Friday, January 04, 2008

On The Tenth Day Of Christmas

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love (Television) gave to me...ten dead people.

Yeah, it's that time in the awards show....sorry....the list of lists that my 12 Days Of Christmas posts really are, to do the obituary montage. Now obviously there were a lot more than ten prominent TV people who left us in calendar 2007, and if you want a far more complete list that I am going to provide, check out TV Squad and my good friend "Tele-Toby's" great blog Inner Toob.

So what am I doing with this list? Basically I have picked out ten people who, for one reason or another, have either had great significance for me in my life as a TV viewer or for one reason or another were (in my oh so humble opinion) towering figures in the history of the medium. I'll try to give some explanation but I will tell you right now, inclusion on this list is extremely arbitrary and is in no particular order.

Charles Lane (January 26, 1905-July 9, 2007): One of the great grouchy old men, whether it was in Frank Capra's movies, working with his good friend Lucille Ball on a number of her films and TV shows, or as the prototypical flint-hearted businessman, Homer Bedloe on the TV series Petticoat Junction, Charles Lane was one of the great character actors. Primarily known on TV for his comedy work he was equally comfortable in dramatic parts, particularly later in life. He was a founding member of both the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Honoured at the TVLand Awards on his 100th birthday, he stated "In case anyone's interested, I'm still available!" Apparently someone called because his last IMDB credit is as the narrator in a 2006 animated short, The Night Before Christmas.

Tom Snyder (May 12, 1936-July 29, 2007): One of my favourite talk show hosts, in part because he was an involving (and involved) conversationalist. You usually got the sense that he was at least interested in his guest and unlike Larry King (who Snyder apparently had some animosity towards) you knew that Tom actually read the books. He could bear right in on a guest when necessary or at other times just let them talk. You could tell when Tom really liked a guest. One of the best things that David Letterman did when he came to CBS from NBC was to put Snyder (who had been replaced by Dave at NBC in 1981) on after him. It was joy to just listen to him talk to people but in the opinion of CBS at least the time for his type of talk show had passed and I at least think that television is the worse for it.

Verity Lambert (November 27, 1935-November 22, 2007): The first woman to become a producer at the BBC, and later headed her own production company, Cinema Verity, she will forever be linked with the first series that she ever produced at the BBC – Doctor Who. In fact she passed away one day before the forty-fourth anniversary of the debut of the series.

Merv Griffin (July 6, 1925-August 12, 2007): Merv Griffin was one of the titanic figures of the Television industry. The former big band singer would have been numbered among the most memorable figures in the history of the medium just for his landmark talk show, which ran mostly in the afternoons, except for an unhappy three year period when his show ran on CBS in the late night time slot opposite Johnny Carson. It was after the CBS debacle that he took his show to syndication with Metromedia where it ran until 1984. For most of this time Merv's own production company was creating game shows, of which the two most famous are Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Griffin sold his production company to Columbia Pictures Television in 1984 for $250 million, although he continued to dabble in Television, most recently creating the syndicated game show Merv Griffin's Crosswords, which debuted after his death.

William Hutt (May 2, 1920-June 27, 2007): Though probably best (or only) known to American readers for his performance as Charles Kingman in the third season of the series Slings And Arrows, a generation of Canadians were riveted by his performance as Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in the 1974 adaptation of Pierre Berton's National Dream. He actually did relatively little film or TV work, but was a fixture at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival from its beginning in 1953 until 2005. He was recognised as one of Canada's greatest actors of the last half of the 20th Century.

Charles Nelson Reilly (January 13, 1931-May 27, 2007): Best known on television as one of the regular panellists on Match Game where he regularly crossed wits with Brett Somers (who also passed away in 2007), he was in fact a talented actor, stage director and raconteur. The first time I remember seeing Charles Nelson Reilly on TV was in the TV version of The Ghost And Mrs. Muir as Claymore Gregg, one of three roles for which he was nominated for an Emmy, which preceded his time on Match Game. He developed a close friendship with Burt Reynolds and was a frequent guest director at the actor's dinner theatre in Jupiter, Florida. Reilly showed his dramatic abilities playing Jose Chung in an episode of the X-Files and on its sister show Millenium. Although he was long a gay icon on TV he didn't actually reveal his sexual orientation until his one man stage show Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly in the 1990s.

Tom Poston (October 17, 1921-April 30, 2007): A fixture, along with Louis Nye and Don Knotts on the old Steve Allen Show Tom Poston was a serious dramatic actor (he played opposite Jose Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac he would come into his own as a comedic actor on television and the movies. He was a regular on a number of game shows of the 1960s including What's My Line. In 1975 he appeared on his friend Bob Newhart's series The Bob Newhart Show along with Suzanne Pleshette, who he would eventually marry in 2001. Later he would be a regular on Newhart as the easily befuddled George Utley. He was in high demand as a supporting actor in both comedic and dramatic roles until shortly before his death.

Bob Carroll Jr. (August 12, 1918-January 27, 2007): Writer and sometimes producer, he forged a professional relationship with Madelyn Pugh that lasted for 50 years. The pair's relationship with Lucille Ball was shorter lived only because Lucy died on them. Along with Jess Oppenheimer they created Ball's 1948 radio series My Favourite Husband, and followed her to TV to write most of the episodes of I Love Lucy. Later they would write for The Desi-Lucy Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy and Ball's last series Life With Lucy (an unfortunate project for all involved). They also wrote the story for the Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda movie Yours, Mine and Ours, which was remade in 2006.

Yvonne DeCarlo
(September 1, 1922-January 8, 2007): Although she is best known today for playing Lilly Munster on The Munsters, the actual amount of television work that she did was quite limited. She had been very popular in films playing sexy exotic roles in 'B' movies (like Princess Scheherezade in The Desert Hawk) under contract at Universal. The Munsters was her only series though she did a number of guest appearances including the first episode of Bonanza. She took the role of Lilly Munster to pay the medical expenses of her then husband, Bob Morgan, a stuntman who had been severely injured during the making of the movie How The West Was Won (that was also the reason why John Wayne hired her for another of her better known roles these days, Mrs. Warren in the comedy western McLintock. Not bad for a little girl from Vancover B.C.

Tammy Faye Messner (March 7, 1942-July 20, 2007): No one personified the excesses of the Evangelical Christian movement of the 1980s more than Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and in the case of Tammy Faye there was never anyone involved in that situation who was more of an innocent victim. Unlike her husband Jim Bakker she was never tried or even charged of involvement in the financial improprieties that brought down the PTL Club, the organization that they headed. She had always had a far more tolerant attitude towards homosexuals than most evangelical religious figures, and she revealed a sense of humour over her own excesses – mainly makeup and her propensity to weep at the least excuse. She appeared on Larry King Live a number of times during her final illness, the last time the day before she died.

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