Friday, October 30, 2020

American Gangster


John Herbert Dillinger was born in Indianapolis on June 22, 1903.  He was the youngest of two children born to German immigrants.  Shortly before his fourth birthday, Dillinger's mother passed away, and the job of raising him went to his older sister, who was by then 18, married, and starting a family of her own.

By the time he was a teenager, Dillinger was already being arrested for petty theft.  He had no interest in his education either, dropping out of school to work in a machine shop.  In an attempt to turn his son's life around, Dillinger's father, recently remarried, moved the family to the more rural town of Mooresville, Indiana.  The country setting didn't have any affect on Dillinger's behavior however, as his crimes and arrests continued.

After a few years in the country, Dillinger took a bride, marrying Beryl Ethel Hovious when he was 21.  In a bid to support his new wife, and unable to hold a job, Dillinger and an accomplice, Ed Singleton, robbed a local grocery store, netting all of $50.  Unfortunately for them, they were recognized at the scene by a local minister who reported their identities to the police.  The two were arrested the following day.

By this time, Dillinger's father was deacon at Mooresville Church.  In this role, he discussed his son's crime with the local prosecutor, and based on this discussion, convinced his son to plead guilty in the case.  Dillinger did just that, and was promptly sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison.  His father later told reporters he regretted his part in the sentencing.  Singleton had better legal representation however (Dillinger had none), and was sentenced to 2 to 14 years.  He died shortly after his release however, when he fell down drunk on the railroad tracks.

Dillinger was sent to Indiana State Prison (right).  At the start of his sentence, he defiantly told his jailors "I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here."  A man of his word, he spent his prison years refining his criminal behavior, studying under a string of professional bank robbers.  He put that knowledge to good use upon his release nine years later, when he began robbing banks for a living.

Two months after his release, Dillinger was arrested for robbing two banks in Ohio.  The timing couldn't have been better for him, as he had already put a plan into motion to bust eight of his cellmates out of Indiana State Prison.  Their escape was successful, and the group returned the favor by busting Dillinger out in Ohio.  The group returned to Indiana, where they became known as "The First Dillinger Gang."  Over the next year, they robbed 12 different banks.

The gang was arrested in Arizona in January 1934.  Dillinger was escorted back to Indiana, where he promptly escaped from a jail in Crown Point.  He reunited with his girlfriend Evelyn Frechette (left), and the two made their way to Minneapolis, where Dillinger formed his second gang, who's members included Baby Face Nelson.  Just three days after his escape, the gang robbed their first bank together in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Then in April, agents at what would later be known as the FBI got word that Dillinger and several gang members were hiding out in Wisconsin.  The agents surrounded a lodge in Manitowish Waters that the gang had been using as a hideout.  A shootout ensued when the agents fired on three gang members attempting to drive off, who in their drunken state, were not even aware of the agents.  Alerted to their presence, Dillinger and the remaining members successfully fled the area.

Shortly thereafter, J. Edgar Hoover created a special task force to locate Dillinger, which was headquartered in Chicago.  In July, they were contacted by a brothel owner in Gary, Indiana who was willing to trade information on Dillinger's whereabouts.  In exchange, she sought freedom from deportation back to her native Romania.  The FBI agreed to her terms.

The madam, Ana Cumpanas (below right), told agents that Dillinger had taken up with one of her prostitutes, a woman by the name of Polly Hamilton.  The three had become close and would often spend time together, including nights out at the theatre.  Cumpanas alerted agents that the three would be together at Chicago's Biograph Theatre on the evening of July 22nd.

That night, agents joined by local police, awaited Dillinger's arrival.  At around 8:30, he was seen entering the theatre with his party, having purchased tickets for the crime drama Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy.  The agents did little to conceal their presence however, as the manager believed them to be criminals planning to rob the theatre.  Dillinger himself wasn't as observant.

When the movie was over, the agents made their move.  Dillinger, now aware of their presence, abandoned his female companions and retreated to an alley behind the theatre.  He didn't realize however, that they had already sealed it off.  

Agents started firing, striking Dillinger four times.  The fatal shot was fired through the back of his neck.  It severed his spinal cord, passed through his brain and finally exited through his right eye.  He died on the scene.

