Happy Birthday Jim Backus

Tomorrow is the 102nd birthday of Jim Backus, everyone’s favorite millionaire shipwreck survivor.  Was I the only one that had the take away thought from “Gilligan’s Island” that money can’t buy everything?  Here he was, stranded on an island with his wife (they apparently brought trunk-loads of cash, jewelry, and clothing for a short afternoon boat ride) and they could not buy their way out of their situation.  I guess I sort of liked that thought.  That, and as Mr. Magoo, it was nice to know that blind people could still drive cars.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

jim backus

NAME: Jim Backus
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Television Actor, Radio Personality, Writer
BIRTH DATE: February 25, 1913
DEATH DATE: July 03, 1989
EDUCATION: Kentucky Military Institute, American Academy of Dramatic Arts
PLACE OF BIRTH: Cleveland, Ohio
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
Full Name: James Gilmore Backus

Best Known For:  Jim Backus was a film and TV actor known for his roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Gilligan’s Island, as well as being the voice of Mr. Magoo.

Actor and author James Gilmore Backus was born on February 25, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio. For five decades, Jim Backus entertained audiences in a variety of media, starting out in radio and moving on to film and television. Two of his trademark roles were the wealthy and snooty Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island and Mr. Magoo, an optically challenged and bumbling cartoon character. The son of an engineer, he was more interested in golf and acting than in school. Backus worked for a stock theater company during his teens. In one of the company’s productions, he had a small role while future film star Clark Gable had the lead.

Wanting his son to focus on academics, Backus’s father sent him to the Kentucky Military Institute for a time where he met and befriended Victor Mature, another future professional actor. But Backus struggled his way through high school and was able to convince his father to let him skip a traditional college education. Instead he went to New York City to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Graduating in 1933, Backus spent two years working in a variety of stage productions and in summer stock before trying his hand at radio. Adept at molding his booming voice into different characters, he was a freelance performer and appeared on numerous radio programs, including soap operas and The Kate Smith Hour. Backus also made his Broadway debut around this time in Hitch Your Wagon, a comedy, in 1937. Later that year, he appeared in the drama Too Many Heroes.

In the 1940s, Backus scored his biggest radio success on The Alan Young Show. He created a stuffy, upper crust character named Hubert Updyke III, who was known for making such quips as “Careful, or I’ll have your mouth washed out with domestic champagne.” By the end of the decade, Backus was beginning his film career. One of his earliest roles was in the football drama Easy Living (1949) with Lucille Ball and old friend Victor Mature.

Also in 1949, Backus was selected to voice one of the characters for a cartoon entitled Ragtime Bear. Little did he know that the character, Quincy Magoo, a nearsighted fellow with a very selective take on reality, would become so hugely popular. Backus spent about three decades as Magoo in his various incarnations from cartoon shorts to television series to a full-length film.

On the small screen, Backus spent three years on the sitcom I Married Joan, which debuted in the fall of 1952. He played Judge Bradley Stevens, husband to Joan Stevens (Joan Davis). Each episode featured a case in front of Bradley, a domestic judge, and its parallels to his domestic life. After the series ended, Backus gave some of his best film performances. He earned praise for his work on the comedy Francis in the Navy (1955) and the teenage drama Rebel Without a Cause (1955) with James Dean. In Rebel Without a Cause, Backus played Dean’s father, a man befuddled by his son’s actions and oppressed by his domineering wife.

Based in part on his earlier character, Hubert Updyke III, Backus again inhabited the persona of a privileged, uptight rich man on Gilligan’s Island. Thurston Howell III was one of seven castaways marooned on an island together after a terrible storm sent their boat crashing onto its shores. In addition to his wife, Mrs. Howell, who his character always called “lovey,” there were the ship’s captain Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) and his first mate Gilligan (Bob Denver), the professor (Russell Johnson), the movie star Ginger (Tina Louise) and a simple farm girl named Mary Ann (Mary Ann Summers). Created by Sherwood Schwartz, the broad comedy was dismissed by reviewers but adored by many viewers. “The critics assassinated it, but the kids flipped for it,” Backus later said, according to an article in The New York Times. “I’ve been watching the reruns, and confess I’m hooked on it myself.”

While the show was only on network television from 1964 to 1967, Gilligan’s Island has had a healthy life in syndication and can still be seen today. Backus voiced an animated version of Thurston Howell III for the Saturday morning cartoon series, The New Adventures of Gilligan in the mid-1970s. Reprising his famous role, he appeared for the 1978 television movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island. That same year, Backus received a heartbreaking diagnosis. He was having some trouble with his legs and learned that he had Parkinson’s disease.

Despite this setback, Backus continued acting. He made his final film appearance in 1980’s There Goes the Bride with Tom Smothers and Phil Silvers. On the small screen, he appeared in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981) and made guest appearances on such shows as Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.

In addition to acting, Backus had authored Rocks on the Roof (1958) on his own and several other works with his wife Henny. Married since 1943, the couple used their life experiences for such personal works as What Are You Doing After the Orgy (1962), which was about their marriage, and Backus Strikes Back (1984), which tackled his struggle with Parkinson’s.

In late June of 1988, Backus was admitted to St. John’s Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He died of pneumonia on July 3, 1988. Over the course of his long career, Backus had appeared in roughly 80 films and 500 film and television episodes as Quincy Magoo. And each day, he wins new fans as they watch Gilligan’s Island in syndication.

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Happy Birthday James Michener

Every once in a while, I wonder if anyone is reading a Michener novel.  I mean, someone must, right?  His books are of such sweeping epic length, I worry that there is no one left with that sort of attention span.  They are important American literature for their impact on they reading habits of the every day citizen.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

james michener 1NAME: James Michener
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: c. February 03, 1907
DEATH DATE: October 16, 1997
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Austin, Texas

BEST KNOWN FOR: James Michener was an American novelist and story-story writer who penned Tales of the South Pacific, which one a Pulitzer Prize in 1947.

James Albert Michener (February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which were sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories. Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his work.

Michener’s major books include Tales of the South Pacific (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948), Hawaii, The Drifters, Centennial, The Source, The Fires of Spring, Chesapeake, Caribbean, Caravans, Alaska, Texas, and Poland. His nonfiction works include the 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 memoir The World Is My Home, and Sports in America. Return to Paradise combines fictional short stories with Michener’s factual descriptions of the Pacific areas where they take place.

Michener gave away a great deal of the money he earned. Over the years, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa Michener played a major role in directing donations by her husband, totaling more than $100 million. Among the beneficiaries were the University of Texas, the Iowa Writers Workshop and Swarthmore College (stated by a New York Times’ notice about her death).

In 1989, Michener donated the royalty earnings from the Canadian edition of his novel Journey, published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart, to create the Journey Prize, an annual Canadian literary prize worth $10,000 (Cdn) that is awarded for the year’s best short story published by an emerging Canadian writer.

Author of books:
Tales of the South Pacific (1947, novel)
The Fires of Spring (1949, memoir)
Hawaii (1959, novel)
The Source (1965, novel)
Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections (1968, travelogue)
The Drifters (1971, novel)
Centennial (1974, novel)
Chesapeake (1978, novel)
The Covenant (1980, novel)
Space (1982, novel)
Texas (1985, novel)
The World Is My Home (1992, memoir)
A Century of Sonnets (1997)

 

Happy Birthday Elaine Stritch

Today is the 90th birthday of the phenomenal Elaine Stritch.  Her career and life are inspirational in every way.  The world is a better place because she is in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Elaine Stritch
BIRTH DATE: February 2, 1925
DEATH DATE: July 17, 2014
EDUCATION: New School for Social Research
PLACE OF BIRTH: Detroit, Michigan
PLACE OF DEATH: Birmingham, Michigan

BEST KNOWN FOR: Vocalist and actress Elaine Stritch was a renowned star of stage, film and TV. She was known for a wide array of projects that included the Broadway productions Sail Away and Company as well as screen outings like The Ellen Burstyn Show, 30 Rock and Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

Elaine Stritch was born on February 2, 1925 in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of three girls. A natural performer, she eventually opted to move to New York City in 1944 and attend the New School, having as her classmates fellow thespians like Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando, with Stritch and Brando dating for a time.

Stritch did a variety of stage work before making it to Broadway, with some of her earliest productions including Loco (1946), Made in Heaven (1946) and Angel in the Wings (1947). Her scintillating performance in 1952’s Pal Joey became the talk of the town, and by mid-decade she received her first Tony nomination for the 1955 play Bus Stop, about a group of passengers who get snowed in at a Midwest diner.

Stritch continued to nurture her stage career, with the productions The Sin of Pat Muldoon (1957) and Goldilocks (1958) rounding out the decade. She earned her second Tony nomination for 1961’s Sail Away, a musical penned by Noel Coward specifically for the actress in which she played a love-struck cruise ship hostess. In 1962, Stritch took over the Uta Hagen role in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? before taking a break from the Broadway stage for some time.

In 1970, Stritch returned to the limelight in a big way with Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical Company. As cynical New York society maven Joanne, Stritch delivered songs with verve and a deliciously mischievous wit, including the ode to marriage “The Little Things You Do Together” and “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the latter becoming her trademark for decades. She also received another Tony nomination.

While earning acclaim on the Broadway stage, Stritch also became a force to be reckoned with on both the big and small screens. She co-starred in the 1956 crime drama The Scarlet Hour and would play a variety of film roles in projects like A Farewell to Arms (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958) and Too Many Thieves (1967). She worked with director Woody Allen in his films September (1987) and Small Time Crooks (2000), with other notable roles over the years including Cocoon: The Return (1988), Screwed (2000), Autumn in New York (2003), Monster-in-Law (2005) and ParaNorman (2012).

In the land of TV, Stritch starred from 1960-61 in the sitcom My Sister Eileen, about two siblings making their way in New York. Later, after traveling with a touring production of Company to the UK, she opted to remain across the pond during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. She continued her stage work and starred in British television productions like Two’s Company and Nobody’s Perfect.

During this time, Stritch had married fellow actor John Bay in 1973. It was a happy union, with the couple returning to the U.S. in 1982, the year that he died. Stritch subsequently fell into a depression and started to drink heavily, having struggled with liquor previously.

Upon returning to the states, Stritch took on the role of family matriarch on The Ellen Burstyn Show, which debuted in 1986, and then had reoccurring guest appearances on The Cosby Show as teacher Mrs. McGee. Stritch was nominated for eight Emmys over the course of her career, winning several, including for a guest spot on Law & Order as well as for playing the mother of Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on the sitcom 30 Rock.

Stritch remained part of the theatrical community into her later years, playing Parthy Ann Hawks in the 1994 revival of Showboat and returning to Albee’s prose with the 1996 revival of A Delicate Balance, for which she earned her fourth Tony nod. She then starred in a 2002 one-woman revue, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, in which she performed songs and spoke poignantly about her life experiences. The production received a Tony for Special Theatrical Event. Later, an HBO TV version won two 2004 Emmys.

Stritch’s last role in a Broadway production came in 2010, when she joined the revival of another Sondheim production, A Little Night Music, to play Madame Armfeldt. She also had a cabaret act at the Café Carlyle, connected to the hotel at which she had a long-term residence, before moving back to her birth state.

Elaine Stritch died at 89 on July 17, 2014 at her home in Birmingham, Michigan. A documentary on her life, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, was released the previous year.

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Happy Birthday Carol Channing

Today is the 94th birthday of Seattle’s very own Carol Channing.  Do yourself a favor and watch the 1967 version of “Thoroughly Modern Milly” sometime, it is brilliant and Carol rips through every scene she has.  The world is a better place because she is in it.

NAME: Carol Channing
OCCUPATION: Theater Actress
BIRTH DATE: January 31, 1921
PLACE OF BIRTH: Seattle, Washington

BEST KNOWN FOR: Carol Channing starred as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on Broadway in 1949. She received a Tony lifetime achievement award in 1995.

Born January 31, 1921 in Seattle, Washington. The daughter of a prominent newspaper editor who was very active in the Christian Science movement, Channing attended high school in San Francisco before enrolling at Bennington College in Vermont. She majored in drama and dance for one year before dropping out to try her luck as an actress in New York.

andrews-channing-moore

Channing made her Broadway debut in 1941’s Never Take No for an Answer. With her megawatt wide-eyed grin and raspy voice, Channing made a name for herself in 1949 when she starred as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was in this role that she immortalized the anthem Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. Though she lost the Lorelei Lee role to Marilyn Monroe in the 1952 film version, she remained active in nightclub and review appearances throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

Her next Broadway hit did not arrive until 1963, when she landed the role of Dolly Gallegher Levi in the blockbuster musical Hello, Dolly!. She won a Tony Award for her performance, but again forfeited the on-screen role to a young Barbra Streisand. In 1966, Channing was awarded an Emmy for the 1966 TV special An Evening With Carol Channing, and received an Oscar nod for her supporting performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Channing has lent her signature voice to animated films, including Shinbone Alley, Happily Ever After and Thumbelina. She has also supplied voices for the animated television series Where’s Waldo?, The Addams Family and The Magic School Bus. In 1995, Channing was honored at the Tony Awards with a lifetime achievement award.

