NELL CARTER (54) January 23, 2003
She called herself "that rare mix, a short, fat, Jewish black woman." I remember seeing Nell perform live; singing in that "muted trumpet" voice, "Find out what they like, and hope they like it..." And as weird as the voice was, and the sight of ebulliently bouncing cleavage on a woman well over 200 pounds and well under five feet...she became a star.
From her breakthrough in the Fats Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin'" Nell scored with the sitcom "Gimme a Break." And considering her private life, she needed every break she could get. At only two years old, she saw her father step on a live power line and electrocute himself. At sixteen she was raped (and impregnated; she kept the child).
Her hefty size caused her alot of problems, as did alcoholism, diabetes, and a brain aneurysm that was almost fatal for her in 1992. She was rehearsing a California production of the musical "Raisin" when her 13 year-old son found her dead in her Beverly Hills home.
TOM GLAZER (88) February 21, 2003
An unavoidable novelty hit from 1963 featured a happy chorus of kiddies singing along with folkie Tom Glazer...."on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed..." Glazer, who was born and died in Philadelphia, was in the same axis as Alan Lomax and Oscar Brand, discovering folk songs as the former did, and singing them on his own radio show just like the latter. Though he was known for kiddie records and his lone novelty hit, he was well respected by the folk music community. Pete Seeger recalled, "He wasn't fancy. He was just straightforward. He had a good sense of humor."
ALBERTO SORDI (82) February 24, 2003
How would you say, "That's another fine mess you've gotten me into" in Italian? Alberto Sordi knew. One of his first show business jobs in Italy was to provide Ollie's voice for imported Laurel & Hardy films. Later he would become one of Italy's most beloved comedians, the star of "Great War," "I Vitelloni," "Complexes," and Federico Fellini's "White Sheik." Sordi's charm was pretty much lost on American producers, although he did get good notices in one of his rare International ventures, "The Best of Enemies." In this World War II comedy he was the wily, good-natured comic opponent for David Niven., a role that managed to avoid alot of the stereotypes of Italian comic behavior.
ROD AMATEU (79) June 29, 2003
If you're one of those sitcom fans who studied the credits of your favorite show, you know the name Rod Amateau. He directed and/or wrote for many famous and infamous sitcoms including "Mister Ed," "My Mother the Car," "Private Secretary," "The Bob Cummings Show," "The New Phil Silvers Show," "The Patty Duke Show" and "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show." One of his four wives was Sandra Burns, an adopted daughter of Burns and Allen.
Rod's career began after World War II when he joined the radio writing staff at CBS. After switching over to the writers quarters at 20th Century Fox, Rod continued toward his goal of screenwriting, with odd detours as stunt double (for James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause") and screen test director (Marilyn Monroe his most notable assignment).
Rod's screenwriting credits began with "The Bushwackers," and his film directing with "Monsoon," both in 1952. He directed episodes of "General Electric Theater" including one with Ronald Reagan. By the end of the decade, he was established as the writer director for "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1963. He was busy with other sitcoms throughout the 60's. At the end of the decade, he concentrated on film work, writing the Jerry Lewis comedy "Hook, Line and Sinker," and directing David Niven in "The Statue."
Amateu died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A.He was married to his fourth wife, Charlene, for over 40 years. He had four children and four grand-children.
BUDDY HACKETT (78) June 30, 2003
So impish that even as a "dirty old man" he could get away with some very raunchy material, Buddy Hackett was pure comedy. He looked funny, talked funny, thought funny. He "tummeled" in the Catskills in the late 40's and even managed to get his "Chinese Waiter" stand-up bit into 1953's Donald O'Connor musical "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," but his career really took off in 1954 when he came to Broadway in "Lunatics and Lovers." The New York Times even fell in love with the "large, soft, messy comic with a glib tongue and a pair of inquiring eyes."
Buddy would return to Broadway a few more times, in "Viva Madison Avenue" (1960) and starring in the musical "I Had a Ball" (1964). Through the late 50's and early 60's he was mainly known for stand-up, his "Chinese Waiter" comedy albums and for a short-lived but still memorable sitcom called "Stanley," which was an early effort from Neil Simon and featured Carol Burnett.
