Category Archives: Shocking Deaths

Shocking Hollywood Deaths over the past 100 years. Actors, Directors and Producers who have died suddenly, committed suicide, been murdered or have mysteriously died over the past 100 years.

13 Ghosts, Horror by Design

 

One of the finest crafted horror films of all time would have to be the remake of 13 Ghosts (2001), which boasts the most comprehensive movie set I’ve ever seen. It also has a wickedly fun script, engaging props, great characters and a slew of fantastic actors.matthew-lillard-13-ghosts

13 Ghosts is based on an original film by horror master, William Castle that is about a family who inherits what proves to be a haunted house, but a special pair of goggles allows them to see their ghostly tormentors. It was one of his special presentations where something crazy happens during the showing, in this case, every person in the audience was given a special pair of glasses to see the ghosts. The “ghost viewers” contained a red filter and a blue filter. The red filter would cause the ghostly images to intensify while the blue filter caused the images to fade.13-ghost-house

The remake takes the idea of the glasses and actually puts it into the movie in a very creative way.  The characters put on the special glasses to see the grewsome ghosts. The remake is about Cyrus Kriticos, a very rich collector of unique things, who dies, then leaves it all to his nephew and his family. All including his house, his fortune, and his malicious collection of ghosts!  As the Kriticos family explores their bizarre new home – a modern architectural masterpiece, filled with Cyrus’s collection of priceless antiques – Arthur and the children can hardly believe their good fortune. But it isn’t long before they discover that there is something hideous trapped behind the house’s elegantly etched crystal-clear walls: one by one, twelve evil spirits – each horribly disfigured by their deaths – are being released and begin stalking the family. ghost-in-13-ghosts

If they are to leave the house alive, Arthur, the children and their mortal companions must solve its deadly riddle – a lethal puzzle that contains the key to their imminent salvation or destruction.  It is Kalina who uncovers a clue to the deathly enigma in “The Arcanum,” an ancient manuscript filled with inscriptions and sketches, including containment spells for the tortured spirits trapped within the house. But the darker secret buried in The Arcanum reveals that Cyrus’ house is much more than the impressive glass and steel structure it appears to be.13-ghosts-house-set

The house is in fact a machine – a machine fed by the energy of the ghosts as they are released. As the machine “powers up,” one ghost at a time, it opens The Ocularis… or the Eye of Hell.  According to The Arcanum, he who controls The Ocularis is the most powerful man on earth. It appears that Cyrus built this deadly machine in the guise of a home to power the Ocularis and pursue his malevolent goal of penultimate power.13-ghosts-house

The most incredible thing about the film is the design of the house, designed by production designer Sean Hargreaves, based on the architecture of the the New York Science Museum.  During the three months that it took to design the set, Hargreaves and his production team worked closely with Director Steve Beck to ensure that the remarkable structure would be both visually compelling and function as a practical film set.  Another important aspect of the house’s design is its relationship to a key element in the script.  “In the story, an ancient book known as “The Arcanum” contains the blueprint which Cyrus used to build the house,” Hargreaves explains. “It’s filled with writings and drawings and sketches, almost like a Da Vinci notebook, and it’s illustrated with pages of Latin inscriptions. These inscriptions are actually containment spells for the ghosts trapped inside the house, which we transferred onto the glass walls of the set. “production-design-for-13-ghost

More than 3 miles of etched glass walls and a total of 8,500 square feet of glass were used to construct the set. The Latin “etchings” were actually rendered on a plastic overlay and adhered to the glass walls to achieve Hargreaves’ “Arcanum” design motif. Bridge welders were brought in to fuse the house together, using nearly five tons of steel in the process.  The construction of the centuries-old Arcanum book itself is another example of the attention to artistic detail evidenced throughout the production of the film. A great deal of painstaking effort went into the materials and design needed to make the book look authentically ancient. Propsmaster Dean Eilertson reveals that three people worked for a week just to age the parchment paper used in the four books that were eventually created.set-design-for-13-ghosts

