Obituaries

FAREWELL TO FILM GREAT: AUGUST 2003

By • Aug 15th, 2004 •

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Bob McMurdo with Kurt Vonnegut

Bruce McMurdo (June 4th, age 71)
Father of FIR Screening Committee member Bob McMurdo. Bob has been with FIR’s committee since FIR’s current editor took over, and before that was with the screening committee for The Perfect Vision magazine, on which FIR’s current editor was then-Managing Editor.

William Marshall (June 11th, age 78)
Despite the Shakespearian voice and all the aspirations that go with it, and all the upscale work he’d done (The Green Pastures on the stage, for eg), the man will be remembers for BLACULA and its sequel, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM! Once, twenty or more years ago, I was driving along the East Side Drive on the way to Westchester, and a friend and I caught sight of Marshall in a sweat suit running on a river path. Though we were in a car on a crowded highway, not gesticulating or gawking, and were a good hundred feet from him, he spotted both of us instantly, and didn’t register any emotion. Just watched us watching him as we drove by.

Gregory Peck (June 12th, age 87)
Your editor received a DW Griffith Award the year Peck was the lifetime achievement recipient. My award was very much do to the campaigning of Robin Little, who I later painfully replaced as editor of FIR.

Hume Cronyn (June 15th, age 92)
He made his film debut in Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT (’43), and died of prostate cancer which, at his age, doctors usually leave along, figuring you’ll probably die of something else first. For my only story about Mr. Cronyn, check out Glenn Andreiev’s review of BRUTE FORCE.

Alex Gordon (June 24th, age 80)
Older brother of Richard, and sort of an American counterpart, producing B genre flicks in Hollywood throughout the 50’s and 60’s. He formed the British Gene Autry Fan Club in the late 1930’s, co-authored a few of Ed Wood’s films: BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and JAILBAIT, and later managed Gene Autry’s music and film properties.

Screenwriter David Newman with FIR Editor at the Dusty Awards

David Newman (June 26th, age 66)
The screenplay for BONNIE AND CLYDE, co-authored with Robert Benton, was a watermark in American film history. I liked his script for Joseph Mankiewicz’s THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN…, and I liked the first SUPERMAN, too. I loved BAD COMPANY, but I’ll have to catch up with it to find out how much was the screenplay, and how much was Robert Benton’s direction. I don’t know what I think about Michael Jackson’s MOONWALKER…

Katherine Hepburn (June 29th, age 96)
My brother, Lewis, when compiling favorite words from personalities worldwide for his book ‘The Logophile’s Orgy’, met with resistance from Ms. Hepburn. She wouldn’t give him her favorite word, but she did take the time to write him from her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to explain why. He wrote back. She wrote back. With all that writing, she might as well just have given him the word, but as I understand it, that was Kate.

Buddy Hackett (June 30th, age 78)
The obits I read neglected to mention George Pal’s THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM. Hackett is fun in that one as a cowardly knight’s ward, and Pal told me he enjoyed working with the comedian. Everyone seems to have enjoyed working on that film, even Laurence Harvey, who was quick to publicly deride projects he despised.

Buddy Ebsen (July 7th, age 96)I can only conclude it was that damned WIZARD OF OZ makeup that accounted for his premature departure. How I regret the loss of the upcoming series where Barnaby Jones roots out the criminal element from nursing homes around the country. (“Bad news, Barnaby. This is the fifth denture theft in a week. Took ‘em right out of the glass…!”) The complete Davey Crockett series is available from Disney Home Entertainment, where Ebsen played the backwoodsman’s sidekick.

N!xau (July 2nd, age 59)
Became an arthouse celeb after appearing in the seventy million dollar grossing 1980 satire THE GODS MYST BE CRAZY, and made several other films, but was always a South African Kalahari Bushman at heart. He retuned to his primitive home, abandoned his fame and relative fortune (an expensive watch given to him was found in the bush where he’d dispensed with it), and was discovered dead several days after he’d journeyed out to get wood.

Serge Silberman (July 22nd, age 86)
He was the European Sam Spiegel, a great producer who not only had taste but could get things made. Just think of his work with Bunuel (DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, and THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE are on DVD from Criterion, as is Jean Pierre Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR. Elsewhere you can find Kurosawa’s RAN, and Anchor Bay has released Jean-Jacques Beineix’s DIVA)

John Schlesinger (July 24th, age 77)
During an interview to promote MARATHON MAN, to test his integrity, I asked what he would have done if the studio had told him to use John Wayne in the lead. He flipped out, not at me, just at the thought. During that same interview, he asked me if I thought he were barrel-chested, as someone had recently remarked. I didn’t quite know what to say, since it was clear he didn’t think so, but the guy’s chest looked like a Popeye caricature.

Bob Hope (July 27th, age 100)
Again I defer to my brother, Lewis, a noted humorist (author of the book ‘How To Raise Your IQ By Eating Gifted Children’) who, as Phyllis Diller’s guest, had dinner one night with Hope and his wife, circa ’96, and found the entertainer to be lucid but practically deaf.

Idi Amin (July 28th, age 80)
Three years ago I asked Barbet Schroeder if he still received Christmas cards from the exiled dictator, and he said no. Of course I neglected to ask if he’d ever received any cards from him. But it was at a Lincoln Center party, and it was asked in jest. Schroeder delicately documented the reign of this mass torturer in GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA (available from Criterion on DVD), but the indelicate truth is all too visible, and Schroeder’s stories surrounding its creation are pretty harrowing. Later, when Idi fled the country, and soldiers entered his palace, they reportedly found a complete collection of Tom and Jerry cartoons in his bedroom closet. A worrisome argument for proponents of violent cartoons having negative effects on children.

Sam Phillips (July 30th, age 80)
A debt of thanks to Bruce Sinofsky for Producing and Directing ‘GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT: The Legacy of Sun Records’, for the American Masters series in 2001 (on DVD from Image Entertainment). Phillips is captured in all his eccentric glory, and there are undoubtedly thousands of feet of outtakes in which to revel.

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