2002: A Year Of Tough Goodbyes

Before ushering out bearded Father Time and greeting that kid in diapers with his brand-new year to grow, let’s pause for reflection in the annual goodbye column. We lost some great and cherished friends in 2002. They will linger in our hearts and minds long after the rest of the year is nothing but ashes.

They threw away the mold when they created Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney-two unique musical icons who, if I have anything to say, will live forever. Lazy, honey-dipping jazz butterflies who knew things about time and phrasing and interpreting the timeless lyrics of the American popular songbook most singers never learn in a lifetime, Miss Peggy and Rapturous Rosie can never be replaced. Only a fool would try. It was a cruel year to take them both.

The acting world has a big hole in its Hall of Fame now that Eileen Heckart has taken her final bow. How I will miss that wall-to-wall grin from across the aisle, and the annual Christmas card signed, “Love, Heckie.” Another departed old friend who shared some unforgettable nights with me in New York and Berlin was sultry, brilliant German singer, actress and author Hildegard Knef, the original star of Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings and the thinking man’s Dietrich. I will also miss Irene Worth, as charming as she was distinguished, and musical-comedy star Dolores Gray, who sang like a new trumpet and cooked a mean pot of chili. There was also Mexican spitfire Katy Jurado, star of High Noon and ex-wife of Ernest Borgnine, who in later years became a bullfight critic on Mexican radio; Signe Hasso, the provocative Swedish-born actress who scored in such Hollywood films as A Double Life with Ronald Coleman and Crisis with Cary Grant; lovely Nobu McCarthy; soap-opera queen Mary Stuart, who wept her way through Search for Tomorrow for 35 years; Carol Burnett’s troubled actress daughter Carrie Hamilton, who died too young but helped her mom write the autobiographical play Hollywood Arms before she left; perennial character actress Bibi Osterwald; and Oscar-winner Kim Hunter, who made grown men all over the world stand on staircases yelling ” St-ell -la!” And there are still those who blushingly remember Linda Boreman, who made X-rated history in 1972 as Deep Throat porno queen Linda Lovelace.

The guys who packed up their six-guns and greasepaint in 2002 were just as prominent. I’ll miss trading insults with obnoxious Richard Harris, the brawling, inebriated Irishman who threw away a promising career on a life of so many hedonistic pleasures that he could barely cross the street without assistance. He once followed me through Jennifer Jones’ house in Hollywood cussing me out at the top of his lungs, barbecued me in front of millions on Dick Cavett, then apologized to me in front of millions more on Tom Snyder. Oh, well. You couldn’t say he wasn’t colorful. After rehab and various 12-step self-help programs at the end of his life, he wasn’t colorful anymore, but he was a lot quieter.

More rugged gauchos who bit the dust in 2002: Raf Vallone, the Italian actor who roughed up Melina Mercouri in Phaedra and Sophia Loren in Two Women ; James Coburn, a late bloomer who finally won an Oscar in his 70’s; George Nader, beefcake star of the 1950’s; poker-faced movie gangster Lawrence Tierney; and John Agar, the handsome Hollywood actor whose range extended from John Ford westerns to routine horror flicks like Tarantula and The Mole People , but whose major claim to fame was a four-year stint as the husband of Shirley Temple. And who dares forget Rod Steiger, the burly, Oscar-winning man of many faces who played everything from Jud in Oklahoma! to Al Capone. Laughter won’t have the same ring after Milton Berle, Eddie Bracken, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan. And I’ll always reach for a Kleenex when I think of Harold Russell, the handicapped war veteran with steel hooks for hands who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives .

Hollywood lost a legend when acid-tongued director Billy Wilder dropped his last quotable remark, ironically dying in the same year when two funny biographies were published to keep his reputation alive. From Sunset Boulevard to Some Like It Hot , he made the kind of movies that transcend history. We also lost veteran director George Sidney, who gave MGM musicals like Show Boat and Annie Get Your Gun what Kay Thompson called “bazazz.” Peering through the Panasonic lenses for the last time were art director Jacques Mapes; doyenne of film editing Margaret Booth, who lived to celebrate her 104th birthday; MCA-Universal’s Lew Wasserman, the last of the powerful Hollywood studio moguls from the days when everybody in the movies knew who their bosses were; Karel Reisz, the Czech immigrant who became one of England’s most respected directors; Andre De Toth, director of B-movie potboilers and onetime husband of Veronica Lake; director J. Lee Thompson, whose hits included Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone ; and Mike Todd, Jr., who followed in his flamboyant father’s footsteps by inventing “Smell-o-Vision.” The gone-too-soon list extends to Richard Sylbert, the innovative, Oscar-winning set designer for such great-looking films as Dick Tracy , The Manchurian Candidate and Chinatown , and Chuck Jones, the Warner Brothers cartoonist who created Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.