Channing was married to Charles Lowe from 1956 until his death in 1999. She married her junior high school sweetheart, Harry Kullijian, at the age of 82 in 2003.

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Happy Birthday Tallulah Bankhead

Today is the 113th birthday of Tallulah Bankhead.  She was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed broad who’s brilliance may very well have been in being Tallulah Bankhead.  She is what the world needed:  a smart, quick-witted shit-kicker that made us laugh uncomfortably at her brave observations and truths.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

 

NAME: Tallulah Brockman Bankhead
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress
BIRTH DATE: January 31, 1902
DEATH DATE: December 12, 1968
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hunstville, Alabama
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City, New York

BEST KNOWN FOR: Tullulah Bankhead was an American stage and film actress, popular from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Born to a prestigious family (her father became a prominent congressman), she made her Broadway debut in 1918 and achieved fame on the London stage in The Dancer (1923). Her vivid presence and throaty voice contributed to her singular performances in the hit plays The Little Foxes (1939), The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), and Private Lives (1946). She made films such as A Woman’s Law (1928) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) but remained primarily a stage performer. Her final stage appearance was in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1964).

Personal Quotes:

“Say anything about me, darling, as long as it isn’t boring.”

“It’s the good girls that keep diaries. Bad girls never have the time.”

Tallulah Bankhead died in St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia, complicated by emphysema and malnutrition, at 7:45 A.M. on December 12, 1968, aged 66. She was buried in Saint Paul’s Churchyard, Chestertown, Maryland. Her last coherent words reportedly were “Codeine… bourbon.”

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Tallulah Bankhead has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6141 Hollywood Blvd.

Rock star Suzi Quatro portrayed Bankhead in a musical named Tallulah Who? in 1991. The musical was based on a book by Willie Rushton. Quatro co-wrote the music with Shirlie Roden. The show ran from 14 February to 9 March at The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, UK and received favourable reviews.

Valerie Harper starred as Bankhead in Looped, which originated at The Pasadena Playhouse. It opened on Broadway on March 14, 2010 at the Lyceum Theatre, and closed on April 11, 2010.

Other actresses to portray Bankhead include Eugenia Rawls (in her one-woman stage show “Tallulah, A Memory”), Kathleen Turner (in Sandra Ryan Heyward’s one-woman touring show “Tallulah” in the late 1990s), Carrie Nye (on television in The Scarlett O’Hara War) and Helen Gallagher in an off-Broadway musical, Tallulah!

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Happy Birthday George Burns

Today is the 119th birthday of George Burns.  We all keep track or at least know a few people that we share a birthday with and am please to share one with him as well as David Lynch and Federico Fellini.  I admire George’s longevity, career-wise and life in general.  I have quite a few of his radio shows on my computer and listen to them from time to time and always stop flipping channels when I come across his TV show he did with his wife Gracie Allen.  Absolutely brilliant.  The world was a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: George Burns
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Theater Actor, Television Actor, Comedian, Radio Personality, Television Personality.

BIRTH DATE: January 20, 1896
DEATH DATE: March 09, 1996
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Beverly Hills, California
ORIGINALLY: Nathan Birnbaum

BEST KNOWN FOR: George Burns was a comedian who worked in vaudeville, radio, film and television. His long-time performance partner and wife was comedienne Gracie Allen. Burns lived until age 100.

George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City on January 20, 1896. One of 12 children in a Romanian-Jewish family, Burns made money by singing in saloons as a child. He began teaching dance while still very young, performing regularly in New York and New Jersey in his 20s.

It was during a performance in Newark that Burns met a fellow performer, Gracie Allen, who would become his lifelong partner. They developed an act together in which Burns played the straight man to Allen’s flighty, silly character. The pair was well known on the vaudeville circuit by the time they married in 1926. Their colleagues on the circuit included Al Jolson, Milton Berle and Fanny Brice. Many of these performers—including Burns and Allen—made a transition to radio and film during the 1920s and 1930s. Burns and Allen debuted on radio in 1929, landing a regular show that ran from 1932 to 1950. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show drew 40 million listeners or more in the late 1930s. Their star power vaulted them onto the screen as well as the airwaves. The couple played themselves in a number of films, including International House (1933), Many Happy Returns (1934), A Damsel in Distress (1937) and College Swing (1938).

In 1950, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show debuted on CBS television, immediately becoming one of the top-rated shows of the decade. Burns and Allen remained popular and prominent until Allen’s retirement in 1959. She died of a heart attack in 1964. Burns had his wife buried with Episcopal rites, although she was a Catholic, so that he could eventually be buried beside her. Burns experienced heart trouble in the 1970s, undergoing major surgery in 1975.

