June 26, 2014

Eli Wallach Dead at 98

Eli Wallach, a celebrated stage and film actor who excelled at playing impulsive characters across the ethnic spectrum, memorably as Mexican bandits in the 1960s movie westerns “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” died June 24 at his home in Manhattan. He was 98.

The son of Polish Jews, Mr. Wallach was in constant demand to play nearly every kind of ethnic character on stage and screen in a career that spanned seven decades. He initially burst to prominence on Broadway, where he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of a prideful and buffoonish Sicilian named Mangiacavallo in Tennessee Williams’s “The Rose Tattoo” (1951).

Mr. Wallach became one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood, with more than 150 credits in films and on television. He portrayed a Cambodian warlord in “Lord Jim” (1965), based on a Joseph Conrad novel; the Shah of Khwarezm opposite Omar Sharif in the title role of “Genghis Khan” (1965); and a candy-loving mobster in “The Godfather: Part III” (1990).

Reviewers singled out Mr. Wallach for praise as a villain in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), a high-profile Hollywood remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” that featured Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.

Mr. Wallach also had a pivotal role in Italian director Sergio Leone’s violent “spaghetti western” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). His character, Tuco, was the “Ugly.”

Although the film proved wildly popular, Mr. Wallach was criticized for drifting into bandido caricature and confusing accents. “Mexican . . . laced with Riverdale,” New York Times critic Renata Adler wrote.

Mr. Wallach’s other movie highlights included a psychopathic hit man in Don Siegel’s “The Lineup” (1958) and a sad-eyed widower who elicits more sympathy than attraction from divorcee Marilyn Monroe in “The Misfits” (1961).

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther found Mr. Wallach “dynamic, arrogant and droll” as the Sicilian who ruins his scheming rival (played by Karl Malden) in “Baby Doll” (1956), based on two short plays by Williams.

Mr. Wallach performed in more than two dozen Broadway shows since the 1940s — several opposite his wife, actress Anne Jackson. He earned a reputation as a skilled interpreter of modern playwrights, including the absurdist Eugene Ionesco (“Rhinoceros”) and the comic writer Murray Schisgal (“Luv”). He was an early member of the Actors Studio, a workshop in New York founded by director Elia Kazan, producer Cheryl Crawford and other prominent theatrical figures.

As a performer, Mr. Wallach drew from “the Method,” an acting technique that uses the performer’s emotional memory to add realistic touches to a role.

Describing how he prepared for the part of a hit man with no conscience in “The Lineup,” he told an interviewer, “I make up imaginary circumstances, but I draw on remembered emotions . . . like recalling being so annoyed by a mosquito you wanted to kill it.”

On television, he won an Emmy Award for a supporting role as a Mafia drug dealer in the drama “The Poppy Is Also a Flower” (1966), and joked that he received fan mail for decades for his guest role as Mr. Freeze on the campy 1960s TV series “Batman.”

“I got $350,” he said, with mock anger. “And 30 years later, Arnold Schwarzenegger did the same part and got $20 million.”

Eli Herschel Wallach, whose father was a tailor, was born Dec. 7, 1915, in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a youngster, he was captivated by comics and dramatized the strip panels using different voices. This led to his interest in movies and acting, a passion cemented after watching Ronald Colman in the 1926 silent film version of “Beau Geste.”

“When I came back from ‘Beau Geste,’ my bedroom was the Sahara,” he told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2005. “The blankets were all sand. My mother would call me to dinner and I’d say, ‘I can’t . . . I’m bleeding . . . I’ve been . . . shot.’

“So everyone in the family was used to this. But my father’s point of view was, ‘From this, you can make a living?’ They wanted me to go to college and become a teacher.”

He entered the University of Texas because of the low tuition rates and joined a college theater club. After graduating in 1936, Mr. Wallach received a master’s degree in education at City College of New York at his family’s behest. He said he flunked the teacher’s exam but was secretly pleased so he could pursue acting.

He won a scholarship to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, a theater school in Manhattan that taught the “Method,” but his professional stage career was delayed by Army Medical Corps service during World War II.

In 1946, he met Jackson when they appeared together in a Tennessee Williams one-act play, “This Property is Condemned.” They married two years later. Besides his wife, survivors include three children, Peter Wallach, Roberta Wallach and Katherine Wallach; a sister; and three grandsons.

Mr. Wallach’s big break onstage came when director Joshua Logan hired him as a replacement for a supporting actor in the wartime comedy “Mister Roberts,” starring Henry Fonda. He said Logan spotted his potential during an impromptu speech he gave at the Actors Studio about raiding houses of prostitution while in the Medical Corps.

He spent two years in “Mister Roberts” before being cast opposite Maureen Stapleton onstage in “The Rose Tattoo.” After winning the Tony for best featured actor, he turned down a supporting part that won Frank Sinatra an Academy Award in “From Here to Eternity” (1953). Instead, he took the leading role of Kilroy in Williams’s odd fantasy stage drama “Camino Real” (1953), which flopped.

He said that whenever he ran into Sinatra in later years, the singer would call out to him, “Hello, you crazy actor.”

Also onstage, Mr. Wallach played a nonagenarian in Ionesco’s “The Chairs” and a young intellectual in S.N. Behrman’s “The Cold Wind and the Warm.” In 1955, he replaced David Wayne on Broadway as the Okinawan interpreter in “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” In 1964, he and Jackson began a three-year Broadway run in Schisgal’s “Luv,” with Mr. Wallach as a farcically childish husband in an unhappy marriage.

In 1982, as Mr. Wallach was appearing in Schisgal one-act plays, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote: “It would be pointless to imagine anyone but Mr. Wallach playing Mr. Schisgal’s irascibly childish middle-aged men, who bare their teeth in futile rage as soon as a sensible woman appears to deflate their egomaniacal masculine logic.”

Mr. Wallach became a fixture of television dramas on anthology programs in the 1950s, including Tom in Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” the gypsy Rafael in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and as an aide to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin in “The Plot to Kill Stalin.”

Despite promising movie roles early on, Mr. Wallach was gradually reduced to supporting parts, but he often made the most of limited screen time.

He played a wounded American soldier in “The Victors” (1963); an art collector opposite Audrey Hepburn in “How to Steal a Million” (1966); a Jewish bail bondsman in “The Hunter” (1980), Steve McQueen’s final movie; and a hit man after aged robbers Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in “Tough Guys” (1986).

Writing of the last, Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley singled out Mr. Wallach for “a show-stealing, side-splitting role as a nearsighted gunman in pursuit of the heroes.”

He also played an unbilled role of a liquor store owner in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” (2003). He had known Eastwood ever since both suffered through director Sergio Leone’s demands on the set of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Leone had asked the actors to do their own stunts, to create a sense of gritty realism. This meant Mr. Wallach was forced — during two takes — to place himself against railroad tracks as an oncoming train cut his character’s handcuffs. Each time, his head was nearly severed by the iron step of a passenger car.

Mr. Wallach, who in recent years had small roles in films such as Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010. The citation called him “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”

He wrote a memoir, “The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage” (2005), in which he credited his long and stable marriage to appearing with his wife in plays “that had tremendous fights in them. . . . Onstage we could, with the help of brilliant writing, air our personal grievances and thus avoid expensive psychiatric sessions.”

Jackson said the marriage worked because he did the ironing.

June 12, 2014

Screen, Stage Legend Ruby Dee Dies at 91

Ruby Dee, the award-winning actress whose seven-decade career included triumphs on stage and screen, has died. She was 91.

Dee died peacefully at her New Rochelle, New York, home on Wednesday, according to her representative, Michael Livingston.

Dee -- often with her late husband, Ossie Davis -- was a formidable force in both the performing arts community and the civil rights movement. She was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and received the Frederick Douglass Award in 1970 from the National Urban League.

Davis preceded his wife in death in 2005.

Dee earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in "American Gangster" (2007). She also won an Emmy and Grammy for other work.

Broadway star Audra McDonald paid tribute to Dee when she accepted a Tony Award last Sunday, crediting Dee, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll and Billie Holiday for making her career possible. McDonald won a best actress Tony in 2004 for playing the same role Dee played on Broadway in 1959 and in the 1961 film version of "A Raisin in the Sun."

Her acting career started in New York in the 1940s, but it was her role in the 1950 movie "The Jackie Robinson Story" that first brought her national attention.

June 10, 2014

Four New Trivia Pages on Meredy.com

Ronald Reagan - http://www.meredy.com/reaganronaldtriv.html

Lynn Redgrave - http://www.meredy.com/redgravelynntriv.html

Michael Redgrave - http://www.meredy.com/redgravemichaeltriv.html

Vanessa Redgrave - http://www.meredy.com/redgravevanessatriv.html

Martha Hyer, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dies at 89

Martha Hyer, an Oscar-nominated movie actress who starred alongside Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine in the 1950s and 1960s, died on May 31 at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by Raymond Lucero of Rivera Funeral Home in Santa Fe.

