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Archive for September, 2010

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Michael Sarrazin

Michael Sarrazin
Michael Sarrazin


 

Michael Sarrazin, one of my favourite actors,  was an appealing Canadian actor who gave a number of quiet soulful performances in films in the late 60’s up to the mid 70’s when his career seemed to taper off.   He was terrific in the 1967 gentle comedy “There’s One Born Every Minute” with George C. Scott.   He shone in “They Shoot Horses Don’t They” with Jane Fonda and Susannah York and he appeared opposite Barbra Streisand in “For Pete’s Sake”.   Sadly Michael Sarrazin died in 2011.

Gary Brumburgh’s entry:

Owning a pair of the most incredibly soulful and searching eyes you’ll ever find, Michael Sarrazin’s poetic drifters crept into Hollywood unobtrusively on little cat’s feet, but it didn’t take long for him to make his mark. Quiet yet uninhibited, the lean, laconic, fleshy-lipped actor with the intriguingly faraway look and curiously sunken features enhanced a number of quality offbeat fare without ever creating too much of a fuss. While Hollywood couldn’t quite pigeonhole him, they also weren’t sure what to do with him. Out-and-out stardom would prove elusive.

He was born Jacques Michel Andre Sarrazin on May 22, 1940 in Quebec, Canada, and drifted through eight different schools before eventually dropping out. He worked at a Toronto theatre, on TV, and for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during his teen years. He also studied acting at the Actors Studio in New York. While playing parts for the National Film Board of Canada in a handful of their historical documentary shorts, he was noticed by Universal and signed in 1965. Following insignificant roles in such series as The Virginian (1962) and in the mini-movie The Doomsday Flight (1966), the actor made his film debut in the post-Civil War drama Gunfight in Abilene (1967) starring an equally offbeat Bobby Darin. One scene had him being flogged shirtless. It was Sarrazin’s second film, however, that created the initial stir playing grifter George C. Scott‘s young apprentice in The Flim-Flam Man (1967). Sarrazin’s hesitant con artist more than held its own against the freewheeling Scott while also engaging in romantic clinches with Lolita(1962) sexpot Sue Lyon.

A number of other Sarrazin characters found their way as a result. He played a guileless tenderfoot again, this time taken under the wing of cowboy Anthony Franciosa, in A Man Called Gannon (1968) which takes an unexpected twist at the end; he shared the screen with fellow up-and-comers Harrison Ford and Jan-Michael Vincent as a green Confederate soldier in Journey to Shiloh (1968); earned a Golden Globe “best promising newcomer” nomination portraying an aimless surfer in The Sweet Ride (1968) opposite the spectacularly beautiful Jacqueline Bisset (they lived together for several years); and supposedly turned down the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy (1969) in order to appear in the kinky love triangle In Search of Gregory (1970) as, yet again, another be charming young stranger, but that film was not successful.

This all culminated in the portrayal of his career as a wanderlust Depression-era floater plucked from the beach shore to participate in a grueling dance marathon. As Robert, the unassuming partner to feisty, cynical Jane Fonda‘s Gloria, in the bleak, fascinatingly depressing They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Sarrazin was both soft and spellbinding. His pairing with Fonda is an eerie and ultimately doomed one resulting in a shattering climax. Remote and wordless, Sarrazin’s strength lies in both his ease and passive defiance. His peaceful body language and the few calm utterances he allows himself seems to illicit a strange, neutralizing power. It’s not the kind of movie persona, however, that wins awards – as it did for his more flamboyant co-stars Ms. Fonda,Susannah York and Gig Young.

Another glum, ostracized outsider role came in the showier form of Paul Newman‘s hippie half brother in Sometimes a Great Notion (1970) and Sarrazin continued to show a flair for the unconventional with the non-mainstream Believe in Me (1971), as a medical student who shares a drug needle with (again) Ms. Bissett, and in The Pursuit of Happiness (1971) as a collegiate fighting the system. In Harry in Your Pocket (1973) Sarrazin again plays the naive square who falls in with a bad crowd (this time, pickpockets). He capped this radical run with a mesmerizing, intelligent and, of course, sympathetic portrayal of the monster in the mini-movie Frankenstein: The True Story(1973). As assurance of his offbeat popularity, he hosted Saturday Night Live (1975) twice.

A terrific performance as the haunted title role in the psychological thriller The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975) proved to be one of his last hurrahs. At this juncture his films (or his film roles) became underwhelming. He starred in the Italian film The Loves and Times of Scaramouche (1976), but the film was very poorly received. Utterly wasted even though second billed as Barbra Streisand‘s hubby in her slapstick vehicle For Pete’s Sake (1974), he also headed up a so-so car chase film in The Gumball Rally(1976). He co-starred in the big budget escapist adventure Caravans (1978), but the film was a financial disaster. The 80s signaled a significant down turn and strange pall in his films.

