Saturday, December 18, 2021

Herb Edelman


This week at Six Feet Under Hollywood, we continue our month-long look at actors who have played Santa at one point or another in their careers.

Herb Edelman
was born in Brooklyn on November 5, 1933.  Growing up, he aspired to be a veterinarian, something he'd later study at Cornell University.  During his freshman year however, Edelman dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army.  There he served as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio, his first foray into the world of show business.

After the Service, Edelman returned to New York and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he studied theater. Once again, he dropped out, preferring to support himself through odd jobs while looking for acting roles.

During one such shift, Edelman picked up Mike Nichols, a Broadway and theatrical director. Edelman so impressed Nichols that he cast him in his first Broadway role, that of a telephone repairman in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park.

In the 1960s, Edelman relocated to Los Angeles and began working in television.  His early roles were on such series as That Girl, The Girl From UNCLE, and Honey West.  He made his way to the big screen in 1967, appearing in the James Coburn classic In Like Flint.  That same year, he reprised his role from Barefoot in the Park in the Hollywood adaptation.

After years of making guest appearances, Edelman landed his own series in 1968, starring opposite Bob Denver in the CBS sit-com The Good Guys (right).  He played diner owner Bert Gramus, lifelong friend to Denver's Rufus Butterworth, a Gilligan-esque cab driver who always meant well, but seldom succeeded.  The series ran for two seasons before being canceled by the network.  Check out the pilot episode on YouTube.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, Edelman continued working in television, appearing in such series as Happy Days, Welcome Back, Kotter, Fantasy Island and MacGyver.  Then in 1985, he landed the role for which he is probably best remembered, Stan Zbornak on the NBC sit-com The Golden Girls.  Over its seven-year run, Edelman appeared in 26 episodes, including the one that inspired this blog.  

"Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas" aired on December 16, 1989.  It sees Stan, ex-husband to main character Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), living in a homeless shelter after his new wife kicks him to the curb.  

When the series left the air in 1992, Edelman continued working in television, with a semi-recurring role on Murder, She Wrote.  His final role was in a 1994 episode of a series no one remembers, an NBC sit-com called The Mommies.

A lifelong smoker, Edelman's habit finally caught up with him in the early 1990s as he settled into retirement.  He died of emphysema on July 21, 1996, at the age of 62.  He was laid to rest at Montefiore Cemetery in Springfield Gardens, New York.

Location: Gate 334N, Block 13, Row 001R, Grave 8
Society Name: Congregation Ohev Sholem

Rest in peace, Stan.

  • During the years that Edelman was on The Golden Girls, he also had a recurring role on another NBC series, St. Elsewhere.  There he met actress Christina Pickles (Nurse Helen Rosenthal), whom he dated for several years.

  • Edelman originated the role of Murray the Cop in the 1968 film The Odd Couple.  When the film went to series, the role was taken over by Al Molinaro, later of Happy Days fame.

  • The Good Guys was originally filmed in front of a live studio audience, but this ended shortly into the series.  According to director Leonard Stern, the fire marshal put an end to it over safety concerns, as several of the cast and crew were known to smoke pot together.

  • Although twice nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on The Golden Girls, Edelman never brought home the trophy.

  • This blogger also remembers Edelman's recurring role on The Bradys, a short-lived revival of The Brady Bunch that aired in 1990.

  • Edelman played Stan one final time in an episode of The Golden Palace entitled "One Angry Stan."  You can watch the episode in its entirety, albeit cut for syndication, on YouTube.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Otis the Drunk


This week at Six Feet Under Hollywood, we continue our month-long look at actors who have played Santa at one point or another in their careers.

Harold John "Hal" Smith was born in Petoskey, Michigan on August 24, 1916.  From an early age, he aspired to a career in show business, and he didn't waste any time getting started.  After completing high school in 1936, he went to work at WIBX 950 AM in Utica, New York, where he'd spend the next seven years as a DJ and voice talent.

Like many of his generation, Smith decided to serve his country during World War 2.  In 1943, having already learned how to fly, he enlisted in the now-defunct United States Army Air Forces, and was stationed in Manila.  Assigned to the Special Services Division, Smith planned and directed variety shows for his fellow troops, even creating his own one-man show, entitled Strictly From Hunger.  He was discharged in 1946, but not before earning a series of decorations, most notably the World War 2 Victory Medal.

When the war was finally over, Smith returned to the United States, but not to his old job in Utica.  Eager to make a name for himself in show business, he relocated to Hollywood, where he returned to his career as a DJ while also building his acting resume.  He spent the next decade appearing on such TV series as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, The Donna Reed Show and The Red Skelton Show.

Smith's big break came in 1960, when he was cast in the role that would define his career, that of Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show (right). As the town drunk, Otis would often find himself in Sheriff Taylor's jail cell, but he was usually there of his own accord.  Smith appeared on the series for most of its run, but his character was dropped in the final season when sponsors grew concerned that he encouraged excessive drinking.  Ironically, according to his friends Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, Smith never drank in real life.

In 1969, Smith appeared on The Brady Bunch in the role that inspired this blog, playing a department store Santa who makes an unlikely promise to young Cindy Brady (see Trivia below).  It wasn't his first time playing jolly old Saint Nick, and it would by no means be his last.

