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Archive for May, 2013

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William Petersen

William Peterson
William Peterson

William Petersen was born in 1953 in Evanston, Illinois.   He is best known now for his on TV in “CSI”.   His movies include “Manhunter” in 1986 and”Cousins” with Isabella Rossellini.

TCM overview:

A powerful, brooding figure in features and on television since the early 1980s, William Petersen explored the darker corners of the lawman’s psyche in “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985) and “Manhunter” (1986) before becoming a household name on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (CBS, 2000- ). A veteran of the Chicago theater community, he burst onto the Hollywood scene with forceful turns in the aforementioned crime dramas, but neither had the box office clout to turn him into a major movie star. Instead, he concentrated on the stage while delivering consistently believable turns in films like “Young Guns II” (1990) and “Fear” (1991), as well as numerous television efforts. His cool, withdrawn investigator Gil Grissom on “CSI” thrust him into the limelight, making him a major TV star, but he walked away from the hit series in 2008 to return to his roots. One of the most eclectic figures in entertainment, his professional choices and performances earned the enduring respect of his peers and admirers.

Born William Louis Petersen in Evanston, IL on Feb. 21, 1953, he was the youngest of six children born to Danish and German parents who worked as retailers. An admittedly poor student with an independent streak, he left Evanston to live with an older brother in Boise. There, he continued to ignore his studies while attending Bishop Kelly High School, preferring instead to devote his attention to sports and parties. He gained entry to Idaho State University on a football scholarship, but was prevented from playing due to failing grades. The sports department put him into the theater program in a last-ditch attempt to boost his grade point average. However, the move had an unexpected affect: Petersen fell in love with stage acting, and later moved to Spain with his first wife, Joanne, and a college professor to launch a Shakespeare company.

Petersen eventually returned to the United States, where he worked odd jobs while seeking out acting gigs. The search was arduous, and for a time, Petersen, his wife and their new daughter, Maite, lived with his parents in Evanston. There, he began involved with the newly active Chicago theater scene. After earning his Actor’s Equity card in 1978, he became a staple of the region’s plays, appearing in productions by the famed Steppenwolf and Organic Theatre companies, as well as with his own group, the Remains Theater Company, which he launched with fellow stars-in-training Gary Cole and Ted Levine. Petersen netted a Joseph Jefferson Award – the city’s top theater laurel – for playing convicted killer Jack Henry Abbott in “Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison.” In 1981, he made his feature film debut as a hotwired bartender in Michael Mann’s “Thief.” He was billed as William L. Petersen for the appearance, and would alternately retain and drop the middle initial throughout his career.

While appearing in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, Oscar-winning director William Friedkin caught his performance and asked Petersen to read for a new action film he was directing. After just two lines, Friedkin hired him on the spot as a reckless FBI agent on the trail of a counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe) in “To Live and Die in LA” (1985). Petersen’s intense performance and willingness to play a dangerous and non-heroic character in his first starring role impressed critics, many of whom cited him as a star on the rise. Petersen followed this appearance with another heavyweight turn as an FBI profiler with a knack for understanding the motives of serial killers in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” (1986). As the physically and psychologically scarred agent Will Graham, Petersen’s pursuit of a vicious psychopath (Tom Noonan) brought him in contact with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox), whom Graham captured years before. A taunt exercise in suspense, the film failed to connect with an audience in the same way that “Silence of the Lambs” (1991), its follow-up, would. Petersen himself found the experience exhausting, and after the film’s completion, shaved his beard and dyed his hair to distance himself from the role.

In the years that followed his initial Hollywood launch, Petersen focused more on projects that he found artistically challenging rather than ones that would forward his career. Stage remained his main focus, while films and television kept him financially. He famously turned down the chance to appear in Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” (1986) because he did not want to be away from his family for six weeks, and later refused to play Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1986). Instead, Petersen’s cinematic output in the 1980s and 1990s was filled with modest hits and near-misses: he was the coach of a minor-league baseball team in the 1986 comedy “Long Gone” (HBO), then played the stoic Pat Garrett in “Young Guns II” (1990). A rare hit during this period was the thriller “Fear” (1991), with Petersen as a suburban father who attempts to protect his daughter (Reese Witherspoon) from Mark Wahlberg’s homicidal hoodlum-turned-stalker.

Television eventually became Petersen’s main outlet. He had done solid work as the formidable Joseph P. Kennedy in the 1990 miniseries “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” (ABC), and later played his son, President John F. Kennedy, in the HBO drama “The Rat Pack” (1998). Small screen work eventually filled his work schedule; some it was top-notch, like William Friedkin’s 1997 adaptation of “12 Angry Men” (Showtime) with George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, James Gandolfini Edward James Olmos. Petersen portrayed Juror #12, whose high-profile job as an ad executive prevented from grasping his role in deciding the fate of a young man on trial. Some were adequate time-wasters, like Peter Benchley’s “The Beast” (1996), with Petersen as a marine expert battling a giant squid off the Florida coast. In the early 1990s, he attempted to wrest some control over his projects by launching his own production company, High Horse Films, with longtime acting peer Cynthia Chvatal. Among their offerings were the indie drama “Hard Promises” (1991), with Petersen as a wayward divorcé who attempted to stop his wife (Sissy Spacek) from marrying again, and “Keep the Change” (TNT, 1991), a likable drama about a failed artist who became entangled in small town dramas after returning to his birthplace out West.

In 2000, Petersen landed the role for which he would become best known to audiences, that of forensic investigator Gil Grissom on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” A dedicated scientist with a passion for insects, Grissom’s vast intellect gave him almost supernatural insight into the motives and execution of fatal crimes, but also made it difficult for him to connect with his co-workers and others on a basic human level. The laboratory was his true home, where he could experiment to his heart’s content; only when his hearing began to fail did a sense of vulnerability creep into Grissom’s persona. A romance with deeply troubled co-worker Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) also showed a heart beating beneath his lab coat, and the couple eventually overcame their various personality quirks to marry in 2010. A colossal hit for CBS during its decade-plus run, the show also made Petersen financially solvent, as he served as one of its producers from its initial episode.

In 2008, Petersen announced that he would leave the massively successful procedural to return to stage acting. He expressed his gratitude for the show’s success, but felt that he was beginning to atrophy as a performer by remaining in the same role for too long. His final episode drew 23 million viewers. In the aftermath, he remained an executive producer on the series, and was reported to be involved in a feature film based on the series. In 2009, Petersen received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for which he was joined by most of his “CSI” castmates. That same year, he won his third Joseph Jefferson Award for his turn in “Blackbird” at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.

 The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.
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Matt Dillon

Matt Dillon
Matt Dillon

Matt Dillon was one of the famous ‘brat pack’ of the early 1980’s.   His movies include “Little Darlings”, “Over the Edge” and “Rumble Fish”.   He was born in New Rochelle in 1964.

IMDB entry:

Originally a teen star (generally in “troubled youth” roles), who has since matured into one of Hollywood’s most enjoyable actors to watch on screen with a wonderful versatility in his acting range, tall, lean and handsome Matt Dillon was born in February 1964 in New Rochelle, New York, and was discovered by pure chance. Talent scouts were roaming the halls of Hommocks School, spied the good-looking Dillon, and asked him to attend a casting call. He showed up, put on a swagger and petulant attitude for the casting director and landed his first film role, appearing in Over the Edge (1979), a “troubled-youth” film about bored Colorado teenagers fighting developers, their parents and the police. His next role was as a teen bully who gets his comeuppance in the “feel-good” movie My Bodyguard (1980). He was the object of teenage female desire in Little Darlings (1980), and followed that as a poor boy eloping with a rich girl in Liar’s Moon(1982).

Dillon was now a hot property, and his next three film roles were in quality productions of best-selling novels, by author S.E. Hinton, that cemented him as the US’ #1 teen star. First, he starred as a fatherless country boy in Tex (1982), then he headlined a cast of superb young actors, including Tom CruiseEmilio EstevezRob Lowe and Patrick Swayze, in the moving The Outsiders (1983), and, finally, he was back in trouble once more in the superb Rumble Fish (1983). As his looks matured, Dillon moved into broader roles such as a Brooklyn teenager from a hard-working middle class family, who gets involved in the lives of the wealthy members of the “El Flamingo Beach Club” on Long Island, in 1963, inThe Flamingo Kid (1984). He made his first foray into adult action with Gene Hackman in the thriller Target (1985), followed by several B-grade romantic efforts, before striking gold with the critics with his performance in the uncompromising ‘Gus van Sant’ film about drug addicts, Drugstore Cowboy (1989). Unfortunately, his next few films fell back into a degree of mediocrity until another intriguing performance as a young schizophrenic in The Saint of Fort Washington (1993), then another romantic comedy role in Mr. Wonderful (1993). He worked again with van Sant as naive husband “Larry Maretto” opposite murderous Nicole Kidman in the icy thriller To Die For (1995).

