By • Dec 30th, 2003 •

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Jack Smight (78, 9/1)
I’ve got soft spots for NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY and HARPER, and sore spots for THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and DAMNATION ALLEY.

George Plimpton (76, 9/25)
I’ve been waiting, patiently, for his revealing documentary on John Wayne, filmed on the set of RIO LOBO, in which the author had a death scene, to be released – first on laser disc, now on DVD. After Wayne’s lung was removed, and the actor continued on with his career, he only made four or five worthy films, and this was one of them.
Donald O’Connor (78, 9/ 27) A warm presence in film, whether up against Gene Kelly, a mule, or the (living) ghost of Buster Keaton.

John Ritter (54, 9/11)
I confess to not having caught him on TV, but I certainly liked what he was trying to do by broaden his scope with films such as SLING BLADE.

Edward Teller (95, 9/9)
One of the models for DOCTOR STRANGELOVE, Teller’s hawkish aura lurked deep beneath our country’s promoted image of global benevolence over the last sixty years. In an interview for the Lewis Burke Frumkes Show, asked why half the great scientific minds of the 20th century (his included) evolved from one region of Hungary during a narrow time frame, he responded that perhaps he and his peers were really Martians, and proceeded to elaborate on the theory. A rare public display of humor…or was it?

Johnny Cash (71, 9/11)
I ran into him once, about fifteen years ago, in a camera store on 57th and Avenue of the Americas in NYC. He was dressed in black, looking very cool. I said hello and chose not to be the three millionth person to complement him on his music, but rather told him how much I liked his performance in A GUNFIGHT opposite Kirk Douglas, in which he was every bit as good as the seasoned vet. His thanks seemed genuine, and he told me he had just shot an episode of ‘Columbo’ in which he played a country western singer who killed his wife. I later caught up with it, and he was terrific in that, a well. Too bad he didn’t make more film appearances.

Elia Kazan (94, 9/ 28)
He didn’t show up to receive his NBR award several years ago, which was just fine with me. One of my close friends was Arnaud D’Usseau, who was named by Kazan during the Blacklist era. Arnaud admitted to me that he never would have met his lovely wife Marie-Christine and enjoyed his years of marriage if he hadn’t been booted out of the country; still, he never forgave Kazan for ratting him out. The NBR, of course, is founded on a firm stance concerning freedom of expression, but I don’t think the organization’s forefathers would have condoned Kazan’s behavior before the HUAC. Nonetheless, his output on film is eminently worthy of recognition, among them ON THE WATERFRONT, A FACE IN THE CROWD, and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.

Leni Riefenstahl (101, 9/8)
What can one say. She did manage to get a film released, finally, after the world seemed determined never to let it happened, but it took her till her centennial year to do it. I wrote her once, about ten years ago, inquiring about some of her techniques for shooting TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, but her reply was, not surprisingly, only about whether I could help her find out who was distributing her films in the US so that she could claim royalties. Tough lady. Recently, on being pressed for a reaction about her involvement with Hitler’s government, she said, “I apologize for being born…but not for my movies.”

Jack Elam (almost 85, 10/20)
He’d become associated with Westerns, particularly ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Paramount Home Entertainment), but I still remember him fondly from KISS ME DEADLY (MGM Home Entertainment) in 1955, as a cock-eyed goon who runs afoul of Mike Hammer.

Art Carney (85, 11/9)
He always looked older than he was, kind of like Walter Brennan, in an industry that puts youth above most else. I loved his later, post-Honeymooners work, though often he was far better than the whole (eg. THE LATE SHOW).
Michael Kamen (55, 11/18) God, I met him only a few years ago, and was windswept by his energy. Very strange indeed to hear he’d left us. A vital force in music.

David Hemmings (62, 12/ )
Could it have been that long ago we saw him cavorting with Jane Birkin in fast motion in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP (’66)? I’m afraid so. Next thing we knew he’d finessed a skittish David Bowie and a reclusive Marlene Dietrich into JUST A GIGOLO (’79), which he directed. Enjoyed him in Dario Argento’s DEEP RED (’75). Watched him gain an enormous amount of weight and sully his good looks as the last two decades went by. Listened as his voice descended octave by octave. And now, after a flurry of films in the new century – including LAST ORDERS, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORINARY GENTLEMEN, GLADIATOR, and GANGS OF NEW YORK – it’s good bye.

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