Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Rushed Farewells

The holidays are upon us. The year is drawing to a close. So many things to do. So many things left undone. So many people to remember. Not even time for my usual occasional cursory scattershot tributes. Just rapid-fire flow-of-consciousness reflections on people who made an impression on me personally. Apologies to all the others who have left us in recent weeks, including Tobe Hooper, Glen Campbell, John Hillerman, Jerry Lewis and even David Cassidy.

Not Yet Dark (1974-2017)

Simon Fitzmaurice of County Wicklow made just one feature film, but it received a huge ovation at the 2015 Galway Film Fleadh and won a slew of Irish awards, tying with Room and Sing Street for most prizes at the Irish Film and Television Awards. My Name Is Emily starred Evanna Lynch (best known as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies) in the title role, as a teenager who runs away from home to break her father out of a mental institution. A follow-up to two short films (one of which played at Sundance), it was a daunting project that required the filmmaker, who had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, to use an eye-gaze computer to write and to communicate his directions. He also penned a memoir called It’s Not Yet Dark, which became a documentary by Frankie Fenton. Fitzmaurice left behind his wife Ruth and their five children.

One of the Felix Leiters (1939-2017)

Several actors have played James Bond’s CIA buddy Felix, but the last one to play him opposite Sean Connery was Bernie Casey, in the 1983 unofficial 007 flick Never Say Never Again. A former pro football player, Casey’s screen career was like a tour of American pop culture. He was in everything from a Magnificent Seven sequel to the TV movie weepie Brian’s Song to The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He was in thoughtful stuff like Roots: The Next Generations and Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored. He was in blaxploitation flicks like Cleopatra Jones, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde and the parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. He also did TV sci-fi. He played authority figures in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and SeaQuest 2032 and, most importantly, he played a government agent covering up the assassination of earth’s president in the second season of Babylon 5.

King Kaiser (1934-2017)

One of my all-time favorite movies is Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year, loosely based on the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Sid Caesar’s 1950s TV show. Joseph Bologna played the temperamental TV star. Born in Brooklyn, he was destined to play tough guys (like real-life mobster Joe Bonanno in Honor Thy Father), but he was drawn to comedy and sensitive portrayals, such as his characters in Lovers and Other Strangers and Made for Each Other. He co-wrote those insightful examinations of coupledom with his wife Renée Taylor, drawing on their Italian/Jewish-American culture clash. In their 60s, they followed up with If You Ever Leave Me… I’m Going with You! on Broadway. Other memorable roles: Blame It on Rio (in which his teenage daughter has an affair with his pal Michael Caine), a mad scientist in Transylvania 6-5000 and Adam Sandler’s father in Big Daddy.

Almost Don Quixote (1930-2017)

French actor Jean Rochefort had one of the best faces in cinema. His droopy eyes, nose and mustache combined with his classic Gallic gaze to make him the embodiment of befuddlement and the perfect straight man. For six decades beginning in the 1950s, he was, not surprisingly, the king of French film farces. Typically, he was the middle-aged guy who decides to throw caution to the wind and have an ill-considered fling, as exemplified by the comedy Un Eléphant Ça Trompe Enormément (a pun with a word that can mean either trumpet or cheat), which was imaginatively retitled in the U.S. as Pardon Mon Affair. It was remade with Gene Wilder as The Woman in Red. He did more serious work in L’Horloger de Saint-Paul, Que la Fête Commence, Le Cavaleur and Ridicule. He was memorable in the quirky fashion satire Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? in which he appeared, strangely enough, with Dark Shadows actor Grayson Hall. Sadly, he missed out on completing the true role he was born to play. As documented in Lost in La Mancha, he filmed scenes (with Johnny Depp) as the title character for Terry Gilliam’s oft-delayed, star-crossed project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote but had to drop out due to illness. The good news is that filming has finally finished on the latest go of Gilliam’s movie, now with Jonathan Pryce as the mad knight.