Dillon remained busy and turned in excellent performances in the sexy thriller of murder and double-crosses, Wild Things (1998). He was hilarious as a sleazy private eye lovestruck by Cameron Diaz in the box-office smash There’s Something About Mary(1998). He starred in the black comedy One Night at McCool’s (2001), made his feature film directorial debut with City of Ghosts (2002), had a day that goes from bad to worse in Employee of the Month (2004). And, for his work in the Best Picture Academy Award winner Crash (2004), Dillon received a long-overdue Oscar nomination, as Best Supporting Actor.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: firehouse44@hotmail.co

The above IMDB entry can also be accessed online here.

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Alan Ladd

Alan Ladd
Alan Ladd

Alan Ladd was one of the major movie stars of the 1940’s and 50’s.   He was born in 1913 in Hot Springs..   He had a leading role in the film noir “This Gun For Hire” opposite Veronica Lake in 1942.   His films include “O.S.S.”, “The Glass Key”, “Calcutta” and of course the classic Western  “Shane”.   He died at the age of 50 in 1964.

TCM overview:

A stoic, masculine icon despite his diminutive frame, Alan Ladd became an overnight star by playing Raven, a sensitive hit man, in “This Gun for Hire” (1942). His soft-spoken strength set him apart from his less subtle peers, instantly endearing him to audiences who admired his new brand of onscreen masculinity. During the 1940s, Ladd one of the era’s top box office draws for many years. Frequently cast opposite Veronica Lake, he scored with the noir smashes “The Glass Key” (1942) and “The Blue Dahlia” (1946), in the adventure “Two Years before the Mast” (1946), and in the adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” (1949). His most iconic role came as the mysterious former gunslinger “Shane” (1953), considered to be one of the all-time greatest Westerns of all time. Ladd continued his streak of playing tough guys with films like “Hell below Zero” (1954) and “All the Young Men” (1960) opposite Sidney Poitier, and ended his career with a supporting turn in “The Carpetbaggers” (1964). After a lifetime of struggling with personal demons and a tumultuous childhood, the actor attempted suicide in 1962; on Jan. 29, 1964, he was found dead of an accidental drug overdose. His children, most notably film executive Alan Ladd, Jr., continued the family business. Although he rarely received the critical acclaim of many of his noir-era peers, Alan Ladd became one of the most popular movie stars of all time – a magnetic, unique performer who left a lasting mark on Hollywood in more ways than one.

Born Sept. 3, 1913 in Hot Springs, AR, Alan Walbridge Ladd was the son of an English mother who struggled to keep the family afloat after becoming a widow when her son was four. Tragedy struck again a year later when the child accidentally burned down their apartment, causing them to move to Oklahoma City, OK, where she married a housepainter. His childhood marked by malnourishment and stints of homelessness, Ladd grew up short and small of stature, which led to years of taunts from his peers. The family moved to California when he was eight, and the boy was forced to pick fruit, deliver papers and sweep floors to make ends meet. Although he appeared to be frail, Ladd demonstrated a world-class ability in swimming and track and began training for the 1932 Olympics in earnest. His dreams of glory were cut short by an injury, but his discipline paid off in other aspects of his life, helping him maintain a series of odd jobs that led to him opening his own hamburger shop, Tiny’s Patio, so-called in honor of his family nickname. So poor that when he married his high school sweetheart he could not afford to have her move in with him, Ladd applied his amazing work ethic to garnering small radio and theatrical roles and a job as a Warner Bros. studio grip.

Rejected at first for major film work because of his diminutive frame, Ladd’s persistence on the radio and in minor film roles helped him become one of talent scout Sue Carol’s clients, and she orchestrated his ascent with a string of minor roles, including a role as a reporter in “Citizen Kane” (1941). Divorced from his first wife, he married the controlling Carol in 1942, who helped him score a studio contract at Paramount. That same year, she was critical in her husband being cast in his star-making role, playing hitman-with-a-conscience Raven in Graham Greene’s “This Gun for Hire” (1942). Ladd’s stylish, ultra-serious persona immediately clicked with audiences – particularly female – who responded to his new brand of onscreen masculinity with a layer of vulnerability underneath. Showing enormous chemistry with co-star Veronica Lake, the two would often be paired together in several Paramount productions, as they brought out the best in each other; their cool, blond looks meshed perfectly, but equally important was the fact that she was the only actress on the lot shorter than Ladd.

Although critics generally overlooked him and Ladd himself would claim not to understand his own appeal, he became one of the most popular male actors of the 1940s and one of the era’s top box office draws year after year. He reunited with Lake for the Dashiell Hammett noir classic “The Glass Key” (1942) and earned his first leading man role as the titular gangster “Lucky Jordan” (1942). Ladd’s professional ascent continued with his acclaimed turn in the maritime adventure “Two Years before the Mast” (1946), the espionage thriller “O.S.S.” (1946) and another noir smash opposite Lake, the Raymond Chandler-penned classic “The Blue Dahlia” (1946). Empowered by his success and ever-enterprising, Ladd formed his own production company which spawned his own radio series about a mystery novelist in search of new plot ideas and adventures called “Box 13.” He scored another success in the Western “Whispering Smith” (1948), toplined the sleek 1949 adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” and essayed a wrongly imprisoned medical student ready to mutiny in the drama “Botany Bay” (1953).

Frequently cast in tough-guy roles in rugged tales of adventure, Ladd’s most iconic role came in the masculine weeper “Shane” (1953). As the mysterious titular former gunslinger, Ladd played a man trying to escape from his past, who bonds with the young son of his employer, serving as a male role model and surrogate father. Forced by circumstances to use his deadly talents to ensure justice, Shane is wounded in the final battle but retains his powerful self-control and sense of heroism, riding away to an uncertain fate as the young boy plaintively cries “Shane! Come back!” in the film’s most famous scene. Considered a masterpiece of both the Western genre and of film itself, “Shane” was nominated for six Oscars and won for Best Cinematography. While Ladd was overlooked, the cultural impact of his turn could not be overstated, and the character’s legacy would be referenced repeatedly in films as diverse as Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider” (1985), Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Nowhere to Run” (1993) and Samuel L. Jackson’s “The Negotiator” (1998). “Shane” proved Ladd’s professional high point, and epitomized his unique brand of cold-but-caring strength. Although he continued to work, most often playing badasses in films like “Paratrooper” (1953), “Hell below Zero” (1954) and “The Black Night” (1954), Ladd’s professional ascent slowed. He formed a new production company to release his films, including the racially charged Korean War drama “All the Young Men” (1960) opposite Sidney Poitier.

While he enjoyed widespread acclaim from audiences, in his personal life, Ladd was troubled by many personal demons. Early in his career, after his stepfather’s death, his mother had moved in with his young family and then, battling depression, killed herself. Ladd continued the cycle when, in November 1962, he was found unconscious with a bullet wound near his heart after a failed suicide attempt. The studio rushed to cover it up, calling it a gun-related accident. The actor’s last screen role came with a supporting turn in “The Carpetbaggers” (1964), but tragically, he never saw its release. On Jan. 29, 1964, Alan Ladd was found dead in Palm Springs, CA of a drug overdose, which was ruled accidental. Besides his own legacy, both onscreen and in the hearts of fans, Ladd left behind several children who would continue the family business, keeping the family name at the forefront. These included motion picture executive Alan Ladd, Jr. -famous for being the one executive to greenlight a film called “Star Wars” (1977) at 20th Century Fox – actress Alana Ladd, actor David Ladd (who married Cheryl Ladd) and actress Jordan Ladd. Although his story ended tragically, Alan Ladd displayed immense discipline and ambition, carving out his own share of pop culture immortality on the strengths of his inimitable and mysterious charisma.

By Jonathan Riggs

The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.