Along with the house and props, each ghost was extremely detailed with their visual look and backstory. It made for a very fun and scary experience for the actors. The cast is filled out with some of the finest actors with F. Murray Abraham, Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, JR Bourne, and Shannon Elizabeth.thirteen-ghosts-2001

Top 15 Gene Wilder Movies

 

Many of us were shocked to hear of Gene Wilder’s death this week due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and so it’s given us a chance to pause and think about this great actor and comedian. It was interesting to me listen to a recent interview of his and he said that he really didn’t consider himself to be a comedian as he didn’t find himself to be very funny. That may be true, but to us, he was hilarious. Here is my list of his top 15 movies, let’s see if your list would be similar to mine:

15.  Thursday’s Game (1974)Thursday's Game

This would be a banner year for Gene Wilder as 3 of the movies on this list were released in 1974. 2 of them would be considered to be “classics” to most people. Classify this one as a forgotten little gem. Thursday’s Game was released as a TV movie and starred Gene with a great cast of comedians with Bob Newhart, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Nancy Walker, Valerie Harper, Norman Fell, Rob Reiner and Martha Scott. The movie is about two guys who’ve been going to a Thursday night poker game for years, when suddenly a disagreement breaks up the game. The two guys then decide to keep getting together every Thursday night doing different things, under the pretense that the game is still going on. When the wives find out they are upset and wondering what they’ve been doing all that time. The budget for this film was so tight that the wardrobe department was practically non-existent. According to Gene Wilder, he and co-star Bob Newhart had to make do with their actual clothes.

14.  The Producers (1967)Producers

We mention the Producers in another blog, CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.  Mel Brooks is almost synonymous with Gene Wilder as they made 3 movies together. These 3 are almost always mentioned as their top 3 movies respectively.  That wasn’t always the case, as the Producers flopped initially but found new life when Mel made it into a smash hit on Broadway. Now, of course, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were great in this but, Kenneth Mars is also really fantastic in this as well. I talk about him in a blog CLICK HERE.

13.  Haunted Honeymoon (1986)haunted-honeymoon

I find Dom Deluise to be hilarious, but put him in drag and he’s drop dead funny. Gene and Dom appeared in 4 movies together. Now, if you don’t know already, Gene Wilder was a wonderful writer and director in his own right and this is one of the films he wrote and directed. It also stars his then wife and comedian Gilda Radner. This is a notable entry also because it was Gilda’s last movie before she died of cancer. It did not do well at the box office, but I like it because of the 3 actors and I especially like the scenes from the radio show.

12.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-smarter-brother

Gene reunites with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in this gem that he also wrote and directed after they did Young Frankenstein. Favorites of mine, Dom Deluise, Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear round out the cast! Originally, Gene tried to get Mel Brooks to direct this film as well, after they did Young Frankenstein, but he declined and convinced Gene that he could direct it himself. Gen would go on to direct 4 movies and 1 segment of a 5th one. This one is my favorite of all the films he directed.

11.  Death of a Salesman (1966)deathofasalesman

Up until Gene did the made-for-tv version of Death of a Salesman in 1966, he only had acted in a handful of TV shows. It was this film that ultimately put him on the path of stardom. This movie was relatively forgotten over time but had some very strong performances and included some very fine actors with Lee J. Cobb leading the cast. In his autobiography “Timebends”, Arthur Miller says that Lee J. Cobb was his favorite Willy Loman. The original Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller opened at the Morosco Theater on February 10, 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the 1949 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Lee J. Cobb recreated his stage role 17 years later in this television production.

10.  Murder in a Small Town (1999)murder in a small town

Gene Wilder would write 8 movies over his career and a segment of a 9th one. This is the 2nd to the last one he would write and was 1 of 2 mysteries featuring his Cash Carter character for A&E. I enjoy a good mystery and for some reason I really like it when my mysteries are a little understated as these two mysteries are. This one is about a widowed theatre director who moves to a small Connecticut town where he gets involved in solving the murder of a millionaire, who was the most despised man in town. Gene is very good in this.

