Jane Henson, the widow of Muppets creator Jim Henson who collaborated with him through the years, died 2 April 2013 at the age of 78. The cause was cancer.
Jane Henson was born Jane Nebel on 16 June 1934 in St. Albans, Queens, New York. She majored in fine art at the University of Maryland in College Park. She had been planning to become a commercial artist. All of this changed when she went to work on the puppet TV show Sam and Friends on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. with puppeteer Jim Henson. Together with Bob Payne they created characters for the show and created skits for it. Among the characters on the show was the prototype for Kermit the Frog. Miss Nebel and Mr. Henson were eventually asked to appear on The Tonight Show in 1956 (then hosted by Steve Allen), where they performed "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" with Miss Nebel voicing Yorick and Mr. Henson voicing Kermit.
When Jim Henson left to tour Europe for a year in 1958, he left Sam and Friends in the hands of Jane Nebel. After he returned from Europe the two would formally become business partners. After she graduated from the University of Maryland, Miss Nebel studied fine art at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. In 1959 Jim Henson and Jane Nebel married.
In 1964 the Hensons moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. In Greenwich Jane Henson served as an assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development. Through the years she continued to work with the Jim Henson Company. Over the years she worked on such Muppets related projects as the TV special Tales of the Tinkerdee, Sesame Street, the TV special The Muppets Valentine Show, and The Muppet Show. She also worked on the touring exhibit Art of the Muppets in 1979 and various touring stage shows of Sesame Street. Beginning in 1982 she served on the board of the Jim Henson Foundation.
Jane and Jim Henson legally separated in 1986, although they would remain friends until his death in 1990. In 1992 she established the Jim Henson Legacy to continue to promote the achievements of Jim Henson.
Although not as well known as her husband, Jane Henson had an impact on the development of the Muppets. She was there at the very beginning, when the original Kermit was created. When she left working for the Jim Henson Company in the early Sixties to raise her children, it was Jane Henson who trained Frank Oz in lip-syncing. She would later be responsible for the hiring of Steve Whitmire in 1978, who voiced Rizzo the Rat and Lips (of the Electric Mayhem) and would go on to voice Kermit the Frog. Having a huge impact on the history of the Muppets, Jane Henson would then have an impact on American pop culture.
Jonathan Winters died last night, 12 April 2013, at the age of 87.
Jonathan Winters was born 11 November 1925 in Dayton, Ohio. His parents separated when he was seven and his mother took him to live in Springfield, Ohio where they lived with her mother. Mr. Winters left high school to join the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He served as a gunner on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard in the Pacific Theatre. Following the war he studied art at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in hopes of becoming a political cartoonist. He transferred from Kenyon College to the Dayton Art Institute to further his studies.
His career as a comic began when his wife entered him at a talent contest in Dayton, the grand prize of which was a wrist watch (Mr. Winters had lost his several months earlier). Mr. Winters won the contest and as a result got a job as a disc jockey at WING in Dayton, Ohio. He also worked at WIZE in Springfield, Ohio. It was while he was a disc jockey that he began making up characters. He moved from radio to television, performing at WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio as Johnny Winters. After two and half years at WBNS he moved to New York City seeking a job on network radio. He never found a job in network radio, but he did begin work as a stand up comic.
It was in 1954 he made his television debut on Chance of a Lifetime on the Dumont network. That same year he appeared on the TV shows The Blue Angel and Omnibus. In the Fifties he was the host of Here's the Show and his own show, The Jonathan Winters Show . He also appeared on such TV shows as The Colgate Comedy Hour, Tonight (both with Steve Allen and Jack Paar), The NBC Comedy Hour, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Arlene Francis Show, The George Gobel Show, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, Candid Camera, The Magic Land of Alakazam, and Shirley Temple's Storybook.
In the Sixties Jonathan Winters once more had his own show, The Jonathan Winters Show, which ran from 1967 to 1969. He appeared on such shows as The Garry Moore Show, The Twilight Zone, Talent Scouts , The Jerry Lewis Show, The Andy Williams Show, What's My Line, I've Got a Secret, The Jack Paar Programme, The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. He made his film debut in the epic comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). He also appeared in the films The Loved One (1965), The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966), Penelope (1966), Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad (1967), Eight on the Lam (1967), and Viva Max (1969).