To view website on Alan Ladd, please click here.

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Doug McClure

Doug McClure
Doug McClure

Doug McClure is fondly remembered for his role as ‘Trampas’ in TV”s “The Virginian”.   He was born in 1935 in Glendale, California.   He had some very minor roles in major movies of the late 1950’s such as “Enemy Below” with starred Robert Mitchum and Curd Jurgens and “South Pacific”.   “The Virginian” ran from 1962 until 1971.   In the late 1960’s he starred in such movies as “Beau Geste” and “The King’s Pirate”.   Hos best film was probably “Shenandoah” with James Stewart in 1965.   Doug McClure sadly died in 1995.

David Shipman’s “Independent” obituary:

Doug McClure had blond good looks and an easy, ready smile. He was so laid back that he almost wasn’t there. And with his untroubled countenance, he was a natural man of the West, enlivening The Virginian, the first television western series to have 90-minute episodes. In The Virginian, which ran from 1962 to 1970, McClure played Trampas, friend of the ranch foreman of the title, played by James Drury. For five years before the series started, McClure, born and educated in Los Angeles, had small parts in the local filmindustry, starting with a submarine drama, The Enemy Below (1957), followed by playing a Malibu Beach loafer in Gidget (1959), an anodyne teen romance – one of so many which Hollywood turned out during the Eisenhower years. Its director, Paul Wendkos, immediately put McClure in a similar tale, Because They’re Young, a college tale which had a bit more bite. Television stardom beckoned in The Overland Trail, as William Bendix’s sidekick, and in a private eye series, Checkmate, and John Huston made him Burt Lancaster’s younger brother in his western The Unforgiven (1960)   He is new son-in-law in Shenandoah (1965), but went down with the others in Beau Geste (1966): in the title-role Guy Stockwell did not efface memories of Ronald Colman (1926) or Gary Cooper (1939), admittedly classic versions of a now dated tale. As Beau’s brother John, McClure was neither here nor there, but as much might be said of Ralph Forbes (1926) or Ray Milland (1939).

In 1971 McClure starred in The Law and Jake Wyler, one of several television projects produced and written by the prolific team of Richard Levinson and William Link. He was one of two parolees – James McEachin was the other – helping the judge do some detective work. The judge was Bette Davis, whose agent had indicated that she was ready to do a television series. But that wasn’t to be: nobody liked the pilot, which went out on NBC as a telemovie in 1972, with added footage.

In 1975 McClure came to Britain to star in The Land That Time Forgot, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1918 science fiction novel. It was strictly double-bill fare, if not exactly a cheapie, and he appeared in three follow-ups: At the Earth’s Core (1976), The People That Time Forgot (1977) and Warlords of Atlantis (1978). Amicus produced, with co-operation on the last two from American International Pictures, temporarily deserting teenagers on motor-bikes. Fighting dinosaurs and such, McClure was energetic, especially as he looked as if he had had a heavy night.

Later movie appearances included Cannonball Run II (1983) and Omega Syndrome (1986). McClure has been regularly parodied as Troy McClure, an ageing star of the 1950s, in the television series The Simpsons, usually introducing promotional videos. Maverick(1994) had Mel Gibson in James Garner’s old television role, with Garner in support, reminding us how entertaining he always was; and McClure, in his last movie role, with a “walk-on” as one of the poker-players.

David Shipman Doug McClure, actor: born Glendale, California 11 May 1934; married three times; died Los Angeles 5 February 1995.

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

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Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel was born in 1967and is an American actor, producer, screenwriter and director. He came to prominence in the late 1990s and became best known for appearing in several successful Hollywood films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), Pitch Black (2000), The Fast and the Furious (2001), xXx (2002), The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), Fast & Furious(2009), Fast Five (2011), and Fast & Furious 6 (2013). He is also the founder of the production companies One Race FilmsTigon Studios, and Racetrack Records

TCM overview:

An overnight action-film sensation who intrigued audiences when he seemingly emerged from nowhere in the summer of 2001, Vin Diesel actually made his first mark on the movie business as a filmmaker. His first two independent films screened at the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals after which the hulking, clean-shaven actor had a breakthrough role as imposing antihero Riddick in the cult-favorite sci-fi film “Pitch Black” (2000). He was quickly snapped up by Hollywood and transformed into a movie star with high-octane hits “The Fast and the Furious” (2001) and “xXx” (2002). Diesel found further box-office success with the Disney comedy “The Pacifier” (2005) and went on to receive decent reviews for his dramatic performance in “Find Me Guilty” (2006), but audiences were generally reluctant to accept him in anything but sequels to his signature action films. The hype that surrounded the actor’s rush to stardom eventually gave way to a period of career stagnation, but he bounced back in a big way with his prominent return for the 2009 sequel “Fast & Furious” and its reliably popular later installments, including the super-sized “Fast & Furious 6.”

Born Mark Sinclair Vincent in New York City, NY on July 18, 1967, Diesel began acting with the Theatre for the New City at the age of seven. After studying English at Hunter College, he began penning screenplays and making films. His short “Multi-Facial” debuted at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and his first full-length feature, “Strays” (1997) premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Written, co-produced, directed, and starring Diesel, “Strays” was an ensemble drama about male friendships that many compared – sometimes unfavorably – with “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Diner” (1982).

While his efforts did not immediately lead to opportunities to make more films, Diesel’s powerful onscreen presence earned buzz and the deep-voiced, muscular actor landed a high-profile supporting role as tough New Yorker Private Carparzo in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed WWII drama, “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). After voicing the title character in the delightful if underperforming animated adventure “The Iron Giant” (1999), Diesel got his first taste of leading-man success in director David Twohy’s cult sci-fi film “Pitch Black” (2000), in which the actor played a convict who, after his starship crash lands on a hostile planet, proves to be the salvation for the survivors.

Diesel gave another strong performance in the ensemble of the Wall Street-centered thriller “Boiler Room” (2000), but his true breakout came with his starring role as hard-driving car thief and street gang racer Dominic Toretto in the surprise summer blockbuster, “The Fast and the Furious” (2001), in which The New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell characterized Diesel as a “slacker Robert Mitchum, if that’s not redundant.” Diesel became an overnight sensation that year, with the relative unknown fueling curiosity about himself by evading questions about his sexuality and his ethnic background, revealing only that he was part Italian and considered himself “a person of color.”

Fans lapped up the mystery of the bald newcomer and turned out in droves when Diesel re-teamed with “The Fast and the Furious” helmer Rob Cohen to lead the cast (and serve as executive producer) of the actioner “xXx” (2002). Another box-office bonanza, the film was routinely panned by the critics but nevertheless solidified the actor’s status as an heir apparent to A-list action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Taking a cue from these same actors, he also branched out of his tough-guy mode into the comedy realm to show his versatility. To wit, Diesel co-starred alongside Barry Pepper, Seth Green, John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper in “Knockaround Guys” (2002) playing a young mobster-in-training desperate to retrieve a bag of stolen cash.

Instead of opting for a big payday on the sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003), which he declined to appear in, Diesel instead produced and starred in the crime drama “A Man Apart” (2003), a film that offered the actor prime opportunity to emote instead of aim and shoot. Critics took minor swings at Diesel’s sensitive side, but few could deny his strong screen presence and charisma, even in a middle-of-the-road movie. The actor returned to the explosive, big-budget world of sci-fi action when he reprised the role of “Pitch Black” hero Richard Riddick for Twohy’s inflated sequel “The Chronicles of Riddick” (2004), which he also executive produced. The box-office results were less than stellar.

With his star on the wane after only four years, Diesel took a stab at family entertainment with Disney’s “The Pacifier” (2005), playing a disgraced Navy SEAL charged with protecting the bratty brood of a deceased government scientist whose enemies are searching for his top-secret experiment. Diesel’s star power was enough to draw in over $100 million in ticket sales, though his critically acclaimed follow-up in the character-based drama “Find Me Guilty” (2006) about real-life mobster Jack DiNorscio, proved a box-office failure.

