In Remembrance: The Entertainers We Lost in January
A lot of film icons passed away in 2016 and that inspired me to do a month-by-month series of remembrance articles for these beautiful and talented people. Each article will include a variety of people, not just actors. There are producers, actors, directors, founders, and even a few authors. This is January.
January 1, 2017 - Bill Marshall
William "Bill" Marshall immigrated from Scotland to Canada back in 1955. He made many contributions to the arts and eventually became a Member of the Order of Canada, which is basically an honor system that recognizes outstanding achievements, dedication to the community and services to the nation.
Bill co-founded the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 1976 and served as the festival's director for its first three years. Current director and CEO of TIFF said, "[Bill] was a pioneer in the Canadian film industry."
Bill went on to produce 13 feature films, several documentaries, and even a few live theater productions. His family has even stated that Bill helped establish many Canadian film organizations, The Academy of Canadian Cinema being one of the major ones.
He seems like he was a kind and wonderful man and the film industry will certainly miss such a guiding light.
January 6, 2017 - Francine York
Francine York was already a talented woman before she became an actress. At age five, she wrote short stories. Who writes short stories when they're five years old? Francine did, and from there, took an interest in acting. At age nine, she played Griselda in Hodge Grammar School's production of Cinderella. She was slightly upset that she didn't get the lead role, but she still gave her part everything she had and stole the show. As soon as the show was over she leapt from the stage and ran into the audience and right then and there told her mom that she wanted to act.
Francine was so talented that she even wrote, directed, produced, and starred in a three-act play at the age of 12! She charged five cents admission to the show and the whole town came to see her. The year may have only been 1948, but I imagine she made a good bit of money from that play.
Francine studied journalism in high school and even became the editor of the school newspaper. She performed dramatic readings and won every school declamation contest. She was active with the school band, the 4-H Club, and cooking for both county and state fairs.
Eventually she moved to Minneapolis and modeled sweaters for Jane Richards Sportswear. She traveled throughout the United States, eventually landing in San Francisco where her modeling career took off. She was brought to Hollywood and performed three shows a night, seven nights a week for six months as a showgirl at Frank Sennes' Moulin Rouge Night Club. Eventually she tired of the job and studied acting under Jeff Corey. She was cast in a play called "Whisper in God's Ear" at the Circle Theatre. A scouting movie producer gave her her first movie role in Secret File: Hollywood. She was soon after cast in It's Only Money, which was her first big break into the movie business. From there her career took off, and she didn't slow down. She sadly passed away of cancer on January 6, 2017.
Om Puri - January 6, 2017
Om Puri was an Indian actor, mainly appearing in films produced in the UK and US. He had graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India and was also an alumnus of the 1973 class of the National School of Drama. He's known for his roles in films such as The Hundred Foot Journey, Gandhi, and Charlie Wilson's War. He sadly passed away of a heart attack on January 6, 2017.
January 9, 2015 - Samuel Goldwyn Jr
Samuel Goldwyn Jr founded the Samuel Goldwyn Company in 1979, which distributed many independent films throughout the 80s and 90s. He's the reason art-house and indie films grew into such a powerful cultural force. Thomas Rothman, who used to work at the Samuel Goldwyn Company, said that many people didn't realize "what an independent film pioneer" Samuel was. Rothman went on to found Fox Searchlight and credited Sam Goldwyn as the inspiration for his success.
Sam Goldwyn was responsible for launching several now-popular stars careers, including Julia Roberts. Sam distributed Mystic Pizza, which was Julia's first big break. He also backed directors such as Ang Lee and Kenneth Branagh, who are now widely known and respected.
Sam sadly died of congestive heart failure on January 9, 2015.
January 10, 2015 - Taylor Negron
Taylor Negron, who was of Puerto Rican descent, attended UCLA and studied acting with Lee Strasberg. He also studied comedy in a private seminar taught by none other than the brilliant Lucille Ball. He joined an improv group, joining with talents such as Robin Williams and Martin Short.
In 1982, Negron made his film debut in Young Doctors in Love and went on to play significant roles in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Easy Money. Negron was also honored by being asked to teach a comedy course at UCLA.
Sadly, Taylor died of cancer on January 10, 2015.