While Ms. Hyer was never a top star herself, she shared the screen with plenty of people who were.

In the 1954 comedy “Sabrina,” starring Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, she played the fiancĂ©e of the Bogart character’s brother, played by William Holden. In the 1958 drama “Some Came Running,” based on a novel by James Jones and starring Sinatra and Martin, she played an emotionally reserved schoolteacher wooed by a war veteran and writer played by Sinatra. Although Ms. Hyer was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress, the actress in the film who received the most notice was Ms. MacLaine, playing a less reputable woman also attracted to the Sinatra character. Ms. MacLaine was nominated for best actress, her first Oscar nomination.

Ms. Hyer enjoyed her fame and was not shy about flaunting her rising wealth. In 1959, Life magazine ran a multipage photo feature highlighting her luxurious life. It depicted her admiring her Sheffield silver and a Pissarro landscape painting and indulging in a massage, covered by only a towel. She extolled fur coats, solitude and her expansive view of Los Angeles. The accompanying text noted that she had been married briefly and was “now a bachelor girl.” (That marriage was to Ray Stahl, who directed a 1954 film in which she appeared, “The Scarlet Spear.”)

“If this is transitory, that is fine,” she told Life. “I’ve dreamed a dream and it has come true. I am happy.”

Her glamorous looks were sometimes compared to those of Grace Kelly and her social life drew steady attention from gossip columnists. Yet her career began to slow in the 1960s, when few of her films were well received. In 1964 she appeared in “Bikini Beach” and had a modest role in “The Carpetbaggers,” a commercial success based on the 1961 novel by Harold Robbins. In 1965 she had a supporting role in “The Sons of Katie Elder,” a western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin.

The next year she married one of that film’s producers, Hal B. Wallis, one of the most prominent executives in Hollywood. She also made headlines that year for selling her Pissarro at a Sotheby’s auction for $103,000. She later complained that Mr. Wallis limited one of her favorite hobbies: spending money.

Martha Hyer was born on Aug. 10, 1924, in Fort Worth. Her father, Julien, was a judge and a state lawmaker. She attended Northwestern University before moving to California, where she hoped to become an actress. She found small roles in low-budget westerns and other marginal films before being cast in “Sabrina.”

Information on survivors was not immediately available. Mr. Wallis died in 1986.

Ms. Hyer had stopped making movies by 1971 but continued to appear on television until 1974. Her last role was in an episode of “McCloud.” Among the other shows on which she was seen were “Rawhide,” “The Virginian” and “Burke’s Law.”

In 1990 she published a memoir, “Finding My Way.”

June 01, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Actress Joan Lorring Dead at 88

Joan Lorring
Joan Lorring, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the 1945 film “The Corn Is Green,” died on Friday in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. She was 88.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter Santha Sonenberg.

“The Corn Is Green” starred Bette Davis as an idealistic schoolteacher in a Welsh mining town. Ms. Lorring was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a scheming young woman, but lost to Anne Revere.

Joan Lorring was born Mary Magdalene Ellis in Hong Kong on April 17, 1926. She left for the United States with her mother in 1939 to escape the coming Japanese invasion.

The two settled in San Francisco, where Ms. Lorring started working in radio before going on to a career as a stage, screen and television performer. Her first film was the 1944 MGM production “Song of Russia.”

Ms. Lorring was also in two 1946 movies with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, “Three Strangers” and “The Verdict.”

She appeared on Broadway four times, most notably in “Come Back, Little Sheba,” with Shirley Booth, for which she won a Donaldson Award in 1950.

On television she was seen on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” as well as on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Love Boat” and other prime-time series. She was also in “The Star Wagon,” a 1966 PBS production starring Orson Bean that included Dustin Hoffman in the supporting cast, and a 1956 television version of “The Corn Is Green,” in which she repeated her Oscar-nominated role.

In addition to her daughter Santha, Ms. Lorring is survived by another daughter, Andrea Sonenberg, and two grandchildren. Her husband, Dr. Martin Sonenberg, an endocrinologist, died in 2011.

‘Brady Bunch’ actress, Ann B. Davis, dead at 88

The Emmy-winning actress took a tumble in her bathroom and hit her head early Saturday morning, sources told TMZ.

Ann B. Davis

Ann Branford Davis, the actress who played the sometimes wacky housekeeper who maintained law and order on “The Brady Bunch,” has died on Sunday morning after falling at her San Antonio home.

Episcopal Bishop William C. Frey, a close friend of Davis, said she she hit her head and suffered a subdural hematoma during a rough fall in a bathroom on Saturday and never woke up, according to CNN.

The couple Davis had been living with at a religious commune told TMZ she was a healthy 88-year-old and even walked downstairs to say goodnight before going to bed.

Her path as an actress took charge after a performance of "Oklahoma" featuring her brother, Evan, changed her ambitions while attending University of Michigan as a pre-med student.

The actress gained notoriety in the 1950s for her regular role as Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz on "The Bob Cummings Show" and won two Emmys.

She appeared in every episode of the Brady Bunch sitcom during its five-year run on the ABC network as a witty maid for the big household.

In a 2004 interview with the Archive of American Television, Davis looked toward her own life while creating a backstory for Alice.

"It was close to my family as Alice would ever get," Davis said.

She continued to act even when the Brady Bunch ended in 1974 and appeared in several reunions for the show.

She joined the Episcopal community and traveled the country with Frey for church activities.

Her church is arranging her funeral. Davis was born in Schenectady, New York on May 3, 1926.

May 03, 2014

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., star of 'The FBI,' dead at 95

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the son of famous musical parents who established his own lasting celebrity in two of television's most popular series, "77 Sunset Strip" and "The F.B.I.," died Friday at age 95.

Zimbalist died at his Solvang home in California's bucolic horse country, said family friend Judith Moose, who released a statement from his children Stephanie Zimbalist and Efrem Zimbalist III.

"We are heartbroken to announce the passing into peace of our beloved father, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., today at his Solvang ranch," the statement read. "He actively enjoyed his life to the last day, showering love on his extended family, playing golf and visiting with close friends."

Zimbalist's stunning good looks and cool, deductive manner made him the ideal star as the hip private detective ferreting out Hollywood miscreants in "77 Sunset Strip," which aired from 1958 to 1964. As soon as that show ended he segued seamlessly into "The F.B.I." which aired from 1965 to 1974.

At the end of each episode of the latter show, after Zimbalist and his fellow G-men had captured that week's mobsters, subversives, bank robbers or spies, the series would post photos from the FBI's real-life most-wanted list. Some of those pictures led to arrests, which helped give the show the complete seal of approval of the agency's real-life director, J. Edgar Hoover.

The son of violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist and acclaimed opera singer Alma Gluck, young Efrem initially appeared headed for a musical career. He studied violin for seven years under the tutelage of Jascha Heifetz's father, but eventually developed more interest in theater.

He became an actor and "77 Sunset Strip" made him a star.

His daughter Stephanie also took up acting — and small-screen detective work, in the hit 1980s TV series "Remington Steele." Her father had a recurring role in that show as a con man.

After serving in World War II, Zimbalist made his stage debut in "The Rugged Path," starring Spencer Tracy, and appeared in other plays and a soap opera before being called to Hollywood. Warner Bros. signed him to a contract and cast him in minor film roles.

He also had a recurring role in the hit 1950s Western series "Maverick," playing con man Dandy Jim Buckley.

Then in 1958 "77 Sunset Strip" debuted, starring Zimbalist as a cultured former O.S.S. officer and language expert whose partner was Roger Smith, an Ivy League Ph.D.

The pair operated out of an office in the center of Hollywood's Sunset Strip where, aided by their sometime helper, Kookie, a jive-talking beatnik type who doubled as a parking lot attendant, they tracked down miscreants.

Kookie's character, played by Edd Byrnes, helped draw young viewers to the show, and his constant hair combing created the national catchphrase, "Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb."

The program brought Zimbalist an Emmy nomination in 1959, but after a few seasons he tired of the long hours and what he believed were the bad scripts.

"A job like this should pay off in one of two ways: satisfaction or money. The money is not great, and there is no satisfaction," he said.

When the show faltered in 1963, Jack Webb of "Dragnet" fame was hired for an overhaul. He fired the cast except for Zimbalist, whom he made a world-traveling investigator. The repair work failed, and the series ended the following year.

Zimbalist had better luck with "The F.B.I.," which endured for a decade as one of TV's most popular shows.

Perceiving that the series could provide the real FBI with an important P.R. boost, Hoover opened the bureau's files to the show's producers and even allowed background shots to be filmed in real FBI offices.

"He never came on the set, but I knew him," Zimbalist said. "A charming man, extremely Virginia formal and an extraordinary command of the language."

