Saturday, December 14, 2019

I Grok Spock!

Leonard Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931 in Boston.  He was the son of Jewish immigrants who had fled their native Ukraine, resettling in America and carving out their slice of the American dream.  His father owned a barbershop, while his mother raised Leonard and his older brother Melvin.

From an early age, Leonard had an interest in the theatre.  His father however, encouraged him to go to college and find a more stable career.  He enrolled in Boston College, but soon realized it wasn't for him, despite the drama classes he took against his father's wishes.  He had earned $600 selling vacuum cleaners door to door, and figured it was enough to get him started in Hollywood.

The Pasadena Playhouse, circa 1953.
Once in LA, he enrolled in classes at the Pasadena Playhouse.  This too, wasn't for him, as he felt that he was already a better actor than he could ever become there.  "I thought, I have to study here three years in order do this level of work, and I'm already doing better work."  Seeing the illogic of it, he dropped out.

He wasn't wrong.  He quickly landed roles in a number of B movies.  He was introduced to the world in 1952 in the Republic Pictures serial Zombies of the Stratosphere, playing, of all things, an alien.  You can watch the entire serial hereHere he is in an episode of Dragnet.

Nimoy as Spock, 1968.
Despite these early successes, Nimoy felt that he would never reach star status due to his thin physique.  Turns out it's what one up-and-coming producer was just looking for.

In 1964, former police officer turned Hollywood executive Gene Roddenberry cast Nimoy in his new science fiction series, Star Trek.  The two had worked together on Roddenberry's detective series The Lieutenant, where the producer first realized that Nimoy would be perfect for the role of Spock.

The series was a marginal success for NBC, where it ran for three seasons.  Of course everyone knows it went on to become a pop culture juggernaut, with Nimoy featured prominently front and center.

After Star Trek, Nimoy joined the cast of Mission Impossible for its final two seasons, playing a master of disguise named Paris.  Here he is in a 1970 episode, featuring his Star Trek co-star Mark Lenard.

In Search of....a steady paycheck.
In 1977, Nimoy began hosting the investigative series In Search Of, which ran in syndication for five seasons.  In addition to exploring historical mysteries such as the Lindbergh baby and Amelia Earheart, the series also examined paranormal phenomena, such as aliens, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Watch the iconic intro here.

That same year, Hollywood was rocked by the success of George Lucas's Star Wars, produced by 20th Century Fox.  Rival studio Paramount, buoyed by Star Trek's nearly ten-year success in syndication, opted to bring the series back as a feature film. From 1979 to 1991, Nimoy and his co-stars reunited for six such films, two of which were directed by Nimoy himself.  The more successful of these films was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  In this "Director's Series" video produced by Paramount, Nimoy shows us production of that film.

I could go on for days here, but entire books have been written on Nimoy's life, including a few by Nimoy himself (see below).  He retired from acting in 2011, though he continued to make occasional appearances on series such as Fringe and The Big Bang well as providing voice-over work in a number of films in The Transformers movie franchise.

Nimoy arrives at JFK Airport, 2014.
In 2014, Nimoy publicly revealed that he had COPD, a condition he attributed to his years of smoking.  Although nicotine free for more than 30 years, he could not escape the effects of it, and by 2015, relied on an oxygen tank for normal breathing.  He ultimately passed on February 27 from the disease.

The world mourned the loss of a true pop culture icon.  It's one of those I remember where I was when I heard the news moments.

He was laid to rest at Hillside Memorial Cemetery in Culver City, California, the first major Star Trek actor to have a final resting place, as both DeForest Kelley and James Doohan had opted for other, undisclosed arrangements.

Final Resting Place

A plaque adorns a rock marker by a cool stream at Hillside Memorial Gardens.

Indeed it was.

A fan has recreated Nimoy's final tweet, published just days before he passed away.

Rest in peace, Mr. Spock.

  • Nimoy was born just four days after his co-star William Shatner.

  • As a sergeant in the U.S. Army, Nimoy encouraged one of his fellow recruits, Ken Berry, to go into acting himself.  Berry did just that, starring in F-Troop, Mayberry, RFD and Mama's Family.

  • Nimoy and Shatner first worked together in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  You can watch a clip of it here.  Robert Vaughn and Colonel Klink himself, Werner Klemperer, also appear.

  • Nimoy tried to shed his Spock exterior in 1976 when he published his first memoir, I am Not Spock.  Pick up a copy here.  Years later, he had a change of heart, publishing the follow-up I AM Spock.  Here's a link.