January 10, 2016 - David Bowie
David Bowie was born David Jones in 1947, but changed his name to Bowie in the 60s in order to avoid confusion with the lead singer of The Monkees Davy Jones. Bowie was a struggling artist in the 60s, trying several different types of music just waiting for his big break. He even tried acting, miming, painting, and playwriting but still nothing was working for him. Finally, in 1969, David Bowie achieved the break he was looking for with the song Space Oddity, which was released at the time of the moon landing. However, his following two albums weren't so popular with audiences and it seemed Bowie was fading fast. He made a comeback in 1972 with Ziggy Stardust, an album about a space-age rock star. His following albums followed suit and became a hit.
In 1975, he achieved his first hit in the US with Fame. He also appeared in his first major film The Man Who Fell to Earth. His drug problem heightened the bigger his star power became and it was only a matter of time before he hit a breaking point. At the end of the 1970s, he kicked his drug habit and recorded Scary Monsters, which is considered his best album.
The next few years were less musical as he focused on his acting career. He returned to music in 1983 with the album Let's Dance, a huge success.
Bowie's music influenced popular music many times over and some of his box office failures are now cult classics. Sadly, he passed away of liver cancer on January 10, 2016.
January 11, 2015 - Anita Ekberg
Anita Ekberg was a Swedish-born actress who got a film contract with Howard Hughes' RKO and, after that proved fruitless, began making films with Universal. At first, she only scored small roles but in five years' time, she found herself in Rome filming La Dolce Vita. She stayed in Italy and made 20 films over 10 years' time, most of them memorable. She's probably best-known for War and Peace and La Dolce Vita.
Anita retired in 2002 and sadly passed away of an unknown illness on January 11, 2015.
January 12, 2017 - William Peter Blatty
William Peter Blatty, best known for his novel The Exorcist, sadly passed away on January 12, 2017 from multiple myeloma, which is a form of blood cancer. He also served as a producer for the film adaptation of The Exorcist, which went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning only for two - best sound and best adapted screenplay.
Blatty wasn't all scares and horror though. To many, he was seen as a witty, loving man who had a "whimsical sense of humor" (Julia Blatty).
He was 89 at the time of his passing and had been married to Julia Blatty for 33 years.
January 13, 2017 - Dick Gautier
Dick Gautier, born October 30, 1931,served in the US Navy and, once he was relieved of duty, decided to try stand-up comedy. He began as a nightclub comic and went on to become a singer for dance orchestras. He performed on Broadway in "Bye, Bye Birdie" and was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
Dick eventually won the role of Hymie on Get Smart where he remained a series regular. He was a regular in several more television shows including Love, American Style and Galtar and the Golden Lance. Dick is also well-known for voicing the villain Serpentor on the TV show G.I. Joe and the hero Rodimus Prime in another show called The Transformers.
Dick sadly passed away of pneumonia on January 13, 2017.
January 14, 1957 - Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart was born on Christmas Day in 1899 in New York City. Since his father was a surgeon, Humphrey was sent to Phillips Academy in preparation for medical studies at Yale. That didn't exactly work out as he was expelled. There isn't a solid reason as to why but there are three popular rumors. One claims that he threw the headmaster into Rabbit Pond on campus. Another says it's because he smoked, drank, and performed poorly academically. The third rumor states that he wasn't expelled at all but was withdrawn by his father for failing to improve his grades. Whatever the case, his parents were highly dismayed and Humphrey joined the Navy.
After he returned, he managed a stage company which was owned by family friend William A. Brady, father of actress Alice Brady. He became interested in acting and began regular stage performances in the studio. In 1930, Fox granted him a contract, which was just a ten minute short film called Broadway's Like That. He returned to the stage for five years and finally won his breakthrough role in The Petrified Forest at Warner Brothers. Funny thing is, Bogart only got the part because the star of the film, Leslie Howard, threatened to quit unless Bogart got the role of Duke Mantee. Turns out, Bogart and Howard had previously performed the stage production of The Petrified Forest, which caught Howard's attention. The film brought a successful career to Bogart, becoming one of cinema's most iconic actors.
Sadly, Humphrey died in his sleep on January 14, 1957 due to a battle with throat cancer.
January 14, 2016 - Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman, born February 21 1946, didn't intend on becoming an actor when he was a young man attending Chelsea College of Art and Design. He was actually studying Graphic Design and even met his life partner Rima Horton there. Alan attended Chelsea College for three years and eventually graduated at the Royal College of Art. He opened Graphiti, a successful graphics design business. His love of theatre soon won him over and he auditioned at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He received a scholarship, beginning his professional acting career which lasted nearly 40 years.
Alan is probably most well-known for his roles as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. He had a wide range of talent, tackling drama in Sense and Sensibility, comedy in Dogma, and the ever so daunting musical Sweeney Todd.
