DCS: maila nurmi

With a sketchy background story involving a family lineage link to Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi, Maila Nurmi moved from her native Massachusetts to New York to pursue an acting career. While seeking her “big break,” the striking and statuesque Maila posed for pin-up photos as well as for artists like Antonio Vargas and the notorious Man Ray. She landed a small role in a Broadway show alongside Mae West. West, however, fired Maila from the production as she felt she was being upstaged. Unfettered, Maila decided to head to Los Angeles.

While she sought out more acting roles, Maila worked a variety of jobs, including hat-check girl at a Sunset Strip club. She also found work in the chorus at the famed Earl Carroll Theatre, as well as a showgirl in a revue featuring stripper Lily St. Cyr. She also gave birth to a child from a secret affair with actor/director/producer Orson Welles, who was married to actress Rita Hayworth at the time. The child was put up for adoption.

Inspired by the lead character in cartoonist Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons, Maila conceived a character she dubbed “Vampira,” donning a long black wig over her pixie-cut blond hair and sporting a slinky black dress. She made appearances at local movie theater’s live “spook shows,” posing in a coffin and mingling with patrons for pictures. Entrepreneurial television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. was taken by Maila’s character and cast her to host late-night showings of old horror movies on KABC-TV. The Vampira Show premiered on May 1, 1954. It was an instant hit. The broadcast was so popular, Maila was asked to appear on variety shows, including Ed Sullivan and Red Skelton, on which she performed a skit with Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.

After a year, KABC-TV canceled Maila’s show, although she retained the rights to the character and the name. She took her act to KHJ-TV, a competing LA station. Around this time, she famously appeared ― in character ― in Ed Wood’s infamous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. The character was so renowned, it was acknowledged as the inspiration for “Maleficent” in the 1959 Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty.

But, by the early 1960s, Maila found a new career ―installing linoleum flooring, as well as carpentry and manufacturing drapes. She also owned and operated and antique store and numbered members of Jefferson Airplane among her loyal customers.

In 1981, KHJ-TV contacted Maila with an idea of reviving the “Vampira” character. After much debate, Maila left the project over creative differences. She insisted on having actress/dancer Lola Falana play the role of Vampira. KHJ executives wanted local comedian Cassandra Peterson for the part. Peterson was hired without Maila’s consent. The character’s name was changed to “Elvira” to avoid a lawsuit. Maila sued anyway, but lost.

Not content to stay inactive, Maila tried her hand at music, entering the burgeoning punk rock scene with the band Satan’s Cheerleaders. Later, in the early 2000s, Maila ran a website out of her small Hollywood apartment, selling Vampira memorabilia and original pieces of art. She passed away in 2008 at the age of 85. Her grave marker at Hollywood Forever Cemetery bears a likeliness of her beloved Vampira.

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DCS: everett sloane

Everett Sloane was bitten by the acting bug in elementary school. But it wasn’t until a salary cut as a runner on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange prompted Everett to pursue acting as a career. His initial role as sidekick to title character Bulldog Drummond led to thousands of roles in radio. He latched onto a roles with the repertoire company The March of Time, acting alongside such future stars as Art Carney, Richard Widmark, Agnes Moorehead, Jeanette Nolan and Orson Welles. Welles had bigger visons and Everett followed him, joining up with the Mercury Theatre Players. He was cast in Welles’s epic Citizen Kane, as well as the impresario’s subsequent projects Journey into Fear, The Lady from Shanghai and Prince of Foxes.

Everett branched out to Broadway, as well. He appeared in numerous roles from the 30s until the 60s. He even composed songs for his final stage role in the musical revue From A to Z. Everett made the easy transition to television with guest appearances in dozens of series including a memorable turn in a first season episode of Twilight Zone playing a man tormented by his gambling addiction. Everett played “Andres Felipe Basilio” in a multi-episode story arc on the popular Zorro series. He was cast in Westerns and anthologies and even comedies like his cantankerous “Jubal Foster” in a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Everett even wrote lyrics to the iconic whistled theme song for The Andy Griffith Show, although they were never used.

In films in the 50s and 60s, Everett played a variety of supporting roles including the remake of To Have and Have Not (entitled The Gun Runners) and several Jerry Lewis comedies. Harkening back to his radio days, Everett lent his voice to animated characters including Dick Tracy and assorted characters on Jonny Quest.