  • Nimoy was a versatile stage actor, racking up hundreds of Broadway roles, including a 1971 production of Fiddler on the Roof and a 1974 production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

  • Nimoy did hundreds of commercials throughout his career, including some with William Shatner.  Here are some for Aleve, MCI, and

  • I'd be negligent if I didn't include a link to Nimoy's 1968 music video, The Ballad of Billbo BagginsHere you go.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Odd Couple: Six Feet Under

Jack Klugman and
Tony Randall.
The Odd Couple premiered on September 24, 1970.  It ran for five seasons on the ABC network, and was the first of several sit-coms by producer Garry Marshall (previously entombed here at Six Feet Under Hollywood). 

The series brought together childhood friends Felix Ungar (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) who decided to share an apartment together after both of their marriages ended in divorce.  Honestly, I never understood how these polar opposites became friends in the first place. 

Klugman and Randall weren't the first to have played these parts of course, having been preceded by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the 1968 feature film.  Matthau had reprised the role he first brought to life on Broadway in 1965, in which a post-Honeymooners Art Carney originated the role of Felix.  The more you know.

Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar.
Now I have to admit I've never gotten around to seeing the movie.  But I grew up watching the reruns, and for me, Klugman and Randall are The Odd Couple.  No disrespect to any of the actors who either preceded them or followed in their footsteps (and that's a very long list). 

The Actors

Tony Randall
was born on February 26, 1920 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He served his country during World War 2 as a Signal Intelligence Officer in the Army. 

After the war, he went to work at the Olney Theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland, a point I wouldn't have brought up if not for the fact that I grew up about ten minutes away.  Until now, I had no idea of his association with it.  But he soon left for New York City and the Broadway stage.  His early roles included productions of Inherit the Wind (1955-57), Oh, Men! Oh, Women (1954) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1946).

Jack Klugman was born on April 27, 1922 in Philadelphia.  Like Randall, he served in the Army during World War 2.  Afterwards, he also moved to the Big Apple to pursue an acting career, sharing an apartment with his old friend Charles Bronson.

His first big role was on Broadway in 1952, playing the part of Frank Bonaparte in Golden Boy.  He also appeared in the original production of Gypsy in 1959.  On the silver screen, he appeared in the classic film 12 Angry Men as Juror Number Five (1957).  He'd also appear in four memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone, tying fellow Zone actor Burgess Meredith.  Watch Klugman discuss those episodes and Rod Serling here.  In 1965, Klugman actually replaced Walter Matthau on Broadway as Oscar Madison.  Talk about a revolving door.

The Series

The series was filmed on the same set as the 1968 feature film.  While the first season would make use of a laugh track, the series would gain a studio audience the following year.  This change required a larger set to allow for three cameras.  Subtle differences between the seasons are noticeable.

It was a welcome relief to Klugman, who later recalled "we spent three days rehearsing the show. We sat around a table the first day. We tore the script apart. We took out all the jokes and put in character. The only reason we leave in any jokes is for the rotten canned laughter. I hated it. I watch the shows at home, I see Oscar come in and he says, 'Hi,' and there is the laughter. 'Hey,' I think, 'what the hell did I do?' I hate it; it insults the audience."

Timeslot changes cursed the series throughout its run.  It struggled in the Nielsen ratings and faced cancellation every year.  But viewers stuck with it, suspending its sentence at least four times.

But by 1975, the series was over.  The final episode was indeed a farewell, as Felix remarried his ex-wife Gloria.  You can watch the final scene, wherein Felix and Oscar say goodbye, here.


Tony Randall died in his sleep on May 17, 2004.  He was buried in Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. 

This one can be a little hard to find, so those looking for it might use this photo as a reference point.  Just look for the columbarium shown top right and walk down the hill.

Jack Klugman died of cancer eight years later on December 24, 2012.  Merry Christmas.  He had first been diagnosed with it in 1974, and had even lost a vocal cord to it following surgery.  For the final twenty years of his life, Klugman had limited speaking ability.

He was buried 3,000 miles away from his Odd Couple partner, at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Village in Los Angeles.


  • In 1974, Randall and Klugman were hired as pitchmen for the board game Challenge Yahtzee.  In addition to doing a spot filmed on The Odd Couple set, their pictures appeared on the box.

  • Felix's children were named Edna and Leonard, named for Randall's sister and Randall himself.

  • In 1985, Garry Marshall brought the series back with an African-American cast, starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson.  Watch the intro here.

  • In 1993, Garry Marshall revived the characters in a made-for-TV movie called The Odd Couple: Together Again.  View it in its entirety here.

  • Randall and Klugman appeared together in a series of commercials for Eagle Ranch Tortilla Chips.  Watch one here.  Randall does most of the talking, as Klugman's throat cancer was already affecting his voice.  Here's another one.

  • The series was released on VHS (remember those?) in 1991.  Here's an ad for it.

  • Randall's death was reported by Entertainment Tonight.  Watch it here.  It comes in at the 1:39 mark.  Similarly ABC News reported on the passing of Klugman here.

Friday, August 30, 2019

A Very Brady Grave!

September marks the 50th anniversary of The Brady Bunch, and there's no shortage of quick-for-cash TV specials commemorating the event.   HGTV will soon begin airing A Very Brady Renovation, giving 4222 Clinton Way a full Brady makeover.  Over on the Discovery Channel,  Fast 'N Loud will team up with Johnny Bravo himself, Barry Williams, to pimp out the Brady station wagon.  And earlier this week, the Food Network's Chopped! asked the Bradys to serve as celebrity judges for a variety of 70s-inspired dishes.  Pork chops and apple sauce?  You bet!

Six Feet Under Hollywood is happy to jump on the Brady bandwagon.  I've been to a few Brady graves over the years, but with apologies to Sherwood Schwartz and Allan Melvin, we'll be focusing exclusively on the Brady matriarch herself, Florence Henderson.

She was born on February 14, (whoa, Valentine's Day) 1934 in Dale, Indiana.  Talk about a bunch - she was the youngest of ten children!  Her mother taught her to sing at a young age, and by 12, "Florencey," as she was called, was performing in local grocery stores.  You read that correctly.  After completing high school, she moved off to New York to pursue a career in drama.

She proved a natural on the Broadway stage.  Her early roles included productions of Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and Wish You Were Here.  In 1952, she was given the title role in Fanny (right), which would have 888 performances.

Hollywood was quick to notice, and she was cast in a number of series, including The Patti Page Show and I Spy (not the one with Bill Cosby).  She was also the first woman to ever guest host The Tonight Show, following Jack Paar's departure. 

All of this was leading to her most famous role, that of Carol on The Brady Bunch, which she landed in 1968.  Henderson had been an early favorite of series creator Sherwood Schwartz, but was unavailable to appear in the pilot episode.  Comedic actress Joyce Bulifant was given the role, one she'd ultimately have to surrender when Henderson became available at the 11th hour.  Watch Joyce describe that decision here.

She enjoyed five seasons on the series, which occasionally gave her the opportunity to showcase her singing ability.  Here's Carol singing at church on Christmas morning, and here she is singing and dancing with her series co-star, Maureen McCormick. 

A few years after the series was cancelled, she rejoined her Brady castmates in the ill-conceived Brady Bunch Variety Hour, a series that would put her singing abilities center stage.  Here's one of her solos from that show.  It's a prime example of figuring out what you do best, then doing your best with it.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, Henderson appeared on a number of game shows, including The Match Game, To Tell the Truth, and The $25,000 Pyramid. She also joined several of her Brady co-stars in a celebrity edition of Family Feud.  You can watch that episode here.  Good answer!

I'd be remiss if I didn't include a nod to Henderson's one and only appearance in a music video, Weird Al Yankovic's "Amish Paradise" in 1997.  While she doesn't sing in it, she certainly entertains.  Watch it here.

In 2007, Henderson began co-hosting Living Live on Retirement Living TV.  Here she is interviewing fellow 70s icon, Charo.  Coochie-coochie!

She was also very charitable, often appearing on the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.  She became an advocate for the Sisters of St. Benedict in her home state of Indiana, as some of the nuns had been her earliest educators.  She helped them in their fundraising efforts, and even played for them on a celebrity edition of "The Weakest Link."  The episode used to be on YouTube, but someone seems to have removed it.  How un-Brady of them.

By all accounts, Henderson was in great health well into her 80s.  On November 23, 2016, she checked into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for an undisclosed medical condition.  Sadly, she'd pass the next day, quite unexpectedly, the cause attributed to heart failure.  The world was in shock, as she had made her last public appearance just three days earlier on Dancing With the Stars.  Watch that final appearance here.

She was cremated, and her ashes were interred at the best cemetery in L.A., Pierce Brothers Westwood Village.  Her closest neighbors include Ray Bradbury, Carroll O'Connor, and Farrah Fawcett.  She's also just a stone's throw from her Brady co-star Allan Melvin, aka Sam the Butcher. 

Location: Pierce Brothers Westwood Village
Plot: Gardens of Serenity

RIP, Mrs. Brady.