Appearing in only a brief cameo in the 2005 sequel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” Diesel tried to explore new territory with the sci-fi thriller “Babylon A.D.” (2008), adapted from the novel Babylon Babies by Maurice Georges Dantec. Diesel received a critical drubbing for the second-rate offering and retreated to a surefire hit territory by finally reprising his role in the fourth sequel “Fast & Furious” (2009), which reunited the cast of the original film. Unsurprisingly, the movie broke box-office records and reinvigorated Diesel’s reputation as an action star. Meanwhile his distinctive deep voice continued to be one of his most valuable assets, and he lent it to video games “Wheelman” and installments of the “Chronicles of Riddick” series. In 2013, Diesel had a notably busy year, with both “Fast & Furious 6” and “Riddick” hitting the screens.

The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.

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Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson

 

Samuel L. Jackson was born in 1948 in Washington D.C.   Among his movies are “Pulp Fiction”, “Snakes on a Plane” and “Django Unchained”.

TCM overview:

One of the busiest performers in Hollywood, Samuel L. Jackson’s prolific list of credits reflected a career born out of turbulent life experiences and shaped by theater and cinema, ultimately making him one of America’s leading actors. An active participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Jackson redirected much of his energies into his stagecraft as a co-founder of the Just-Us Theatre, and later, as a member of New York’s famed Negro Ensemble Company for more than a decade. Television guest spots and bit parts in low-budget movies eventually gave way to standout performances as an ensemble player in such seminal films as “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “Pulp Fiction” (1994). Suddenly one of the hottest leads in Hollywood, Jackson was appearing in an average of five films a year, including Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (1997) and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” (2000). Equally at home in high art projects as well as unapologetic schlock, Jackson often enjoyed himself in campy efforts like the outlandish thriller “Snakes on a Plane” (2006). After setting things up with the first of several cameos in the Marvel Studios adventure, “Iron Man” (2008), Jackson led a team of volatile superheroes in the summer blockbuster “The Avengers” (2012). While Jackson’s intense demeanor and pitch perfect ear for street dialogue could effortlessly convey a terrifying menace, his impressive skills with comedy and traditional drama allowed him to shine in a virtually unlimited range of material.

Born in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 21, 1948, Samuel Leroy Jackson grew up in segregated Chattanooga, TN. The only child of a former factory worker-turned-state institutional supply buyer Elizabeth Jackson, young Sam grew up estranged from his father. Raised collectively by his mother, her sister and his maternal grandparents, Jackson flourished under the love of his extended family. Musically talented, Jackson played a number of instruments growing up, including the French horn and trumpet for in the school orchestra. In the mid-1960s, Jackson attended the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, where he became active in theater. A co-founder of the sardonically named all-black acting company called Just Us Theatre, Jackson would later go on to become a reliable utility player for the famed Negro Ensemble Company alongside such African-American talents as Robert Hooks, Adolph Caesar and Al Freeman, Jr.

In the late 1980s, Jackson’s impressive turn in playwright Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece “A Soldier’s Play” so impressed Spike Lee, that the film auteur eventually cast Jackson in a bit part as a local yokel in “School Daze” (1988). The collaboration proved so successful, that Lee enlisted Jackson into service once again for his next project – the explosive urban drama “Do the Right Thing” (1989), in which he played the omniscient street deejay, Mister Senor Love Daddy. Jackson enjoyed his greatest career boost, however, with his brilliant, harrowing portrait of Gator Purify in Lee’s controversial interracial romance drama, “Jungle Fever” (1989). Playing an alternately charming, yet viciously dangerous crack addict, Jackson drew upon his first-hand knowledge of the drug culture to create a character that simply lived and breathed verisimilitude. The role won Jackson a special jury prize as Best Supporting Actor at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival and led to a supporting role in the big-budget, techno-thriller “Patriot Games” (1992).

Jackson nearly got a chance to work with his wife, actress LaTanya Richardson, for the first time onscreen in Lee’s epic biopic, “Malcolm X” (1992), but reportedly balked at the director’s request that he work for scale. Instead, Jackson rode his triumph as Gator to a torrent of small roles in a rapid succession of titles including Ernest Dickerson’s “Juice” (1992), the Willem Dafoe-Susan Sarandon thriller “White Sands” (1992) and Brad Pitt’s offbeat “Johnny Suede” (1991). The following year, Jackson graduated to leads in two 1993 comedies – the blank-filled “National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon I” and the well intentioned, but ultimately disappointing comedy, “Amos and Andrew,” co-starring Nicolas Cage. Jackson would finish out the year with supporting roles in three wildly different projects: the Hughes Brothers’ “Menace II Society,” the Steven Spielberg CGI extravaganza “Jurassic Park,” and Tony Scott’s iconic “True Romance,” scripted by rising star Quentin Tarantino. The following year, Tarentino cast Jackson in his ultimate breakthrough role as the philosophical, Jheri-curled assassin, Jules Winfield, in the critically acclaimed “Pulp Fiction” (1994). Outstanding even amid a stellar ensemble including Bruce Willis, John Travolta and Uma Thurman, Jackson got to utter several immortal monologues that since became a part of pop culture history. For his efforts, Jackson received a richly deserved Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Hedging his bets, the workaholic actor appeared in at least three other films in 1994 including “The New Age” and “Fresh” and also appeared in the high-minded made-for-cable movies “Assault at West Point” (Showtime, 1994) and “Against the Wall” (HBO, 1994). Jackson’s choice of roles post-“Pulp Fiction” yielded mixed critical and box office results. His turn as a child-custody lawyer arguing for a poor mother’s rights in the modest “Losing Isaiah” (1995) allowed him the chance to finally work with his wife, Richardson, but the result was largely unmemorable. Jackson later played a cop running an undercover operation in the David Caruso flop “Kiss of Death” (1995), but he fared only somewhat better in his next project, playing Bruce Willis’ unwilling cohort in the third “Die Hard” installment, “Die Hard With a Vengeance” (1995). A deft comic performer, Jackson played a Don King-like boxing promoter in “The Great White Hype” (1996), but the effort was again largely wasted in the mediocre vehicle. On the other hand, Jackson fared well riding the roller coaster of Renny Harlin’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” as well as starring as a low-rent private eye and earning substantial critical kudos for his heart-wrenching turn as a father out for revenge following the rape of his little girl in director Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of “A Time to Kill” (1996), based on the bestseller by novelist John Grisham.

The Jackson juggernaut pressed on at full throttle with starring roles in three 1997 movies. As Trevor Garfield, the dedicated teacher driven over the edge into violence in “187” – cop speak for a homicide – he found himself in a vehicle that for all its good intentions, was little more than “Death Wish” visits the public schools. Jackson got to show off more of his deep talents with “Eve’s Bayou,” an intensely emotional, well-made family drama by first-time writer-director Kasi Lemmons. Revealing a suave romantic side to his versatile talent, Jackson also served as executive producer and paterfamilias for the predominantly female cast surrounding him. Finally, Jackson returned to Tarantino country as arms merchant Ordell Robbie in “Jackie Brown,” adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel, “Rum Punch,” moving deftly between comedy and malice; by now, a trademark Jackson style. As a seductively personable villain with positively no moral center – unlike his “Pulp Fiction” character – Jackson ended up killing Robert De Niro in the film’s denouement – a sure sign that he had arrived as an actor.

In 1998, Jackson shared the spotlight with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone, playing a brainy mathematician in Barry Levinson’s lackluster sci-fi thriller “Sphere.” He next appeared as a violin expert in “The Red Violin,” an absorbing tale involving the centuries-long travels of a violin made by a 17th century violin maker; a part that gave Jackson “a great opportunity to play a role you don’t normally see an African-American portraying. He then starred opposite Kevin Spacey in the much bigger-budgeted “The Negotiator,” playing a hostage negotiator who takes his own hostages when he is falsely accused of murder and embezzlement. The following year saw him as Jedi Knight Mace Windu in George Lucas’ long awaited “Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” – due in no small part for his campaigning for the part based on his well-known “Star Wars” franchise obsession – as well as rejoining Harlan for “Deep Blue Sea.” On a roll, Jackson, showing no inclination for slowing up his workload, also signed to play a Marine Colonel embroiled in controversy in “Rules of Engagement” (2000) and followed Richard Roundtree as the cool private eye in “Shaft” (also 2000), John Singleton’s riff on the 1971 blaxploitation classic. For him, work (plus golf) remained the addiction that had replaced the narcotic substances kicked at the beginning of the decade.

