HARVEY MILLER (63) January 8, 1999
He wrote for comedians, sitcoms and ultimately earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing the film "Private Benjamin." Things just got better, and funnier, as Harvey Miller made his way up through show business. He was originally a social director at a Catskills hotel. He joked with patrons and then began to write gags for Alan King, Shecky Greene and Sandy Baron. Miller wrote for Baron's sitcom "Hey Landlord" and later "The Odd Couple" and "Love American Style." More recently he worked on "The Tracey Ullman Show" and was planning an off-Broadway sho
LUCILLE KALLEN (76) January 18, 1999
One of TV's first female comedy writers, Lucille Kallen wrote for "Your Show of Shows" in the 50's. Carl Reiner remembered her comic style vividly...and used Lucille as a role model for comedy writer Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Kallen died in Ardsley, New York of cancer.
HUNTZ HALL (78) January 30, 1999
Huntz was the goofy, grimacing foil for Leo Gorcey in a long series of Dead End Kids, East Side Kids,Bowery Boys (pick your favorite name) film comedies. His character name was usually "Satch," a.k.a. Horace Debussy Jones.
Like Gorcey and the others, Hall was an authentic New York delinquent. He recalled the teen fun of walking over to Bellevue Hospital on 1st Avenue, screaming at the loonies in the windows, and collecting the alarm clocks, shoes and other items thrown at him.
In Hollywood he and his gang pulled plenty of pranks on film sets, including setting fires
to property and to people (both a "hotfoot" and a "hot head," which involved sneaking a paper
cone hat onto someone and then setting fire to the top).
After the "Bowery Boys" series ended in the 50's, Hall appeared in regional theater (notably in productions of "The Odd Couple") and made a few films, the last being "Auntie Lee's Meat Pies" in 1993.
JULIUS WECHTER (63) February 1, 1999
Even sillier than Jewish trumpeter Herb Alpert leading the Tijuana Brass, Julius Wechter fronted the Baja Marimba Band and joined his musicians in wearing outrageously stereotypical Pancho Villa moustaches. Wechter began his career as a songwriter and member of Alpert's band.
The Baja boys were known for mildly vaudevillian humor in their stage show, while their music tended to be peppy, good-time instrumentals. Bill "Jose Jimenez" Dana supplied the album notes to one of their early albums, declaring it to be "an album of major proportions...12 x 12." Only once "Comin' in the Back Door" did the group ever crack the Top 50.
In his private life, Julius devoted himself to an unusual cause: Tourette's Syndrome. He had the condition, and tried to explain it to others. (Only in an obituary would I leave such a straight line untouched.) He died of lung cancer.
IRWIN C. WATSON (67?) February 1, 1999
Breaking a "stereotype," Irwin C. Watson came out on stage in a bland suit and offered fairly tame anecdotes and jokes. While other black performers had to be outrageous and funky, Irwin just wanted to be conversational. Well...I guess the result wasn't that great. He never made an album, hardly anybody remembers him from his 1960's TV appearances, and so far I haven't been able to find much bio material on him or even his age. Sorry, Irwin, wherever you are.
NOAM PITLIK (66) February 18, 1999
He had one of those fun names you'd remember when you'd see it in the credits of sitcoms. Pitlik directed episodes of "Barney Miller" and "Fish," as well as "Taxi."
Sometimes he'd turn up in front of the camera, enjoying a small but lucrative career as a character actor in everything from "The Bob Newhart Show" (as Victor Gianelli) to the recent "Becker" (as Mr. Schmalen). He died of lung cancer in Los Angeles.
GERSHON LEGMAN (81) February 23, 1999
Perhaps Andrew Dice Clay got his start reading Legman's limerick collections!
Gershon Legman collected jokes and published them with and without commentary. The collections WITH commentary were the huge "Rationale of the Dirty Joke" volumes one and two. They remain among the most essential for any collection of risque humor.
