Sunday, December 23, 2012
I Remember, I Remember
This is that awful time of the year when TV critics past and present remember all the talented people who have departed .
Like the incredibly gifted Andy Griffith. On TV it is often said there are no second acts but Andy had huge, roaring hits with The Andy Griffith Show as well as Matlock in different TV eras.
I remember hanging around the Matlock set one afternoon waiting for Andy in his dressing room to rewrite a scene so he'd get all the good lines.
But ask him his proudest show biz moment and he'd say "Playing Lonesome Rhodes in the 1957 movie A Face In The Crowd. Decades later Warners asked Tom Cruise to remake it. So Tom watched it in the screening room and stated 'Can't be done. Already perfect.'"
Like Michael Clarke Duncan who was so memorable in The Green Mile he garnered a supporting Oscar nomination.
Off camera he was pure fun, kidding me for my chubbiness, threatening to toss me across the interview room if I asked any more impertinent questions.
A giant of a man, he ate a whole turkey for lunch, then asked "What's for desert?"
His death from a heart attack at 47 was a shock but how great he'd already morphed from a security man to a respected character actor.
Like Phyllis Diller who I once spotted doing laps in the pool at the Manulife Centre with the vivacious Helen Miller, wife of The Star's TV critic Jack Miller.
And Phyllis's raucous laughter could be heard for miles.
How pleasant to discover in person she was thoughtful and well read and that her stage persona was entirely her own creation.
And she did pave the way for Joan Rivers, Rosie O'Donnell, Whitney Cummings, Tina Fey.
Like Ernie Borgnine, probably the ugliest guy to ever become a movie and TV star. Also one of the nicest.
He gave great interviews and was never nasty to anybody even ex-wife Ethel Merman who in her autobiography devoted several blank pages to their marriage.
And he could do it all from Fatso in From Here To Eternity to Marty to McHale's Navy.
And he never ceased being grateful for his 50-year acting career.
Like Larry Hagnman and those wild and crazy parties he gave at his Malibu homestead for visiting TV critics.
To interview him all one had to do was doff outer clothing and jump into the world's largest hot tub which took up all of his living room.
And how great he died in harness with the reboot of Dallas such a success.
Like Dick Clark who was TV's greatest ever salesman. He was supreme at selling himself from his American bandstand hey day to quiz shows like The $25,000 Pyramid to New Year's Eve on ABC which just won't be the same without him.
To Mike Wallace who clawed his way up the TV ladder and stayed on top at 60 Minutes for decades.
He was ultra hot in a cool medium --no wonder fabled Edward R. Murrow would have nothing to do with him.
It didn't matter who he was interviewing he always gave them hell: Jimmy Carter, Burt Lancaster (who threatened to break his nose), Iranian president Ahmadinejad who said "I thought you'd retired."
I met him in Morley Safer's office when the two veterans went at each other. I asked Morley later if Mike was always so pugnacious.
"Oh, no, this is just a warm up. to the afternoon's idea conference."
I was on The Jeffersons sets several times but never to interview Sherman Hemsley. He usually refused all requests.
Days later at the Shubert Theater in Century City he walked up to me at a performance of Evita and cooed "Imd scared shitless of you guys. So don't take it personally, OK?"
Like Toronto born Ann Rutherford who became a dear friend after I interviewed her at her Beverly Hills home. After all she was the Canadian girl who at 15 played Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister in the the most popular movie of all time, Gone With The Wind.
Like Oscar winner Celeste Holm who when I asked her to describe working with Bette Davis harrumphed "Two words Im-possible."
Like Andy Williams who told me after crooning Moon River for the zillionth time at concerts "I start thinking of the laundry list."
Like Ron Palillo and Robert Hegyes-- I interviewed both when Welcome Back Kotter premiered on ABC in 1975. Sadly the gifted Palillo never had another hit although Hegyes later co-starred on Cagney and Lacy.
Like Bill Asher who directed two of the funniest ever iconic TV sitcoms: I Love Lucy and Bewitched starring wife Liz Montgomery.
Like Jonathan Frid who starred as Barnaby Collins on TV's Dark Shadows. When I asked if anything scared him he snorted "Hardly. After all I grew up in Hamilton, you know."
Like Ray Bradbury who I found sitting alone in the foyer during an NBC shindig for the miniseries Brave New World.
We talked for the next hour about fave sci fi flicks. I was delighted he loved Forbidden Planet, things To Come and 2001 as much as I did.