Buddy got a chance to sing the alleged novelty hit "Shipoopi" in 1962's "The Music Man," and went on to other hit films including "Mad Mad Mad Mad World" and "The Love Bug." Still, the pudgy bad-boy was primarily known for his stage act, an outrageous mix of good old fashioned jokes and bawdy ad-libs. In Vegas where bawdiness was fairly acceptable, Hackett could even get away with coming on stage nude in just a strategically placed medallion on a long gold chain. By the early 80's he was one of the town's biggest comic draws, and he put some of his best material into some HBO specials. He got away with some risque lines whenever he'd appear on "The Tonight Show." He was too likable for anyone to be seriously offended. Rare for a comic his age, he still had an audience even in the 21st century, with his "Tuesdays with Buddy" appearances with Craig Kilborn on "The Late Late Show." Buddy, heavy set and diabetic, was always hinting about retirement, but he kept on working, appearing in episodes of "Just Shoot Me" and "Sabrina The Teenage Wtich."
Buddy was versatile. While he and Hugh O'Brien never exactly became the new Abbott and Costello (despite the attempt with "Fireman Save My Child") he later gave a credible performance as Costello in the made-for-TV film "Bud and Lou." It was a difficult role for anyone to play successfully and he did a fine job. He scored in small dramatic roles ("God's Little Acre") and delighted kids as the voice of Scuttle in "The Little Mermaid." He even authored a book of poetry.
Born Leonard Hacker, he never lost the Brooklyn accent and he rarely disappointed. Even with lesser material, he raised a smile.
BUDDY EBSEN (95) July 7, 2003
It's rare for the comedy world to ever lose two buddies in less than a week, but it happened when Buddy Ebsen passed away not long after Buddy Hackett
Known for his song-and-dance act in the 30's, for having to bow out of "Wizard of Oz" (replaced by Jack Haley) due to an allergic reaction to his Tin Man make-up, Buddy Ebsen achieved some fame as Fess Parker's sidekick in Disney "Davy Crockett" adventures. His good nature and folksy affability won him the role that made him famous: Jed Clampett on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Like Andy Griffith, Buddy generally let his supporting cast of loopy rural loonies get all the laughs, but he could quip with the best of them and sometimes had center stage with comical variations on his old dance routines...Jed suddenly "sparking" with a two-step or a song. Yes, there was even an album of "Beverly Hillbillies" novelty tunes, most of them sung by Buddy, the only real singer in the cast.
The show almost brought him as much money as Clampett got for finding oil on his land; it definitely gave him the clout to make his next project more in keeping with the real Mr. Ebsen. While everyone else on the "Hillbillies" show struggled with typecasting, Buddy was welcomed as "Barnaby Jones" in another long-running TV success story. The show was oft-parodied since the hook was an "aging" detective, but Ebsen turned out to be a role model for the senior set, remaining very active more many decades after the show ended. He could've been acting almost up to his 95th year if he'd wanted to continue with that aspect of his career.
Instead Buddy published books and enjoyed his hobbies, especially sailing. My favorite photo of Buddy is one that shows him smiling in the sun, the wind in his hair, boating on the open sea. He autographed that one, "To Ron. Fair Winds. Buddy Ebsen."
BOB HOPE (100) July 27, 2003
Two months after turning 100, his eyes red-rimmed, his hearing faded, and having been in a wheelchair and out of public sight, America's patriot comedian passed away of pneumonia
While some would say his stand-up act never rose beyond superficial and glib, and he never made a classic film comedy, Bob Hope transcended his stardom by his tireless work for U.S. servicemen. Tenacious in comedy (his favorite trick was to "stare down" the audience and wait for a laugh before starting a fresh joke) he was also tenacious in staying active and being at the center of political fundraisers, the Academy Awards, USO shows, and anything else. His 80-year career included vaudeville, Broadway, films, radio, TV and books, and his interests ranged from boxing (as "Packy East" he had many matches in his youth) to the Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament in old age
America identified with Hope...he was brash, confident, somewhat handsome, unfazed by meeting Presidents and totally distracted by any good-looking female co-stars. In his films, he was always the cynical if not slightly-cowardly guy who quipped and kidded but rose to the challenge in the last reel. His style strongly influenced Woody Allen, and it was Woody who championed him to a generation less than thrilled by Bob's staunch Republican stance. In stand-up he was smart enough to balance barbs at politicians with self-deflating gags: "I want to tell you, I was built like an athlete once — big chest, hard stomach. Of course, that's all behind me now." And during USO and Christmas tours entertainig the troops, he had a ready quip whenever there was the sound of cannons in the distance: "I wonder which of my pictures they saw?"