In 2009 the FBI honored Zimbalist with his own special agent's badge, making him an honorary G-man in recognition of the contributions his show and his character, Inspector Lewis Erskine, made to the agency's reputation.

"We could not have asked for a better character, or a better man, to play his role," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said at the time.

During summer breaks between the two series, Warner Bros. cast Zimbalist in several feature films, including "Too Much Too Soon," ''Home Before Dark," ''The Crowded Sky," ''The Chapman Report" and "Wait Until Dark." In the latter, he played the husband of Audrey Hepburn, a blind woman terrorized by thugs in a truly frightening film.

Zimbalist also appeared in "By Love Possessed," ''Airport 1975," ''Terror Out of the Sky" and "Hot Shots."

But he would always be best known as a TV star, ironic for an actor who told The Associated Press in 1993 that when Warner Bros. hired him he had no interest in doing television.

"They showed me in my contract where it said I had to," he recalled.

"I ended up with my life slanted toward television and I just accept that," he said. "I think you play the hand the way it's dealt, that's all."

In the 1990s, Zimbalist recorded the voice of Alfred the butler in the cartoon version of the "Batman" TV series. That role, he said, "has made me an idol in my little grandchildren's eyes."

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was born in New York City on Nov. 30, 1917.

His mother, reasoning that living amid the musical elite was not the best upbringing for a boy, sent him to boarding schools where he could be toughened by others his age. But young Efrem was bashful and withdrawn in school. His only outlet was acting in campus plays.

"I walked onstage in a play at prep school, and with childish naiveté, told myself, 'Wow, I'm an actor!'" he once recalled.

He was kicked out of Yale after two years over dismal grades, which he blamed on a playboy attitude.

Afraid to go home, he stayed with a friend in New York City for three months, working as a page at NBC headquarters, where he was dazzled by the famous radio stars. Unable to break into radio as an actor, he studied at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse.

During World War II he served in the infantry, receiving a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound in his leg.

In 1945, Zimbalist married Emily McNair and they had a daughter, Nancy, and son, Efrem III.

After his wife died in 1950 he gave up acting for a time to teach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where his father was an artist in residence. He returned to Hollywood five years later, marrying Loranda Stephanie Spalding in 1956, and she gave birth to their daughter Stephanie.

He is survived by his children, four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

April 12, 2014

The Big Valley: Season 3 on DVD

On July 8, 2014, Timeless Media Group is releasing The Big Valley: Season 3 on DVD. Finally!

April 07, 2014

Mickey Rooney Dies at 93

Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life — the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60 — died on Sunday. He was 93 and lived in Westlake Village, Calif.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

He stood only a few inches taller than five feet, but Mr. Rooney was larger and louder than life. From the moment he toddled onto a burlesque stage at 17 months to his movie debut at 6 to his career-crowning Broadway debut in “Sugar Babies” at 59 and beyond, he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue.

As Andy Hardy, growing up in the idealized fictional town of Carvel, Mr. Rooney was the most famous teenager in America from 1937 to 1944: everybody’s cheeky son or younger brother, energetic and feverishly in love with girls and cars. The 15 Hardy Family movies, in which all problems could be solved by Andy’s man-to-man talks with his father, Judge Hardy (played by Lewis Stone), earned more than $75 million — a huge sum during the Depression years, when movie tickets rarely cost more than 25 cents.

In 1939, America’s theater owners voted Mr. Rooney the No. 1 box-office star, over Tyrone Power. That same year he sang and danced his way to an Oscar nomination for best actor in “Babes in Arms,” the first of the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” MGM musicals he made with Judy Garland.

He was box-office king again in 1940, over Spencer Tracy, and in 1941, with Clark Gable taking second place. Three years earlier, in The New York Times, Frank S. Nugent had written of Mr. Rooney’s performance as the swaggering bully redeemed by Tracy’s Father Flanagan in “Boys Town”:

“Mickey is the Dead End gang rolled into one. He’s Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and King Kong before they grew up, or knew a restraining hand. Mickey, as the French would understate it, is the original enfant terrible.”

Mr. Rooney’s personal life was as dynamic as his screen presence. He married eight times. He earned $12 million before he was 40 and spent more. Impulsive, recklessly extravagant, mercurial and addicted to playing the ponies and shooting craps, he attacked life as though it were a six-course dinner.

Movie audiences first saw him as Mickey McGuire, a tough kid in a battered derby hat, in a series of two-reel shorts based on the comic strip “Toonerville Trolley.” (The first short in which he had a starring role, “Mickey’s Circus,” was thought to be lost, but a print was found, along with many other silent films, in the Netherlands in 2014.)

At 13, he auditioned for the role of the mischievous sprite Puck in the great Austrian producer-director Max Reinhardt’s 1934 Hollywood Bowl production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Though unfamiliar with Shakespeare, Mr. Rooney impressed Reinhardt, who cast him in the play and — along with James Cagney, Dick Powell and Olivia de Havilland — in the movie version he directed with William Dieterle a year later.

He was a sensation. “Rooney seems inhuman, he moves like mist or water, his body is burnished by the extraordinary light, and his gurgling laugh is ghostly and enchanting,” David Thomson wrote of Mr. Rooney’s performance in his “Biographical Dictionary of Film.” “Could such a performance have been directed? Rooney’s Puck is truly inhuman, one of cinema’s most arresting pieces of magic.”

Between 1936 and 1944, Mr. Rooney made more than three dozen movies. Under contract at MGM, he brought vitality even to bit parts like a Brooklyn shoeshine boy in “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1936), the kid brother in the film version of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” (1935) and a young deckhand on a fishing boat in “Captains Courageous” (1937).

Along with Deanna Durbin, Mr. Rooney was given a special Academy Award in 1939 “for bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth.” The next year he received his Oscar nomination for “Babes in Arms.” His second nomination was for his performance in the film version of William Saroyan’s “Human Comedy” (1943) as the messenger boy who delivers telegrams from the War Department telling families in a small California town that their sons have died. That movie seems saccharine and preachy more than 70 years later, but time has not tarnished the desolation on Mr. Rooney’s face when he reads those telegrams.

A Career of Ups and Downs

Although his career was one of the longest in show business history — about 90 years separated his first movie from his last — it was crammed with detours and dead ends. (“There have been crevices, fissures, pits, and I’ve fallen into a lot of them,” he told The Times in 1979.)

His elfin face and short, stocky body were part of the problem: At 28, with adolescent roles no longer an option and adult roles hard to come by, he said he would give 10 years of his life to be six inches taller. Yet most of his wounds were self-inflicted.

He married in haste — he wed Miss Birmingham of 1944 after knowing her for less than two weeks — and repented in haste. He turned his back on MGM, the studio that had made him a star, for the mirage of running his own production company, and ended up mired in debt and B movies. Suits for alimony, child support and back taxes pursued him like tin cans tied to the bumper of the car he was driving to his next wedding.

When he needed money most desperately, he could always play Las Vegas. “I was a smash hit at the Riviera, where I drew $17,500 a week and lost twice that on the crap table,” Mr. Rooney wrote in his 1991 autobiography, “Life Is Too Short.”

At one point in 1950, the only job he could get was touring Southern states with the Hadacol Caravan. Admission to the shows was a box top from a bottle of a 26 percent alcohol tonic that the government soon forced off the market.

Yet he always bounced back, often higher than anyone expected.

Not including the Mickey Maguire shorts, Mr. Rooney made more than 200 movies, earning a total of four Academy Award nominations — he was nominated for best supporting actor as the fast-talking soldier who dies trying to protect $30,000 he won in a craps game in “The Bold and the Brave” (1956) and as the trainer of a wild Arabian horse in “The Black Stallion” (1979). (Because of his size, Mr. Rooney played a lot of jockeys and, as his waistline expanded, former jockeys who had become trainers. He was the vagabond who helps Elizabeth Taylor turn an unruly horse into a steeplechase champion in her breakthrough film, “National Velvet,” in 1944.)

He was also nominated for five Emmy Awards and won one, for his performance in the 1981 television movie “Bill” as a developmentally disabled man who has spent most of his life in an institution and must learn to live in the outside world.

An Early Start

Mickey Rooney was born Joseph Yule Jr. in a Brooklyn tenement on Sept. 23, 1920. His mother, Nell Carter, danced in a burlesque chorus line. His father was a top banana, a lead comic, but only on second-rate circuits.

Sonny Yule, as he was known, grew up in boardinghouses in a dozen towns, but he lived backstage and, before he was 2 years old, onstage. His parents separated when he was 4, each of them taking $20 of the $40 they had saved.

For a year he had a normal childhood with his mother in Kansas City, Mo. Then she read in Variety that Hal Roach was looking for children for his Our Gang comedies. A few weeks later, the two of them left for Hollywood.

His mother turned down an offer from Roach’s assistant to try Sonny out at $5 a day. In vaudeville, one always waited for a better offer. But no second offer came. There were too many mothers eager for $5 a day.

It was back to Kansas City and then back again to Hollywood. Sonny got a job in a musical revue for $50 a week. “Marvelous for a five-year-old,” wrote the Los Angeles Times theater critic. A few months later he was Mickey McGuire at $250 for each “Toonerville Trolley” short. His professional name was changed to Mickey McGuire until the creator of the comic strip objected. But he kept the Mickey.

Nobody ever doubted his talent. Of his “all but unimprovable” performance in “National Velvet,” James Agee wrote, “He is an extremely wise and moving actor, and if I am ever again tempted to speak disrespectfully of him, that will be in anger over the unforgivable waste of a forceful yet subtle talent, proved capable of self-discipline and of the hardest roles that could be thrown it.”

In “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Captains Courageous” and “The Devil Is a Sissy” (1936), Mr. Rooney was a foil to MGM’s $2,500-a-week child star, Freddie Bartholomew. Decades after seeing “The Devil Is a Sissy,” the critic Walter Kerr remembered “a brief but instantly shocking moment.” Fifteen-year-old Mickey played a street urchin whose father was to be electrocuted that night. “Without warning, the street lights dimmed, just for a second or two,” Mr. Kerr wrote in The Times in 1979. “As Mr. Rooney glanced upward, the swift and silent realization, the ashen pain, that washed over his face and then was as hastily self-consciously erased was — most literally — staggering.”

By “Lord Jeff” (1938) Mr. Rooney and Mr. Bartholomew, playing delinquents in a naval reform school, had equal billing. In the last of their five movies together, “A Yank at Eton” (1942), Mr. Rooney was the star.

But MGM’s cleverest use of Mr. Rooney was teaming him with Judy Garland. His enormous energy and her voice and vulnerability melted the screen in four musicals. That the plots were more or less the same did not matter. In “Babes in Arms,” they put on a show to raise money for their out-of-work parents. In “Strike Up the Band” (1940), they raised money for a high school band contest. In “Babes on Broadway” (1941), they wanted to send orphans on an excursion to the country. And in “Girl Crazy” (1943), the money their Wild West Rodeo raised saved their college. What really mattered were Mickey’s brash charm, Judy’s sincerity and the songs by the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers and Hart, and others.

They were also teamed in three of the Andy Hardy movies and — before either of them was famous — in “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry” (1937), as a jockey who is tricked into throwing a race and the girl who tries to help him.

Running to the Altar

Mr. Rooney was 21 when he married the 19-year-old starlet Ava Gardner in 1942. The studio fought the marriage and was equally upset at Mr. Rooney’s divorce a year later.

This was just the first chapter in what would be a long and tumultuous marital history. Mr. Rooney was divorced six times, and the divorce petitions all had similar complaints: He had a fiery temper, and he would leave home for days or even weeks at a time.

Drafted into the Army in 1944, Mr. Rooney met Betty Jane Rase, an Alabama beauty queen, at a party. “Sometime after the seventh bourbon or maybe the seventeenth,” Mr. Rooney wrote in “Life Is Too Short,” “I asked Miss Birmingham if she’d like to become Mrs. Mickey Rooney, and she said yes.”

They divorced in 1949. His third marriage, to the actress Martha Vickers, who had played Lauren Bacall’s nymphomaniac sister in “The Big Sleep,” lasted three years. His fourth wife was another beauty queen, Elaine Mahnken, who later recalled, “While they were dunning him for bills, he’d be out buying two new Jaguars.” She handled the finances and brought Mr. Rooney to the brink of solvency. He rewarded her by going to Las Vegas and losing $50,000.

His fifth marriage, to Barbara Thomason, an aspiring actress, ended tragically. When Mr. Rooney declared bankruptcy in 1962, soon after the birth of their third child, he had $500 in cash and almost $500,000 in debts, and he owed $100,000 in delinquent taxes. The I.R.S. gave him an allowance of $200 a month, so he borrowed money to play the ponies. A month after they separated in December 1965 and began a messy custody battle, Barbara Thomason Rooney was shot to death by a jealous lover, Milos Milosevic, who then used the same gun to kill himself.

By then, Mr. Rooney’s career was at low tide. As he grew older and wider, the pugnacious cockiness that had been charming when Andy Hardy sipped sodas with Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford or Esther Williams in the Carvel drugstore seemed rancid. He drank too much and was addicted to sleeping pills. In December 1959, after he had apparently had a few drinks too many, Mr. Rooney made a fool of himself on “The Tonight Show”; the audience applauded when the host, Jack Paar, asked him to leave.

He could still be an electrifying actor, and often was, especially on television. He inherited the title role in “The Comedian,” written by Rod Serling, on “Playhouse 90” in 1957 because a half-dozen other actors had refused to play a lecherous, vicious and greedy comedian. The role won him his first Emmy nomination.

But he took virtually every part he was offered in those years, and he was most often seen mugging his way through bad movies. He replaced Donald O’Connor in the last of a series about a talking mule, “Frances in the Haunted House” (1956). In “Everything’s Ducky” (1961), one of his co-stars was a talking duck. In “The Private Lives of Adam and Eve” (1960), a low-budget oddity for which he shared director credit with Albert Zugsmith, he played the Devil in an extended dream sequence. He was a manic advertising executive in search of sex symbols in “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (1965), a beach-party movie of which The Times critic Howard Thompson observed that anybody expecting the worst would not be disappointed.

The Spotlight Returns

Things began turning around for Mr. Rooney in the 1970s. He stopped drinking and became a born-again Christian. In 1978, after two more marriages and divorces, he married Jan Chamberlin, a country singer whom he met through his son Mickey Jr. Their marriage, his eighth and last, brought stability to his life. And a return to stardom was just around the corner.

It took a year to put together the boisterous and proudly old-fashioned burlesque-style revue “Sugar Babies,” in which Mr. Rooney’s co-star was the former MGM hoofer Ann Miller. Mr. Rooney fought over every skit and argued over every song and almost always got things done his way. The show opened on Broadway on Oct. 8, 1979, to rapturous reviews, and this time he did not throw success away.

“Sugar Babies” ran for three years. A road company with Carol Channing and Robert Morse was not a success — audiences wanted only one top banana, Mickey Rooney — so he spent four more years on the road with the show.

In 1983, Mr. Rooney was given an honorary Academy Award “in recognition of his 60 years of versatility in a variety of film performances.”

He continued performing well into the new millennium. He had roles in “Night at the Museum” (2006), “The Muppets” (2011) and other movies. In 2007 he and Ms. Chamberlin began touring in a “one man, one wife” show with the nostalgic title “Let’s Put On a Show.” As late as 2014 he was still making movies.

In Mr. Rooney’s later years, his life became tumultuous once again. In 2011 he obtained a restraining order against his stepson Christopher Aber and Mr. Aber’s wife, Christina, charging them with withholding food and medicine and forcing him to sign over his assets. He repeated his allegations in Washington before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. He later filed suit against them; the suit was settled in 2013, with the Abers agreeing that they owed Mr. Rooney $2.8 million.

Mr. Rooney is survived by Ms. Chamberlin.

For all the ups and downs of Mr. Rooney’s life and career, there was one constant: his love of performing. “Growing up in vaudeville,” he once said, “made me cognizant of the need to have fun at what you’re doing. You can’t get it done well without it being fun. And I’ve never felt that what I do is ‘work.’ ”

March 27, 2014

Gone With the Wind Prequel Coming in October

Mammy, the faithful slave in Gone With the Wind, may finally get her due — and a proper name.

More than 75 years after the publication of the epic novel by Margaret Mitchell, a prequel with Mammy at its center is set for release in October, the publisher said on Wednesday.

The completed book, Ruth's Journey, is the fictional telling of the life of one of the novel’s central characters, a house servant called Mammy who otherwise remains nameless.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Donald McCaig, the author of Ruth's Journey, has also written a Gone With the Wind sequel. Rhett Butler's People came out in 2007.

March 26, 2014

Recommendation: Graze.com


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March 14, 2014

Bob Thomas, Dean of Hollywood Reporters, Dies

Bob Thomas, the longtime Associated Press writer and dean of Hollywood
reporters who covered a record 66 Oscar ceremonies, reported on the
biggest stars, from Clark Gable to Tom Cruise, and filed AP's bulletin
that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot, died Friday. He was 92.

Thomas, a last link to Hollywood's studio age who retired in 2010,
died of age-related illnesses at his longtime Encino, Calif., home,
his daughter Janet Thomas said.

A room filled with his interview subjects would have made for the most
glittering of ceremonies: Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe,
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Groucho Marx and Marlon Brando,
Walt Disney and Fred Astaire. He interviewed rising stars (James
Dean), middle-aged legends (Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson) and elder
institutions (Bob Hope).