Smith was also a very prolific voice actor, working for Hollywood's top animators, including Walt Disney Pictures, Hanna-Barbera, and Warner Brothers.  He worked on such classic animated series as The Huckleberry Hound Show, Quick Draw McGraw and Hong Kong Phooey

In 1960, he started a two-year run as the voice of Elmer J. Fudd, and by the end of the decade, he was starring as Pluto at Walt Disney.  He also appeared as Owl in three separate Winnie the Pooh features.  But the voice-over role I remember best of all was that of Goliath on the stop-motion animation series Davey and Goliath (left).  Oh Davey, you know you want to listen to it, so here's an episode on YouTube.

I've only scratched the surface with his filmography.  Smith worked excessively in all manners of media and was even voicing video game characters into the 1990s.  The guy never lacked for work.  He was going strong until 1992, when his wife suddenly passed away.  After that, his own health began to deteriorate, and he eventually died of a heart attack on January 28, 1994 at the age of 77.  He was found sitting peacefully in a chair, the radio still turned on.

Hal Smith was interred at the mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.

Rest in peace, Otis.

  • Like many of the show's regulars, Smith returned to the role of Otis in the 1986 made-for-TV movie Return to Mayberry.  Twenty years later, his character was now completely sober, delivering ice cream but precious few laughs.

  • Smith often appeared in commercials throughout his career, including these for Pizza HutHickory Farms, and this fantastically outdated toy commercial for Mattel.  "You can tell its Mattel - its swell!"

  • You're going to think I'm making this up, but I'm not.  In 1976, Smith appeared in the X-rated film "Once Upon a Girl," a film featuring both live action and animated sequences.  It was created by disgruntled ex-Disney animators and features many voice actors of the time, including Smith and Frank Welker.  Smith played the character of Mother Goose, a woman put on trial for obscenity.  You can hear a sample of his work on YouTube.  Don't worry, this clip is G rated.

  • Smith reprised his signature role of Otis in the 1991 Alan Jackson video "Don't Rock the Jukebox."  Check it out on YouTube.

  • In the 1970s, Smith provided the narration for a series of Disney books, including Pinocchio.  Read along with him on YouTube.

  • Between 1964 and 1993, Smith played Santa Claus no less than ten times.  Here's a complete list, many of which are available on YouTube. The Flintstones (1964), The Brady Bunch (1969), Santa and the Three Bears (1970), A Christmas Story* (1972), A Flintstone Christmas (1977), Casper's First Christmas (1979), Yogi's First Christmas (1980), Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone (1990), Bonkers (1993), The Town Santa Forgot (1993)
    * A Hanna-Barbera cartoon - not the Peter Billingsley movie.

  • Several of Smith's Mayberry co-stars have been featured here at Six Feet Under Hollywood, including Frances Bavier, Don Knotts and George Lindsey.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sebastian Cabot


This week at Six Feet Under Hollywood, we continue our month-long look at actors who have played Santa at one point or another in their career.

Charles Sebastian Thomas Cabot was born in London, England on July 6, 1918. His father owned and operated a family business, but by the early 1930s, it too was feeling the effect of the worldwide economic depression.  When Mr. Cabot closed the business, fourteen-year-old Sebastian quit school and never went back.

Having had an interest in automobiles from an early age, Cabot's first job was in a garage, where he served as a chauffeur and valet to British actor Frank Pettingell.  Through this relationship, Cabot himself became interested in the theatre and joined a local repertory company.  Although he had never attended drama school, he proved a quick study, and finding roles became that much easier.

Cabot's first credited role was in the 1936 film Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Agent. You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube. He worked extensively throughout the 1940s, in such films as They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) and The Spider and The Fly (1949).

In the early 1950s, Cabot crossed the pond and started finding work in Hollywood.  His most memorable role during this era was in George Pal's production of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (right), playing a turn-of-the-century time-travel skeptic. He was also finding steady work as a voice actor, including the role of Noah in Igor Stravinsky's musical The Flood (1962).  You can listen to the production on YouTube.  Disney fans will no doubt recall Cabot's voice work in both The Sword and the Stone (1963) and The Jungle Book (1967).

Cabot was also finding work on American television, guest starring on such series as Alfred Hitchcock PresentsBonanza, and The Red Skelton Show.  He also journeyed into The Twilight Zone playing Lucifer himself, in the classic episode "A Nice Place to Visit."

By 1966, Cabot had built an impressive resume, but had very little to show for it.  That year, he was persuaded to join the CBS series Family Affair (left) as Mr. Giles French, the role for which he is most famous.  Like his co-star Brian Keith, Cabot was no fan of the series, but was a fan of steady employment.  It ran for five seasons before being canceled in 1971.  Here's the series intro.

In 1973, Cabot took on the role that inspired this holiday blog, that of Kris Kringle in the made-for-TV remake of the classic film Miracle on 34th Street.  The film also starred a host of other 70s notables, including Roddy McDowell, Jim Backus and Tom Bosley.  You can see this star-studded remake in its entirety on YouTube.

By 1977, Cabot was living in Victoria, British Columbia, having mostly retired from acting.  On August 23, he suffered a stroke at his home and was transported to a local hospital, where he died at the age of 59.

Sebastian Cabot was cremated and his ashes were buried at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles.

Rest in peace, Mr. French.


  • Later in life, Cabot admitted that when he was first starting out as a young actor, he had lied about having previous credits in order to procure employment.

  • As a young man, Cabot also gained employment as a chef.

  • In 1967, Cabot released a spoken word version of the Bob Dylan song "Like a Rolling Stone."  Really.  Check it out on YouTube.  If that ain't enough, check out his rendition of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," also on YouTube.