9.  Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)start the revolution without me

When 1 Gene Wilder is not enough, we get two! This one has Gene and Donald Sutherland playing two mismatched sets of identical twins – one aristocrat, one peasant – who mistakenly exchange identities on the eve of the French Revolution. Gene Wilder originally wanted Charles Grodin to play the part of Charles/Pierre, but Grodin declined, having committed to directing the original Broadway production of Lovers and Other Strangers, which would have been really fun to see, but Donald does a great job. Gene liked this film especially because he got to fence. Gene was already adept with a sword from his days on his college fencing team.

8.  Bonnie and Clyde (1967)bonnie-clyde-gene-laughing

In less than a year after his appearance in Death of a Salesman, Gene would be cast in 2 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He would never look back. In Bonnie and Clyde, he got to work with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle and Michael J. Pollard. This was technically his theatrical feature film debut. Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder would later appear together in Young Frankenstein (1974). Hackman had a small, uncredited cameo as the blind hermit while Wilder portrayed the title character.

7.  Stir Crazy (1980)

We talk about the greatest comedy teams of all time in a previous blog post, CLICK HERE TO VIEW THAT BLOG…but definitely one of the best comedy teams of all time would have to be Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They hit the list with 3 of their collaborations…almost 4, more on that in a sec…Stir-Crazy

Sidney Poitier directed this movie, and enjoyed working with Gene and Richard, even though Richard was sometimes difficult to work with on this production due to his frequent drug use. When they clicked, they were quite funny.  Sidney would let them improvise during scenes for the movie. This is one of the four movies Pryor and Wilder teamed together, and was the most successful of the four at the box-office. There was no doubting their second match-up was an all-around success. “Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that ‘Stir Crazy’ is an out-and-out comedy while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance”. Pryor interjected: “You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball but this one is Wilder”. Wilder responded: “You might,” needles Wilder, “But you’ll say anything”.

6.  Blazing Saddles (1974)

Full shot of Cleavon Little as Bart offering whiskey bottle for Gene Wilder as Jim, both seated in sheriff's office. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Here’s the almost in that last paragraph…believe it or not, Richard Pryor was set to play the role that eventually went to Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor even wrote some of the script with Mel Brooks. Although, Gene Wilder was not the original choice for his role either. They had cast and went into production with Gig Young, but he was coming off of alcohol and couldn’t function properly and Mel had to call upon his friend Gene to fly out last second to fill in, as a personal favor to him. One of the best comedy pairings of all time almost happened, two years before they finally appeared together in Silver Streak.

5.  Young Frankenstein (1974)young frankenstein

First film written by Gene Wilder and the only film directed by Mel Brooks, that Mel didn’t write. He didn’t direct anything he didn’t also write, but Gene talked him into directing as a personal favor to him. According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)) when Gene Wilder came on to Blazing Saddles at the last minute as a favor to Mel, he requested that Mel Brooks do “his” movie idea next; that movie turned out to be this film. It was a perfect match. Gene Wilder has stated that this is his favorite of all the films he’s made. The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

4.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)See no evil hear no evil

I forgot Kevin Spacey was in this with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Joan Severance. Gene Wilder almost wasn’t in this movie. Per his autobiography, he turned the script down twice (due to its treatment of the deaf and the blind). He intended to do the same when offered it a third time, but his agent talked him into meeting with TriStar (the studio behind the film). The TriStar people asked Gene to re-write the script for himself and Richard Pryor, which he agreed to do…and the rest is history. Gene Wilder went to the NY League for the Hard of Hearing to study for his role. There he was assigned to speech pathologist Karen Webb, who would ultimately become his fourth wife. They were married 25 years, up until his death. With its dead body murder plot and villainous crime characters, the movie returned director Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor to the suspense-adventure-comedy genre that had made their earlier picture Silver Streak a success around thirteen years earlier.

