New languages are discovered every year, and “goodbye” is a lousy word in every one of them. We said it a lot in 2005, with sadness every time. But before we throw out the Dom from New Year’s Eve and say hello to a brand-new year, let’s lift one final farewell toast to the famous folks who waved goodbye for the last time in the year just ended. From Pope John Paul II to Artie Shaw, the losses were many, leaving legacies in their fields and far beyond.
In show business, I especially mourn the passing of three blond beauties who lit up the screen for decades: Virginia Mayo, the glamorous yet wholesome veteran of more than 50 movies in the 40’s and 50’s who was equally at home in musicals ( She’s Working Her Way Through College) and dramatic roles (who could forget her as James Cagney’s gun moll in White Heat or the wayward wife of a returning soldier in the postwar classic, The Best Years of Our Lives?); perky Sheree North, the dancing dervish who was labeled “the next Monroe”; and Hollywood golden girl June Haver, who followed in the footsteps of Betty Grable and Alice Faye to become Fox’s favorite singing, dancing star. In the 1950’s, she gave up a $3,500-per-week contract to become a nun, then left the convent to marry one of her leading men. For the rest of her life, she was Mrs. Fred MacMurray.
No more Max Factor for Sandra Dee, another pert blonde whose healthy Ivory-scrubbed glow masked a life of trouble and torment that the movie magazines never reported truthfully. She was a pop icon in 1950’s movies with Troy Donahue, was the wife of Bobby Darin, and her roles as various Gidgets and Tammys turned her into a role model for teens in the age of hot rods and saddle oxfords. But as her frequent co-star Donahue once confided to me, “On the set, they never knew which one of us was the biggest drunk.”
Too many ladies of international celluloid fame bid us a premature adieu last year. From France, the petite feline temptress Simone Simon sent chills down the spines of moviegoers everywhere in cult horror classics like Cat People. From Austria, Maria Schell made an impact on the world with a range, a radiance and a wall-to-wall smile too wide for the screen to hold. Shortly before her death, she was immortalized in a documentary by her brother, Maximilian Schell.
I will miss my good friend Geraldine Fitzgerald more than you know. Originally from Dublin, this hearty, husky-voiced broth of an Irish colleen became a much-revered American movie staple in Wuthering Heights and Dark Victory, eventually inspiring critical ecstasy on the New York stage as Mary Tyrone in a memorable production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Singer, actress and humanitarian, she was always helping young people with their careers. She got me an apprenticeship at the Spoleto Festival when I was fresh out of college and sent me a leather-bound copy of some literary classic for my library shelves every Christmas for 40 years. To the end, she was a superb actress who was usually better than her material.
Two Oscar winners closer to home taught us that you could be great and lovely at the same time. After winning her Oscar for dying young and beautiful in Mrs. Miniver, Teresa Wright became everybody’s epitome of the all-American wife and mother as Mrs. Lou Gehrig opposite Gary Cooper in the immortal The Pride of the Yankees. From The Miracle Worker to The Graduate, the great Anne Bancroft had a magnificent career, but she still died too early at 73. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. And so long, Ruth Warrick, who began her career as Orson Welles’ wife in Citizen Kane and ended it as Phoebe Tyler on the soap opera All My Children for 35 years, and Ruth Hussey, the sturdy and reliable actress who played brainy wives, mothers and career girls in dozens of classics and got Oscar-nominated as Jimmy Stewart’s wisecracking photographer sidekick covering Kate Hepburn’s society wedding in The Philadelphia Story.
Other “character” actresses of distinction who played their last supporting roles: Constance Moore, who went from Buck Rogers serials to Jane Powell’s mother in Delightfully Dangerous; Suzanne Flon, a tasty French madeleine and personal secretary to Edith Piaf, who enriched Toulouse-Lautrec’s favorite canvases in John Huston’s memorable Moulin Rouge; Constance Cummings, the Seattle-born star of the British stage who cut her baby teeth in the classic Harold Lloyd farce Movie Crazy in 1932, went on to play Rex Harrison’s wife in Blithe Spirit and, as late as 1971, starred opposite Laurence Olivier onstage at the National Theatre in London; Elisabeth Fraser, the jolly blonde who often played Doris Day’s best gal pal in comedies of the 50’s and 60’s; and Jocelyn Brando, a fine actress in her own right who unjustly suffered anonymity in the shadow of her younger brother, Marlon.
No more bows for the incandescent Barbara Bel Geddes, Broadway’s original Maggie the Cat, whose career ran the gamut from plays by Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams to movies directed by Hitchcock, Kazan and Lang. But it was her long-running role as the matriarchal Miss Ellie on Dallas that made her a household name—an irony she could never understand until the day she died at age 82. It would probably disturb her greatly to know she’ll live on, in re-runs.