Dillinger's body was put on display at the Cook County Morgue.  More than 15,000 people stood in line to view the remains.  At least four death masks of his face were made, many of which have made their way into various museums throughout the U.S. (see Trivia below). 

He was eventually buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Crown Hill Cemetery
Indianapolis, Indiana
The Dillinger Family Plot.

Section #44, Lot #94.

  • The headstone seen above is actually Dillinger's fifth.  The other four were chipped apart through the years by souvenir collectors.

  • Despite her cooperation with authorities, Ana Cumpanas was deported anyway.

  • When Dillinger was 20, he enlisted in the Navy, where he served as a petty officer aboard the battleship U.S.S. Utah.  A few months after he enlisted however, he went AWOL.  As a result, he was dishonorably discharged.

  • Several books have been written on Dillinger's life and exploits.  Here are a few to choose from:
      * John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal, by Dary Matera
      * Dillinger: The Untold Story, by G. Russell Girardin and William J. Hemler
      * The Dillinger Days, by John Toland

  • Dillinger was a long-time fan of the Chicago Cubs.  While hiding out in the windy city in 1934, he often attended games at Wrigley Field.  On June 8th of that year, as Dillinger watched the Cubs lose to Cincinnati 4-3, Captain John Stege of the Dillinger Squad was also in attendance at Wrigley Field, though the two never crossed paths.

  • Dillinger died just two months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a similar manner.  The criminal couple were themselves profiled here at Six Feet Under Hollywood, and you can re-visit their story here.

  • Dillinger's car is currently on display at Alcatraz East: The American Crime Museum, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  It is featured in a display of other notorious vehicles, including O.J. Simpson's white Ford Bronco and Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Beetle.  The museum also houses one of Dillinger's death masks, as well as several of his personal items.

    Photo courtesy of the internet.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Mr. C!

Thomas Edward Bosley was born in Chicago on October 1, 1927.  Like many of his generation, he served his country during World War 2, enlisting in the Navy after high school.  Following the war, he returned to the U.S. and attended DePaul University, where he made his stage debut as an actor.

After graduation, Bosley moved to New York City, intent on making a name for himself on the Broadway stage.  That break came in 1959, when he was cast as New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the long-running musical Fiorello!. Bosley won a Tony Award for his performance, and soon Hollywood was calling.

He landed his first film role in 1963, playing opposite Natalie Wood in the film Love With the Proper Stranger.  You can watch that film in its entirety here.  Other early films included Divorce American Style (1967), Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) and Gus (1976), the story of a mule who becomes a professional football player.  Check out a commercial for it here.  Laughs a-plenty!

Bosley also made guest appearances on many popular television series throughout the 1960s.  These included roles on Bonanza, Bewitched and Get Smart.  He also appeared in a number of Hallmark Hall of Fame productions, including Arsenic and Old Lace (1962), a version that also featured Boris Karloff and Tony Randall.  

All of this was leading up to the role that Bosley is most famously associated with, that of Howard Cunningham on Happy Days.  Beginning in 1974, the series ran for 11 seasons and 255 episodes, making household names of the entire cast.  The series was created by Garry Marshall and led to several spin-offs, including Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and my personal favorite, Joanie Loves Chachi.

After Happy Days, Bosley landed a recurring role on the CBS series Murder, She Wrote, playing local sheriff Amos Tupper.  Over four seasons, he only appeared in nineteen episodes, but he is fondly remembered by fans of the series.  He officially left in 1989, when he began starring in his own series, The Father Dowling Mysteries.  Based on the novels by Ralph McInerny, the series saw Bosley as a Catholic priest solving murders, abductions and whatnot.  It ran for three seasons.  You can check out the series intro here.

In 1994, Bosley returned to his roots on Broadway, originating the role of Maurice in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  For the next fifteen years, he'd continue working on television as well, with guest appearances on such series as Touched by an Angel and One Tree Hill.  He'd also revive Howard Cunningham on an episode of Family Guy.  His final role was on the 2010 animated series Betsy's Kindergarten Adventures, voicing school principal Richard Warner. 

Bosley battled lung cancer in his final years.  By 2010, he was no longer able to work and he suffered from a series of health conditions, including a staph infection that ultimately took his life on October 19.  He had just celebrated his 83rd birthday.

