Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy birthday, Audrey Totter!

When I sat down this morning to work on today’s birthday list (I know, I’m running behind—not enough hours in the day) I was genuinely pleased to learn that one of my favorite actresses is still with us and is celebrating her ninety-second natal anniversary.  Audrey Mary Totter was born on this date (though some sources say 1917) in Joliet, IL and if you’ve logged as many hours as I have watching classic film noirs you’ll recognize her right off as one of the silver screen’s premiere “bad girls” in movies like Main Street After Dark, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Unsuspected and Tension.

Totter’s show business career started in the footlights, appearing in productions in Chicago and New York…and she also logged quite a bit of time in front of a radio microphone—but more on that in a sec.  She signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, and started appearing in B-pics like Dangerous Partners and The Hidden Eye—but M-G-M was grooming her for bigger things, which is how she landed a small but noticeable part in Postman as the blonde floozy who tries to pick up Frank Chambers (John Garfield).  She also nabbed another high profile part in the studio’s 1946 production of Lady in the Lake, which starred Robert Montgomery as Raymond Chandler’s literary creation Philip Marlowe.  Lake, not particularly well received by audiences at the time, cost Audrey a part that may have made her a better known name—she was supposed to play opposite Burt Lancaster in the Universal Studios production of The Killers but filming on Lake took longer than expected and she lost out to Ava Gardner.

Audrey may have specialized in floozy and tramp roles but she got the opportunity to play the good girl on occasion.  She acquitted herself nicely as the supportive psychiatrist trying to help a shell-shocked Robert Taylor in 1947’s High Wall, and played Robert Ryan’s devoted girlfriend (my personal favorite Totter performance) in the 1949 noir classic The Set-Up.  Other memorable Totter turns include roles in The Saxon Charm, Alias Nick Beal, The Sellout and Women’s Prison—but as the demand for “bad girls” started to wane, Audrey started getting assigned the kind of family-friendly features that may have been M-G-M’s forte but weren’t suited to her talents.  Looking at the big picture, Totter was giving “A” list performances but was trapped in “B” list films.

In July 1951, Totter began starring in a radio sitcom entitled Meet Millie, a program that soon became so popular CBS wanted to take it to television…but because Audrey was still under contract to M-G-M (who made frowny faces at the thought of their employees appearing on the small screen) she had to make room for Elena Verdugo as TV’s Millie, and Totter eventually dropped out of the radio version as well.  After leaving M-G-M, however, Totter made up for lost time by appearing regularly on such TV programs as Cimarron City (she was boarding house owner Beth Purcell) and Our Man Higgins (as the title character’s employer, Alice MacRoberts).  In the 1970s, Audrey replaced Jayne Meadows as the head nurse on the hit doctor drama Medical Center (as Nurse Wilcox), and achieved co-star billing on the show as a result.  Totter’s last credit was on an episode of Murder, She Wrote on 1987.

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear wishes Ms. Totter the happiest of birthdays…as well as these distinguished celebrity notables who share her day:

Harvey Firestone (1868-1938) – The automobile tire guy

Charley Grapewin (1869-1956) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Heroes for Sale, Judge Priest, Alice Adams, The Petrified Forest, The Wizard of Oz and The Grapes of Wrath

James Kevin McGuinness (1893-1950) – Motion picture screenwriter-producer whose film contributions include Tarzan and His Mate, What Every Woman Knows, China Seas, Arsène Lupin Returns, Men of Boys Town and Rio Grande

Irene Dunne (1898-1990) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Show Boat, Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, Anna and the King of Siam and I Remember Mama

Albert Dekker (1905-1968) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Dr. Cyclops, The Killers, Gentleman’s Agreement, East of Eden, Kiss Me Deadly and The Wild Bunch

Dennis Morgan (1908-1994) – Stage, screen and television actor-singer whose vehicles include Kitty Foyle, In This Our Life, The Hard Way, Christmas in Connecticut, Two Guys from Milwaukee and This Woman is Dangerous

Patti Pickens (1914-1995) – Female pop vocalist who, with siblings Helen and Jane, formed the popular Pickens Sisters trio

Everett Greenbaum (1919-1999) – Veteran television and film screenwriter who, in tandem with partner Jim Fritzell, wrote for such series as Mister Peepers, The Real McCoys, The Andy Griffith Show and M*A*S*H

