February 6th 2008
James Allen Whitmore, Jr. was born on October 1, 1921 in White Plains, New York, the son of Florence Belle (née Crane) and James Allen Whitmore, Sr., who was a park commission official. He graduated from Amherst Central High School in Snyder, New York, and subsequently Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones, and served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.
Following World War II, Whitmore appeared on Broadway in the role of the Sergeant in Command Decision. MGM hired Whitmore on contract, but his role in the film adaptation was played by Van Johnson. Whitmore’s first major picture was Battleground, in a role that was turned down by Spencer Tracy, and for which Whitmore was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Other major films included The Asphalt Jungle, The Next Voice You Hear, Above and Beyond, Kiss Me, Kate, Them!, Oklahoma!, Black Like Me, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Give ’em Hell, Harry!, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of former U.S. President Harry S Truman. In the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! he played the part of Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey.
In the 1960-1961 television season, Whitmore starred in his own crime drama on ABC entitled The Law and Mr. Jones, in the title role, with Conlan Carter as legal assistant C.E. Carruthers and Janet De Gore as his secretary. The program ran at the 10:30 Eastern half-hour slot on Friday. It was cancelled after one year but returned in April 1962 for thirteen additional episodes on Thursday to fill the half-hour vacated by the cancellation of the ABC sitcom Margie.
In 1963, Whitmore played Captain William Benteen in The Twilight Zone episode “On Thursday We Leave for Home“. In 1967 he guest starred as a security guard in The Invaders episode, Quantity: Unknown. That same year, he appeared on an episode of ABC’s Custer starring Wayne Maunder in the title role. In 1969, Whitmore played the leading character of Professor Woodruff in the TV series My Friend Tony, produced by NBC. Whitmore also made several memorable appearances on the classic ABC western “The Big Valley” starring Barbara Stanwyck during the second half of the 1960s. Generally portraying a villain (corrupt sheriff or politician), his role was often that of a layered, complicated, and tormented character noted for intensity. Whitmore’s natural ability to utilize the period slang terms and late 19th century language of the Old West gave a credibility to the performance seldom matched by other actors. His characters dominated the scenes and episodes in which he appeared.
Whitmore also appeared as General Oliver O. Howard in the 1975 TV movie I Will Fight No More Forever, based on the 1877 conflict between the United States Army and the Nez Percé tribe, led by Chief Joseph. In 1986, Whitmore voiced Mark Twain in the first claymation film “The Adventures of Mark Twain“. Whitmore’s last major role was that of librarian Brooks Hatlen in the critically-acclaimed and Academy award-nominated 1994 Tim Robbins film The Shawshank Redemption.In 2002 Whitmore played a supporting role in “The Majestic”, a film that starred Jim Carey. To a younger generation, he was probably best known, in addition to his role in Shawshank, as the commercial spokesman for Miracle-Gro plant food for many years.
In addition to his film career, Whitmore did extensive theatre work. He won a Tony Award for “Best Performance by a Newcomer” in the Broadway production of Command Decision (1948). He later won the title “King of the One Man Show” after appearing in the solo vehicles Will Rogers’ USA (1970), Give ’em Hell, Harry! (1975) (repeating the role in the film version, for which he was nominated for an Oscar) and as Theodore Roosevelt in Bully (1977) although the latter production did not repeat the success of the first two.
In 1999, he played Raymond Oz in two episodes of The Practice, earning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. In 2002, Whitmore got the role of the Grandfather in the Disney Channel original movie A Ring of Endless Light. Whitmore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6611 Hollywood Blvd. In April 2007, he also appeared in C.S.I. in an episode titled “Ending Happy” as Milton, an elderly man who provides a clue of dubious utility.
Whitmore was twice married to Nancy Mygatt. They first married in 1947 and the couple had three sons before their divorce in 1971. One of those sons, James III, has gone on to find success as a television actor and director, under the name James Whitmore, Jr.
Following the divorce from Mygatt, Whitmore was married to actress Audra Lindley from 1972 until 1979. He later remarried Mygatt, but they divorced again after two years. In 2001, he married actress and author Noreen Nash, who is the grandmother of film actor Sebastian Siegel. Whitmore is also the grandfather of Survivor: Gabon contestant Matty Whitmore.
