“Goodbye” takes on a somber and rueful new meaning as I begin the task of wrapping up the year just ending and welcoming that new kid with his year to grow. In the tragic and shadowy aftermath of 9/11, bidding farewell to the rich and famous seems almost trivial when there are so many heroes to celebrate in so many walks of life. Still, I invite you to take a minute and honor the people of fame and repute we lost in 2001. “Attention must be paid,” wrote Arthur Miller, and that applies to one and all.
The artistry of the acting profession took as hard a hit as the Twin Towers with the death of affable Jack Lemmon, who brought charm, honesty and versatility to a distinguished career that brightened the lives of so many. The bars were raised so high by the great Kim Stanley that I doubt I will see her genius matched by any other actress in my lifetime. She was the most consummate artist of her generation, an influence on hundreds of young women who stormed the gates of Broadway because they wanted to be just like her–and although she hated the movies, in the 1958 film The Goddess she delivered the single most exquisitely heartbreaking performance I’ve ever seen on the screen. It was tough losing Dorothy McGuire, another luminous and cherished film presence, but her patrician performances will live on in such masterful works as Claudia , Gentleman’s Agreement and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn . Three of the very best, making their final bows in an awful year.
It was also adios to Anthony Quinn. At 86, he was still romancing the girls and fathering babies; like Zorba the Greek, I thought he was indestructible. Movie glamour boy Troy Donahue at last succumbed to a life of self-abuse that belied his image as an all-American teen idol. Sir Nigel Hawthorne–knighted by the Queen, Oscar-nominated for the sensational The Madness of King George and one of Britain’s most powerful actors–died suddenly, shocking us all. Anthony Steel, once the highest-paid film star in England and the ex-husband of now-pulchritudinous Anita Ekberg, died broke in a retirement home near London. How fleeting is fame? And don’t forget handsome film actor Alex Nicol; much-too-young Steve Barton, who played the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway; and Jean-Pierre Aumont, the dashing French Lothario in Hollywood films who also danced a mean, show-stopping Charleston with Vivien Leigh in the Broadway musical Tovarich .
There were others. It was curtains for Ann Sothern, brassy, wisecracking MGM musical star who was best known for the 10 Maisie movies in the 1940’s that turned World War II ration books into box-office gold, and later as the star of Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show during TV’s golden age. From her stellar starring role in A Letter to Three Wives to her final appearance in 1987’s The Whales of August , Sothern’s career never faltered; she was feisty to the final bow. Virginia O’Brien, another MGM musical star, did her last poker-faced double take. Film noir will never be the same after pouty French femme fatale Corinne Calvet and sultry 40’s icon Jane Greer, who reduced Robert Mitchum to jelly in Out of the Past . No gal will ever again fit the saddle like sagebrush sweetheart Dale Evans, who finally joined her own lifelong sweetheart, Roy Rogers, in a duet of “Happy Trails to You” in that big corral in the sky. Goodbye, Dale. To a little boy growing up in Texas, you were a dreamboat in spurs.
I will also miss the elegance of veteran stage, television and Oscar-winning screen star Beatrice Straight, and the dazzling authority of the fine British star Dorothy Tutin. No more greasepaint for Rosemary DeCamp, everybody’s favorite movie mother; marvelous Kathleen Freeman, a jolly broth of a lady with a voice like trap rock, who died in the middle of her latest Tony-nominated showstopping Broadway role in The Full Monty ; Gail Fisher, lovely star of TV’s Mannix ; distinguished theater luminary Gloria Foster; beautiful stage star Diana Van der Vlis; multitalented Maria Karnilova, the ballet dancer who became an award-winning musical-comedy actress on Broadway, creating legendary roles like Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and Tessie Tura in Gypsy ; campy, overweight Andy Warhol actress Pat Ast, with whom I shared a lot of late-night cabs home in the depraved days of Studio 54; and Deborah Walley, famous as Gidget and a teenage staple of all those idiotic beach-blanket-bingo flicks in the silly 60’s. She was only 57.
Herbert Ross, Stanley Kramer, Budd Boetticher, Burt Kennedy, Fred De Cordova, Michael Ritchie and Ken Hughes were honorable directors who turned in their Panavision lenses and departed for the screening room in the clouds, followed by genius cameraman John ( The Godfather ) Alonzo and producers Howard Koch, Samuel Arkoff, James Hill and Lester Persky. The cartoon world lost some of its special animation magic with the loss of William Hanna, the man who invented Tom and Jerry , and Hank Ketcham, who created Dennis the Menace . A special page in my memory book will always be reserved for Arlene Francis, one of the most popular and glamorous women on TV, the life of every New York party and the only panelist on What’s My Line? who could put Dorothy Kilgallen in her place.
More TV pioneers saw their final test pattern in 2001. Singer Perry Como’s lazy, laid-back style made people want to check his pulse, but his television variety show made history and his recordings sold millions. He died in peaceful retirement in Florida at 89. Imogene Coca still makes me laugh every time I watch a rerun of Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar. Her special brand of cockeyed clowning will never be duplicated. Neither will Carroll O’Connor’s impact as Archie Bunker. In that bigoted TV character, America watched itself change from traditional values to darker confrontations with race, religion, gender and Vietnam. Opening the door to frank discussions of sex and drugs, Archie was an unsophisticated member of the no-longer-silent majority that Americans identified with every week on All in the Family . In real life, Mr. O’Connor was several planets removed from the character of Archie–a gentleman and a fine actor whose career-defining success in one role made him and ruined him at the same time. To his eternal regret, the public never accepted him in any other role.