It started with his third-wheel participations in the excruciating bad and violent Morgan Fairchild/Andrew Stevens stalking thriller The Seduction (1982) and in the hard-edged vigilante film Fighting Back (1982) behind Tom Skerritt/Patti LuPone. When he did have a lead, the films themselves were flawed as in Keeping Track (1986) and the excessively sleazy Mascara (1987). Sarrazin has continued to work steadily, however, but the one great film that could put him into the top character ranks had yet to arrive. With age, the always-lean Sarrazin turned pale and haggard which lent itself toward rather eccentric casting.

Throughout the course of his career, Michael remained true to his homeland, appearing in many Canadian-based productions such as The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972), Double Negative (1981), Joshua Then and Now (1985), Captive Hearts (1987), The Phone Call(1989), La Florida (1993) and Crackerjack 2 (1997).

Sarrazin moved to Montreal many years back in order to be near family. He died there following a brief bout with cancer at age 70 on April 17, 2011, and was survived by daughters Michelle and Catherine, as well as producer/brother Pierre Sarrazin. While the fascination and appeal of Michael Sarrazin certainly cannot be denied, one wonders why Hollywood was not able to serve his talent better in later years.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Ronald Bergan’s obituary in “The Guardian”:

he Canadian-born actor Michael Sarrazin, who has died of cancer aged 70, was so visible in Hollywood movies from 1967 to 1977 that one may wonder what happened to his subsequent career. A facetious answer might be that he moved back to Canada and made Canadian movies. Another answer might be that his sensitive, gently rebellious, flower-child persona and his lanky, boyish looks, with his long hair and soulful eyes, were no longer appropriate to the roles he took as he got older.

However, during the decade of his stardom, Sarrazin seemed to fit the anti-hero ethos of the era, often playing rootless characters, typically in his most celebrated role as the ex-farmboy drifter in Sydney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969). Sarrazin, idealistically willing to let fate take a hand, is paired with an embittered Jane Fonda in a dance marathon that is supposed to be a microcosm of the Depression. It is Sarrazin who gets to speak the rhetorical question of the title after he helps Fonda commit suicide.

“You could have paid me a dollar a week to work on that film,” Sarrazin explained. “It hits you bolt upright. I still get really intense when I watch it. We stayed up around the clock for three or four days. Pollack said we should work until we showed signs of exhaustion.” Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise when Universal refused to lend Sarrazin out for the Jon Voight part in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy.

He was born Jacques Michel André Sarrazin in Quebec City, but was brought up in Montreal, where he went to eight different schools before dropping out. In fact, he was only interested in the few chances he got to act at school. While still in his teens, Sarrazin went to Toronto, where he soon got work as an actor. After starring opposite Geneviève Bujold in a TV production of Romeo and Juliet, and appearing in two shorts for the National Film Board of Canada, in one of which he played a troubled youth who steals a motorcycle, he was offered a contract by Universal Studios, making him one of the last actors to come up through the old studio system.

Sarrazin’s first film for the studio was Gunfight in Abilene (1967), a drama set at the end of the American civil war, in which the teen idol Bobby Darin was miscast as a sheriff. Sarrazin made an impression as a young cowhand who gets whipped (shirtless) by a villainous hired gun. This was followed in the same year by his first leading role, in the enjoyable comedy-drama The Flim-Flam Man as an army deserter, a corruptible innocent, taken on as a protege of a rural conman (George C Scott).

More contemporary was Sarrazin’s role in The Sweet Ride (1968) as a convincing beach bum in Malibu who tells his girlfriend Jacqueline Bisset that all he wants out of life is the surf and can only marry her when he has got the beatnik life out of his system. After making the sweet ride on his surf board, he walks away, leaving the board in the sand, having realised that there is more to life than escapism. Thus began his 14-year relationship with Bisset in real life. They were to appear together in two further films: Believe in Me (1971), in which they are stoned most of the time, and as husband and wife in John Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), with Paul Newman in the title role.

Newman had cast Sarrazin in Sometimes a Great Notion (first released in the UK as Never Give an Inch, 1970), the second of the five films he directed. Sarrazin has the most sympathetic role as the youngest of a family of lumberjacks who is the butt of his elders’ jokes on his hippy hairstyle and liberal views.

Among his other roles was in Robert Mulligan’s The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), as an anti-Vietnam war student who finds his hippy lifestyle put on trial rather than his accidental running over of an old lady in his car. In Harry in Your Pocket (1973), he portrayed an apprentice to master pickpocket James Coburn, and in Peter Yates’s romantic comedy For Pete’s Sake (1974) he was Barbra Streisand’s impecunious cab-driving husband. At the same time, he was appearing on television, notably as a relatively handsome and articulate “Creature” in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), co-adapted by Christopher Isherwood from Mary Shelley’s novel.

