More familiar faces now in bluer skies: Jill Haworth, the critically panned original Sally Bowles in the Broadway musical Cabaret, who was selected by director Harold Prince over 200 competitors despite the fact that she couldn’t sing or dance, then disappeared with her career in shreds; Mary Murphy, the pretty girl who played the wholesome small-town policeman’s daughter who fell for Marlon Brando as the leader of an invading motorcycle gang in the revolutionary film The Wild One (1953); and glamorous Elaine Stewart, a showgirl whose sexy presence added oomph to MGM classics like Brigadoon and The Bad and the Beautiful. In later years she became a household name as the hostess on two hit TV game shows, Gambit and High Rollers, nothing tops the way she stole an important scene from Lana Turner in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful with the cynical line, “There ain’t no great men, honey, there’s only men.”
I will also fondly remember celebrated British dowager Margaret Tyzack, whose co-starring role opposite Maggie Smith in the London-New York stage hit Lettice and Loveage won awards on both sides of the pond; Dulcie Gray, 95-year-old effigy of the stiff-upper-lip school of British oddballs who starred in more than 100 plays on the London stage; Diane Cilento, sultry stage and film beauty, and wife of Sean Connery; Googie Withers, who graced dozens of films in the 1930s and ’40s, including Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes; Mary Fickett, a long-running favorite of women everywhere on the soap opera All My Children; Linda Christian, ravishing ’40s sexpot discovered by Errol Flynn in her native Mexico, then married to Tyrone Power, who moved on to Lana Turner after Linda played Lana’s maid in Green Dolphin Street. Those were the days in Tinsel Town. They did it in mirrors.
The year ended sadly for Edith Fellows, former Hollywood child star whose harrowing personal life (con men, drugs, alcoholism, a scheming mother and bankruptcy) was right out of a saga by Charles Dickens, and for Anna Massey, doe-eyed daughter of Hollywood actor Raymond, and star of Hitchcock’s Frenzy, who suffered from depression, anorexia and stage fright so severe it prevented her from being an international star, though she was admired, coached and revered by some of the most important people in film and theatre (including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Celia Johnson, and her godfather, legendary film director John Ford). No more ovations for Roberts Blossom, famous for crabby old coots in movies like Home Alone; Tom Aldredge, Broadway veteran and husband for 50 years of costume designer Theoni Aldredge, who also died in 2011; John Howard Davies, the sensitive child star who played the title role in David Lean’s classic Oliver Twist, as well as the renowned British thriller The Rocking Horse Winner; John Wood, another Tony winner; French gamine Annie Girardot; Kenneth Mars, comic actor who played the nutty Nazi playwright in Mel Brooks’s The Producers; granite-faced Michael Gough and nice but stoic John Paxton (father of actor Bill Paxton), who both played the loyal butler in Batman movies; John Dye, only 47, who played the angel Andrew for nine seasons of Touched by an Angel; William Campbell, from the original Star Trek series; saffron-haired child star Susan Gordon; Oklahoma oil tycoon G.D. Spradlin, 90, who found acting late in life in such films as Apocalypse Now; gravel-voiced Bruce Gordon, memorable as mob boss Frank Nitti on the classic TV series The Untouchables, and Paul Picerni, who played FBI hero Elliot Ness’s right-hand man on the same show as well as the romantic lead in the classic 3-D horror film House of Wax. They died eight days apart. It was a reluctant send-off for Michael Sarrazin, the once-promising Canadian who shared star billing with Jane Fonda and Paul Newman before drugs took their toll on his looks and career. During the bloom of his romance with dazzling Jacqueline Bisset, they were my next-door neighbors on the beach one summer in Malibu, and they used to drop in to eat whatever I was cooking from pots on the stove. The book also closed on a chapter of TV sitcom history with the departure of David Nelson, 74, the last surviving member of the Nelson family on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. And who could forget pint-size Alice Playten, the saucer-eyed pixie with a voice as loud as Ethel Merman’s, who rose from Baby Louise in the original Gypsy to a series of hysterical TV commercials, including the one where her marshmallow meatballs, sweet-and-sour snails and heart-shape meat loaf drove her husband to Alka-Seltzer.
In a year notable for the sheer volume of its losses, we also bid adieu to camera-ready Marie-France Pisier, goddess of the French New Wave, discovered by François Truffaut and the star of such films as Luis Buñuel’s Phantom of Liberty and André Téchiné’s The Bronte Sisters with Isabelle Huppert and Isabelle Adjani, before melting away in shallow, overblown Hollywood extravaganzas like The Other Side of Midnight. She was found floating in a swimming pool in the south of France. Foreign films lost Lena Nyman, a gifted Swedish actress whose acclaimed work as Liv Ullmann’s mentally damaged sister in Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata was unfortunately overshadowed by her frank sex scenes in the controversial 1969 bore I Am Curious Yellow, which turned it into an undeserving box office bonanza. And speaking of censorship ire, it was au revoir to Maria Schneider, the French actress whose explicit nude sex scenes with Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris introduced new ways to use butter. We signed off on Joanne Siegel, 93, the model for illustrator Joe Shuster’s first Lois Lane in the Superman comic books, who later married the strip’s cocreator, Jerry Siegel. No more Len Lesser (annoying Uncle Leo on Seinfeld and his spinoff, on Everybody Loves Raymond); Peggy Rea (the cousin on The Waltons); Phyllis Love, intense 1950s ingenue in Broadway plays (Bus Stop, The Rose Tattoo) and later, in movies (Gary Cooper’s Quaker daughter in Friendly Persuasion); Jane White, daughter of Walter White, civil rights leader and national secretary of the NAACP for 25 years, and in her own right, a theater icon who played the (hilariously) evil queen in Once Upon a Mattress. No more magazine covers will be graced by model-actress Doe Avedon, wife of illustrious fashion photographer Richard Avedon. Their love story, from 1944 to 1951, was the basis of the historic 1957 Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn musical, Funny Face. No more comforting portrayals by seasoned veteran Harry Morgan in what seems like 1,000 movies from High Noon to Madame Bovary, playing everything from Colonel Potter on M.A.S.H. to the harassed fathers of teenagers, to General Grant in How the West Was Won, negotiating the vicissitudes of war with John Wayne. Who can replace these unique originals? Who will direct them, after the passing of world-class directors like Peter Yates (Breaking Away), Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek), the eccentric Ken Russell (Women in Love), and especially the prolific Sidney Lumet, a meticulous craftsman with impeccable taste who proved movies don’t have to be vulgar, derivative and stupid to appeal to wide audiences and win critical praise. Eschewing mindless action epics, animated comic books and pretentious bores, he concentrated instead on turning out timeless classics like Network, 12 Angry Men, The Group, Stage Struck, Serpico and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, to name just a few of my personal favorites. Sidney made intelligent, elegant, solid, emotionally involving films that told stories without depending on computer-generated gimmicks and special effects. He was a genuine Derby winner in a stable of tired old Hollywood also-rans.