He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in a field adjacent to its majestic chapel.

Location: God's Acre, 1738, Space #4

The inscriptions on his marker denote his family and career.
  • "Beloved husband, father. grandfather, brother, uncle"
  • "Fiorello, sheriff, priest...and forever Mr. C"
  • "I'm drifting too, dreaming of you, til tomorrow comes" - this final inscription is a lyric from the song 'Til Tomorrow" from Fiorello.  You can hear Kate Smith really sell the song here.  And kudos to you if you got that reference.
Rest in peace, Mr. C.

  • Although Father Dowling was a devout Catholic, Bosley was very active in his Jewish faith.

  • The Happy Days pilot was filmed in 1972, but ABC was not happy with the final product, opting to pass on making it a series.  Bosley did not even appear in the production, which only featured series regulars Ron Howard, Anson Williams and Marion Ross.  Looking for a return on its investment, ABC recycled the pilot into the anthology series Love, American Style.  You can watch that intro here.  However, the network revived the project in 1974, following the theatrical success of George Lucas's film American Graffiti

  • One of the things I like most about writing this blog is finding works or performances in a  celebrity's past that I never knew about before.  Take for example the anti-smoking PSA Let's Call it Quits that Bosley appeared in with his Happy Days co-star Marion Ross in 1974.  It's a 30-minute episode filmed entirely on the sets of The Brady Bunch!  They even got Brady brat Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver) to play one of their kids.  Talk about trippy.  Check it out here.

  • Bosley appeared as a panelist on the popular Match Game '75.  Watch one of his episodes here.

  • Throughout the 70s and 80s, Bosley was the spokesman for Glad trash bags and sandwich bags.  Here's one of my favorites.

  • Ever wonder what became of the Happy Days characters after the series finale?  One enterprising author tried to answer that question in his novel Who Killed the Fonz?, a whodunnit set in 1984.  I haven't read it yet, but my money is on Chuck!  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Paul Lynde


Paul Edward Lynde was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 13, 1926.  His parents owned a meat market, a point that I'm sure Lynde must have joked about at some point in his career.  He was the fifth of six children, one of whom died at the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2.  

Lynde knew from an early age that he wanted to be an entertainer.  When he graduated from high school, he enrolled at Northwestern University, where he studied speech and drama.  The student roster reads like a Who's Who in Hollywood, as his fellow classmates included Charlotte Rae, Cloris Leachman, Jeff Hunter and Claude Akins.  

He graduated in 1948 and moved to New York City, waiting for his big break.  It came a few years later when he made his Broadway debut in a revue called New Faces of 1952.  Once again, Lynde found himself surrounded by future A-listers, as the production also included Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary and Alice Ghostley.  The production was filmed and released theatrically as New Faces in 1954.  You can watch the film in its entirety on Youtube.

A few years later, Lynde co-starred in a short-lived sit-com called Stanley.  His co-stars were the relatively unknown Carol Burnett and Buddy Hackett.  You can watch the show's intro on Youtube.

Then in 1960, Lynde returned to the Broadway stage, signing on to a production of Bye Bye Birdie.  It was well received by critics, resulting in a 1963 theatrical version that also featured Lynde.  Here's one of his musical numbers from the film, "What's the Matter With Kids Today."  Now I know where that song came from!

Lynde returned to television next, making guest appearances on a number of series, including The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie and F Troop.  Click on each title to see a clip of varying quality.

In 1965, Lynde made his first appearance on the sit-com Bewitched, when he played a nervous driving instructor to series star Elizabeth Montgomery.  The part was so well received that Montgomery and her husband William Asher, who was also the show's director and producer, created a new, recurring role for Lynde, that of Uncle Arthur, a practical-joking "good witch" like Montgomery's Samantha.  Over the course of the series, Lynde would appear in ten episodes as the character.  Here's his introduction to the role.

During his run on the series, Lynde supplemented his income by appearing on a new game show that premiered in 1966.  Of course, I'm talking about Hollywood Squares, the show that Lynde is most famously identified with.  It gave him the opportunity to showcase his comedic talent and sharp wit.  He quickly became one of the more popular stars to appear on the show and as such, was given the center square, ensuring at least question per round.  His jokes relied on double entendre and were often allusions to his own sexuality.  Over the next 15 years, he'd appear a total of 707 times on the series.  You can see a compilation of his greatest hits here.

