Another year, another TCM Remembers, and my goodness, we lost some big ones this year.
This is a big one, and a long time coming. Sir Sean Connery, the definitive James Bond and elder statesman actor for a generation has gone to his reward at the age of 90.
Sir Sean was an interesting figure on screen: one of the old school of actors who came from a working class background, serving as a truck driver and labourer among other things (his father was a factory hand and his brother was plasterer), though he also dabbled in bodybuilding and modeling. When he turned to acting (choosing it over a football career), he had a fair number of roles in low-budget or made-for-TV movies (which were just getting started at the time), as well as a lead role in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It was this film, of all things, that brought him to the attention of Cubby Broccoli when he was casting an adaptation of Dr. No.
Ian Flemming wasn’t crazy about the rough Scotsman at first. Bond is an aristocrat, and Sir Sean had no knowledge whatsoever of the high-class, sophisticated world that Bond was supposed to inhabit. He had to have a crash course in fine wines, tailored clothes, and all the rest of it. It paid off, and Sir Sean conveyed the absolute perfect combination of sophistication and brutality that has come to define Bond: a man you can absolutely believe would be equally at home trading witty barbs in a high class casino and trouncing thugs in the alley behind it. Flemming warmed up to Sir Sean’s portrayal so much that he re-wrote Bond’s backstory to make him Scottish.
Sir Sean attempted to leave the role more than once, being tired of it and especially the enormous publicity that went with it, as well as not wanting to be typecast. After finally escaping the franchise, he began to reinvent himself as a powerhouse actor, serving under Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie and John Houston in The Man Who Would Be King (acting opposite the equally great Michael Caine in an adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story, and frankly those four names alone tell you it’s going to be great), being one of a dozen stars participating in Murder on the Orient Express, and playing the Arab chief Raisull in The Wind and the Lion.
I remember him mostly, from my own childhood, as one of the great elder statesmen actors: as Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as Draco the dragon in Dragonheart, defecting Soviet sub captain Ramius in The Hunt for Red October, and as the aging British secret agent John Mason (who is basically Bond in all but name) in The Rock. He won the Academy Award for The Untouchables, back when that still actually meant something. In any case, it was only a confirmation of what everyone already knew: Sir Sean was one of the top actors of his generation, with an unforgettable voice and manner (he’s one of the most imitated actors in history). He could be incredibly tender or incredible brutal, often in the same film. Or he could become a grumpy old professor, or a reclusive writer. Whatever role demanded character, strength, and integrity.
That, I think, is what came across most on screen: Sir Sean was a man. When he was tender and romantic, or even when he was doddering and comic, he always had that edge of iron masculinity that made him riveting to watch.
By all accounts he was a consummate gentleman on set and well-liked by his peers. Some of my own favorite stories about him tell of how he would go out of his way to look after the other actors, such as when he took it upon himself to check on Japanese actress Mie Hama (who, like him, came from a working class background and was blindsided by the experience of making a Bond film) every day they were shooting together on You Only Live Twice to make sure she was bearing it up.
His final role was in the unfortunately abysmal League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film that, like the Mario Brothers movie, I have a soft spot for despite its horrible quality. It’s a film marked by a collection of very talented actors doing their best with awful script. That said, Sir Sean’s performance as an aging Allan Quatermain showcases all his usual power and skill, and his final words are strikingly appropriate epitaph upon his illustrious career:
Eternal rest grant unto him, o Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, Rest in Peace
Really shocking news; Chadwick Boseman, most famous as T’Challa / Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe passed away on Friday August 27th from colon cancer at the age of 43. Apparently, he’d been battling the disease for four years. Which means, in retrospect, that most of his involvement in the MCU was done while he was dying.
That demands respect right there.
From all I can tell, Mr. Boseman was a genuinely good guy who took his role as a superhero seriously. Anyone who takes on such a role has to understand that it is more than just a performance; you are associated with that character in the eyes of the fans for life and, in some ways, will have to keep playing it even off screen. Apparently, he used much of his massive earnings on charitable works, particularly helping people in Africa.