George Roy Hill (1921-2002) – Academy Award-winning motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes The World of Henry Orient, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Sting, Slap Shot and The World According to Garp

Tom Gries (1922-1977) – Emmy Award-winning motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes Will Penny, 100 Rifles, The Hawaiians, Breakout, Helter Skelter and Breakheart Pass

Charita Bauer (1922-1985) – Television actress best known for playing matriarch Bertha “Bert” Miller Bauer on the TV soap Guiding Light

Rod Amateau (1923-2003) – Radio and television comedy writer who later became a successful producer of such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The New Phil Silvers Show, My Mother the Car and The Dukes of Hazzard

Charlie Callas (1924-     ) – Standup comic and actor who’s best known as barkeep Malcolm Argos on the 1975-78 crime drama Switch

Mala Powers (1931-2007) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Outrage, Cyrano de Bergerac, City That Never Sleeps, City Beneath the Sea, Rage at Dawn and The Colossus of New York

John Hillerman (1932-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known to television audiences as the oh-so-proper Higgins on Magnum, PI; his other TV gigs include Ellery Queen, The Betty White Show, One Day at a Time and Valerie’s Family

Kim Weston (1939-     ) – R&B/gospel vocalist who’s best known for her 1966 duet with Marvin Gaye, It Takes Two

Tommy Cole (1941-     ) – Mouseketeer turned Emmy Award-winning makeup artist

Pamela Austin (1941-     ) – Commercial model who dabbled a bit in acting, appearing in episodes of TV shows and such films as Rome Adventure, Hootenanny Hoot, Kissin’ Cousins and The Perils of Pauline

Angel Tompkins (1943-     ) – Commercial model who dabbled a bit in acting, appearing in episodes of TV shows and such films as I Love My Wife, Prime Cut, Little Cigars, The Don is Dead and The Bees

Jean Fergusson (1944-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress best known here at TDOY as the voluptuous Marina from the Britcom Last of the Summer Wine

Dick Wolf (1946-     ) – Emmy Award-winning television producer who’s best known as the individual behind Law & Order and its various spin-offs and permutations

John Spencer (1946-2005) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television character actor best known for his TV roles as maverick attorney Tommy Mullaney on L.A. Law and chief of staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing

Alan Parsons (1948-     ) – British audio engineer, musician and record producer whose name is familiar as the brains behind the pop/rock music group The Alan Parsons Project

Claudia Jennings (1949-1979) – 1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year who later drifted into acting; her vehicles include The Love Machine, Group Marriage, 40 Carats, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Moonshine County Express and Deathsport

Jenny Agutter (1952-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Railway Children, Walkabout, Logan’s Run, Equus, Amy and An American Werewolf in London

Michael Badalucco (1954-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actor best known as pugnacious attorney Jimmy Berluti on TV’s The Practice

Blanche Baker (1956-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Seduction of Joe Tyner, French Postcards, Sixteen Candles, Shakedown, The Handmaid’s Tale and TV’s Holocaust; daughter of Carroll Baker

Anita Ward (1957-     ) – Pop music vocalist best known for this ditty:

Joyce Hyser (1957-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Hollywood Knights, Valley Girl, This is Spinal Tap, Just One of the Guys, Greedy and TV’s L.A. Law

Billy Bragg (1957-     ) – English alternative rock musician

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Little Jimmy Dickens!

Country Music Hall of Fame member James Cecil Dickens—better known to Grand Ole Opry fans as “Little Jimmy Dickens” turns ninety years old today, and so it’s fitting that he should be in Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s birthday spotlight.  I’m proud to say that Jimmy and I both hail from the Mountain State; Dickens was born in Bolt, WV and began his musical career performing country music on a local station while attending West Virginia University in the 1930s.  The performer in him soon decided to shelve higher learning and go into the business full time, and so he went out on the road as “Jimmy the Kid.”  It was the King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, who gave Jimmy his big break after hearing him on a Saginaw, MI radio station in 1948—Acuff introduced Dickens to some people from both Columbia Records and the Opry and was signed up in August (Opry) and September (Columbia).  Because of his short stature (he was 4’11”), he decided to bill himself as “Little” Jimmy Dickens.