In the Seventies Jonathan Winters once more had his own television show, The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters He appeared on such shows as This is Your Life, The Dean Martin Comedy Hour, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (voicing his character Maude Frickert), The Hollywood Squares, The New Scooby-Doo Movies (voicing himself), Jack Paar Tonite, Day at Night, and The Muppet Show. He was the voice of Porky Pine, Molester Mole, and Wiley Catt in the television special I Go Pogo. He also played the villain Albert Paradine II in the reunion special More Wild Wild West. He appeared in such films as Sonic Boom (1974) and The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979).
In the Eighties Jonathan Winters was a regular on both Mork & Mindy and Hee Haw. He had his own special The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters in 1986. He appeared in the telefilm Alice in Wonderland. He also appeared on The Tonight Show. In the Nineties Mr. Winters he was the star of the TV show Davis Rules. He appeared in the films The Flintstones (1994), The Shadow (1994), and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). In the Naughts he starred in his own film, Certifiably Jonathan (2007), as well as the film Tell Me Who You Are (2004), and Cattle Call (2006).
Jonathan Winters the spokesman for Hefty brand trash bags for many years. He also recorded several comedy albums. Mr. Winters was in regular demand for voice work in television shows and animated films. He provided voices for such animated shows as Linus! The Lion Hearted in the Sixties, Smurfs and The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley in the Eighties, and Fish Police in the Nineties, among others. He also provided the voice for Papa Smurf in the live actions films The Smurfs (2011) and the soon to be released The Smurfs II.
It is hard to put into words just how talented and how funny Jonathan Winters was. He created a number of memorable characters in his routines, including acid tongued randmother Maude Frickert (my favourite), Midwestern outdoor guru Elwood P. Suggins, and small town tycoon B. B. Bindlestiff. His routines also often included sound effects; Mr. Winters' voice could imitate anything from machine gun fire to the roar of a car engine. He was also known for his skill at improvisation, at which he was one of the true masters. He was a comedian who did not do jokes. Indeed, unlike many of his contemporaries who arose in the Fifties, Jonathan Winters did not draw upon current affairs for his humour, but rather upon the human condition. More so than any other comic of his time, Mr. Winters' comedy was very character driven.
It is perhaps for this reason that Jonathan Winters shined in the few films in which he appeared. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was his film debut and it was an impressive debut. As furniture mover Lennie Pike, Mr. Winters was easily one of the funniest characters in a film filled with funny men and women. He played no less than two roles in The Loved One, playing both the scheming Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy and his out of luck brother Henry Glenworthy. In The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! he played bumbling Assistant Police Chief Norman Jonas. Mr. Winters played all of these characters very well. In fact, his performances are impressive enough that it seems a shame he did not appear in more films. Whether in his comedy routines or in films, Jonathan Winters had a talent for creating off the wall characters who were always three dimensional.
As both a comedian and an actor Jonathan Winters was a man of incredible talent. As a comedian there was no one else quite like him. Mr. Winters was impossible to categorise and wholly unpredictable. While with many other comedians, one could say, "He like so and so on," one could make no such comparisons with Jonathan Winters. Quite simply, Jonathan Winters was a most singular talent.
Music producer Phil Ramone died 30 March 2013 at the age of 79. The cause was a brain aneurysm.
Phil Ramone was born 5 January 1934 in South Africa. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up. He was a music prodigy as a child, learning violin when he was only three years old. As a child he listened to music by Charlie Parker and Count Basie. While he was interested in popular music, he also studied classical music. He studied for a time at Juilliard School in New York before he started his music career. He started his career as a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building. Afterwards he took a job as an engineer at JAC Recording in New York.
It was in 1958 that Phil Ramone and Jack Arnold opened A&R Recording in Manhattan, New York City. As an engineer there he worked with such names as John Coltrane and Quincy Jones. He won his first Grammy in 1964 for his work on tan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s album Getz/Gilberto. As the Sixties progressed he moved more towards the fields of pop, rhythm and blues, and rock, working with such artists as Leslie Gore (including her hit single "It's My Party"), Dusty Springfield ("The Look of Love"), Procol Harum ("Whiter Shade of Pale"), and The Band (their self titled second album). He also reportedly recorded Marilyn Monroe's infamous version of "Happy Birthday" sung to President John F. Kennedy.
The Seventies saw Mr. Ramone work with such artists as Sir Paul McCartney, Elton John, The Band, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel, and Billy Joel. In 1980 he produced the music for Paul Simon's film One Trick Pony. It was Phil Ramone who was responsible for an innovation on the film (the first time it was ever done), optical surround sound. In the Eighties he worked with such artists as Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Diane Keaton, Frank Sinatra, Julian Lennon, Carly Simon, Lou Reed, Cyndi Lauper, and Paul McCartney. It was on 1 October 1982 that A & R Recording released Billy Joel's 52nd Street, in Japan.
In the Nineties Phil Ramone worked with such artists as Les Paul, Ringo Starr, Sinead O'Connor, Frank Sinatra, Laura Brannigan, Brian Setzer, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, and Paul Simon. In the Naughts and the Teens he worked with such artists as Elton John, Liza Minelli, Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, Bono, Ray Charles, Olivia Newton John, and Elaine Page.
Phil Ramone may not have been as well known to the general public as other music producers, there can be no doubt that he is one of the all time greats. He worked on such iconic songs as Leslie Gore's "It's My Party," Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale," Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love," and many others. In addition, he also made important innovations. He introduced optical surround sound in film, and it was A&R Recording who released the very first commercial CD. Throughout his career he made some very important contributions in the field of music, to the point that he really should have been better known.
Irish character actor Milo O'Shea died 2 April 2013 at the age of 86.
Milo O'Shea was born in Dublin, Republic of Ireland on 2 June 1926. His father was a professional singer and his mother was both a harpist and a ballerina. His acting career began when he was very young, and he appeared in a radio adaptation of Oliver Twist when he was only 10 years old. He was twelve years old when he appeared in a production of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. By the time he was 17 years old he was already touring with an Irish acting troupe.
Mr. O'Shea made his film debut in an uncredited role in Contraband in 1940. In the Fifties he appeared in the films Talk of a Million (1951) and This Other Eden (1959), and he was the off screen narrator of the film Never Love a Stranger (1958). He appeared in the television programmes The Passing Show, Armchair Theatre, ITV Television Playhouse, On Trial.
In 1961 he received widespread recognition for his role in Glory Be! at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. He made Broadway debut in Staircase in 1968. In 1969 he appeared again on Broadway in Dear World. In the Sixties he regularly appeared on television. He was the star of the BBC sitcom Me Mammy, which ran from 1968 to 1971. Milo O'Shea also appeared in such shows as Play of the Week, Out of This World, Z Cars, Maupassant, First Night, ITV Play of the Week, Uncle Charles, and On the House. He also appeared in several films over the decade, including such films as Mrs. Gibbons' Boys (1962), Carry on Cabby (1963), Never Put It in Writing (1964), Ulysses (1967), Journey Into Darkness (1968), Romeo and Juliet (1968), Barbarella (1968), The Adding Machine (1969), Paddy (1970), Loot (1970), and The Angel Levine (1970).
In the Seventies Milo O'Shea appeared on Broadway in Mrs. Warren's Profession, Comedians, and A Touch of the Poet. On television he was a storyteller on Jackanory. He appeared on such shows as Tales from the Lazy Ace, The Protectors, QB VII, Microbes and Men, and My Son Reuben. He appeared in the films Sacco & Vanzetti (1971), The Love Ban (1973), Theatre of Blood (1973), Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973), Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973), Professor Popper's Problem (1974) Percy's Progress (1974), Arabian Adventure (1979), and The Pilot (1980).
In the Eighties Mr. O'Shea appeared on Broadway in a revival of My Fair Lady, Mass Appeal, Corpse, and a revival of Meet Me in St. Louis. He appeared in the films The Verdict (1982), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), The Dream Team (1989), and Opportunity Knocks (1990). He appeared in the television shows Jennifer Slept Here, St. Elsewhere, Once a Hero, Who's The Boss, The Golden Girls, and Beauty & The Beast.
From the Nineties into the Naughts, Milo O'Shea appeared in such films as Only the Lonely (1991), The Playboys (1992), The Butcher Boy (1997), The MatchMaker (1997), Rough for Theatre I (2000), Moonglow (2000), Puckoon (2002), and Mystics (2003). He appeared on television in such shows as The Commish, Cheers, Fraiser, Early Edition, Spin City, Oz, Madigan Men, and The West Wing.
Milo O'Shea played a wide variety of roles throughout his career, and he did all of them well. He was an actor who was blessed not only with talent, but also versatility as well. Indeed, not only could he play a number of different roles well, but he was equally adept at both comedy and drama. Mr. O'Shea was easily one of the best things about Barbarella (1968), endowing the role of Durand-Durand with just the right amount of over the top madness high camp requires. At the same time, however, he was equally good in the much more restrained role of Dermot, the thoughtful matchmaker in The MatchMaker (1997). Over the years Milo O'Shea played Bloom in Ulysses, Friar Laurence in Romeo & Juliet, Inspector Boot in Theatre of Blood, and Judge Hoyle in The Verdict. Over the years Milo O'Shea played everything from doctors to priests to judges to mad scientists, and he did all of them well.
