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.