The majority of films Sarrazin made in the 1980s and 90s were Canadian productions, few of which rose above the mediocre. An exception was La Florida (1993), a French-Canadian film produced by his brother Pierre Sarrazin, in which he played a lounge singer called Romeo Laflamme. “I asked Michael to act in French, which was difficult for him as he’d been so long in LA,” said Pierre, “but it all came back to him. After all, we’d grown up in east-end Montreal.”

Sarrazin’s final, brief, appearance will be in Walter Salles’s upcoming screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. He is survived by his two daughters, and his brother and sister.

• Michael Sarrazin (Jacques Michel André Sarrazin), actor, born 22 May 1940; died 17 April 2011

For “The Guardian” Obituary on Michael Sarrazin, please click here.

TCM overview:

While his career seems to have not lived up to its early promise, this charismatic lead of the late 1960s and early 70s has made the transition to character player since the late 80s. Sarrazin began making appearance on his native Canadian television while still a teenager. He made an inauspicious American feature debut in “Gunfight in Abilene” but won acclaim in as George C Scott’s traveling companion in “The Flim-Flam Man” (both 1967). Sydney Pollack’s Depression-era drama “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969) afford the handsome actor one of his best-remembered screen roles. As a drifter who becomes Jane Fonda’s marathon dance partner with tragic results, Sarrazin was quite effective. He was even better in the underrated “Sometimes a Great Notion” (1971) as a petulant, self-indulgent youth who matures into a responsible logger. Among his other better-known roles are as The Creature in the NBC miniseries “Frankenstein: The True Story” (1973), as Barbra Streisand’s taxi driving husband in the pallid “For Pete’s Sake” (1973) and as a man possessed by a murder victim in “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud” (1975). As he has aged, Sarrazin has begun to move into character roles like his prisoner-of-war in Paul Almond’s “Captive Hearts” (1987) and his appearances on such TV shows as “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Outer Limits”.

 The TCM overview can also be accessed online here.
Article on Michael Sarrazin in “Tina Aumont’s Eyes” website:

Ambitious French-Canadian actor Michael Sarrazin always looked as though he had something on his mind. On film he brought his own genial persona to a handful of memorable movies. His characters were often dreamers, or drifters, people on the outskirts of society, not quite fitting in.

Born Jacques Michel André Sarrazin on May 22nd 1940, Michael began acting in his teens, and by his twenties was working in television productions before Universal Studios awarded him a contract. After a couple of minor roles, Michael came to the fore in 1967 with his second movie, the highly enjoyable ‘Flim-Flam Man’ (aka ‘One Born Every Minute’), as George C. Scott’s apprentice scammer, who falls for local farm girl, Sue Lyon. Next up was the forgettable beach movie ‘The Sweet Ride’ (’68), as a drifter falling in love with beautiful starlet Jacqueline Bisset, who in real life began a seven year relationship with the 28 year old Sarrazin.

After starring in the pretty good, twisty thriller ‘The Eye of the Cat’ (’69), Michael had what I think is his finest role, in Sydney Pollock’s brilliant depression-era drama ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’. His large sorrowful eyes and lean frame made Michael ideal for the part of Robert, the hungry hopeful drifter, roped into competing in a gruelling dance marathon. Partnered with Jane Fonda’s desperate Gloria, he finally commits what he sees as a final act of kindness to Fonda’s despondent dreamer.

After an excellent performance in Paul Newman’s family drama ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’ (’71), Michael appeared in the interesting 1972 sci-fi drama ‘The Groundstar Conspiracy’, before being partnered with James Coburn and Walter Pidgeon in the much under-rated caper ‘Harry in Your Pocket’ (’73), about a gang of professional pick-pockets. That same year Sarrazin gave a touching performance as the ‘Creature’ in the acclaimed TV production ‘Frankenstein: The True Story’. Next, he made a rare foray into comedy with Peter Yates’ funny screwball flick ’For Pete’s Sake’ with Barbra Streisand.

1975 had Michael co-starring with Margot Kidder and Jennifer O’Neill in the mediocre drama ‘The Reincarnation of Peter Proud’, before starring in one of the several, popular high-speed movies of the time; ‘Gumball Rally’ (’76), about a coast-to-coast road race. The movie would mark the end of his leading actor status and, like many others, he kept himself busy with mainly TV movies in his later years. The occasional movie did come his way, though most were poor. They included the trashy Morgan Fairchild stalk-fest ‘The Seduction’ (’82), and the seedy 1987 thriller ‘Mascara’, which had Sarrazin as a transvestite cop harboring feelings for his sister.

After a supporting part in Michael Caine’s two middling Harry Palmer comebacks, ‘Bullet to Beijing’ (’95), and ‘Midnight in Saint Petersburg’ (’96), Sarrazin did at least have a good recurring role in the popular Canadian TV series ‘Deep in the City’, which ran for two seasons from 1999-2000.