3.  Frisco Kid (1979)The_Frisco_Kid

Now this one is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but it’s just so under-appreciated! Not only is Gene Wilder pitch-perfect in this film as a Jewish Rabbi, Harrison Ford plays an old school cowboy like he was born to it. I just love this movie. In his autobiography, Gene Wilder says that John Wayne was offered the part that was eventually played by Harrison Ford. Wayne loved the role and was eager to work with Wilder. However, an agent tried to offer Wayne less than his usual fee and the legendary actor turned the film down. The sad thing about this movie is that it was a flop when released and has had a very small but devoted following on VHS and DVD…but it’s a wonderful film!

2.  Silver Streak (1976)Silver-Streak

One of five movies where actor Gene Wilder plays a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The films include Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Actor Gene Wilder loved his part because he could get to do scenes which were fitting of Errol Flynn doing action or Cary Grant being romantic. When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen Silver Streak, Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by North by Northwest (1959). As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, “I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?” First of two consecutive comedy thrillers written by Colin Higgins. The second released two years later was Foul Play (1978). Higgins conceived “Silver Streak” in mid 1974 when he was traveling by train from LA to Chicago. We talk about Foul Play in another blog post, CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

On a sad note…Director Arthur Hiller and co-star Gene Wilder died within 12 days of each other.

1  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is number 1 for me. It’s his most iconic role and to be honest, one of my favorite films of all time. willy wonka

According to director Mel Stuart’s “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka”, when Gene Wilder walked in to audition, Stuart knew before he’d even uttered a single word that he had found his Willy Wonka. The audition convinced him even further, so when Wilder finished and left the room, Stuart chased him down the hallway, cut him off at the elevator bank, grabbed his arm and told him “You’re doing this picture, no two ways about it! You are Willy Wonka!” Producer David L. Wolper, however, was furious because he hadn’t yet had the chance to negotiate a fee. After reading the script, Gene Wilder said he would take the role of Willy Wonka under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When the director asked why, Gene Wilder replied that having Wonka do this meant that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?”, and Gene Wilder said “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” Even Julie Dawn Cole was fooled by the scene in which Willy limps out of his factory to greet the Golden Ticket winners. She mentions in the DVD commentary that she thought that Gene Wilder had injured his leg for real (and that the filming would have to be temporarily halted because of it). This resulted in her being just as stunned by Willy’s somersault as the audience is.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, got very close to Gene while filming. He later told ABC News, “As a young actor filming ‘Willy Wonka,’ I had the rare privilege of working with Gene who I greatly admired,” he continued. “He became my mentor and personal friend. For that I will always be grateful. So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Watch Howard Ashman Direct Jodie Benson in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

 

This clip is a treasure in that it really shows how Howard Ashman was able to pull the most amazing performance from Jodie Benson who plays Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the song “Part of Your World”.

You’ll see what a really great director can do to enhance what an Actor brings to a particular moment in time. “Part of Your World” has always been my favorite song of any Disney musical and I especially love how the song has such an intimate way about it when Ariel seems so conversational and almost whispers in spots. Now I know how they got to such a wonderful place with that song and it seems like so much work went into something that everyone takes for granted as something that just feels so right — almost a perfect little moment in time.Howard Ashman

It’s sad to me that this wonderful musical director and writer was taken way too soon at only 40 years old due to AIDS. He partnered up with Alan Menken and created Little Shop of Horrors and then went on to write songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before dying way too young. You can see in this clip how talented he was and how passionate about the music he was. It’s easy to see here where his talent would have lead him. Ashman was nominated for 3 Tony’s and won 2 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars for the music of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in his short time.

Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for "Under the Sea," from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore. Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for “Under the Sea,” from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore.
Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. After he wrote a group of songs with Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production. The story underwent many changes and some elements of the original treatment were dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Howard’s songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.aladdin

Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the Disney Renaissance. He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help turn Beauty and the Beast into a musical, as it started out being a straight animated movie, with no musical numbers. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and includes this dedication, “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” beauty and the beast

With all of his films, he was involved in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. He was responsible for the casting of Jodie Benson, up until then a Broadway actress. Not to diminish what Jodie brings to the performance, she is simply wonderful. She was the perfect choice for Ariel. Ashman and Benson worked together first on Broadway when he cast and directed her in the musical “Smile”, with music written by Marvin Hamlisch. Ironically enough, in that play she sang one of the songs written by Ashman, called “Disneyland”. Smile is considered a “lost” musical because no official cast recording was ever made. However, there does exist a demo CD by Broadway Original cast for Samuel French Publishing.little mermaid and jodie bensonjodie benson

George Reeves, The Death of Superman

 

There was a lot of mystery surrounding the death of Superman, actor George Reeves in June 16th of 1959. He died in the middle of the night of a single gunshot to the head in the bedroom of his home in Benedict Canyon. Some say it was murder, some say it was an accident, some say it was suicide.  Removing all the hype and guesswork created by the media, here is the actual story by the person closest to him who was there in the house when it happened.george reeves

Now, to start, you have to understand George’s background, leading up to the event. For 12 years George Reeves was a struggling actor with few credits before he was cast as Superman for TV’s Adventures of Superman. The TV show became an instant hit nationwide and made George Reeves a household name, but it came with a caveat. George would be forever typecast by the role and would struggle up until his death to find other roles. No one would hire him, saying they didn’t need, “Superman” for the role. This was especially troubling for George as he was making very little money playing Superman and doing personal appearances and was really hoping that the show would be a springboard for bigger and better productions.  This was not to be as he was turned away, time and time again.Leonore Lemmon

He tried opening up his own production company but was never able to find funding for several projects.  This was very depressing for him.  After a failed marriage with Ellanora Needles  and an affair with Toni Mannix, who was married to MGM Studio Executive Eddie Mannix, he felt he wasn’t going anywhere and didn’t have much to look forward to in the future.  In 1958 he met a society girl named Leonore Lemmon and was set to marry her on June 19th a year later… but died 3 days before.  Now here’s her version of what happened that night, very quick…

They had just gotten home from having dinner with another couple, Carol Van Ronkel and Bob Condon. Carol was married to another man, Rip Van Ronkel and she was cheating on him with Bob. They all got to George’s house and Carol and Bob retired to the guest bedroom and George and Leonore retired to his room. Leonore tried to make a move with George, but she says he rejected her.  He wasn’t mean or anything and she really didn’t think anything of it. She couldn’t sleep so she went downstairs.Reeves Newspaper

The patio light was usually left on, but she noticed that George had turned it off and so she absent-mindedly turned it back on. It was about midnight at this time. Bill Bliss was driving by, seeing the light and thinking that everyone was still up, knocked on the door and Leonore let him in. They had a few drinks when they heard a gunshot from upstairs.  Not really knowing what it was, flippantly Leonore said, “Ahh, that George there, probably going to shoot himself…” Then a few minutes later after some thought, she got a little nervous and asked Bill to go check on George and see what the hell he was doing.reeves death certificate

Bill went upstairs and found George naked, laying back on the bed, with a gunshot to his head.  The gun had fallen between his feet.  He went downstairs and told Leonore, who got Carol and Bob out of the guest bedroom and dressed. Leonore called a lifelong friend, Polly Adler, to come and help get Bob home because she did not want to have to tell Carol’s husband that she was there fooling around. She also called Gwen Carter to come over.  Gwen Carter went upstairs and made sure that Leonore would not see the body, she also grabbed all the bedding from off the bed and threw it into the shower, so that the mess was minimal. This caused problems for police and some of the newspapers took this as a sign of foul play.

The police was finally called and came and interviewed Bill and Leonore and took the body to the morgue. After a lengthy autopsy the method of death was determined a suicide by self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The police file was closed.george_reeves_toni_mannix

Leonore went back home to her apartment in New York. She never married and she never moved away from New York again.  All of this information was given to Lou Koza in an interview in May 1989.  She died 6 months later.  I believe it to be the real story. Leonore never had anything to benefit from George’s death and I think the love triangle between him and Toni Mannix and Eddie Mannix is all just supposition as that affair had ended over a year before. Eddie Mannix would die 4 years later and Toni Mannix would live 20 more years until 1983.  She also would never marry again.