In 1965, after a diagnosis of glaucoma and fearing blindness, Everett committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates. He was 55 years old.

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DCS: tanya roberts

Tanya Roberts enjoyed a pretty successful career. Sure, she wasn’t a huge star and not even a household name, but she was more successful than a bunch of other starry-eyed hopeful actresses that you never heard of. Tanya began as a model, appearing as a pretty accompaniment to the products in commercials for toothpaste and headache relief medication. She was in a succession of schlocky horror films in typical femme fatale roles. She made a bunch of TV pilots that were never picked up. In the summer of 1980, Tanya beat out over 2000 anxious applicants for a role in the final season of the declining Charlie’s Angels. She would be replacing the departing Shelley Hack. Tanya debuted on the once-popular, now struggling detective series in November. The show was cancelled the following July. Soon after, Tanya was cast in a pair of fantasy films, the cult favorite The Beastmaster and the comic-based Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. The latter prompted an award for “The Worst Actress” by the satirical Golden Raspberry Award Foundation. In 1985, she was chosen for the role of geologist “Stacey Sutton” in the James Bond film, A View to a Kill. Tanya was the second choice for the part, after Priscilla Presley turned it down. After a glut of forgettable B-grade movies, Tanya landed a recurring part on the sitcom That 70s Show. She stayed with the show for several seasons, eventually leaving to care for her ailing husband.

On Christmas Eve 2020, Tanya experienced intestinal pain and had difficulty breathing. She had collapsed a few days earlier while walking her dog. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on a ventilator. On January 3, 2021, news outlets reported that Tanya had passed away. However, it was later clarified by her current partner, Lance O’Brien, that he had visited her and “said goodbye.” This was interpreted incorrectly, with the assumption that “goodbye” meant “final goodbye.” All news reports were quickly rescinded. Tanya was suffering from a blood infection aggravated by her previous history of Hepatitis C. She was taken off of life-support and passed away on January 4 at the age of 65 — this time for real.

Despite her modest successes as an actress, Tanya Roberts will most likely be remembered as the actress who died twice.

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DCS: ruggero deodato

In the summer of 1979, director Ruggero Deodato took a small crew and a group of Italian and American actors to an Amazon rainforest near Leticia, Colombia. Principal production began for what would become one of the most controversial films in movie history, the notorious Cannibal Holocaust. Ruggero was no stranger to over-the-top gore. His previous films Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man and Jungle Holocaust continued the tradition of “blood and guts” pioneered by his contemporary, director and fellow countryman Umberto Lenzi. Playing on a similar theme as Jungle Holocaust, Ruggero shot Cannibal Holocaust in a documentary style with unfamiliar actors to add to the desired realism.

Filming was brutal for all involved. Besides dealing with the harsh temperatures and primitive surroundings, the crew was subjected to grueling setups of special effects required by Ruggero. Several extras were terrified when they were trapped in a burning hut while filming continued for the sake of an authentic look. Others were sickened by the actual killing of animals on the set, including a pig, a monkey and a turtle. Production came to a halt when one actor left. The female lead fought with Ruggero over a nude scene, finally relenting when the director screamed at her. Tempers were high and arguments were common, with actors later describing Ruggero as “soulless” and a “sadist.” When the film finally wrapped, actors were required to sign contracts prohibiting them from working or appearing in the media for one year after Cannibal Holocaust‘s release. This would add further to the film’s realistic presentation.

Ten days after Cannibal Holocaust‘s premier in Milan, the film was banned and confiscated by Italian authorities. Ruggero was arrested on obscenity charges. Based on scenes in the film, murder charges were added to the list of offenses. It was believed that the principal cast was actually murdered and that Cannibal Holocaust was, indeed a “snuff” film.

During court proceedings, Ruggero  explained how the special effects were created. Authorities questions the film’s most notorious scene, in which a nude woman is impaled on a large wooden spike, the sharpened end protruding from her open mouth. Ruggero chuckled as he explained that the woman sat on a bicycle seat mounted on a painted iron pole. Then she put a piece of balsa wood in her mouth and looked up. The court was unconvinced until the four main actors showed up and a film of the supposedly-impaled woman being interview for an Italian magazine surfaced. Ruggero was freed and all charges were dismissed.