David Sheridan (1928-2017)

With his Oklahoma twang and a face and demeanor that looked as though he had just stepped off the farm or ranch, Rance Howard just had something very middle American about him. He provided supporting character turns for more than six decades right up to the end. (Three projects are listed in post-production.) Not surprisingly, much of his work is tied to that of his son Ron. The two both had their screen debuts in 1956’s Frontier Woman. Ron, of course, went on to be Opie and Richie and then cast his dad in small roles in Grand Theft Auto, Cocoon, Parenthood, Far and Away, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon and others, but he was in lots of other people’s movies and TV shows too. Most memorably to me, he gave a brief but moving performance as Capt. John Sheridan’s father in a pivotal episode of, yes, Babylon 5. According to his son, though, the “role of his career” is in this year’s Broken Memories, in which he plays a father struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

Travis Henderson (1926-2017)

Where to begin eulogizing such a titan among character actors as the immortal Harry Dean Stanton? Talk about going out on a career high. This year he appeared in both the made-for-him vehicle Lucky and several episodes of the eagerly anticipated and revived Twin Peaks, reprising his role of Carl from 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Beginning with a 1954 episode of Inner Sanctum, he was a journeyman actor for ages (including all the usual TV westerns), not gathering much notice until the late 1970s when he went on an unfortunate search for a missing cat on a spaceship in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Then suddenly he was an object of cult fandom with turns in Escape from New York, Repo Man, Red Dawn and a starring turn in Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas, in which he played an aimless drifter named Travis trying to reconnect with his family. With its iconic photography of Texas and southwest landscapes and music by Ry Cooder, it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Stanton has been beloved and revered ever since. Other notable appearances through the years: Kelly’s Heroes, Two-Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The Godfather: Part II, The Missouri Breaks, Wise Blood, Pretty in Pink, Wild at Heart, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Straight Story, The Green Mile and This Must Be the Place.

Hellyne the Pyromancer (1923-2017)

Another veteran actor, who went out while still in the spotlight of popular culture at a time of life when most us would be in retirement homes, was Roy Dotrice. In the second series of Game of Thrones, he was Hallyne the Pyromancer, who played a key part in winning the Battle of the Blackwater for the Lannisters. (He was originally cast as Grand Master Pycelle but had to withdraw due to illness, so that role went to Julian Glover.) Before that, though, he was best known for a very long stage run as 17th-century gossipmonger and diarist John Aubrey in Brief Lives and as Fagin in Oliver! Feeling typecast as Aubrey, he went to the States where he did stage shows as everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Charles Dickens to Winston Churchill and even Will Rogers. He played Mozart’s father in Amadeus and the leader of tunnel-dwelling people in TV’s Beauty and the Beast. There was lots of other TV work but, most significantly, he played an emissary of the creepily-named Ministry of Peace tasked with negotiating a non-aggression treaty with the Centauri in the second-series episode “Fall of Night” (the one where the Vorlon is revealed) of, yes, Babylon 5. His three daughters followed him into acting. One of them, Karen, was one of the two Banks children in Disney’s Mary Poppins.

Mayerling’s mistress (1917-2017)

In her century-long life, Bordeaux-born screen legend Danielle Darrieux got to play Catherine Deneuve’s mother several times, most memorably in Jacques Demy’s musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort and most recently in François Ozon’s musical 8 femmes. Darrieux’s first film was Le Bal in 1931. She became an international star after playing a teenage mistress in Mayerling. Three films considered too risqué to release in the U.S. were Max Ophuls’s La Ronde (which depicted a series of romantic encounters), Adorable Creatures (in which she took in a young artist as her lover) and Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Her favorite role was as another matronly mistress in Le Rouge et le Noir. Indeed, infidelity was a running theme in her work, as evidenced by Ophuls’s Le Plaisir and Madame de… Her intermittent Hollywood work included The Rage of Paris (with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Louis Hayward) and Rich, Young and Pretty (as Jane Powell’s long-lost mother). She played Richard Burton’s mother in Alexander the Great and was James Mason’s love interest in Five Fingers. In 1970 she replaced Katharine Hepburn in Coco on Broadway. Her wartime second marriage to Dominican playboy/diplomat Porforio Rubirosa and controversial work for a German-controlled film company would make a fascinating movie in its own right. Disappointingly, Darrieux never appeared on Babylon 5.

-S.L., 14 December 2017

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