from the Porky’s series, this marginally successful young actor decided to end his own life after years of pain from treatment for cancer.

Andrew Laszlo (85- undisclosed): This photographer turned cinematographer made movies beautiful. As DP on such classics as The Warriors, First Blood and Newsies, his understanding of light, color, scenery, shadow, exposure and more helped bring to life these films in exhilarating ways. He seemed to had retired in 1992 after Newsies, a damn shame.

Len Lesser (88- pneumonia): This consistent and steady character actor worked since the 50’s, appearing in so many shows, westerns and stage productions it’s almost a shame, his “fame” as it would be didn’t come until playing Leo on “Seinfeld” and then Garvin of “Everybody Love’s Raymond”. A man with such screen presence and such a voice should’ve been a major player, the lead or co-starring in a sitcom long before, not just one part here, one part there, but that’s acting and that’s the acting life. Sometimes, despite talent and constant work, the big break never comes and the small break comes late in life. You take what you can get, feh… which is probably how Len Lesser thought and what he brought to his most famous role.

Sidney Lumet (86- lymphoma): Hands down one of the greatest directors of all time, period. It seems pointless to discuss him, this is a point where a career is truly understood by discussing selections of his filmography. I must note that on top of these films I’ll mention there were many more including incredible film adaptations of plays, including the Musical, The Wiz with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. SERPICO was one of the seminal 70’s films that changed the face of cinema forever, Lumet pulled a performance out Pacino rarely seen since and put a gritty true to life New York right on the screen. In DOG DAY AFTERNOON Pacino’s performance doesn’t have the same power, but Lumet’s brilliant deft skill followed by the brilliant NETWORK which broached many of the same topics from the other viewpoint, it his choices to bring these two particular tales to life on the big screen so close to each other in a the same time period. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD, his final film could easily be considered the best of his career. Bringing to life an I believe Black Listed screenplay by an untested by successful playwright, Lumet brought everything he had learned over his vast career to this simple, but poignant film about crime, love, betrayal, lies, truth, morals and ultimately family.

Sid Melton (94- natural causes): Working since the 1940’s Melton had many roles in many features and TV, but is notable as Charley Parker from “Danny Thomas”, Friendly Freddy from “Gomer Pyle”, Alf Munroe from “Green Acres” and much later in life as Sophia’s husband Salvatore in “Golden Girls” flashbacks.

Cynthia Myers (61- undisclosed): Extremely sexy Playboy playmate.of 1968. Brunette. 39 D. All woman! She also appeared in Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.

Charles Napier (75- unspecified): A character actor starting in the late 60’s, Napier appeared in Russ Meyer films, followed by tons of TV shows and minor bits in films. Then he got the bad guy lead in Rambo and everything changed. While he never landed another ole just as big as Murdock, his voice led credence to one of the most under appreciated awesome cartoons ever in The Critic and his face and voice were an unmistakable presence in anything he appeared in. This 1985 article by Roger Ebert paints a great picture of Napier.

John Neville (88- complications of Alzheimer’s): One of the greatest British actors of stage in the 50’s, a time period I personally have read a lot up on and wish I had been alive to see. True international acclaim and noteworthiness did not come his way till being cast as the titular character in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He would gain greater recognition as The Well Manicured Man in both the X-Files TV show and first X-Files film. A true actor’s actor, Neville was something to behold, which one care purely see in Munchausen. A pitch perfect performance he holds his own and overpowers such folks as Eric Idle and Robin Williams.

Patrice O’Neal (41- stroke): One of the funniest standups in recent years, I absolutely loved him on Shorties Watching Shorties. I loved his stand up too, and there’s one more hilarious factor of Patrice that most people don’t realize. For two years he was a member of WWE creative. I’m not sure what bits he came up with, but I bet if there was anything actually legitimately funny and not just distasteful and juvenile from 2000-2002 on RAW or Smackdown, Patrice was responsible for it.

Pete Postlethwaite (64- cancer): One of the finest character and stage actors England ever produced, America didn’t truly get to experience the excellence and awesomeness that was Pete Postlethwaite until Last of the Mohicans, followed by In The Name of the Father. He then wowed audience as one of the most important players in “The Usual Suspects” and since then has appeared in many films. In 2010 alone he had small, but very important roles in Clash of the Titans, Inception and The Town. His impact on film with his curiously interesting features, perfect timing as an actor and immense presence shall be surely missed.