In 2002, Jackson was at a high-water mark, willing to tackle a variety of challenging roles, both large and small. As a leading man, he co-starred with Ben Affleck in the effective sociological thriller “Changing Lanes,” in which he turned in a nuanced, commanding performance as recovering alcoholic Doyle Gipson, fighting to stay in his children’s lives even as his own life is almost undone due to the aftereffects of a simple fender-bender. He then delivered an action-packed supporting turn, reprising his role as Jedi Master Mace Windu for George Lucas’ blockbuster “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” (2002); this time, more in the thick of the plot with a mean purple light saber – with the actor/fan choosing the color so he would stand out in the crowded action scenes. He then helped launch a hit action franchise, appearing as the mysteriously scarred NSA Agent Augustus Gibbon in “xXx” (2002) – perhaps the only actor who could out-intimidate about-to-be A-list action star, Vin Diesel.

In the lackluster military potboiler “Basic” (2003), Jackson employed his hard-as-nails persona to play a feared, often hated Special Forces sergeant, who mysteriously disappears along with the team of Army Rangers he commands during a training exercise during a hurricane in the jungles of Panama. Spinning that persona to a more heroic bent, the actor then tackled the role of Lt. Dan ‘Hondo’ Harrelson for the big-budget, straight-faced screen adaptation of the 1970s cop drama, “S.W.A.T.” (2003), starring opposite Colin Farrell. The film was an action extravaganza in which the special tactics team led by Jackson’s character must transport an incarcerated drug kingpin who is offered $100 million to anyone who can free him. Jackson’s career choices continued to run the gamut in terms of quality: he played second fiddle to Ashley Judd in one of the actress’ characteristic, unchallenging thrillers, “Twisted” (2004), but rebounded strongly as the voice of the frustrated, ice-powered superhero Frozone in Disney/Pixar’s delightful CGI-animated superhero spoof, “The Incredibles” (2004). He also cameoed in Tarantino’s “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” (2004) as an organist at the wedding of The Bride.

Jackson kicked of 2005 with “Coach Carter,” playing a familiar onscreen archetype – the inspirational coach who helps his students achieve – playing the controversial high school basketball coach Ken Carter who benched his undefeated team due to their collective poor academic record in 1999. Despite its seemingly clichéd set-up, the film resonated, thanks in large part to Jackson’s strong, anchoring performance. Jackson played an angry Washington Post reporter in the John Boorman drama, “In My Country” (2005). Sent to cover South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – a public hearing conducted to reconcile the atrocities of apartheid – Jackson butts heads with a white South African poet (Juliette Binoche) over his bitterness and racial agenda, but instead ends up falling in love despite being married to another. He then went on to reprise two of his popular roles – first, Agent Gibbons for the action sequel “xXx: State of the Union” (2005), this time putting Ice Cube in the secret agent hot seat; followed with a final unsheathing that purple light saber for an appearance as Jedi Master Mace Windu in the prequel trilogy-ender, “Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005). Jackson had long insisted that George Lucas write him an impressive death scene, and both Lucas and Jackson delivered the goods in Windu’s long-anticipated demise, which proved to be one of the most dramatic scenes in the poorly received film.

Jackson’s next vehicle was the hackneyed, derivative action/buddy flick, “The Man” (2005), which attempted to drive laughs by pairing Jackson’s hard-edged cop with an awkward dentist (Eugene Levy) drawn into a crime scheme. He next starred opposite Julianne Moore in Joe Roth’s “Freedomland” (2006), a crime drama that depicted a police detective (Jackson) called upon by a distraught woman (Moore) to investigate her claims that a black man kidnapped her child; an accusation that stirs racial animosity in a New Jersey suburb. Jackson’s next movie, “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), became a phenomenon long before it was released – much of it due to fanboy buildup on the Internet. After reading in the trades that friend Ronny Yu was attached to direct, Jackson emailed him, asking to be in it, based on the title alone. Despite the anticipatory fervor for the film, by the time it was released, it proved disappointing at the box office. Yu eventually left the project, making way for David Richard Ellis to take over. Meanwhile, New Line Cinema had changed the name to “Pacific Flight 121” out of fear other actors would not take the project seriously. Furious, Jackson campaigned in public and in private to return the movie to its original title. The studio relented, paving way for serious Internet buzz to gather steam and propelling “Snakes” into the public consciousness before it was done shooting. So influential were the Internet’s denizens that they managed to get filmmakers to reshoot a scene to include a profanity-laden line generated by fans, the now iconic “I’ve had it with these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking plane!” Jackson, meanwhile, maintained a high level of enthusiasm for the film as he made the usual promotional rounds, even though he had not seen the movie – and neither did critics.

Jackson continued to work on film after film, as had been his wont over the years. Also in 2006, he starred in “Home of the Brave,” a drama about three soldiers trying to readjust to civilian life after a lengthy tour in the second Iraq war; “Farce of the Penguins,” a mockumentary inspired by the award-winning documentary, “March of the Penguins” (2005); and “Resurrecting the Champ,” about a homeless man who claims to be a former boxing great, but in reality, is only a lesser-known fighter from the same era. Jackson also filmed “Black Snake Moan” in 2006, a low-budget drama about a blues guitarist abandoned by his wife who tries to redeem the soul of a girl addicted to sex in a rural town. Jackson next worked on “Jumper” (2008), a light-hearted adventure about a teenaged boy from a tough family who learns he has the ability to teleport, as well as appeared in “1408” (2007), a psychological thriller about a horror writer who gets a taste of his own fiction while staying overnight in a haunted hotel. Based on a short story by premier horror meister Stephen King, “1408” received mixed reviews but performed impressively at the box office in its opening weekend. After a turn as an authoritative police officer gone over the edge in “Lakeview Terrace” (2008), Jackson starred alongside Bernie Mac in “Soul Men” (2008), a buddy road comedy about two surviving members of a 1970s soul band who get into one misadventure after another while traveling across the country to attend the funeral of a former band mate. After playing main villain The Octopus in Frank Miller’s critically and commercially savaged comic book adaptation of “The Spirit” (2008), he was cast as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury – a role he originated with a brief cameo during the end credits of the first film – in “Iron Man 2” (2010), starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke.

It was a busy year for Jackson, who also appeared as one-half of the toughest police duo in Manhattan – his partner being Dwayne Johnson – in the action comedy “The Other Guys” (2010), starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as the eponymous second-stringers. That same year, Jackson turned in yet another performance that reminded people how gifted he truly was – that of a prospective employer of ambitious, but emotionally isolated attorney Naomi Watts in the adoption-themed drama “Mother and Child” (2010). For his work in the small-budgeted project, Jackson was rewarded with a Best Supporting Male nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. Busier than ever, Jackson turned in more brief cameos as Nick Fury in another pair of comic book action-adventures, “Thor” (2011) and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011), in addition to lending his voice as the narrator of the Disney wildlife documentary, “African Cats” (2011). As proof that his tireless work ethic had truly paid off, it was announced in 2011 that Jackson had been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-grossing film actor of all time, having appeared in movies grossing more than $7.4 billion.

Continuing to balance blockbusters with micro-budget projects, Jackson next played an ex-con reluctantly forced into the role of hero in the indie feature “The Samaritan” (2012). And after recruiting an unlikely team of superheroes over the course of numerous cameo appearances, Nick Fury was at last ready to assume leadership of “The Avengers” (2012) in the massive onscreen assemblage of Iron Man (Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Following the massive global box office success of “The Avengers,” Jackson reunited once more with director Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained” (2012), a spaghetti Western set in pre-Antebellum Deep South that focused on a revenge-minded slave (Jamie Foxx) who helps a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) track down two ruthless killers in exchange for his freedom and a reunion with his wife (Kerry Washington). Prior to that film’s release, the actor entered the political fray as a surprisingly humorous (and excitable) Twitter user and as the star of a pro-Obama campaign video, “Wake the F*ck Up,” which featured Jackson as the narrator of a story to urge complacent voters to not take the election for granted. The film was loosely inspired by the best-selling children’s book for adults, Go the F*ck to Sleep (2011).

 The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.
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James Coburn

James Coburn
James Coburn

“”Duffy’  was a particularly tiresome film about two English boys who plan to rob their millionaire father of his fortune.   It was all cross and double-cross , set in one of the new Mediterranean fun-spots, Tangier, with every modish device available to it’s creators – pop-art, pop-music,pop-art photography, Susannah York and a new superstar James Coburn.  Coburn played a con-man who helps the boys, a carefree, grinning, stubbornly heterosexual, lone Belmondoesque American and the film because it had no higher inspiration, kept him as firmly at the centre as anything that Theda Bara ever made.  He was decidedly not tiresome” in David Shipman’s “The Great Movie Stars” (1972).