During this period, Lynde also had his own sit-com, The Paul Lynde Show, which ran for one season on ABC.  Critics and audiences perceived it as a thinly-veiled copy of All in the Family, as he played a conservative father at odds with his liberal-minded son-in-law.  Lynde was opposed to doing the series, but was contractually obligated to do so in place of Bewitched, which had been canceled the previous season.  You can watch the pilot episode here

Throughout the 1970s, Lynde also starred in a number of self-titled variety specials, the most famous of which was The Paul Lynde Halloween Special in 1976.  While generally regarded as hokie and somewhat embarrassing today, the special is notable as it was the first prime-time network appearance of the rock band KISS.  The special also featured Wizard of Oz star Margaret Hamilton re-creating her signature role, alongside fellow actress Billie Hayes, known as Witchiepoo on the Sid and Marty Krofft classic, H.R. Pufnstuf.  You can watch the special in its entirety here, or just the KISS segment here.

Lynde continued making television guest appearances into the 1980s.  Then in January 1982, he failed to appear at a birthday celebration.  Concerned, two of his friends, Paul Barresi and Dean Dittman, let themselves into his home, where they found him in his bed.  Lynde had been dead for some time, the coroner later attributing it to a heart attack.  He was just 55 years old.

Lynde was cremated and his ashes were returned to his siblings in Ohio.  He was interred in a family plot at Amity Cemetery with his brother Johnny.  A few years later, sister Helen would join them, and three squares would appear on the headstone.  Ironically, Paul is not in the center.

Rest in peace.


  • In 2013, author Cathy Rudolph, a personal friend of Lynde's, released Paul Lynde: A Biography - His Life, His Love(s) and His Laughter.  Peter Marshall wrote the foreword.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Although widely known for comedy, Lynde would have preferred to have been remembered as a dramatic actor.  He once stated "we live in a world that needs laughter, and I've decided that if I can make people laugh, I'm making an important contribution."

  • In 1976, Lynde appeared at the Sixth Annual American Guild of Variety Artists awards presentation, where he was named Funniest Man of the Year.  Rather than keep the award for himself, he gave it to host Jackie Gleason, describing him as the funniest man ever.  Gleason was shocked by the gesture. 

  • Lynde starred in a number of sit-com pilots that never made it to series, including Howie in 1962.  You can watch that episode in its entirety on Youtube.

  • Lynde weighed 250 pounds when he graduated from high school.  Throughout his career, he often struggled to keep his weight under control.  In 1977, he was recognized by Weight Watchers for bringing attention to the issue of obesity.

  • Lynde also struggled with alcohol throughout his career, often leading to trouble with the law.  In 1965, after a night of hard drinking, Lynde's friend James "Bing" Davidson fell eight stories to his death from atop a San Francisco hotel.  In 1977, while attending homecoming events at Northwestern University, Lynde went on a racist tirade against an African-American professor, later attributing it to inebriation and fatigue.  Finally in 1978, he was arrested in Salt Lake City for interfering with a police investigation after his car was broken into.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes


Lisa Nicole Lopes was born in Philadelphia on May 27, 1971.  Her father was a U.S. Army staff sergeant who was also a talented musician.  He regularly played the harmonica, clarinet, piano and saxophone while running a very strict household, one Lisa described as like living in boot camp.  It wouldn't last long however, as Lisa would spend the remainder of her childhood years with her grandmother following her parents divorce.

Despite having a rocky relationship with her father, Lopes shared his love of music.  By age ten, she was already composing her own songs and had formed her first group, The Lopes Kids, comprised of her and her siblings.  The trio performed gospel music at local churches and events.

In 1990, when she was just 19 years old, Lopes received word of an open casting call for a new girl group in Atlanta.  She got the job, joining TLC, whose named was derived from the trio's initials (Tionne Watkins, Lisa Lopes and Crystal Jones).  Jones didn't work out however, and she was soon replaced by Rozonda Thomas, who assumed the moniker of "Chilli" so as to preserve the TLC name.  Ah, the intricacies of show business.