Too many went too young. Ted Demme, director of the hip movie Blow and rising-star nephew of Jonathan Demme, died at 38. Bruce Paltrow, TV producer with good taste, husband of Blythe Danner and father of Oscar-winning daughter Gwyneth, was only 58. Robert Urich, everybody’s favorite TV detective, lost his battle with cancer at 55. And makeup king Kevyn Aucoin, the barefoot boy from Louisiana who became rich and famous for his total makeovers of Liza, Winona, Madonna and Cher, was a mere 40. On the opposite side of the spectrum, nobody could say the Queen Mum didn’t cram a lot of life into her 101 years. The day she died, she was ready for her afternoon toddy, understandably still full of gas. Her younger daughter, Princess Margaret, preceded her by four months. They’re still looking for the crown jewels.

The already-dead world of fashion went six feet under when designers John Weitz and Pauline Trigere cut their final patterns, and since Bill Blass retired his pinking shears to the big runway in the sky, the rag business is a joke. They were icons of sophistication before style became a dirty word. Everything in the world of sports was called on account of rain after losing Sam Snead, Johnny Unitas, Byron White, Enos Slaughter and especially Ted Williams, the Red Sox slugger who was the last man to bat .400 in Major League Baseball. Who will replace them on the golf courses, in the stadiums and on the diamonds without TV sports-programming pioneer Roone Arledge to make them stars? The world of letters drew one last chapter from the mighty pens of Timothy Findlay, Chaim Potok, Stephen Jay Gould, Lucy Grealey, Wallace ( To An Early Grave ) Markfield, Stephen ( Band of Brothers ) Ambrose, Walter Lord, Lois Gould (her novel Such Good Friends was butchered on the screen by Otto Preminger) and Richard Bradford, whose wonderful novel Red Sky at Morning made him the J.D. Salinger of New Mexico. Newspaper editors got their last columns from world-renowned political journalist Flora Lewis, longtime drama critic William Glover and sob sister Ann Landers. It was adios for Zoe Caldwell’s husband, elegant producer Robert Whitehead, and Arthur Miller’s wife, photographer Inge Morath. I’ll always cherish the drawing of me on a tablecloth by controversial artist and professional non-conformist Larry Rivers. I’ll always be grateful to Leonard Gershe for penning Funny Face , Silk Stockings and the lyrics to “Born in a Trunk” in Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born . Sacred memories invade my thoughts of funny man Cliff ( The Boys in the Band ) Gorman; Emmy Award–winning playwright Reginald ( 12 Angry Men ) Rose; veteran actor Leo McKern, who made TV’s Rumpole of the Bailey required viewing on both sides of the Atlantic; and eccentric London producer Joan Littlewood, who changed the face of British theater with her rowdy musicals and kitchen-sink dramas like Oh, What a Lovely War and A Taste of Honey .

Music was dealt a fatal blow in 2002. I can’t believe my good friend Eileen Farrell’s golden throat and golden heart will be silenced forever. She was a legendary diva who broke records in opera, but she could also swing the blues and croon romantic ballads with cloudless ease. I miss her already. The same goes for William Warfield, who married Leontyne Price and made “Ol’ Man River” part of the lexicon. Eileen Farrell and William Warfield were both 82, but still-when it comes to genius, who’s counting? I will also miss the joy and balance and superior musicianship of my good pal Roy Kral, ace pianist, arranger and songwriter and half of the revolutionary jazz vocal duo, Jackie and Roy. The impact on the future of jazz, popular music and swing is tragic when you lose singers like Joe Derise and Dolly Dawn, a great arranger-conductor like Peter Matz (his award-winning charts for Barbra Streisand’s early albums shaped her career), or a solid saloon pianist, crooner and composer like Matt Dennis, who also wrote “Angel Eyes,” “Everything Happens to Me,” “Violets for Your Furs” and other standards from the big-band era. These losses are incalculable, but we also heard the last licks from the swinging vibes of dynamo Lionel Hampton, bassist Ray Brown, piano wizard Ellis Larkins, stride pianist Ralph Sutton, and pianist, arranger and Billie Holiday accompanist Mal Waldron.

And, at the end, one of the final pages in that chapter about life on this planet called the History of Show Business was written in stone with the passing of lyricist Adolph Green. In the hills of Hollywood or the canyons of New York, the cluttered filing cabinet he called his brain was a combination of Coney Island cotton candy, the Smithsonian archives and scarecrow stuffing from Oz. The musicals that came out of it changed our lives and set the standards by which we judge just about everything. To the evolving snobs and tone-deaf kids responsible for the death of the American musical today, Betty Comden–Adolph Green musicals like On the Town , Wonderful Town , Bells Are Ringing , The Bandwagon , Take Me Out to the Ball Game , Good News , Hallelujah Baby and Singin’ in the Rain may seem old-fashioned enough to invite snickers, but this man made trillions of people happy, lived life to the hilt, served the arts well and drove a lot of pretentious assholes over the cliff of mediocrity. Short of canonization, I can’t think of any better way to thank, or say my reluctant goodbyes, to Adolph Green. 2002: A Year Of Tough Goodbyes