 

James Coburn was a terrific character actor in the early 1960’s who suddenly became a star with “Our Man Flint ” in 1966.   Before that he had supported Yul Brynner in “The Magnificent Seven” in 1960, James Garner in “The Americanisation of Emily” and Steve McQueen and Garner again in “The Great Escape”.   He won an Oscar for his performance in “Afflication”.   He died in 2002 at the age of 74.

Veronica Horwell’s “Guardian” obituary:

One scene in John Sturges’s film The Magnificent Seven (1960) plugs directly into the power of its source, The Seven Samurai: the entrance of James Coburn, who has died aged 74, as Britt, “the best with gun and knife”.

He does little, unfolding himself like his own jackknife from post-cattle-drive repose to answer an unsought challenge to a duel, and shouldering his saddle to move on after winning effortlessly. He says less, just “You lost” and “Call it” – Coburn made the word laconic sound gabby. And yet he is the complete American samurai: “Acting,” he said decades later, “comes between the words – ego stops you telling the truth.”

Unsurprisingly, Coburn had seen the original Kurosawa film 15 times while studying acting with Stella Adler in New York. Surprisingly, he got the part he coveted, as the master swordsman, after meeting the already-cast Robert Vaughn in the street not long before shooting began. Coburn was persistent and available, unlike veteran character options.

He had been around the prairie a few times by then. He came from a farm in Laurel, Nebraska, although the family moved to California during the depression. After studying drama at Los Angeles City College, he alternated between advancing on television as far as the leads in such unconventional and shortlived series as Klondike, and Acapulco (both 1960), and supporting in films, debuting in the 1958 Budd Boetticher western, Ride Lonesome.

His faint resemblance to Lee Marvin, in naso-labial fold and stage quality bass-baritone voice, brought work as a lean heavy or young character man, notably in Hell Is For Heroes (1962), The Great Escape and Charade (both 1963), and A High Wind In Jamaica (1965).

In the back-up role as an army scout, in Major Dundee (1965) – the start of his buddy relationship with director Sam Peckinpah – Coburn was the strongest presence in the picture. Film lexicographer David Thomson thought that his humour and easy sexiness dated him, made him seem simian, especially with that toothed smile. But around 1965 he was very hot, starring in the Bond-like films Our Man Flint and In Like Flint.

Coburn was a bridge between cool, in the Sinatra swinger sense, and counter-culture cool in Theodore J Flicker’s prescient satire, The President’s Analyst (1968), which was produced by Coburn’s company and became a critical success, prefiguring the Saturday Night Live comedic sensibility.

He missed out on the neurosis that powered post-Jack Nicholson actors, and on the impassivity of Clint Eastwood-style faces – in fact, he did a western for Sergio Leone, A Fistful Of Dyamite (1972), playing an Irish explosives expert, and laughing zestfully all the way through. He was the right man for Peckinpah, for whom he did the most impressive work of his life as the sheriff in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973).

Then, on the eastern front, he exhibited that ferocious grin, as the Wehrmacht corporal drawling “I hate all officers” in Cross Of Iron (1977), which he also co-scripted. The following year, Peckinpah trusted him sufficiently to let him direct the second unit on the roadie movie, Convoy.

Coburn made the newer fellers look stiff and naff, but the post-1975 market was massive for naff. He was too late the hero. Most stars did not have to maintain the cash flow that he did, by playing the private detective in a television version of The Dain Curse – a ringer for its author Dashiell Hammett – or striding into the saloon bar in Schlitz Lite commercials.

The critic Pauline Kael once suggested that Coburn looked like the child of the liaison between Lieutenant Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly, and he took Zen Buddhism seriously, moving deep into meditation and oriental art. Japan acknowledged his honorary samurai qualities; he was so approved a masculine presence that he became an icon for its leading cigarette brand, and funded his old age by exporting rare cars there.

At 50, at the beginning of years of rheumatoid arthritic pain – which he overcame, although it crippled him – Coburn settled for occasional cameo roles in the John Huston mode – all big cigar, chuckle and thumbs, always giving the screen a lift, if a mite hammy indoors in a suit (he lopes off with bits of Robert Altman’s The Player, 1992, and the 1994 Mel Gibson vehicle, Maverick). Who he might have been, unfolded in all his angry power, was finally seen in Paul Schrader’s Affliction (1997), where the director wanted him as Nick Nolte’s abusive father because he was “large physically” – 6ft 3in – “and represented another generation of Hollywood manhood. You’re frightened for Nolte!”

“I finally got one right,” said Coburn, collecting his Oscar for best supporting actor in 1999, for the Affliction performance. But the expected offers didn’t come, except to play more nasty bastards. He wasn’t bitter; he was fit and still hoping, right up until he died of a heart attack listening to music at home with his second wife, Paula.

His first marriage, to Beverly Kelly, ended in a spectacularly expensive divorce; they had a son and a daughter.

· James Coburn, actor, born August 31 1928; died November 19 2002

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed also online here.

 

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Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze
Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze starred in many excellent adventure thrillers such as “Point Break” and “Road House”.   He also starred in two of the most popular romantic movies of all time, “Dirty Dancing” in 1987 and “Ghost” in 1990.    Sadly he died in 2009 at the age of 57.

Peter Bradshaw’s “Guardian” obituary:

Patrick Swayze, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 57, was a leading man with rugged, unpretty looks and a lean dancer’s physique, who enjoyed staggering success in Reagan-Bush-era America thanks to two classic movie roles. In Dirty Dancing (1987), he was Johnny Castle, a summer-camp dance teacher from the wrong side of the tracks who falls in love with one of his pupils, Frances “Baby” Houseman, a teenage girl from a posh, uptight family, whose world is rocked by Johnny’s steamy dance moves. At the end of the movie, Johnny strides into the dance hall to find that she has been forced to sit demurely with her parents at a table well away from the action. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” he declares, and whisks her centre-stage for some spectacular choreography. The image of the blonde princess emotionally liberated by the bad boy with the heart of gold was adored by movie audiences: it was irresistibly similar to that of Diana, Princess of Wales, dancing with John Travolta at the White House two years before.

Three years later, in Ghost (1990), Swayze was Sam Wheat, a yuppie banker deeply in love with his ceramic-artist fiancee Molly, played by Demi Moore. Sam is killed by a mugger in the movie’s sensational opening scene, but returns as a ghost to watch over the love of his life. It became America’s favourite date movie, with a much-loved, much-parodied scene in which a half-naked Sam embraces Molly from behind as she caresses an oozing brown pot upwards into shape, to the accompaniment of the Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody. This film, too, partook a little of the changing zeitgeist: Swayze’s gentle phantom yuppie showed an America interested in a more vulnerable, caring leading man as an antidote to the triumphalist 1980s.

After these movies, Swayze never quite progressed to the A-list, though he did well as the charismatic surfer-dude in Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action-thriller Point Break, opposite Keanu Reeves. A workmanlike career unfolded, without letting Swayze’s personality cohere into a clear star-identity. Nevertheless, he reportedly turned down an offer of $7m to appear in a Dirty Dancing sequel and, when criticised for his choice of film roles, said that he was “fed up with that Hollywood blockbuster mentality”.

Typecasting, and a battle with alcoholism, hampered any rise to the top. He was the decent American expatriate in Calcutta in Roland Joffé’s City of Joy (1992), and the wacky drag artist in Beeban Kidron’s To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995). As an ex-con, Jack Crews, in Black Dog (1998), he had to drive a truck full of illicit weapons across country.

It wasn’t until his scene-stealing turn in Richard Kelly’s cult-classic psychological nightmare Donnie Darko (2001), in which he played the sinister motivational speaker Jim Cunningham, that Swayze’s career found a new act. His looks were now those of a character actor, and a new generation of moviegoers responded to his muscular presence and direct address to the camera.

Swayze was born in Houston, Texas. His mother, Patsy, was a choreographer with the Houston Jazz and Ballet Company, and she drove Patrick hard as a boy towards a career in dance – and specifically in ballet, not an easy choice for a young Texan male. Swayze became a sports star in high school and got an athletics scholarship to Houston’s San Jacinto College.