The third-act curtain also fell for a number of familiar faces with whiskers. We’ll all miss Sir John Mills, the veteran actor, author, patriarch of one of England’s most adored royal families of the arts, father of Hayley and Juliet, and an Oscar winner for playing the mute village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter. And don’t forget Eddie Albert, who, sadly, will probably be remembered more for the moronic TV sitcom Green Acres than for his fine work in Oklahoma! and William Wyler’s Carrie. I live in his former apartment in New York’s Dakota, and I’ll never understand why he boarded up the chimney flues and robbed all future occupants of their fireplaces.
I will also miss the reassuring presence of Ossie Davis, Dan O’Herlihy, Dana Elcar, Ron Randell and Broadway’s favorite lyric baritone, John Raitt. (Can Hugh Jackman fill his shoes?) It was “Adios, amigos” for Lon McCallister, the all-American pin-up boy in such 40’s family classics as Home in Indiana and Stage Door Canteen; Keith Andes, the rugged baritone who starred opposite Marilyn Monroe onscreen and Lucille Ball onstage (in Lucy’s Broadway-musical debut, Wildcat); Lloyd Bochner, the suave character actor who played everything from cops and detectives to the society brute who beat up Carroll Baker in Sylvia; Frank Gorshin, the Riddler on TV’s Batman series, who played both Mayor Jimmy Walker in the musical Jimmy and George Burns in the one-man show Say Goodnight, Gracie on Broadway; John Spencer, who played the White House chief of staff on The West Wing; Barney Martin, the original “Mr. Cellophane” in the Gwen Verdon–Chita Rivera–Bob Fosse production of Chicago on Broadway; and John Bromfield, the beefcake gunslinger who played the title role in the TV westerner The Sheriff of Cochise, married sultry femme fatale Corinne Calvet, and swam through Cypress Gardens with Esther Williams in Easy to Love.
It was “sayonara” for Pat Morita, a Japanese-American whose childhood was ruined after Pearl Harbor when he was forced into a U.S. prison camp for the duration of World War II. Fortunately, he survived this shameful chapter in U.S. history by growing up to become Mr. Miyagi, the beloved martial-arts guru in the four Karate Kid movies. Brock Peters reduced everyone to tears with his powerful performance as the innocent black man falsely accused of rape in the legendary To Kill a Mockingbird. Marc Lawrence wasn’t exactly a household name, but his scarred face was instantly recognizable to millions of filmgoers from his many roles as gangsters, hoods and underworld villains. They don’t make thugs like him anymore.
Baby boomers who grew up glued to the boob tube watched the test pattern fade forever for Bob Denver, the goofy castaway on the brain-dead series Gilligan’s Island; Don Adams, the comic secret agent on Get Smart; knock-on-wood ventriloquist Paul Winchell (whatever happened to his not-so-dummy Jerry Mahoney?); This Is Your Life host Ralph Edwards; and James Doohan, the chief engineer of the starship Enterprise in the original Star Trek. (“Beam me up, Scotty!”)
But the most significant holes in TV history were left by Johnny Carson and Peter Jennings. The evening news will not be the same without ABC anchorman Jennings, and as a frequent guest of Johnny’s in the good old days, I can testify that he was the last of the bearable late-night talk-show hosts before the shows turned into the brainless blabfests they are today. Sneaking cigarettes during commercial breaks, Carson never said hello or goodbye to his guests, and working on the old Tonight Show was always fraught with nervous tension. But he combined Jack Paar’s arrogance and Steve Allen’s curiosity to keep late-night insomniacs sleepless, snacking and riveted.
In other fields, comedy will never be the same without Herb Sargent to write it, or Louis Nye, Howard Morris, Nipsey Russell and Richard Pryor to play it. Movies won’t have the same sophistication and polish without elegant Ismail Merchant (half of the brilliant Merchant-Ivory team) to produce them, the versatile Robert Wise ( West Side Story, Executive Suite, The Sound of Music) to direct them, and the exquisite eye of British cinematographer Guy Green ( Great Expectations and Oliver Twist) to photograph them. Movies make so little sense these days that it’s a daunting tragedy to lose civilized writers like Gavin Lambert, a great novelist and screenwriter ( Inside Daisy Clover) and the distinguished biographer of Nazimova, Norma Shearer and Natalie Wood, among others; Evan Hunter ( Blackboard Jungle, The Birds); and Ernest Lehman, the versatile and accomplished author of such literate screenplays as North by Northwest, Sweet Smell of Success and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The world of letters buried the gold-plated typewriters of novelists Judith Rossner ( Looking for Mr. Goodbar), Rona Jaffe ( The Best of Everything), Marjorie Kellogg ( Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon) and Roger Whitaker ( The Eiger Sanction), as well as Nobel laureate Saul Bellow; Southern novelist and Civil War historian Shelby Foote; curmudgeonly John Fowles ( The French Lieutenant’s Woman), who was famous for his enigmatic endings; gonzo Bonzo Hunter S. Thompson, a suicide at 65; and Frank Conroy, author of Stop-Time and a regular at Elaine’s.