Dickens’ musical repertoire consisted of country songs with a novelty flavor, and he placed such tunes as Country Boy, My Heart’s Bouquet, A-Sleepin’ at the Foot of the Bed, Hillbilly Fever and Out Behind the Barn in the Top Ten between 1949 and 1954.  Another Top Ten smash, Take an Old Cold ‘Tater (and Wait), inspired singer-songwriter Hank Williams to nickname Dickens “Tater”; Williams held Jimmy in such high regard that he originally penned his classic Hey, Good Lookin’ for Dickens to record, confident that it would be a hit.  But a week later, Hank changed his mind and recorded the song on his own, jokingly telling Jimmy that the song was too good for him.

After his initial burst of chart activity, Jimmy had to wait a while for another big hit to come his way, which finally happened in 1962 with the Top Ten The Violet and the Rose.  Three years later he would score his biggest career hit, a song that topped the country charts and also went to #15 on the Pop music charts, May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.

An enthusiastic, energy-filled performer who is beloved by his fans, Jimmy continues to live up to one of his signature songs—I’m Little, But I’m Loud—and with the passing of Hank Locklin last year, is the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry as of this post.  TDOY wishes “Tater” the happiest of natal anniversaries…and we haven’t forgotten these fellow celebrants, either…

Ralph Richardson (1902-1983) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include The Fallen Idol, The Heiress, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Doctor Zhivago, The Wrong Box and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

H. Allen Smith (1907-1976) – Journalist-humorist whose works include Low Man on a Totem Pole and Life in a Putty Knife Factory

Bill Carlisle (1908-2003) – Country music singer-songwriter who performed with his older brother Cliff as the Carlisles; later became a solo artist and scored this big novelty hit:

Édith Piaf (1915-1963) – French chanteuse and pop culture icon considered by some to be that country’s greatest popular singer

Roy Ward Baker (1916-2010) – English motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes The October Man, Don’t Bother to Knock, A Night to Remember, Quatermass and the Pit, Scars of Dracula and Asylum

Paul Brinegar (1917-1995) – Stage, screen and television character actor beloved by legions of couch potatoes as crotchety cattle drive cook Wishbone on TV’s Rawhide; also had regular gigs on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Lancer and Matt Houston

David Susskind (1920-1987) – Emmy Award-winning television, movie and theatrical producer and TV talk show host best known for producing such series as Way Out, East Side/West Side and N.Y.P.D. and for moderating the landmark talk show Open End

Eamonn Andrews (1922-1987) – Irish television presenter and personality who’s best known as the host of the UK versions of What’s My Line? and This is Your Life

Gordon Jackson (1923-1980) – Scottish-born stage, screen and television character who’s perhaps best remembered as butler Hudson on TV’s Upstairs, Downstairs and George Cowley on The Professionals

Edmund Purdom (1924-2009) – English-born stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Julius Caesar, The Egyptian, The King’s Thief, The Yellow Rolls-Royce and TV’s Sword of Freedom

Gary Morton (1924-1999) – Standup comedian who, if you’d ever seen his act, made the smartest career move a person could ever make by marrying Lucille Ball and becoming executive producer of her TV shows (The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, etc.)

Robert B. Sherman (1925-     ) – Academy Award-winning songwriter-composer who, along with younger brother Richard, wrote songs and scores for such films as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Tom Sawyer and The Slipper and the Rose

Herb Stempel (1926-     ) – Footnote in television history as the Twenty-One contestant and champion who blew the whistle on fellow contestant Charles Van Doren, thus setting the stage for the quiz show scandals of the 1950s

Cicely Tyson (1933-     ) – Emmy-winning stage, screen and television actress best known for her roles in such TV productions as East Side/West Side, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, King and A Woman Called Moses

Wayne Maunder (1935-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who scored regular roles on such TV series as Custer, Lancer and Chase

Barbara Bostock (1935-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known as neighbor Carol Parker on the TV sitcom Love on a Rooftop

Phil Ochs (1940-1976) – Folk singer-songwriter

Maurice White (1941-     ) – Pop/R&B singer-songwriter, record producer and one-time front man for Earth, Wind and Fire