After recovering from his heart troubles, Burns returned to the film industry. He won am Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film adaptation of Neil Simon’s play The Sunshine Boys (1975). He played God in the film Oh God! (1977) and its sequels, Oh God! Book II (1980) and Oh God! You Devil (1984)—in which he appeared as both God and the Devil.

Burns won a lifetime achievement award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1988. He wrote two best-selling autobiographical books: Gracie: A Love Story (1988) and All My Best Friends (1989), along with eight other works chronicling and reflecting on his experiences in the entertainment industry.

George Burns died in Beverly Hills, California on March 9, 1996. He was 100 years old. Burns and Allen had two children, a son and a daughter, both of whom died between 2007 and 2010.

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Happy Birthday Charles Nelson Reilly

Today is the 84th birthday of Charles Nelson Reilly.  He studied with Uta Hagen, won three Tony Awards, wore some of the largest eyeglasses I have ever seen, and made millions laugh.  The world is better off because Charles was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

Charles nelson r

NAME: Charles Nelson Reilly
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Theater Actor, Television Actor, Director, Television Personality
BIRTH DATE: January 13, 1931
DEATH DATE: May 25, 2007
EDUCATION: Hartt School of Music
PLACE OF BIRTH: South Bronx, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Charles Nelson Reilly was a Tony-Award winning actor also known for a variety of roles on TV programs, including The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and The Match Game.

Charles Nelson Reilly was born on January 13, 1931, in the South Bronx, New York. Known to many for his numerous television guest appearances on such shows as Match Game, Hollywood Squares and The Tonight Show, Reilly was also an accomplished stage actor and director. After spending some of his early years in the Bronx, he moved with his Swedish-born mother to Hartford, Connecticut, to live with some of her relatives. Reilly showed an interest in theater early on and worked as an usher in a local theater.

Around the age of 18, Reilly moved to New York City to study with Uta Hagen and her husband Herbert Berghof at their acting school, HB Studio. He landed his first Broadway stage role in the original production of the musical Bye, Bye Birdie (1960) with Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde. Taking on a more substantial part, Reilly appeared in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1961, earning a Tony Award for his performance as Bud Frump, the lackadaisical nephew of the company president and the nemesis of the lead character, J. Pierrepont Finch.

Continuing his success on the Broadway stage, Reilly received another Tony Award nomination for his work on the musical Hello, Dolly! in 1964. By the end of the 1960s, however, he made the move to California to co-star in the supernatural comedy television series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir with Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. Reilly later appeared as a regular on Dean Martin Presents in 1970. The following season he appeared on the short-lived sitcom Arnie.

In 1973, Reilly began making appearances on such games shows as Match Game ’73 (which later became Match Game PM and then The Match Game) as well as lending his distinct, nasal-sounding voice to the animated adaptation of the E. B. White novel, Charlotte’s Web. Reilly found time for stage work, directing Julie Harris in the one-woman show about Emily Dickinson, The Belle of Amherst in 1976. Again working with Harris, he directed the 1979 comedy Break a Leg. But his talents as a director and serious actor were often lost in the shadow of his wacky, witty television persona. While his serious theatrical career may have suffered, Reilly remained a popular guest on game shows and talk shows, making more than 90 appearances on The Tonight Show alone.

Along with his television work, Reilly had roles in a few films as well as voiced some characters for animated films.

He appeared with friend Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run II (1984) and voiced the dog Killer in All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). A well-regarded acting teacher for years, he also returned to stage work. He starred in the 1980 play Charlotte and directed the original comedy The Nerd, starring Mark Hamill.

In the later part of his career, Reilly continued to work on television and the stage. He made numerous guest appearances on such programs as The X Files and The Drew Carey Show and lent his voice to several animated series, including Hercules and SpongeBob SquarePants. In 1997, he received his third Tony Award nomination for his direction of a revival of The Gin Game starring Julie Harris and Charles Durning. Reilly himself became the subject of one of his final productions – Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly. He began performing his autobiographical one-man show in 2000.

Charles Nelson Reilly died of complications from pneumonia on May 25, 2007, in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his partner, Patrick Hughes. Around the time of his death, friend and director of Reilly’s one-man play, Paul Linke, told the Los Angeles Times, “The world is a slightly less funny place now. He made people laugh along the way, and that’s a legacy that lives on long after the game shows.”

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