The Way of the Word

23. August 2011

RIP Loriot

Born November 12, 1923, as Bernhard Victor Christoph-Carl von Bülow (short: Vicco) in Brandenburg an der Havel; died August 22, 2011 in Ammerland.

Vicco von Bülow was born in 1923 as the son of a Major of the police. Actually, the von Bülows were old German nobility who can trace their line back until 1154. After the divorce of his parents, he and his younger brother lived with their grandparents, until the father remarried in 1932. After graduating school, he followed his father’s advice and studied art in Hamburg. Upon graduation, he worked as a graphics designer, and became a cartoonist in 1950. At this time, he chose the pen name of Loriot. His success as a cartoonist took some time, it wasn’t until 1954 that his work was collected in book form.

His breakthrough was when he started to present the TV show Cartoon in 1967. While his presentation was originally completely serious and straight, it eventually developed into one of the show’s comedic highlights. He also started to produce his own animated shorts for this German TV program. After designing the mascot for a German charity (the dog Wum), he got his own TV show in the 1970s. The short films from this program are still being re-run on German TV. One of the various activities he pursued during his career was conducting opera.

He officially retired from TV in 2006, giving the reason that the medium had become so short-lived that it was no longer possible to produce quality comedy for it.

It’s possible but exhausting to list the awards he won during his career.

So, what can I add to everything that is being said about Vicco von Bülow now that he’s dead? Basically, as someone who grew up laughing at his jokes, I can confidently state that Germany is no longer funny. The funniest German ever has left us. At least we can always look back on his jokes.


25. June 2011

RIP Peter Falk

Peter Michael Falk, born September 16, 1927 in New York, died June 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills, at the age of 83.

The actor Peter Falk was famous for two things. One of them being his glass eye, which he got after losing his right eye at the age of three. Which didn’t stop him from participating in team sports as a youth. He was actually considered a star athlete in high school. While the glass eye kept him from enlisting in the US armed forces during WW2, he did serve as a cook and mess boy in the merchant marines for a year and a half. After that, he initially signed up for Israeli army’s war against Egypt, but that war was over before the proverbial ink had dried. So he went back to university. Upon graduating, he tried to join the CIA, who rejected him because he had been a union member while in the merchant marines.

While working as an efficiency analyst for the city of Hartfort, he joined the local community theater. At the same time, he studied with Eva Le Gallienne; a class he lied to get into: Miss Le Gallienne only taught professional actors. When he was found out, and she told him he should be a professional actor, he quit his day job. Moving to New York, he became a successful stage actor. From 1958 to 1960, he also played small roles in movies.

His cinema breakthrough was the role of Abe Reles in the movie Murder, Inc. in 1960, for which he got an Oscar nomination. He got another nomination the following year for his part in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles. During the same period, he also did some TV work, which also got him award nominations. He won the Emmy in 1962.

In 1968, he accepted a supporting role in the Gene Barry TV movie Prescription: Murder, a role that had been rejected by Bing Crosby. Prescription: Murder was something original at the time: a murder mystery from the murderer’s POV. Falk was cast as Barry’s foil, the police detective Lieutenant Columbo.

(Pause for effect.)

Now, if you haven’t heard of Columbo, you’re probably from another planet, and even then you’re likely to know of the character. Peter Falk played the unique, polite and much smarter than he appeared detective from 1968 until 1978. It wasn’t so much an ongoing TV series, but rather a series of TV movie specials.  The longest seasons were 2 and 3, with 8 episodes each.  It was revived in 1989, for more TV movies and specials until 2003. The people who worked on it were a real who-is-who of Hollywood. Steven Spielberg directed the first regular episode in 1971. Robert Culp, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, John Cassavetes, Mickey Spillane, Richard Kiley and George Hamilto are only a minor sampling of guest stars. Falk’s Columbo quickly became one of the most iconic sleuths in fiction, ranking with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Sam Spade. In parallel, he continued to make movies (preferring smaller, independent movies) and act on the stage.

After a series of dental operations in 2007, Peter Falk rapidly declined into dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This is the point where I usually explain what the person whose obit I wrote here meant to me. In this particular case, I don’t feel up to it.

I mean, this is Columbo we’re talking about, you know. If you didn’t love Columbo, that’s proof that you don’t have a soul.

24. June 2011

RIP Gene Colan

Born September 21, 1926 in New York, died June 23, 2011 (aged 84), after a broken hip and complications from a liver disease.