I don’t know what the future of the American theater will be like with no more opening nights for August Wilson and Arthur Miller, or for veteran press agent Betty Lee Hunt to publicize—but as Miller once wrote about the unheralded and forgotten Willy Loman in his masterpiece, Death of a Salesman, “attention must be paid.” Somewhere, as I write this, I’m thinking that he is finally getting to meet Joe DiMaggio, another legend with whom he secretly shared a lot in common. I hope they shake hands while Marilyn sings a fast chorus of “Bosom Buddies”—and means it.
Music sounded a few sour notes when bandleader Artie Shaw bagged his clarinet for good. When I drove all the way to a canyon in Northern California for a long, exhausting afternoon that stretched into moonlight for one of the last interviews he ever gave, I found him as brilliant, candid, irascible, surprising and impossible as his reputation. I may have to publish the whole thing someday. He was in a class by himself, and so was my friend and Connecticut neighbor Skitch Henderson, the first bandleader on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, musical director for Hope, Crosby and Sinatra, and founder of the New York Pops. Thanks, Skitch, for dragging me out onstage at Carnegie Hall to make me sing Gershwin. Aren’t you glad I didn’t give up my day job?
Bobby Short? I had always assumed that the swanky king of clubs and keeper of the keys for the Great American Songbook would live forever and sing Cole Porter until his fingers fell off, but like his mentor, Mabel Mercer, it was finally “no bows, honey, just eight bars and out” for Bobby, as well as for the iconic cabaret diva Hildegarde, 99, who sang haute chansons like her trademark “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup” in white gloves and Hattie Carnegie hats, delighting the smart set in after-hours watering holes for 70 years. Jazz singer Shirley Horn torched her lush, dreamy tones through her last romantic lyrics this year. And the arrangements went into the piano bench for Stan Kenton drummer and West Coast jazz oracle Stan Levey, singing jazz-blues-folk whiz Oscar Brown Jr., pop crooner Luther Vandross, smoky-voiced band-singing rage and 40’s movie star Frances Langford, Modern Jazz Quartet bass player Percy Heath, and Sweden’s most popular jazz vocalist, Monica Zetterlund, who once recorded albums with Zoot Sims and Bill Evans. She died in an apartment fire at 67.
The concert stage dimmed the center spot for opera’s renowned Spanish-born soprano Victoria de los Angeles. Ballet will never again thrill to the jetés of American Ballet Theater star Fernando Bujones. He was only 50. No more electronic dissonance from Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesizer favored by the Beatles and Stevie Wonder. No more gloriously surging scores by Robert (Bob) Wright, who composed the kinds of hit songs (“It’s a Blue World”) and Broadway and Hollywood musicals ( Kismet) that you never hear anymore with his longtime friend and collaborator of 70 years, Chet Forrest. No more clever, funny nightclub acts by Phil Ford, who was half of a celebrated performing team with his wife, Mimi Hines. No more brave and heartfelt articles by feminist journalist Shana Alexander or meticulously researched crime novels set in the world of horse racing by New Yorker staff writer William Murray, who also rocked the ink-stained wretches of publishing by chronicling his own mother’s passionate love affair with Janet Flanner.
In unrelated arenas, let’s clink a dry martini in honor of society duenna Nan Kempner and her ravishing dinner parties that signaled the end of a bygone era. Fashion was already dead, but one of the last nails in its coffin was driven there when the great designer Donald Brooks threw away his moire silk and tape measure and headed for that Costume Institute in the Sky. Always opinionated and aghast at how ugly women look today, I can hear him now, in a powwow with Chanel and Blass, wondering where it all went wrong.
The art of architecture will lose a lot of its style, form and structural originality with the death of Philip Johnson, 98, the dean of modern architecture, whose masterpieces ran the gamut from the Museum of Modern Art to the legendary Chinese restaurant Pearl’s. Eccentric and flamboyant, he was as commonly discussed in the gossip columns as he was inside the walls of the Four Seasons, where he lunched every day since he designed it in 1958.
No courtroom will be as colorful without Johnnie Cochran, the defense lawyer who masterminded the melodramatic strategy behind the “dream team” in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial. Love him or hate him, we won’t forget how he played that race card and landed in those headlines. Nor will I forget Frank Perdue, the chicken king, who often looked like one of his own pop-up fryers. Simon Wiesenthal, the heroic concentration-camp survivor who dedicated his life to bringing the monsters of World War II to justice, stalked his last Nazi. Domino Harvey, the daughter of British actor Laurence Harvey and a Ford model turned bounty hunter, died at 35. Rosa Parks, the Montgomery, Ala., seamstress whose polite refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 opened the floodgates to the civil-rights movement, died at 92. And last but not least, Prince Rainier finally surrendered his throne and buried his crown in peaceful little Monaco, 23 years after the untimely, world-shattering death of his Philadelphia princess, Grace Kelly. I remember the old days at the Cannes Film Festival, when you could buy the private palace phone number from the concierge at the Carlton Hotel for 25 francs.
Goodbye to all that. The world has changed, and the exits of so many wonderful people who enriched our lives in 2005 will change things even more. We are diminished by their passing, and no one can ever replace them, but they will long be remembered—and remembered well.
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