Saturday, August 23, 2014

At The Matinee Pays Tribute to Three Greats

Though this may be late, At The Matinee remembers three greats from the silver screen and television.

On the evening of Monday, August 11- the nation learned of the tragic death of actor and comedian Robin Williams, who took his own life at the age of 63.  He studied acting at The Juilliard School in New York, under the wing of noted actor-producer and drama director John Houseman (1902-1988).

His early stand-up routines led him to an appearance on Happy Days in 1978.  He portrayed Mork, an alien from the planet "Ork" to observe human behavior.  This led to a successful spin-off series, titled Mork & Mindy (with Pam Dawber) which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982.

Williams would go on to play iconic characters in various films over the years, in comedies, dramatic, and animated features.   Some of Williams' iconic films include Moscow On The Hudson (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), The Fisher King, Hook (both 1991), the Disney animated feature Aladdin (1992, as the voice of the Genie), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jack, Jumanji  (both 1996), the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting (1997), Patch Adams (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999), One Hour Photo (2002), the CGI-animated feature Robots (2005, as the voice of Fender), the Night At The Museum series (2006 & 2011, as Theodore Roosevelt), Man of the Year (2006), and his portrayal of President Dwight Eisenhower in Lee Daniels' The Butler (based on the real-life events of White House butler Cecil Gaines, portrayed by Forrest Whitaker in 2013).

Williams appeared in numerous stand-up comedy specials for HBO throughout his career.  His last TV series was the short-lived (yet critically acclaimed) CBS comedy, The Crazy Ones.  He was also known for his charitable work for numerous organizations, including St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, Comic Relief, and touring in several USO shows for troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Friday, August 15th- the Downtown Frederick Partnership's Movie Night On The Creek event paid tribute to Williams by screening his 1993 comedy hit, Mrs. Doubtfire.  On the August 18th edition of CBS' Late Show, David Letterman paid tribute to Williams (Letterman made a cameo appearance on an episode of Mork & Mindy in 1979- titled Mork Goes Erk).  The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is planning a tribute to Robin Williams for the upcoming Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, which will be held on Monday, August 25th.

On Tuesday, August 12th- actress Lauren Bacall passed away at the age of 89 (ATM first heard the news that night via WTOP Radio).

Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924- she was raised in a middle-class household.  Her father was a salesman, and her mother was a secretary.  At the age of five, her parents split up, Perske would live with her mother and had no contact with her father.  She was a student of the American Academy of of Dramatic Arts, and also worked as a model- appearing on the cover of Harper's Bazzar magazine.

This caught the attention of Slim Hawks, who encouraged her husband, noted film director Howard Hawks to give the Harper's Bazaar model a screen test for his upcoming Warner Bros. film, To Have and Have Not in 1944 (adapted from Ernest Hemingway's novel).  At the suggestion of her agent (and from Hawks), she changed her name to Lauren Bacall.  In Hawks' adaptation, Bacall would star with Humphrey Bogart.  During filming, the young actress would be attracted to her co-star (there was a 25-year age difference between Bogart and Bacall).  To Have and Have Not would become a box office hit, and Bacall would become a major star overnight.   In 1945, Bogart and Bacall were married in Ohio (Bacall would become the fourth and final Mrs. Bogart).

The two would be in other notable feature films, including The Big Sleep (1945), Delmar Daves' Dark Passage (1947), and John Huston's Key Largo (1948, adapted from Max Anderson's 1939 play of the same name).  In addition to these major films, the actress devoted her attention away from film, and decided to spend time with her husband.  Bogart and Bacall produced a family together- a son, Stephen (born in 1949) and a daughter, Leslie (born in 1952).

Other notable film roles came along, including Young Man With A Horn (1950, with Kirk Douglas), How To Marry A Millionaire (1953, with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable- which was the second feature film photographed in Fox's Cinemascope process), Written on the Wind (1956), and Designing Woman (1957).  It was also during this time that Bogart's health began to decline (resulting from a heavy smoking habit), and that Bacall took care of her ailing husband- along with spending more time with her children.  Humphrey Bogart passed away on January 14, 1957.

