Thursday, January 2, 2014

I Remember, I Remember

Some famous friends of mine passed in 2013.
Among the biggies that I wish to saute there's:
Van Cliburn , 78-- I was late to a lush PBS reception in Los Angeles and I got the last chair beside the shy Van and his cackling mom. Their Texan repartee entertained me for several hours.
And on another TV critics tour I sat up late at night in the hospitality suite listening to the reminiscences of the gal I thought the best movie actress of the Seventies: Karen Black who passed at 74.
I told her just a month earlier I had been on the New York set of Another World interviewing her actress sister --Gail Brown.
And then there were two encounters with the tough and acerbic Joan Fontaine who had won an Oscar for Suspicion and when we met up was the loveliest movie star around in her seventies. She died days short of her 95th birthday still feuding with older sister Olivia de Havilland.
Julie Harris I met and interviewed on the set of Knots Landing --the star of countless Broadway hits estimated that one showing of KL attracted more viewers than all the plays she'd ever been in. She was 92.
And there was the night under the stars at Disneyland in 1971 when Disney trotted out all his old stars to have dinner with visiting TV critics. I selected Annette Funicello was was radiant and talkative although she'd spend later decades battling the effects of multiple sclerosis. She was 71.
I listened in awe in a Toronto restaurant as Dennis Farina told stories about the days when he was a real cop on the beat. He was then tub thumping for Law & Order and just before his death at 69 made the sensational cable TV series Luck with Dustin Hoffman.
Yes, I once visited the set of One Day At A Time and met the effervescent Bonnie Franklin who battled pancreatic cancer before passing aged 69.
In her dressing room on the set of All In the Family the wondrous Jean Stapleton talked about creating one of TV's most lovable characters: Edith Bunker. And later I visited with Jean when she starred on stage in Toronto in the play Mornings At Seven. She died at 90 after a long illness.
I watched Canadian Cory Monteith rehearsing on the set of Glee, that's as close as I ever got to him. His death from a combination of cocaine and liquor was a real tragedy.
I never met her in person but I enjoyed two long telephone chats with the legendary Esther Williams. "Don't call me an actress," she joked. "I'm just a swimmer." It reminded me of  Fanny Brice's great quote: "Wet she's a star, dry she ain't." Esther was 94.
I saw the way Chicago film critic Roger Ebert was feted by all talent at the movie junkets I'd occasionally attend. When offered a muffin he refused because it hadn't been properly buttered. He was 70.
I met James Gandolfini early on at an early press conference for The Sopranos. Nobody ever thought it would be that huge a hit and such huge success tended to obscure Gandolfini's other great performances. He was just 52 when he died.
I sat with Conrad Bain at an NBC all star function and found the gentle Canadian actor to be thoughtful and whimsical. He enjoyed two TV monster hits in Maude and  Diff'rent Strokes and enjoyed a long retirement from the rerun royalties of both. He was 89.
I once interviewed Sir David Frost when he was in Toronto attempting to set up a Canadian version of his TV talk show. It didn't work and he went on to bigger things --like interviewing disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Jeanne Cooper of The Young And Restless fame came to Toronto many times to promote her causes at the Hospital For Sick Children. She was always the soap opera diva. She was 84.
But nobody ever got close to Winnipeg legend Deanna Durbin who retired at 27 and died aged 91.

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