Born Leslie Townes Hope (May 29, 1903) in England, Bob and his family arrived in Cleveland a few years later. "Leslie" was too much of an effete girlish name for the Cleveland crowd, so he became Bob...and after boxing, he chose song and dance as his ticket to the big time. From playing the Palace to a success in Broadway musicals, Hope moved on to radio in 1938 and made seven "Road" movies with Bing Crosby, as well as a few fast-paced flicks on his own, including "Monseiur Beaucaire," "My Favorite Blonde" and "The Paleface."
As a TV personality, he hosted the Academy Awards over 20 times and starred in endless specials over four decades, including a 1990 visit to the Persian Gulf. In the next ten years, he would add to his collection of honorary awards which includes the Medal of Freedom, several honorary Oscars, the Peabody Award and the USNS Bob Hope (named after him in 1997). The Library of Congress created "The Bob Hope Gallery" in 1998...with 3.5 million of the funding provided by Hope himself, who was said to be worth over 150 million.
In his 90's he found it difficult to even make a "Tonight Show" appearance, having trouble hearing and also having difficulty in handling the prepared lines. Increasingly frail, and quite cadaverous due to illness and the many eye operations that gave him an unhealthy scowl, Hope never officially retired. "I'm not retiring until they carry me away," he said. "And I'll have a few routines on the way to the big divot."
AL BERNIE (83) September 5, 2003
The name "Al Bernie" may sound familiar, but not the face. That's because Al was a journeyman comic who contributed reliable five minutee routines when he managed to land a guest spot with Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas. He briefly hosted "The 54th Street Review" for CBS in the 50's and continued to appear in Las Vegas through the 80's. By that time his son had entered the business, using the name Marc Price. Stand-up popularity eluded Price as well, but Price did play "Skippy" on the "Family Ties" sitcom. Al Bernie's last years were marred by Alzheimer's disease.
WARREN ZEVON (56) September 6, 2003
With Randy Newman as his only competition, Warren Zevon carved a cult career out of darkly comical songs balanced with a heart-melting ballad or two on each album. All of Warren's hits were "novelty" types, ranging from "Excitable Boy" ("he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest") and "Werewolves of London" to the sado-masochistic "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and "Hit Somebody" (about a hockey goon). Cover versions of his more serious fare proved successful for Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks and others.
Warren's songs and personality made him a favorite of David Letterman, comedy columnist Dave Barry and comic novelist Carl Hiassen. He was the real deal, and when diagnosed with incurable cancer, he recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Unique, sardonic, a tough guy with a streak of sentiment, Warren Zevon lived to complete his final album and see it soar into the Top 20 of the charts, the finish to a man who, in his high-profile last days, had become a living legend.
LARRY HOVIS (67) September 9, 2003
Working much the same way Larry Fine did in "The Three Stooges," Larry Hovis was mostly the benign and befuddled straight man on the sitcom "Hogan's Heroes." As Sergeant Carter, once in a while he got a chance to offer some optimistic, dim-witted ideas to Colonel Hogan. Similarly, he was an affable but unessential member of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" during that show's downhill slide, and spent the 1970's guesting on "Match Game," "The Liars Club" and other quiz shows. He switched to teaching and had spent many years at his new profession when he died of cancer in Texas.
JOHN RITTER (54) September 11, 2003
The sitcom world was shocked when Emmy-winning John Ritter died of a rare and undiagnosed heart ailment. He had been working on his new series "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," getting laughs as usual, with no hint of health problems. The son of cowboy star Tex Ritter, John achieved fame as the smirking stumbling Jack Tripper in "Three's Company," a milder and more youthful variation on Chevy Chase's territory of mildly handsome, mildly lecherous and somewhat bumbling video hero. Ritter demonstrated varied acting talent in other roles, notably "Sling Blade."