Born in Scranton, Gershon developed his joke-collecting hobby early, and after editing the magazine "Neurotica" and writing a book on censorship, he fled to France in 1953 where he first published "The Limerick." He published another volume of limericks and in 1968 and 1975, his two volumes of "Rationale of the Dirty Joke." The eccentric Legman wrote other sex books and also championed the cause of origami before a stroke in 1991 curtailed his work and enthusiasm. He struggled on, with the support of his wife and children, but was never the same.
DEL CLOSE (64) March 5, 1999
The night before Del Close died, he held a wake. Friends and fellow comedians attended, along with cameras from Comedy Central and reporter Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times. The bizarre scene took place at the Illinois Masonic Hospital where Del, in a wheelchair and suffering from terminal emphysema, reflected on his imminent passing. ``The death of a working man at an American hospital doesn't have to be the traumatic agony that people think it is,'' he said.
As proof, Wavy Gravy sent a cheerful telegram that read: "See you in hell."
Del's plight attracted the attention of Robin Williams, Peter Boyle, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. Murray's own gleefully dark and cynical persona seemed a direct inspiration from Del Close, the influential improv performer who was associated with both Chicago's "Second City" and with Broadway revues in the 50's and 60's. He issued a few comedy records (notably "How to Speak Hip") and appeared on many original cast recordings, but never quite achieved stardom. Among the odd things he worked on
in the 80's was a comic book series called Wasteland. In later years he continued to work in improv and coach new performers.
Bill Murray reflected on the good times of his early days in improv: "I found it was better to live in New York when I had no money than when I had some money." Del agreed: "You can have a pretty good life pretty cheap. I didn't know that until I was dying.'' And at death's approach, what did Del want? "A chocolate martini..."
Del was in some pain toward the end and was given morphine injections. Friends joked that he required a lot because he'd built up a resistance over the years. The morphine certainly had a quieting effect...so before his doctor administered another shot, he asked Del if this was what he wanted. Del replied, "I'm tired of being the funniest one in the room." Those were reportedly his last words.
According to Phil "Firesign Theater" Proctor, Del actually bequeathed his skull to to the Goodman Theatre to be used as "Yorick" in their productions of Hamlet.Del's wife Charna had a local medical school handle the details. Phils friend Tom Tulley asked: "When next the Goodman theatre does Hamlet, shall the melancholy Dane say, "Alas poor Yorick. I knew him...Del?!"
PEGGY CASS (74) March 8, 1999
A raspy-voiced character actress, Peggy was known primarily for her comedy roles. She won a 1957 Tony as Agnes Gooch in the stage production of "Auntie Mame" and was also featured in the cast of "A Thurber Carnival." Her films include "If It's Tuesday It Must be Belgium."
Television audiences remember her as a garrulous contestant on "To Tell the Truth" and as the woman who lived with chimps and Jack Weston in the sitcom "The Hathaways." She also used her infectious voice as the announcer for the short-lived return of "The Jack Paar Show" in the early 70's. She lived on New York's Upper East Side with her husband.
JEAN VANDER PYL (79) April 10, 1999
While nobody could imitate the flat voice of Audrey Meadows, actress/comedienne Jean Vander Pyl managed to come up with something equally unique for "The Honeymooners" rip-off, "The Flintstones." Her variation on Alice Kramden's housewife-whine was actually far more pleasant. For three decades, Jean was most famous for supplying Wilma's voice. In 1994, she appeared in the bomb "Flintstones" movie, as the rock-named Mrs. Feldspar...which at least gave fans a chance to see what she really looked like.
Fans of futuristic cartoons know that Jean was also "Rosie the Robot" on "The Jetsons." Her son had a sobering message for fans: `Everybody on the Flintstones smoked and all of them ended up dying of smoking related diseases."
BILL WENDELL (75) April 14, 1999
Along with Don Pardo of "Saturday Night Live," Bill Wendell made the transition from "quiz show" voice to a satiric parody of show biz announcing. Fans became used to Bill's New York-accented introduction of Late Night "with Dayyyvid Ledd-a-min..."
If you ever attended a taping, you would've been surprised to see him doing the warm-up, rehearsing his signals for "yocking it up" during the show and makin' a lot of noise (not unlike Rip Torn's Artie character on "The Larry Sanders Show.")
