Saturday, January 1, 2011

I Lost Some Entertainment Friends Last Year

A lot of big names in the entertainment community passed this past year.
JACKIE BURROUGHS, 71, was one of my favorite Canadian actresses. I used to hang out with her on the set of her biggest TV hit Road To Avonlea where she shone as the schoolteacher Hetty King. But she was outstanding in the Canadian movie The Grey Fox. I once startled her by saying my favorite Burroughs performance was in the amazing 1987 Canadian feature A Winter Tan.
SIMON MACCORKINDALE, 58, worked mainly in England but I met him once on the set of the U.S. series Manimal (1985). Later he had an idea for more co-productions between British and Canadian TV and starred in one such series shot in Canada Counterstrike opposite Chris Plummer. The last time I met him he scored a big hit in the 1999 Toronto made TV film The Girl Next Door, atypically cast as a suave killer.
BARBARA BILLINGSLEY ,94, was one of those great TV moms from the Fifties on Leave It To Beaver. "I never vacuumed in my pearls," she sniffed the one time I met her for lunch in Phoenix. Also present was her TV son Jerry Mathers and she even reached over and cut the meat on his plate. Just like a real mom would.
MAURY CHAYKIN, 61, I first met when he was promoting his marvelous turn as Hal Banks in the 1985 CBC TV film Canada's Sweetheart. But I admired Chaykin best for his Nero Wolfe TV movies shot in Toronto opposite Timothy Hutton. When I asked him if he got to keep his sumptuous wardrobe he laughed heartily and said "I wish!"
TRACY WRIGHT, 50, made every role seem alive. She could ace a spot on Kids In The Hall, make a lasting impression on Twitch City and even ace a star turn in the 2006 film Monkey Warfare and all with the greatest of ease. I remember seeing her on the Twitch City set but never talked to her. Silly me.
LESLIE NIELSEN, 84, was bemused by his late career change into a comic with roles in Airplane and Naked Gun. When I first interviewed him in the 1970s he was toiling away on a CBC drama. He'd starred in live TV, jumped to MGM and the sci fi classic Forbidden Planet but later in life travelled everywhere with his beloved whoppee cushion.
TONY CURTIS, 84, welcomed me to his suite at the Harbour Castle hotel and pointed to the row of wigs on his dresser, He was wearing his Liberace model--a white pompadour-- but he also talked about his years as a top movie star and the great films that included The Sweet Smell Of Success and Some Like It Hot.
PATRICIA NEAL, 84, had survived so many tragedies including a near fatal stroke that it was wonderful when she just smiled at me. An Oscar winner for Hud she made lasting impressions in The Fountainhead, A Face In The Crowd and Breakfast At Tiffany's. We met in 1979 on a Park bench on Front street as she promoted a Canadian film it urned out nobody would saw.
ROBERT CULP, 79, looked surprised the day I asked him if he really was set to replace Larry Hagman on Dallas if Hagman left over contract negotiations. Culp said simply "How did you know?" --he'd been asked but politely declined the offer and Hagman settled with CBS after all.
DIXIE CARTER, 70, welcomed me to her L.A. home as she was having her greatest success on Designing Women. Warm and winning she proudly showed off her family and said she wanted to sing in a Toronto supper club if I could find one.
MARK DAILEY, 57, was the voice of Citytv for decades. He knew Toronto inside out as few anchors ever do and delighted in exchanging gossip with me about what was happening in local TV circles.
PETER GRAVES, 83, was one of the first TV stars I ever interviewed in Hollywood. It was on the set of Mission: Impossible and he was everything you'd want in a TV star: kindly, handsome and a far more versatile actor than brother Jim Arness.
LYNN REDGRAVE, 67, showed me around the set of her 1979 CBS sitcom House Calls. Weeks later she was fired from the series for breast feeding her daughter and pluckily sued an won. After all she was a Redgrave from a grand theatrical tradition and star of such British classics as Georgy Girl.
HELEN WAGNER, 91, had already been a star forever on the CBS soaper As The World Turns when I came o to the set one day for a look see. What a thrill to meet the actress who had with the show since 1956 and wound appearing for 13,782 episodes. She died in May months before the long running serial was finally cancelled.
GARY COLEMAN, 42, had a life of supreme unhappiness. I saw the way he was demeaned on the set of Diff'rent Strokes and after childhood passed he could no longer get work. His tragedy was am inability to grow because of kidney problems.
ART LINKLETTER, 98, was already a good age when I interviewed him on a Toronto street in the Seventies as he filmed a commercial for aspirin. And above all he was vastly proud to be a Canadian.
MURRAY CHERCOVER, 80, helped steer CTV through several decades of growth as Canada's first private network. He'd joined CBC-TV when it went on the air and directed dozens of TV dramas before defecting to the newly formed CTV in 1961.

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