SHEB WOOLEY (82) September 16, 2003
A cowboy actor in 60 films including "High Noon" and "Giant," and also a co-star on TV's "Rawhide," Sheb Wooley struck novelty gold with "The Purple People Eater" in 1958, and developed his comedy songs into a second career. He mostly used his alter-ego identity Ben Colder, beginning with 1962's "Don"t Go Near the Eskimos," a parody of "Don't Go Near the Indians." As Colder, he'd drawl and stagger through parody lyrics to country tunes, usually in the guise of a stereotypical drunk. Sheb kept at it right up to "Shakey Breaky Car" his version of the annoying "Achey Breaky Heart." Sheb suffered from leukemia and had been semi-retired in Nashville at the time of his death.
ELLEN IDELSON (42) September 19, 2003
The daughter of veteran sitcom writer Bill Idelson (and actress Seemah Wilder), Ellen followed her father's path and wrote for a variety of sitcoms including "Will & Grace", "Suddenly Susan", "Caroline In the City", "Dream On" and "Ellen." She died in Los Angeles of Crohn's disease
GORDON JUMP (71) September 22, 2003
Usually the butt of sitcom antics, Gordon Jump was a character actor capable of playing any number of flustered bankers, executives and salesmen. He became better known to the general public thanks to the semi-hit series "WKRP in Cincinnati" which ran from 1978 to 1982. He played aggravated station manager Arthur Carlson. In 1989 he replaced Jesse White as the lonely repairman in the increasingly doleful Maytag commercials, and remained with the company, looking comically hapless, until he retired in 2003.
REX ROBBINS (68) September 23, 2003
Rex Robbins amused sophisticates in New York as part of the Julius Monk revues. Tall, goofily handsome, he could play a less than enchanted prince, slightly effeminate follower of fashion, or any number of upwardly mobile executives. He went on to apear in over a dozen Broadway productions, co-starring with everyone from Angela Lansbury ("Gypsy") to John Lithgow ("The Changing Room"). He also appeared in nearly three dozen films mostly in support roles. One of his last was in "The Royal Tennenbaums."
HERB GARDNER (68) September 24, 2003
Playwright Herb Gardner influenced many when he wrote the acerbic and iconoclastic "A Thousand Clowns," the 1962 hit that made an anti-hero out of star Jason Robards. Gardner attempted to make Milton Berle into another inspiring and eccentric comic hero in "The Goodbye People," but that play wasn't as well received, and Gardner's lustre began to dim. He would have one more Broadway hit with "I'm Not Rappaport," and both that play and "A Thousand Clowns" were revived in latter Broadway productions. Herb remained a colorful curmudgeon, even when he was mostly confined to his apartment and the oxygen apparatus needed to sustain him through his long battle with lung disease
JULIE PARRISH (62) Oct 1, 2003
Along with Barbara Feldon, Ann Prentiss and Paula Prentiss, Julie was one of those dishy 60's brunettes who usually played the long-suffering girlfriend to a neurotic if not downright idiotic comedian. She was in "The Nutty Professor" opposite Jerry Lewis, and Ronnie Schell in TV's short-lived "Gopod Morning, World." She also starred in kicky teen flicks like "Fireball 500" with Frankie Avalon and "Paradise Hawaiian Style" with Elvis Presley. She went on to more general acting roles over the years in everything from "Mannix" to "Beverly Hills 90210." She died of ovarian cancer.
WILLIAM STEIG (95) Oct 3, 2003
For decades, Steig was known for his New Yorker cartoons that were often darkly satiric or simply strangely enigmatic. Rather than traditional captions, his spots often carried nothing more than a phrase ("Dreams of Glory" "Thoughts of Suicide".) His book-length collections included "Agony in the Kindergarten" and "The Lonely Ones." While Charles Addams had better luck in merchandising his material, Steig's odd cartoons did turn up as cocktail napkins and bar glasses, and New York sophisticates could stare into a candy dish that had a portrait of an armless man with a knife in his back and a spear through his chest, with the caption: "If you are good-natured people step all over you." Steig, of course, bitterly insisted the manufacturers made all the money, not him.
