Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 celebrity obits: a personal connection

By Steve Crum

Like an old song will provoke memories of the first time one heard it, a celebrity’s death triggers recollections. Among the many showbiz folks who died in 2014 are a baker’s dozen I cannot think about without also thinking of friends or family. 

Permit me to share why these deceased celebs have personally connected with me…outside of appreciating their individual talents. 

•Shirley Temple Black [85, Feb. 10]…One Sunday a month, for many years, my parents, sister, and I would drive about an hour to get to our cousins’ farm located in Birmingham, Missouri. I never watched “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” which ran from 1958-61, except when we visited our cousins. But my cousins did, and we were guests. 

So my sister and I watched too. 


•Sid Caesar [91, Feb. 12]…
I have dim recollection of watching Caesar’s early TV work, but his wonderful acting in 1963’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” always makes me smile as I also think of my Dad. He had divorced Mom a few months before, so he, my sister, and I were pretty dazed and depressed. Adding to that was the recent assassination of President Kennedy. Not long before Christmas that year, Dad treated us to the movie, in Cinerama, at the Empire Theatre in Kansas City, Mo. Dad laughed at Caesar and his cohorts…big time, nearly falling off his chair. His explosive outbursts made my sister and me crack up even more. I’ll never forget it. We three really needed those laughs. 

•David Brenner [78, March 15]…It was Brenner my second wife, Peggy, wanted to see perform when we vacationed in Las Vegas. He was actually her second choice after Siegfried and Roy. But they were sold out. Peggy made a good choice in David Brenner. He was very funny. 

•Mitch Leigh [86, March 16]…
I think of the “Man of La Mancha” composer and associate him with Dr. Richard  Rohan, my World Literature professor at Emporia State. When the touring musical was about to play in downtown Emporia, Kansas, Rohan was its greatest promoter, wearing a large “I’ve Seen ‘Man of La Mancha’” button to class every day for weeks. I saw the great production free while ushering it via my Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.

•Mickey Rooney [93, April 6]…Here is another great who starred in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Like Sid Caesar in the same film, Rooney contributed to making my Dad extremely happy. I also have to mention a hilarious bit Rooney did in the late 1950’s on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with Joey Foreman. Rooney played a man on the street who is pranked on a “Candid Camera”-like TV show. Mickey is absolutely hilarious. 

•Lee Marshall [64, April 26]…It seems like a thousand times I heard Tony the Tiger, along with his animated image, pitch Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes on Saturday morning TV during the 1950’s and ‘60s. Marshall voiced Tony with that deep, resonant voice. He was “Grrrrreaaaat!”

•Ann B. Davis [88, June 1]…Davis won an Emmy for portraying Bob Collins’ office secretary Schultzy, on “The Bob Cummings Show,” 1955-59. THIS is the show I associate with her, not “The Brady Bunch.” Bob Collins was a glamour aka cheesecake photographer, and my father loved the show enough to take up photography as a hobby.

•Eli Wallach [98, June 24]…Back in 1966, movie sneak previews were mysterious in that the film’s title was never announced ahead of the showing. That’s how I saw “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” at K.C.’s Plaza Theater one evening. Eli Wallach, as The Ugly, remains unforgettable.

•James Garner [July 19]…The impact of “Maverick” on the TV audience was so great that when my family visited our cousin’s house in Raytown, Mo. in late 1957, all activity and talking ceased when the show started. We gathered around the TV to enjoy Bret’s latest escapade. James Garner had everything to do with that attraction. 

•Don Pardo [96, August 18]…As often occurs, when one divorces, one loses friendship with favorite in-laws. My ex-wife’s aunt and uncle, Karen and John, were very near our ages. We were best friends, in fact, seeing each other virtually every weekend for the years their niece and I were married. It was a tradition among us to watch “Saturday Night Live” together, which we had done since the show began in 1975. Don Pardo’s distinctive voice introduced each program. 

•Richard Attenborough [90, August 24]…A perk of being a film critic is the free screenings of movies not yet released. For many years, I took my daughter with me if the movie would so warrant. “Jurassic Park” was such a film. Shelley was 12 in 1993 when we saw it. Afterwards, on the way back to the car, the impact of the movie was still with her. “Dad,” she said, “I feel like I’ve been with real dinosaurs!” Richard Attenborough’s role as the park keeper no doubt added to the illusion.

•Robin Williams [63, August 11]…The first time I really appreciated Williams’ stunning gift of humor was when I saw his HBO “Off the Wall” special that my best friend, David Laudick, had recorded on Beta tape in 1978. I was visiting David in Scott City, Kansas when I watched Robin’s creativity stretch from stage to audience to him literally climbing up to the balcony of the theater. This was funny, improvisational, and electric. David has since unexpectedly died, and now Robin. 


•Ben Bradlee [93, October 21]…Nothing impacted my teaching high school journalism like the publishing of both the book and movie of “All The President’s Men.” When the film was released in 1976, interest in journalism, particularly investigative journalism, increased enrollment in college and university journalism programs nationwide. It certainly impacted my j-classes at J. C. Harmon High School. Ben Bradlee’s real-life role as editor of The Washington Post  was a vital element. 

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