Wendell left the show under less than amiable circumstances and evidently said a few things in the press that were not appreciated by Dave & Co. The official David Letterman statement after Bill's death was two lines long: "Bill Wendell was a fixture of American television. We were lucky to have him as our announcer."
Born William Wenzel, Jr., in Manhattan, Bill sought a show biz career after service in the Air Force. He worked with 50's legend Ernie Kovacs. "They were always playing practical jokes on each other," one of Bill's daughters recalled. "One time Ernie was supposed to gulp a big martini, but it was supposed to be filled with water, only it was really filled with vodka. He spit it out and started coughing like crazy on live national television. Dad and his cronies were laughing their heads off."
As a staff announcer at NBC, Bill saw 'em come and go...ultimately going to work for David Letterman, which gave him his greatest fame. He retired "on top," with many fans wishing he was still on hand to give Led-a-man a properly sarcastic and earthy greeting each night. Survivors include sons William J. Wenzel III and Richard Wendell, and daughters Anne Markgraf and Elizabeth Hansbury. He had 14 grand-children
SENOR WENCES (103) April 20, 1999
The most unique and memorable ventriloquist in comedy, Senor Wences got laughs from three bizarre creations: "Johnny," which was just a face painted on the side of his fist (complete with a wig over the knuckles), a chicken puppet named "Cecilia," and "Pedro," a disembodied head kept in a box. Whenever Wences opened the lid to look at Pedro, the catch-phrase dialogue was always the same: "S'all right?" "S'all right. Shut the door."
Another catch-phrase routine involved little Johnny: "is difficult" "is easy!" "is easy for you -- is difficult for me." It wasn't difficult for the beloved Senor Wences to tour the world and to appear regularly on "The Ed Sullivan Show." And it was still easy for him to travel the globe (he had homes in New York and Spain) even after he turned 100.
SHEL SILVERSTEIN (68) May 9, 1999
Shel Silverstein was one of the most unique and elusive multi-talents in the comedy world. He began his career as a cartoonist for Army publications. Then he turned up as a swinging Playboy humorist, creating funny foto captions and creating bizarre drawings. He was even sent to exotic locations (including a nudist camp) so he could sketch and offer funny commentary.
One of the hippest folk acts in the late 50's and early 60's, Silverstein sang some of the most bizarre songs imaginable ("Never Bite a Married Woman on the Thigh," "You're Always Welcome At Our House," "Plastic"). A few were covered by The Smothers Brothers, but most remain obscure to this day. One number, "The Unicorn" was typical of Shel's sentimental side, and it was a hit for The Irish Rovers.
Shel became best known via his children's poetry...much of it wild and wacky, some of it simply silly and cuddlesome. He did whatever he pleased, whether it was writing country songs (Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare and many more) or suddenly turning up with his own collections of tunes (most notably "Freakin' at the Freakers Ball" backed by Dr. Hook. He wrote that group's biggest hit, "Sylvia's Mother.") One number on that album became a kiddie/Demento favorite: "Sarha Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out."
The guys from Dr. Hook once told me that "Uncle Shelby" was indeed an "elusive cat." While he could be a brawlin' bawlin' good time singer, he could also be shy and very private. A Daily News writer told me that Shel had gone through many years of depression after the death of his young daughter. The mystery of who Shel Silverstein "really was" goes on. He died of a heart attack in Key West, where he lived most of the time (although he also maintained residences in New York and San Francisco).
Silverstein is survived by a sister...but his $20 million estate goes to his 15 year-old son living in Madison, Wisconsin.
CANDY CANDIDO (85) May 19, 1999
Abbott & Candido?? Yes, for a while, Bud tried to get some work with a new partner, a veteran comic and big band singer named Candy Candido. Candido knocked around show biz all his life, and was a cast member on the "Gentle Ben" series. He's even on the "Gentle Ben" soundtrack record singing a few numbers. One of his other major credits was "Fidget," a bat who flew around Disney's "Great Mouse Detective."