Sam Kelly (1943-     ) – Britcom icon who had regular roles on such shows as Porridge, Now and Then, ‘Allo ‘Allo!, Haggard, On the Up and Barbara

Tim Reid (1944-     ) – Television icon who had regular gigs on such TV series as WKRP in Cincinnati, Teachers Only, Simon & Simon, Frank’s Place and Sister, Sister

John McEuen (1945-     ) – Folk musician-songwriter, record producer and founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Elaine Joyce (1945-     ) – Stage, screen and television singer-actress whose TV gigs include Mr. Merlin and a gazillion game shows; married to playwright Neil Simon

Robert Urich (1946-2002) – Television icon who had regular gigs on such TV series as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, S.W.A.T., Soap, Tabitha, Vega$, Gavilan, Spenser: For Hire, American Dreamer, Crossroads, It Had to Be You, The Lazarus Man and Emeril

Janie Fricke (1947-     ) – Country music vocalist who started out as one of the industry’s best known backup performers (including several hits by Johnny Duncan) before going solo in 1977

Walter Murphy (1952-     ) – Emmy Award-winning instrumentalist/composer who might have just been a musical footnote with the 1976 disco hit A Fifth of Beethoven but who has gone on to compose music for such TV shows as The Commish and Family Guy

Francesca P. Roberts (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actress whom I always remember as Anna-May the waitress on Frank’s Place but she’s also had regular gigs on such shows as Have Faith, Baby Talk and Fired Up

Mike Lookinland (1960-     ) – Former moppet actor who cemented his television immortality by playing youngest Brady son Bobby on The Brady Bunch and its various spin-offs and permutations

Jill Talley (1962-     ) – Comic actress and voice artist who’s been featured on such TV shows as The Edge, Mr. Show with Bob & Dave, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Boondocks

Jennifer Beals (1963-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Flashdance, The Bride, Devil in a Blue Dress, The Last Days of Disco and TV’s The L Word

Kristy Swanson (1969-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Deadly Friend, Hot Shots!, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Chase and The Phantom

Alyssa Milano (1972-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known for her regular TV gigs on Who’s the Boss?, Melrose Place and Charmed

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy birthday, Hal Kanter!

Those of you with a passing familiarity with this ‘umble scrap of the blogosphere are aware that I called Savannah, GA my stomping grounds for a number of years (even though I’m not a native) and as such am always pleased to give a shout-out to notables who called “the pretty lady with the dirty face” their birthplace.  Today’s celebrant can claim that honor, he was brought into this world ninety-two years ago (and, as of this post, is still with us) in the “State of Chatham” and forged a successful career writing comedy for radio, TV and the movies.  He’s Hal Kanter, who once summed up his show business achievements by remarking: “I’m the internationally famous writer-director who’s known to his barber as ‘Next!’”

Even as a youngster, Kanter knew that writing would be his profession—he sold his first newspaper article at the age of 11, and was a full-fledged newspaper reporter by the age of 16.  He migrated to California just shy of legal adult age to become “the ghost writer of a ghost writer” for a comic strip and broke into radio not long after that.  He successfully peddled gags (anonymously) to the likes of Jack Haley and Joe Penner before getting a big break in New York contributing material to Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson’s mega-successful Hellzapoppin’; it was also at that time that he started to receive his first on-air radio credits by penning a number of episodes for the dramatic anthology Grand Central Station.

Like most future comedy writers of his generation, Hal did his bit in WW2 working for the Armed Forces Radio Service, and upon being demobbed found his talents in demand on such shows as Philco Radio Time (Bing Crosby’s show), Amos ‘n’ Andy and Beulah.  But Kanter was bright enough to see that television was going to be the next big thing, and so he got in on the ground floor working for Ed Wynn’s comedy-variety series in 1949.  Later in the decade, he would create (as well as direct and produce) George Gobel’s successful TV series while at the same time contributing to screenplays for the likes of Bob Hope (Off Limits, Casanova’s Big Night), Martin & Lewis (Money from Home, Artists and Models), Elvis Presley (Loving You, which he also directed) and Rowan & Martin (he wrote and directed their cult comedy-western, Once Upon a Horse).