It was at this time that Lopes earned her nickname as well, that of "Left Eye."  She assumed it after receiving a compliment from New Edition member Michael Bivins, who noted that her left eye was more slanted than her right, a trait that he found rather attractive.  The more you know!

TLC released its first album in 1992.  It was a runaway success, selling more than six million copies worldwide.  The album produced four hit singles (Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, Baby-Baby-Baby, What About Your Friends and Hat 2 da Back).

Two years later, TLC released their follow-up album, CrazySexCool.  It outperformed the first album by 400 percent, making TLC a household name in the process.  Among the hit singles from this project was Waterfalls, which came to be the group's signature song.  

In 1999, the group produced its third album, FanMail.  It sold over 14 million copies, but its production was difficult, to say the least.  Lopes was becoming more and more conflicted with her bandmates.  In an interview with Vibe Magazine, she stated "I've graduated from this era.  I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me."  A public shouting match ensued.  Although the three would eventually come to terms with their disagreements, FanMail was ultimately their final album together. 

Lopes embarked on a solo career next, releasing the album Supernova in 2001.  It had one hit single, The Block Party.  It's um, different.  It also included a song called A New Star is Born, which Lopes dedicated to her late father.  Finally, the album included a tribute to Andre Rison, her small way of saying sorry I burned your house down (see Trivia below).

In 2002, Lopes was traveling through Honduras, where she planned to establish two educational centers for young children.  She brought along a camera crew from VH1 to document the experience.  

On April 25th, she was driving a rented SUV through the town of La Ceiba when she made a series of evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding with oncoming traffic.  As a result, the SUV hit two trees and rolled over several times before finally coming to a stop.  Lopes died instantly, the coroner attributing it to a fracture at the base of her cranium and open cerebral trauma.  She was just 30 years old.  Her sister Reigndrop and a cameraman, both of whom were passengers in the vehicle, survived the collision.

I hope she got the rental insurance.

She was buried at Hillandale Memorial Gardens in Lithonia, Georgia.

Rest in peace.


  • As mentioned above, Lopes took a camera crew with her on that fateful trip to Honduras.  Without even realizing it, she was chronicling her final days.  The resulting footage was used in a VH1 documentary called Last Days of the Left Eye.  You can watch it in its entirety on Youtube.

  • In 1998, Lopes hosted a short-lived MTV series called The Cut, which promoted up-and-coming talent.  You can watch the first episode in its entirety on Youtube.

  • Lopes had a contentious relationship with NFL wide receiver Andre "Bad Moon" Rison, with whom she shared a mansion in Atlanta.  After a night of fighting, in which Lopes claimed he had beaten her, she retaliated by setting fire to his sneakers, a blaze that spread throughout the entire mansion.  The house was a total loss and Lopes was sentenced to five years probation. You can watch that fire here.

  • Two weeks prior to her death, Lopes was involved in another Honduran car accident that resulted in the death of a ten-year-old boy.  In this case however, Lopes was a passenger in the vehicle, which was being operated by her personal assistant.  After they struck the child, Lopes and her entourage took him to a nearby hospital, but it was already too late.  Lopes paid the hospital bills and all funeral costs.

  • After Lopes died, her family created the Lisa Lopes Foundation, a charity designed to improve the lives of the young and disadvantaged.  It borrows from Lopes her personal motto, "Energy never just transforms."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Mr. Marvel


Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in New York City on August 28, 1917.  He's not exactly a household name (either one), but his creations are.  Kirby created many of the popular characters at what is now Marvel Comics and is often referred to as Stan Lee's uncredited partner.  But more on that later.

He was the son of Austrian-Jewish immigrants who had settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  His father worked in a garment factory.  His childhood years were difficult, so he learned to draw as a means of escape, if only for a little while.

He began by tracing characters from comic strips and editorial cartoons.  His talents took him to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at 14, but he soon dropped out. 

"I wasn't the kind of student that Pratt was looking for," he said.  "They wanted people who would work on something forever.  I didn't want to work on any project forever.  I intended to get things done."

He went professional in the late 1930s using a variety of pen names, including Jack Curtiss, before ultimately settling on Jack Kirby.

By 1940, Kirby was working full time at Timely Comics, the predecessor of Marvel.  While there, he and writer-editor Joe Simon co-created Captain America, which is still one of Marvel's most popular characters today. 