SAUL STEINBERG (84) May 13, 1999
One of the few cartoonists to be acknowledged an artist as well, Steinberg was best known for his severe and satiric line drawings in "The New Yorker." His most famous work was the magazine cover published on March 29, 1976 which depicted a map showing New York...and most everything else as mere trivia in the distance.
Born in Romania, he studied architecture and began cartooning for a living in the early 40's. His first successes were Hitler and Mussolini parodies dropped behind enemy lines during World War II.
One of his first memorable cartoons showed a man looking into a mirror. The concerned caption: "Dammit! This isn't me. I got lost in the crowd." Many of his best cartoons were existential or absurdist, and quite a lot of them simply confused the average "New Yorker" reader.
Steinberg once said "The doodle is the brooding of the hand," and in his hands, these works were deceptively precise and, if they weren't so whimsical in their geometry and punnery, worthy of the intense study given to Steinberg's artistic influences such as Paul Klee. As a personality, he was remembered as elusive and aloof. Like his characters, he was suspended between the lofty world of art and the earthly pleasures of simple foolery.
HILLARY BROOKE (84) May 25, 1999
For some boys in the 40's and 50's, the bridge of puberty was crossed when they stopped laughing at Abbott & Costello and paid closer attention to Hillary Brooke.
Not a comedienne, not even a straight woman, Hillary happened to appear with the boys in films and on TV offering a contrast between her indulgent, assured and sophisticated blonde cool and, well, Abbott & Costello. On the TV series especially, without putting too much of a psychological spin on it, she was mild, patient, almost a big sister or mother figure to pudgy Lou. He may have wistfully wished her to be his girlfriend but Lou never really made a move, and neither did Bud, Mike the Cop, or anyone else on the show. She was an enigma, attractive but not sexy, lovely but not lovable, aloof and yet somewhat interested in the world around her. Why was this cultured woman living in a cruddy rooming house in rooms across the way from two deadbeats? How and why the actress ended up on "The Abbott & Costello Show" wasn't something even Hillary could fully understand.
After Bud & Lou, she did play a love interest in a sitcom, the role of Roberta Townsend sometime girlfriend to Charlie Farrell in "My Little Margie." (Gale was evidently a long-time friend. She attended Hillary's funeral
Born Beatrice Peterson in Queens, New York, she had a faintly New England-English accent and played her best roles in movies taking place in Great Britain: Sherlock Holmes movies and "Ministry of Fear" with Ray Milland. Cultists recall her in the original "Invaders from Mars," which was about a kid who wasn't sure who his friends and enemies were — even his own parents. It was a perfect role for the elegant, cool Hillary Brooke. She survived her husband, leaves behind son Donald Klune, and a lot of fans who kinda wished she was their son, too.
CHARLES PIERCE (73) May 31, 1999
Probably the wittiest of all modern female impressionists, Charles Pierce was known for his droll and devastating versions of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. He could be archly campy with Katherine Hepburn and had enough variety in his repertoire for a hip-shaking version of Mae West.
He was born in Watertown, New York and came out to the Pasadena Playhouse to work as a radio announcer. He made two comedy albums in the 60's and a lot of "farewell" appearances from coast to coast in the 70's and 80's. As a mark of his theatrical nature, while dying of cancer he wrote and produced his own funeral. It featured a bevy of stars ranging from Rip Taylor to Bea Arthur, and included comedian Elliot Reid delivering Charles' own remarks:
"As I reflect back on my life and my life style I realize what a joyous and happy time most of it was. There was my work, which was really play, I had my mother, aunt, father, other relatives, and friends who were like family. I was always 'on the
"My life was enhanced by a fair amount of good health and a loving family. Jessie, my mother, was the one person I wanted to be with. Also my Aunt Carolyn was a terribly important person in my life. My father, at times distant, was still a wonderfully understanding man, and I know he loved me. He passed away from asthma in 1973.
"During the nightclub years, I would finish an engagement, return to my apartment, get things in order and then fly off to Watertown, New York, to be with Mother and Dad. I must have made the trip from the Syracuse airport by car, three hundred times! Watertown was always beckoning. When Dad died, and Mother was alone, I made the trip more often.