In the 1960s, Kanter was responsible for creating two series—the first was Valentine’s Day, a critically-acclaimed sitcom that unfortunately lasted only a single season but did introduce actor Jack Soo to TV audiences, who would get to know Soo better as the hilarious Det. Nick Yemana on Barney Miller.  The other program was the groundbreaking Julia, the first contemporary situation comedy to feature a black actress (Diahann Carroll) in the lead role.  This show would run for three seasons on NBC from 1968 to 1971.  Kanter later worked on such shows as The Jimmy Stewart Show and Chico and the Man before serving a hitch as executive producer of All in the Family.  In the twilight of his career he would become well-known as the co-writer of the yearly Academy Awards telecast, a job he started performing in 1952.

Happy birthday to you, Mr. Kanter—you’re one of my comedy heroes.  And the brightest of natal anniversaries to your fellow celebrants as well:

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) – Evil Communist dictator guy

Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) – Renowned English stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Rebecca, That Hamilton Woman, Now, Voyager, Thunder on the Hill, My Fair Lady and TV’s The Rogues

William “Stage” Boyd (1889-1935) – Stage and screen actor whose off-screen naughtiness got the other William Boyd—aka Hopalong Cassidy—unwarranted negative publicity; Stage’s vehicles include The Locked Door, City Streets, The House on 56th Street and the dreadful 1935 serial The Lost City

Edwin H. Armstrong (1890-1954) – Electrical engineer and inventor who brought us frequency modulation (FM) radio

Bobby Barber (1894-1976) – Bit player seen often in Abbott & Costello’s films and their TV series; he was employed by Lou to be their “court jester,” throwing pies and pulling pranks to keep up the energy level on their mirthmaking

George Stevens (1904-1975) – Motion picture director-writer-producer who began as a cameraman on Laurel & Hardy’s shorts and whose oeuvre includes The Nitwits, A Damsel in Distress, Gunga Din, The More the Merrier, A Place in the Sun and Shane

Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter (1904-1996) – Canadian country music singer-songwriter and yodeler

Kam Tong (1906-1969) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known as the Carlton Hotel’s “Hey Boy” on TV’s Have Gun – Will Travel

Celia Johnson (1908-1982) – English stage and television actress who did appear in a handful of motion pictures, notably In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Brief Encounter and The Captain’s Paradise

Mona Barrie (1909-1964) – British born stage and screen character actress whose vehicles include Charlie Chan in London, Something to Sing About, Men are Such Fools, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, Skylark and The Devil’s Mask

Abe Burrows (1910-1985) – Composer, musician, writer and humorist best known as the author of the stage musical Guys and Dolls and the film The Solid Gold Cadillac; also wrote such radio shows as Duffy’s Tavern and The Danny Kaye Show

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) – TDOY motion picture director god whose oeuvre includes Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway, Night and the City, Rififi and Topkapi

Freddie Steele (1912-1984) – Former world middleweight boxing champ who dabbled in acting in such films as Hail the Conquering Hero, Story of G.I. Joe, Black Angel and A Foreign Affair

Lynn Bari (1913-1989) – B-picture actress and pinup gal who also made inroads into early television with such shows as Detective’s Wife and Boss Lady; her films include The Falcon Takes Over, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Nocturne and The Amazing Mr. X

Bill Zuckert (1915-1997) – Ubiquitous stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Ada, Shock Corridor, Hang ‘em High, The Trouble with Girls, How to Frame a Figg and Born Again

Betty Grable (1916-1973) – Leggy stage, screen and television actress/pinup gal whose vehicles include Tin Pan Alley, Moon Over Miami, I Wake Up Screaming, Springtime in the Rockies, Coney Island and The Dolly Sisters

Ossie Davis (1917-2005) – TDOY character actor-director fave whose vehicles include Gone are the Days!, The Hill, Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Get On the Bus and Bubba Ho-Tep

Danny Simon (1918-2005) – Comedy writer brother of Neil who worked on such radio shows as Milton Berle’s and TV programs as Your Show of Shows and The Colgate Comedy Hour

J P Miller (1919-2001) – Emmy Award-winning television writer and playwright who wrote many productions during the Golden Age of Television but is best known for Days of Wine and Roses, which was adapted as a feature film in 1962

