Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Adieu encore

Time for another scattershot group tribute to some of those who have left us recently. Nothing profound and definitely not comprehensive. Just some quick memories of six who made an impact on many people, not least myself.

Vir Cotto (1954-2017)

It has gotten to be an all-too-frequent occurrence to have to mourn someone from the Babylon 5 family. Too many of the cast have passed away at too young an age. This is particularly true for Stephen Furst, who was only 63 when he succumbed to complications from diabetes on June 16. He first came to our notice in 1978 in the opening scenes of National Lampoon’s Animal House as the rotound Kent “Flounder” Dorfman. He and Tom Hulce were the point-of-view clueless pledge characters by whom we gained entry to the shenanigans of the notorious Delta Tau Chi fraternity. A character actor who could be in turn funny and heart-warming, he reprised Flounder on a short-lived TV version, Delta House, and also played a doctor on St. Elsewhere. He appeared in other sitcoms (Have Faith, Misery Loves Company) and did voice work for numerous animation projects. His most memorable TV work, though, was definitely B5. He appeared in all five series of the TV show (though not the TV movie pilot), including the very first regular episode (“Midnight on the Firing Line”) and the beautiful final one (“Sleeping in Light”), as well as the stand-alone TV movie Thirdspace. For a half-decade we watched Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari’s aide grow from a wide-eyed political novice to his boss’s confidante and conscience. One of his most memorable scenes was the one where he anticipated (accurately) that he would one day give his trademark finger wave to the piked head of sinister Shadow spokesman Mr. Morden. Our last look at him: frolicking in bed with his wives and/or mistresses, the most unlikely Centauri emperor of all.

Kevin McCallister’s dad (1946-2017)

It is somewhat ironic that, as attested by his obituaries, John Heard is best remembered for being one of the inattentive parents (with Catherine O’Hara) who left Macaulay Culkin Home Alone while jetting off on a family holiday to Europe. We certainly had not pegged Heard as the comedy dad type early in his career. Film-wise, he started out as more the shambolic baby-boomer guy in indie flicks, as established in the 1970s working with Joan Micklin Silver. He made an impression in her ensemble piece about an underground newspaper in Boston, Between the Lines, which also featured Lindsay Crouse and Jeff Goldblum. A couple of years later he worked with her again in Chilly Scenes of Winter, a well-observed romance adapted from Ann Beattie’s novel which paired him with Mary Beth Hurt. Notoriously, the film’s spot-on bleak ending was jettisoned by the suits for a happy one and it was re-titled Head Over Heels. Another unfortunate re-titling was Ivan Passer’s much-admired 1981 Santa Barbara noir starring Heard and Jeff Bridges. It went from Cutter and Bone to Cutter’s Way. Heard played Jack Kerouac in Heart Beat and a zoo curator chasing a panther in Paul Schrader’s remake of Cat People. He was a bartender in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, a burnt-out activist in The Milagro Beanfield War, Tom Hanks’s putative romantic rival in Big, Bette Midler’s husband in Beaches, a doctor in Awakenings, and the kindly sheriff in Radio Flyer. There were lots of other movies as well as TV shows (The Client, The Sopranos, CSI: Miami, Jack & Bobby, Prison Break). As he was a very busy actor, we will be seeing more of his movies coming through the pipeline for some time to come.

Director of the dead (1940-2017)

George A. Romero’s film oeuvre was not particular extensive or varied. He made zombie movies. Night of the Living Dead was a low-budget horror/art-house classic, and Romero can legitimately take credit for the profusion of walking-dead entertainment that has overtaken us since. Two sort-of sequels completed a trilogy, and then he made two more Dead movies for good measure. These were not just frightfests. They were social critiques. The sight of the undead lumbering through a ruined shopping mall in Day of the Dead struck a real chord with those of not at ease with consumer culture. Was Season of the Witch (aka Hungry Wives) a feminist tract or merely a vehicle for the titular song by Donovan? Was The Crazies meant as a critique of military policy? Is his quasi-vampire movie Martin really a treatise on social alienation? Romero actually went more mainstream, if not less creepy, with adaptations like Monkey Shines (after Michael Stewart’s novel) and Creepshow, an omnibus with big-name stars and penned by Stephen King, drawing from the notorious EC comics of the 1950s. Not to be typecast, he also gave us the 1981 motorcycle jousting movie Knightriders.