Thomas' career began in 1944, when Hollywood was still a small,
centralized community, tightly controlled by a handful of studios, and
continued well into the 21st century. During his nearly seven decades
writing for the AP, Thomas reviewed hundreds of films and television
shows, compiled hundreds of celebrity obituaries and wrote numerous
retrospective pieces on Hollywood and how it had changed.

He was the author of nearly three dozen books, including biographies
of Disney, Brando and Crawford and an acclaimed portrait of studio
mogul Harry Cohn, "King Cohn." He wrote, produced and appeared in a
handful of television specials on the Academy Awards and was a guest
on numerous television programs including "The Tonight Show," ''Good
Morning America" and "Nightline." His biographies of reclusive
billionaire Howard Hughes and the comedy team of Abbott and Costello
were made into television movies.

He is listed twice in Guinness World Records, for most consecutive
Academy Awards shows covered by an entertainment reporter and for
longest career as an entertainment reporter (1944-2010).

In 1988, he became the first reporter-author awarded a star on
Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

But one of his biggest stories had nothing to do with entertainment.

Helping out during the 1968 presidential election, Thomas had been
assigned to cover Sen. Kennedy on the night the New York Democrat won
the California primary. Minutes after declaring victory, Kennedy was
shot to death in the kitchen of Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel.

"I was waiting in the press room for Kennedy to arrive when I heard
what sounded like the popping of balloons in the hotel kitchen,"
Thomas would recount years later.

"I rushed into the kitchen where men were screaming and women
sobbing," he recalled. "I jumped onto a pile of kitchen trays and saw
Kennedy lying on the floor, his head bloody."

He ran to a phone and delivered the bulletin to The Associated Press.

As the son of a newspaper editor turned Hollywood press agent, Robert
Joseph Thomas seemed destined to become an entertainment writer from
his earliest days. In junior high school and high school he wrote
entertainment columns for the campus newspaper, and in college his
favorite reading was the industry trade paper Daily Variety.

But when he joined the AP in Los Angeles in 1943, it was with
aspirations of becoming a war correspondent. Instead, the wire service
named him its Fresno, Calif., correspondent, a job he gave up after
little more than a year.

"It gets so damn hot in Fresno in the summer and nothing much ever
happens there," he once told a colleague.

He returned to the AP's LA bureau in 1944 and was soon named its
entertainment reporter. He was also told that the byline he'd been
using -- Robert J. Thomas -- had to go.

"Too formal for a young guy who's going to work the Hollywood beat,"
he said the AP's bureau chief told him. "From now on your byline is
'Bob Thomas.'"

Soon he would become a ubiquitous presence in Hollywood, attending
awards shows, wandering studio back lots or going from table to table
at the Polo Lounge, Musso and Frank and other favored Hollywood
hangouts of the day. The gentlemanly, soft-spoken reporter with the
wry sense of humor rarely had trouble getting people to talk to him
and enjoyed access to the stars that modern journalists rarely attain,
whether visiting with Nicholson at his home or chatting on the set
with Tracy and Hepburn.

Although he insisted he never became friends with the people he
covered, Thomas did strike up close, long-lasting acquaintanceships
with many, and he had the anecdotes to prove it.

There was the time he tried, unsuccessfully, to match the
hard-drinking Richard Burton drink for drink on the set of the 1964
film "Night of the Iguana."

Another time, he showed up for an interview with Betty Grable armed
with a tape measure. He had been sent, he told the actress, to
determine if her figure had suffered during her recent pregnancy.
Grable good naturedly let him measure her.

"Can you imagine doing that with Michelle Pfeiffer today?" he once
asked. "In those days, it really seemed like a playground."

Thomas even received fan mail from the stars. Soon after her marriage
to actor John Agar in 1950, Shirley Temple wrote: "John and I want you
to know that we are very grateful to you for the manner in which you
handled the story on our wedding."

Some sent telegrams: "Thanks for sending the article to me; I got a
kick out of reading it," Jimmy Durante wrote via Western Union in
1951. "Boy, you're great."

But Thomas also had his share of run-ins.

Doris Day and Frank Sinatra went months without talking to him after
he quoted them candidly in stories, and Tracy cut off contact for
years when something Thomas said about him offended the Oscar-winning
actor. The fiercely private Brando never spoke with him again after
Thomas published the biography "Marlon."

His encyclopedic knowledge of the industry was well appreciated by his
colleagues. A former AP editor, Jim Lagier, would recall that Thomas
had a filing system at his home that rivaled that of any news bureau.

"Because if you call Bob Thomas at two o'clock in the morning and say,
'Bob, Mary Smith has died,' he would say, 'Mary Smith,' and then,
suddenly you could hear the filing cabinets were opening. He would
start dictating the lead," Lagier told the AP in 2008 during an oral
history interview.

Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, worked with Thomas in
the Los Angeles bureau in the early 1980s.

"Bob was an old-fashioned Hollywood reporter and he knew absolutely
everyone," she said. "He had a double-helping of impish charm with the
stars, but back at the office, he was the quiet guy who slipped into a
desk at the back and poked at the keyboard for a while, then handed in
a crisp and knowing story soon delivered to movie fans around the

"Some days, you'd even get a smile out of him before he headed out the
door again."

Through the years, Thomas' enthusiasm for his profession never waned.

"I get to interview some of the most beautiful people in the world,"
he said in 1999. "It's what I always wanted to do, and I just can't
stop doing it."

Thomas is survived by his wife of 67 years, Patricia; daughters Nancy
Thomas, Janet Thomas and Caroline Thomas; and three grandchildren.

March 11, 2014

Please Visit Meredy.com Classic Movies on Facebook

Meredy's Place - Meredy.com Classic Movies/TV/Celebrities now has its own page on Facebook.

There's a daily classic movie/TV/celebrity trivia question, classic star photos, and discussion of favorite films, TV shows and performers.

Please come join us! https://www.facebook.com/meredydotcom

March 09, 2014

Book and DVD Recommendations

Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
By Mark Harris

You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood's Golden Age
Robert Wagner and Scott Eyman

Midnight Lace is now on DVD! Click here for more info.

February 14, 2014

The Big Valley: Season 2 on DVD

On April 8, 2014, Timeless Media Group is releasing The Big Valley - Season Two on DVD. Finally!

Ralph Waite, a TV father for the ages, passes away

Ralph Waite, a Palm Desert resident known for his role as John Walton Sr. on the 1970s TV series “The Waltons” has died, Waite’s longtime friend Jerry Preece told The Desert Sun.

Waite, 85, died at his Palm Desert home Thursday at about 11 a.m.

Preece, who spent a lot of time with Waite eating at different restaurants and going to the movies, had planned to pick him up at 1 p.m.

When he arrived, he found ambulances and Waite’s wife, Linda Waite.

“She just told me she thought he’d passed,” Preece said.

Linda Waite didn’t immediately respond to phone calls Thursday afternoon.

“We had talked a lot about it...he had been ill on and off lately and had a couple of spells in the hospitals. Everything was just wearing out,” Preece said.

“This last year or two, he had really gotten closer to realizing that his body was wearing out.”

Preece said his friend died of a “tired heart.”

He described Waite as a shy man that had a mischievous, childlike side.

Waite, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1946 attended Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., on the GI Bill.

He earned his master’s degree from Yale University Divinity School and became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

He later left the ministry and went into publishing with Harper & Row in New York City.

At 33, he sat in on an acting class.

“I said, ‘Let me try a scene,’ and I fell in love with it,” Waite told The Desert Sun in 2010.

He made his stage debut in 1960 in a production of “The Balcony” at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

He continued performing in Broadway and off-Broadway plays while also landing parts in high-profile movies, including “Cool Hand Luke” and “Five Easy Pieces.”

Waite’s favorite stage role was “King Lear, by far,” he said.

In 1971, he was called out to Hollywood to work on “The Waltons,” an hourlong drama about a rural Virginia family struggling through the Great Depression.

Waite — who was about 40 years sober at the time of his death — was an alcoholic when he first began shooting “The Waltons.”

It didn’t take long for Waite to realize he was living a life contradictory to the role of the hardworking, reliable father he was playing on TV.

“I was a caring, responsible father to all of these kids,” he said. “But I was drinking the night before and being a drunk on the side. I found a way to get sober.

“Hollywood changed my life,” he said. “It turned me into a human being.”

Ron Celona, founder of the Coachella Valley Repertory in Rancho Mirage, and former artistic director of the Joslyn Center theater in Palm Desert, said he met Waite more than 15 years ago when he volunteered at the center. Later, Celona asked Waite to participate in a Q&A for a Luminary Luncheon at the Coachella Valley Rep.

“What really surprised me from the interview was how candid he was about his struggles in real life and his alcoholism,” said Celona. “That really stuck with me that he was so open in conquering that and what an achievement it was in his lifetime. That was a powerful memory from the interview. Otherwise, he was just a down-to-earth, nice guy that was willing to support CV Rep and Joslyn.”