Ralph Levy (1919-2001) – Emmy Award-winning television and motion picture director-producer best known for his work with Jack Benny, Burns and Allen and Petticoat Junction; he also directed the pilot for I Love Lucy

Larry D. Mann (1922-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose TV vehicles include Accidental Family and Hill Street Blues; he’s also known for his voice work including cartoons featuring the Blue Racer and Crazylegs Crane

Peggy Cummins (1925-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Late George Apley, Escape, Gun Crazy, Curse of the Demon and The Captain’s Table

Roger Smith (1932-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor once married to Ann-Margret but best known for his TV roles as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip and the titular officer on the sitcom Mister Roberts

Rosemary Leach (1935-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress best known here at TDOY as Ronnie Corbett’s wife in such Britcoms as No, That’s Me Over Here!, Now Look Here and The Prince of Denmark; her other Britcoms include Life Begins at Forty and My Family

Roger E. Mosley (1938-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor best known as sidekick T.C. on the TV series Magnum, PI

Harvey Atkin (1942-     ) – Canadian stage, screen and character actor best known for his TV gigs as desk sergeant Ronald Coleman on Cagney & Lacey and judge Alan Ridenour on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Alan Rudolph (1943-     ) – Motion picture director-writer whose oeuvre includes Welcome to L.A., Remember My Name, Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Keith Richards (1943-     ) – If the Rolling Stones guitarist-songwriter looks this bad at 67, what do you think he’ll look like twenty years from now?

Steven Spielberg (1946-     ) – Academy Award-winning motion picture and television über director-writer-producer whose oeuvre includes Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan

Gregory W. Mank (1950-     ) – Author, film historian and horror movie expert

Leonard Maltin (1950-     ) – Author, film historian and critic whose books on animated cartoons, comedy shorts, old-time radio, etc. have been a major influence here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Gillian Armstrong (1950-     ) – Australian motion picture director-writer-producer whose oeuvre includes My Brilliant Career, Starstruck, Mrs. Soffel, High Tide, The Last Days of Chez Nous and Little Women

Jeff Kober (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known as Sgt. Evan “Dodger” Winslow on TV’s China Beach

Ray Liotta (1954-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Something Wild, Field of Dreams, Goodfellas, Unlawful Entry, Turbulence and Cop Land

T.K. Carter (1956-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who had regular gigs on such TV shows as Just Our Luck, Punky Brewster, Good Morning, Miss Bliss and The Sinbad Show

Brad Pitt (1963-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Thelma & Louise, Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Inglourious Basterds

Katie Holmes (1978-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known as Joey Potter on TV’s Dawson Creek; currently suffering from Stockholm Syndrome as a result of her marriage to Tom Cruise since 2006

Christina Aguilera (1980-     ) – Skanky pop music vocalist

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy birthday, Goober!

Though his character of village idiot Goober Pyle is routinely lampooned here weekly on Mayberry Mondays, I have nothing but the utmost respect for actor George Lindsey…who was born on this date in Fairfield, AL today and turns the ripe old age of 75.  You see, I’ve seen Lindsey in other venues—the classic Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode of “The Jar” and a couple of Gunsmoke installments, “Hung High” and “Which Dr.”, to name just a few—and know that he’s a first-rate character thespian despite his years of Goobering on The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw.

Raised in the bustling metropolis of Jasper, AL George graduated from Walker High School in 1946 and then attended both the Kemper Military School and Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama, which began holding an annual George Lindsey film festival in 1988), getting a Bachelor’s Degree in Bioscience.  (In fact, he once taught public school in Hazel Green, AL, just as his TV counterpart Goober would do in the R.F.D. episode “Driver Education”.)  After a hitch in the Air Force, he motored toward New York City with an interest in show business and worked as a stand-up comic and stage actor before moving to L.A. in the 1960s.  He got a break in the bidness by landing guest roles on such series as The Rifleman, The Tycoon, The Twilight Zone and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