  • Mr. French was noticeably absent from a string of episodes of Family Affair, and the viewers were told he had been summoned back to England at the request of the Queen. In reality, Cabot took a leave of absence due to a serious illness.  He was temporarily replaced by actor John Williams, playing the part of Mr. French's brother. 

    You ever notice that whenever an actor leaves a show, the producers always bring in a new character who's supposed to be related?  Jill Munroe out, Kris Munroe in.  Chrissy Snow out, Cindy Snow in.  Julie McCoy out, Judy McCoy in.  And don't even get me started on Coy and Vance Duke.

  • Cabot shares his name with a famous explorer of the Americas, who came here shortly after Columbus's discovery of the New World.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Art Carney


"I love Ed Norton and what he did for my career.  But the truth is that we couldn't have been more different.  Norton was the total extrovert, there was no way you could put down his infectious good humor.  Me? I'm a loner and a worrier."
  -- Art Carney

Merry Christmas from Six Feet Under Hollywood!  This month, we'll be visiting the graves of actors who have donned a Santa suit at one time or another in their career, and in some cases, more than once.  Take for example this week's subject, Art Carney.  Though most famously known for his role of Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, Carney played Santa no less than three times in his career, most memorably on a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone.  More on that later.

Arthur William Matthew Carney was born in Mount Vernon, New York, on November 4, 1918.  He was the youngest of six boys to a newspaper publisher and was of Irish and Catholic descent.

From a young age, Carney aspired to a career in show business.  After high school, he got his first break as a comic singer with the Horace Heidt Orchestra, which often appeared on the radio program Pot O' Gold, one of the first money-giveaway programs of the era.  In 1941, the series made the jump to the silver screen, and Carney earned his first feature film role, albeit uncredited.

A gifted impersonator, Carney worked steadily in radio during the early 1940s, portraying such notable figures as Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Then is 1943, he was drafted into the United States Army and served as an infantryman and machine gun crewman during World War 2.  As a member of the 28th Infantry Division, he participated in the Battle of Normandy, where a piece of shrapnel caught him in the leg.  He earned the Purple Heart and several other medals, and spent the rest of his life walking with a limp, something he often hid during his performances. 

After the war, Carney returned to his career in radio, appearing as a regular on The Morey Amsterdam Show.  The series later moved to television, and Carney's character of Charlie the doorman came along for the ride. Check out the opening intro on YouTube.

Then in 1950, Carney joined the cast of the CBS series Cavalcade of Stars, headlined by Jackie Gleason.  The two often appeared together as loudmouth Charlie Bratten (Gleason) and his victim Clem Finch (Carney).  Through these sketches, they developed a good working rapport with one another, and Gleason would often recruit him for other roles on the show, including that of sewer worker Ed Norton, in the domestic comedy segments known as The Honeymooners.  The segments were so successful that they were turned into a series of the same name (above), for which Carney would win multiple Emmy Awards.

In 1960, Carney took the role that inspired this holiday blog, appearing in a Christmas-themed episode of The Twlight Zone called "Night of the Meek."  A rare, dramatic role for Carney, this episode saw him as Henry Corwin, an unemployed man who earns just enough as a department store Santa to pay his bar tab.  But in a rare turn for the sci-fi and horror anthology series, this episode has a mostly happy ending.  Carney would later play Santa again in the 1970 Muppets special The Great Santa Claus Switch and the 1984 made-for-TV movie The Night They Saved Christmas.

In 1965, Carney took his talents to Broadway, originating the role of Felix Ungar in the Neil Simon play The Odd Couple, opposite Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison.  The play was an overnight success. 

While Carney's career was on track, his personal life was anything but, as he was addicted to alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates.  It was too much for wife Jean to take, who divorced Carney after 25 years.  As a result, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a sanitarium. 

After several years of therapy, Carney fully recovered in the 1970s, and he and Jean eventually remarried. His career rebounded as well, when in 1974, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the film Harry and Tonto.  Here's the theatrical trailer

He was heavily in demand for the next several years, appearing in such films as W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), and Firestarter (1984).  His final acting role was in the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero (see Trivia below).

Carney retired from acting and for the next ten years, he enjoyed a quiet life in upstate Connecticut.  On November 9, 2003, he died in his sleep just five days after his 85th birthday.

Art Carney was laid to rest at Riverside Cemetery in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.  It's a rather small cemetery and his grave is pretty easy to find.  When you enter through the front gate, head to your right until you hit a wall of graves and shrubbery that mark the perimeter.  Walk down this row of graves until you find it.

Rest in peace, Norton.

  • In 1997, author Michael Seth Starr released his biography of Carney's life.  You can pick up a copy of Art Carney: A Biography from Amazon.

  • The quirky mannerisms that became so associated with the Norton character, such as the knuckle cracking and gum smacking, were brought to the role by Carney himself, who was emulating his father.

  • "Night of the Meek" is one of only six episodes of The Twilight Zone that was performed live on CBS and was recorded on videotape.  As such, it has a much-less polished look to it than most other episodes.  Despite that, it's top-notch writing and Carney's performance is five-star.

  • Along with Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll and Harvey Korman, Carney appeared in the 1978 made-for-television spectacular The Star Wars Holiday Special.  Curious?  Click here.

  • In the late 1980s, Carney appeared in a series of commercials for Coca-Cola alongside newbie Brian Bonsall, who would later join the cast of NBC's Family Ties as Andy Keaton.  Here's one such commercial.

  • Carney's final role was in the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero.  His character died in the film, and ironically, the final words Carney ever spoke on screen were "I'm outta here."

