Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bill Dana, 1924-2017, R.I.P.

Comedian, writer, and screenwriter  Bill Dana (born William Szathmary), has died at the age of ninety-two.

Once again, I seem to have the Kiss of Death. I talk or think about a person whom I haven't thought about in quite a while, and soon learn that he or she has died, or then discover that he or she has recently died. 

At my flea market stand, one of the items I have for sale is the album pictured below, José Jimenez in Orbit (Bill Dana on Earth). Just last Sunday, my display of this LP prompted not one, but two conversations about Bill Dana. One was with a gentleman who assumed that Mr. Dana was dead, but I promptly corrected him, informing him that the comedian, now ninety-two, was still alive. And as far as I knew, I was right; the news outlets had yet to report that Bill Dana had died on Thursday, the 15th.

Starting in 1959 and continuing throughout the 1960s, Dana appeared as José Jimenez, a somewhat simple-minded Bolivian (or Mexican, as has often been stated) character who spoke broken English and was an astronaut at one point in his fictional history. The character was warmly embraced by the real U.S. Mercury astronauts (not to mention a very young Silver Fox). Dana portrayed Jimenez until 1970, when it was decided that the character was too stereotypical, this in spite of the fact that "José" was actually relatively well-accepted by Latinos (well, depending on whose version you believe).

Early in his entertainment career, Dana had written routines for stand-up comic Don Adams. When Dana got his own show in the mid-1960s, Dana played José Jimenez as a bellhop. Adams was hired to play a hotel detective named Byron Glick. After The Bill Dana Show was cancelled, Adams took Glick's persona with him to play Maxwell Smart on Get Smart. (Bill Dana's brother Irving Szathmary wrote the Get Smart theme, yet another Don Adams connection.) Dana also co-wrote Don Adams' 1980's Get Smart movie, The Nude Bomb... which was just that, a "bomb."

Among many other credits in his long career, Dana wrote "Sammy's Visit," the well-known and incredibly popular episode of All in the Family which featured Sammy Davis, Jr. In the 1980s, Dana appeared as the father to Howie Mandel's character of Dr. Wayne Fiscus on St. Elsewhere. (Odd that I found out about Mr. Dana's passing on the same day that I heard about the death of Stephen Furst, who appeared on St. Elsewhere as a regular.) Dana later played Estelle Getty's brother on The Golden Girls.

With Danny Thomas.

 With Ed Sullivan.

In a cameo appearance as José Jimenez on Batman.
Sorry I couldn't find a shot that actually included Batman!

With Steve Allen.

With buddy Don Adams on The Bill Dana Show.

As Bernardo in Walt Disney Television's Zorro and Son,
a comical sequel to their 1950s Zorro series, which premiered
in 1983. Dana is flanked by Paul Regina and Henry Darrow.

With Adams, Jonathan Harris (later of Lost in Space), and Maggie Peterson.

With "son" Howie Mandel on St. Elsewhere.

With Estelle Getty on The Golden Girls.

Now, I have to wonder, who's next? Celebrities who've been running through my mind one way or another lately are Carl Reiner (who's ninety-five), Norman Lear (who's ninety-four), and yet another St. Elsewhere alumnus, Norman Lloyd (who's 102)! Watch this space.

Thanks for your time.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Stephen Furst, 1954-2017, R.I.P.

Actor, director, and producer Stephen Furst has died at the age of sixty-three, from diabetes complications.

Furst initially came to national prominence with his role as Kent "Flounder" Dorfman in 1978's National Lampoon's Animal House. He went on to play characters such as Dr. Elliot Axelrod on NBC's St. Elsewhere (1982-1988) and Babylon 5's Vir Cotto.

Only part of the huge ensemble cast of St. Elsewhere, which included several
rather well-known actors near the beginning of their respective careers.

 With Thomas Hulce (later of Amadeus) and Mark Metcalf, one of
Animal House's terrific villains, Douglas C. Neidermeyer.

Thanks for your time.

P.S. ~~ Unfortunately, right after I posted this piece, I found out that comedian Bill Dana had passed away. I'll be posting about him in a couple of days so I don't "bury" today's post!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Adam West, 1928-2017, R.I.P.