  • Trailers for the new shows are all online.  Watch them here.
      * A Very Brady Renovation
      * Fast 'N Loud
      * Chopped!

  • This blogger published his first book "Bradypalooza: The Unathorized Guide to TV's Favorite Family," in 2004.  Check it out here.  Don't buy it though.  Too expensive.

  • From 1958 to 1961, Florence sang her way through a series of commercials for Oldsmobile.  Watch one of them here.

  • Florence is famous for her series of Wesson Cooking Oil spots of the 1970s and 80s.  Watch one of them here.  In the 1990s, she added Polident to her resume.  Here's one of those spots.

  • Beginning in the early 1990s, Florence sang "God Bless America" before the start of every Indianapolis 500.  In 20 years of performances, no one apparently ever took good video of it, but here's one from 2011.

  • A&E's Biography profiled Florence shortly after she died.  The episode was hosted by her TV son, Barry Williams.  You can watch it here.

  • Just because I love it, here's the intro to The Brady Bunch Hour.

  • Henderson was preceded in death by her two main Brady co-stars, Robert Reed and Ann B. Davis, who are buried in Chicago, Illinois and Boerne, Texas, respectively.  This blog has yet to visit either, but will plan to have future posts.

  • As noted above, Allan Melvin is also interred at Pierce Brothers.  Here's a shot of his grave.
  • And finally, here's series creator Sherwood Schwartz, who passed in 2011.  Full disclosure, I maintained a snail-mail correspondence with Mr. Schwartz in his final years, and he was kind enough to offer praise on my Brady book endeavor.  So thank you Mr. Schwartz for your generosity, and for giving us the Bradys.  Not to mention Gilligan!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Good Riddance: Lee Harvey Oswald

Six Feet Under Hollywood was created to describe some of the hundreds of burial sites I've visited through my travels.  While I mostly find the graves of Hollywood elite, I also encounter the graves of historical figures, news personalities, U.S. presidents, and in the case of this blog, a presidential assassin.  Keep in mind that I am no fan of this guy, but I have found his grave, and what you'll see there is really rather shocking.  But more on that later.

Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans on October 18, 1939.  His father, a U.S. Marine who served in World War I, died of a heart attack two months before he was born.  When Oswald was five, his mother moved him and his half-brother to Dallas.

It was the first of many moves for the family, as Oswald would attend schools in Texas, the Bronx and New Orleans.  While he was a voracious reader, he had a learning disability that diminished his ability to spell correctly.  Still, he often wrote in a journal.

By 15, Oswald considered himself a Marxist.  As he wrote in his journal, "I was looking for a key to my environment, and then I discovered socialist literature.  I had to dig for my books in the back of dusty shelves of libraries."

Oswald never graduated from high school.  Following his 17th birthday, he followed in his father's footsteps and enlisted as a Marine.  He was still under age however, and needed his family's consent to enlist.  His half-brother Robert signed on his behalf.

He was trained as a radar technician, for which he seemed quite proficient.  And like all Marines, he was trained in the use of firearms, for which, unfortunately, he also proved quite adept at, scoring high enough to be ranked as a sharpshooter.

While Oswald seemed capable as a Marine, he seemed unable to get along with those with whom he served.  He was court-martialed no less than three times, one of which was for accidentally shooting himself.   He would often espouse Marxist doctrine to his fellow Marines, who quickly gave him the nickname "Oswaldskovich."  His tour came to an end in 1959, when he received a hardship discharge, claiming his mother needed him to come home.

A month after his discharge, Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union, where he quickly announced his desire to defect.  They didn't want him however, and in a bid to prove just how serious he was, he attempted suicide in his hotel room just as his visa was set to expire.  He survived the attempt and earned himself an extended stay in a Russian looney bin.

Following his release he was allowed to stay in the country.  He took a job in a factory and stayed for a few years.  Then in 1961, he related in his journal that he'd grown tired of Russia, stating that "the work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent.  No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances.  I have had enough."  As he had never officially renounced his U.S. citizenship, he returned to the U.S. with his Russian bride Marina.

The Texas School Book Depository.
Over the next two years, they'd live in Dallas, New Orleans and Mexico, before finally returning to Dallas for the last time.  It was now October of 1963.  He took a job as a shipping clerk at the Texas School Book Depository. 

As everyone reading this knows, it was from this location where, just one month later, Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy as his presidential motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza.  Oswald fired three rifle shots from the sixth floor window, killing Kennedy and seriously wounding Texas Governor John Connally.  One bystander was also wounded by shrapnel.  Here's a clip of the infamous Zapruder film capturing the incident. 

