Saturday, December 28, 2013

Five to Remember

What self-respecting showbiz blog could end the year without a post on either 1) the best and worst of 2013; or 2) a tribute to the actors we lost over the past 12 months? Far be it from me to flout tradition, so I've opted for the latter. But since there are already plenty of places online to read about the death of, say, a certain young action movie star, I decided to forego being a completist. Instead, here's a brief tribute to a handful of talented performers who passed away in 2013, and who had a particular impact on classic TV:

Michael Ansara (1922-2013) was not only the distinctive-looking leading man of TV's Broken Arrow, but also the husband (from 1958 to 1973) of Barbara Eden. I Dream of Jeannie fans remember him for his memorable guest appearances on that show, where he played a varied lot of characters, including Hawaii's King Kamehameha, the evil Blue Djinn, and Jeannie's dashing date Biff Jellico.

Jane Connell (1925-2013) may be best known as Agnes Gooch in the Broadway smash Mame (a role she reprised in the 1974 film), but she also brightened Bewitched with her guest appearances as regal and imperious women. In various episodes, she impersonated Queen Victoria, Martha Washington, and even Mother Goose. Remember her as Hepzibah, with her free-floating device on which she tracks Darrin's demerits?

Elliott Reid (1920-2013) was a stage-trained actor who also enjoyed a busy radio career, and played Professor Shelby Ashton in Disney's The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel, Son of Flubber. I always picture him as "Ed Warren" on I Love Lucy, the Murrow-like interviewer who finds himself refereeing a squabble between the Ricardos and the Mertzes when both couples appear on his TV show Face to Face.

Christine White (1926-2013) was the leading lady of CBS' 1961-62 sitcom Ichabod and Me, which was the subject of a chapter in my book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television. Another big credit in the minds of classic TV watchers was her guest appearance in one of The Twilight Zone's best-ever episodes, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

I Love Lucy: Shirley Mitchell (r.), Vivian Vance
Last but in no way least, Shirley Mitchell passed away on November 11, 2013, at the age of 94. It would take at least another full entry to list her many radio and TV credits, but it's a tribute to her talent that she's so well-remembered as Marion Strong on I Love Lucy, despite playing the role in only three episodes. Who could ever forget Lucy Ricardo snapping at her, "Marion, stop cackling! I've been waiting ten years for you to lay that egg!" Ms. Mitchell left a wonderful legacy not only in her peerless performances, but also in her many interviews and convention appearances, where she graciously shared her memories of working with some of the biggest names in comedy.

There are, of course, many other talented performers who left us in 2013. Which one(s) meant the most to you, and why?

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