If you’ve read my Marvel Recaps, you know I don’t think much of Black Panther the film. You also know that I love Black Panther the character as played by Boseman, particularly his riveting performance in Civil War. But what I think doesn’t really matter at the moment; the important point is that Mr. Boseman was an exceptionally talented actor in his prime who left his mark on one of the most important franchises of contemporary Hollywood. He was also, it seems, a kind, courageous, and generous hearted man. His presence on the silver screen will be sorely missed.
Eternal Rest grant unto him, Oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
At the same time that the last leading lady of old Hollywood passed away, another veteran actor joined the great majority.
Most people probably don’t recognize the name John Saxon, but I guarantee you know some of his films. Saxon was one of those reliable character actors who throve in the world of B-pictures, with nearly 200 film and TV credits to his name in a career spanning from the 1950s (when he played supporting roles to likes of James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, and Debbie Reynolds) to the 2010s. He’s best known for his roles as Nancy Thompson’s skeptical police chief father in the first and third Nightmare on Elm Street films (he then played himself in the meta-horror New Nightmare) and as the gambling addict Roper in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon (John Saxon was a skilled martial artist in his own right).
He also had roles in the horror classic Black Christmas and the action-horror cult-classic From Dusk Till Dawn, plus appearances on just about every notable TV show of the 70s and 80s. Fans of MST3k, meanwhile, will remember Saxon from the classic episode Mitchell, where he played the slimy villain of the B-plot opposite Joe Don Baker’s titular detective (though the cut of the film used on the show inexplicably left out the resolution of his plot line, causing Joel to wonder “Wasn’t John Saxon in this movie?”).
Mr. Saxon never rose high in the film industry, but he was a reliable, professional, hard-working actor who was always a welcome presence in his many, many films. I always have a fondness for that kind of working character actor: the ones who will never headline a blockbuster, but who simply show up, do their job well, and leave the audience glad for their company.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Olivia de Havilland, star of Gone with the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and dozens of other classic films, has passed away at the age of 104. She was Errol Flynn’s chief leading lady — they starred in eight films together, including his star-making role Captain Blood — one of the principle leads of Gone with the Wind and one of the great beauties of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
She was also the last one. The Golden Age of Hollywood is now officially consigned to the history books. John Wayne, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Katherine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, John Ford, Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland; they’re all gone. Whatever might be said of that vast cast of filmmakers, writers, actors and actresses, whatever might be said of the studio system that they worked for, they produced some mighty fine stories; stories that remain meaningful, entertaining, and uplifting even when all those who made them have passed away. That, I think, counts for something.
In any case, that era is now over. The last star of Hollywood has gone out.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great, is passed away.
Another year, another TCM retrospective:
Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord; let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
When it comes to a man like Stan Lee, one must either write a whole book or a single short statement, and I will do the latter. Stan Lee, the mastermind of the Marvel ComicUniverse, creator and co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and countless other classic characters, has passed away at the age of 95. He was not just a brilliant creator and writer, but a deeply beloved man among his legions of fans, and he will be missed.
May the prayers of all those to whom he brought joy, inspiration, and enrichment rise up before the throne of God on his behalf, and may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.
One of the last of the great entertainers of his generation, Mr. Jerry Lewis has gone to his reward.
I confess, I’m not the best person to expound on Mr. Lewis’s career, as I haven’t seen many of his films, but of course, everyone knows his name, and that of his illustrious long-time partner, Mr. Dean Martin, with whom he was one of the top box-office draws for more than half a decade, before they unfortunately had a falling out and split as a team. Lewis himself remained a major box office draw in his own right, with films like The Nutty Professor, The Bellhop, and The Disorderly Orderly.
