Geez Danny, you have had a tough week this week...I would imagine you might want to do a post on the death of Sydney Pollack.
I have had a tough week, but it certainly had nothing to do with those deaths. (Do I seem that celebrity obsessed? Don't answer that!) Not that I wan’t sad when I heard that Sydney Pollack had died, but it’s not like these people are family members or anything! I remember when Elvis Presley died in 1977, my sister was living with a former classmate of ours named Fran Stein who was an absolute fanatic about all things Elvis. After it was announced that Elvis had died, people started calling Fran to ask how she was doing, using the hushed and somber tones reserved for those who have just lost a close loved one. Oy.
As much as I admired Sydney Pollack, I tend to acknowledge the deaths of people, often far less famous than Pollack, about whom I have personal anecdotes or who remind me of different times in my life. That’s how I felt about the deaths of Suzanne Pleshette, Don Knotts, Maureen Stapleton, Yvonne de Carlo, Deborah Kerr, Ingmar Bergman and Tom Snyder, Lois Nettleton and Bill Idelson, and certainly people that I actually knew or who had a close relationship with Kendall such as her pals Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly.
Considering how much Sydney Pollack is respected as one of this country’s finest directors, I was surprised to realize after reading his obituaries how few films he actually made. My favorite Pollack film is one of his first—“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” made in 1969 about the grueling and inhumane dance marathons that swept the country during the Depression. There are so many poignant performances in this film and it so beautifully evoked that desperate, hardscrabble era. Pollack was a master at wringing the best work out of people, in this case Red Buttons, Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, and in what I would call the finest performance of her career, Jane Fonda.
Being the chick flick lover that I am, I am also a huge fan of 1973’s “The Way We Were,” starring Babs and one of Pollack’s frequent leading men, Robert Redford. I also loved “Out of Africa” starring Redford and the always brilliant Meryl Streep (I often find myself spontaneously uttering Karen Blixen’s line, “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of Ngong Hills…”) and of course, I so enjoyed the crowd-pleasing “Tootsie” which also featured Pollack expertly playing the role of Dustin Hoffman’s agent. Not all of Pollack's films were winners, but I’ll forgive him the 1995 remake of “Sabrina.”
By all accounts, Sydney Pollack was not only a great director, actor, and producer, but a true mensch. Everyone who worked with him seemed to love him. Who can ask for more out of life than that?
Another celebrity died this week whose work has been in my head far longer and far more intensely than Pollack’s ever was. Does this sounds familiar:
Or how about this?
Earle Hagen composed many of the best themes in the history of television, tunes that are lodged in the cerebral cortexes of nearly every Baby Boomer who walks the earth. In addition to the theme songs for “The Andy Griffith Show” (that’s Hagen himself whistling in that number) and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Earle Hagen scored many of my favorite childhood shows, from “Make Room for Daddy” to our friend Sam Bobrick’s show “Gomer Pyle, USMC” to the very hip “The Mod Squad” (with the following slogan: “one black…one white…one blonde!”) to “That Girl.”
His most acclaimed work was probably on the ground-breaking TV show “I Spy.” This was one of the first shows to create original soundtracks for every episode, and because each episode was filmed in a different exotic location, the show became a tour-de-force for Hagen’s ability to adapt the music of different cultures and bring it to the American public week by week. Would you believe me if I say that one of the reasons I wanted to learn to read so badly was so I could read the credits of my favorite TV shows? It’s true, and I actually remember gazing at our gigantic black-and-white RCA set in the mid-60s and seeing Earle Hagen’s name appear on so many of the shows that I loved.
Completing the sad triad of celebrity deaths this week is the brilliant Harvey Korman who made me laugh out loud more than most of the other way more famous comedians on television. I first came to love Korman when he was a regular on “The Danny Kaye Show” with Joyce Van Patten, and then, of course, during his long stint on “The Carol Burnett Show.” If you’ve never seen that show’s most famous film parody, “Went With the Wind,” with Korman as leading man Ratt Bulter, it’s definitely worth a look:
Harvey Korman did a killer Clark Gable, but he was even funnier in the parodies he did with Burnett of theatre couple Lunt & Fontanne or when he was decked out in full drag as an oversized Jewish mama or when he played Eunice’s hapless husband in the family sketches. Korman was also brilliant in “Blazing Saddles” and other Mel Brooks’ films. I wrote Korman a letter when I was a kid and received one in return that I will have to hunt down.
Three very talented people gone this week, all from the Midwest (Korman and Hagen were born in Chicago, Pollack in Indiana) and two (Pollack and Korman) whose families were from similar Eastern European Jewish shtetls. Rest in peace, you guys.