In the second half of his career he became best known for eccentric children's books (a donkey who finds a magic pebble that turns him into a rock, a courageous girl trying to deliver a dress during a snowstorm, a mouse dentist who has second thoughts about treating a carnivore, etc.). One, "Shrek," became the basis for a popular movie that really had almost nothing to do with the original story. He was a unique mixture of warmth and misanthropy and one of the legends in the world of cartoons and illustrations.
JACK ELAM (84) Oct 20, 2003
As you might expect from a co-star in "Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County," Jack Elam was known for westerns, usually playing somebody evil or just plain drunk, and sporting a shifty expression (courtesy of one eye sailing in the other direction). Elam managed to avoid true Marty Feldman-style stereotyping and was able to play more believable roles in films and on TV, where he co-starred as a deputy on "The Dakotas." His other TV credits included the sitcom "Easy Street" (playing Uncle Alvin) and the brief "Struck by Lightning" in 1979 in which he played the Frankenstein monster
FRED BERRY (52) Oct 21, 2003
The fat one in the red beret...that was Fred Berry in the 70's sitcom "What's Happening." He played "Rerun" and re-ran the role in "What's Happening Now." With plenty of time on his hands between other comedy roles, Berry was married six times.
ART CARNEY (85) Nov 9, 2003
A modest legend, Art Carney didn't even want a fuss made about his death. Nobody in the media knew that he had passed on until three days later, when he had already been buried. Then the announcement came from the Swan Funeral Home in Connecticut.
Art's long career began after he came back from World War II and the hospital where he had spent so much time recovering from combat damage. He sang comic songs (78's and on radio) and was known for his mimcry, especially President Roosevelt. He became a prized support comic in New York, both in early TV shows and on Broadway. Jackie Gleason used him often, and of course Jackie and Art found a pair of characters that would assure them a lifetime of fame: Ralph Kramden and his sewer-pal Ed Norton.
Hardly the dumbly gregarious goof that he played as Ed, Carney was known for his fretting and nervousness, and while the average person might think it was odd casting, he was perfect as Felix Ungar in the original Broadway production of "The Odd Couple." Art never did seem to live down the Ed Norton role, though, until he was much older. Then he finally got to play some interesting parts in successful movies, notably "Harry and Tonto" and "The Late Show" with Lily Tomlin.
Art pretty much retired to Connecticut in the 80's although he'd sometimes re-unite with Audrey Meadow and Joyce Randolph for salutes to "The Honeymooners." And he always seemed to have time for letters from fans. I was glad to have had a chance to send off one or two, myself, and he was always so gracious in his replies. He was a perfectionist in his work, and he made Ed Norton a perfect fool.
CHARLES RANDOLPH GREAN (90) December 20, 2003
"I discovered a.....right before my eyes!" Recognize the risque lyric? "Get out of here with that....and don't come back again!"
"The Thing" may have been sung by Phil Harris, but it was written by Charles Grean. The double-entendre song (nobody knew what "the thing" was...the description was always hidden behind knocks or sound effects) was covered by most everyone who ever sang a dirty ditty in a supper club. Not that this was Grean's idea of a career. He was prouder of his achievements as a music arranger, working on such lush stuff as Nat King Cole's version of "The Christmas Song." Fans of "Dark Shadows" claim him as the composer of "Quentin's Theme." Grean was married to Betty Johnson, a big band singer, and lived in New York City.
NICOLA PAONE (88) Dec 25, 2003
NICOLA PAONE (December 25) (88) Many a Christmas ago, the best gift might've been a 45 rpm copy of "Blah Blah Blah," the ethnic comedy classic from gentle Nicola Paone. It might've been a copy of one of his albums, filled with either humorous songs or Italian folk numbers. In the 60's, to the present day, many make a visit to the Nicola Paone restaurant a special Christmas season treat.