"Then, like a ballet dancer, I knew my time was up and I should leave the clubs. Mother had died the year before, and I had not fully recovered from her death. I retired the 'act' in October of 1990. Mother died in 1989 and Aunt Carolyn in 1995. She was my support after Mother passed away. Since Mother’s death, and my departure from the world of night clubs, life has been totally different.
"I had a few good retirement years after 1990, with trips to Europe and elsewhere. When Aunt Carolyn took ill in January of 1995, I made trips to Watertown to see about her upkeep. She had nurses and care-givers ‘round the clock ’til July, when she too, left my life. I was left her Victorian-style house and a substantial amount of money. Sadly, I had to sell the house, as I could not live there alone. I left the house for the last time in the fall of 1995, and a dear friend Charlie Bill Dunham took over the sale of the contents of the house. Charlie himself died a few years ago. I have a list of over one hundred friends who have died: All missed so much.
"Now, as they say, ‘it’s your turn.’ In February of 1997 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Those of you who know, know that I love a Vodka Martini. Perhaps they did me in...while I was doing them. It is not true I am to be cremated and my ashes, with some glitter dust, be put in an empty Smirnoff bottle and tossed off the Golden Gate Bridge. What an exit. Perhaps too -- splashy? I have had my share of good times, and certainly more laughs than are allowed. Some may not think this was right, but it was right for me. So, to my endearing and enduring friends and relatives, as eternity beckons, I leave you all with these thoughts:
Laugh, my friends, and laugh my foes Mirth lightly comes and lightly goes And learns ’ere life runs blithely past He longest laughs who laughs the last
EVERETT GREENBAUM (79) July 11, 1999
A versatile screenwriter, Greenbaum penned star vehicles for Jack Lemmon ("Good Neighbor Sam"), Phyllis Diller ("Did You Hear the One About the Travelling Saleslady") and Don Knotts "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," "The Reluctant Astronaut," and "The Shakiest Gun in the West."
A prolific TV sitcom writer, Greenbaum (with partner Jim Fritzell) worked on "Mr. Peepers" and later wrote many fine episodes of "M*A*S*H." He not only wrote for "The Andy Griffith Show," and authored the breezy Griffith movie "Angel in My Pocket," he later worked on "Matlock," and appeared on screen in several episodes as Judge Lawrence Katz. He died of brain cancer.
SANDRA GOULD (73) July 20, 1999
Sandra Gould was best remembered for her six years as Gladys Kravitz on "Bewitched." It was a thankless one-note role (constantly kveteching about seeing Samantha performing witchcraft) and she suffered in comparison to the previous Gladys, the memorably sour and cranky character actress Alice Pearce, but at least it gave Sandra Gould a touch of immortality. Immortality on screen, that is. Her best known movie credit was in the Don Knotts film "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken."
HERBERT WIERE (91) August 5, 1999
The Wiere Brothers were re-united on August 5th...as Herbert joined brothers Harry and Sylvester in Comedy Heaven.
Never quite living up to their weird name, the brothers were milder than the Ritz Brothers and other zany comedy teams, more prone to using their odd accents for satire and gentle foolery. They could play anything from mildly nefarious spies to three inept doctors, and appeared in comic support roles in "The Road to Rio" (with Bob Hope) and "Double Trouble" (with Elvis Presley). And when Ed Sullivan couldn't get Wayne and Shuster, the three Wieres could just about equal the antics of that Canadian twosome. "The boys" had one chance at sitcom stardom, "Oh Those Bells" in the early 60's. Sylvester died in 1970. The act was long retired when Herbert passed on in 1992.
MARY JANE CROFT (83) August 24, 1999
With so few survivors from "I Love Lucy" around, Lucy fans swarmed over folks like Mary Jane Croft. Croft appeared in episodes of "I Love Lucy" (as "Betty") but had many more appearances as "Mary Jane" on "The Lucy Show."