Unfortunately Michael never quite made the major league. He lost out on Jon Voight’s star-making role in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (’69) due to a contract committal, and it seems that, like his talented contemporary Michael Moriarty, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with him. A modest, private person, Michael Sarrazin sadly died of cancer on April 17th 2011, aged 70. He may not have gained the recognition he deserved but at least he left behind a handful of great performances.

Favourite Movie: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Favourite Performance: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

The above article can also be accessed online here.

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Jeff Richards

Jeff Richards
Jeff Richards

 

Jeff Richards was an American baseball player who became an actor.   he was born in 1924 in Portland, Oregon.   His best known role was in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in 1954.   His other films include “Many Rivers to Cross”, “Don’t Go Near the Water” and “Born Reckless”.   Jeff Richards died in 1989.   TCM Page on “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” can be viewed here.

“Wikipedia” entry:

He was born Richard Mansfield Taylor in Portland, Oregon. Taylor joined the United States Navy during World War II and served until 1946.

After the war was over, Richard Taylor played shortstop for the Portland Beavers for a year and then for the Salem Senators; however, his baseball career ended after he tore his ligament and was unable to play anymore.   He then went to Hollywood to pursue a film career. He got a screen test at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and the studio changed his name to Jeff Richards. The former baseball player started his acting career during the late 1940s with mostly bit parts, but in 1950 he played a strong role, displaying his baseball skills as Bob Langdon in Kill the Umpire and later as Dave Rothberg in Angels in the Outfield (1951).

He is best known for his role as Benjamin Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Following this performance, he tied with George Nader and Joe Adams for the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. Despite this, his acting career soon floundered.   Richards was one of the male supporting roles amid an all-star cast of actresses in The Opposite Sex (1956). His leading roles came in several low-budget films, including the western The Marauders, the rodeo drama Born Reckless, the mad-scientist story Island of Lost Women and the underwater adventure The Secret of the Purple Reef, each of which had little or no impact.

In 1958, on television, Richards played the title role in the NBC western television series Jefferson Drum, the story of a crusading journalist, with Eugene Martin portraying his young son. The series was cancelled after twenty-six episodes aired over two seasons.[1]  Richards guest-starred in numerous television series, including the role in 1961 of Jubal Evans in the episode “Incident of His Brother’s Keeper” of the CBS western Rawhide.   His last role was in 1966 as Kallen in the film Waco.

He was married to Vickie Taylor and they had one child before they divorced.   Jeff Richards died on July 28, 1989, aged 64 from unknown causes. He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

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John Derek

 

John Derek

 

 

John Derek was an American actor who began his career as a ‘pretty boy’ but quickly developed into a good solid actor with a legacy of fine performances.   He was born in 1926 in Hollywood.   He had his first major role in “Knock on Any Door” with Humphrey Bpgart in 1949.   The same year he played Broderick Crawford’s wayward son in “All the King’s Men”.   His other notable films include “The Hoodlum Saint”, “The Ten Commandments” and “Exodus”.   Married four times, three of his wives were famous actresses., Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek.   John Derek died in 1998.

Tom Vallance’s obituary on John Derek in “The Independent”:

WITH HIS dark, wavy hair and clean-cut handsomeness, John Derek became a favourite film star of teenagers in the early Fifties, but never fulfilled the promise as an actor that his early performances in such films as Knock on Any Door and All the King’s Men suggested. He eventually concentrated on photography and film production, and became best known as the husband and Svengali-like manager of Bo Derek.
26, he had a film-oriented background, his father being the silent film-maker Lawrence Harris and his mother a minor film actress, Dolores Johnson. The producer David Selznick put him under contract as a teenager, and gave him small roles (billed as Derek Harris) in the Selznick productions Since You Went Away (1944, as a boyfriend of Shirley Temple) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1945, as a sailor).

After war service, he was cast in the important role of a young man prompted by social conditions to turn to a life of violent crime in Nicholas Ray’s Knock on Any Door (1949). Produced by Humphrey Bogart’s Santana company, it starred Bogart as a lawyer who defends a boy on a murder charge, and though unsuccessful (Derek is sentenced to death), makes a strong plea for the erosion of the social injustices which cause such delinquency.

As a hardened youth, whose dictum is to “live fast, die young and make a good-looking corpse”, Derek made a favourable impression and was immediately cast in Robert Rossen’s All The King’s Men (1949) as the disillusioned adopted son of an initially honest politician corrupted by power. Derek’s sincere performance in the Oscar-winning film was critically praised, but Santana, having brought Dorothy Hughes’ book In A Lonely Place as a vehicle for Derek, instead converted the hero to an older man so that Bogart could do it.