Richard Griffiths, who played Uncle Monty in Withnail & I and Vernon Dursley in the "Harry Potter" films, died 28 March 2013 at the age of 65. The cause was complications following heart surgery.
Richard Griffiths was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire on 31 July 1947. His parents were both deaf and as a result Mr. Griffiths learned sign language while very young. He grew up in poverty. While he would become known for his girth as an actor, as a child he was underweight to the point that at age eight he was given treatment on his pituitary gland. As a result of the treatment he started to gain weight. He attended Our Lady & St Bede School in Stockton-on-Tees. He left school at age 15 in an attempt to find a job. Unable to find work, he attended classes at Stockton and Billingham College. It was when he was 17 that a teacher took him to see Edward Albee’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He was so impressed that he enrolled in a drama class at Northern College of Music in Manchester.
It was while he was at university that he received his first major role, a part in a college production Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. He was spotted by Sir Trevor Nunn, then artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and as a result joined the company. His television debut came in 1974, in a guest appearance on the show Crown Court. In the Seventies he guest starred on such shows as Village Hall, When the Boat Comes In, Red Letter Day, The Expert, Second City Firsts, ITV Playhouse, and The Sweeney. He made his film debut in 1977 in It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet. He also appeared in Breaking Glass (1980) and Superman II (1980).
In the Eighties he starred in the television shows Bird of Prey and A Kind of Living. He guest starred on the shows Minder, Whoops Apocalypse, Five-Minute Films, Boon, and The Marksman. In 1981 he was considered to replace Tom Baker in the role of The Doctor on Doctor Who, but was unavailable to take the part. He appeared in the films Chariots of Fire (1981), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Ragtime (1981), Britannia Hospital (1982), Gandhi (1982), Gorky Park (1983), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Shanghai Surprise (1986), and Withnail & I (1987). He also provided the voice of Slartibartfast in radio adaptations of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series.
In the Nineties he starred in the television series Pie in the Sky. He guest starred in such shows as Perfect Scoundrels, El C.I.D., The Good Guys (not to be confused with the American series of the same name), Inspector Morse, Lovejoy, The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, In the Red, The Canterbury Tales, and The Vicar of Dibley. He also appeared in the mini-series Gormenghast. He appeared in the films The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), Blame It on the Bellboy (1992), Guarding Tess (1994), Funny Bones (1995), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Vatel (2000).
It was in 2001 that he first appeared as Uncle Vernon in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. He appeared in the role in another four films of the eight in the series. In the Naughts he also appeared in the films Stage Beauty (2004), Venus (2006), The History Boys (2006), and Bedtime Stories (2008),. He was the voice of Jetlz in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). He also appeared on the television show tlc, and the miniseries Bleak House. In the Teens he appeared in the films Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Hugo (2011), and Private Peaceful (2012).
Richard Griffiths was a very talented and versatile actor, equally at home playing both drama and comedy. He was incredible as the flamboyant homosexual Monty in Withnail and I. At the same time he did well playing Anton in Gorky Park. While Mr. Griffiths was equally adept in comedy and drama, he was also versatile in the sorts of roles he could play. In The History Boys he played Hector, the popular General Studies teacher who fondles his students as he gives them rides home on his motorcycle. In Stage Beauty he played an entirely different role, that of the foppish and not particularly likeable Sir Charles Sedley. Richard Griffiths was an actor who could play both comedy and drama well, and one who could play a wide variety of roles. It is very sad that he died much too soon.
Annette Funicello, who came to fame on The Mickey Mouse Club and went on to greater fame as a film and recording star, died today at the age of 70. The cause was complications from multiple sclerosis.
Annette Funicello was born on 22 October 1942 in Utica, New York. In 1946 her family moved to Southern California in hopes of a better life. They lived in Studio City for a time before moving to Encino. She was talented even as a young child. She took dancing lessons and also learned to play drums. In 1955 Walt Disney was casting The Mickey Mouse Club and wanted amateurs rather than seasoned professionals. He discovered Miss Funicello dancing as the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake” at a recital in Burbank, California. She was the last of the original Mouseketeers to be cast. Strangely enough, at one point Annette Funicello wanted to change her surname to the more typically "American" sounding "Turner." She was talked out of this by Walt Disney himself, who told her that her given surname was much more memorable.
