He was a bird and a grouch and we will miss him.
He was a bird and a grouch and we will miss him.
I am not embarrassed to admit that one of my all-time favorite movies is The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. The film was released in 1966 and starred comedian Don Knotts who had just left a five season run on The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts played nervous deputy “Barney Fife,” a role which earned him (incredulously) five Emmy Awards. After leaving the popular sitcom, Knotts signed a five picture deal with Universal Studios. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was the second film produced as part of that contract.
The story was actually an extended version of a Season Four episode of The Andy Griffith Show entitled “Haunted House.” The screenplay was written by veteran writers Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum and directed by Alan Rafkin, all closely associated with the rural sitcom. The film also featured a number of bit players recognizable fro various episodes of the show.
The costarring role of demure “Alma Parker” was played by Universal Contract player Joan Staley, a one-time Playboy model turned actress. Joan had worked with director Rafkin on a short-lived comedy series called Broadside, a spin-off from the wartime comedy McHale’s Navy. Joan, a natural blonde, was deemed “too sexy” and was asked to appear as a brunette. She donned a dark wig that was worn by actress Claudia Cardinale in the 1966 thriller Blindfold.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is typical sitcom fare and Knotts does not stray far from the role that made him famous. His “Luther Heggs” is a wanna-be newspaper reporter and a carbon copy of “Deputy Barney Fife” without the badge. Familiar character actors Skip Homeier and Dick Sargent were suitable antagonists, but Joan Staley seemed out of place. I have seen The Ghost and Mr. Chicken countless times and I could never understand what on earth Joan’s “Alma” found attractive about Don Knotts. She was undeniably hot and Don Knotts was undeniably…. well…. Don Knotts. Even as a kid, it made no sense to me.
Joan enjoyed a pretty prolific, albeit short, career in films and television. She appeared in a number of popular series in the 60s, including a campy villainous role on Batman. In addition to the sitcom Broadside, she was a regular in the drama The FBI, as Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.s’ secretary in the show’s final season. In 1966, Joan suffered a serious back injury as a result of a horseback riding accident. She officially retired from show business shortly after.
Joan stayed out of the spotlight for years. She was active in community affairs and close with her ten grand children and twenty great-grandchildren. In November 2019, she passed away from heart failure at the age of 79.
Dallas McKennon was one of the most prolific actors you never heard of. He was featured in a slew of uncredited roles going back to the 1940s. Dallas was a recurring character is the TV action series Daniel Boone starring Fess Parker. He was featured in a number of Westerns, including Death Valley Days, Wagon Train and The Big Valley. However, Dallas had a long and fruitful career as an in-demand voice actor. He provided the voices for dozens of beloved animated characters including Gumby, both Archie Andrews and his befuddled school principal Mr. Weatherby, Courageous Cat and Scrooge McDuck on an early Disney record. Dallas gave voice to hundreds of other background characters in animation for film and television, as well as Audio-Animatronics in Disney theme parks, including the “safety spiel” in “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad,” laughing hyenas in “It’s A Small World” Mountain and Benjamin Franklin in “The American Adventure” attraction in Epcot.
A laugh that he recorded for the 1955 Disney animated film Lady and the Tramp was recycled numerous times in video games featuring the character Crash Bandicoot.
Dallas retired in 1995 and passed away in 2009 at the age of 89… his voice living on.
Michael J. Pollard enjoyed a long and prolific career as a character actor, appearing in quirky roles on television and in movies. His most recognizable role was as “C.W. Moss” in the 1968 film Bonnie and Clyde. The role earned Michael an Oscar nomination.
In 1990, actor-director Warren Beatty, Michael’s co-star in Bonnie and Clyde, offered him the role of sound expert “Bug Bailey” in the comic-strip homage Dick Tracy. The film was filled with big name Hollywood actors — Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Dick Van Dyke, Dustin Hoffman — all appearing under a ton of theatrical make-up to mimic the outrageous faces of the original drawings in the popular comic. Beatty felt that Michael J. Pollard’s facial features were so cartoon-y on their own, that the actor appeared with no additional make-up.
Once and for all, Mama Cass Elliot did not choke to death on a ham sandwich in 1974. Stop saying that she did.
Born in Baltimore, the former Naomi Cohen adopted the name “Cass Elliot,” while in high school, taking her first name from actress Peggy Cass and her surname to honor a classmate who had passed away. She became interested in acting, landing a small role in a summer stock production of The Boy Friend and later touring with a troupe performing The Music Man, however she lost a part in I Can Get It for You Wholesale to Barbra Streisand. Cass pursued a singing career only after attending American University in Washington, DC (not Swarthmore as chronicled in the song “Creeque Alley”).
After her first group, “The Big 3,” broke up, she and band mate Jim Hendricks teamed up with Zal Yanovsky and Denny Doherty to form The Mugwumps. When Yanovsky left to join the Lovin’ Spoonful, Cass and Doherty joined former New Journeymen duo John and Michelle Phillips. The new quartet called themselves the Mamas & the Papas.
The new group were popular immediately, with “Mama” Cass as the group’s standout charismatic singer. However, a volatile combination of infighting and infidelity led to the band’s demise by the end of the 1960s.