Had Derek starred in this Nicholas Ray masterpiece his career might have progressed differently. Instead, capitalising on his popularity with the young, Columbia, who had acquired his contract, starred him in several popular but routine swashbucklers including Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950, as the son of Robin Hood), Mask of the Avenger (1950), Prince of Pirates (1952) and The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954).

David Miller’s Saturday’s Hero (1951) was a good expose of colleagues who promote sport over study, with Derek in fine form as a student who discovers his esteem vanishes when an injury curtails his prowess on the football field. Nicholas Ray used him again to star with James Cagney in the western Run For Cover (1955), but the director Fred Zinnemann refused to consider the studio’s request that he cast Derek in the prime role of Prewett in From Here To Eternity (1954), stating that either Montgomery Clift played it or he would not direct.

Cecil B. De Mille cast him in the important role of Joshua in The Ten Commandments (1956) when Cornel Wilde turned the part down, and he had a good role in Otto Preminger’s epic of the founding of Palestine, Exodus (1960), but most of his other roles were in minor films and, after spending a season in the television series Frontier Circus (1961), he decided to develop his increasing interest in still photography and film production.

The actress Ursula Andress had become his second wife (his first was the starlet Patti Behrs), and in 1964 he co-produced Nightmare in the Sun, an exploitation movie starring Andress and directed by the former actor Marc Lawrence who made the film in 15 days. “Derek promised to allow his wife Ursula to do a nude scene with Aldo Ray,” Lawrence later wrote, “but the day before shooting he changed his mind. Years later he did a nude layout of Ursula for Playboy and got $15,000 for his art.”

The following year Derek himself directed Andress in Once Before I Die, a war story about a bunch of soldiers (including Derek) and a lone woman trying to survive in the Philippines – slow-moving and self-consciously photographed, it was given a limited release.

Derek’s marriage to Andress ended when she embarked on an affair with the French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, and he next married the actress Linda Evans, who starred in another little-seen movie directed and photographed by Derek, Childish Things (1969).

In 1972, Derek fell in love with Mary Cathleen Collins, a 16-year-old Californian (younger than his son and daughter) who was acting in a film he was directing in Greece, Fantasies. To avoid legal complications, he took her to Germany and as soon as she turned 18 he divorced Evans to marry her, also taking charge of her career.

As Bo Derek, she became famous starring with Julie Andrews and Dudley Moore in Blake Edwards’s 10 (Bo epitomising in the film the ultimate score that a woman could achieve for desirability), starting a new fashion craze with her cornrow hairstyle. The guidance she accepted afterwards from her husband is generally considered to have harmed her career.

He directed and photographed her in Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981), one of the most ridiculed of films, and followed this with two which are often described as little more then soft-core home movies, Bolero (1984) and Ghosts Can’t Do It (1990). Their sex scenes frequently provoked fits of laughter from audiences.

The marriage survived the derision that greeted their films, despite some alleged discord between after Derek told chat-show hostess Barbara Walters on television, when quizzed about his glamorous wives, that he liked at a certain point to trade his companions for newer models. Very wealthy, the couple lived on a ranch and were considered reclusive. “I have very few friends,” said Derek some years ago, “and almost no acquaintances”.

Derek Harris (John Derek), actor and film director: born Hollywood, California 12 August 1926; married first Patti Behrs (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Ursula Andress (marriage dissolved), third Linda Evans (marriage dissolved), fourth Mary Cathleen Collins; died Santa Maria, California 22 May 1998.

“The Independent” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich was born in Berlin in 1901.   She began her career in German silent film and then won international acclaim as Lola-Lola in “The Blue Angel” with Emil Jannings.   The popularity of the film led to offers from Hollywood and Dietrich went to the U.S. in 1930.   She had a contract with Paramount Studios and her first Hollywood film was “Morocco” opposite Gary Cooper.   Her most famous movies include “Shangai Express” with Anna May Wong, “The Garden of Allah” with Charles Boyer and “Knights Without Armour” with Robert Donat.   In later life she had a very successful career as a concert performer.   She had a late career movie success with “Witness for the Prosecution” with Tyrone Power.   On retirement she went to live in Paris and became reclusive in her later years.   Marlene Dietrich died in 1992 at the age of 90.   Her website can be accessed here.

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Heather Sears

Heather Sears & Lee Pattetrson
Heather Sears & Lee Pattetrson
Heather Sears
Heather Sears

Heather Sears was avery pretty and talented actress who had a sudden burst in British films in the late 1950’s which was not sustained.   She made her film debut in a minor role with June Thorburn and John Fraser in 1955 in “Touch and Go”.   At the age of 21 she won the title role in “The Story of Esther Costello” with Joan Crawford and Rossano Brazzi.   Her most famous role was as Susan Brown opposite Laurence Harvey’s Joe Lampton in “Room At the Top”.   She also starred in “Sons and Lovers” from the novel by D.H. Lawerence.   Her film career had waned by the early 60’s and she concentrated on the stage with occasional roles on television.   Heather Sears died in 1994 at the early age of 58.