Andy Rooney (92- surgery complications): The voice of some kind of reason for over sixty years going back to the days when he only wrote, but did not deliver his words, Rooney was more Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher than they Hitchens and Maher combined. Andy Rooney was their love child despite he being the one who gave birth to them. Andy Rooney was allowed to speak his mind and it was a controversial, liberal, open minded, religion hating, republican despising, freedom of speech loving mind. It was only because he was left with a few minutes on 60 minutes to deliver his work instead of entire specials or an entire hour of moderated programming that his figure didn’t reach the fervor of these others. He was Andy Rooney to most, that cute old grumpy old man who spoke his mind at the end of sixty minutes. For conservatives I bet they just thought he was cute, but if the real world really paid attention, they’d of known Andy Rooney wasn’t cute… he was real.

Jane Russell (89- respiratory failure): Another beautiful of the silver screen in the 50’s, co starring alongside Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum at the height of her career. I do not believe I would’ve gotten along very well with Jane Russell though. She was a card carrying, god fearing, bible thumping, bigoted, conservative, narrowminded republican and all this by her own admittance. Also she loved to drink. Also by her own admittance. Gotta give it to her though, she was hot and she was a good actress.

Ken Russell (84- stroke): Truly a genius director, here was a man who was able to bring Pete Townsend Tommy to the big screen and present some of the weirdest, cult films of all time. While his career goes beyond these from 1971 till 1989 he directed, wrote and adapted some of the most insane stories one could find. Adapting and re-conceiving the works of men like John Whitting’s play based on Aldous Huxley’s work, turning the rock opera only staged previously as orchestral production into a full fledged film, and creating what is considered one of the great films in scifi psychotropic cinema in Paddy Chevaskey’s ALTERED STATES. Personally for me it his realization of Stephen Volk’s only successful screenplay GOTHIC, taking the two works of Byron and Shelley on that infamous night where Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born and turning them into disturbing feast, but even more so the film of some of my childhood fantasies and nightmares his bringing to life of Bram Stoker’s LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM. This 1989 feature seemed to feel like Ken Russell’s coup de grâce. Throughout the 90’s and up till 2000 he would deliver very disappointing productions or even productions that were never released internationally and in most cases even theatrically. Lucky there’s that slew of disturbing flicks which started with THE DEVILS, continuing into LISTZOMANIA and even CRIMES OF PASSION to remember him by.

Bert Schneider (78- natural causes): Co-Founder of BBS Films. Creator of The Monkees and Producer of The Monkees’ Head, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces starring Jack Nicolson, and Peter Bogdonavich’s The Last Picture Show. A true pop-culture legend and a man who actually helped change film, music and the world. The avenues he opened in developing The Monkees alone is a benchmark of what would become a constant existence in pop-culture. The created super group which would find a way to break out of the confines of their conception and become monumental successes despite their beginnings. Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, The Spice Girls, and so would never been ideas without The Monkees and therefore without Bert Schneider. The Monkee’s of course also would not have been successful without the immense talent of each member or the song writing talents of Neil Diamond and Andy Kim, among others, but all that still rests of Bert’s shoulders as a producer, making these original decisions and choices for the group including hiring Don Kirshner. Following that, it was his financial backing, spokesman-ship and support that allowed films like Easy Rider and Last Picture Show to be more than just haphazard concepts from talented, but unsteady writer/performers. The successes of those projects I’m sure inspired bigger studios to take chances they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Bubba Smith (66- heart disease): Obviously I don’t care about his obviously amazing sports career, as the only sports I care about are extreme, puglism, and martial arts, but as Moses Hightower in the “Police Academy” franchise he cemented himself in the echelon of great characters. He also got to perform in some super obscure, but cult fame shows like Blue Thunder.

Leonard Stone (87- cancer): Best known as the father of Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, this prolific character actor played multiple roles in everything from “The Outer Limits” to “Perry Mason” to “Dragnet” to “Barney Miller”. He even had a recurring role as a judge on L.A. Law.

Elizabeth Taylor (79- congestive heart failure): What does one say about one of the most amazing and ravishing actresses of her time or possibly for centuries to come? Two Academy Awards, SAG Lifetime Achievement, Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement, AFI Lifetime Achievement, President’s Medal and on top of all that, she was also awarded Dame Commander. The love to two of entertainment’s greatest gifts Producer Michael Todd and actor Richard Burton. Activist, humanitarian and real person, ignore her scandals, her controversies, everything else… Liz Taylor was the real deal.

Yvette Vickers (73 or 74- mummified body found in 2010, heart failure): The other woman in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, she was also a Playboy playmate photographed in 1959 by Russ Meyer. The circumstances behind her death are as fascinating as her short time of fame.

John Wood (81- natural causes): British actor who had two very notable 80’s roles in War Games and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. To discuss either role would basically be considered spoilers. That is how tantamount he is to both films.

Actors like Stone, Postlewaithe, Melton, Lesser, Napier, Wood and Gough are the rock that holds films and television aloft, without them, the stars would never shine, all should take their hat off to these men and like Andrew Gold suggests “Thank them for being a friend”.