Gene Colan studied art at the Art Students League of New York and began working in comics in 1944, drawing for Fiction House’s Wing Comics. He joined the US armed forces just in time for the end of the war, but spent time serving with the US occupation forces in the Philippines, where he rose to the rank of corporal and drew for the Manila Times. Upon his return in 1946, he produced a short story, took it to Timely Comics and was hired on the spot, where he worked as a staff artist until Timely laid off almost all their staff in 1948. Colan turned to freelancing, especially for the company that would become DC Comics.

Upon the beginning of the Silver Age in the 1960s, Colan quickly established himself as one of the greatest artists working in American comics. He worked on Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Iron Man and most notably Daredevil.

With Daredevil as his signature superhero work, he became something of a household name when he teamed up with writer Marv Wolfman on the horror series The Tomb of Dracula, a book that he had actively lobbied to be assigned to. His dark, moodily-brooding pencils that were complimented by the work of inker Tom Palmer were probably a greater factor in the book’s success than Marv Wolfman’s inspired writing.

In the 1980s, he had a falling out with Marvel Comics and instead worked more for DC Comics, on books like Batman, Night Force or Wonder Woman.

He quite literally kept working until the end.

Colan was a multiple awards winner, like the Shazam Award (1974), the Eagle Award (1977, 1979), the Sparky Award (2008) and the Sergio Award (2009). He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005.

Back in the Silver Age, Colan had his very own style. It was a dark, shadowy and moody style. Personally, I always felt that he worked on some books where his style didn’t mesh (Captain America, for example), but on the right books (Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Night Force, Nathaniel Dusk) it was really breathtaking. Colan is one of those few American comic artists whose work actually looks better when it’s stipped of the coloring, as you can easily see if you look at Marvel’s Essential Tomb of Dracula collections. He was one of the first artists who could make me excited for a new comics series: the only reason why I eagerly anticipated the coming of DC’s Night Force back in 1982, or that Nathaniel Dusk noir miniseries (1984) by a writer I didn’t know, were because it had Colan art, and he wasn’t doing superheroes.

In that regard, yes, it was funny: I was very much a superhero reader at the time, but I always felt that Colan was wasted on superheroes. His style was wrong for it, it was too different, too unique.  It was, in a word, distinctive, and by all accounts he struggled against the pressure from his higher-ups in order to keep it distinctive, rather than to conform to a house style or some momentary fashion. That alone should earn him respect and accolades. Of course, it helps that he was one of the best comics artists ever. His visual storytelling skills, his moody, shadowy and atmospheric style set him apart from most of his peers, and seriously, anyone who wants to work as a comic book artist should look at his work and learn from it.

Will he be missed? By those who knew him, certainly. I haven’t had the privilege, but I’m told he was one of the nicest people in the business. By the rest of us, his readers? Well, we still have the comics he drew to re-read and appreciate, and to make us thankful for everything he had to give to us.

23. February 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Born February 20, 1962; died February 21, 2011, from complications after emergency surgery at the age of 49.

Sometimes, these things come as a surprise and a shock. As in the case of Dwayne McDuffie, a prolific and extremely gifted writer. According to all sources, he seemed to be in fine health when he attended the All-Star Superman DVD premiere a few days earlier. According to reports, he died from complications from a surgical procedure performed on Monday night. So far, details are not known.

After a stint at radio and copyediting for a financial magazine, Dwayne had joined Marvel Comics as an assistant editor, and started to write for them in 1988. He went freelance in 1990, and founded Milestone Media in 1992. Milestone Media was a coalition of African-American comics creators, in order to express a multi-cultural sensibility that he felt was missing in comics. Several Milestone series were eventually published by DC Comics.

In the course of his career, Dwayne worked on high-profile series and characters such as Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, to name just a very few. However, other than the Milestone comics (of which some characters, such as Static, became iconic in their own right), he definitely made his mark in animation.

Dwayne’s version of the Justice League in the animated Justice League Unlimited is lauded as perhaps the best version of these characters and concepts ever produced. In 2008, he revamped the Ben10 franchise. His most recent releases were the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and All-Star Superman animated movies.

I didn’t know Dwayne in person, but we did interact online a couple of times. He was a smart, witty and very personable man; if you didn’t like Dwayne, there was something wrong with you.

