Thursday, March 01, 2007

In Memoriam - (The Legends Who Passed On in 2006)

In Memoriam – (The Legends Who Passed On in 2006)

Ker-rist, is it March already? The major film awards have all been taken care of, and with each one, we get the obligatory “Dead People” montage which ends up becoming an applause barometer to either their level of fame or the short term memory of the attendees. Well, here at the Bloody Red Carpet, we have a very long memory and we would like to take a moment or two of your time to honor those film legends that passed in 2006.

While we don’t have the time to delve into the lives and careers of each beloved performer and creator who has gone onto the great soundstage in the sky, we would like to applaud the careers of such talented folks as: Anne Meacham, Anthony Franciosa, Fayard Nicholas, Chris Penn, Moss Mabry, Al Lewis, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Don Knotts, Dennis Weaver, Darren McGavin, Henderson Forsythe, Edward Albert Jr who followed his father much too soon, Arthur Hill, Red Buttons, Philippe Noiret and Betty Comden. Sniffle. We’ll miss them. But like every movie lover, we have our favorites. The ones we’ll miss the most. Grab your hankies, and let’s take a moment to applaud them once again for their major contributions to the art of movies!

(Note: We are listing them in the chronological order of their passing to the great soundstages in the sky, so don’t go reading any favoritism into it!)

“I have bursts of being a lady, but it doesn’t last long.”

Shelley Winters
Born Shirley Schrift on August 18, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri
Died January 14, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California

This two time Oscar winning legend began her career as an alluring sexpot, before turning it on its ear with her Best Actress Oscar nominated role in George Stevens’ classic “A Place in the Sun”. She would later win the first of her two Oscars for supporting turns in Stevens’ big screen adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank”, as the overbearing mother of Anne Frank’s young beau. Six years later, she won win another Oscar as the monstrously bigoted and abusive mother to a young blind woman who falls in love with a kind black man, clearly not the thing to do when your mother is a racist – in “A Patch of Blue”. And you know what? We don’t think she deserved either Oscar – for those roles! While she certainly deserved to be recognized for her fine portrayals, the Academy ignored her grandest turn as yet another overbearing momma in Stanley Kubrick’s darkly comic adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’sLolita”. Her Charlotte Haze Humbert displays her at her best: sexy, loud, sometimes garish, often funny, always riveting. Much like the lady herself. And was any actress in the history of cinema so unlucky around a body of water! As a tribute to her most famous roles, BAMcinématek hosted a series entitled “Shelley Winters vs. the Water”! “A Place in the Sun”, “The Night of the Hunter”, “Lolita” and her possibly her most famous role as the brave grandmother in peril in the ne plus ultra of the 70’s disaster flick genre: “The Poseidon Adventure”. Shelley Winter’s legacy includes many interesting films, but you could do far worse than starting out with those four. A great lady who had the final word on her own image.

"Isn't it strange that something you've never really wanted to do turns out to be the very thing that's given you a name and identity?...The Red Shoes ruined my career in the ballet. They (her peers) never trusted me again."

Moira Shearer
Born Moira Shearer King on January 17, 1926 in Dumferline, Fife, Scotland
Died January 31, 2006 in Oxford, England

This famed Prima Ballerina from Sadler’s Wells, only made a handful of film appearances, but is perhaps responsible for more young girls and boys wanted to slap on a tutu and twirl around the stage than any other dancer in history. Why? Well, “The Red Shoes” of course. The deliriously opulent, twisted and dramatic fairy tale for adults filmed by that heroic duo of the British Cinema: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger transfixed the world when it debuted in 1948. And without a doubt, the film would have been less successful without the ravishing central performance of the great Moira Shearer. Thankfully, for film buffs the world over, she also featured prominently in Powell and Pressburger’s operatic “The Tales of Hoffmann” and later as one of the imperiled objects of attraction in Michael Powell’s horror masterpiece, “Peeping Tom”. For a dancer who dabbled in film, quite the cinema legacy! Brava!

"I never had that problem. People looked at me on stage and said, 'Jesus, that broad better be able to act.’”