Her “Independent” obituary:

HEATHER SEARS was a beautiful, intelligent and gifted actress with taste. The four virtues rarely come together. And she might have been a star, filling theatres and cinemas with her beguiling presence, never mind the brains, the talent or the taste, if she had not also been such a human being. It made no sense to her to try to raise a family and pursue an acting career at the same time. So the acting became increasingly spasmodic as the family grew; and that was no doubt wise of her maternally. But artistically?

Would she have risen to the top of her profession had she given up everything for art’s sake? That is the only question that can interest any serious student of acting; and the answer is probably not because her talent seemed to place her at the top from the word go.

Some players are born great; others achieve greatness; and some have greatness thrust upon them. Sears struck most of us all of a heap from the start. She never seemed to have to strive. She had the looks, the charm, the personality, the warmth and, as we saw in the film Room at the Top (1958), the sense of irony to make a dullish, drippy, well-bred symbol of virginity as real and interesting as the much more sensually arresting role in the same film, played by the much more experienced Simone Signoret, as the rival object of Laurence Harvey’s social ambition and sexual fancy.

Would her acting have got much better had she practised it more assiduously? It wasn’t just in films that she first enchanted us. At the Royal Court in its heyday she was the third Alison in Look Back In Anger (to Richard Pasco’s wrathful Jimmy and Alan Bates’ Cliff). At the same theatre she made an admirable and typically warming Agnes in Giraudoux’s one-acter The Apollo de Bellac (again with Pasco and Bates), and in a Sunday night try-out, directed by John Dexter, of Michael Hastings’s Yes – And After, she also showed herself to be a player in whom a strong future could be foreseen.

She seemed to be well on the road towards it in Julien Green’s South (Lyric, Hammersmith), in which she nearly brought off the impossibly challenging part of a devoted girl who finally understood what had been happening to her beloved when he faced up to his homosexuality; and by then the world had seen her as Joan Crawford’s adopted deaf-mute daughter in The Story of Esther Costello (1957), and as Miriam Lievers in the film Sons and Lovers (1960).

So there was no doubt of it. Sears was a serious and compelling actress, but motherhood and family life intervened and in the next decade, though she worked in the film studios from time to time, she acted on the stage notably only twice. At Chichester she was the kitchenmaid in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, bringing up a child she had rescued from cruelty until its mother came to claim it; and in the West End she was the scattier of the two wives in Ayckbourn’s How The Other Half Loves (1970).

Not much of a record for an actress in her mid-thirties; but in the 1970s she more than made up for it when she felt free to return to the stage, even if the artistic atonement took place in that relatively unfashionable sector of the theatre – provincial rep.

You had to go to the Leicester Haymarket, one of the better-funded houses, to see her in Sophocles, Shakespeare, Farquhar, Goldsmith, Dostoevsky, Strindberg, Ibsen, Rattigan and Pinter. Just the kind of names you might expect to find in any serious-minded National Theatre’s repertoire – though she would have looked in vain for most of them on the South Bank – and just the place to prove herself the dedicated player we had suspected her to be 20 years earlier. Leicester was only an hour and a bit non-stop from St Pancras and her acting was always worth the journey, never more so than in 1979 in Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.

As the possessive, passionate wife of a man overwhelmed by guilt over the drowning of their crippled son, the actress conveyed with stillness and understatement all the pain and fear for the future of a marriage drained of warmth but sealed by cold duty. It was acting of a quality only Ibsen could provoke with his feeling for feminine character, and which only this actress in her renewed dedication to her art could, as a mother herself, deliver with such stirring, unaffected, emotional candour.

It made you feel she had indeed been born great.

Her “Independent” obituary can also be accessed here.

Article on Heather Sears from Tina Aumont’s website:

Petite and pretty with a mass of talent, the quiet and often beguiling Heather Sears had the power to shine on both stage and screen. And although she only appeared in 10 movies in her long (if sporadic) career, she managed to inject her characters with genuine warmth and emotion, leaving a haunting impression on many who saw her.

Sears was born on September 28th 1935, and, after attending drama school in London, won a contract with Romulus Films where she was mentored by director Jack Clayton. After minor bit parts in the 1955 Jack Hawkins comedy ‘Touch and Go’ and the Ronald Shiner cockney farce ‘Dry Rot’ (’56), Heather would land an early juicy role that would bring her to the attention of both the public and critics.

In 1957 Heather was hand-picked to play the title role in Jack Clayton’s production of ‘The Story of Esther Costello’, as a 15 year old girl rendered deaf, dumb and blind after a childhood accident (in a compelling opening scene). Joan Crawford was the caring socialite who takes Esther into her care and, although Sear’s performance was later overshadowed by Patti Duke’s faultless performance in ‘The Miracle Worker’, Heather was still excellent in a difficult role, and convincingly conveyed her character’s initial struggle to communicate. Though at times overly melodramatic, it was a very good movie and earned Sears a BAFTA for Best Actress, and much international praise. After filming, Heather married the movie’s art director Tony Masters, and they would remain together until his death in 1990.