A humble and poor kid in the Bronx (born in Pennsylavania where his father was a coal miner, moved to Sicily as a teenager, then back to America), Paone managed to open a jewelry store and make it work; eventually sponsoring a local radio show that let him promote the place and be the show's star, as "The Mysterious Singer."
Paone made show biz is full time profession in the 40's, created his own touring act and his own record label, and had a string of hit novelty songs from "The Telephone No Ring" to "(Yakkity yak) Blah Blah Blah," his style influencing everyone from Louis Prima to Joe Dolce.
"Blah Blah Blah" had lilting vocals...that degenerated into comical befuddlement in Italian dialect at the end of every stanza. Starting happy: "When I come home from work with a big smile and feeling gay, suspiciously my wife she says HEY where YOU been all day?" (Spoken; sounding conciliatory, hen-pecked and confused) "I say well I been out workin' wattsa the matta can't I guy feel happy once in a time? But when I come home tired and-a disgusted, she says "Sure, I see! Outside you have-a good time, at home-a you come-a to cry to me!"
Chorus, a ridiculously jaunty "yakkity-yak, blah blah blah blah..."
Around the same time "Blah Blah Blah" was a Top 20 hit, he had established his East 34th Street restaurant as one of New York's best. He concentrated on the restaurant from 1960 on, developing a strong following from staffers at the nearby National Review. One of them, a William F. Buckley Jr., called Paone's his favorite restaurant and even named a character after him in his novel "Spy Time."
Until he retired to New Mexico in 1998, after a full 40 years as a restaurateur, Paone was a regular at his place, doing everything from cooking favorite dishes to singing favorite songs. Nicola is survived by his wife and several grandchildren. His son died just five months earlier, in August of 2003.
BOB MONKHOUSE (75) Dec 29, 2003
"When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they're not laughing now." That was a typical Bob Monkhouse joke, and when he died, BBC News acknowledged that his slick and corny style wasn't for everyone: "Bob Monkhouse's critics called him bumptious, smooth and smarmy but, for more than 40 years, he was one of the most popular and assured performers on British television." And yes, a lot of his fans were "not laughing now," having lost a favorite comedy star
"He was one of the great English comedians," declared his manager Peter Prichard. "He knew for two and a half years that (prostate and bone cancer) was a terminal illness, but he chose to carry on as if nothing had happened." In fact he continued to work, thanks to implants in his stomach and daily pain killer pills, until 6 weeks before his death at his home in Bedfordshire.
His wife was at his bedside; several members of his family were long gone. His son Gary, who suffered from cerebral palsy, died at 40 in 1992 while Simon, at 46, died of a heroin oversode in a Bangkok hotel room in 2001. Only a daughter, Abigail, survived him. Monkhouse had not only been estranged from his son Gary for over a decade, he also had rarely spoken to his parents over the years. When he first married at age 20, his mother did show up at the wedding...dressed in funeral black.
After college he sold cartoons to magazines, worked on comic strips including "Beano and the Dandy," and seemed determined not to have to fall back on the family business...Monk and Glass, custard makers. He had his own comedy publishing business and finally began to achieve some success as a radio gag writer. He eventually became a BBC radio performer and used so many one-liners he was dubbed "the British Bob Hope." He also appeared on stage in a revue with Benny Hill. He and his partner Denis Goodwin (who committed suicide in 1975) wrote for many radio and vaudeville comedians including Arthur Askey and Max Miller.
Monkhouse spent much of his television days as a game show host. His shows included "Golden Shot," "Bob's Full House," "64,000 Dollar Question," "Bob's Your Uncle," "Candid Camera" "Celebrity Squares" and "Family Fortunes." He appeared in a dozen films and some years had over 100 comedy club/speaking engagements as well. He recieved an OBE from the British government in 1993. His style of corn didn't seem to change over the years. He mentioned his health problems in his act" I saw a specialist who asked me "Are you familiar with the phrase fecal impaction?" I said I think I saw that one with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas!" At a recent banquet, he acknowledged that his health was questionable but: "I can still enjoy sex at 74 -- I live at 75, so it's no distance."
Compulsively driven to joke around, he admitted this was serious business. He once said "I'll never stop working. I want to die in the saddle. A day is wasted for me if I haven't done something even mildly creative."