Celebrated journalist Walter Cronkite broke into CBS's daytime drama "As the World Turns" with the news that shocked the world.  You can watch that pre-emption here.

But Oswald wasn't finished yet.  Fleeing the book depository, he returned to his rooming house and gathered a few items.  As he was leaving, he was spotted by Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippit, who thought Oswald bore a resemblance to the description of the shooter.  As Tippit began to question him, Oswald shot him four times, killing him instantly.

Oswald fled to a local movie threatre, ducking into a picture called Cry of Battle.   Apparently everyone has forgotten this film, as I can't find any clips of it online.  His odd behavior caught the attention of several local merchants who quickly contacted the authorities.  Officers arrived to arrest him for Tippit's murder, still unaware of his connection to Kennedy.  The house lights were brought up, and Oswald appeared to surrender. Instead, he pulled a pistol from his pants and attempted to shoot at the officers but was unsuccessful as his pistol jammed. He was taken into custody.

Robert H. Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald
won the Pulitzer Prize for capturing this iconic
image of Oswald's assassination.

Police were able to connect the dots and tie Oswald to the assassination of Kennedy.  He vehemently denied having any part in either killing, but would never have his day in court.  One day after the assassination, Oswald was himself assassinated on live TV.  You can watch that footage here.

Police arrested Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner, who said he had been distraught by the death of Kennedy and had hoped to spare his widow the drama of a lengthy trial.

Oswald was buried in Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth two days later.  Reporters who were covering the service were asked to serve as pallbearers.  Ugh.

Oswald's grave attracts a lot of visitors, who oddly like to decorate it.  The grass
leading to the grave has long since worn out.

Oswald and Marina had two children, who now have kids of their own. 
Ironically, I shot these photos on the anniversary of Oswald's death and it
appears that his grandchildren came to pay their respects.

  • Oswald's father was a distant cousin of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, for whom the boy was named.

  • Television producer Donald Bellisario (Magnum, P.I.) was himself a Marine who encountered Oswald during his service.  Watch him discuss that encounter here.  Years later, following the release of Oliver Stone's JFK, a film with which he greatly disagreed, Bellisario addressed the assassination on his NBC series Quantum LeapHere's how the series presented the assassination.

  • On October 4, 1981, Oswald's body was exhumed in order to confirm its identity, as conspiracy theories claimed that a Russian lookalike was buried in his place.  Dental records confirmed the corpse as that of Oswald.  He was reburied in a new coffin however, as the original had so badly degraded.

  • The original coffin was held in a Fort Worth funeral home for nearly 30 years.  Then in 2010, it employed a Los Angeles area auction house in an attempt to sell the coffin.  A private bidder won the coffin for $87,468 (!).  However, upon reading of the auction in the papers, Oswald's brother Robert, still very much alive, sued to get it back, ultimately prevailing in court.  He had the coffin destroyed and died himself shortly thereafter.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

There Goes the Neighborhood: Rodney Dangerfield

Rodney Dangerfield was born Jacob Rodney Cohen on November 22, 1921 in Long Island, New York.  He was the son of Vaudeville performer Phillip Cohen, who abandoned his family shortly after Rodney was born.  Talk about no respect!

Young Rodney helped his mother financially by delivering groceries and by selling newspapers and ice cream.  But by 15, he had already developed a keen sense of humor and began selling jokes instead, this time at a club in upstate New York.

After he turned 19, he legally changed his name to Jack Roy and turned professional.  It was tough going for several years though, and he'd often find himself taking regular jobs to now support his own wife and family.  After nine years in the business, with little to show for it, he retired.  He'd later quip "at the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I quit."

In the early 1960s, he began reviving his career.  He played a number of clubs in the Catskills, many of which were off the beaten trail.  "I played one club, " Rodney related.  "It was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field and Stream."

Jack Benny, the original
Rodney Dangerfield.
Realizing he needed an image to jumpstart his career, he adopted the role of the lovable loser.  Jack Roy just wasn't bringing in the crowds, so he also knew he'd need a new moniker.  Thus was born Rodney Dangerfield, a name that he, ahem, "borrowed" from Jack Benny, who had used the name on his radio program of the 1940s.  Strangely enough, the name had also been used by Ricky Nelson on his series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett.  The more you know.....

March 5, 1967 was a turning point in Dangerfield's career.  Ed Sullivan needed a last-minute replacement for his variety show, and Dangerfield got the part.  You can watch a subsequent Sullivan appearance here.