It would be Sears’ next film role though, that she is probably best remembered for, as the loving and naïve Susan Brown, the spoilt daughter of Donald Wolfit’s imposing industrialist, in Jack Clayton’s blistering drama ‘Room at the Top’. Laurence Harvey starred as Joe Lampton, an ambitious young man with big dreams, whose affair with a married woman (played wonderfully by an Oscar-winning Simone Signoret) resulted in tragic consequences. A deserved classic of British cinema, it’s still a powerful and devastating movie, and one that ushered in a new wave of realism. Travelling to Australia, Heather made the very good crime picture ‘The Siege of Pinchgut’ (’59) playing a caretaker’s daughter who’s taken hostage by Aldo Ray’s escaped convict. Largely forgotten in the UK, it remains something of a classic in Australia. Another good role came the following year in Jack Cardiff’s sensitive drama ‘Sons and Lovers’ (’60), as the academic friend of Dean Stockwell’s artistic yet browbeaten teenager. She was abducted again, this time in Hammer’s 1962 remake of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, as the rising opera star Christine Charles, who’s fixated upon by Herbert Lom’s Phantom.

Heather’s last film role of note came in the 1964 gothic horror ‘The Black Torment’, starring as Lady Elizabeth Fordyke, the new bride of John Turner’s Sir Richard Fordyke, a Lord who has been accused of murder by local villagers. Busy raising a family, only periodic TV appearances followed, including the series ‘The Informer’ (’66-7) as disgraced barrister Ian Hendry’s wife. In the 1970’s Sears returned to the theatre, starring in both the Classics as well as plays by Alan Ayckbourn and Harold Pinter. On television, she appeared in a 1974 remake of ‘Great Expectations’, playing the orphan Biddy who befriends young Pip. After a couple of more television guest spots, Heather’s final screen role was in the obscure 1989 movie ‘The Last Day of School’.

Married to Tony Masters for over 30 years, and with 3 sons, Heather Sears sadly died of multiple organ failure, on January 3rd 1994. She was only 58. A genuine talent, Heather managed to leave her mark in some impressive Black & White pictures, and gave outstanding performances in a couple of unforgettable ones.

Favourite Movie: Room at the Top
Favourite Performance: The Story of Esther Costello

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Patrick O’Connell

Patrick O'Connell
Patrick O’Connell

Patrick O’Connell was born in 1934 in Dublin.   He was brought up in Birmingham and studied drama in Londonat RADA.   He won great acclainm for his portryal of Edward Hammond in television’s long-running “The Brothers”.   His film appearances include “Cromwell”, “The Hunting Party”and “The McKenzie Break”.   Patrick O’Connell died in October 2017.

 

“Guardian” obituary by his daughter Kate O’Connell

My father, Patrick O’Connell, who has died aged 83, was an actor for 40 years. He first made his name in social realist drama, and went on to work with the RSC and on television.

Paddy, as he was known to friends and family, started in the theatre at that exciting time when French windows were replaced by kitchen sinks and he fitted the archetype of the “angry young man”. One of his big breaks was the role of Gunner O’Rourke in John McGrath’s Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun at Hampstead theatre in 1966, with James Bolam. “Patrick O’Connell creates a dangerous, pitiful psychotic who frightened me so much that if he had moved one step nearer the auditorium, I would have run for my life,” wrote Alan Brien in the Sunday Telegraph.

His first television work was as Derek in the factory-set Lena, O My Lena (1960) by Alun Owen, with Billie Whitelaw in the title role, for Armchair Theatre, directed by Ted Kotcheff, who was a major influence on Paddy’s work. He had his own series playing DI Gamble in ATV’s Fraud Squad (1968-70) and he played the eldest brother, Edward Hammond, in the BBC’s The Brothers (1972-76).

On stage, he was the original Stan Mann in Arnold Wesker’s Roots at the Belgrade, Coventry, the Royal Court and the Duke of York’s (1959) and was in Peter Brook’s US (an experimental play about the Vietnam war) with the RSC at the Aldwych (1966). He played McLeavy in Joe Orton’s Loot, at the Ambassadors (1984) and the Lyric, with Leonard Rossiter as Inspector Truscott.

Paddy had a lifelong love of Shakespeare and joined Peter Hall’s company at the RSC in 1967 to play Macduff to Paul Scofield’s Macbeth at Stratford upon Avon and the Aldwych. He also played Henry V in the Henrys with the English Stage Company at the Old Vic in 1985.