Fans may remember Croft as a mild, sympathetic foil for the aging, increasingly leaden redhead. Croft may not have done much, but with so few survivors of "our television heritage" left, she was sorely in demand at memorabilia conventions, and will be sorely missed.
ALLEN FUNT (84) September 5, 1999
Don't be surprised if somewhere, sometime, someone turns to you and says, "Smile, You're on Candid Camera!"
This snickery threat is still tormenting paranoids and delighting fans all over America.
At his best, Allen Funt exposed hilarious quirks of human nature, both on radio ("Candid Microphone," specimens surviving on several record albums) and television.
Funt's practical jokers included several actors and actresses who would one day become famous. Probably the most durable of them was Fannie Flagg, who lived down her long association with the show to become the best-selling author of "Fried Green Tomatoes," which itself sounds like a practical joke she could've sprung on a dismayed diner.
About the only disappointment in Allen's long career was the failure of "What Do You Say to a Naked Lady," the first film comedy to be burdened with an x rating. It was a cute film...but of course, few theaters dared to show it!
No comedian, Funt did appear in cute "kiddie" segments, interviewing children who'd say the darndest things. The show goes on...with son Peter at the helm.
HARRY CRANE (85) September 14, 1999
Comedy writers get little respect from the public...and sometimes not much from the comedians they write for. But on this website, there's always time to salute a guy like Harry Crane.
Crane wrote for the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy (he worked on "Air Raid Wardens" when he was barely out of his teens). Later he contributed gags to "The Honeymooners" and worked on "The Red Skelton Show."
JEAN SHEPHERD (78) October 16, 1999
A generation of lonely, impressionable radio listeners stayed up to hear Jean Shepherd ramble through serio-comic, neo-pathetic meditations on his family, the Chicago White Sox, life in the service, and any other experiences that came to mind.
For over 20 years Jean's intimate voice talked one-to-one to WOR New York radio listeners. His celebration of the lame and his fondness for comic hyperbole influenced later practitioners including Garrison Keillor. Like Keillor, a streak of sentiment dripped from Shepherd, making it seem as if the mundane morons of the world should be somehow pitied or considered heroic. He reached his peak writing and narrating the film "A Christmas Story."
Shepherd collected his anecdotes in several books but in later years bitterly declared he would publish no more of them, citing lack of sales and good money from the publishing world. Shepherd also was curmudgeonly about other, more popular comedians including Mort Sahl (whom Jean savaged when given the chance to review Mort's book "Heartland.")
Fans of trivia might like to note that Chicago pal Shel Silverstein wrote "A Boy Named Sue" based on an anecodte from Shepherd — who had to grow up tough after his Dad named him "Jean."
JIM MORAN (91) October 22, 1999
In the age of the raconteur, Jim Moran enjoyed a reputation as a comedian and prankster. His full time job was PR man and publicist. Since the 1940's he amused the press with his stunts. In order to promote the publication of "The Egg and I" he sat on an ostrich egg for 19 days...and hatched it.
Time magazine dubbed him "the supreme master of...the publicity stunt." Eventually he became as well known as his stunts, and this led to appearances on late night talk shows.
He'd offer unlikely demonstrations and ridiculous put-on lectures. Typical, from his lone comedy album, is this droll musing: "The vicious, ill-tempered cassowary of New Guinea. That's a miserable bird...Did you know a six foot male cassowary weighs 300 pounds, and has wattles that hang down sixteen to eighteen inches from his chin? Two bright red sacks full of hard lard swinging back and forth? It's depressing. But don't ever get a cassowary sore at you. I was weighing the wattles of a cassowary down in Queensland, Australia two years ago...the cassowary didn't seem to be in a very good humor, so I gave him a wad of tutti-frutti chewing gum. While he was trying to figure that out I picked up his wattles and gently laid them on the scales. I guess the weighing pan was kind of chilly because his wattles began to pucker. Well he went hog wild and started to wattle me across the chops. And having never been wattled before, much less by an angry cassowary, I had no defense so I got wattled. I learned a good lesson though. Never pucker the wattles of a cassowary..."