After serving his country during World War 2 (see Trivia below), Kirby returned to America and went to work for National Comics Publications, the company that would eventually be known as DC Comics. He worked for other publishers as well, including Harvey Comics, Hillman Periodicals and Crestwood Publications.  While at Crestwood, he and partner Simon created a genre of romance comics that was ultimately short lived.

In the 1950s, Kirby returned to where it all started, Timely Comics, which was by then known as Atlas Comics (it finally adopted the Marvel moniker in the 1960s).  At this point in his career, Kirby was working under writer-editor Stan Lee.  The two co-created many of Marvel's most popular characters, including Iron Man, Thor, The X-Men and The Hulk.  These titles brought critical acclaim to Marvel and boosted sales significantly.  Kirby felt he had been treated unfairly however, so in 1970, he returned to DC Comics.

Back at DC, Kirby created a saga known as Fourth World, which spanned several comic titles.  While they proved to be commercially unsuccessful and were ultimately canceled, one of the characters, Darkseid, continues to this day, and was even used as a season antagonist on the series Smallville

In the late 1970s, Kirby and Lee buried the hatchet.  Kirby would return to Marvel once again, but this too would be short lived.  He later ventured into television  animation and small, independent comics before ultimately retiring in the 1990s. 

Jack Kirby died of heart failure on February 6, 1994.  He was buried at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Los Angeles. 

Location: Beth Olam Section (near a row of trees)
Hebrew Translation: Jacob, Son of Benjamin
Inscription: An Inspiration to All

Rest in peace, Mr. Marvel.


  • Kirby chose his pen name as it reminded him of James Cagney.  Throughout his career, Kirby was often accused of trying to hide his Jewish heritage, accusations that greatly offended him.

  • As noted previously in this blog, Kirby was childhood friends with Leon Klinghoffer, who was destined to die at the hands of terrorists aboard the cruise ship Achille Lauro.  You can re-visit Klinghoffer's grave profile here.

  • Kirby served in the army during World War 2.  He was already well known as a comic book artist at the time, so he was made a scout, given the dangerous duty of advancing into Normandy towns ahead of his unit and drawing reconnaissance maps of the territory.

  • Earlier this year, a Jack Kirby biography was released by author Tom Scioli.  You can pick up a copy of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics from Amazon.

  • A few months after Kirby was laid to rest, murder victim Ron Goldman was buried just a few plots away.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

James Dean


James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana on February 8, 1931.  He was an only child, and according to him, his father was part Native American while his mother traced her lineage back to the Mayflower.  

Shortly after Dean was born, his father, a dental technician, moved the family to Santa Monica.  Life was good for the next few years, until Dean's mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer.  She passed away when he was just nine years old.  Then America entered World War 2, and Dean's father enlisted in the service.  Before he left for Europe, he sent Dean to live with relatives in Indiana.

Dean spent most of the 1940s on his aunt and uncle's farm.  He was a popular student in high school, who played varsity baseball and basketball.  He also studied drama and took lessons in public speaking.  After graduation, he returned to California to live with his newly remarried father, enrolling in Santa Monica College, where he majored in Pre-Law.  It only lasted one semester however, as Dean decided to transfer to UCLA, where he majored in Drama.  The decision did not sit well with Dean's father, and the two were estranged for the rest of Dean's life.  Ironically, Dean never graduated.  In 1951, he dropped out to pursue acting full time.  

Dean didn't have any trouble finding work.  His first job was in this commercial for Pepsi.  He then landed a role in an Easter television special called Hill Number One, wherein he played John the Beloved Disciple.  You can watch the special in its entirety here

Over the next few years, Dean continued to find work, with walk-on roles in such films as Fixed Bayonets (1951), Sailor Beware (1952), and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952).  He also appeared on television, on such series as Kraft Television Theatre and General Electric Theater.  He supplemented his income by working as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios.

Dean's big break came in 1953, when he was cast in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden.  Director Elia Kazan wanted Marlon Brando for the role, but screenwriter Paul Osborn recommended the relatively unknown Dean.  After meeting with him, Kazan felt that Dean was right for the role, as did John Steinbeck, although the latter disliked Dean personally.