Though Waite gained popularity for his role on the Depression-era show and then for his role as Mark Harmon’s father, Jackson “Jack” Gibbs, on the popular CBS series NCIS, he established religious and political roots in the Coachella Valley.

In his later years, Waite discovered Spirit of the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship.

“It was just what I was looking for,” Waite said.

“I spent a couple of months reacquainting myself with the Old Testament. ... It’s the root of our religion,” he said.

Waite also made his way onto the political scene in the 1990s.

Waite, a Democrat, entered the political fray in 1990 when he challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Al McCandless, representing the 37th district in Riverside County, losing by 5 percentage points.

Waite said he got involved in politics because “I thought our representative in Congress was not up to par. I ran and lost, but had a great time.”

In 1998, Waite ran in the special election for the unexpired 44th Congressional District seat left vacant when incumbent Republican Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident.

Waite was defeated in that election by Mary Bono, Sonny’s widow.

Waite won the Democratic nomination for the general election in the June primary, but dropped out before the November election.

“Ralph was a very formidable opponent yet I grew to admire him very much. We had some fun with political jesting and jousting but his caring nature and keen wit always made me smile. I am grateful for his contributions to our community, most notably his support of the ABC Recovery Center,” the former congresswoman said in a statement Thursday. “The world has lost a great star and I join our community in remembering a very good man.”

Cathedral City Councilman Greg Pettis was Waite’s spokesman during his political campaign against Bono.

“He was just a wonderful man. Smart, caring, loved people. He just really had a passion for issues that affected everyday folk,” Pettis said. “We could sit and have conversations about everyday issues.”

February 12, 2014

Sid Caesar Dies at 91

Sid Caesar, a comedic force of nature who became one of television’s first stars in the early 1950s and influenced generations of comedians and comedy writers, died on Wednesday. He was 91.

The Associated Press reported that his death was announced by Eddy Friedfeld, a family spokesman.

Mr. Caesar largely faded from the public eye in his middle years as he struggled with crippling self-doubt and addiction to alcohol and pills. But from 1950 to 1954, he and his co-stars on the live 90-minute comedy-variety extravaganza “Your Show of Shows” dominated the Saturday night viewing habits of millions of Americans. In New York, a group of Broadway theater owners tried to persuade NBC to switch the show to the middle of the week because, they said, it was ruining their Saturday business.

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

“If you want to find the ur-texts of ‘The Producers’ and ‘Blazing Saddles,’ of ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Annie Hall,’ of ‘All in the Family’ and ‘M*A*S*H’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times when he was its chief theater critic, “check out the old kinescopes of Sid Caesar.”

A list of Mr. Caesar’s writers over the years reads like a comedy all-star team. Woody Allen and Mel Brooks did some of their earliest writing for him. So did the most successful playwright in the history of the American stage, Neil Simon. Carl Reiner created one landmark sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; Larry Gelbart was the principal creative force behind another, “M*A*S*H.” Mel Tolkin wrote numerous scripts for “All in the Family.” The authors of the two longest-running Broadway musicals of the 1960s, Joseph Stein (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Michael Stewart (“Hello, Dolly!”), were Caesar alumni as well.

Sketches on “Your Show of Shows” and its successor, “Caesar’s Hour” (1954-57), were as likely to skewer the minutiae of domestic life as to lampoon classic Hollywood movies, arty foreign films and even operas.

Mr. Caesar was funny whether working from a script or improvising: In a classic moment during a parody of the opera “Pagliacci,” as he was drawing tears on his face in front of a dressing-room mirror, the makeup pencil broke. Suddenly unable to draw anything but straight lines, he made the split-second decision to play tick-tack-toe on his cheek.

With a rubbery face and the body of a linebacker, Mr. Caesar could get laughs without saying a word, as he did in a pantomime routine in which he and his co-stars, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris and Mr. Reiner, played mechanical figures on a town clock that goes dangerously out of whack.

February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple Black, Screen Darling, Dies at 85

Shirley Temple Black, who as a dimpled, precocious and determined little girl in the 1930s sang and tap-danced her way to a height of Hollywood stardom and worldwide fame that no other child has reached, died on Monday night at her home in Woodside, Calif. She was 85.

Her publicist, Cheryl Kagan, confirmed her death.

Ms. Black returned to the spotlight in the 1960s in the surprising new role of diplomat, but in the popular imagination she would always be America’s darling of the Depression years, when in 23 motion pictures her sparkling personality and sunny optimism lifted spirits and made her famous. From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The little girl with 56 perfect blonde ringlets and an air of relentless determination was so precocious that the usually unflappable Adolphe Menjou, her co-star in her first big hit, “Little Miss Marker,” described her as “an Ethel Barrymore at 6” and said she was “making a stooge out of me.”

When she turned from a magical child into a teenager, audience interest slackened, and she retired from the screen at 22. But instead of retreating into nostalgia, she created a successful second career for herself.

After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

After winning an honorary Academy Award at the age of 6 and earning $3 million before puberty, Shirley Temple grew up to be a level-headed adult. When her cancerous left breast was removed in 1972, at a time when operations for cancer were shrouded in secrecy, she held a news conference in her hospital room to speak out about her mastectomy and to urge women discovering breast lumps not to “sit home and be afraid.” She is widely credited with helping to make it acceptable to talk about breast cancer.

A statement released by her family said, “We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black.”

Shirley Jane Temple was born in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 23, 1928. From the beginning, she and her mother, Gertrude, were a team (“I was absolutely bathed in love,” she remembered); her movie career was their joint invention. Her success was due to both her own charm and her mother’s persistence.

In “Child Star,” her 1988 autobiography, Mrs. Black said her mother had made a “calculated decision” to turn her only daughter into a professional dancer. At a fee of 50 cents a week, Mrs. Temple enrolled 3-year-old Shirley in Mrs. Meglin’s Dance Studio.

In 1932, Shirley was spotted by an agent from Educational Pictures and chosen to appear in “Baby Burlesks,” a series of sexually suggestive one-reel shorts in which children played all the roles. The 4- and 5-year-old children wore fancy adult costumes that ended at the waist. Below the waist, they wore diapers with oversize safety pins. In these heavy-handed parodies of well-known films like “The Front Page” (“The Runt Page”) and “What Price Glory” (“War Babies”), Shirley imitated Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and — wearing an off-the-shoulder blouse and satin garter as a hard-boiled French bar girl in “War Babies” — Dolores Del Rio.

When any of the two dozen children in “Baby Burlesks” misbehaved, they were locked in a windowless sound box with only a block of ice on which to sit. “So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche,” Mrs. Black wrote in “Child Star.” “Its lesson of life, however, was profound and unforgettable. Time is money. Wasted time means wasted money means trouble."

“Baby Burlesks” was followed by five two-reel comedies and a year of casting calls and bit-part auditions, which garnered young Shirley half a dozen small roles. By Thanksgiving 1933 she was growing older. She was 5½, and in the previous two years she had earned a total of $702.50. Her mother did the sensible thing: she shaved a year off her daughter’s age. Shirley would be shocked to discover, at a party for her 12th birthday in April 1941, that she was actually 13.

Her career began in earnest in 1934, when she was picked to play James Dunn’s daughter in the Fox fantasy “Stand Up and Cheer,” one of many films made during the Depression in which music chases away unhappy reality. She was signed to a two-week contract at $150 a week and told to provide her own tap shoes.

Within an hour of completing her song-and-dance number “Baby, Take a Bow,” she was formally placed under contract to Fox for a year at $150 a week. The studio had an option for seven more years and would pay Gertrude Temple an additional $25 each week to take care of her daughter.

In its review of “Stand Up and Cheer” (1934), Variety called Shirley Temple a “sure-fire potential kidlet star.” She made eight movies in 1934 and moved from potential to full star in February, when Fox lent her to Paramount for “Little Miss Marker,” based on a Damon Runyon story.

Playing a child left with a bookie (Adolphe Menjou) as a marker for her father’s gambling debts, Shirley reforms a gang of gamblers, bookies and horse dopers. She would play a similarly wise and maternal miniature adult, dominating the adults around her and solving their problems with unbounded optimism and common sense, in most of her films.

She brought peace to a British regiment fighting rebels in India in “Wee Willie Winkie” (1937) and to white men and Indians in “Susannah of the Mounties” (1939). She was frequently cast as an orphan, the better to show adults how to cope with adversity: her father committed suicide in “Little Miss Marker”; her aviator father crashed and her mother was killed by a car in “Bright Eyes” (1934); she was the sole survivor of a shipwreck in “Captain January” (1936).

“People in the Depression wanted something to cheer them up, and they fell in love with a dog, Rin Tin Tin, and a little girl,” Mrs. Black often said in appraising her success.

It is no surprise that Shirley Temple dolls were the best-selling dolls of the decade (and are valuable collectibles now). In many of her films she was a living doll, adored by entire groups of men: aviators in “Bright Eyes," a Yankee regiment in “The Little Colonel” (1935).