I’ll miss the punchy humor of Ray Walston, the best Devil Damn Yankees ever knew and everyone’s favorite TV alien on the goofy My Favorite Martian . And you’d have to be born yesterday not to remember Dagmar, a buxom blonde in the Marie Wilson tradition who was a regular commodity during television’s early days. Off-screen, she was dumb like a fox. Make that a mink-dyed fox. I’ll miss her, too.
The saddest personal loss of my year was Susannah McCorkle, one of the finest and most unique interpreters of the American popular song to come along since Billie Holiday, and a close friend I admired and adored beyond words. Her untimely suicide at the height of a shining career shocked the cabaret world and left me indescribably saddened. Susannah, I miss your e-mails. Another light went out of my life in 2001 when legendary poet, quality songwriter and cabaret star Portia Nelson lost her long battle with cancer. She was one of my wisest and most loving friends, and I don’t know where we’ll be without her infallible taste in music.
It was also no bows, just eight bars and out, from jazz singers Al Hibbler and Etta Jones; swinging bandleader Les Brown, whose chart-blazing “Band of Renown” was the showcase that launched the career of Doris Day; great jazz arranger Ralph Burns; jazz trombonist J. J. Johnson, whose bebop style–developed with Count Basie and Woody Herman–led to a duo act with fellow trombonist Kai Winding that was one of the most successful acts on the jazz scene in the 1950’s; jazz pianist Lou Levy, whose stylish chords accompanied Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, June Christy and most of the great vocalists of the 20th century; Marlene Dietrich’s songwriter-pianist and conductor, Stan Freeman; saxophonist Joe Henderson; Oscar-winning Hollywood songwriter Jay Livingston, who wrote a string of hits that included “Buttons and Bows” and “Mona Lisa”; John Lewis, founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet; Frankie Carle, 40’s bandleader and composer of the popular standard “Sunrise Serenade,” which became his theme song; jazz drummer Panama Francis; and Tommy Flanagan, a supremely tasteful grand old man of the piano and Ella Fitzgerald accompanist.
No more pop songs from Mimi Fariña, folk singer and sister of Joan Baez, or country hits by guitarist Chet Atkins. And the pop world lost two prophets in John Phillips, one of the Mamas and the Papas, and George Harrison, the second member of the Beatles to exit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, leaving Paul and Ringo to carry on alone. I hope they’re taking lots of Cipro. The list seems to stretch into the next millen-nium, but I must not forget to include Isaac Stern, a great violinist who saved Carnegie Hall from demolition, and Larry Adler, the blacklisted musician who fled the U.S. during the McCarthy witch hunts and then returned to raise the denigrated sound of the harmonica to the level of concert-hall respectability. And a special nod to Charles Trenet, France’s idolized crooner, whose songs “La Mer” and “I Wish You Love” became international standards, and who remained a major source of inspiration for Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Yves Montand throughout their long careers. “Without Trenet,” said Charles Aznavour, “we would all have been accountants.”
In this lousy year, the world of letters, journalism, publishing and literature lost some of its most profound and best-selling minds: novelists and writers like Eudora Welty, Peter Maas, Robert Ludlum, Mordecai Richler, Auberon Waugh and Ken Kesey; cranky film critic Pauline Kael; essayist Nora Sayre; playwrights Jason Miller and Anthony Shaffer; screenwriter Julius ( Casablanca ) Epstein; sports columnist Dick Schaap; and Frank Gilbreth Jr., whose memoirs about his eccentric parents and their 12 offspring inspired the famous 1950 film Cheaper by the Dozen , with Clifton Webb, Myrna Loy and Jeanne Crain, and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes . Gossip won’t be as much fun without celebrity columnists Radie Harris and Lloyd Shearer. Television sucks already, but the death of J.P. Miller, one of the last of the great writers in the great years of “live” drama shows like Playhouse 90 , only reminds us how close to rock-bottom the idiot box has sunk. I’ll never forget his revolutionary The Days of Wine and Roses ; there’s been nothing like it since. And 2001 was also the year that America ended its reverent love affair with Anne Morrow Lindbergh and esteemed Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
The big top will lack luster withoutGuntherGebel-Williams, flamboyant lion-taming star of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus. Brazilian music lost a lot of its tropical passion with Luiz Bonfa, ace guitarist and one of the original innovators of bossa nova. Flamenco is over with the last staccato taps of Jose Greco, the world’s most famous Spanish dancer, who actually was raised in Brooklyn from the age of 10. Carrie Donovan left the fashion world bereft of its most eccentric editor–a sort of Auntie Mame with trademark glasses the size of firing targets at the police academy. No movie premiere or opening night will be the same without John Springer, the much-loved publicist and ubiquitous New York presence who dropped ashes on every red carpet in show business. No more feather boas for dazzling Josephine Premice, a lavish and sizzling performer with roots in Haiti and a style borrowed from Josephine Baker, who lit up the historic Harold Arlen-Truman Capote musical House of Flowers . Eating out lost its allure when trendy restaurant mogul Warner LeRoy printed his last menu, and the pool halls will be silent without “Fast Eddie” Parker, the billiards shark whose life inspired The Hustler and its sequel, The Color of Money , which won Paul Newman an Oscar. The real “Fast Eddie” died the way he should: playing pool in a Texas tournament at age 69.
The curtain fell for producer Jack Haley Jr., son of Oz’s Tin Man and ex-husband of Liza Minnelli; for controversial, outspoken First Daughter Maureen Reagan, estranged for years but reconciled before death with her father, former President Ronald Reagan. And last but never least, a warm farewell hug to my darling Mildred Newman, whose years as a therapist and author of such best-sellers as How to Be Your Own Best Friend changed the lives of some of the most powerful, influential and insecure people on the planet. I wish each of them–and all the others who left for a better, less stressful place than the insane world of 2001–eternal love, gratitude and peace.