Rollin Hand, Abe Karatz and Bela Lugosi (1928-2017)

With more than 170 screen acting credits over a period of more than six decades, there is much to admire and appreciate in Martin Landau’s impressive career. Some highlights stand out. Baby-boomers will remember him as Rollin Hand, the IMF team’s master of disguise on TV’s Mission: Impossible. When he and wife Barbara Bain left the cast in a salary dispute, it made an opening in the post-Star Trek career of Leonard Nimoy. Landau’s other highlights include the movie roles that earned him three Oscar nominations, winning on the final go. In Tucker: The Man and His Dream, he made a touching impression as Jeff Bridge’s business associate Abe. He was impressive as an amoralistic anti-hero in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. He finally got the statuette for his sympathetic turn as over-the-hill actor Bela Lugosi opposite Johnny Depp’s famously incompetent filmmaker in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Landau’s features and stature were distinctive enough to eliminate him from traditional leading-man roles but he had the talent and ability to play virtually anything. Other memorable parts include James Mason’s henchman in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Commander Koenig on TV’s Space: 1999, Matthew McConaughey’s stepfather in Ron Howard’s EDtv, and a washed-up producer on HBO’s Entourage. Not only that but he was the voice of the super-villain Scorpion in the animated Spider-Man TV series. Not bad for a guy once described by The New Yorker as “a survivor of B-movie hell.”

Jules and Jim’s Catherine (1928-2017)

Jeanne Moreau may have made slightly fewer screen appearances than Martin Landau, but they did cover a slightly longer time period. From 1949’s Dernier Amour to 2015’s Le Talent de Mes Amis, she exuded that screen presence that fascinated filmmakers and audiences for multiple generations. She was beautiful—dark, beguiling eyes; irresistible pout; seductive smile—but her physical attributes meant nothing without a formidable talent behind them. She was the proverbial femme fatale. She worked with—and occasionally loved—everyone from Orson Welles to Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Louis Malle, Luis Buñuel, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jacques Demy, Tony Richardson, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Her career was kicked off by a dazzling Parisian stage performance as Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She hit her stride on screen during the French New Wave, becoming the movement’s virtual muse and chief interpreter. Among the films for which she will have been best known internationally are Bertrand Blier’s Going Places, in which she has a vigorous go with the much younger Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, and Luc Besson’s Nikita as the worldly make-over mentor to assassin recruit Anne Parillaud. The one role which has made her immortal, though, is the one she played in Truffaut’s 1962 classic Jules et Jim. As Catherine, the volatile linchpin in an ardent love triangle with Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, she is a force of nature, a font of life, and the seeds of destruction. Her passing takes on an extra poignance for me. Not only did she have a profound effect on me in my most formative cinema-going years, but there are references to her in my soon-to-be-released third novel. I had not intended them to be elegiac.

Rocket J. Squirrel (1917-2017)

Do you know that weirdly transporting moment when a half-dozen or more people you know all turn out to be the same person? No, it doesn’t happen all that often, but it happened four weeks ago when June Foray passed away at the age of 99. That was when I was learned—or was reminded—that she had been not only the voice of Nell Fenwick in The Dudley Do-Right Show and Jane in George of the Jungle but also sweet, elderly Granny in the Sylvester & Tweety cartoons. And she was a witch in many Looney Tunes cartoons (usually called Witch Hazel), who had the same raspy voice as Marjorie Main, as well as little Cindy Lou Who in Chuck Jones’s animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In a departure from cartoons, Foray also provided the voice of a demonic doll called Talky Tina in a memorable Twilight Zone episode. She worked with all the animation greats, including Walt Disney, Tex Avery, Walter Lantz and Jay Ward. A strong supporter of the animation industry over the years, she was instrumental in founding the Annie Awards to honor animation artists and in getting categories for animated work included in the Academy Awards. In the end, her greatest fame was from her work on Rocky and His Friends (later The Bullwinkle Show) in which she performed as Boris Badenov’s sidekick Natasha Fatale and, most recognizably, as Rocky the flying squirrel himself. No wonder, when film critic Leonard Maltin asked Martin Scorsese in 2007 who he was most excited to meet at an Oscar nominees luncheon, the director smiled and said, “June Foray.”

-S.L., 25 August 2017

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive