Archive for the 'Celebrities' Category

Gossip, discussion, and critique of specific personalities. Includes the "Fade to Black" subcategory.

The Legacy of Jive-Speaking Barbara Billingsley

17-Oct-10 12:43 PM by
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Barbara Billingsley, whose fame was founded by playing mom June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver but who also enjoyed popularity as a jive-speaking passenger on Airplane! and as Nanny on Muppet Babies, passed away on Saturday at the age of 94, CNN reports.

Although I never saw Ms. Billingsley in her original black-and-white role, I've seen how surprised people are when they realize that the three parts listed above were played by the same person. It's a mark of a talented and open-minded artist that they can and will move so fluidly among a variety of performances. But I wonder if she wasn't the least bit frustrated that she achieved so much fame from such a minor part?

If she did, she graciously never let it show, instead focusing on gratitude for the opportunities it presented, as demonstrated in this interview:

She was a classy lady of a bygone era.

New Celebrities for Star Trek

09-Sep-10 12:57 PM by
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When Star Trek: First Contact premiered, the Boston Herald published a rather incendiary review by James Verniere. Though he was judging the film from the perspective of a non-Trekkie, many of his comments were baseless, such as the utter confusion he experienced over Picard's history with the Borg. Did the film not feature a monologue addressing that very point?

One of Mr. Verniere's more interesting comments was that Star Trek had to stop recruiting from within its own ranks (the film's director was Jonathan Frakes). Why not have Antonio Banderas as an ensign on the Enterprise, he suggested? I presume the critic was trying to expand the franchise's appeal by giving non-Trekkies a point of familiarity by which to be introduced to the series. Though it would be jarring for an established cast to suddenly be joined by an actor known for non-sci-fi work, Mr. Verniere's suggestion proved correct in the appropriate context: the presence of Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, Zachary Quinto, and others didn't detract from but added to last year's reboot of Star Trek: TOS, which provided an entirely new slate on which these actors could gel as a team.

What other celebrities might Star Trek benefit from introducing? We still don't know what's to come in the sequel, slated for release on June 29, 2012 — but we can imagine what it might look like if Nicolas Cage, Summer Glau, and David Tennant joined the ranks of Starfleet, courtesy the Photoshop machinations of Rabittooth.

Several of the stars in this small sampling would surely be scene-stealers; Kevin Spacey warrants nothing less than prime antagonist, for example. But Brandon Routh, whose one leading role as Superman was fleeting enough to allow him to turn in a stellar yet innocuous performance in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, could be a subtle yet effective addition to any bridge crew.

This isn't the first time non-Trek actors have been inserted into Gene Roddenberry's universe. Alex Luko transposed one show's entire cast onto the Enterprise with a result that left geeks salivating:

Firefly Star Trek

I had likened Serenity's crew to the Enterprise's myself so can totally see such a shift of universes as successful.

Who would you like to see in the next Star Trek movie, and why?

Farewell to Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper

30-May-10 1:00 PM by
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I've woken up each day this weekend to the unexpected passing of a celebrity.

Gary Coleman, best known for playing Arnold Jackson on television series Diff'rent Strokes (1978–1986), passed away on Friday at the age of 42. Despite the fame he achieved in that early role, fortune did not come easily to Mr. Coleman. Nephritis, a condition of the kidney, both stunted his growth and led to several transplants, his first when he was just five. After Strokes' finale, he found that the fortune he should've amassed had been squandered by his adoptive parents. An inability to find work beyond cameos spoofing himself (such as in Norm MacDonald's Dirty Work) led him down unexpected paths — some honorable (working as a security guard; running for governor of California), some not (assault charges, car accidents, suicide attempts). Mr. Coleman became a running joke, even appearing as a main character in the Broadway musical Avenue Q. Finally, an accident at his home in Utah this past Wednesday led to brain hemorrhaging from which he never recovered.

Just a day later, it was announced that Dennis Hopper (with whom Gary Coleman worked in the 2008 comedy An American Carol) had died at the age of 74 from prostate cancer. A veteran of the industry, Mr. Hopper had been appearing in television and films since 1954 in everything from classics such as Easy Rider, Cool Hand Luke, Speed, and Blue Velvet to bombs like Super Mario Bros. and Waterworld.

I think one reason these deaths come as a surprise is the same reason that actors achieve immortality: they are remembered in their prime for their appearances in the films that made them famous. People who think of Gary Coleman still see a child actor, and Dennis Hopper is still thought of for being in Easy Rider at the age of 33. We don't see them aging off-screen and battling the same debilitating health we all face.

I don't know if it is an honor or an injustice to see them this way. Perhaps the best we can do is to know that they will be missed.

Jake Gyllenhaal's Prince of Persia

27-May-10 11:27 AM by
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Tomorrow marks the debut of the film Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, based on a game franchise that originated on the Apple II. Disney's adaptation of the game is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Although Mr. Bruckheimer is commonly related with blockbuster action films, Mr. Gyllenhaal has a more diverse and interesting filmography.

His film debut was a bit part in the AFI's 86th funniest movie of all time, City Slickers, but most people first noticed Mr. Gyllenhaal in his leading roles in the historical tale of October Sky or the bizarre cult hit, Donnie Darko, in which his sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, played his sister. At one time, he was rumored to replace Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man when Mr. Maguire strained his back in Seabiscuit, leaving him unable to perform the stunts of the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Such a substitution would've put Mr. Gyllenhaal opposite his then-girlfriend, Kirsten Dunst. The resemblance between the two male actors was also a factor that led to them portraying siblings in the 2009 film Brothers. More notably, he is the surviving half of the leading pair from the controversial Brokeback Mountain, though his role in the action film The Day After Tomorrow, was apparently overlooked by Game Informer magazine when they noted that PoP was Mr. Gyllenhaal's first action movie.