Alan Rickman sadly passed away on January 14, 2016 due to pancreatic cancer.
January 15, 2015 - Kim Fowley
Kim Fowley began a music career in 1957, producing The Renegades' "Charge" in 1959, his first hit single. Moving into the 60s, Kim worked with Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Seeds, and Gene Vincent. At the end of the 60s, Kim served as an MC to John Lennon at the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival. He asked the crowd to raise their cigarette lighters. Most likely, that's where the fad started.
Kim had even more success in the 70s, launching the career of Joan Jett in the all-female band The Runaways.
Kim turned to film for a while, leaving music behind after The Runaways failed and the girls went their own ways.
In 2014, Fowley was reported to be taking cancer treatments and also that former Runaways front singer Cherie Currie was caring for him. A year later, on January 15, 2015, Kim died due to bladder cancer.
January 16, 2014 - Russell Johnson
Russell Johnson was more than an actor, he was a hero. After doing poorly in school, even being held back a grade, he tried even harder in high school and made the National Honor Society. After graduating, Russell joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was on a bombing run over the Philippines when his plane, a B-24 Liberator, was shot down. Soon, he was rescued and earned a Purple Heart for his service.
Russell used his G.I. Bill to enroll in acting school. He soon became a well-known character actor in such classics as The Island Earth and It Came from Outer Space. Probably his most popular character though would come in 1964 when he took on the role of The Professor on Gilligan's Island.
Russell died at the age of 79 on January 16, 2014 due to kidney failure.
January 17, 2017 - Miguel Ferrer
Miguel Ferrer was the eldest of five children of Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, making Miguel cousin to George Clooney. Originally, he pursued a career as a musician. He was watching an episode of I Love Lucy and gained interest in playing drums after seeing Ricky play. Miguel indeed did learn how to play and went on tour with his mother Rosemary and Bing Crosby. After Crosby died, Miguel studied acting at Beverly Hills Playhouse and found the most success as a voice-over actor. Later in life, he started starring in television and even worked with Denise Crosby in Crossing Jordan. Miguel was probably best known, however, for his role in NCIS: Los Angeles. He passed away on January 17, 2017 due to laryngeal cancer.
January 20, 1990 - Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck had humble beginnings, working at a local telephone company for $14 a week. She had a dream, however, to enter show business. When she wasn't working at the telephone company, she was out searching for dancing jobs. Her persistence paid off and she was hired as a chorus girl for $40 a week, $26 more than what she had been making. She was seventeen at the time and decided she would make the most of her new job.
In 1928, after four years of dancing, Barbara moved to Hollywood. She proved quickly that she had a wide range of talent, starring in dramas, westerns, thrillers, and comedies. Everyone she worked with considered her serious but easygoing and a pleasure to work with. She sadly died on January 20, 1990 after suffering from several complications including congestive heart failure, chronic obtrusive lung disease, and emphysema.
January 20, 1993 - Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn had a rougher life than most realize. Her parents divorced when she was young and she moved with her mother to London where she attended a private all-girls school. When she and her mother moved to the Netherlands, Audrey was put in more private all-girls schools. During this time, Hitler invaded the Netherlands which forced the country into hardship. Audrey fell into a depression and suffered from malnutrition. She even ate tulip bulbs and attempted to bake grass into bread during WWII. One day, she witnessed Jews being herded into railroad cars to be sent to death camps, an experience which would cause her to turn down the title role in The Diary of Anne Frank as she felt that the film would bring back too many painful memories.
Audrey became a volunteer nurse and helped nurse paratrooper Terence Young back to health, who would later direct Audrey in the horror classic Wait Until Dark.
As World War II raged on, Audrey became an accomplished ballerina and gave ballet performances for money. She then gave the money she made to the Dutch Underground for the Anti-Nazi Effort.
Many film producers saw her performances and hence her film career began. She gained immediate praise in Roman Holiday, for which she won a Best Actress Academy Award. She gave one delightful performance after another, gaining prominence and respect throughout her life.
Sadly, Audrey died on January 20, 1993 due to appendiceal cancer.
