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Actors We Lost in 2019

31 Dec

I regularly keep a running tally of celebrity deaths during the year and what struck me about 2019 was the sheer number of actors I was familiar with who died, more, I believe, than any other year I’ve been keeping tab. There were 83. And this number was followed by a large number of actors from other countries whom I was unfamiliar with who died during the year, including many English ones (e.g., Nicky Henson). I’m astounded by the longevity of so many of these performers. I decided to pay tribute to the 44 actors on the list that I’m most familiar with, listed here in descending order by their age when they died, oldest first, with remarks on what I’ve seen them in and how I remember them. I realize that many of these actors are more famous for their work in recent popular TV series, but that’s not how I know them, so forgive me if I don’t cite those series.

Doris Day (97)

One of the biggest Hollywood movie stars in the 1950s and ’60s. I especially like her comedies with Rock Hudson, PILLOW TALK (1959) and LOVER COME BACK (1962) and her one musical drama with Frank Sinatra, YOUNG AT HEART (1954).

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The Passing of Two Manga Greats: Kazuo Koike and Monkey Punch

25 Apr

Earlier this month, two great manga creators died six days apart. Kazuhiko Kato died on April 11 at the age of 81 and Kazuo Koike died on April 17 at the age of 82. Both died of pneumonia. Kato was best known by his pseudonym, Monkey Punch, and was the creator, writer and artist of “Lupin III,” a long-running manga about a not-so-gentleman thief and his band of uniquely skilled sidekicks, that formed the basis for numerous animated TV series, movies and specials made from 1971 to 2018. Kazuo Koike was a writer responsible for some of my favorite manga series, including “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Crying Freeman” and “Lady Snowblood.” These titles and others he wrote were made into live-action films, TV series and animated films. The two men were sometime rivals whose careers ran parallel to each other and they even collaborated once, as indicated in this paragraph from Anime News Network featuring Koike’s reaction after Kato’s death had been announced:

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Pioneering manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, chronicler of postwar Japanese alienation

23 Mar

On March 7, 2015, manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi died in Tokyo at the age of 79. I first heard of him when Dwight Garner reviewed his massive manga autobiography, A Drifting Life, in The New York Times on April 15, 2009. I immediately went out and purchased it after reading the review and read it afterwards.

Tatsumi was famous in Japan for injecting adult themes into Japanese comic books (manga), starting in 1956, when his first full-length manga story, “Black Blizzard,” was published when he was just 21. It’s a vivid, action-packed story of crime, natural disaster, and redemption, done in the style of a hard-hitting, tightly edited crime movie. He popularized the term, “Gekiga,” to differentiate adult-themed manga from comics aimed at children.

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In Memoriam: Sir Run Run Shaw, 1907-2014

12 Jan
Run Run Shaw, Chinese movie mogul, in a picture from the early 1970s

Run Run Shaw, Chinese movie mogul, in a picture from the early 1970s

This past Tuesday, January 7, 2014, Sir Run Run Shaw died in Hong Kong at the age of 106. Shaw was a mogul who built a movie empire in Asia, with the Shaw Bros. movie production and distribution company, based in Hong Kong, as its centerpiece. The company was Hong Kong’s biggest movie studio from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, when it shifted its focus from movies to television, creating numerous popular series under the company name, TVB, the dominant television network in Hong Kong, with distribution throughout Asia. Shaw patterned his movie studio in the style of the old Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. and MGM. His counterparts in Hollywood were men like Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor and Harry Cohn. He had numerous stars and production personnel under contract, an array of soundstages with lavish sets for interior scenes, and sprawling backlots filled with standing sets for the numerous historical dramas and adventures the studio made. Many of the top directors of Hong Kong cinema in the 1960s and ’70s worked at Shaw Bros., including Chang Cheh, King Hu, Chor Yuen, Li Han-hsiang and Lau Kar Leung.

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Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013): Movie Magician par excellence

11 May

Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday, May 7 at the age of 92. He had a good run, starting out by animating stop-motion models of dinosaurs, inspired by KING KONG (1933), for short color 16mm movies made in his parents’ garage while he was a teenager in the 1930s and ending with the Greek mythological epic CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981. In between, he did the “technical effects” as billed on his first feature, or “special visual effects” as they were usually billed, for some of my all-time favorite movies. I was lucky to have seen many of his movies on the big screen when they were first released, starting with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), which my father took us to see on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1959, when I was five. Even though I’d seen Disney features in theaters before then, as well as a memorable double bill of THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I believe it was SINBAD that first triggered a love of the motion picture art form, particularly the more fantastic genres. The Cyclops was a truly formidable monster and done in such a vivid and exciting manner that there was something consistently compelling about him and the way he reacts to having his domain invaded by these pesky humans. I don’t know that I’ve seen another movie monster quite like him, not even in Harryhausen’s other films.

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Deanna Durbin: In Memoriam

2 May

First Annette and now Deanna Durbin, who was, in a way, the Annette Funicello of the 1930s (but way more popular). According to the New York Times obituary of May 1, 2013, Ms. Durbin died “a few days ago.” (As of this writing, IMDB still doesn’t list a death date, presumably because it still doesn’t have one!) Legend has it that Deanna’s film musicals, filled with youthful exuberance and musical cheer, starting with THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) and 100 MEN AND A GIRL (1937), were so popular they saved Universal Pictures from bankruptcy and kept the studio solvent until Abbott and Costello came along in the 1940s. (Deanna and Annette connection: both co-starred in movies with Robert Cummings.)

Deanna Durbin (born Dec. 4, 1921) was one of the few major Hollywood stars to turn her back on the industry and walk away from it and live happily ever after. She moved to France in 1950 with her third husband, French director Charles David, after having made her last film in 1948 at the age of 26, and never looked back. Before that, she made a total of 21 features, mostly at Universal, from 1936-1948. As far as I know, she sang in every one of them.

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Annette Funicello: My First Hollywood Heartthrob

9 Apr

News of Annette Funicello’s death after a decades-long battle with multiple sclerosis was announced yesterday. I first knew “Annette,” as she was commonly known, from her tenure on “The Mickey Mouse Club” on TV when I was a child in the late 1950s. However, I didn’t come to appreciate her fully until I was a little older and saw BEACH PARTY when it opened in the Bronx in October 1963 (50 years ago this fall) on a double bill with Roger Corman’s race-car drama, THE YOUNG RACERS. Annette was absolutely beautiful in the film and even though I’d have to count Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY, first seen earlier that year, as my first movie star crush (and the one that directly influenced, consciously or subconsciously, my future choice of mate), I have to say Annette imprinted herself on my consciousness that day as the ideal woman, particularly in the scene where her mirror image sings back to her, “Treat Him Nicely.”

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