In his later years, Whitmore spent most of his summers in Peterborough, New Hampshire, performing with the Peterborough Players.
Although not always politically active, in 2007, Whitmore generated some publicity with his endorsement of Barack Obama for U.S. President. In January 2008, Whitmore appeared in television commercials for the First Freedom First campaign, which advocates preserving “the separation of church and state” and protecting religious liberty.
He smoked a pipe.
February 4th 2009
Cramps Singer Lux Interior Dead At 62
Singer died early Wednesday of an existing heart condition.
Lux Interior, lead singer of influential garage-punk act the Cramps, died Wednesday morning (February 4) due to an existing heart condition, according to a statement from the band’s publicist. He was 62.
Born Erick Lee Purkhiser, Interior started the Cramps in 1972 with guitarist Poison Ivy (born Kristy Wallace, later his wife) — whom, as legend has it, he picked up as a hitchhiker in California. By 1975, they had moved to New York, where they became an integral part of the burgeoning punk scene surrounding CBGBs.
Their music differed from most of the scene’s other acts in that it was heavily steeped in camp, with Interior’s lyrics frequently drawing from schlocky B-movies, sexual kink and deceptively clever puns. (J.H. Sasfy’s liner notes to their debut EP memorably noted: “The Cramps don’t pummel and you won’t pogo. They ooze; you’ll throb.”) Sonically, the band drew from blues and rockabilly, and a key element of their sound was the trashy, dueling guitars of Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory (and later Kid Congo Powers), played with maximal scuzz and minimal drumming.
Because of that — not to mention Interior’s deranged, Iggy Pop-inspired onstage antics and deep, sexualized singing voice (which one reviewer described as “the psychosexual werewolf/ Elvis hybrid from hell”) — the Cramps are often cited as pioneers of “psychobilly” and “horror rock,” and can count bands like the Black Lips, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Reverend Horton Heat, the Horrors and even the White Stripes as their musical progeny.
Over the course of more than 30 years, the Interior and Ivy surrounded themselves with an ever-changing lineup of drummers, guitarists and bassists, and released 13 studio albums (the last being 2003’s Fiends of Dope Island). They also famously performed a concert for patients at the Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978 (which was recorded on grainy VHS and has since become a cult classic) and appeared on a Halloween episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Their video for the song “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns” also drew rave reviews from Beavis and Butt-head on a memorable episode of the show.
Despite the band’s long history, fans generally agree that the group’s peak was in the early ’80s, with the albums Songs the Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle. Many clips of the Cramps’ chaotic live shows from the era can be found online; look for their version of “Tear It Up” from the 1980 film “URGH! A Music War.” One memorable (and typical) show in Boston in 1986 found Interior, clad only in leopard-skin briefs, drinking red wine from an audience member’s shoe, and ended with him French-kissing a woman (who wasn’t his wife) for 10 full minutes with his microphone in their mouths.
Due to their imagery, obsession with kitsch and dogged dedication to touring — they wrapped up their latest jaunt across Europe and the U.S. this past November — the Cramps commanded a loyal fanbase, and even earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the form of a shattered bass drum that Interior had shoved his head through.
“The world has lost one of the greatest artists of all time,” George A. Weymouth, a friend of Wyeth’s who is chairman of the board of the Brandywine Conservancy, said in a statement.
A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006 drew more than 175,000 visitors in 15 1/2 weeks, the highest-ever attendance at the museum for a living artist. The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, a converted 19th-century grist mill, includes hundreds of works by three generations of Wyeths.
It was in Maine that Wyeth found the subject for “Christina’s World,” his best-known painting. And it was in Pennsylvania that he met Helga Testorf, a neighbor in his native Chadds Ford who became the subject of the intimate portraits that brought him millions of dollars and a wave of public attention in 1986.
The “Helga” paintings, many of them full-figure nudes, came with a whiff of scandal: Wyeth said he had not even told his wife, Betsy, about the more than 200 paintings and sketches until he had completed them in 1985.
Wyeth’s world was as limited in scale, and as rich in associations, as “Christina’s World,” which shows a disabled woman looking up a grassy rise toward her farm home, her face tantalizingly unseen.
“Really, I think one’s art goes only as far and as deep as your love goes,” Wyeth said in a Life magazine interview in 1965.