Recently tweeted by Mark Evanier, author of the highly-recommended News From Me blog: "A lot of folks seem to think Batman died yesterday. Adam West wanted you to remember he was an actor, not a comic book character."

Having said -- well, quoted -- that...

Yeah, yeah, I'm very well aware that Adam West (born William West Anderson) wasn't Batman. He only played Batman on the television series, plus in the feature-length Batman movie in 1966, and in several voice-over cartoon incarnations over the years after the Batman TV show ended. And I was old enough to understand that he was "only" an actor portraying a fictional character even when I watched Batman as a child during its original run.

However, the main reason I'm writing this post is to wax nostalgic over the impact the Batman show and its star had on me during its run. And that's why the forty-seven or so photos that follow my ramblings, all of Adam West, are mostly Batman-related shots of Mr. West, who died June 9th at the age of eighty-eight after a short battle with leukemia.

So pack a lunch.

I was just the right age when the ABC network advertised its "Second Season" in January of 1966.("Second Season" sounded so much more dignified and impressive than "mid-season replacements.") I'd just turned nine years old the previous November. I was old enough to follow the plots, dialogue, etc., old enough to know that the actors and actresses were just that, actors and actresses, and even old enough to realize that the show wasn't taking itself totally seriously. But fortunately, I was a bit too young to realize that the powers that be (powers that were?) behind the show were somewhat contemptuous of comic books and those who read them.

I read comic books, and had been following them since before I could read. I taught myself to read using just about any comics I encountered, but primarily by reading issues of Batman, and Detective Comics (in which Batman and Robin starred). So to see that the "Caped Crusader" and his kid sidekick, "Robin, the Boy Wonder" were getting their own television show was incredibly thrilling to myself and my peers. (Sure, there had been the 1950s show, The Adventures of Superman, but none of "us" were old enough to clearly remember that.)

The Batman show started a short-lived phenomenon. It was almost like a small-scale version of Beatlemania -- it was even called "Batmania" which had so gripped the world a couple of years earlier. Several actors, actresses, and other celebrities lobbied to play villains on the program, or even show up in cameo appearances.

The over-the-top, irreverent tone of the series became known as "camp," and for quite some time it (adversely) affected the tone of entertainment in general and comic books in particular. (For example, thanks to the Batman TV show, one of my favorite TV series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., took on a tongue-in-cheek camp attitude during its third season. Accordingly, U.N.C.L.E. sank in the ratings and was cancelled after its fourth season.)

Even now, fifty-odd years later, a huge percentage of the public still can't think of comics without using expressions like "Holy [whatever]," like Robin did on the show, and references to comics are often illustrated with sound effects like "Pow," "Zap," "Bam," and the like.

In fact... I'm writing this post at the local public library, and I just noticed that the wall beside their "graphic novels" section is emblazoned with "Swat," "Zap," "Pow," and "Bang!" And this is 2017, fellow babies!

But the average nine-year-old back then didn't have a sense of comic book history, of course, and we didn't realize that the character of Batman was originally intended to be a "darknight [sic] detective," much more serious in tone than the goofy guy in the TV show. I was really excited by the fact that comic books seemed to be "in" for a while. So where Batman was concerned, I watched the show, bought (some of) the many toys, bought an LP of stories about the character, bought two different paperback books (one a collection of old comic book stories, the other a novel about Batman fighting several of his major villains), went to see the Batmobile at an auto show in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts, collected the trading cards (three different sets, IIRC), and read... well, I was already reading the comic books.

As I aged, I saw comic book fans start taking themselves and their "heroes" much more seriously. (Some would say too seriously.) To a lot of them, mostly those who hadn't watched the TV show as kids, the '60s version of Batman was something to be scoffed at, not admired. They much preferred Batman as he appeared in stories like those written by creators such as Denny O'Neil & Neal Adams, Steve Englehart & Marshall Rogers, and writer/artist Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns.