Maureen Stapleton
Born Lois Maureen Stapleton on June 21, 1925 in Troy, New York
Died on March 13, 2006 in Lenox, Massachusetts

This Tony, Emmy and Oscar winning actress defied categorization. While never the beauty pageant type, she eschewed sensuality by the sheer force of her talent – creating the role of Serafina Delle Rosa in Tennessee Williams’The Rose Tattoo” for an enraptured Broadway in 1951. The film roles she received immediately landed her in the supporting actress / character type slot, where she typically played far older than her years. In 1963’s film version of “Bye Bye Birdie”, she portrayed Dick Van Dyke’s mother despite an age difference of six whole months! Her four Oscar nominations came for her movie debut in 1958’s “Lonelyhearts – not a bad way to start a career, followed by Airport in 1970 as the anxiety fraught wife to Van Heflin’s suicidal hijacker (!), her incredibly brilliant turn in Woody Allen’s first foray into Bergman territory, Interiors in 1978 as the “vulgarian” mistress to E.G. Marshall and finally her Oscar winning role as the famed anarchist / proto-feminist / good time gal Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty’s homage to his own ego, “Reds”. (Okay, we do like “Reds” but wish Warren had cast somebody who could actually portray intellectual believably.) As one can tell by the self deprecating quote above by the lady herself, Maureen Stapleton had a sense of humor as well as limitless talent. As the good roles declined over the years, she managed to maintain her dignity by stealing the show in such lesser fare as: “The Money Pit”, “Heartburn”, “Nuts”, “Cocoon” and its completely unnecessary sequel “Cocoon: The Return”.

(Sidenote: To all those canutes that insist she was related to the talented Jean Stapleton – you would be wrong. You’re probably the same people that believe Audrey and Katharine Hepburn were related. Do you also think Shirley and James Earl Jones are siblings?)

“Not only are her shapes and features perfect: from her eyes radiates an irresistible flashing of love." – Gregory Peck

Alida Valli
Born Alida Maria Laura von Altenburger, the Baroness of Marckenstein and Freuenberg on May 31, 1921 in Pola, Istria
Died on April 22, 2006 in Rome, Italy

Forget that silly Kevin Bacon game! If you want to connect Brigitte Bardot to Uma Thurman or Frank Sinatra to Roberto Benigni: the late, great beauty Alida Valli is your gal! Her career spanned six decades, incorporating several continents and great films in English, Italian and French. Along the way, this aristocratic beauty became so well known, she was often billed only as “Valli”. The megalomaniacal American producer David O. Selznick brought her over to the states following several successful films in Europe to launch her as the next Garbo. She starred notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s courtroom drama, “The Paradine Case” and was loaned out for her landmark film role, as the mysterious Anna Schmidt in Carol Reed’s post war masterpiece: “The Third Man”. That film alone, which often ends up on the very shortlist of all time greatest flicks makes Alida Valli worthy of an entry into the pantheon. If it weren’t for the simple fact that over sixty years, she worked with such major directors as Hitchcock, Reed, Pontecorvo, Clément, Vadim, Franju, Chabrol, Pasolini, Bava, Chéreau, both Bertolucci’sBernardo and Giuseppe, and Dario Argento. Her ability to beguile extended far into her career, delivering a lovely supporting turn in the bucolic “A Month by the Lake” in 1995. Drop what you’re doing right now and go rent: “The Paradine Case”, “The Third Man”, “The Wide Blue Road”, “Eyes Without a Face”, “Ophélia” and “A Month by the Lake” and revel in cinematic bliss at the altar of Alida Valli!

Sally Bowles: “Have you ever slept with a dwarf?”
Brian: “Once, but it wasn’t a lasting relationship.”

Jay Presson Allen
Born Jacqueline Presson on March 3, 1922 in Fort Worth, Texas
Died on May 1, 2006 in New York City, New York

This talented lady was responsible for some very fine screenplays, including her two Oscar nominations for “Cabaret” and “Prince of the City” – two of our favorite flicks! She began her screenwriting career by scripting Alfred Hitchcock’s underrated “Marnie”. She adapted her own play version of Muriel Spark’sThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” into a critical and financial success driven by Maggie Smith’s Oscar winning lead turn. Other note worthy films include adapting Grahame Greene’s “Travels with My Aunt for Dame Maggie in another Oscar nominated performance under the solid guidance of veteran director George Cukor. Her adaptation of her own comedic novel, “Just Tell Me What You Want” was driven by a terrific comedic turn by Alan King. And the entertaining stage to screen comedy thriller “Deathtrap”. Whether it was for her novels, plays, screenplays or in her role as producerJay Presson Allen was a class act!

"I have big teeth. I lisp. My eyes disappear when I smile. My voice is funny. I don't sing like Judy Garland. I don't dance like Cyd Charisse. But women identify with me. And while men desire Cyd Charisse, they'd take me home to meet Mom".