“I don’t paint these hills around Chadds Ford because they’re better than the hills somewhere else. It’s that I was born here, lived here — things have a meaning for me.”
Paradoxically, he said, he loved Maine “in spite of its scenery. There’s a lot of cornball in that state you have to go through — boats at docks, old fishermen, and shacks with swayback roofs. I hate all that.”
Wyeth was a secretive man who spent hours tramping the countryside alone. He painted many portraits, working several times with favorite subjects, but said he disliked having someone else watching him paint.
Much of Wyeth’s work had a melancholy feel — aging people and brown, dead plants — but he chose to describe his work as “thoughtful.”
“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future — the timelessness of the rocks and the hills — all the people who have existed there,” he once said. “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.
“I think anything like that — which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone — people always feel is sad. Is it because we’ve lost the art of being alone?”
Wyeth remained active in recent years and President George W. Bush presented him with a National Medal of the Arts in 2007.
Wyeth remained active in his 90s, but his granddaughter, Victoria Wyeth, told The Associated Press in 2008 that he no longer gave interviews. “He says, ‘Vic, everything I have to say is on the walls,”‘ she said.
Wyeth was born July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, the youngest of N.C. Wyeth’s five children. One of his sisters, Henriette, who died in 1997, also became an artist of some note, and one of his two sons, Jamie, became a noted painter in his own right. His other son, Nicholas, became an art dealer.
N.C. Wyeth, the only art teacher Wyeth ever had, didn’t always agree with his son’s taste.
In a 1986 interview with the AP, Wyeth recalled one of the last paintings he showed to his father, who died in 1945. It was a picture of a young friend walking across a barren field.
“He said, `Andy, that has a nice feel, of a crisp fall morning in New England.’ He said, `You’ve got to do something to make this thing appeal. If you put a dog in it, or maybe have a gun in his hand,”‘ Wyeth recalled.
“Invariably my father talked about my lack of color.”
The low-key colors of Wyeth’s work stem partly from his frequent use of tempera, a technique he began using in 1942. Unlike the oil paint used by most artists today, tempera produces a matte effect.
Wyeth had his first success at age 20, with an exhibition of Maine landscapes at a gallery in New York. Two years later he met his future wife, Betsy James.
Betsy Wyeth was a strong influence on her husband’s career, serving as his business agent, keeping the world at bay and guiding his career choices.
It was Betsy who introduced Wyeth to Christina Olson. Wyeth befriended the disabled elderly woman and her brother, and practically moved in with them for a series of studies of the house, its environs and its occupants.
The acme of that series was “Christina’s World,” painted in 1948. It was Olson’s house, but the figure was Betsy Wyeth.
Another well-known Wyeth series was made at the home of Karl Kuerner, whose Pennsylvania farm bordered the spot where Wyeth’s father was killed in a car-train accident.
Before his father died, Wyeth once said, “I was just a clever watercolorist — lots of swish and swash. … (Afterward), for the first time in my life I was painting with a real reason to do it.” The Kuerner paintings often have an undertone of menace, a heavy ceiling hook or the jagged edge of a log outside a sun-warmed room.
It was at Kuerner’s farm that Wyeth met Testorf, a German emigre who cleaned and cooked for Kuerner.
“I could not get out of my mind the image of this Prussian face with its broad jaw, wide-set eyes, blond hair,” Wyeth said.
Wyeth painted Testorf from 1970 to 1985, but said didn’t show his wife any of the pictures until 1981. In 1985, he revealed the full series to her, and declared he wanted them sold. The buyer, Leonard Andrews, reportedly paid $6 million to $10 million for them.
The Helga paintings created a sensation when their existence was revealed in 1986, in part because many were nudes and because of Betsy Wyeth’s provocative answer when asked what the works were about. “Love,” she said.
“He’s a very secret person. He doesn’t pry in my life and I don’t pry in his. And it’s worth it,” she said.
After 1985, Wyeth painted Testorf at least three more times.
The exhibition of the Helga paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington drew tens of thousands, but it renewed the dispute between Wyeth’s admirers and his equally passionate detractors.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York pointedly refused to accept the exhibition. And it turned out that the original stories about the collection overstated things, since some of the Helga paintings had been exhibited earlier and Betsy Wyeth had been aware of some of them.