No Shirley Temple movie was complete without a song — most famously “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup” — and a tap dance, with partners including George Murphy, Jack Haley and Buddy Ebsen. But her most successful partnership was with the legendary African-American entertainer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. She may have been the first white actress allowed to hold hands affectionately with a black man on screen, and her staircase dance with Mr. Robinson in “The Little Colonel,” the first of four movies they made together, retains its magic almost 80 years later.

Not everyone was a Shirley Temple fan. The novelist Graham Greene, who was also a film critic, was sued by 20th Century Fox for his review of “Wee Willie Winkie” in the magazine Night and Day, which he edited. In the review, he questioned whether she was a midget and wrote of her “well-shaped and desirable little body” being served up to middle-aged male admirers.

After the failure of “The Blue Bird” (1940), a film version of the Maeterlinck fantasy that Fox expected to be the bonanza MGM’s “Wizard of Oz” had been a year earlier, the studio dropped 12-year-old Shirley’s contract. Even before the movie was released, her mother had decided it was time for Shirley, who had been educated in a schoolroom at Fox, to go to a real school.

She entered the private Westlake School for Girls in seventh grade, with little idea of how to cope. She had sat on 200 famous laps and found J. Edgar Hoover’s the most comfortable. Amelia Earhart had shared chewing gum with her. She had conversed with Eleanor Roosevelt. The Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood had created the Shirley Temple — a nonalcoholic drink of lemon-lime soda, grenadine and a maraschino cherry — in her honor. But her playmates had been few and carefully chosen.

At Westlake, after months of being given the cold shoulder, she decided she might as well be herself. She eventually spent a happy five years there.

What Fox had dropped, MGM picked up eight months later. But the little girl was now entering adolescence. On her first visit to MGM, Mrs. Black wrote in her autobiography, the producer Arthur Freed unzipped his trousers and exposed himself to her. Being innocent of male anatomy, she responded by giggling, and he threw her out of his office.

She made “Kathleen” (1941) for MGM and “Miss Annie Rooney” (1942) for United Artists; played supporting roles for David O. Selznick in two 1944 films, “Since You Went Away” and “I’ll Be Seeing You”; and made “Kiss and Tell” on loan to Columbia in 1945. But her golden hair had turned brown and, as the film historian David Thomson observed, she had become “an unremarkable teenager.” The public had lost interest.

By then she was a strong-willed, chain-smoking 17-year-old. Determined to be the first in her Westlake class to become engaged, she had accepted a ring from a 24-year-old Army Air Corps sergeant, John Agar Jr., a few days before her 17th birthday. They were married on Sept. 19, 1945.

Unable to handle being Mr. Shirley Temple, Mr. Agar began drinking excessively. While his wife was appearing in “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and “That Hagen Girl” with Ronald Reagan, Mr. Agar tried acting, and failed.

They were divorced in December 1949, a year after the birth of their daughter, Susan. Less than 60 days after her divorce, Miss Temple, 21, met and became engaged to Charles Alden Black, the 30-year-old assistant to the president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, who claimed he had never seen a Shirley Temple movie. They were betrothed after a 12-day courtship. Their marriage lasted almost 55 years, until his death in 2005.

Mr. Black, who was dropped from the San Francisco Social Register for marrying an actress, told a reporter in 1988: “Over 38 years I have participated in her life 24 hours a day through thick and thin, traumatic situations, exultant situations, and I feel she has only one personality. She would be catastrophic for the psychiatric profession. You can wake her up in the middle of the night and she has the same personality everybody knows. What everybody has seen for 60 years is the bedrock.”

Mrs. Black had left the movies for good by Dec. 6, 1950, when she married Mr. Black. A son, Charles Alden Jr., was born in 1952; a daughter, Lori Alden, in 1954.

During the Korean War Mrs. Black followed her husband to Washington, where he was stationed at the Pentagon as a Navy lieutenant commander. In later years he would follow her to her diplomatic postings.

Late in the 1950s, with her old movies being shown on television all over America, she briefly returned to show business. From 1958 to 1961 she was the host and an occasional performer on the television series “Shirley Temple’s Storybook” (also known as “The Shirley Temple Show”), an anthology of fairy-tale adaptations.

By the early 1960s she was president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and co-founder of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, raising funds to fight the disease that afflicted her brother, George. She was representing the federation in Prague on Aug. 21, 1968, when Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks rolled in and brought to a premature end Alexander Dubcek’s effort to remodel the Communist system.

For many years the Black family lived in the San Francisco area, where she was active in civic and community affairs. She worked particularly hard for the development of the San Francisco International Film Festival, but she resigned from the festival’s executive committee in 1966 in protest against a decision to show the Swedish film “Night Games,” which she called “pornography for profit.”

Mrs. Black had become interested in politics when she lived in Washington. In 1967 she ran for Congress to fill a seat left vacant by the death of the Republican J. Arthur Younger. She hoped to emulate the California political successes of George Murphy, her dancing partner in “Little Miss Broadway,” who had become a United States senator, and Ronald Reagan, her co-star in “That Hagen Girl,” who had become governor.

A backer of the Vietnam War, she lost to a more moderate Republican, Pete McCloskey, in the suburban 11th Congressional District south of San Francisco. It probably did not help that the bands kept playing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” at her campaign stops.

But Mrs. Black pressed on with her decision to have a new career in public service. In 1969, President Nixon appointed her to the five-member United States delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. She acquitted herself well by all accounts, speaking out about the problems of the aged, the plight of refugees and, especially, environmental problems.

When she was appointed ambassador to Ghana in 1974, some career diplomats were outraged, but State Department officials later conceded that her performance was outstanding.

Among her duties as the government’s chief of protocol was heading a one-week training program for new envoys. She flashed her wit in describing it: “We teach them how to get used to being called Ambassador and having Marines saluting. Then, on Day 3, we tell them what to do if they’re taken hostage.”

When she arrived in Prague as ambassador — a post usually reserved for career diplomats — she discovered that there had been a Shirley Temple fan club there 50 years earlier. Officials brought “Shirleyka” old membership cards to autograph. Having been Shirley Temple was extremely helpful to Shirley Temple Black, she told reporters, “mainly because it provides name identification,” although she added that it had “little bearing on whether I succeed or fail thereafter.”

Mrs. Black succeeded beyond almost everyone’s expectations, winning praise during her three years in Prague from, among others, Henry Kissinger, who called her “very intelligent, very tough-minded, very disciplined.” Although she may always be best remembered as America’s sweetheart, the woman who left the screen at 22 saying she had “had enough of pretend” ended up leaving a considerable mark on the real world.

February 01, 2014

Oscar-winning actor Maximilian Schell dead at 83

Austrian actor Maximilian Schell, who won an Academy Award for his role as a German defense attorney in the 1961 film "Judgment at Nuremberg," has died at the age of 83.

The Vienna-born actor died overnight at a clinic in Innsbruck, his agent told the Austria Press Agency on Saturday.

Schell starred on stage and screen on both sides of the Atlantic after growing up in Switzerland, where his family settled to escape the Nazis after Germany's 1938 annexation of Austria.

The brother of actress Maria Schell, he also won a Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle award for his role in "Judgment at Nuremberg", which followed a TV drama version of the play.

He was nominated for two more Oscars for his acting, in 1976 for best actor for "The Man in the Glass Booth" and in 1978 as best supporting actor for "Julia."

Schell won the 1993 Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or made-for-TV movie for "Stalin."

January 19, 2014

101 Moments in the Presence of God and 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without by Rick Hamlin

101 Moments in the Presence of God
A devotion starts with a Bible verse and ends with a prayer, but what makes it compelling is how it shows God at work in the every day. It's a beaded bracelet that leads to an answered prayer, a child's remark at bedtime, a carpet sample in the back of a car. Almost two thousand years ago, two of Jesus' followers were walking to the village of Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger. They couldn't believe he didn't know what had happened, how the man they thought was the Messiah was crucified and then appeared to some of the women in their group. The stranger spoke wisely and passionately to them, but not until they sat with him and broke bread did they recognize that it was their risen Lord. That's what a devotion feels like. That moment when I get a glimpse of God's presence.

10 Prayers You Can't Live Without
Essential wisdom on the ways to trust in God through prayer. In 10 Prayers You Can't Live Without, Guideposts executive editor Rick Hamlin shares ten real-life ways of praying to our loving God. It includes the practical insight Hamlin has gained about prayer from the everyday men and women in the pages of Guideposts magazine and from his own lifelong journey in prayer. Readers will be encouraged that prayer is an ongoing conversation, that God wants them to talk about anything. They'll read about the power of prayers around the dinner table, how to give themselves a time and place for prayer every day, praying in a crisis; asking for forgiveness, praying the Psalms, and how to listen to the spiritual nudges God gives us.