He was a fantastic writer, a gifted writer, with a vision. He influenced a great many people in comics and animation not only by being there for them, but also by example. His passing is triply sad; not only did it seem that he was on the verge of receiving the recognition he deserved, not only was it too sudden and too soon, but it also robs the rest of us of those stories he hadn’t gotten around to telling yet.

31. January 2011

RIP John Barry

Born John Barry Pendergast, November 3, 1933, died January 30, 2011, of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 77.

John Barry’s father was a classical pianist who also onwed a chain of movie theaters.. Originally a classical pianist himself, he continued to learn the trumpet and developed an interest in composing and arranging. During his time in the British Army, he learned the how-to with the help of a corresponence course. In 1957, he abandoned his original career path of arranging music for big bands and formed the John Barry Seven. The band remained in business until 1965, and had several hits. During this time, he arranged music for several performers of the BBC show Drumbeat. Including Adam Faith. When Faith made his first movie, Beat Girl, in 1960, he hired John Barry to write the music. It became the first movie soundtrack to be released as an LP in the UK.

His work first for EMI records and then for Ember Records caught the attention of a movie producer who was in the process of producing “a little spy movie,” and who was unhappy with a theme delivered by the original composer, Monty Norman. They hired John Barry to revise the theme.

John Barry went on to contribute to altogether 12 of the James Bond movies. One thing led to another, John Barry kept getting more and more calls from movie producers, and he went on to become (one of) the greatest movie composers in the history of cinema. (The “one of” is to appease the fans of other film composers — for me, Barry was the greatest.) Barry’s distinctive style concentrated on strings and brass, but he was also an innovator. He was one of the first to use synthesizers in a film score, and he made extensive use of contemporary rock and pop music. He usually didn’t just provide the theme music, but wrote the entire soundtrack score, thereby very much improving and enhancing frequently already impressive movies.

You couldn’t go wrong with a John Barry score.

Some other examples of his work are the music to the movies Zulu (1964), Born Free (1966, two Oscars for the music), The Lion in Winter (1968, Oscar and BAFTA awarded), Midnight Cowboy (1969, Grammy Award winner), Star Crash (1978), Somewhere in Time (1980), Out of Africa (1985, Oscar winner), Dances With Wolves (1990, Oscar winner), Enigma (2001). His other work includes five musicals, the best known among them probably being Passion Flower Hotel (1965) and Billy (1974).

An illness suffered in 1988 rendered him unable to work for two years, and left him vulnerable to pneumonia.

He won five Oscars out of seven nominations. He was the proud owner of four Grammy Awards, two BAFTA Awards and several Golden Globe nominations.

You know the saying that “they don’t make them like this anymore?” That might as well refer to John Barry. Forget all the rest (although, yes, there are good movie composers working in the business now), John Barry was the best there was at what he did. Hands down.

16. January 2011

RIP Susannah York

Born Susannah Yolande Fletcher, January 9, 1939, died January 15, 2011, of cancer.

Nerd alert: if I think Susannah York, I think of Superman’s mom, Lara, in Superman 1, 2 and 4.  She was, of course, much more than that.

Susannah York’s movie debut was 1960, in the movie Tunes of Glory, where she played alongside Sir Alec Guiness. She also performed in the award winning movies Tom Jones (1963), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Killing of Sister George (1968) and Battle of Britain (1969).

While the Superman series might have been what imprinted her on a whole generation of nerds, her crowing moment in movies was probably the 1970 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, a movie about couples who try to win a dance marathon in the depression era. Susannah York was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role of Alice in this one, but stepped on the Academy’s toes when she declared that she felt offended that she was nominated without being asked first. The Oscar subsequently went to Goldie Hawn. One wonders… She did get the BAFTA for the same role, though.

Although she did a lot of work for movies and TV, York claimed she was happiest on a theater stage, where she felt she truly belonged.

She also wrote two children’s books, In Search of Unicorns and Lark’s Castle, and was politically active.

12. January 2011

RIP Peter Yates

Filed under: Commentary,general,movies,review,RIP,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 10:51
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Peter Yates (born July 24, 1929 in Aldershot, Hampshire, UK) died on January 9, 2011 in London at the age of 81.

Yates was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He spent a few years working as an actor, director and stage manager at the theater.  He did some time as a race car driver, before he finally ended up doing movies in 1950. There, he initially worked as a dubbing assistant, then became an assistant director for Tony Richardson.