Andrews sold the Helga collection in 1990 to a Japanese industrialist for some “40 to 50 million dollars,” dealer Warren Adelson said in 2006, when he was handling the private sale of some 200 of the works. Adelson didn’t identify the industrialist.
“When people want to bring sex into these images, OK, let ’em,” Wyeth was quoted in the catalog to an exhibition Adelson organized. “The heart of the Helga series is that I was trying to unlock my emotions in capturing her essence, in getting her humanity down.”
Some critics dismissed Wyeth’s art as that of a mere “regionalist.” Art critic Hilton Kramer was even more direct, once saying, “In my opinion, he can’t paint.”
The late J. Carter Brown, who was for many years director of the National Gallery, called such talk “a knee-jerk reaction among intellectuals in this country that if it’s popular, it can’t be good.”
“I think the man’s mastery of a variety of techniques is dazzling, and I think the content is in many cases moving,” Brown said.
Ricardo Montalban Dies at 88
LOS ANGELES – Ricardo Montalban, the Mexican-born actor who became a star in splashy MGM musicals and later as the wish-fulfilling Mr. Roarke in TV’s “Fantasy Island,” died Wednesday morning at his home, his family said. He was 88.
Montalban’s death was first announced at a city council meeting by president Eric Garcetti, who represents the district where the actor lived. He died “from complications of advancing age,” his son-in-law, Gilbert Smith, later said.
“He was so gracious, and Aaron was always humbled by Ricardo’s gratitude for ’Fantasy Island,” said Candy Spelling, wife of the late Aaron Spelling, who created the show. “I miss him already, and wish his family well.”
Montalban had been a star in Mexican movies when MGM brought him to Hollywood in 1946. He was cast in the leading role opposite Esther Williams in “Fiesta,” and starred again with the swimming beauty in “On an Island with You” and “Neptune’s Daughter.”
But Montalban was best known as the faintly mysterious, white-suited Mr. Roarke, who presided over a tropical island resort where visitors fulfilled their lifelong dreams — usually at the unexpected expense of a difficult life lesson. “I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island,” he told arriving guests.
Montalban had already coined a cultural catchphrase before the show, which ran from 1978 to 1984. As the celebrity spokesman for mid-1970s models of the Chrysler Cordoba, Montalban unwittingly opened himself up to endless imitation when he described the car’s optional seats as being “available in soft, Corinthian leather.”
More recently, he appeared as villains in two hits of the 1980s: “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” and — in line with his always-apparent sense of humor about himself — the farcical “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad.”
‘He was just a marvelous human being’
Montalban’s longtime friend and publicist David Brokaw said the actor was “exactly how you’d imagine him to be” off camera. “What you saw on the screen and on television and on talk shows, this very courtly, modest, dignified individual, that’s exactly who he was,” Brokaw said.
Raul Yzaguirre, longtime president of National Council of La Raza, called Montalban “a hero” and noted the actor’s contributions to his community. Montalban helped found the ALMA Awards, which honor and encourage fair portrayals of Latinos in entertainment.
“He was just a marvelous human being and an inspiration to be around,” Yzaguirre said. “I hope his spirit pervades more of Hollywood — the spirit of humility and excellence and giving back to the community and just plain decency.”
Between movie and TV roles, Montalban was active in the theater. He starred on Broadway in the 1957 musical “Jamaica” opposite Lena Horne, picking up a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical.
Montalban also toured in Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell,” playing Don Juan, a performance critic John Simon later recalled as “irresistible.” In 1965 he appeared on tour in the Yul Brynner role in “The King and I.”
“Fantasy Island” received high ratings for most of its run on ABC, and still appears in reruns. Mr. Roarke and his sidekick, Tattoo, played by the 3-foot, 11-inch Herve Villechaize, reached the state of TV icons. Villechaize died in 1993.
January 14th 2009
December 29th 2008
Sultry ‘Santa Baby’ singer Eartha Kitt dies at 81
By Polly Anderson
NEW YORK — Eartha Kitt, the self-proclaimed “sex kitten” whose sultry voice and catlike purr attracted fans even as she neared 80, has died. The singer, dancer and actress was 81.
Family spokesman Andrew Freedman said Kitt, who was recently treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, died Thursday in Connecticut of colon cancer.