Divorced several times, the aging prankster ended up in a sedate New Jersey retirement home, forgotten by most everyone except a few ad agency old-timers and the odd comedy fan.
FRANK DE VOL (88) October 27, 1999
A deadpan comic actor, usually assigned roles calling for an almost embalmed sense of calm and a ridiculously limp air of propriety, balding, mild-mannered Frank DeVol amused viewers of "Fernwood 2-Night" and "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" among others.
But Frank's main talent was in scoring movies. Among the 50 film soundtracks he wrote were "Pillow Talk," "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." He also wrote the theme song for "My Three Sons" among other TV shows.
He worked on "Cat Ballou," which featured a silly ballad sung throughout the film by Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole. But nothing was sillier, or catchier, than the theme song he wrote for "The Brady Bunch."
MARY KAY BERGMAN (38) November 11, 1999
One of the few famous females in the world of comical cartoon voices, Mary Kay Bergman worked everything from "Scooby Doo" movies to the "South Park" TV show. Her shotgun suicide was a shock to fans, but evidently not unexpected to those close to her. Her husband Dino Andrade sent out a letter to the press:
My late wife, Mary Kay Bergman was a great actress, as well, one of the true greats in voiceover history. Her work ranged the gamut, performing in everything from Disney features to South Park, where thanks to the latter, her starring roles led to this gentle creature getting to live out her life's dream of stepping from a limo and walking the "premiere night" red carpet of Mann's Chinese theater dressed as a princess - unfortunately she was also a victim of mental illness. Outside she was a "larger-than-life" character, funny, outgoing, loving, friendly to a fault, beloved, admired and respected by all, and with a talent that will remain unparalleled. Without a doubt, she was at the very top of her game. Inside however, she was haunted by demons, irrational fears, and unfathomable pain that we may never understand - all of which she kept hidden from everyone... her friends, her family, and sad to say, even myself. The mere fact that she was able to do so was a testament to what a truly great actress she was. In the end, these demons overwhelmed her, led to despair and finally to her recent suicide. It is clear that Mary Kay's illness made her neither a "casualty" of Hollywood, nor of her celebrity - on the contrary, her gifts for mastering characters, the success of her career, and the love of her fans, is what kept Mary Kay going all these years. And yet it is important to recognize that actors are artists, whose sensitivity, emotions and self-worth always ride close to the surface, working in a business that with all its rewards can be insensitive, callous and often outright cruel, all of which can take its toll on the soul of an artist. Therefore I make this plea: If you are suffering, if you live with pain, fear, depression or despair, you must seek help. The first step is to speak out, tell someone of your pain. I believe that if my wife had told me of the dark place she was in, I could have gotten her the help she needed and thus she would be alive today. If this plea can reach just one person, and help them to see the light in the darkness, then I will know that Mary Kay's death was not a waste, but a sacrifice so that another might live.
Fans honored her with donations to the Suicide Prevention Center, 4760 Sepulveda Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230
QUENTIN CRISP (90) November 21, 1999
For a generation without Oscar Wilde or Truman Capote, there was Quentin Crisp, a flamboyantly effeminate wit who was known as much for his lifestyle as for his work. The amusing raconteur was, like Boris Karloff, saddled with the dull last name of Pratt at birth. He switched to a more colorful name that matched his personality and minced off along a road that had some treacherous turns (prostitution and much abuse from homophobes). It took a lot of guts to be so deliberately limp-wristed.
Crisp worked as a nude model and ater his autobiography "The Naked Civil Servant" became a hit film (starring John Hurt), the late-blooming flower described himself with pride as "one of the stately old homos of England." But he didn't stay long. He moved to New York and became the Crisp of the Town, putting on a one-man show in 1978 and publishing a series of newspaper columns and archly dry books. He was in England, a day away from opening night of a performance, when he died.
Some of his remarks, such as "It's not normal to be gay" outraged gays as much as straights. But at heart, Crisp's message was that nothing much in life was normal and all should be permitted. Asked if he was a practicing homosexual, he replied, "I don't have to practice. I'm already perfect."