His first movie directing credit was Summer Holiday in 1963, a vehicle for the popular singer Cliff Richard.  He also directed some episodes of the original Saint series (with Roger Moore) and the Danger Man revival Secret Agent (with Patrick McGoohan).

His most famous movie was Bullit, starring Steve McQueen as a hardboiled cop. The movie’s fame stems mostly from its car chase, the first such in modern movies. In the years that followed, Yates showed his abilities in various genres. He did war (Murphy’s War, 1971), fantasy (Krull, 1983), thriller (The Deep, 1977), crime drama (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, 1973) and comedy (Mother, Jugs and Speed, 1976). His 1979 movie Breaking Away, which he also produced, was nominated for five Oscars, including best director and best picture. He was nominated again for The Dresser, his 1983 drama.

The 1998 romantic comedy Curtain Call was Yates’s last movie for the big screen, but he continued to work for television.

Yates was one of those rare beasts: a person whose career included almost no known failures. Granted, The Deep and Krull didn’t set the world on fire (actually, both were and still are critically derided and ridiculed), but even those became popular or at least fan favorites because their quality was a notch above the average. And every time you see a car chase in a movie, you need to give thanks (or blame) Peter Yates, because he was the first to go there.

16. December 2010

RIP Blake Edwards

Born William Blake Crump on July 26, 1922 in Tulsa, OK, died December 16, 2010 in Santa Monica, CA,  at the age of 88, from complications of pneumonia.

Edwards originally started out in the 1940s as an actor, but then turned to writing radio scripts.  He got his big break from Orson Welles, who hired him as one of the writers for the legendary War of the Worlds broadcast. He continued on to creating Richard Diamond, Private Detective for the radio. He revisited some themes of Richard Diamond when he created a similarly light-hearted hardboiled PI, Peter Gunn, for television. The show ran from 1958 until 1961, had a reunion movie in 1967, and was remade in 1989.

His big break as a director came when John Frankenheimer dropped out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Edwards took over. After several serious movies, such as Experiment in Terror and Days of Wine and Roses, Edwards co-wrote and directed the movie that would change his life: The Pink Panther (1964). This movie typecast him as a comedy man, and he seemed happy to play that role, as his creative output became almost exclusively comedic afterwards.

His frequent collaborators were Peter Sellers, the composer Henri Mancini, and Julie Andrews, whom he married as his second wife in 1969.

Besides several Pink Panther movies, Edwards directed the  comedies Operation Petticoat (1959), The Great Race (1965), 10 (1979), Victor/Victoria (1982), Blind Date (1987), Sunset (1988), Switch (1991). And many more.

The list above is a mix of some of his better known movies and a few personal favorites. I absoutely love Operation Petticoat, a war comedy with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. I can’t see The Great Race with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon often enough, it’s on par with the Zucker-Zucker-Abrahams movies. Sure, we have him to blame for Bo Derek (10), but also to thank for Bruce Willis (Blind Date, Sunset).

In 2004, he received an honorary Acacemy Award for his life’s work. Which was more than deserved.

As I write this, I have two thoughts: One is that you’d better be careful. Pneumonia has killed how many celebrities this year? I didn’t think it was that dangerous. The other thought is that if there is a heaven, think of the movies that Leslie Nielsen and Blake Edwards will make up there now. It’s a pity we can’t see them — they would be so funny, we would die of laughter.

29. November 2010

RIP Irvin Kershner

Irvin Kershner was born on April 29, 1923 and died on November 29, 2010, at the age of 87.

The second shock today, after the death of Leslie Nielsen.

Irvin Kershner had a background in music and art, and attended the Temple University – Tyler School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Then he went to New York and Princeton, to study under the famous paiting teacher Hans Hofmann, before he went to study photography at the LA Art Center of Design.

His film career began as a teacher of photography at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he also studied cinema. He went on to work as a photographer for the US State Department, which led to assignments as a director and cinematographer of documentaries about Iran, Turkey and Greece. After his return to the US, he did television work, developing and directing the TV series The Rebel, as well as several TV pilots. Then he turned his attention to feature films, and directed several that were both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, such as A Fine Madness, The Flim-Flam Man and The Eyes of Laura Mars.