Judy Holliday, Gone Too Soon

 

If you remember Judy Holliday, you would know there was really no one like her. She only did a handful of movies, but was simply unforgettable on stage, on screen and in person. She was acting for a few years when she got the role of Billie Dawn in the Broadway debut of Garson Kanin’s play, Born Yesterday. Garson Kanin and his wife, writer/actor Ruth Gordon were very good friends of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and they came and saw her in the play and thought she was wonderful. Katherine felt duty bound to get this actress noticed on the silver screen in the film adaptation of the play, and Judy badly wanted to recreate the part in the movie, but the rights were purchased by Columbia Pictures, and production chief Harry Cohn, thought Judy to be a “fat, jewish broad”. Garson Kanin was going into production on a movie of his own, written by himself and his wife Ruth Gordon. When Garson Kanin complained about Cohn’s opinion of Judy to Katharine, she suggested casting Holliday as Doris Attinger in his movie.Holliday1

Doris Attinger is the attempted murderess on trial and defended by Katherine Hepburn’s Amanda Bonner in what became one of my all time favorite films, Adam’s Rib in 1949. She literally does steal the show, thanks to the likes of Katherine and her onscreen husband, Spencer Tracy who plays the prosecutor Adam Bonner, but she turned down the role at first. Finally Hepburn got the real reason out of her. Sensitive about her weight, Holliday didn’t want to be called “fatso” on screen, as written in the script they had given her. Hepburn assured her that the Kanin’s would gladly rewrite the line: “They’re writers. They know lots of words.” Finally, Holliday agreed. Later she insisted that the word “fatso” be restored because it was the best way of playing the scene.adamsrib

This film was her big break, but it didn’t change the fact that she was going to be sharing the screen with two legends. In her early monologue scene with Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday can be seen trembling. This was not acting, but nervousness. The inexperienced Judy Holliday was terrified of performing with Katharine Hepburn. But she soon realized that Katherine was Judy’s biggest fan. To help build up Judy’s image, particularly in the eyes of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, Katharine reportedly urged director George Cukor to focus the camera on Judy during a number of their shared scenes, and Katharine deliberately leaked stories to the gossip columns suggesting that Judy’s performance in Adam’s Rib was so good that it had stolen the spotlight from Hepburn and Tracy. This got Cohn’s attention and Holliday won the part in Born Yesterday (1950), also directed by George Cukor.  This to me is a great example of what a great friend Katherine Hepburn could be. Hepburn would later explain her generosity to Kanin: “It was the kind of thing you do because people have done it for you.” Garson Kanin, by the way, would go on to write a fantastic book about Hepburn and Tracy called “Tracy and Hepburn: an Intimate Memoir”, published in 1971 by Viking Press.Judy Holliday Broderick Crawford William Holden in Born yesterday

Regarding Born Yesterday, there’s even more to the story that makes this that much more sneaky.  Apparently, Garson Kanin claimed that he modeled the part of the obnoxious junk dealer Harry Brock after Harry Cohn, but that the studio chief never realized it. Kanin sold Born Yesterday to Columbia Pictures for $1 million, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for a film property. In his autobiography, Kanin wrote that Cohn paid the record $1 million for the films rights because he had heard that Kanin said he “wouldn’t sell the rights to Harry Cohn for any amount – not even a million dollars.” The part of Billie Dawn was originally written for star Jean Arthur and even hired to play the role on Broadway, but left during tryouts and was replaced by Holliday. Judy would go on to win the Golden Globe and the Oscar for her performance in the film. Jean Arthur never won an Oscar.holliday