January 22, 2008 - Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger first came to love film when he took drama as an elective in Junior High. When he was 17, he packed up some things and moved to Sydney, Australia. With 69 cents to his name, Heath did everything he could to get his big break. His first job came in Blackrock, a low budget film that was rather unmemorable. He tried his hand at television, but when that failed, he turned back to film. Paws gained him a small amount of momentum. He had saved his money and moved to the U.S. and tried auditioning there. He landed a role in Two Hands, which gained him enough fame to grab the lead in 10 Things I Hate About You, which really launched his career. He accepted role after role, being careful to not stick with one particular genre as he wanted to avoid being typecast. He's probably best known for A Knight's Tale, Brokeback Mountain, and The Dark Knight.
Tragically, he died from an accidental prescription drug overdose on January 22, 2008.
January 24, 2006 - Chris Penn
Chris Penn, brother of Sean Penn, started acting at the age of twelve in the Loft Studio. He and brother Sean made several short films, gaining some attention. He got his debut in Charlie and the Talking Buzzard and, after a few years, caught the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola who gave Chris a role in Rumble Fish. Even though the film was a flop, Chris snagged a role in All the Right Moves and Footloose, which set him on the right track. Penn seemed unstoppable as he appeared with Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider and Christopher Walken in At Close Range. Eventually he hit his best-known role in Reservoir Dogs, which also launched Quentin Tarantino's directorial career.
Penn began taking smaller roles, focusing more on independent film festival films. He continued taking small roles until his shocking death on January 24, 2006 due to an enlarged heart.
January 25, 1990 - Ava Gardner
Ava Gardner grew up in the rural South on a tobacco farm. At age 18, a picture of her in the window of her brother-in-law's New York photo studio caught the attention of MGM, which led her to Hollywood and a film contract. The contract, however, was based solely on her beauty. She had no acting experience and was given one-line roles from 1942-1945. She tried out her first lead role in Whistle Stop, which caught Universal's eye. Universal cast her in The Killers. She was still under contract at MGM, however, and was used for her beauty to sell mediocre films. Finally, her true talent showed in Mogambo which led to another hit role in Bhowani Junction.
Ava moved to Spain in 1955, making foreign films and living abroad. Her last great film was The Night of the Iguana and afterwards she moved to London to live in comfort. She died on January 25, 1990 due to bronchial pneumonia.
January 25, 2017 - Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore had a rough childhood, mostly because of her mom's alcoholism issues. Mary attended a Catholic high school and married as soon as she was graduated. She became a dancer first, then entered show business in 1955. Her first role was a series of commercials as a dancing kitchen appliance, Happy Hotpoint the Hotpoint Appliance elf. She decided to move on from dancing to acting and, after a few guest roles on TV shows, she landed a role as Sam on Richard Diamond, Private Detective.
Most of her early roles took advantage of her looks rather than focusing on her talent but she eventually took a turn for the best when she was cast in The Dick Van Dyke Show as Dick's wife. After the series ended, she focused on filmmaking, co-starring in five films before starring in Mary Tyler Moore which ran for seven seasons. Her career hit a dropping point after the show ended because she couldn't shake the Mary Richards persona. She tried several projects, most failing. She did however regain her memorable status in Ordinary People and Stolen Babies.
Sadly, she passed away on January 25, 2017 due to diabetes.
January 25, 2017 - John Hurt
As a child, John Hurt kept to himself and had very little initiative for his life. He was guided toward art but John developed a passion for acting. His parents thought little of it and enrolled him in two art schools. He did seem to perk up a bit, but art didn't have his heart like acting did.
John was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his stage debut in 1962. He remained on the stage until he finally landed his film debut in Young and Willing. John continued appearing in theatre plays, gaining respect and a high profile. It was his role in the TV play The Naked Civil Servant that truly captured John's talents.
His career soared from there, constantly being handed the best of the best roles in both film and television. But with fame comes the darker side of Hollywood, which brought him to an alcoholic state. He did recover, however, and remained a top-profile actor in Hollywood until his death on January 25, 2017 due to pancreatic cancer.
January 31, 2017 - Frank Pellegrino
Frank Pellegrino, co-star star of the mob film Goodfellas and the groundbreaking hit show The Sopranos, has died. Not much is publicly known about Frank's private life aside from the fact that he co-owned a Rao's, an Italian restaurant, with his son Frank Pellegrino Jr. The restaurant was even used by Martin Scorsese in the film The Wolf of Wall Street. Frank had been battling lung cancer. He was 72.
There have been many sad deaths in the entertainment industry over the years. From Humphrey Bogart to Audrey Hepburn to Mary Tyler Moore, fans the world over will forever remember them and will miss them. They were all brilliant and left incredible legacies behind to inspire future generations to come.
© 2017 Alec Zander