Ruggero Deodato created the “found footage” horror concept, years before The Blair Witch Project and its numerous copycats. He passed away in December 2022 at the age of 83. He had the last laugh.

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DCS: diane mcbain

As a pre-teen, pretty Diane McBain started her career modeling for print as well as in television commercials. She was signed to Warner Brothers Studios as a contract player and made her acting debut in 1955 at the age of 17 in an episode of the TV Western Maverick opposite James Garner. She went on to appear min an episode of 77 Sunset Strip under the direction of veteran actor Paul Henreid.

Diane was busy throughout the 1960s. Very, very busy. She took guest roles on a number of popular television series including Sugarfoot, Batman and Bourbon Street Beat. She landed a regular role, in the series Surfside 6, alongside Troy Donahue and future Green Hornet star Van Williams. She found time to make a few films, as well including a plum spot opposite Elvis Presley in Spinout. When she turned down a small role in Warner Brothers’ Sex and the Single Girl, her contract was not renewed.

Getting dumped by Warners’ didn’t slow Diane down. She guest starred on numerous TV shows like The Wild Wild West, Burke’s Law and The Man from UNCLE. In the summer of 1965, Diane’s parents reported her missing after having no contact for several days. She had checked into a San Diego hotel under a fake name for a “change of scenery.” Diane was depressed over the types of roles she was getting. She later admitted that she “just wanted to be Miss Nobody from Nowhere.” She bounced back to appear in the teen racer film Thunder Alley and the outlaw biker film The Mini Skirt Mob. Both pictures were box-office successes.

In the 70s, work slowed down briefly for Diane. But soon she found herself appearing in TV dramas. comedies and anthologies. In 1974, she took a role in a low-budget horror film called The Deathhead Virgin, which she later called “the stupidest screenplay I ever had to work with.”

In 1982, 41-year old Diane was robbed, beaten and raped in the parking garage of her Hollywood apartment. The culprits were never caught. Undaunted, Diane embarked on a new career as a rape counselor. She continued to act, but the experience left her shaken with long-term memory loss.

In 1998, Diane was cast in a movie called Cab to Canada, of which she said “was enough to make me never want to act again” She took just a handful of roles after that disaster and she brought her career to an end. In failing health, she relocated to the Motion Picture Country Home. Diane passed away from cancer in December 2022. She was 81.

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DCS: bobby rydell

For five years now, I have been participating in the year-end Faces of Death Drawing Project. This online gathering of artists from all over the world honors those of notoriety who have passed on during the previous year. So, this is right up my alley!

My first year, I drew actor-dancer Ken Berry. The next year, I drew voice artist/jazz poet Ken Nordine. The following year, I did my best to quickly submit my choice of actor Ken Osmond in an effort to keep this little trend going. But, alas, someone else grabbed him, so I drew former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green. Last year, I got back on track and drew producer and “We Are the World” founder Ken Kragen.

This year, I totally abandoned the whole “Ken” thing and tried to secure artist Claes Oldenburg… only to get locked out by another artist. While perusing the list of other choices, I scanned my own compiled list of celebrities who died in 2022 (everyone keeps one of those, right?)  and noticed that singer Bobby Rydell was not included in the Faces of Death list. In their defense, they do state that their list is in no way comprehensive. So, I emailed the admin and was happily assigned Bobby Rydell as my 2022 subject.

I’m not sure when my drawing of Bobby Rydell will be posted on the FOD Instagram account, but here it is on my blog….

Although he never achieved the national success he so much deserved, Bobby Rydell was beloved in his hometown of Philadelphia. He had a number of hits as a teen idol in the late 50s and early 60s and even appeared opposite Ann-Margret in the big screen adaptation of “Bye-Bye Birdie.” But his fame was soon overshadowed by the burgeoning British Invasion. Bobby may have even contributed to his own decline in popularity when he inspired Paul McCartney and John Lennon to write and record “She Loves You,” a song loosely based on Bobby’s “Swingin’ School.” Nevertheless, Bobby continued to entertain and delight his legions of devoted fans, forever the smiling teenager with the pompadour, even into his 70s.

RIP Robert Ridarelli.

One of these days, I may still draw Claes Oldenburg.

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