  • Ed Norton's hat is today owned by Carney's son Brian, who brings it to events and allows fans to try it on and pose for photos.

  • In 2009, Carney and Gleason were honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative 44-cent stamp.

  • You've heard of the Oscars and the Emmys, but how about the Carneys?  The Carney Awards, an annual award show that began in 2015, recognize outstanding lifetime achievement in character acting.  The ceremony was named after Carney in honor of his legendary status as second banana.  

Monday, November 8, 2021

Who Loves Ya, Baby?


"Kojak is the kind of guy who couldn't arrest a hooker, he'd send her home.  He operates on instinct and decency, but if you give him any lip he'll throw you out a window."
  --Telly Savalas

Telly Savalas was born Aristotelis Savalas in Garden City, New York on January 21, 1922.  He was of Greek heritage and was the second of five children.  His family owned and operated a successful restaurant throughout the 1920s, reaching millionaire status.  However, the Great Depression would put an end to all that.

By 1941, America was fully engaged in World War 2.  Having recently completed high school, Savalas was drafted into the Army and served with Company C, 12th Medical Training Battalion at Camp Pickett, Virginia. He served for two years, reaching the rank of Corporal before being honorably discharged following a car accident.  He'd spend more than a year recuperating from a broken pelvis and a sprained ankle.  He then enrolled in the Armed Forces Institute, studying radio and television production.  Like many service members, his military duty was deeply personal to Savalas and it was something he refused to discuss in interviews.

After the war, Savalas began his career at the U.S. State Department, hosting a radio program called Your Voice of America.  From there he landed his first network job, hosting an ABC radio show called The Coffeehouse in New York City.  He worked his way up at ABC, later serving as senior director for news special events.  In this position, he hired legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, giving him his first job in television.

Savalas's segue into acting was something of an accident.  The television series Armstrong Circle Theatre was looking for someone who could pull off a European accent.  He was a last-minute substitution for the role, for which he received great acclaim.  With little experience in acting, he became very in demand, appearing on such series as Sunday Showcase and Naked City.  He was also a regular on the short-lived NBC series Acapulco, starring James Coburn.

Hollywood soon took notice, and Savalas made his big-screen debut in the 1961 film Mad Dog Coll, playing, what else, a police officer. Check out the original theatrical trailer.  His work in the film impressed fellow actor Burt Lancaster, who arranged for Savalas to be cast in his next feature film The Young Savages, once again playing a police officer.  Here's a preview of the film.

In 1962, Savalas appeared in three films, Bird Man of Alcatraz (see Trivia below), the original version of Cape Fear and The Interns.  He also made several guest appearances on television, including a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone.  Click here to see him match wits with Talky Tina.

In 1965, Savalas accepted the role of Pontius Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told.  At the request of the film's director, Savalas shaved his head, a look that he would continue for the rest of his career.  He'd follow it up with several memorable films from the 60s and 70s, including The Dirty DozenOn Her Majesty's Secret Service (above) and Capricorn One.

In 1973, Savalas was cast in the made-for-TV movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders, playing New York police detective Theodopolus Kojak (I bet you thought he didn't have a first name).  It was so successful that the character was given his own series, simply called Kojak (below), which ran for five seasons on CBS.  The role put Savalas on the map and it would ultimately define his career.  

Following the series cancellation, Savalas returned to the silver screen, with memorable roles in such films as Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) and Cannonball Run 2 (1984).  Then in 1985, he reprised the role of Kojak in the first of six made-for-TV movies, which he continued making until 1990.  His final television role was in the CBS series The Commish, which was produced by his son-in-law.

In 1988, Savalas was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder.  It would plague him during the final years of his career and would ultimately take his life on January 22, 1994, one day after his 72nd birthday.

Savalas had spent the final twenty years of his life as a resident of the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Hollywood and it was there that he perished.  In honor of their famous resident, the Sheraton renamed the hotel bar "Telly's."

He was buried in a semi-private garden at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. It's so well hidden that I didn't know he was there.  I stumbled across it completely by accident. 

The quote is from his namesake, Aristotle.

Location: Court of Liberty, Gardens of Heritage, Map #H11, Garden #288
Inscription: "The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways -
I to die and you to live.  Which is better God only knows."

Rest in peace, baby.

  • Savalas never published his memoirs, but a biography was released at the height of his fame.  You can pick up a copy of the simply titled Telly Savalas by Marsha Daly from Amazon.

  • Savalas was good friends with actor John Aniston (Days of Our Lives) and was godfather to his daughter Jennifer Aniston.

  • Before making it big in Hollywood, Savalas held a number of odd jobs, including a stint as a lifeguard.  On one occasion, he failed to save a man from drowning, and the incident troubled him for the rest of his life.

  • Savalas was the original choice to play the lead in Cool Hand, Luke.  He was in Europe while the film was in pre-production, and due to his fear of flying, he opted to return to America by boat.  Unfortunately, this was a time-consuming process and the film's producers were unable to wait for his return.  The part was ultimately given to Paul Newman.

  • Savalas appeared in two different films about Alcatraz, playing two different inmates.  First, he appeared as Feto Gomez in 1962's Bird Man of Alcatraz.  Then in 1980, he appeared as Cretzer in the made-for-TV mini series Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story

  • Kojak was famous for sucking on lollipops. This was pure Savalas, as he was trying to give up cigarettes.