Cass embarked on a solo career. Her debut show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was a disaster. Cass’s voice was weak and strained and she had barely rehearsed. That, coupled with a shot of heroin prior to taking the stage, spelled a quick downfall for the singer. Her scheduled engagement was canceled after one show and Cass sunk into depression.
She released several albums and, on the advice of her manager, reinvented herself as a cabaret singer, shying away from the rock scene. She made frequent appearances on talk and variety shows, even guest-hosting for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
Five years after the ill-fated Caesars Palace show, Cass opened at the Flamingo to rave reviews. In April 1974, she collapsed backstage at The Tonight Show, just prior to her appearance. She was hospitalized but was discharged within days, chalking the incident up to exhaustion. In the summer of 1974, she signed to a two-week engagement at the London Palladium, often playing to half-full houses. After her final concert, she attended a party at Mick Jagger‘s London home. Afterwards, she returned to the flat she was renting from singer Harry Nilsson. She called her former Mamas & the Papas band mate Michelle Phillips and chatted briefly. Mama Cass then went to sleep. She suffered a fatal heart attack during the night. She was 32 years old.
In her native Cuba, Luisa Cira Castro Netto worked as an accountant. She left Cuba amid the political upheaval of the early 1960s, arriving in New York City with aspirations of a career in acting. Wanting to disassociate herself from Fidel Castro, a distant relative, she adopted the surname “Moritz,” from the Hotel St. Moritz.
Louisa made her motion picture debut in the low-budget exploitation film The Man from O.R.G.Y., playing the first of a long line of ditzy blondes she would portray throughout her career. She was cast as a prostitute in the Oscar-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975. She took small, but similar roles in The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, Up In Smoke, The Last American Virgin and a dozen more. Louisa appeared in various television series including Love American Style, Happy Days, One Day at a Time and M*A*S*H.
Louisa later attended law school, graduating at the top of her class at Abraham Lincoln University in Los Angeles. She had an active law practice until she was disbarred by the state of California.
Louisa was one of the first women to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault, claiming the comedian forced her to perform oral sex in a dressing room at the Tonight Show in 1971. She sued for defamation when Cosby accused her of lying.
Louisa passed away in January 2019 from injuries suffered as a result of a fall. Her age was disputed.
On September 30, 2019, The Waycross Journal-Herald ceased publication. Its publisher, Roger Williams Jr. made the announcement to his distraught staff.
The paper had been in the Williams family since Roger’s grandfather Jack purchased it in 1916. Roger Williams Sr., Jack’s son, served as publisher until his death in 1957. Jack Williams Jr. took over as publisher for the next 35 years until he was succeeded by his son Roger Williams Jr.
Facing rising costs and diminishing circulation, Roger had the difficult task of informing those in his employ, including his brother, Jack Williams III who served as editor-in-chief, that the beloved paper would print its last issue on the final day of September 2019, bringing the family business to a halt after 105 years. Roger explained that the newspaper had become a financial burden on his family, affecting their personal savings.
In the second week of October, sports editor Rick Head announced plans to resurrect The Waycross Journal-Herald as a weekly publication.
On October 23, however, Roger Williams Jr. was found dead in his office of an apparent suicide. He was 71 years old.
Jessica Huang (as portrayed by Constance Wu) intently reads her crime novel “A Case of a Knife to the Brain,” one of the few copies that made it into circulation. Well played, Jessica.
Bill Macy earned a living as a Brooklyn cab driver for over a decade until he landed a spot on Broadway. Well… sort of. He was cast as Walter Matthau’s understudy in the 1958 production of Once More, With Feeling. In the 60s, he landed a small role of a cab driver in the soap opera The Edge of Night.
He joined the controversial off-Broadway musical Oh Calcutta! from 1969 until 1971, later performing in the 1972 filmed version of the risque production.
Noted television producer Norman Lear spotted Bill on Broadway and brought him to Hollywood. He cast Bill in a small role as a uniformed police officer in an episode of All in the Family. Lear was so pleased with the performance that he offered Bill the supporting part of “Walter Findlay,” the long-suffering husband of the outspoken “Maude” on the popular sitcom starring Bea Arthur. Bill stayed with the series for its entire six-season run. Afterwards, he appeared in guest roles on episodic television, both comedy and drama. He appeared in a memorable story arc of Seinfeld as a resident of Del Boca Vista, regularly butting heads with Barney Martin and Liz Sheridan as Jerry’s parents.
Bill also costarred in a number of successful films including Mel Brooks’s original The Producers in 1967, Serial, The Jerk with Steve Martin, My Favorite Year and Analyze This. His last film was Mr. Woodcock in 2007.
Bill passed away in October 2019 at the age of 97.
Inktober 2019 comes to an end and the final week’s illustration is Curt Siodmak. He was a novelist and screenwriter, best known for writing the screenplay for the 1941 Universal Studios horror classic The Wolf Man. Curt’s work created a lot of the legends associated with werewolf ethos, including the sign of the pentagram and the use of a silver bullet to dispose of the monster, as well as the verse that has been used in many werewolf films:
Even a man who is pure in heart,
And says his prayers by night
May become a Wolf when the Wolfbane blooms
And the autumn Moon is bright
These important parts of werewolf lore were purely products of Curt Siodmak’s imagination, despite being revered as centuries-old. Siodmak also wrote the novel on which Donovan’s Brain was based, as well as a number of screenplays in — and out — of the horror genre.