It revived his career and he soon began performing in Vegas.  He would also make frequent return visits to The Ed Sullivan Show as well as Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, back when that show was funny.  Here's one such appearanceHere's another.

In 1969, he opened up his Dangerfield's Comedy Club in New York City.  It became a huge success, helping to launch the careers of such notables as Ray Ramono and Jay Leno.  It's still in operation today, and you can visit their web site here.

1st Avenue and 61st Street, New York City.
In 1980, Rodney released his album No Respect, which quickly earned him a Grammy (!).  You can listen to the album in its entirety here.

That same year, he'd appear in the comedy classic Caddyshack.  Here's his introduction in the film.

The film's success led to starring roles for Dangerfield, including the 1983 classic Easy Money.  Watch the trailer here. And here he is promoting it on Carson.

Then in 1986, he'd star in the most successful film of his career, Back to School. You can watch the trailer here.  And here he is learning history from a relatively unknown Sam Kinison.

A few years later, Rodney took a more serious role in 1994's Natural Born Killers.  In typical Dangerfield fashion, he wrote all of his own lines.

The following year, Dangerfield was nominated for acceptance into the Motion Picture Academy, but he was denied membership by then-President Roddy McDowell, the same guy who played a talking monkey in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Fans protested the decision, but Rodney ended all debate declaring he'd never wanted membership in the first place.  So there.

In 2000, Dangerfield returned to film, with a role in Adam Sandler's Little Nicky.  Watch him play Lucifer ruling over hell here.  Word of caution: This film won multiple Razzie Awards, and it's not hard to see why.

In 2001, Dangerfield suffered a heart attack while backstage at Jay Leno's The Tonight Show.  I wonder who they got to replace him that night.  Then in 2003, he underwent brain surgery to improve blood flow in preparation for heart surgery.  Jesus.  At the hospital, he uttered another classic when asked how long he'd be in for.  "If all goes well," he said, "about a week.  If not, about an hour and a half."  He died two months later however, having spent the final weeks of his life in a coma.

He was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in it's famed Celebrity Row, where this author, and thousands more annually, come to pay their respect.

Rest in peace Rodney!

  • Rodney's role in Caddyshack was originally written to be much smaller than how it actually appears in the final film.  He proved so adept at improvisation however that it was greatly expanded.  Several of his co-stars were less than thrilled by this, including Ted Knight.

  • Throughout the 80s, Rodney appeared in a series of commercials for Miller Lite Beer. Here's the most famous of them.

  • In 1990, Rodney shot the pilot for a new NBC sit-com entitled Where's Rodney? I never heard of it either.  The series focused on a young boy named Rodney who could conjure up Dangerfield as a sort of guardian angel whenever he needed advice.  Yikes.  You can watch the show's intro here.  Look for a post-Punky Brewster Soleil Moon Frye among the cast as well as perpetual guest star Jay Thomas.

  • In 2004, Rodney released his autobiography It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs.  Pick up a copy on Amazon.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Sad Story of Dominique Dunne

Dominique Ellen Dunne was born in Santa Monica, California on November 23, 1959.  She was the youngest child of author and producer Dominick Dunne and ranching heiress Ellen Beatriz.  Pretty much everyone in her family (brothers, uncle, aunt, even her godparents) were in some way tied to the movie industry, so it was no coincidence that she became an actress as well.

Her first film role was in the 1979 made-for-TV masterpiece Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker.  Here's a particularly creepy scene.   This led to a number of supporting roles in television series, including Lou Grant and Hart to Hart.  Here's a scene of her on the 80s cop drama Hill Street Blues, a series who's title I have never understood.  Sadly, this particular episode aired two weeks after she died.  But more on that later.

Say it with me now.
By 1981, Dunne had built up a sufficient enough resume to be cast in the soon-to-be-classic film Poltergeist, produced by Steven Spielberg.  Remember the trailer?  Watch it here.

That same year, Dunne began dating John Thomas Sweeney, a relationship that would ultimately prove fatal.  She bought a home with the up and coming chef, a modest, one-bedroom house in West Hollywood. 

Shortly after moving in together, the relationship began to deteriorate.  Sweeney became physically abusive with Dunne, even going so far as to yanking out entire handfuls of her hair during their frequent arguments.  She would often retreat to her mother's house, only to inevitably return to Sweeney.  That came to an end on September 26, 1982, when Dunne officially ended the relationship after he nearly choked her to death.  Sweeney moved out of the house and Dunne had all of the locks changed.

8723 Rangely Avenue, West Hollywood
Around this time, Dunne was cast in another soon-to-be-classic science fiction saga, V. She was cast as Robin Maxwell, the character destined to bear an alien offspring. 