  • Savalas and a host of other A-list stars appeared in the very first commercial for Diet Coke, with Savalas himself delivering the signature line, "just for the taste of it."  How many stars can you spot?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

She's Heeeere! Heather O'Rourke


"I'm really not afraid of spooky things.  When I have to look really frightened, I concentrate on scary things like losing my kittens or something like that."
  -- Heather O'Rourke

Heather Michele O'Rourke was born in San Diego, California on December 27, 1975.  She came from a blue collar family, her father a carpenter and her mother a seamstress. 

O'Rourke had an older sister named Tammy, who by age 10 was already working as a child actor in Hollywood.  She had a small role in the 1981 film Pennies From Heaven.  During production, Tammy's family visited her on set, and while dining in the studio commissary, Heather caught the eye of producer Stephen Spielberg.

"I was looking for a beatific four-year-old child...every mother's dream," Spielberg later told American Premiere Magazine.  He was beginning production on his horror film Poltergeist, and was still looking for a young actress to play the pivotal role of Carol Anne.  Spielberg approached the family about the role, and Heather was signed the very next day.  

Poltergeist (below right) was released on June 4, 1982.  It was an overnight success and was the eighth most profitable film of the year, earning three Academy Award nominations.  O'Rourke, who received upwards of $100,000 for her performance in the film, found instant fame, allowing her family to relocate from their trailer park in Anaheim to a home in Big Bear Lake.  There she attended Big Bear Elementary School, where she served as president of her 5th grade class.

    Following the success of the film, O'Rourke transitioned to television, where work was plentiful.  From 1982 to 1983, she had a recurring role on Happy Days (below) opposite series lead Henry Winkler.  Here's a clip where she first meets the Fonz. 

    She also appeared on such series 
    The New Leave it to BeaverCHiPs and Webster, for which she won her first Young Artist Award.  O'Rourke also found commercial work, appearing in spots for such companies as Hallmark, McDonald's and Long John Silvers.

    As Hollywood likes to do, it quickly cranked out a sequel to Poltergeist in 1986 and then another just two years later.  Regarding the films, O'Rourke stated "the first one I saw 12 times.  The second one I only saw twice because I didn't think it was too great.  I just thought it was too boring.  You could fall asleep.  It didn't excite me, it didn't even scare me.  I don't think it would scare anyone."

    By the time O'Rourke was filming Poltergeist III in 1987, her health was already in decline.  That year, she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, for which she was receiving cortisone injections.  They resulted in facial swellings that, according to her mother, O'Rouke was becoming self-conscious about.

    Then on January 31, 1988. she began experiencing flu-like symptoms.  The next day, she collapsed in her family home, and was rushed to a hospital in nearby El Cajon.  En route, she suffered cardiac arrest, but paramedics were able to revive her.  She was subsequently flown to Children's Hospital of San Diego, where she was diagnosed with intestinal stenosis. 

    O'Rourke survived the emergency surgery, but again went into cardiac arrest while in recovery.  Although doctors performed CPR for more than thirty minutes, they were ultimately unsuccessful, and she passed away at 2:43 p.m.  She was only 12 years old.

    Heather O'Rourke was entombed at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles.  Her final resting place is within eyesight of her Poltergeist co-star Dominique Dunne, who was murdered by her boyfriend in 1982.

    Interestingly, the family recognized the two sequels on her marker.

    Rest in peace.


    • O'Rourke appeared on the packaging of Mattel's "My First Barbie" in 1980.

    • O'Rourke beat out Drew Barrymore for the role of Carol Anne.  Spielberg subsequently cast Barrymore in his other blockbuster from 1982, E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.

    • Upon completion of the first Poltergeist, O'Rourke was allowed to keep her pet goldfish from the film.

    • Poltergeist was released the same day as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982's seventh biggest moneymaker.

    • O'Rourke auditioned for the role of Vicki the Robot on the sit-com Small Wonder.  The role ultimately went to Tiffany Brissette.

    • By age 5, O'Rourke was already an avid reader.  For several years following her death, O'Rourke's former 7th grade English teacher honored this passion in her classroom with an annual "Heather O'Rourke Love of Reading Week."  The school also planted a tree in her honor, but it has since been removed for renovations.

    • O'Rourke's signature line from the film, "they're heeeere," lands at #69 on the American Film Institute's list of "100 Movie Quotes."

    • Poltergeist III, O'Rourke's final role, was released on June 10, 1988, more than four months after she passed away.

    • Tammy O'Rourke gave up acting in the mid-1980s.  Today she serves as a nurse at a correctional facility in California.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2021

    Looking Good! Freddie Prinze


    "If people would only think of my father's gift of comedy instead of his death, I would love it.  He was so sharp and spontaneous, so fast!"
      -- Freddie Prinze, Jr, discussing his late father

    Freddie Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel in New York City on June 22, 1954. His mother came to America from Puerto Rico and his father immigrated from Germany.  

    As a child, he suffered from obesity.  His mother adopted a novel approach to weight loss, enrolling her son in ballet.  It inspired in him an appreciation for the arts, which he would pursue as a student at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts.  There he discovered drama, but he also realized he had a gift for comedy, dropping out his senior year to become a stand-up comedian. 

    He worked the New York comedy club scene, including the Improv and Catch a Rising Star.  It was at this point in his career that he adopted the stage name of Freddie Prinze, later explaining "Bob Hope is the king of comedy.  Everyone knows that.  I'd just be content with being the prince."

    Prinze's big break came in 1973, when he performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.  Unlike other young comedians of the time, Prinze was invited to have a sit-down interview with Carson following his stand-up routine.  The host was so impressed that he would later invite Prinze to guest host The Tonight Show in his absence. 