The Mickey Mouse Club proved to be a hit and Annette Funicello proved to be the most popular Mouseketeer on the show. As the first season of the show came to an end she was already receiving 6000 fan letters a month. She was soon appearing in the various serials that aired as a part of The Mickey Mouse Club, including "The Adventures of Spin & Marty" and "Adventure in Dairyland." In the third season Annette Funicello was awarded her very own serial, "Walt Disney Presents: Annette." The serial starred Miss Funicello as a poor orphaned girl from the country who goes to live with her rich uncle and aunt in town.
Annette Funicello's success on television would also lead to success as a recording artist. In 1958 she scored her first hit record, "How Will I Know My Love." The song was originally sung in an episode of "Walt Disney Presents: Annette" and proved so popular that Disney released it as a single. From 1958 to 1964 Miss Funicello released a number of singles. Her biggest hits were "Tall Paul," which went to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and "Pineapple Princess," which went to #11. She also released six albums.
While Annette Funicello saw success on both The Mickey Mouse Club and on the record charts, she would gain even more fame as a film star. In 1957 Walt Disney Studios proposed a film to be based on L. Frank Baum's Oz books, Rainbow Road to Oz. In addition to Miss Funicello, the movie would have starred Tommy Kirk and fellow Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie. Due to reasons that remain unclear today, the project Rainbow Road to Oz was abandoned. Miss Funicello then made her film debut in The Shaggy Dog (1959). The same year Miss Funicello also made guest appearances on Make Room For Daddy and Zorro, as well as her first appearance on Walt Disney Presents.
Annette Funicello began the Sixties with a starring role in the Disney film Babes in Toyland (1961). She would go on to appear in two more Disney films during the decade: The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964)and The Monkey's Uncle (1965). While Annette Funicello was under contract to Walt Disney Studios, her claim to fame as a film star would largely be due to American International Pictures' "Beach Party" series. It was in 1963 that American International Pictures approached Walt Disney about featuring Miss Funicello in a beach movie. Mr. Disney thought the film sounded like "good clean fun." Contrary to popular belief, he did not forbid Miss Funicello from wearing a bikini or bearing her navel, although her swimsuits were often more modest than those of the other girls in the "Beach Party" series. Annette Funicello would appear in Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). She also had cameos in two films related to, but not necessarily part of the "Beach Party" series: Ski Party (1965) and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965). In addition to her various Disney films and the "Beach Party" movies, Annette Funicello also appeared in Fireball 500 (1966), Thunder Alley (1967), and The Monkees' film Head (1968).
In the Sixties Annette Funicello also made appearances on television. As might be expected, she appeared in episodes of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour. She also guest starred on Wagon Train, The Greatest Show on Earth, Burke's Law, and Hondo.
Annette Funicello married in 1965 and had her first child in 1966. Her career then slowed as she concentrated on raising her family. On television she guest starred on Easy Does It... Starring Frankie Avalon, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Growing Pains. She also appeared in the 1978 television special Frankie and Annette: The Second Time Around with Frankie Avalon. Her last film was Back to the Beach in 1987, in which she was reunited with Frankie Avalon. The film parodied the old "Beach Party" movies. Sadly, in 1992 Annette Funicello announced that she had multiple sclerosis. The following year she founded the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation.
Many remember Annette Funicello from her days as a Mousketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club. This is understandable given this was how many were introduced to her. The Mickey Mouse Club had long been off the air by the time I was born, so I first encountered Miss Funicello in the films she made for Disney and the "Beach Party" movies, which were frequently shown on television throughout my childhood. When I picture Annette Funicello, then, it is as Merlin Jones' girlfriend Jennifer in two of her better known Disney films or Frankie Avalon's love interest in the "Beach Party" films. Quite simply, Annette Funicello had an appeal that transcended generations. She appealed not only to Baby Boomers who discovered her on The Mickey Mouse Club, but also to the following generations who discovered her through her films.
As to the basis of Annette Funicello's appeal. that was simple. Miss Funicello combined beauty and, when she was older, sex appeal with sweetness, humility, and wholesomeness. She was often referred to as both "the girl next door" and "America's sweetheart," and both labels were fitting. Miss Funicello was the sort of girl that boys wanted to date, girls wanted as their best friend, and parents wanted as their daughter. Annette Funicello's on screen image largely reflected Annette Funicello in real life. She was an actress who, even in the days of her superstardom, maintained a rather ordinary family life and who was never affected by scandal. By all reports in real life she was much as she appeared to be on screen: a sweet, unassuming woman who was thoughtful of others. If Annette Funicello has remained popular for literally decades, and popular among successive generations, it is perhaps because she was an actress whose on screen image was more or less the same as she was in real life. In the end, it would seem that Annette Funicello truly was America's sweetheart, the ideal girl next door.