The story goes that Lindsey auditioned for a role on TAGS and star Griffith was impressed enough to use him but didn’t because he’d already cast Jim Nabors in the similar part of Gomer Pyle.  When Nabors made tracks for his own spin-off, Gomer Pyle, USMC, Lindsey inherited the mantle of Mayberry’s slow-witted but well-meaning gas pump jockey and it was eventually decided that his “Goober” was kin to Gomer (his cousin) despite the fact that in earlier episodes he was introduced as “Goober Beasley.”  When TAGS went off the air in 1968, the Goober character migrated to spin-off Mayberry R.F.D. and after R.F.D.’s run ended he turned up again on the syndicated comedy-variety series Hee Haw from 1972-92.  In fact, a pilot for a series Goober & the Truckers’ Paradise surfaced in 1978 which would have had Mayberry’s favorite dolt running a truck stop along with characters played by Lindsay Bloom, Leigh French and Audrey Landers…so don’t think I wasn’t disappointed when that didn’t get picked up (these women are, to use my friend Stacia’s nomenclature, “my pretend girlfriends”).

Post-Mayberry, Lindsey has been both a familiar face (Charley and the Angel, Snowball Express) and voice (The AristoCats, Robin Hood) in many a Walt Disney film and has guested on such venues as Love, American Style, Banacek, M*A*S*H, Fantasy Island, CHiPs and a memorable episode of NewsRadio in which he is subpoenaed in a court case to identify an artifact that is purportedly his skull.  A tireless supporter of both Special Olympics and senior citizens, Lindsey may have played an idiot on TV for many years but he’s aces in the hefty book located here at Rancho Yesteryear.  TDOY wishes him a happy natal anniversary and his fellow birthday celebrants as well:

Robertson “Bunny” Hare (1891-1979) – English stage, screen, radio and television comic actor best remembered here at TDOY as Archdeacon Henry Blunt on the classic Britcom All Gas and Gaiters

Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979) – Longtime conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, which was featured weekly on the PBS TV program Evening at Pops

David Butler (1894-1979) – Motion picture and television director-writer-producer who began his career as an actor in silents; his oeuvre includes Sunnyside Up, The Little Colonel, Doubting Thomas, Ali Baba Goes to Town, Thank Your Lucky Stars and The Princess and the Pirate

Katina Paxinou (1900-1973) – Academy Award-winning stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include For Whom the Bell Tolls, Confidential Agent, Mourning Becomes Electra, Prince of Foxes, Mr. Arkadin and Rocco and His Brothers

House Jameson (1902-1971) – Stage, screen, radio and television character actor best known for playing lawyer/patriarch Sam Aldrich on the radio and TV versions of The Aldrich Family

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) – Moreland, GA native and author of Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre

Ray Noble (1903-1978) – English bandleader and composer who penned such standards as The Very Thought of You and Goodnight, Sweetheart but is best known as Edgar Bergen’s maestro and comic sidekick on Bergen’s long-running radio show

Christianna Brand (1907-1988) – English crime novelist and children’s book author who created both Inspector Cockrill (Green for Danger) and Nurse Matilda, the inspiration for the Nanny McPhee movies

Spade Cooley (1910-1969) – Western swing musician and bandleader who also appeared in B-westerns; his career came to a close in 1961 after he murdered his wife by stomping on her in a drunken rage

William Roerick (1911-1995) – Stage, screen and television actor who’s remembered here at TDOY as Henry Chamberlain on the TV soap Guiding Light (“Oh Nola Nola Nola…”)

Joan Woodbury (1915-1989) – Stage, screen and television actress best remembered for playing comic strip heroine Brenda Starr in a 1945 Columbia serial; can also be glimpsed in Super-Sleuth, Charlie Chan on Broadway and King of the Zombies

Barbara Slater (1920-1997) – Unsung motion picture actress-model who’s remembered for appearances in a pair of Three Stooges shorts (Three Smart Saps and Half-Wits Holiday) and Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux

Patrice Wymore (1926-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Tea for Two, Rocky Mountain, I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Big Trees, She’s Working Her Way Through College and Ocean’s Eleven

Richard Long (1927-1974) – Stage, screen and television actor who had regular gigs on such TV shows as Maverick, Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, The Big Valley, Nanny and the Professor and Thicker Than Water

Patricia Driscoll (1927-     ) – Irish stage, screen and television actress best known for replacing Bernadette O’Farrell as Maid Marian in the later seasons of TV’s The Adventures of Robin Hood

Marilyn Beck (1928-     ) – Gossip columnist

William Safire (1929-2009) – Nattering nabob of negativism and longtime New York Times political columnist who also at one time wrote speeches for Nixon and Agnew