Despite having a script to follow, Dean improvised most of his performance.  This includes what is considered to be the film's most famous sequence, wherein Dean's character embraces his father following an argument rather than leaving the room as the script called for.  You can watch that sequence here.

The film was a huge success.  It led to Dean being cast in what is arguably his most famous role, that of Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).  Like East of Eden, it proved popular among teenagers, who related to Dean's performance of teenage angst.  You can watch the film's trailer here

Having played similar characters in his first two films, Dean wanted to avoid being typecast as an angst-ridden teenage rebel.  After all, he wouldn't look like one forever.  To that end, he took the role of a Texas ranch hand who strikes oil in what would ultimately be his final film, Giant.  You can watch the trailer here.

When he wasn't acting, Dean was developing a secondary career in motorsport.  Prior to filming Rebel, he competed in his first professional event at the Palm Spring Road Races, where he achieved first place in the novice class and second place overall.  Not bad for a newbie.  One month later, he competed in Bakersfield, where he finished first in his class and third overall.  His final race was in Santa Barbara in May 1955.  Dean was unable to complete it however due to a mechanical issue.  

While working on Giant, Warner Brothers barred Dean from racing.  When the film went into post production, he eagerly resumed his pastime.  On September 30, Dean left Los Angeles in his Porsche 550 Spyder headed for the Salinas Road Race in Salinas, California.  With him were his stunt coordinator Bill Hickman, his mechanic Rolf Wutherich, and a photographer for Collier's, Sanford Roth. En route to the race, Dean was ticketed for speeding.

As the car traveled down what is today State Route 46, a 1950 Ford Tudor driven by Donald Turnupseed passed through an intersection ahead of the oncoming Porsche.  Dean was unable to stop in time and slammed into the passenger side of the Ford.  Wutherich was thrown from the car and suffered a fractured jaw, femur and hip, injuries that he would carry for the rest of his life.  Dean himself however, did not survive.  Rescuers discovered he'd had a broken neck and determined death had been instantaneous.  He was just 24 years old.

Dean was returned to his home state of Indiana, where he was laid to rest at Park Cemetery in the town of Fairmount.  Its rather out of the way and not the sort of place you'd expect to find a Hollywood icon.

Need help finding the grave?  Just follow the sign....

Rest in peace, Mr. Dean.

  • A number of biographies have been written about Dean.  Here are a few available from Amazon:
      The Real James Dean by Peter Winkler (2016)
      Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean by Donald Spoto (2014)
      James Dean: The Mutant King by David Dalton (2001)

  • Dean was the first person to ever win an Academy Award following their death.  Other notables in this grim fraternity include Walt Disney, Peter Finch and most recently, Heath Ledger.

  • According to author Billy J. Harbin, Dean was sexually abused in Indiana by a local Methodist pastor, something Dean is said to have confessed to Liz Taylor several years later.  However, this story has never been corroborated.

  • One of Dean's early jobs was as a stunt tester on the game show Beat the Clock.  He was fired however, for completing the tasks too quickly!

  • In order to look older in Giant, Dean dyed his hair gray and shaved some of it off, giving him the appearance of a receding hairline.  In the film's final scene, Dean's character gives a drunken speech, which had to be dubbed by another actor following Dean's death.

  • Irony alert!  Shortly before he died, Dean appeared in a safe driving PSA aimed at the young.  You can watch it here.  Actual quote: "Take it easy driving.  The life you save might be mine."

  • Before he died, Dean had signed on to two new films, Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Left-Handed Gun.  Both roles subsequently went to Paul Newman, and they are credited with jump starting his career.

  • Vlogger Jordan the Lion visits the crash site in this video.  You can fast forward to the 15:50 mark.  Jordan talks too much.

Friday, October 2, 2020

McLean Stevenson

Edgar McLean Stevenson, Jr. was born in Normal, Illinois on November 14, 1927.  He came from a political dynasty, as his second cousin, Adlai Stevenson, Sr., served as Vice-President under Grover Cleveland.  Ironically though, McLean's father was a doctor.

After graduating from high school, McLean enlisted in the Navy.  Not the Army.  When his tour was completed, he enrolled in Northwestern University, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Theater. 

