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Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Reaper Returns to the Village

Today's depressing news about the death of Gunnar Hansen, the original, legendary Leatherface of Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, reminds me that it's time to pay tribute to other denizens of the Village that have crossed over recently.

GUNNAR HANSEN

I met Hansen at a Hollywood Collector's Show back in the 1990s. He was good-natured and gregarious (see how he inscribed my photo).

Hansen wore the mask that made him famous only once and made just one other film appearance in the '70s, in 1977's notoriously cheesy The Demon Lover. As cult cinema entered the mainstream in the '80s and '90s (thanks to the home video revolution), he found lots of genre roles, the most recent ones in films still in pre-production.

Born in Reykjavic, Iceland, Hansen went back in 2009 for a cameo in Harpoon: The Reykjavic Whale Watching Massacre. In 2013, he wrote a behind-the-scenes book, Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World's Most Notorious Horror Movie. Ive ordered my copy from Amazon

Just 68 years of age, Hansen is the third member of the Chainsaw cast who died relatively young, following the deaths of Marilyn Burns (Sally) last year at age 65 and Paul A. Partain (Franklin) in 2005 at age 58.

MELISSA MATHISON

Most fondly remembered for writing the screenplay for Spielberg's E.T., Mathison was also married to Harrison Ford for more than 20 years.

She was a regular fixture in the Spielberg/Coppola/Scorsese orbit, having written films produced by Coppola (The Back Stallion) and directed by Scorsese (Kundun).

But it's E.T. that will remain her enduring legacy, captivating generations of children, inspiring a Universal theme park ride, and generating said studio loads and loads of cash, both in theaters and on home video. The film was one of the earliest titles priced for sell-through ($29.95) when typical rental titles were priced at around $90.

Ironically, after years of inactivity, Mathison wrote the screenplay for Spielberg's upcoming The BFG, a fantasy based on a Roald Dahl story.

MARTIN MILNER

With his "regular guy" demeanor, Milner played bit parts for years before hitting it big on television with Route 66 and especially Adam-12, playing Officer Pete Malloy. 

Having worked in publicity for Universal Television back in the '90s and '00s, it's fun for me to watch Jack Webb's cop shows for their familiar San Fernando Valley locations and stable of Universal contract players who regularly pop up.

However, the role that places Milner squarely in the Village is — you got it — Mel Anderson, the first husband of hilarious harridan Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) in the nonstop screamfest Valley of the Dolls

Along with Barbara Parkins' Anne Welles, the character of Mel is relatively subdued, especially when compared to the buzzsaw performances of Duke and Susan Hayward. Still, he's involved in some choice exchanges:

NEELY: Well, what nice fattening thing did you tell Arlene to make tonight?
MEL: Arlene quit. She said you yelled at her.
NEELY: She was a louse anyway. You said yourself she was taking home all the booze. Other people have loyal help. Why can't we?
MEL: You don't know how to talk to them.
NEELY: That's your job. You'd better start running this house properly.
MEL: I'm not the butler.
NEELY: You're not the breadwinner either!

And, of course...

MEL: You're spending more time than necessary with that fag.
NEELY: Ted Casablanca is not a fag...and I'm the dame who can prove it!

Milner made other notable genre appearances, co-starring with Mamie Van Doren in Sex Kittens Go to College and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, both produced by legendary schlockmeister Albert Zugsmith.

He was also in one of William Castle's most enjoyable outings, 13 Ghosts, along with Margaret Hamilton. Universal Television kept him working for decades with guest shots on such shows as Murder, She Wrote, Airwolf and even The New Adam-12.

Milner was born into show business. His father was a film distributor and his mother was a dancer on the Paramount theater circuit. He left us this past September at age 83. 

DICKIE MOORE

It's hard to fathom that there are still Our Gang cast members around, but the cherubic Moore, who actually appeared in only eight of the films, left us September 7th at age 89.

Moore appeared in almost 100 features between 1927 and 1952, and even gave Shirley Temple her first grown-up onscreen kiss. Alas, like many child actors, he found it challenging to get work when he grew up. He went on to found a successful public relations firm, Dick Moore and Associates, which he ran until 2010. 

In 1984, he wrote a book about the child actor's experiences in Hollywood: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car). He met actress Jane Powell while conducting interviews for the book, and they married in 1988.

I own some Our Gang comedies on super 8mm, including Fish Hooky (1933), in which Moore stars along with Spanky McFarland and Dorothy (Echo) DeBorba. It's one of their funnest shorts, with a mule-faced truant officer constantly threatening to send the kids to reform school, only to have tiny Spanky smack him one square in the nose.







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