After Bogart's death, Bacall had a short affair with Frank Sinatra- and had great difficulty finding successful film roles.  Bacall married fellow actor Jason Robards in 1961, and produced a son, Sam Robards (born in December 1961, who would become an actor beginning in the early 1980's).  Though she had several film and television roles throughout the 1960's, she still devoted time to her family.  Bacall and Robards divorced in 1969, as a result of Robards' alcoholic struggles.

Bacall would turn her attention towards Broadway, appearing in the musical Applause in 1970 (a musical adaptation of the 1950 film All About Eve), and won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  She also appeared in the 1973 television adaptation.  Bacall appeared in Sidney Lumet's 1974 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express (as Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard).  She was also in The Shootist (as Bond Rogers) in 1976- which was John Wayne's last feature film.  That same year, she was in a two-part episode of The Rockford Files (with James Garner) titled "Lions, Tigers, Monkeys, and Dogs".

Throughout the 1980's and into the millennium, Bacall appeared in numerous film and television roles- including Mr. North (1988, directed by Danny Huston, son of John Huston), Ready To Wear (1994, directed by Robert Altman), The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996, directed by Barbara Streisand, which earned Bacall a Screen Actors Guild award and her only nomination for an Academy Award), Manderlay (2005), and a cameo appearance on the critically acclaimed HBO series- The Sopranos. 

Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to Bacall with a marathon of her most memorable films (including an airing of a 2005 interview with TCM host Robert Osborne) on September 15th and 16th.  A full schedule can be found here.

Don Pardo, on the set of NBC's Saturday Night Live.
On Monday, August 18th- longtime Saturday Night Live (and NBC) announcer Don Pardo passed away at the age of 96.  Born Dominick George Pardo on February 22, 1918- he became interested in theater while attending Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut.

In 1938, he began to work with local theater troupes- including the 20th Century Players- who performed on WJAR Radio in Providence, Rhode Island.  Pardo would become an announcer at the station about a year later.  He changed his name to Dom, but many called him "Don" (according to an oral history interview with the Archive of American Television in 2006).

In 1944 (along with friend Hal Simms- who would later become another nationally recognized announcer), he made a trip to the National Broadcasting Company's headquarters in New York.  When Pardo thanked NBC's supervisor of announcers for organizing the tour, he immediately ended up with a job at the network, working as part of the studio's night staff (which worked until sign-off).  Two years later, an NBC executive asked Pardo if he knew anything about baseball for the then-new medium of television.  Pardo and another commentator would work on three televised baseball games that year.

Until the mid-1950's, Pardo worked between NBC radio and television.  Beginning in 1956, he would be the announcer for a new game show on the network, The Price Is Right (hosted by Bill Cullen).  On that first incarnation of the game show, it was where Pardo began to develop his signature vocal delivery.  He also had additional announcing duties at the network- including being one of the first to break the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on the network's flagship station, WNBC-TV.

After The Price Is Right moved to ABC that same year, Pardo chose to stay with NBC. He would become the announcer for another new game show created by Merv Griffin- the first incarnation of Jeopardy!, hosted by Art Fleming (which ran on the network from 1964-1975).

Pardo is best known for his announcing duties on NBC's Saturday Night Live, which he had since the program's premiere in 1975 (except for the seventh season of the program).  In addition to the popular NBC program, he also had a voice cameo in the 1984 "Weird Al" Yankovic song, I Lost on Jeopardy.  Pardo did sign-off news reports for WNBC-TV (as seen in this clip from 1980, courtesy of Rick Klein's  From 1980 to 1991, Pardo also did announcing duties for WNBC-TV's afternoon newscast, Live at Five.  His final announcing duties on SNL was at the end of the program's 38th season in May (he retired from NBC in 2004, but stayed with Saturday Night Live).

According to The New York Times, show creator Lorne Michaels announced that Saturday Night Live will have a tribute to the iconic announcer at the beginning of the program's 39th season.

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