McLean began his professional career in Dallas, where he played a clown on local television.  On the side, he sold medical supplies and insurance, before returning to his political roots.  In 1952 and 1956, Adlai Jr. made two unsuccessful runs for the White House, with McLean serving as Press Secretary during both campaigns.

In the 1960s, McLean returned to show business.  He made his theatrical debut in a 1962 production of The Music Man and was a regular performer in summer stock productions in Indiana.  Having started to build an acting resume for himself, he moved to New York City and soon found work on the Broadway stage.  Before he became a household name however, he appeared as a contestant on the game show Password, a series which, years later, he would return to as a celebrity panelist.

The Doris Day Show (1969).
In addition to performing, McLean began writing for television, on such series as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and That Was The Week That Was, a show that featured Alan Alda.  He also found work in commercials, including these spots for Kellogg'sLibby's Fruit and Winston Cigarettes

By now, Hollywood had noticed, and McLean began getting series work.  After a guest star spot on That Girl with Marlo Thomas, he became a series regular on The Doris Day Show.  Here's a clip of the two of them from that series.

Then in 1972, he was cast in the role that he is most famously known for, Colonel Henry Blake on M*A*S*H.  Although the series would eventually be recognized as one of the top sit-coms in television history, it was almost canceled after its first year.  As the series went on however, McLean began to resent his second-banana status, preferring a series of his own.  By this point he was also a substitute host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and he felt that more lucrative offers would present themselves.  So in 1975, as M*A*S*H completed its third season, McLean decided to leave the series. 

M*A*S*H (1974).

Producers Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds felt that McLean's departure should be used to make a commentary on war.  "Guys just didn't all get to go back to Bloomington, Indiana," Reynolds said.  Rather than allowing Colonel Blake a safe return home from the war, his character was killed off en route.  Here's a clip of that final scene, and here's Gelbart discussing their decision.

Hello, Larry (1979).

After he left the series, McLean starred in a number of sit-coms, none of which would last more than a season.  The most famous of these is Hello, Larry, which saw McLean as a radio therapist raising two teenage daughters on his own.  It was never a huge hit for NBC, so in an attempt to bolster the ratings, they did two cross-over episodes with the more successful sit-com Diff'rent Strokes.  Ultimately, Hello, Larry was canceled.  I will say this for the show however.  It had a great theme song. Forty-some years later, it's still stuck in my head.  You can watch it here.  The series also starred future Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Kim Richards, prior to her multiple plastic surgeries and stints at Betty Ford.

Throughout the 80s, McLean guest starred on a number of popular primetime series, including The Golden Girls and The Love Boat.  He also returned to his game show roots, appearing as a regular panelist on The Match Game, as well as Password and a celebrity edition of Family Feud.  

Dirty Dancing (1988).
In 1988, McLean was oddly cast in a primetime network TV version of the popular Patrick Swayze film Dirty Dancing.  You read that correctly.  I did know that the series existed until now and all I can say is wow.  You can check out the intro here.  Look for a young Melora Hardin (The Office) reprising the Jennifer Grey role. 

It would be McLean's final series.  In 1996, he checked into Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center to undergo bladder surgery.  During his recovery, he suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away on February 15.  He was 68 years old.

McLean was interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.

Courts of Remembrance
Columbarium of Valor
Niche G64649

Abyssinia, Henry.

  • McLean wrote two episodes of M*A*S*H, including one titled "The Trial of Henry Blake."  In the episode, the character of Frank Burns states that his family came to America in 1927.  This would seem to be an in-joke by McLean, who was born in 1927.

  • On his departure from the series, McLean stated "I made the mistake of believing that people were enamored of McLean Stevenson when the person they were enamored of was Henry Blake." He also said "I've never been able to work with a group that's as talented or scripts that are as good.  I did some terrible shows.  But nobody made me do it.  I did everything by choice."

  • Shortly after Henry Blake was killed off, McLean reprised the character on The Cher Show.  If you've never seen the clip, check it out here.

  • In 1978, McLean appeared with his M*A*S*H successor Harry Morgan in the Disney film The Cat From Outer Space.  Check out the trailer here.

  • McLean died one day before actor Roger Bowen, who originated the role of Colonel Blake in the original M*A*S*H feature film.  Both died of a heart attack.