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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Grim Reaper Is Back

Motivated by the bizarre news that Natalie Wood's mysterious drowning case was being reopened, we at Weird Movie Village thought it was time to take a look at some of the celebrities who've shuffled off our mortal coil lately—and fit the category.

MARGARET FIELD. Perhaps most famous for being the mother of Sally Field, Margaret Field did lots of television work, appearing in all the important shows of the '50s and '60s, including The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, Perry Mason and Adam-12, to name a few.

Her film work was more limited, but her most notable role has to be Enid in Edgar G. Ulmer's cult classic The Man from Planet X (1951). Shot in six days for $41,000, it nevertheless has its ardent admirers. One of the earliest, if not the earliest, alien invasion stories, the speed with which it was produced enabled it to beat Invaders from Mars, War of the Worlds and The Thing from Another World into theaters, though they all went into production at about the same time.

ANDREA TRUE. Children of the '70s have the disco song "More, More, More" burned into their brains, but singing was only a part of True's true talents. Born in Nashville, she moved to New York as a teen to break into mainstream films, but only found work in porn. While she was in Jamaica appearing in local real estate commercials, she recorded the song she'll be remembered for—it even reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Sadly, her music career burned out pretty quickly, and a goiter on her vocal cords eliminated any chance of a comeback. And, at age 40, she was too old to get back into porn. She ended up doing psychic readings in Florida.

CHARLES NAPIER. The lantern-jawed tough guy was a favorite of Russ Meyer, appearing in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Supervixens and Harry, Cherry and Raquel, but he's one of those ubiquitous actors that everyone recognizes from his many appearances. Like J.K. Simmons, he seemed to be in everything.

I always remember him as the cop guarding Hannibal Lecter in the makeshift cage set up in the gymnasium in Silence of the Lambs, and the way he screamed/snarled defiantly when the madman went in for the kill. But he also appeared in such first video generation favorites as Rambo: First Blood Part II, Something Wild, Maniac Cop 2—even Ruggero Deodato's 1987 slasher Camping Del Terror!

ALAN SUES. I only knew this flamboyant comedian from his appearances on Laugh-In and the Twilight Zone episode "The Masks," and I was surprised to see that he was 85 when he died. For some reason, I thought he was younger, but he served in Europe during World War II and used his veteran's benefits to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He made his stage debut in "Tea and Sympathy"—duh—which is about an earnest teacher's efforts to make a man out of an effeminate student.

He really didn't work that much to earn such recognition, but what the heck. Like Paul Lynde, he was one of the pioneers of flamboyant characters in '60s television, even though he never came out publicly.

KEN RUSSELL. There's a whole post devoted to moviedom's madman, but we couldn't let the opportunity pass to acknowledge the loss of one of the world's most controversial filmmakers. Love him or hate him (and many do), he made some true classics (The Devils, Women in Love, The Music Lovers) as well as some stinkers.

The stinkers always seemed to come about when he was being dictated to by a studio or other financers. After the success of Tommy, it's clear that the studio wanted him to shape one of his musical biographies to fit then-hot Who frontman Roger Daltrey. The result was Lizstomania—and it's a mess. And seven years after Crimes of Passion, Trimark—a low-budget film and video distribution company—financed Whore, a similarly-themed film starring Theresa Russell—and it's dreadful.

My favorite Russell films are the aforementioned three as well as Tommy, Lair of the White Worm and Crimes of Passion. And I would rather watch a bad Ken Russell film than anything by Michael Bay.

HARRY MORGAN. With two big series to his name—Dragnet and M*A*S*H—I'm sure he was rolling in residuals, but he was also a Disney favorite and a television mainstay. It's funny how the obituaries are omitting his arrest for wife-beating in 1996. That was so strange when that news broke. Harry Morgan? It's like Pee Wee Herman being arrested for public indecency. Oh, wait a minute.

Morgan was part of the M*A*S*H cast that I liked best. McLean Stevenson's dipshit Colonel Blake didn't really do it for me, and I preferred Mike Farrell over Wayne Rogers, who always seemed like an unctuous used car salesman to me.

Morgan's first name was originally Henry, but he changed it in deference to the comedian and perpetual game show guest who had the same name but nowhere near the legendary status this guy achieved.

And he was quite liberal. A lifelong Democrat, he fought McCarthy's blacklist in the 1950s and appeared in plays for the Group Theatre, whose talents included Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.

BILL McKINNEY. This tough-guy character actor appeared in many famous films, including many for Clint Eastwood—"The Outlaw Josey Wales," "The Gauntlet," "Every Which Way but Loose," "Bronco Billy" and "Any Which Way You Can," but he will always be immortalized as the psycho hillbilly who sexually assaults Ned Beatty in Deliverance ("Squeal, piggy!").

McKinney's debut was David F. Friedman's 1967 She Freak but otherwise his filmography is pretty straight—lots of villains and other character parts in westerns, crime dramas and tons of television.

When I was about 14, I was visiting my family in Texas (I lived with my father in Indiana) and we went to a second-run house to see a double bill of Deliverance and Jeremiah Johnson. It was a strange combination, but it satisfied the weird movie lover in me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Weird Movie Village for once again remembering the unsung performers who made our dreams and nightmares come true!

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