Like many comedians, Mr. Lewis was a consummate professional and a very intelligent, hard-working man, in stark contrast to his nasally, child-like onscreen persona. In addition to his comedy work in films, stage, radio, and television, he was a life-long advocate for sufferers of muscular dystrophy disease, particularly children.
His appearance as a panelist on What’s My Line showed both his comedic skills and his sincere charity work:
Meanwhile, this rather harsh interview with him toward the end of his life, in which he bluntly refused to play along with the trite, canned questions of his interviewer shows that he maintained by his sharp mind and independent spirit up until the end.
Mr. Lewis spent his life making millions of people smile, and dedicated years of his time to helping those in need, and there are far worse legacies a man can leave behind.
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
I’ve just learned that Haruo Nakajima, the stuntman and actor who originated the role of Godzilla himself, has passed away at the age of 88 of pneumonia. Now all the major players of that greatest of monster films are gone, with the sole exception of Akira Takarada.
Mr. Nakajima was a stuntman and bit player at Toho studios (he played one of the bandits in Seven Samurai) when he was picked to play the monster in Tomoyuki Tanaka’s massive gamble Godzilla. Since they pretty much had to invent the different special effects techniques as they were making the film, the suit they designed was notoriously difficult to work with. Mr. Nakajima suffered terribly for the role, enduring temperatures up to 140 degrees and often leaving a whole cup of sweat behind him. The suit weighed over 200 pounds and included numerous bits of machinery to operate the mouth and tail. Though a trained athlete and a powerful man, Mr. Nakajima fainted more than once during the shoot.
Yet he returned for twelve films, finally retiring from the role after Godzilla vs. Gigan. In the process, he helped give Godzilla the distinctive personality that made him such a memorable figure on screen. Mr. Nakajima was known as a very good humored, playful man, and that side of him sometimes came across through the mountains of coarse latex. Those who remember Godzilla clapping his hands in mockery of King Kong, or leaping with excitement after sending King Ghidorah packing will see Mr. Nakajima’s personality shining through. At the same time, he could lend remarkable dignity and poignancy to Godzilla’s movements, as seen in the underwater confrontation at the end of the first film, or his interactions with Minya in Son of Godzilla.
Few may know his face or name, but Mr. Nakajima helped create one of the great figures of cinema, and for that he will always be remembered.
Rest in peace, sir, and many thanks.
More sad news: Adam West, forever immortalized in the infamously cheesy 1960s Batman show, has passed away at the age of 88 after a brief battle with Leukemia.
Mr. West was one of those actors (like Bela Lugosi) whose career was made and destroyed by a single role. He never recovered from being the Caped Crusader, especially after changing tastes caused the show itself to become infamous. At first, West descended into self-destructive depression over this fact, but later came to embrace his unique claim to fame and relished his position in the Batman legend.
Whatever you think of the show, Mr. West deserves credit for being the Batman for a whole generation. This, after all, is part of the Batman mythos as well, and even if it’s one that many fans might prefer to forget, it introduced one of the seminal characters of American comics to a whole new audience, including some of the writers and artists who did some of the best work with the character.
Happily, this very point was made in possibly Mr. West’s best post-Batman role: on Batman: The Animated Series. In the episode “The Gray Ghost Strikes,” West plays an actor made famous for playing a superhero on an old TV show, but whose career was subsequently destroyed by typecasting, and who now questions whether his life had any impact.
Adam West does some very impressive voice work as a man dealing with many of the same problems that he faced in his own life, and whose receives a truly touching vindication in discovering that he has had a positive impact, all the more so because the episode is so clearly sending that same message to Adam West himself. It’s Paul Dini and the other makers of what many regard as the very best iteration of Batman thanking the man who headed what is widely considered one of the worst for introducing them to the character they love.
By this point, I think it’s safe to say that Mr. West transcended his typecasting to become, if not a respected actor, a respected figure in the Batman fandom. Whatever you think of the 1960s show, Adam West undoubtedly inspired a generation of both fans and artists, which is something I think any actor can be proud of. May he rest in peace.