Dubbed the “most exciting woman in the world” by Orson Welles, Kitt’s career spanned six decades, from her start as a dancer with the famed Katherine Dunham troupe to cabarets and acting and singing on stage, in movies and on television.
She won two Emmys, and was also nominated for several Tonys and two Grammys.
Kitt was featured on the cover of her 2001 book, “Rejuvenate,” a guide to staying physically fit, in a long, curve-hugging black dress with a figure that some 20-year-old women would envy. She also wrote three autobiographies.
She persevered through an unhappy childhood as a mixed-race daughter of the South, and made headlines in the 1960s for denouncing the Vietnam War during a visit to the White House.
Her first album, “RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt,” was released in 1954. It featured songs such as “I Want to Be Evil,” “C’est Si Bon” and the saucy gold digger’s theme song, “Santa Baby,” which is revived on radio each Christmas.
The following year, the record company released “That Bad Eartha,” which featured “Let’s Do It,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”
After becoming a hit singing “Monotonous” in the Broadway revue “New Faces of 1952,” Kitt appeared in “Mrs. Patterson” in 1954-55. (Some references say she earned a Tony nomination for “Mrs. Patterson,” but only winners were publicly announced at that time.) She also made appearances in “Shinbone Alley” and “The Owl and the Pussycat.”
She was the sexy Catwoman on the popular “Batman” TV series in 1967-68, replacing Julie Newmar, who originated the role. A guest appearance on an episode of “I Spy” brought Kitt an Emmy nomination in 1966.
In 1996, Kitt was nominated for a Grammy in the category of traditional pop vocal performance for her album “Back in Business.” She also had been nominated in the children’s recording category for the 1969 record, “Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa.”
Kitt also acted in movies, playing the lead female role opposite Nat King Cole in “St. Louis Blues” in 1958. She more recently appeared in “Boomerang” and “Harriet the Spy” in the 1990s.
“Generally the whole entertainment business now is bland,” she said in a 1996 Associated Press interview. “It depends so much on gadgetry and flash now. You don’t have to have talent to be in the business today.
“I think we had to have something to offer, if you wanted to be recognized as worth paying for.”
Kitt was plainspoken about causes she believed in. Her anti-war comments at the White House came as she attended a White House luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson.
“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed,” she told the group of about 50 women. “They rebel in the street. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”
Overseas work, CIA investigation
For four years afterward, Kitt performed almost exclusively overseas. She was investigated by the FBI and CIA, which allegedly found her to be foul-mouthed and promiscuous.
“The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth — in a country that says you’re entitled to tell the truth — you get your face slapped and you get put out of work,” Kitt told Essence magazine two decades later.
In 1978, Kitt returned to Broadway in the musical “Timbuktu!” — which brought her a Tony nomination — and was invited back to the White House by President Jimmy Carter.
In 2000, Kitt earned another Tony nomination for “The Wild Party.” She played the fairy godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” in 2002.
As recently as October 2003, she was on Broadway after replacing Chita Rivera in a revival of “Nine.”
She also gained new fans as the voice of Yzma in the 2000 Disney animated feature “The Emperor’s New Groove,” and won two Emmys for her voice work in “The Emperor’s New School.”
Kitt was born in North, S.C., and her road to fame was the stuff of storybooks. In her autobiography, she wrote that her mother was black and Cherokee while her father was white, and she was left to live with relatives after her mother’s new husband objected to taking in a mixed-race girl.
An aunt eventually brought her to live in New York, where she attended the High School of Performing Arts, later dropping out to take various odd jobs.
By chance, she dropped by an audition for the dance group run by Dunham, a pioneering African-American dancer. In 1946, Kitt was one of the Sans-Souci Singers in Dunham’s Broadway production “Bal Negre.”
Kitt’s travels with the Dunham troupe landed her a gig in a Paris nightclub in the early 1950s. Kitt was spotted by Welles, who cast her in his Paris stage production of “Faust.” That led to a role in “New Faces of 1952,” which featured such other stars-to-be as Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde and, as a writer, Mel Brooks.
In 1960, she married Bill McDonald but divorced him after the birth of their daughter, Kitt.
While on stage, she was daringly sexy and always flirtatious. Offstage, however, Kitt described herself as shy and almost reclusive, remnants of feeling unwanted and unloved as a child. She referred to herself as “that little urchin cotton-picker from the South, Eartha Mae.” 😦