Both books are must-reads. Guideposts has never steered me wrong.

Review of 101 Must-See Movie Moments by Nell Minow

101 Must-See Movie Moments features 101 essays on great moments in neglected films and neglected moments in great films from Nell Minow, who reviews each week's releases for Beliefnet and radio stations across the country as "The Movie Mom." From the lobster scene in Annie Hall to the final moments of Godfather 2, to a sandwich in the otherwise forgettable Wives and Lovers and the "Coward's Corner" scene in Homicidal and the garbage can lid dance in It's Always Fair Weather, and the "Dead by Third Act" character in Top Gun, each illuminates an element of cinematic storytelling that will make you understand and appreciate all movies better.

Nell Minow clearly writes as a true fan of film. It's as if she's sitting with you at the table just hanging out and discussing flicks, and for a book like this, this style works wonderfully. A truly fun read for the movie fan.

January 18, 2014

Review of Flames of Cold Fire by Ivoril Snow

Flames of Cold Fire could have been a fabulous book if it had been told by a more talented writer. It tells the story of a spiritually strong young woman who has to endure extremely difficult challenges in her life. She puts her trust in the Heavenly Father when life gets hard and is strengthened in life's tests by her unwavering faith. It's an unflinching snapshot of the realities of life for a light-skinned black girl in the Deep South in the 1950s.

It's self-published. Perhaps that is the reason the book suffers from awkward writing and poor editing. If you can put up with that, Liza's story is an inspirational one.

If you'd like to give Flames of Cold Fire a try, click here.

January 07, 2014

Actress Carmen Zapata Dies at 86

Emmy-nominated actress Carmen Zapata, who started a foundation to promote Hispanic writers because jobs were so scarce, has died of heart problems, colleagues say. She was 86.

Zapata died Sunday at her Van Nuys-area home, said Luis Vela, marketing manager for the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles.

Zapata started her career in 1945 in the Broadway musical "Oklahoma" and went on to perform in "Bells Are Ringing," ''Guys and Dolls" and many plays.

"She was an inspiration for me," Vela said. "She taught me that art is the key to resolving differences in the community."

He said Zapata was once asked how she wanted to be remembered — as an artist, producer or founder. "'I prefer people remember us as educators,'" Vela recalled her saying.

Her movie credits included "Sister Act," ''Gang Boys" and "Carola." She also appeared in dozens of television series, including nine seasons on the PBS bilingual children's show, "Villa Alegre."

Zapata had continuing TV roles in "The Man and the City" and "The New Dick Van Dyke Show." She sang in several other musicals, including "Bloomer Girl." ''No Strings," ''Show Boat," ''Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" and "Funny Girl."

Born in New York City of Mexican-Argentinian descent, Zapata joined forces with Cuban-born actress, playwright and director Margarita Galban to found the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in 1973.

The organization produces four plays a year that are presented at its 99-seat theater. Productions alternate in English and Spanish, with some shows taken on the road by production companies.

Zapata collected Emmy nominations for best supporting actress in a segment of "Medical Center" and for "Carola" on "Hollywood TV Theatre."

Vela said he last saw Zapata on Christmas Eve. "Everyone who worked with her felt she had created something really important and was making our community a better place." he said. "She was emphatic that what we were doing at the foundation was more important than personal recognition."

She was not working on any one project when she died, Vela said, but was supervising and approving projects being presented to her.

Funeral and service arrangements were being finalized.

January 04, 2014

Gone with the Wind Actress Alicia Rhett Dies at 98

Actress Alicia Rhett, who was the oldest surviving cast member of the classic 1939 film Gone with the Wind, died in South Carolina on Friday, officials at her retirement community said. She was 98.

Savannah, Georgia-born Rhett portrayed India Wilkes, sister of Ashley Wilkes in the award-winning film based on Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel of the same name.

"Truly a beautiful woman, her passion for the arts and love of Charleston were unrivaled... Alicia was a kind and gentle lady," said Bill Trawick, CEO of the Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community in Charleston, where she had lived since 2002.

Other surviving cast members from Gone with the Wind are 97-year-old Olivia de Havilland who played Melanie Hamilton, Ashley Wilkes' cousin and wife; 93-year-old Mary Anderson, who played Maybelle Merriweather; and 81-year-old Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes, Bishop Gadsden said.

Ann Rutherford, who played protagonist Scarlett O'Hara's optimistic younger sister in the film about white southerners in the American Civil War era, died in June 2012 in Los Angeles.

Rhett was born on February 1, 1915 and moved to Charleston with her mother after her father died in World War One, Bishop Gadsden said.

She was seen as "intensely private" and uninterested in the "trappings of celebrity," and preferred a quieter, art-filled life connected to the Deep South, according to a biography on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) website.

Rhett was the great-granddaughter of South Carolina senator Robert Brunwell Rhett, whose "anti-Union rhetoric and pro-slavery stance in the years leading up to the American Civil War earned him the sobriquet the Father of Secession," TCM added.

She was devoted to painting and illustration, producing on-set portraits of fellow actors, including her Gone with the Wind counterparts, and works seen in books, a state library, and a theater in the coastal city, Bishop Gadsden said.

Beside her work depicting high society, Rhett also volunteered to paint public school children, workers, and others at its periphery, TCM said.

She died at Bishop Gadsden at about 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT), officials there said. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Oscar Nominee Juanita Moore Dies at 99

Juanita Moore, who earned an Academy Award nomination in 1960 for the single major film role she ever landed, then fell through the cracks of a Hollywood system with little to offer a black actress besides small parts as maids and nannies, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 99.

Her death was confirmed by her grandson, Kirk Kelleykahn, an actor and dancer.

Ms. Moore received a best supporting actress nomination for her role in the 1959 film Imitation of Life, in which she played opposite Lana Turner in a story about two single mothers, one black and one white. It was only the fifth time an African-American performer had been nominated for an Oscar.

The two women begin ostensibly as social equals living under the same roof, but their lives diverge along racial and class lines. Ms. Turner's character becomes a famous actress; Annie Johnson, played by Ms. Moore, becomes her housemaid.

The last film that the filmmaker Douglas Sirk directed in Hollywood, Imitation of Life was widely dismissed as campy melodrama at the time. Its treatment of the intense suffering caused by racial bias, including a subplot in which Annie's light-skinned daughter renounces her to live as a white person, was seen as unbelievable. ("If by accident we should pass in the street," the daughter, played by Susan Kohner, tells her, "please don't recognize me." Ms. Kohner was also nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar.)

But the film has since been re-evaluated and given high marks by many film historians and critics for the subtlety of its social criticism and psychological insight.

Ms. Moore's performance, in particular, has earned her generations of new fans, said Foster Hirsch, a professor of film at Brooklyn College who has organized several academic conferences on Imitation of Life.

"She delivers an astounding performance," Mr. Hirsch said. "She does a death scene that still reduces audiences to tears — I have seen it many times."

But after she was nominated for an Oscar, Ms. Moore told The Los Angeles Times in 1967, the work seemed to dry up. "The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated," she said. "Casting directors think an Oscar nominee is suddenly in another category. They couldn't possibly ask you to do one or two days' work."

It would be a decade more before black actresses like Ms. Moore would be considered for major roles, Mr. Hirsch noted.

Ms. Moore was born in Greenwood, Miss., on Oct. 19, 1914, and raised in South Central Los Angeles, the youngest of Harrison and Ella Moore's eight children. After graduating from high school and spending a few months at Los Angeles City College, she decamped for New York in search of a stage career.

She became a dancer. Throughout the 1930s and '40s she performed in the elaborate stage shows of nightclubs in Harlem, including the Cotton Club, and in Paris and London, before returning to Los Angeles. She studied acting at the Actors' Laboratory and began getting small, uncredited parts in films, like that of a maid and an African tribeswoman. She was already in her mid-30s by the times she made her film debut, in Elia Kazan's Pinky (1949), also a film about race. (Throughout her career she hid her true age, saying she had been born in 1922.)

After Imitation of Life, she appeared in television dramas and in films including Walk on the Wild Side and The Singing Nun. She appeared on Broadway in James Baldwin's play The Amen Corner in 1965 and in a London production of A Raisin in the Sun. And she was active on the Los Angeles stage, performing with the Ebony Showcase Theater and the Cambridge Players.

Mr. Kelleykahn, her grandson, is her only immediate survivor. Ms. Moore's first husband, the dancer Nyas Berry, died in 1951. Her second husband, Charles Burris, a Los Angeles bus driver, died in 2001.

Sam Staggs, author of the 2009 book Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life, said in a phone interview on Friday that Ms. Moore's performance was the major reason for the film's box-office success (it was one of the most successful movies made to that point by Universal Studios).

People came in droves to watch in the dark and weep, Mr. Staggs said: "There are many, many people alive today who remember crying at her performance, but who could not tell you her name."