Later, she was cast in George Cukor’s It Should Happen To You (1954), again written by Garson Kanin and costarring Jack Lemmon. Up-to-that-point, Lemmon had only done mostly television, and had a tendency to overact for the camera but Cukor soon convinced him that “less is more.” Lemmon later remarked, “I’ve learned my craft from that advice. It’s the hardest thing in the world to be simple, and the easiest thing in the world to act your brains out and make an ass of yourself.” A perfect example of Cukor’s approach to acting was demonstrated to Lemmon during a restaurant scene where Pete and Gladys argue. Cukor recalled, “They rehearsed it and did it very well, but I said, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe one damn thing. Jack, what do you do when you get angry?” He said, “I get chills and cramps, I get sick to my stomach, but can’t use that.” “Oh,” I said, “do that!” So in the height of fury he suddenly clutches his stomach, and it makes all the difference.”it-should-happen-to-you

Lemmon and Holliday would go on to act together again in 1954 on Phffft (terrible title…how do you tell people what movie you just saw?). Jack Lemmon had become a fan and admirer of Holliday’s, just as Hepburn had. He would later go on to say of her, “She was intelligent and not at all like the dumb blonds she so often depicted. She didn’t give a damn where the camera was placed, how she was made to look, or about being a star. She just played the scene — acted with, not at. She was also one of the nicest people I ever met. She was hardly the dizzy blonde. If she were alive today, she would’ve zipped right through the Mensa puzzles. ”  She was reported to have an IQ of 172, even though the characters she played onscreen were all dizzy blondes. She often said that it took a lot of smarts to convince people that her characters were stupid. According to biographer Gary Carey, in its search for subversives in the film industry, the House Un-American Activities Committee was flummoxed by Holliday. She essentially playing her Billie Dawn character on the witness stand. She ended up being the only person ever called before HUAC who was neither blacklisted nor compelled to name names.Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday

She continued doing movies, sparingly after the trials, but preferred the stage. She would go on to win Broadway’s 1957 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for Bells Are Ringing, a role that she recreated in the film version of Bells Are Ringing (1960) along with Dean Martin. The music in the film is amazing.  She proved to have a flawless singing voice and even released a few albums, during this time to join the broadway albums she performed in. In October 1960, Holliday started out-of-town tryouts on the play Laurette based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by José Quintero with background music by Elmer Bernstein and produced by Alan Pakula. Unfortunately, Holliday became ill and had to leave the show. It closed in Philadelphia without opening on Broadway. She had throat surgery shortly after leaving the production in October 1960.bells are ringing 1960 - judy holliday dean martin

Her last play was another musical, Hot Spot (1963) but was troubled from the very start. One of Broadway’s most well-known flops, it had 58 “preview” performances, setting a record by cancelling its official opening four times, and then running for only 43 “official” performances. According to Steven Suskin, “it was one of those big-budget, big-advance-sale bonanzas which go wrong and turn into highly public busts.” According to the review in Billboard, “Predictions of failure preceeded the show and these were confirmed when the New York Critics Circle passed a unanimous negative judgement.” She would go on to say, “You can only live through one or two Hot Spots in your life.”Bells-Are-Ringing-film

She would die of breast cancer only 2 years later, at the very young age of 43.  Gone too soon, this talented and hilarious actress and singer would have surely gone on to entertain us with her versatility and immense charisma for years to come. Jack Lemmon would add, “She was one of the greats, and her early death was one of the great tragedies.”

George Sanders, 35 Year Planned Suicide

 

For those of you that don’t know who George Sanders is, you’ve seen or heard him on a lot of great movies from the 30’s to the 60’s, most recognizable as the voice of Shere Kahn the Tiger in Disney’s The Jungle Book(1967) (who hasn’t seen that movie?) but I loved him over the years in the thriller film series of The Saint and later for the Falcon series (taken over by his brother Tom Conway), as well as the movies; Rebecca (1940), All About Eve(1950), and Ivanhoe (1952).George_Sanders_in_The_Picture_of_Dorian_Gray_trailer