    In 1974, Prinze was cast in a new sit-com on NBC entitled Chico and the Man (right).  It was the role that would define his career. The series, which saw him cast against veteran actor Jack Albertson, was an overnight success for the network.  Like his friend Jimmie Walker, Prinze was known for a catchphrase on the series, often uttering "Looking good!"  You can watch the series intro on YouTube.

    It led to a number of new projects for Prinze, including multiple appearances on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.  You can watch him zing Muhammad Ali (3:00-6:00) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (10:47-14:52) on YouTube.  These are not for the woke.  He also starred in the 1976 made-for-TV movie The Million Dollar Ripoff, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube.

    In 1975, Prinze married Katherine Elaine Cochran (below), with whom he'd have son Freddy Prinze, Jr.  The marriage lasted just one year before she filed for divorce.  Prinze was later romantically attached to both Pam Grier and Lonette McKee.

    Prinze was already suffering from depression prior to the divorce, for which his doctor had given a prescription for Quaaludes.  It didn't help, and he grew more and more despondent. 

    It all came to a head on the evening of January 28, 1977.  After speaking with his estranged wife by phone, Prinze received a late night visitor, his business manager Marvin Snyder.  

    According to Snyder, Prinze put a gun to his head, something the comedian had done several times before, as he often shocked his friends by playing Russian Roulette.  On this night however, his luck would finally run out.  He shot himself once in the head and ultimately died on January 29.  He was 22 years old. 

    Freddie Prinze was interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

    Location: Court of Remembrance, Sanctuary of Light
    West Wall Elevation, Wall Crypt #2355

    Rest in peace, Chico.

    • Following his death, Prinze's mother, Maria Pruetzel, published a biography of her son's life entitled The Freddie Prinze Story.  You can pick up a copy from Amazon.

    • As an up-and-coming comedian, Prinze was roommates with fellow newbie Jay Leno, who, not surprisingly, taught Prinze how to drive.

    • Prinze dropped by The Tonight Show to discuss Chico and The Man with host Johnny Carson.  You can watch that interview in its entirety on YouTube.

    • In 1975, Prinze turned his catchphrase "Looking Good!" into a comedy album of the same name.  You can hear it in its entirety on YouTube.

    • According to Jimmie "JJ" Walker," Prinze became infuriated with John Travolta over his growing popularity after the Welcome Back, Kotter star appeared on his first magazine cover.  In response, Prinze, with Walker in tow, showed up on Travolta's doorstep and fired three arrows into his door.  Travolta was not at home at the time.

    • Prinze's final public performance was one week before his death, entertaining senators and congressmen alike at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.

    • Twenty-seven years after his death, Prinze was a awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  It is located at 6755 Hollywood Boulevard.

    Friday, September 10, 2021

    Todd Beamer - Flight 93


    "Let's roll."

    Todd Morgan Beamer was born in Flint, Michigan, on November 24, 1968.  He was the middle child of David Beamer, an IBM sales representative and Peggy Jackson Beamer, an artist.  Devoutly religious, the couple raised their three children with the values of the Bible and a strong work ethic.

    By the time Beamer was in grammar school, the family had relocated to Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  There he attended Wheaton Academy, a private Christian high school, where he was a popular athlete, playing on the baseball, basketball and soccer teams.  By his senior year, the family had once again relocated, this time to San Jose, California, where Beamer graduated from Los Gatos High School in 1986.

    After graduation, Beamer enrolled at Fresno State University in California, where he majored in physical therapy.  He played on the school's baseball team with hopes of turning pro, but an automobile accident ended those dreams.  He later returned home to Illinois, transferring to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts institution, graduating in 1991.  

    After graduation, Beamer began dating former classmate Lisa Brosious.  They were married on May 14, 1994, and relocated to Plainsboro, New Jersey, where Beamer went to work as a marketing representative at the Oracle Corporation.  Just a few months later, he was promoted to account manager, and the two eventually settled in Cranbury, New Jersey, where they began raising a family.

    Todd and Lisa, with sons David and Andrew.
    On the morning of September 11, 2001, Beamer went to Newark International Airport in New Jersey and boarded a flight for San Francisco.  His job often took him away on business trips, as many as four times per month.  A frequent traveler, he and Lisa had just returned from a vacation in Italy the night before, after which Beamer opted to spend one night with his family before leaving for San Francisco.  It was a last-minute change in travel plans, one that would alter history.

    United Airlines Flight #93 was scheduled to take off at 8:00 that morning.  Traffic delays on the Newark runway however, delayed its departure until 8:42.  Just four minutes later, American Airlines Flight #11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, followed 17 minutes later by United Airlines Flight #175, which crashed into the South Tower.  America was under attack.

    By 9:25, Flight #93 was over Ohio, when it received an alert stating "beware of cockpit intrusion." The pilot requested confirmation from Cleveland controllers, but by this point, the hijackers, led by Ziad Samir Jarrah, had already started their assault on the cockpit. Cleveland controllers listened in horror as Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer LeRoy Homer, Jr., were murdered by the hijackers.  Jarrah took the controls and punched in a course for Washington, DC. 

    Beamer and his fellow passengers were herded into the back of the plane, the hijackers telling them that they had a bomb on board.  Although the passengers initially believed this, the hijackers' intentions became clear once passengers began calling their loved ones on the ground, who informed them of the day's attacks.

    Flight #93, registry #N591UA, as seen at Los Angeles International Airport
    in January 1999.