WILLIAM BENEDICT (82) November 25, 1999
"Hey Whitey!" In a more innocent time, this cry in a movie theater meant a "Bowery Boys" comedy was on the screen. And the man to answer to the name was blond Billy Benedict. Billy was born in Haskell, Oklahoma and was not exactly the most urban of the kids. His character was pretty nebulous; usually he was just an empty skull who stood behind Satch (Huntz Hall) and did what he was told with a nervous gulp, wide eyes but no complaints. Occasionally he played rubes and hapless chumps in other comedies (W.C. Fields' "My Little Chickadee") and in later years, was wizened, if not a wiseguy, and turned up in character roles calling for a down-on-his-luck old-timer or an overaged newsboy. His films included "The Sting" in 1973 and "Farewell My Lovely" in 1975.
GENE RAYBURN (81) November 29, 1999
One of the funniest quiz shows was "The Match Game," presided over by Gene Rayburn. Gene wasn't just another quiz show mannequin. On radio his ``Rayburn & Finch'' WNEW program with Dee Finch was noted for jokes and bright conversation. Some consider it the model for "drive time" talk radio. He moved on to become the announcer for the ``Tonight'' show when Steve Allen was host. After hosting other shows, Gene clicked with "The Match Game" which ran through the 60's and 70's. He generated just the right vibes to turn the silly program into an adult (for it's time) quiz show. As he admitted once on the air, "I have this tremendous libido!" And he proved it when, trying to compliment a contestant on her dimples, told her she had "great nipples."
"The Match Game" with Rayburn hosting is on the game show cable network while a new version is currently syndicated. Gene's wife died three years ago; he died of heart failure at his daughter's home in Massachusetts.
JOEY ADAMS (88) December 2, 1999
One of the insult comics of the 40's and 50's, Catskill legend Joey Adams was not that well known nationally. He appeared as a quizmaster on a few forgettable early TV shows. But as a raconteur he wrote over 30 books from memoirs to joke collections. Like Xavier Cugat, Joey was an older man with a young wife. His book "Cindy and I" was a hit in the 50's and he made a comedy record with her. To the surprise of most everyone in New York, the obscure Cindy suddenly landed a powerful position as New York Post gossip columnist. Joey had a joke column of oldies which was syndicated to other papers around the country. He also had a local radio show and booked me a few times as a guest, insulting me thoroughly! A noted collector of art, Joey was not quite the "low comic" people thought.
MADELYN KAHN (57) December 3, 1999
Comedy fans knew her best from her work in Mel Brooks movies, including "High Anxiety" and "Blazing Saddles," which featured her Marlene Dietrich parody song, "I'm Tired." Red-haired and long-jawed, her looks were odd enough to type her for mostly comedy roles but she was also attractive enough to usually land believable parts that called for a skilled dramatic actress. As Mel Brooks said, "in stand-up comedy, or acting, or whatever you want, you can't beat Madeline Kahn.''
Born in Boston, trained in opera, she received Oscar nominations two years in a row for "Paper Moon" and "Blazing Saddles." She went on to win a Tony for her Broadway role in "The Sisters Rosensweig." She was nominated three other times for her stage work. Her last major TV appearance was co-starring on Bill Cosby's new sitcom in the late 90's. She and her husband made her condition public...ovarian cancer. It was the same disease that took the life of Gilda Radner. Fans will get a last chance to see her when her film "Judy Berlin" is released in February. As her husband said, "While we mourn her passing, we celebrate a full and wonderful life."
SHIRLEY HEMPHILL (52) December 13, 1999
Best known for playing a wise-cracking waitress to a bunch of school kids on the sitcom "What's Happening," Shirley Hemphill was signed by producer Norman Lear after he saw her stand-up act. The show, which aired from 1976 to 1979 helped her to continue work as a stand-up road warrior through the 80's and 90's. Her sequel sitcom "What's Happening Now" wasn't successful, but her bawdy nightclub work always found delighted (and sometimes shocked) fans. Shirley's mother had Alzheimer's disease and she sometimes turned down tour dates in order to care for her. But she was on the road and performing just two weeks before her death.