Over the years, I saw Adam West in a number of later roles. I even saw him once at a comic book convention (but didn't get to meet him) several years ago. He told the audience that an actor's job is to do just that, act. (He used that statement as a matter-of-fact explanation as to why he took roles in films such as The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.) And when asked what his greatest acting role had been, he replied "I haven't done it yet."

And now, in no order whatsoever, here are a number of photos of Adam West, many with his various co-stars.

The third-season cast of The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. Along with Mr. Taylor (far right),
West is pictured with Mark Goddard (later of  Lost in Space) and Tige Andrews (later of The Mod Squad).

West with my personal favorite of the three women who played
Catwoman in the 1960s, the incomparable Julie Newmar.

A casual moment with West's third-season Batman co-star,
the late Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl.

With the cast of The Big Bang Theory on their 200th episode,
the fiftieth anniversary of the Batman TV show.

West on an episode of  Perry Mason.

West and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler) flanking Batman's co-creator, Bob Kane.

With Burt "Robin" Ward at a comic convention.

West was signed for Batman after producer William Dozier saw him
as Captain Q, a James Bond type, in a Nestlé Quik commercial.

Adam West and Burt Ward in a 1989 appearance at an auto show,
looking much like they did in the 1960s! But note that the cape,
cowl and gloves are black rather than blue, as they were in the TV show!
(And many thanks to Betsy Brock for sending the article in which this photo appeared.)

A more recent shot of West with Julie Newmar.

 With (of all people) actor Richard Deacon in The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood!

Playing himself in 1978's  Hooper with Burt Reynolds and James Best. 

Frank Gorshin, Yvonne Craig, Adam West, and (again) Julie Newmar.

Once again with Julie Newmar! Why? Because I can!

Burt Ward and Adam West.

With the late Van Williams, who played television's Green Hornet.

1964's Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

 With Jill St. John

As Dr. Jekyll (becoming Mr. Hyde) in a comedy short from Night Gallery.

*Whew!!!* Thanks for your time!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Three New Tributes

1. Roger Smith, 1932-2017, R.I.P.

Roger Smith, actor, screenwriter, and (later in his career) Ann-Margret's husband and manager, has died at the age of eighty-four.

Convinced to become an actor by none other than James Cagney -- after which Smith played Creighton Chaney (a/k/.a Lon Chaney, Jr.) in Man of a Thousand Faces, where Cagney played Lon Chaney, Sr. -- Mr. Smith's best-known role was probably that of Jeff Spencer on ABC's 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964) with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Edd Byrnes. Smith went on to star as the title character in NBC's Mister Roberts, based on the earlier play (1948) and movie (1955).

Smith started dating actress and singer Ann-Margret in the mid-1960s, and they married in 1967. He eventually became her manager, and producer of her Las Vegas shows. They celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on May 8th.

*  *  *  *  *

2. Elena Verdugo, 1925-2017, R.I.P.

Actress and singer Elena Verdugo has passed away at the age of ninety-two.

I first encountered Ms. Verdugo in her role as nurse Consuelo Lopez on ABC's Marcus Welby, M.D. (1969-1976). I didn't realize it at the time, but her character was a very early positive role model for Latina women. And it was quite a kick for the teenaged Silver Fox to learn during Welby's run that Ms. Verdugo had played a part in 1945's House of Frankenstein! (She wore a dark-haired wig for this and many other roles -- as a Gypsy, Latina, Native American, etc. -- as she was actually blonde.)

I was also quite pleased to recognize her in a small role at the beginning of 1952's Cyrano de Bergerac, when I finally got to see it in 1983 or so, fifteen years after reading its 1952 comic book adaptation in an old issue of Classics Illustrated!

Ms. Verdugo with one of my very few idols, voice-over goddess June Foray!

*  *  *  *  *

3. Peter Sallis, 1921-2017, R.I.P.

Actor Peter Sallis has died at the age of  ninety-six.

Personally, I wasn't familiar with Mr. Sallis' many projects, outside of his voice-over work as the character of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" films. (I'd actually seen him in such films as The Curse of the Werewolf, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and 1973 TV movie Frankenstein: The True Story, but I saw all of them when I was much younger and regrettably, I don't specifically recall his part in any of them.)

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks for your time.


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