    Beamer and his fellow passengers, including Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, decided to act.  They opted to rush the cockpit and take back control before the plane could reach its target.  Unable to reach Lisa by phone, Beamer's final call was to United Airlines Telephone Operator Lisa Jefferson, with whom he recited the Lord's prayer.  He asked her to tell his family that he loved them, before uttering two words that became a battle cry.  Let's roll.  The counter-attack had begun.

    The exact sequence of events that followed may never be fully understood, but according to the cockpit data recorder, the passengers successfully made it past the hijackers in the passenger cabin, and were ultimately successful in entering the cockpit.  Jarrah, realizing he was about to lose control of the plane, ditched it in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board.  It was only twenty minutes shy of Washington, DC.

    Todd Beamer was laid to rest at Brainerd Cemetery in Cranbury, New Jersey.  The inscription on his headstone is a passage from the Hebrew Bible, Micah 6:8.  It reads:

    "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

    Location: Section F2, Lot #389

    Rest in peace.


    • Beamer's story has been recounted in several books, most notably by his widow Lisa.  You can pick up a copy of Let's Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage from Amazon.

    • Flight 93 has been the subject of more than one film about those day's events.  In the 2006 film Flight 93, Beamer was portrayed by actor Brennan Elliott.  That same year, he was portrayed by actor David Alan Basche in United 93.

    • The Cranbury, New Jersey post office was dedicated to Beamer in 2002.  That same year, he and his fellow passengers were posthumously awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

    • The 9/11 Memorial and Museum created a series of videos entitled The Stories They Tell, discussing artifacts recovered from the crash site.  In one such video, Beamer's father David discusses his son, who's watch was among those items recovered.  You can watch that emotional video on YouTube.

    • United Airlines telephone operator Lisa Jefferson recounts her conversation with Beamer, moments before the passengers mounted their counter-assault.  You can watch that video on YouTube.

    • Beamer's name appears on the third panel of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.

    Friday, August 20, 2021

    Ed Sullivan


    "I am the best damn showman in television."
      -- Ed Sullivan

    Edward Vincent Sullivan was born in Manhattan on September 28, 1901.  He was the son of a customs house employee and grew up in the suburb of Port Chester.  His family shared a passion for music, often gathering around their treasured phonograph, no doubt laying the groundwork for his career to come.

    Sullivan attended Port Chester High School, where he was a gifted athlete, earning twelve athletic letters in football, baseball and track.  This interest led to his first job, serving as a reporter for the local newspaper, the Port Chester Daily Item, while still in school.  Upon graduation, he went to work for the paper full time.

    Throughout the 1920s, Sullivan wrote sports columns for a number of high-profile New York area publications, including The New York Evening Mail, The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Evening Graphic.  He also wrote for the Associated Press.  Then in 1929, he moved to the New York Daily News, replacing the popular Walter Winchell as the paper's new Broadway review and gossip columnist.  It was in this role that Sullivan first became a "starmaker," just as Winchell had been before him.  For the next thirty years, the two shared a friendly rivalry in this arena.

    In 1941, Sullivan got his start in radio, hosting Summer Silver Theater on CBS.  It was his first step into the entertainment world, and would eventually lead to television.  In 1948, Sullivan was hired by CBS to host a new variety series called Toast of the Town, later retitled The Ed Sullivan Show.  But you already knew that.  It was not an immediate hit, as critics gave both the show and its host lousy reviews, with one declaring "(Sullivan) got where he is not by having a personality, but by having no personality."  Ouch!

    Sullivan's performance was often described as wooden, but he was charming nonetheless.  Despite the critics, he won audiences over, who would often plan their Sunday nights around his program.  Just as he had during his years as a journalist, Sullivan understood what the audience wanted, offering a nice balance of music, comedy, magic and more.

    The Ed Sullivan Show became a launching pad for many top acts, most famously The Beatles (above).  By 1964, the group had already topped the charts in England, but were nowhere to be found on American radio, due in part to a record label dispute.  That all changed after their appearance on the show in February of that year, an event watched by an estimated 73 million Americans, giving birth to "Beatlemania."  You can watch that iconic performance on YouTube.

    It wasn't the first big name to emerge from the show however, as Elvis Presley had made his debut on the program in 1956 (below).  Although Sullivan had been wary of Presley's "bad boy" image, the singer simply became too big to ignore.  He'd appear on the program a total of three times.  Here's one from October 28th of that year.

    Sullivan also gave the spotlight to a variety of African-American performers who had been left behind by other variety shows.  While most programs were comfortable presenting Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Pearl Bailey, they were hesitant to feature more obscure entertainers, who's acts originated beyond Manhattan.  Sullivan, himself having lived and worked in Harlem, gave the national spotlight to such acts as Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and The Supremes.

    The show ran until 1971, when it was unceremoniously canceled after 23 years.  Although it still had another three months until it would be pulled from the schedule, Sullivan refused to host any new episodes, and reruns were aired instead.  

    As it turns out, the timing was appropriate.  In 1974, Sullivan was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and doctors gave him very little time to live. But here's where it gets interesting.  Sullivan's family opted to keep this diagnosis a secret from the TV host, and he spent his final weeks believing he had nothing more than a gastric ulcer.  The cancer ultimately (and surprisingly) took his life on October 13, 1974.  He was 73 years old.

    Ed Sullivan was interred in a wall crypt at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

    Rest in peace.


    • Sullivan's life and series have been chronicled in a number of books.  Here are a few:
      Impresario: The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan, by James Maguire (2006)
      A Really Big Show, by John Leonard (1992)
      Sundays With Sullivanby Bernie Ilson (2008)

    • Sullivan was known for his generosity, even covering all funeral expenses for Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who died broke.

