George Kennedy Gone at 91: They Don’t Make em Like That Anymore

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.

Still from the film The Dirty Dozen

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.  While it is a trite phrase, often overused, suffice to say that in Kennedy’s case, they really do not make em like that anymore.

The last film George Harris Kennedy worked on was the abysmal Mark Wahlberg remake of The Gambler. Watching the film’s screener for review I was shocked to see how old the Cool Hand Luke actor appeared. In my mind he was ageless.

The first time I ever saw Kennedy on screen was in the film The Sons of Katie Elder. He played the surly gunsel hired to “take care” of John Elder (Duke Wayne) and the huge man first meets Duke’s character as he plunges the town’s undertaker’s head repeatedly into a barrel of water. Curly’s high-pitched “piggy” giggle as he almost drowns the man is interrupted with John Elder’s shouted, “Hey” and an pickaxe handle in the face.

This scene was iconic enough that is has been repeated in other films, even Gremlins has  Zach Galligan’s character re-enact the scene but with a  sword.

The Sons of Katie Elder moment was not an isolated incident. Kennedy played characters whose actions stood out in films, whether they were award winning movies like Cool Hand Luke, or more pedestrian fare like Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (where Kennedy’s character rather nastily beats a young Lightfoot (Lloyd Bridges) so badly that the boy dies a lingering death), Kennedy was one of those actors who stood out.

George Kennedy could play comedy, as proven in his turns in the Naked Gun franchise as well as menacing bad men. He was equally at home as bluff good guys, snotty bad guys or  the “last” slave to shout “I am Spartacus,” in the 1960 film, Kennedy brought a truth and believability to all his roles.

The New York born son of a ballet dancer and musician/orchestra leader was equally home in any genre playing any role.  Regardless of the budget or the part, the Oscar winning actor made you believe him.

The cigar chomping airport savior, Patroni,  who clears off the snow in the 1970 film Airport where he shared screen credits with Dean Martin but not screen time.  He worked with Dino before  in Bandolero! as the lovesick sheriff July Johnson who chases Martin through Mexico.

Throughout a career that began in 1956 (The Phil Silvers Show) and ended with the 2014 film The Gambler the actor played cops, soldiers, murderers, heroes, convicts, and all manner of roles across the board.  Watching Kennedy accept his Oscar for Cool Hand Luke, one can see the innate gentleness on his face and in his voice, a trait that caused people to all him the nicest man in Hollywood.

Watching any of Kennedy’s performances is a lesson is acting and reacting. The actor could  convey a myriad of emotions with his eyes and face alone, dialogue was not required for this character actor to convince the viewer of his character’s veracity.

I was actually surprised into tears at the news of Kennedy’s passing. He was a firm favorite, and not just from the many westerns watched all those years ago on Saturday night television,  one who could always be counted upon to stand out and make his performance memorable, regardless of the film’s budget.

George Kennedy (1925 – 2016) a huge man whose six-foot four-inch frame was dwarfed by his ability to make us believe completely in his characters actions on screen big and small. They really do not “make em like that” anymore.

Cilla Black Legend and Icon Gone at 72

Cilla Black dead at 72
Cilla Black, the legend and entertainment icon has died. The singer and television host died in Spain at the age of 72. Cilla’s agent confirmed the news of her death to the BBC. Spanish police have also verified that Black, real name Pricilla White, died of apparently natural causes in Estepona on the Costa del Sol.

Paul O’Grady who was Cilla’s best friend has talked of the mischief that he and Black got up to whenever they were together. Grady, who started his career as Lily Savage, met Cilla on Michael “Parky” Parkinson’s talk show and as he told the Daily Record, the two just “clicked.”

In 2014 ITV produced a mini series on the life and career of Cilla and she was played by Lincolnshire actress Sheridan Smith. When Smith heard about Cilla she immediately expressed her condolences to the family and her dismay at the news.

Cilla Black worked with some of the biggest names in the music business and carved out a career as a singer before becoming a fixture on English television. She presented Surprise Surprise! a popular program that ran for 15 seasons. The show first aired in 1984 and Cilla had presented 137 episodes by the time the show ended in 2001. She also presented the contestant dating show Blind Date which ran from 1985 to 2003. Ms. Black always held out hope that one of the couples who dated on the show would get married so she could go to the wedding. In 1993, one couple finally tied the knot and Cilla did indeed attend.

