Saturday, November 18, 2023

Happy Life Day!


On November 17, 1978, a dubious kind of history was made. CBS Television aired what is technically the first direct sequel to the 1977 box office sensation Star Wars. With the theatrical release of The Empire Strikes Back still two years away, creator George Lucas wanted to keep the franchise alive in order to keep the merchandise flowing.  The result is what many consider to be the holy grail of lost films, The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Our story begins with recycled footage of the Millennium Falcon taken directly from the first movie. Han Solo is desperate to get his best friend and co-pilot Chewbacca home for the holidays, on the eve of the greatest of all wookiee celebrations, "Life Day."  Don't count on seeing much of Han, Chewy, or any of the others until the end of the special, however.  They're simply the framework for a two-hour variety show featuring a bevy of 70s TV icons. 

The film is so bad that it was never rerun.  To this day, George Lucas likes to pretend that it does not exist.  Unfortunately for him, VCRs did exist in 1978, and quite a few folks recorded the special.  Today, it is all over YouTube.  There is even a new theatrical documentary all about the special entitled A Disturbance in the Force: How the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened

Since its airing, many of the film's stars have passed away.  This blogger has visited the graves of five of the more notables.  So, in honor of the film's 45th anniversary, let's visit those graves here and pay our respects.  What better to celebrate Life Day?

Harvey Korman.  Yup, that's really Harvey under all that make-up.  He had the distinction of playing not one, but three different characters in the film. The one pictured at left was an inter-galactic Julia Childs, whose program is a favorite among the wookiees.

Harvey was of course an icon from The Carol Burnett Show, so his casting in the film was almost a given. 

He passed away in 2008 at the age of 81 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.

Peter Mayhew.  Mayhew was no stranger to the special, where he reprised his iconic role of Chewbacca the wookiee.  While Mayhew was born in London, he later became a legal United States citizen, ultimately residing in Texas.  For the last few years before his death, he was a mainstay on the convention circuit, where this author met him in 2014.

Sadly, Mayhew passed away in 2019, just four months shy of the release of the final film in the Star Wars saga, The Rise of Skywalker.

Mayhew was buried at Azleland Memorial Park in Reno, Texas, and given a headstone commemorating his alter ego.

Carrie Fisher. The high point of the special would have to be Carrie Fisher's solo act, which appears at the climax of the film.  Of the special she would later say "it was so bad it's NOT good."  Still, that didn't stop her from signing "Happy Life Day" to this blogger when he met her in 2013.

As has been well reported, even by Fisher herself, she had a long history of substance abuse. She ultimately died of sudden cardiac arrest on December 27, 2016.  The princess was only 60 years old.

She was entombed at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, where her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would join her just a few short days later.

Diahann Caroll.  Fisher isn't the only singer in the film, however.  Famed actress Diahann Carroll appears as well, as a holographic entertainer.  She is a favorite of wookiee father Itchy, who employs a virtual reality headset to catch her act.  To say that it is the creepiest segment in the special would be an understatement.

Carroll passed away on October 4, 2019, at the age of 84.  She was entombed at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

Art Carney.  Yup, Jackie Gleason's long-time comedic partner Art Carney appears throughout the film as Saun Dann, a trader who befriends the wookiee family.  Apparently, the producers allowed him to retain his eyewear for the film, as its the only time we ever see eyeglasses in the Star Wars universe.

Carney died on November 9, 2003, at the age of 85.  He was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Chester, Connecticut.

Rest in peace to all, and as always, Happy Life Day!

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Only Celebrity Grave in Delaware is Empty


"I gave up being serious about making pictures around the time I made a film with Greer Garson and she took 125 takes to say no."

Robert Charles Durman Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on August 6, 1917. His father was a railroad worker who was crushed to death in a 1919 worksite accident.  His mother, who was pregnant with her third child at the time, relocated the family to South Carolina, before ultimately returning to Connecticut.

To say that Mitchum had a troubled childhood would be an understatement.  He was known as a prankster and was frequently in trouble at school.  By the time he was 16, he was already sentenced to serve on a Georgia chain gang after being arrested for vagrancy.  By his own admission, he escaped from captivity and relocated to Delaware, where he met 14-year-old Dorothy Spence, a girl he would ultimately marry and spend the rest of his life with.

Mitchum landed in Hollywood in 1936.  He rose to prominence following an Oscar nomination for one of his best-known roles in the film The Story of G.I. Joe (1945).  Throughout his career, he'd star in a number of box-office hits, including River of No Return (1954), Thunder Road (1958), which Mitchum produced, and the original Cape Fear (1962). He is also widely remembered his for role as U.S. Navy Captain Victor "Pug" Henry in the 16-hour television mini-series The Winds of War (1983) and it's 30-hour 1988 sequel War and Remembrance.

A lifelong smoker, Mitchum's health had deteriorated by the 1990s.  He ultimately died of lung cancer and emphysema on July 1, 1997.  He was 79 years old.

Robert Mitchum was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.  Dorothy returned to her hometown of Camden, Delaware, where she eventually passed in 2014.  She was laid to rest in her family's plot at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.  A cenotaph honoring Robert was placed next to her.

Rest in peace.

  • There are a number of Robert Mitchum biographies for sale.  Check out this listing on Amazon.

  • Film critic Roger Ebert declared Mitchum his favorite movie star and the soul of film noir.

  • Mitchum had a photographic memory that allowed him to read a script and memorize his lines instantly.  As such, he rarely rehearsed.

  • In 1966, Mitchum tried his hand at singing and released the album "That Man Robert Mitchum Sings."  You can hear it in its entirety on YouTube.

  • In 1971, Mitchum was offered the role of Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, which he declined, finding the storyline offensive.  The role ultimately went to Gene Hackman, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor.

  • Mitchum provided the voice-over narration for the 1993 film classic Tombstone.  He was originally hired for a much more significant on-screen role in the film, but script changes provided by Kurt Russell pushed him out of the picture.  Here's a sample of that narration.

  • Mitchum also narrated those "Beef - It's What's for Dinner" commercials back in the 1990s.