I don’t think I need to do more than list the titles of his three best-known movies. If you read this, you probably know what I’m talking about just by the titles.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

James Bond: Never Say Never Again (1983, with Sean Connery as Bond)

RoboCop 2

Today is a black day to be a geek and a movie buff.

RIP Leslie Nielsen

Born February 11, 1926, in Saskatchewan (Canada); died November 28, 2010, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, of pneumonia, at the age of 84.

According to his family, he died peacefully in his sleep.

It’s nearly impossible to list all the movies and TV roles he played in the course of his life. According to his Wikipedia page, he played in 100 movies and 1,500 TV programs, portraying more than 220 characters.

Can you say “Wow?” Then say, “Wow.”

Let’s face it: Nielsen was part of a very cool family. His father was a Mountie. His brother Erik was Deputy Prime Minister of Canada in the 1980s. His uncle was Jean Hersholt, a very famous silent film and radio actor of his time.

Nielsen actually credits his uncle as the inspiration to become an actor. Which he set about for after WW2, during which he was trained as an aerial gunner, but the war ended before he saw any action. After the war, he worked as a DJ and enrolled in the Lorne Greene (yes, that Lorne Greene) Academy of Radio Arts. While there, he received a scholarship for the Neighborhood Playhouse acting academy in New York.

He made his first TV appearance on an episode of Studio One, alongside Charlton Heston. Two years later, he had about 50 TV appearances to his credit. His feature film debut was 1956, in The Vagabond King, where he caught the eye of Producer Nicholas Hayfack, who offered him a part in the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet. The movie was a big hit in the 1950s, and lived on to be a classic of the genre. It led to more work, and Nielsen got to play both dramatic and romantic roles.

After he left MGM, he was all over the place. The next couple of years saw him on TV shows like Rawhide, Hawaii 5-0, Big Valley, The Virginian, The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, M*A*S*H… As a rule of thumb, you can almost say that if it was on TV, Leslie Nielsen was there. He also did a lot of movies.

I don’t know how he felt about it, but with 20/20 hindsight… He had a strong start with Forbidden Planet, but after leaving MGM his career didn’t really follow as strongly. He was lucky for an actor, he always worked. But nothing really stood out, he didn’t became a star.

Not until 1980. Not until Airplane!. (In my opinion, the funniest movie ever made.) Again, he played a supporting role in this comedy movie, and delivered one of the most memorable movie quotes of all: “Surely, you can’t be serious.” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” When the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrams, the men behind Airplane!, decided to bring their type of humor to television, they cast Leslie Nielsen as the main character for their TV series, Police Squad.  It ran for only 6 episodes in 1982. Nielsen’s character was a spoof of all the straight-laced police detectives of that era’s TV shows, a detective named Frank Drebin.

Nielsen, who had not worked in comedy outside of his Airplane! appearance, continued to do horror, drama, mystery and everything else. In 1988, the Zuckers decided to make a feature film based on Police Squad, and they knew they couldn’t do it without Frank Drebin.

The movie came out in 1988: The Naked Gun. If I need to say more, then you aren’t worth talking to. Anyway, The Naked Gun spawned two sequels, in 1991 and 1994, and made Nielsen into a comedy star.

On the downside, it typecast him: the characters he played after The Naked Gun were mostly thinly disguised Frank Drebin copies in spoofy of genres and popular movies: Father Jebedaiah Mayii in Repossessed (a personal favorite), a parody of the Exorcist movies. Dracula: Dead and Loving it. Spy Hard. Wrongfully Accused. 2001: A Space Travesty.  He played Mr. Magoo in the live-action version of the cartoon. Most of these movies were both critical and box-office failures.

In 1993, he published The Naked Truth, a Naked Gun-style absurdist novel pretending to be his autobiography.

He remained an active actor throughout his life. His last credits were Stonerville (2010) and the upcoming The Waterman Movie. Always busy, always working.

Since the 1980s, Nielsen’s image had become that of a clown, and he played that image to the hilt in his public appearances. However, a German journalist who interviewed him once wrote that at the beginning of the interview, Nielsen had been his standard absurd and silly persona. But once he realized that the interviewer wasn’t really interested in that, he became a well-spoken, well-informed, intelligent and thoughtful conversationalist. The Leslie Nielsen the world saw was not the real one. It was an act.

I was very sorry to hear of his death this morning. But he was 84, he was very good and successful at what he did, which was to make people happy, and he died peacefully in his sleep. A man can’t really ask for more.


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