As well as hosting and presenting these two long running programs on British television, Cilla appeared on many other programs like game shows, variety programs and her own television show Cilla that ran from 1968 to 1976. Between 2004 and 2009 she appeared on her old pal Paul O’Grady’s show no less than six times and guest hosted one episode. She was also a regular fixture on Loose Women, doing 17 episodes in all.

Cilla was awarded the OBE in 1997 and was the holder of many industry awards. She was more than just a legendary performer and an English television icon, Cilla Black was an institution. She was adored by millions and as news of her death became known, her many professional friends rushed to pay tribute to a dear friend and talented entertainer.

Ms. Black was well known for her “down to earth” sensibility and being game for a laugh. O’Grady loves to tell of holding his best friend by her ankles as they entered a window to her home after she had locked herself out. Paul tells the story and adds that she was shouting “Surprise, Surprise” as people walked past.

It is fitting that on YouTube one can find a clip of an unbelievably young Cilla singing Anyone Who had a Heart live. It is also fitting that listening to her sing the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song that became a number one hit for the young Scouse entertainer still gives one goosebumps. That marvelous voice will be missed as will the marvelous personality that was Cilla Black, gone at 72, 2 August 2015. RIP Chuck.

Patrick Macnee Dead at 93: So Long John Steed

John Steed from The Avengers
As a kid I adored The Avengers. John Steed, the man who carried an umbrella instead of a gun and managed to have the world’s most beautiful women as partners in the world of off the wall espionage was a childhood hero. While my crush may have been Diana Riggs as Miss Emma Peel, the chap I aspired to be was Macnee’s Steed and it hurts to say so long to John Steed and Patrick Macnee who died Thursday at 93.

161 episodes of a series that featured Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson as the other half of a team that was years ahead of the rest of the world in showing that feminism could work. Although poor Thorson was never in the same league as the first two female stars of the show by the time she showed up, as the actress put it herself, the producers did not really know what to do with her character.

The Avengers was a parody of spy movies like the James Bond franchise, and later the Harry Palmer “bargain basement” version of Bond, where Steed was not quite so glamorous, or as rough, as Sean Connery’s Bond. Steed was: Totally cool, a gentlemen, utterly unflappable, and braver than brave; going up against all sorts of baddies and rarely armed except for that umbrella.

Steed never carried a gun and his character was actually the “second banana” to Ian Hendry’s character (Dr. David Keel)in season one. By the time the series reached season two Keel was gone and Steed was not. Macnee was the quintessential Englishman from 1961 to 1969 and the show made stars of Patrick, Blackman and Riggs on both sides of the big pond. Macnee would go on to do The New Avengers but it never gelled with me the way the first series did, despite Joanna Lumley’s Purdey.

Macnee worked practically nonstop, even appearing in one of the Bond films, A View to a Kill with Sir Roger Moore, whom he had worked with on The Sea Wolves, as well as David Niven, and according to Sir Roger, he was under the impression that Patrick and he were related. Moore gave his old “relative” and colleague a sending off after news of his death was made public.

The actor was a prolific performer and played many different roles, most of whom were English although he did portray other nationalities. He was also very good at playing villains, in the 1988 horror/comedy Waxwork, and its sequel, Macnee was a treacherous old family friend and stinker who tries to kill the hero. He played the baddie many times in his long career and always quite convincingly.

But it is as John Steed that he will stay in my memory. He once revealed that the reason The Avengers worked so well was that he and Diana Rigg, a very serious actress with a background in Shakespeare who was also voted, somewhat ironically, the world’s sexist ever TV star by the American publication TV Guide, wrote their own dialogue as the show’s scripts were, he said, abysmal.

Arthritis slowed him down later and forced him to give up acting except for voice over work. Patrick Macnee died at his California home of natural causes and his son Rupert informed the patrickmacnee.com website that he was with family when he died.

So long Patrick Macnee, aka John Steed, the umbrella carrying English gentleman and “action man.”