On October 30, Dunne was in her home with V co-star David Packer rehearsing their scenes when Sweeney showed up.  She initially spoke to him through the locked door, but then agreed to meet him on the patio.  Packer remained inside.

Dunne had only been outside for a few moments when Packer started to hear an argument.  He later reported that he heard "smacking sounds, two screams, and a thud."  He called police, but was stymied when told that Dunne's house was outside their jurisdiction.  He then called a friend and informed him "if I'm found dead, John Sweeney is the killer."

David Packer (V, 1983)
Packer walked out the back door and approached the driveway.  There he saw Sweeney kneeling over Dunne.  He called police again, this time with success.  When units finally arrived, Sweeney met them in the driveway with his hands above his head as he declared "I killed my girlfriend and I tried to kill myself."

Dunne was still alive however, though unconscious due to oxygen deprivation.  She was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and placed on life support.  Over the next week, doctors performed a series of brain scans, each one confirming the other - no brain activity.  On November 4, just a few weeks shy of Dunne's 23rd birthday, her parents removed her from life support, donating her kidneys and heart.

On November 6, a funeral was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.  She was buried in Pierce Brothers Westwood Village.

Pierce Brothers Westwood Village
Section D, L-193


John Sweeney was tried for second-degree murder.  On September 21, 1983, after eight days of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.  The judge sentenced him to a mere six years in prison, of which he only served three and a half.

After his release in 1987, Sweeney resumed his career as a chef.  He was hired by The Chronicle, a restaurant in Santa Monica, but it didn't last long.  Dominique's family handed out flyers declaring "the food you eat tonight was made by the hands that killed Dominique Dunne."  As the protests continued, Sweeney left the job and changed his name to John Maura. 

This practice continued for more than 20 years, as Dominick Dunne made it his life's mission to destroy Sweeney.  He hired protestors to picket any business that hired his daughter's killer and private detectives to follow him morning, noon, and night.  It wouldn't end until Dominick's own passing in 2009.

John Sweeney on trial, 1983, and John Maura, today.
So where is Sweeney/Maura today?  San Rafael, California, where he is the Director of Food Services for Smith Ranch Homes, a senior retirement community.  Interested in what the community has to say about that?  You can read their angry comments to management here.


  • Dominick Dunne authored a fascinating account of Sweeney's trial for Vanity Fair, entitled "Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of his Daughter's Killer."  Read it here.

  • Dominick discusses his daughter's murder with the Archive of American Television.  Watch that interview here.

  • Poltergeist opened on June 4, 1982, the same day as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Khan was tops at the box office that weekend, whereas Poltergeist opened in third place.  It was also beaten by Rocky III, which was in it's second week of general release.

  • Dunne is buried just a few hundred feet from her Poltergeist co-star Heather O'Rourke, who died in 1988.

  • Dunne filmed her appearance on Hill Street Blues just days after one of her beatings at the hands of Sweeney.  Appearing as an abused woman, the bruises you see on her face were largely her own.

  • According to V director Kenneth Johnson, Dunne actually appears in the completed film during the initial arrival of the alien motherships, though her face is never shown. 

  • As noted above, Dunne was to portray Robin Maxwell in V.  The character was impregnated by alien visitor Brian, and would subsequently give birth in the sequel V: The Final Battle.  Though completely unrelated to Dunne, watch that birth scene here.  You know you want to.

Monday, June 3, 2019


Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino was born on November 25, 1920 in Mexico City.  He was raised in a large Roman Catholic family, and by the time he was a teenager, he and his brother had emigrated to the United States.  Like many 20th Century immigrants, they settled in New York City, where he began his acting career with a much shorter name - Ricardo Montalban.

In 1941, he had small, uncredited roles in the films Her Cardboard Lover and He's a Latin From Staten Island.  That same year, he returned to Mexico to see his ailing mother.  After her funeral, he resumed his career in Mexico, with roles in such films as The Saint That Forged a Country, Fantasia Ranchera, and a production of The Three Musketeers.

He worked consistently throughout the 40s and quickly earned starring roles in his native Mexico.  Eventually Hollywood noticed, and he was cast in his first U.S. production, Fiesta, opposite Esther Williams. Here's the trailer. The film was a financial success, so MGM Studios signed Montalban to a long-term contract.

His first leading role was in the 1949 film Border Incident alongside George Murphy. Watch the trailer here.  The film wasn't as successful as Fiesta, but it did earn Montalban a spot on the cover of Life Magazine, the first Hispanic actor to ever receive that honor. 