Armin Mueller-Stahl (1930-     ) – Prussian-German stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Music Box, Avalon, The Game, The X Files and Eastern Promises

Bob Guccione (1930-2010) – Founder and publisher of Penthouse magazine (he also created Omni, Viva and Longevity)

Dave Madden (1931-     ) – Stage, screen and television comic actor best known as manager Reuben Kincaid* on the sitcom The Partridge Family; he also had regular roles on Camp Runamuck (as Pruett) and Alice (as Earl)

Tommy Steele (1936-     ) – English entertainer and teen idol whose cinematic vehicles include Half a Sixpence, The Happiest Millionaire and Finian’s Rainbow

Eddie Kendricks (1939-1992) – Temptation

Jeffrey Wigand (1942-     ) – Former vice-president of R&D at tobacco company Brown & Williamson who blew the whistle on the company’s manipulation of nicotine in their product in a 1996 60 Minutes interview that became the basis for the 1999 film The Insider

Paul Butterfield (1942-1987) – Blues musician and harmonica player who fronted The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Christopher Cazenove (1945-2010) – English stage, screen and television actor who had regular gig on such TV series as The Regiment, The Duchess of Duke Street, Dynasty, A Fine Romance and Judge John Deed

Chris Matthews (1945-     ) – Volume-challenged political pundit and host of the TV programs Hardball and The Chris Matthews Show…oh, and un dickhead formidable

Ernie Hudson (1946-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include the Ghostbusters films, Leviathan, The Crow, The Substitute and TV’s St. Elsewhere, Oz, Desperate Housewives and Law & Order

Eugene Levy (1946-     ) – SCTV alum whose vehicles include Vacation, Splash, Club Paradise, Armed and Dangerous, A Mighty Wind and the American Pie movies

Wes Studi (1947-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Powwow Highway, The Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo: An American Legend, Heat, Deep Rising and The Only Good Indian

Marilyn Hassett (1947-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Other Side of the Mountain movies, Shadow of the Hawk and The Bell Jar

Paul Rodgers (1949-     ) – English rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter who fronted the groups Free and Bad Company

Joel Brooks (1949-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor who had regular gigs on such TV series as Teachers Only, My Sister Sam, Good Grief, Dudley and Six Feet Under

Bill Pullman (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Ruthless People, Spaceballs, The Last Seduction, While You Were Sleeping, Independence Day and Zero Effect

Barry Livingston (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television moppet actor/Facebook compadre best known as adopted son Ernie Thompson Douglas on TV’s My Three Sons

Patrick Murray (1956-     ) – English stage, screen and television actor remembered here at TDOY as the dim Mickey Pearce from the Britcom Only Fools and Horses

Peter Farrelly (1956-     ) – Motion picture and television director-writer-producer who, in tandem with his brother Bobby, has promulgated such witty and sophisticated** cinematic treats as Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself and I and Stuck on You

Mike Mills (1958-     ) – Bassist/keyboardist and backing vocalist for the Athens, GA-based group R.E.M.

Gregg Araki (1959-    ) – Motion picture and television director-producer-writer whose oeuvre includes The Living End, Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation

Sara Dallin (1961-     ) – Bananarama chick

Eric Brown (1964-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor best known for playing Vinton “Buzz” Harper, Jr on TV’s Mama’s Family—making him the second of Ken Berry’s TV idiot sons

Giovanni Ribisi (1974-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who had regular gigs on such TV series as The New Leave It to Beaver, My Two Dads, Davis Rules, The Wonder Years, Friends and My Name is Earl

Sarah Paulson (1974-     ) – TDOY actress fave whom I always remember as Merlyn on American Gothic but she was also on Jack & Jill, Leap of Faith, Deadwood, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Cupid and a memorable Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode in which she played a real cold-blooded bitch

Milla Jovovich (1975-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress-model whose vehicles include Chaplin, Dazed and Confused, The Fifth Element***, Zoolander and the Resident Evil movies

*What can I say—the man is one of my role models…

**I have sarcasm…and I’m not afraid to use it.

***I paid good cash money to see this POC during my years of exile in Morgantown.  I’m still bitter after all these years.

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