    • While many are quick to remember Elvis Presley's first appearance on the show, they often forget that Sullivan was not the host.  Charles Laughton took over hosting duties that evening, while Sullivan was in the hospital recovering from an automobile accident.

    • Sullivan inspired a song in the Broadway musical Bye, Bye Birdie, later appearing as himself in the theatrical version.

    • Sullivan had what he called "an Irish temper" and loved to hold a grudge.  Celebrities on the receiving end of this included Buddy Holly, Jackie Mason and Jim Morrison.

    • In 2009, the U.S. Postal Service honored Sullivan, issuing a 44-cent stamp paying tribute to his show.  Today, that stamp is worth about 25 cents.

    • Ferncliff Cemetery is also the final resting place of Cab Calloway, Kitty Carlisle and Thomas Carvel.  Until 2018, it was also home to Judy Garland's remains, which were then relocated to Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

    • Ed Sullivan has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6101 Hollywood Boulevard.

    • Side note:  This blogger has always believed that The Beatles were over-rated.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2021

    Erma Bombeck


    "Fame is Madonna.  Success is Helen Keller.  Know the Difference."

    Erma Bombeck was born Erma Louise Fiste in Bellbrook, Ohio on February 21, 1927.  Truth be told, this blogger didn't know too much about her before visiting her grave, which in itself is so impressive that I felt it deserved a blog.

    She grew up in a working class family in historic Dayton, Ohio, her father a crane operator and her mother a housekeeper.  She began elementary school one year early, and it was obvious from an early age that she had an interest in reading and literature.  She also enjoyed the popular humor of the time, no doubt laying the groundwork for the career that would come.

    When Erma was nine, her father passed away from polycystic kidney disease (more on this later) and her mother remarried a moving van operator.  At the same time, Erma was developing an interest in tap dancing and singing, and began appearing professionally on a local Ohio radio station.  For eight years, she starred on a children's revue program.

    Her first writing gig came in 1940 as a student at Emerson Junior High, where she wrote for the school newspaper.  She'd continue the tradition in high school, often using humor in her stories.  It garnered the attention of the Dayton Herald, who hired her as a copygirl (a term undoubtedly sexist today).  In this role, Bombeck landed her first professional interview with no less than child superstar Shirley Temple.

    After graduation, Bombeck enrolled in Ohio University.  She stayed on with the Herald as a means of paying her own tuition. Now there's an outdated concept!  She later transferred to the University of Dayton and was forced to find more traditional means of supporting herself, working in both a department store and at the local YMCA.  She graduated in 1949 with a degree in English.

    After taking a few years off to start a family with her husband Bill, Bombeck began writing for the Kettering-Oakwood Times in 1964.  She wrote a weekly column that earned her $3 per article.  Although it was a slow start, within a year her column, aptly titled "At Wit's End," would be syndicated in 36 papers across the country.

    Bombeck's popularity continued to grow.  By 1966, she was on the national lecture circuit, bringing her signature wit to cities all across the country.  Just three years later, her column had spread to 500 newspapers throughout the United States and she was simultaneously writing for Good HousekeepingReader's Digest and Family Circle, just to name a few.

    Having had a taste of the good life, Bombeck and her family relocated to Phoenix, Arizona.  From there she continued her column and began writing humorous books as well.  Her first one, entitled The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, was released in 1976 and became a best-seller.  Within two years, she'd sign a $1 million contract for her fifth book, If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

    By the mid-1980s, Bombeck's column was being published by 900 newspapers, having extended across the border up into Canada.  She was making more and more public appearances, and even served as Grand Marshal for the 97th Tournament of Roses Parade in 1986.  The theme that year was "A Celebration of Laughter."

    Like her father before her, Bombeck was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, both incurable and untreatable.  She kept her condition within the family for more than 40 years, finally going public in 1993, after surviving breast cancer and a mastectomy.  She remained on a kidney transplant list for years, finally being matched in 1996.  Although she underwent surgery in early April, she would pass from complications just three weeks later on April 22.  She was 69 years old.

    Erma Bombeck was laid to rest right beside the main entrance of Woodlawn Cemetery in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio.  The sign points the way......

    There is no headstone or marker.  Instead, a large stone, transplanted from her adopted hometown of Phoenix, adorns the grave.

    Rest in peace.


    • Bombeck wrote enough books to open up a library.  Check out her impressive collection at Amazon.

    • In the early 1950s, Bombeck and her husband were assured by doctors that it was unlikely they would ever have children.  They adopted a daughter named Betsy.  By 1958 however, the couple had produced two sons, Andrew and Matthew.  Never give up!

    • Bombeck was an active participant for the final implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, serving on the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women in 1978.

    • Bombeck made regular appearances on Good Morning, America from 1975 to 1986, offering commentary, interviews and occasionally, gag segments.  Here's one such segment featuring her with comedian Phyllis Diller.

    • Bombeck was also involved with a number of projects for television, none of which saw much success.  Her first television pilot, The Grass is Always Greener (1978), never made it to series. She tried again in 1981 with Maggie, a series that ran just four episodes on ABC before being canceled.  Interested?  Here's an episode on YouTube.  Look closely and you'll undoubtedly recognize the living room set.  It was later re-purposed for the Bundy Family on Married With Children.

    • The Bombeck Family house in Centreville, Ohio is now a national historic site. Incidentally, the Bombecks were neighbors with Phil Donahue at the time.