An actor of such varying roles has certainly deserved to have made a name for itself. The only question is: which name is that?

What's your favorite Gyllenhaal film, and what are your expectations for Prince of Persia?

(Hat tip to ROFLrazzi)

Peter Graves: Avowing Knowledge of His Actions

15-Mar-10 9:56 AM by
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Actor Peter Graves died of a heart attack at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on Sunday, just four days before his 84th birthday. (Story continues)

Mr. Graves had many film credits to his name, including spoofing his own gravitas as Capt. Clarence Oveur in the cult classic Airplane!, but he was perhaps best known for Mission: Impossible, in which he played team leader Jim Phelps, in both the original series (1967–1973) and the revival (1988–1990). His variety of roles demonstrated his talent for both drama and comedy, though his efforts at the former sometimes met with mixed success; It Conquered The World, The Beginning of the End, and Parts: The Clonus Horror were best suited to MST3K fodder. Nonetheless, he took his roles seriously and personally, to the point of expressing regret that Jon Voight's character in the 1996 Mission: Impossible film bore the same name with which Mr. Graves so closely identified.

To a great and memorable actor, I offer this fan memorial of the inestimable Mr. Graves, followed by one of his most dramatic moments:

(Hat tip to the Washington Post)

Dancing Among the Stars

02-Mar-10 5:03 PM by
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ABC's Dancing with the Stars continues to redefine the definition of "celebrity", finding its contestants beyond the stage, screen, and sports field and choosing famous figures of significant historical value. This practice continues in the show's tenth season later in March when it introduces the first celebrity to have literally danced among the stars.

Buzz Aldrin, who earlier this year turned eighty, will be the show's next contestant, as he confirmed via Twitter: "Yes, it's true — I'm going to be on Dancing w/the Stars. Make sure to tune in to ABC for the premiere on Mon, Mar 22." His dance partner will be Ashly DelGrosso-Costa, who appeared on the show's first three seasons.

It's exciting to see pop culture acknowledge the value of science and technology. When Steve Wozniak broke the geek mold to defy all expectations on Dancing with the Stars, I was right there with him. And when the show took a Star Wars turn, I cheered for the spaceport tango. Though the dancing skills of an eighty-year-old retired astronaut remain untested, for being so brave and stalwart a hero, Buzz Aldrin has already earned my vote.

As others have said: that's one small two-step for mankind!

Andrew Koenig's Preventable Passing

26-Feb-10 11:57 AM by
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Andrew Koenig, actor and son of Walter Koenig (Star Trek's Chekov) and Judy Levitt, passed away this month from an apparent suicide.

Andrew KoenigMore than just the son of a star, Andrew had a diverse performance portfolio spanning decades, from Kirk Cameron's friend "Boner" on the television sitcom Growing Pains, to an appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to playing the villainous Joker in the acclaimed short Batman: Dead Enddescribed as "one of the ten most pivotal moments in fan film history." More recently, he appeared with his father in the independent film InAlienable, written by the senior Koenig, the pair's only collaboration.

Andrew also used his celebrity status for humanitarian causes. As described on Walter Koenig's site:

Andrew was an activist his entire life and was best known to those who knew and loved him as a compassionate, ethical man who lived according to his conscience. He was a vegan, active in environmental causes, and in animal and human rights and was quick to take an active role to help on a grass roots level. Most recently, he had been working on behalf of the people of Burma, and was arrested during the 2008 Rose Bowl parade for protesting American involvement in China's Olympics due to China's support of the Burma military regime.

I was first notified that Andrew was missing by an email to Star Trek: Of Gods and Men fans. I hoped for a happy resolution, but Andrew had been suffering from clinical depression, in which good decisions are hard to make. If Andrew could've understood how many friends and family cared for him and how hurt they are, he may not have chosen this permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Please do yourself and your loved ones a favor: know the signs of depression, and if you or someone you know needs help, call the Hopeline.

(Hat tips to Alyssa Milano and PostSecret)

Frances Reid, of Days of Our Lives, Passes Way

08-Feb-10 2:49 PM by
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It is with no small degree of sadness that I report the passing of Frances Reid, the last remaining original cast member of the daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives.

I was a Days fan for almost twenty years and enjoyed the continuity of familiar names and faces it provided. None were as constant a presence as Alice and Tom Horton, placed by Frances Reid and Macdonald Carey. It's hard for me to say I grew up with Days of Our Lives, given the rapid aging that so many of its younger characters underwent, but Tom and Alice always seemed so innocent compared to their dark and mysterious neighbors. Sure, there was that time it turned out their marriage was illegitimate, and in indignation, she banished her ersatz husband to the couch — but that was no result of scheming on either spouse's part. They always did their best to be kind and helpful to each other and their loved ones, weathering the storms of the Kiriakis and DiMera families, age, and fate. Even after Mrs. Reid suffered a real-life stroke twenty years ago, she recovered and insisted on returning to the show.

When Macdonald Carey passed away in 1994, his voiceover continued to be heard in the show's opening, maintaining a sense of the duo's involvement in the continuing complications of life in Salem. Although Frances Reid last appeared on the show in 2007, her passing marks the end of an era for the beleaguered show. Though perhaps sentimental, I'd like to share this tribute to Frances Reid, one of several uploaded to YouTube in the past week:

Days of Our Lives' cast members have also offered their own remembrances of this starring lady, in which Deidre Hall (Marlena Evans) offers a different side to the grandmotherly one seen above.

(Hat tips to Dead or Alive? and Nawal A.J.)