June Allyson
Born Eleanor Geisman on October 7, 1917 in the Bronx, New York
Died on July 8, 2006 in Ojai, California

This unlikeliest of stars emerged from the Broadway chorus with her vivaciousness and four-pack-a-day smoky voice to become one of the biggest stars of the post-war era. Cast in an endless series of lightweight musical charmers for the famed MGM studios, she became queen of the remakes. From “Little Women” to “The Opposite Sex” to “My Man Godrey” to “You Can’t Run Away From It” – all of which paled in comparison to the original 1930s classics. It was less her material, and more of her onscreen charisma and effortless talent that assured her success. Married in real life to former Depression Era crooner, turned classic tough guy, Dick Powell, she found lasting fame playing opposite some of Hollywood’s biggest stars: James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Gene Kelly and the male equivalent of her down-home charms, Van Johnson. One of the hardest working ladies in film history, who continued to perform until recently. We will remember her as the epitome of the “American Gal Next Door” and insist you rent two of her best flicks: the college campus hijinks of “Good News” and the boardroom dramatics of “Executive Suite”, whose all-star cast shared the top acting honors at the Venice Film Festival for their fine work.

“Today we make everything so complicated. The lighting, the cameras, the acting. It has taken me thirty years to arrive at simplicity.”

Sven Nykvist
Born Sven Vilhelm Nykvist on December 3, 1922 in Moheda, Kronobergs län, Sweden
Died September 20, 2006 in Stockholm, Sweden

To label Sven Nykvist a great cinematographer is not only stating the obvious, it is undervaluing his craft. Cinematography is cinema. The play of light and shadow and setting of tone and atmosphere are all reliant on the skill of the great cinematographers. If we were to look only at Sven’s lesser known work: “Black Moon”, “The Tenant”, “Pretty Baby”, “Starting Over”, “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Cannery Row”, “Star 80”, “Swann in Love”, “Agnes of God”, “The Sacrifice”, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “Another Woman”, “New York Stories”, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Chaplin” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” – it would still be an impressive career. But of course, Mr. Nykvist will go down in film history books as the great collaborator to Ingmar Bergman. Their quarter century of films together has become recognized as the work of two geniuses, working in tandem to produce some of the most eloquent and stunning work in movie history. Drop what you’re doing right now and go watch: The Virgin Spring”, “Through a Glass Darkly”, “Winter Light”, “Persona”, “Hour of the Wolf”, “Shame”, “The Passion of Anna”, “Cries and Whispers”, “Scenes from a Marriage”, “The Magic Flute”, “Face to Face”, “Autumn Sonata and Fanny and Alexander”.

"What I would prefer for people to discover is something that is in all my films, a certain kind of tenderness for man, an affection which grows from the fragility of the human condition. (His wife enters with a bowl of soup.) But we must have soup. Soup over all."

Gillo Pontecorvo
Born on November 19, 1919 in Pisa, Tuscany, Italy
Died on October 12, 2006 in Rome, Italy

Now, here’s a great director who in fifty years as a lauded filmmaker managed to churn out a mere twenty films! – of which, several were shorts or documentaries. But, oh dear readers what films they were! If he had done nothing else but “The Battle of Algiers”, his reputation as one of the great directors of all time would be secure. Thankfully, for a very grateful international audience of film lovers, he also helmed such blissfully rich movies as the rediscovered masterpiece “The Wide Blue Road” featuring superlative work by Yves Montand and our beloved Alida Valli. His Oscar nominated concentration camp drama, “Kapò”, featuring a terrific turn by Susan Strasberg. His political thriller focusing on a Franco dominated Spain,Operation Ogre”. And his “lost” pseudo masterpiece, “Burn!” starring Marlon Brando that was taken away from his control and butchered upon initial release. The subsequent restoration demonstrates the power of his imagery and intelligent zeal. But, ultimately the world will long remember and be eternally grateful for his true masterwork – “The Battle of Algiers”. This exceedingly rich docudrama focusing on the Algerian war of independence from the French occupation shattered filmgoers’ expectations of what constituted a “War Movie”. Electric, complicated, visually ingenious and triumphant – its influence is still felt today. One of the greatest films ever made. See it now!

"I never vacuumed at home wearing my pearls. In fact, I never vacuumed at all. I was always working at the studio. I would have gone crazy staying at home like Margaret Anderson, and my family knew that."

Jane Wyatt
Born Jane Waddington Wyatt on August 12, 1910 in Campgaw, New Jersey
Died on October 20, 2006 in Bel-Air, California

One of the greatest ironies of being a successful film actor is having to watch yourself relegated to “slumming” on a television sitcom once your crow’s feet begin to show, only to find yourself become a household name by millions of folks who might have never seen you perform your magic on the silver screen. After all, television syndication and cable channels have kept some sitcoms that premiered over five decades ago in heavy rotation ever since. Case in point, the lovely and talented Jane Wyatt who will undoubtedly be remembered for her three time Emmy Award winning performance as Margaret Anderson, the warm hearted and perennially cheerful matriarch on “Father Knows Best”. Which is fine. She was lovely as the perfect mother figure. She was even lovelier two decades earlier in Frank Capra’s romantic adaptation of James Hilton’s classic “Lost Horizon”. Her beauty, grace and sensuality . . . (take note of that tastefully erotic nude bathing sequence! Margaret Anderson! Who knew? Well, we did.) lit the screen aflame as Sondra, the dreamy gal in the center of the dreamier Shangri-La. No wonder, Ronald Colman moved heaven and earth to search for the fabled lost city! She was equally memorable playing opposite Cary Grant in “None But the Lonely Heart” (pictured above) and her two supporting roles for famed director Elia Kazan, both from 1947! As the pillar of strength to Dana Andrews besieged crusading lawyer in the fine docudrama “Boomerang!”, and her contribution to the Oscar winning champ of 1947, the seminal anti-Semitic expose: “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. Go rent all four today!

"For doing my best. I think anything I've ever tried, I tried to do my best. In the end, that's all you can do!"

Marian Marsh
Born Violet Ethelred Krauth on October 17, 1913 in Trinidad, West Indies
Died on November 9, 2006 in Palm Desert, California

Oh, how “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is littered with the likes of dear Marian Marsh. A wide-eyed beauty who made instant headlines with her career making turn as Trilby to John Barrymore’s wickedly over the top lead turn in “Svengali”. Her career instantly launched by that films critical and financial success: she shone in the Oscar nominatedFive Star Final” opposite Edward G. Robinson, reteamed with Barrymore with the thematic follow up to their earlier hit, “The Mad Genius” – a sort of precursor to the aforementioned “The Red Shoes”, and displayed her ample charms opposite William Powell in “The Road to Singapore”. Her comedic talents were well used opposite the underrated Warren William in the Boss v. Secretary comedy “Beauty and the Boss”. But perhaps her lasting fame would come in her starring roles opposite two of Hollywood’s greatest character “villains”, both from 1935. Acting opposite the criminally unappreciated Boris Karloff in his dual role as a sort of Teutonic Cain and Abel (!), she was lovely as the woman caught between them in “The Black Room”. And finally, in “Crime and Punishment”, she was Sonya to the great Peter Lorre’s Raskolnikov, under the superb direction of the legendary Josef von Sternberg. While Marian Marsh may never have reached the zenith of her Depression Era peers, she will be remembered for her fine performances.

"I go to see maybe seven films a year at the most, and since I only go to see the best, it follows that I very rarely see my own."

Jack Palance
Born Volodymyr Palanyuk on February 18, 1919 in Lattimer Mines, Pennyslvania
Died on November 10, 2006 in Montecito, California

Blessed with one of the most recognizable faces and memorable voices in Hollywood history, Oscar winning character actor Jack Palance burst upon the scene in of all things, a Joan Crawford thriller! His first Oscar nomination was for his maniacal turn as a struggling actor who romances an older woman, a playwright in order to secure not only his future, but her riches. “Sudden Fear” is one hell of a tightly wrapped little thriller that benefits greatly from the fantastic acting chops of Palance and Crawford – who were both nominated for the little bald gold guy and our beloved Gloria Grahame as a money hungry moll. He further cemented his star quality the following year with another Oscar nomination for the mythic western, “Shane” by George Stevens. Thirty eight years later, he would win an Oscar for his supporting turn in the featherweight Billy Crystal comedy “Cityslickers” and steal the show at the Oscar ceremonies that year by performing one arm push ups on the stage to demonstrate his virility at the age of seventy three!

“Retirement? You’re talking about death, right?”

Robert Altman
Born Robert Bernard Altman on February 20, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri
Died on November 20, 2006 in Los Angeles, California

Sniffle. Okay. Now, we’re really sad again. Please read our full obit for our thoughts on the passing of one of the greatest directors of all time. Go! Now! Thankfully, he left us one last masterpiece which we honored earlier with our top prize as the years best. Rest in peace, Bob. You’ll always be in our hearts and cinematic daydreams.

Waaaaggggghhhhhh!!!!!! That’s it! We can’t take it. We’re going to go drown our sorrows in a movie marathon or two and a magnum of champagne! Now, go run out and rent all the films we mentioned above and glory in the classic work left to us by such talented artists. Bless you all!



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