After graduating, he moved to New York City, where he became the principal dancer at the Eliot Feld ballet company, but recurrent injuries compelled a strategic move into the theatre. On Broadway, he tore up the stage as Danny Zuko in Grease, which attracted the notice of Hollywood, so he moved to Los Angeles.

His big break came courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola, who allowed Swayze to develop his greaser persona in the teen drama The Outsiders (1983), the movie that also launched Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe. His breakthrough in Dirty Dancing played perfectly to Swayze’s strengths: dancing, masculinity, sweaty sensuality. It became one of the first films to find a vast audience in the booming new home-video market. After Ghost, People magazine voted him one of the “sexiest people alive”.

After that, things took a turn for the worse. His personal life was troubled: deeply affected by his father’s death from a heart attack and his sister’s suicide in 1994, Swayze repeatedly relapsed into alcoholism. He broke both legs in a horse-riding stunt in 1996 filming the HBO movie Letters from a Killer, which caused career stagnation and depression. There was further controversy when Swayze made an emergency landing in Arizona in 2000 in his twin-engine Cessna, and appeared to attempt to remove a stash of beer and wine from the plane.

After his comeback in Donnie Darko, Swayze presented a calmer, more relaxed face to the world. His likeable, easygoing personality struck a chord with London stage audiences when he played Nathan Detroit in the West End revival of Guys and Dolls in 2006. He also played opposite Kristin Scott Thomas and Rowan Atkinson in the British comedy Keeping Mum (2005).

In 2008, soon after he had filmed a pilot for a television show, The Beast, in which he was to star as an FBI agent, Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He underwent chemotherapy and drug treatment while shooting the subsequent series, which was shown on US television earlier this year. His last film was Powder Blue (2009).

He is survived by his wife, the actor and dancer Lisa Niemi, his childhood sweetheart from Houston, whom he married in 1975. He described her as “the smartest chick I’d ever met” and cited her as the inspiration for the song She’s Like the Wind, which he co-wrote and which featured on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

• Patrick Wayne Swayze, dancer, actor and singer, born 18 August 1952; died 14 September 2009

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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Candice Bergen

Candice Bergen

Elizabeth Hartman and Candice Bergen

Candice Bergen 

Candice Bergen was born in 1946 in Beverly Hills, California.   She is the daughter of Frances Bergen and Edgar Bergen.   She first came to fame as ‘Libby’ in “The Group” in 1966.   Her movies include “The Sand Pebbles” opposite Steve McQueen, “Carnal Knowledge” opposite Jack Nicholson and “Starting Over” with Burt Reynolds.   She also starred in the long running TV series “Murphy Brown” and “Boston Legal”.

Gary Brumburgh’s entry:

One cool, eternally classy lady, Candice Bergen was elegantly poised for trendy “ice princess” stardom when she first arrived on the screen, but she gradually reshaped that débutante image both on- and off-camera. A staunch, outspoken feminist with a decisive edge, she went on to take a sizable portion of these contradicting qualities to film and, most particularly, to late 1980s television. The daughter of famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and former actress and “Chesterfield Girl” Frances Bergen, the Beverly Hills born-and-bred Candice was surrounding by Hollywood glitter and glamor from day one. At the age of 6, she made her radio debut on her father’s show. Of extreme privilege, she attended Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles, the Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., and then went abroad to the Montesano (finishing) School in Switzerland.

Although she began taking art history and creative drawing at the University of Pennsylvania, she did not graduate due to less-than-stellar grades. In between studies, she also worked as a Ford model in order to buy cameras for her new passion–photography. Her Grace Kelly-like glacial beauty deemed her an ideal candidate for Ivy League patrician roles, and Candice made an auspicious film debut while still a college student portraying the Vassar-styled lesbian member of Sidney Lumet‘s The Group (1966) in an ensemble that included other lovely up-and-comers including Joan HackettJessica Walter and Joanna Pettet. Although that film was a box-office flop, Candice’s second film in 1966, The Sand Pebbles (1966), was a critical and commercial hit and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Film offers started coming her way, both here and especially abroad (spurred on by her love for travel).

Other than her top-notch roles as the co-ed who comes between Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge (1971) and her prim American lady kidnapped by Moroccan sheik Sean Connery in The Wind and the Lion (1975), her performances were deemed a bit too aloof to really stand out among the crowd. During this time, she found a passionate second career as a photographer and photojournalist. A number of her works went on to appear in an assortment of magazines including Life, Playboy and Esquire. Most of Candice’s other late 1960s and 1970s films were either unmemorable or dismissed altogether, including the bizarre futuristic comedy The Day the Fish Came Out(1967); the forgotten mystery The Magus (1968); the epic-sized bomb The Adventurers(1970); the campus comedy Getting Straight (1970); the disturbingly violent Soldier Blue(1970); Lina Wertmüller‘s long-winded and notoriously long-titled Italian drama A Night Full of Rain (1978); and the soapy, inferior sequel to Love Story (1970), Oliver’s Story(1978).

However, things picked up toward the end of the decade when the seemingly humorless Candice took a swipe at comedy. She made history as the first female guest host of Saturday Night Live and then showed an equally amusing side of her in the dramedyStarting Over (1979) as Burt Reynolds tone-deaf ex-wife, enjoying a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination in the process. She and Jacqueline Bisset also worked well as a team in George Cukor‘s Rich and Famous (1981), in which her mother Frances Bergencould be glimpsed in a Malibu party scene. Candice also made her Broadway debut in 1985 replacing Sigourney Weaver in David Rabe‘s black comedy Hurlyburly (1998). In 1980, Candice married Louis Malle, the older (by 14 years) French director. They had one child, a daughter named Chloe, in 1985. In the late 1980s, Candice hit a new career plateau on comedy television as the spiky title role on Murphy Brown (1988), giving great gripe as the cynical and competitive anchor/reporter of a television magazine show.

With a superlative supporting cast around her, the CBS sitcom went the distance (ten seasons) and earned Candice a whopping five Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards. Television movie roles also came her way as a result with colorful roles ranging from the evil Arthurian temptress “Morgan Le Fey” to an elite, high-classed madam — all many moons away from her initial white-gloved debutantes of the late 1960s. Malle’s illness and subsequent death from cancer in 1995 resulted in Candice maintaining a very low profile for quite some time. Since then, however, she has returned with a renewed vigor (or should I say vinegar) on television, with many of her characters enjoyable extensions of her “Murphy Brown” curmudgeon. After years of working exclusively in television, she returned to the big screen, playing a former beauty queen who attempts to foil Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality (2000), and Reese Witherspoon‘s pretentious would-be mother-in-law in Sweet Home Alabama (2002).

She has continued chomping at the comedy bit, appearing in The In-Laws (2003), The Women (2008), and Bride Wars (2009). In 2005, she joined the cast of Boston Legal(2004) playing a brash, no-nonsense lawyer while trading barbs with a much less seriousWilliam Shatner. She played this role for five seasons, receiving nominations for two Emmys, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Since 2000, she has been married to her second husband, Marshall Rose, who is a Manhattan real estate developer.

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

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Robert Conrad

Robert Conrad has had a very successful career on television in such series as “The Wild Wild West” and “Baa Baa Black sheep”.   His occasional films include “Pal;m Springs Weekend” in 1963.

Robert Conrad
Robert Conrad

TCM overview:

A ruggedly handsome leading man for over three decades on American television, Robert Conrad first gained audiences’ attention as detective Tom Lopaka on the light-hearted crime series “Hawaiian Eye” (ABC, 1959-1963). But his true breakout series came as the 19th-century secret agent James T. West in the tongue-in-cheek Western adventure “The Wild, Wild West” (CBS, 1965-69). The series helped to establish Conrad as an actor who enjoyed doing his own stunts – occasionally to his own physical detriment. In the 1970s, Conrad starred as real-life World War II flying ace Gregory “Pappy” Boyington on the action-comedy series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (NBC, 1976-78), which he helped to rescue from oblivion by directly lobbying TV station managers after the network canceled the series. He broke out of the tough guy mold on several occasions, most notably in the epic miniseries “Centennial” (1979) and in the title role of the TV-movie “Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy” (1981), but audiences preferred him in the masculine vein of his previous screen incarnations. He enjoyed greater small-screen success as the pitchman for Everyready batteries – where he virtually challenged the viewer to knock the battery off his shoulder – than in any series or TV-movie. Still remarkably fit in his fifth and sixth decades, he continued to star as hard-nosed types in TV-movies and short-lived television shows throughout the 1990s before largely retiring at the turn of the millennium, leaving behind a legacy of tough guy roles fans could never forget.

