It’s a wrap

Pasatiempo - - Takes On Film -

I gar­ner a lot of reader re­sponse from my an­nual end-of-year trib­ute to film ac­tors who passed away. Peo­ple tell me they like that I in­cluded one of their fa­vorites, or be­rate me (in a friendly way) about the ones I ne­glected. I can’t men­tion every­one, and my list is based in great part on per­sonal pref­er­ence. So here, in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der, is my farewell trib­ute to some of my fa­vorites who passed into cin­e­matic heaven in 2009.

Betsy Blair may be best re­mem­bered for be­ing Gene Kelly’s wife and for her Academy Award-nom­i­nated per­for­mance in 1955’s Marty, as the shy woman the equally shy Ernest Borg­nine goes for. Her ca­reer stalled dur­ing the McCarthy era, when she came un­der sus­pi­cion for be­ing in­volved in left-wing causes. She penned a well-writ­ten au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, The Mem­ory of All That (2003), which de­tails her life and ca­reer and re­la­tion­ship with Kelly.

David Car­ra­dine The el­dest son of ac­tor John Car­ra­dine broke into films and tele­vi­sion in the early 1960s (re­mem­ber him as the ti­tle char­ac­ter in the short-lived Shane TV se­ries?). Film star­dom sort of eluded him, though he’s in one of my fa­vorite 1970s ex­ploita­tion films, Death Race 2000, and Quentin Tarantino played up his Kung Fu mar­tial-arts im­age in the Kill Bill films.

Far­rah Fawcett OK, so she never be­came a movie star. So what? She was the hottest thing on TV for young teen guys like me in the 1970s, and who can for­get such cin­e­matic flops as Some­body Killed Her Hus­band, Sun­burn, Saturn 3, and The Can­non­ball Run? I won­der what I did with that clas­sic swim­suit poster of her that I hung on the wall of my bed­room for about 20 years.

Karl Malden You didn’t leave home without your Amer­i­can Ex­press card, thanks to him. (Too bad for me; I ran up con­sid­er­able debt on it.) He was good in bad movies; bet­ter in great movies. Among his more im­pres­sive cred­its: The Gun­fighter, A Street­car Named De­sire, On the Water­front, Baby Doll, and Pat­ton. But I even like him in Phan­tom of the Rue Morgue (which co-stars a guy in a go­rilla suit!) and the Dean Martin/Matt Helm flick Mur­der­ers’ Row. He wrote an ex­cel­lent au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, When Do I Start?, in the late 1990s.

Ri­cardo Mon­tal­ban “Movies were never kind to me; I had to fight for ev­ery inch of film,” he said in a 1970 in­ter­view. “Usu­ally my best scenes would end up on the cut­ting-room floor.” Born in Mex­ico City in 1920, he was hired by MGM in the mid-1940s to be one of its Latin-lover types to do the breast stroke with Es­ther Wil­liams. Now and then he scored in hard-hit­ting roles, as in Bat­tle­ground and Bor­der In­ci­dent. He worked con­tin­u­ally in tele­vi­sion from the mid-1950s un­til the 1980s, and made a wel­come re­turn to films in Star Trek: TheWrath of Khan. He may be best known for his hit TV se­ries Fan­tasy Is­land.

Jane Ran­dolph She was never a great ac­tress, but she was in Jac­ques Tourneur’s Cat Peo­ple (re­mem­ber the fa­mous swim­ming-pool scene?), the Bow­ery Boys’ film In Fast Com­pany, and Ab­bott and Costello Meet Franken­stein, so how can you com­plain? She was also mem­o­rable in a cou­ple of An­thony Mann noirs. Ran­dolph re­tired from films in the late 1940s and lived the life of a so­cialite in Europe.

Natasha Richardson Her un­ex­pected death last March, af­ter she took a fall in a ski­ing ac­ci­dent, shocked every­one. The daugh­ter of di­rec­tor Tony Richardson and ac­tress Vanessa Red­grave, Natasha Richardson was never afraid to tackle chal­leng­ing roles in such films as Gothic, Patty Hearst (as the ti­tle char­ac­ter), The Hand­maid’s Tale, and the creepy The Com­fort of Strangers. She dis­played a sur­pris­ing flair for com­edy too, as seen in the 1998 re­make of The Par­ent Trap.

Gale Storm She was the queen of Mono­gram Stu­dios in the 1940s— high praise, in my view! She worked with Dan Duryea, Audie Mur­phy, The Three Stooges, Rod Cameron, and bur­lesque strip­per Margie Hart be­fore mov­ing into a suc­cess­ful tele­vi­sion ca­reer with My Lit­tle Margie. She also wrote an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, I Ain’t Down Yet.

Joseph Wise­man He was a great ac­tor. Wise­man was Dr. No, but that film’s suc­cess didn’t buy him a string of great films; he pros­pered in­stead on tele­vi­sion and on stage. His no­table films in­clude the Paul New­man dud The Sil­ver Chal­ice, the off­beat John Hus­ton West­ern The Un­for­given, and the saucy com­edy The Night They Raided Min­sky’s (which I was re­ally too young to see when I caught it in a drive-in back in 1968). “I had no idea it would achieve the suc­cess it did,” he later said of Dr. No, the first James Bond movie. “As far as I was con­cerned, I thought it might be just an­other grade-B Char­lie Chan mys­tery.”

Also gone (but cer­tainly not for­got­ten): Brit­tany Mur­phy, Jen­nifer Jones, Pa­trick Swayze, Pat Hin­gle, Arnold Stang, and Ron Sil­ver, among oth­ers.

Fi­nally, a lo­cal film celebrity al­most passed away but got put back on life sup­port: the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, re­port­edly slated to close at year’s end, got a re­prieve. That means its re­spected Cin­e­math­eque, helmed by Ja­son Sil­ver­man, will con­tinue to screen art-house, for­eign-cin­ema, and retro film ti­tles, of­fer­ing pa­trons a view of other worlds. Ap­plaud that last-minute save, ladies and gen­tle­men— that’s one obit I don’t want to write. ◀

David Car­ra­dine

Jen­nifer Jones

Far­rah Fawcett

Ri­cardo Mon­tal­ban

Karl Malden

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