He was a fascinating and complex man, but the strangest story about him is that he planned his death decades before he died. In 1937 George Sanders told David Niven that he would commit suicide when he got older.  Stranger things have been told in confidence, but I’m sure David never gave it much thought.  Sure enough, though, some 35 years later he made good on his statement.George_Sanders_in_Rage_in_Heaven_tr

He was found dead in a hotel in Barcelona, Spain in 1972, having overdosed on 5 vials of Nembutal.  He left a suicide note saying, “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.”.George_Sanders_in_Ghost_and_Mrs_Muir_trailer_crop

He was a very interesting man and wrote an autobiography titled, “The Memoirs of a Professional Cad” and a very good friend of his (actor Brian Aherne) wrote another book about him called,  “A Dreadful Man” (in jest). Both books are great fun and show what a truly witty and interesting person he was.  I also find it interesting that he wrote a mystery novel as well, starring him “Crime on my Hands“.  Another mystery reported to have been written by him, but ghost written by Leigh Brackett was published later but starred Michael Vickers and called “Stranger at Home”. It was done, just to take advantage of his popularity, much like they do nowadays with Bestselling authors like Clive Cussler and James Patterson.geo-sanders

Gig Young, Murder Suicide

 

I first came to know Gig Young in the Clark Gable, Doris Day movie, Teacher’s Pet (1958), which I love very much.  There is so much to love about that movie, but Gig Young as the hilarious sidekick Dr. Hugo Pine was definitely up there as one of my favorite things about it.gig young in Teachers Pet

Years later, I was troubled one day to find that this superb actor killed his wife and then himself in 1978, in a bizarre murder-suicide. It was unexpected, as they had only been married 3 weeks and seemed very happy at the time of their deaths.  I can only surmise that his declining career and alcoholism over the years lead him to it.

Gig’s breakout year as an actor would have to be 1948, where he had 3 very interesting roles.  The first was as the love interest of Eleanor Parker in the ghost story, The Woman in White. His next role was a supporting role to John Wayne in the drama, Wake of the Red Witch (which interestingly enough is also where John Wayne got the name of his future production company as BatJak was the name of the trading company depicted  in the movie), but it was his role as Porthos in the all-star cast of The Three Musketeers along with Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Lana Turner and Angela Lansbury that really sent his career rolling.

I always found him to be at his best when he was second banana in a string of comedies like Desk Set, That Touch of Mink, For Love or Money and Strange Bedfellows, but that’s probably just me.  He seemed perfect as a slightly sarcastic and just-off-of-center-morally supporting character.

He won an Academy Award in 1969 for his role as the inebriated dance marathon emcee Rocky in the Sydney Pollack directed film They Shoot Horses Don’t They?.  Ironically, in 1951 he may have predicted his eventual fall from grace when he said to Louella Parsons, “So many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have bad luck afterwards.” Which is exactly what happened to him.gig-young-they-shoot-horses-gig-young

His personal life was devastated several times due to his alcoholism. He was married and divorced a number of times, once to Elizabeth Montgomery, before Bewitched, and even once romantically involved with fellow alcoholic Elaine Stritch. Their destructive relationship is poignantly discussed in Elaine’s Tony-winning one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002), which I just happened to have watched while in a hotel in New York and was delighted to find late one night. He met actress Elizabeth Montgomery shortly after their aborted engagement.

The most interesting account of his alcoholism is when he was hired as the gun-slinging Waco Kid in Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles (1974).  He was suffering from delirium tremens on the set and couldn’t function from day one.  Mel Brooks, distraught, called his best friend Gene Wilder to help them as they were already behind in shooting and the studio was losing money daily.  Gene took over the role and the rest is history.

Two years later the same thing happened when he was cast as Charlie in the hit TV show Charlie’s Angels and was quickly replaced when he couldn’t read his lines without slurring.

His life began to turn around when he met and married his fifth wife, Kim Schmidt.  She was half his age and a successful German magazine editor.  So your guess is as good as mine, why he chose to shoot his wife Kim and then himself in 1978.  The couple was found dead in their Manhattan apartment.  His Oscar lay beside both of them.gig_stry_c