"I was king for a week," Montalban mused, "I thought the offers would flood in, but after a week - nothing." 

Montalban's films continued to disappoint at the box office, leading to his dismissal from MGM in 1953.

"I played caricatures of what a Latin is supposed to be like," he later recounted.  "In reality, we are family men."

Montalban began working in television, with guest spots on such series as Ben Casey, Burke's Law, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  He also appeared on a series called The Lieutenant, created by Hollywood newcomer Gene Roddenberry.  You see where this is going?

It was through this association that in 1966, Montalban would be cast in what would arguably be his most famous role, Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek.  Here's a clip of him going head to head with William Shatner's Captain Kirk.  Watch him discuss the episode here.

Ricardo Montalban and
Roddy McDowall.
In the early 70s, Montalban returned to the silver screen for both Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) playing a circus owner who befriends the wayward simians.  Click on the titles for the very groovy 70s trailers.  And here's Montalban discussing his work in the films.

He continued to guest on a number of series throughout the 70s, including Columbo.  Watch his episode in its entirety here.  And here's a clip of him on Hawaii Five-O.  The original.  Not the current dumb one.
"Fine, Corinthian leather."

He supplemented his income in a series of now-famous commercials for the Chrysler Cordoba, which gave birth to his oft-repeated catchphrase "fine, Corinthian leather."  Watch one of those ads here.

All of this was building up to his most famous role on television, that of Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island.  Watch the iconic intro here.  Smiles, everyone!

The series came about completely by accident, Montalban would later recount.  Series creator Aaron Spelling, frustrated with ABC for rejecting a number of his proposed series, sarcastically suggested a show about a place where all your sexual fantasies can be realized.  The light bulb went off over Spelling's head, and thus was born Fantasy Island, though it was broadened to include simple, every day fantasies as well.  Montalban relished playing the character.  Watch him discuss playing Mr. Roarke here.

Montalban with his Fantasy Island
co-star Herve Villechaize.
Montalban's co-star was James Bond veteran Herve Villechaize.  In the beginning, Montalban would later recount, Villechaize was a delight to work with, but it became increasingly hard to do so as the series continued.  Watch him discuss that often strenuous relationship here.  Most people forget that Villechaize left the series before it ended it's seven-year run.  During the final season, he was replaced by future Mr. Belvedere actor Christopher Hewett.  The two lacked chemistry however, and it is often cited as one reason why the series was cancelled.

It was during the run of Fantasy Island that Montalban received a phone call that would forever enshrine him in the pop culture Hall of Fame.  Paramount was producing a second Star Trek feature film, one that would revive his character of Khan.  After six years as the more mild-mannered Mr. Roarke, Montalban welcomed the opportunity to take on such a passionate role.  Watch him discuss that decision here.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, opened on June 4, 1982.  It broke the box office and remains one of the most popular films in the series to date.  Watch the film's trailer here.  And here he is chewing up the scenery with Shatner.  Oh, and here's his death scene.

Montalban was also a social activist.  In 1970, he co-created the Nosotros Foundation (We) to advocate for Latinos in the film industry.  Here's their Facebook page. He had often been disappointed by the manner in which Mexicans were portrayed, and through Nosotros, he sought to change that perception. 

Montalban continued acting throughout the 80s, most notably in the film The Naked GunHere he matches wits with series star Leslie Nielsen.

In the early 2000s, Montalban appeared as the grandfather in the Spy Kids series of films.  Watch one of his scenes here

Ultimately, it would be his final role.  After a series of health complications, the actor passed on January 14, 2009 from congestive heart failure.  True to his Catholic upbringing, he was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
Section EE, Tier 3, Grave 21

RIP, Your Excellency.

  • Montalban released his autobiography Reflections: A Life in Two Worlds in 1980.  Pick up a copy on Amazon here.
  • In 1973, Montalban was in a touring production of The King and IHere he is promoting it on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
  • In 2018, HBO produced a documentary film entitled My Dinner With Herve, chronicling the life of Herve Villechaize.  Actor Andy Garcia portrayed Montalban in the film.  Watch the trailer here.
  • Gene Roddenberry served in World War 2 with an officer named Noonien Singh.  After the war, they lost touch with one another, so in the days before Facebook, Roddenberry used his television series as a means to try to find his old friend, naming the Khan character after him.  By 1988, Roddenberry still hadn't found him, so he gave a similar name to Data's creator on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Noonien Soong.
  • This author unsuccessfully tried to buy the burial plot next to Montalban.  Although currently unoccupied, it already has an owner.