His film work included Tony in Alan Sillitoe’s The Ragman’s Daughter (1972), Sgt Major Cox in The McKenzie Break (1970) and Charlie Lyne in The Shooting Party (1985) with James Mason, Dorothy Tutin and John Gielgud

Born in Dublin to Richard O’Connell, an army officer, and his wife, Patricia (nee Wardell) and given away at birth, Paddy was rescued and raised from the age of three by a remarkable woman, Dorothy Thomas, from Birmingham, who nurtured him back to some semblance of normality, only for his father to place him at the age of five in a Catholic orphanage in Blackrock, Dublin. After a four-year fight, Dorothy was allowed to take him back, and, through her job as housekeeper to a kind and cultivated businessman, Paddy was introduced to classical music and the theatre, and his creativity encouraged.

Paddy rejected Catholicism with a religious fervour, saying that acting saved him and it was a great channel for angst and anger. He attended Birmingham TheatreSchool, then won a scholarship to Rada in London in 1955.

His first job was an Arts Council tour of Look Back in Anger and She Stoops to Conquer in 1957, on the first day of which he met Patricia Hope, a fellow actor. They married in 1959, and settled in Chiswick, west London, then Teddington. Pat went on to become a television casting director.

Paddy retired from acting in his early 60s to concentrate on his painting, linocuts and etchings.

He is survived by Pat, his daughters, Fran and me, and his grandchildren, Finn and Sadie.

His “Wikipedia” entry:
Patrick O’Connell (born, January 29, 1934 in Dublin) is a retired Irish actor known for numerous performances on UK television and in films.

He was brought up in Birmingham, England and after working in the office of a department store he trained as an actor at RADA. He then appeared in repertory theatre, at the Royal Court Theatre and with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His television appearances include Fraud Squad as (Detective Inspector Gamble), Dixon of Dock Green, The Brothers (as Edward Hammond), Yes Minister, The Professionals, We’ll Meet Again, The Bill, Inspector Morse, Peak Practice, Dangerfield and As Time Goes By.

His film roles include The Shooting Party, The Human Factor, The McKenzie Break (as Sergeant Major Cox) and Cromwell.

He is also an artist known for his paintings and drawings.

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Niall Toibin

Niall Toibin
Niall Toibin
Niall Toibin
Niall Toibin

Niall Toibin was born in Cork city in 1929.   After leaving school, he went to Dublin where he worked for many years in the civil service.   He became a radio actor in the 1950’s and spent fourteen years with the Radio Eireann Players.   In 1968 he played the part of Brendan Behan in “The Borstal Boy”.   In 1970 he played the part on Broadway to great acclaim.   He starred in the television series “Bracken” with Gabriel Byrne and Dana Wynter.   He also played in the long-runing “Ballykissangel”.   His film appearances include “Veronica Guerin”.   His website can be accessed here.

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Patrick Malahide

Patrick Malahide
Patrick Malahide

Patrick Malahide was born in Berkshire, England the son of Irish parents in 1945.   He made his television debut in 1976 in “The Flight of the Heron”.   His many television appearances including “Middlemarch”, “The Singing Detective”and the title role of “Inspector Alleyn” in the 1993 series.   His films include “Comfort and Joy” “and the James Bond thriller “The World Is Not Enough”.   His website can be accessed here.

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Eric Portman

Eric Portman
Eric Portman

 

Eric Portman was born in West Halifax, Yorkshire in 1901.   He had a very distinguished career on stage and on British film.   Among his many film credits are “49th |Parallel”, “Went the Day Well”, “Daybreak” and “Millions Like Us”.   He only made one film in Hollywood, “The Prince and the Pauper” in 1937.   He died in Cornwall in 1969.   It is curious that so little is known about Eric Portman’s work as he appeared in many major British films of the 1940’s.



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James Olson

James Olson
James Olson

James Olson

James Olson was born in 1930 in Evanston, Illinois.   He is a graduate of Northwestern University.   His first film was “The Strange One” with Ben Gazzara in 1957.   He us especially remembered for his performance opposite Joanne Woodward in “Rachel, Rachel”.   His last TV performance was in a 1990 episode of “Murder She Wrote”.

Gary Brumburgh’s entry:

He was a Chicago-based stage actor by the time he began his film career in the forgettable action drama The Sharkfighters (1956). A reedy, sensitive-looking blond, James Olson showed an understated power in his performances that often received critical applause, but also a taciturn personality that kept audiences at bay. His performance as Joanne Woodward’s suitor in Rachel, Rachel (1968) gained him the best reviews of his career and it seemed he had finally earned his stripes, but despite impressive parts in The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Ragtime (1981), not to mention the TV-movies The Family Nobody Wanted (1975) and “The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer (1977), he never made a name for himself. A durable talent, he remained a reliable presence for years with TV guest spots, but by the 1990s he had all but disappeared.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

A discussion forum on James Olson can be accessed here.