Born Conrad Robert Falk in Chicago, IL on March 1, 1935, Conrad was the son of publicist Jacqueline Hubbard, who noticed that even at an early age, her son showed an interest in performing. A star athlete in high school, he also worked as a singer in Chicago nightclubs, but was forced to turn to drearier work as a milk truck driver and dock worker after eloping with his first wife, Joan Kenlay, at the age of 17 in 1952. After convincing himself that he was just as capable of becoming a star as any of the leading men on television, he got his first entry into the business through another struggling actor, Nick Adams, who, beginning in 1957, helped him earn an agent through small roles. Conrad – who had changed his name by flipping his first and middle names – toiled for the next few years in largely unheralded bit parts before getting a contract with Warner Bros. There, he found more substantial parts in TV series before landing his first lead as half-Hawaiian detective Tom Lopaka on “Hawaiian Eye.” Despite the show’s popularity and his newfound star status, the job paid poorly and Conrad was forced to continue logging hours in unremarkable projects to make ends meet.

When “Eye” ended its network run in 1963, he attempted to strike out on his own as a film star, but only found work in low-budget projects like “Young Dillinger” (1965), with Nick Adams in the lead and Conrad as “Pretty Boy” Floyd. He also tried to re-launch his singing career with a tour of Australia and Mexico, but the launch of “The Wild, Wild West” in 1965 proved to be the shot in the arm that Conrad’s career needed. Created by Michael Garrison, who had originally optioned Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale” as a feature film, the TV series was initially an action-packed but mostly serious Western adventure about two Secret Service agents who carried out clandestine missions for President Ulysses S. Grant. Conrad was James West, who provided the fists and the romance, while Emmy nominee Ross Martin was Artemus Gordon, a master of disguise. As the show grew in popularity, it took on a more tongue-in-cheek tone – perhaps to match the increasingly outrageous adventures of James Bond on the big screen – with Conrad facing threats from robots, earthquake machines, and arch-villains like the diminutive Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn). Conrad could also be counted upon to engage in one or more knock-down, drag-out brawls with evildoers per episode, as well as any manner of stunts, all of which he performed himself with a team of stuntmen. This dedication to the show occasionally resulted in injury for Conrad, including a 12-foot fall from a balcony that resulted in a concussion.

While enjoying the popularity of “West,” Conrad also directed and wrote a Western, “The Bandits” (1967), which marked the film debut of actor Jan-Michael Vincent. Thought not a success, the film launched his career as the occasional director of his own television efforts. After “West” was cancelled in 1969, Conrad struggled to find a worthwhile follow-up on television. Jack Webb’s “The D.A.” (NBC, 1971-72) cast him in a documentary-style procedural about the trials of a deputy district attorney, while “The Adventures of Nick Carter” (1972) was a failed pilot that attempted to exploit his “Wild, Wild West” fan base by casting him as the famed hero of 19th century pulp detective fiction. Conrad later replaced Roy Scheider as the spymaster hero of “Assignment Vienna” (ABC, 1972-73), a drama shot on location in Europe. None of these efforts could attract a substantial audience, however, and Conrad’s attempts to generate a film career met with equal indifference. “Murph the Surf” (1975), based on the real-life exploits of jewel thief Jack Roland Murphy, enjoyed a small cult following, but for the most part, Conrad was finding more employment as pitchman for Everyready batteries. The brawny spots also made him the object of spoofs by Johnny Carson and other TV comics, which Conrad took in stride with considerable good humor.

Conrad finally struck paydirt in 1976 with “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” a World War II series about a group of misfit fliers battling the Japanese in the South Pacific. Buoyed by impressive footage of real aerial dogfights from the Department of Defense, the series found favor with male audiences. For his work, Conrad won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Actor as well as received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. The accolades were not enough to extend the show’s lifespan beyond its debut season, however and NBC pulled the plug on the show at the end of the 1976-77 season. Conrad was unwilling to let the series die without a fight so he attended a meeting of NBC affiliates and made direct appeals to station managers in an attempt to drum up support for the show. The grass roots effort paid off with a revival in 1977 under a new title, “Black Sheep Squadron,” which ran for another season before once again taking the plunge in 1978. Conrad would direct numerous episodes during the show’s network run, and cast his daughter, aspiring actress Nancy Conrad, in a semi-regular role as a military nurse.

During his run on “Black Sheep,” Conrad was also a regular presence on “Battle of the Network Stars” (ABC, 1976-1986), a regular series of TV specials which pitted the stars of each network’s programs against each other in often silly Olympic-style competitions. Conrad captained the NBC team six times between 1976 and 1980, and was the focus of an embarrassing incident that saw him pitching a public fit over his team’s loss to ABC in the 1976 special. He challenged ABC captain Gabe Kaplan to a face-off that would decide the winner of the event, but was defeated by the star of “Welcome Back, Kotter” (ABC, 1975-79) in a foot race. In 1979, Conrad returned to series work in another spy series, “A Man Called Sloane” (NBC, 1979-1980). It failed to find its niche with viewers, but Conrad rebounded with an impressive turn in the ambitious 26-hour miniseries “Centennial,” based on the novel by James Michener. Robert Blake and Charles Bronson were originally considered for the key role of the French Canadian Pasquinel, but Conrad eventually inherited the role, which was among the meatiest parts of his career. An opportunistic trapper and panhandler with two families – one white; one Native American – he pays for his gold lust with his life, but not before fathering two sons who become leaders of the Indian tribes whose competition for land with white settlers comprises much of the miniseries. The role allowed Conrad to show his depth as an actor – something that few of his previous efforts had done.

Conrad got a second chance at exploring a complicated character when he took on infamous Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy in “Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy” for television in 1982. An avowed admirer of Liddy, who served as technical advisor on the project, Conrad threw himself into the part, winning some hard-fought critical respect for his performance. For a brief period in the early 1980s, Conrad appeared to be pursuing opportunities in comedy – he hosted “Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 1975- ) and appeared in the dark political satire “Wrong is Right” (1982) for director Richard Brooks. But his action hero past was never far behind him, thanks to the success of the reunion TV-movies “The Wild Wild West Revisited” (1979) and “More Wild Wild West” (1980), so he settled once again into regular rotation as tough cops and detectives in unmemorable TV-movies.

Conrad returned to series work on three separate occasions during the 1980s and into the following decade. The first was “High Mountain Rangers” (CBS, 1988), with Conrad and his real-life sons Shane and Christian as members of an elite emergency rescue team. Daughter Joan also served as executive producer on the show, which lasted just three months. Remarkably, the show spawned a spin-off, “Jesse Hawkes” (CBS, 1989), which only aired six times before its cancellation. “High Sierra Search and Rescue” (Hallmark, 1995), with Conrad’s second wife, LaVelda Fann, among its cast, also enjoyed an equally brief run. The following year, Conrad made his first appearance in a major theatrical release in over a decade with a brief appearance in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy “Jingle All the Way” (1996). His dry sense of humor was put to excellent use when he attended the 1997 Golden Raspberry Awards – which celebrated the worst in film entertainment – to accept all three of the trophies awarded to the big-screen adaptation of “The Wild, Wild West” (1997). Conrad had been a vocal opponent of the film version, which cast Will Smith in the role of James West.

After the new millennium, Conrad slowly limited his on-screen appearances to narration jobs for various documentary series and contributing to the DVD releases of “Wild, Wild West.” He settled in California’s High Sierras with his family and gave the impression that he had retired from the entertainment business. He re-surfaced in 2003 after being involved in a car accident that left him and the passenger of the other car in serious condition. Conrad was later found to have a high blood alcohol level at the time of the accident, and was given six months of house arrest and a lengthy probation. Despite rumors that he had suffered permanent injuries as a result of the accident, Conrad went public in 2005 with a bid to run for president of the Screen Actors Guild. He had been an active member during the 1980s, when both he and Charlton Heston formed a conservative unit that helped to unseat the more liberal Edward Asner from the presidency. Conrad’s campaign ended in September of 2005 when he was defeated by Alan Rosenberg.

 The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.