Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reflections on Recent Deaths

Judith Crist
Perhaps it's because I'm in my 50s, but it seems a lot of people from my childhood and young adulthood are dying. Actors and famous personalities who were prominent in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are disappearing. Sherman Hemsley and Chad Everett, popular TV stars on CBS passed away on the same day. I can recall watching The Jeffersons and Medical Center. Just today Marvin Hamlisch and Judith Crist passed away. Hamlisch was a big deal when I was a kid, winning three Oscars in 1973 for The Sting and The Way We Were. Judith Crist was probably the most famous film critic of her day, sort of the common man's Pauline Kael. She wrote for TV Guide which was the most widely circulated magazine of the 60s and 70s. When I was in high school, my English teacher and two other students from our newspaper, the Campus Lantern took a trip to NYC to attend a conference at Columbia University for student journalism. It was so exciting. Crist was one of the speakers and I watched with awe as she spoke about interviewing Marilyn Monroe and writing her opinions about movies and getting paid for it. I actually wrote movie reviews in our schools paper and I talked with her afterwards. I remember Shelley Winters' performance in a movie called Next Stop Greenwich Village came up.Here she was, the most famous movie critic in America and she was talking to me about Shelley Winters. (That weekend, we stayed in a hotel and saw Pacific Overtures at the Winter Garden. It was stunning.)

Celeste Holm is another recent passing. My friend Diane and I met her in New Orleans in the Maison du Bourbon. We were there to embark on a cruise the next day. She was sitting next to us with a much younger man. I had heard her husband was much younger and I said to Diane, "That's Celeste Holm." Diane didn't believe me, but the husband introduced Holm to the band as an actress who had worked with Louis Armstrong (she was in High Society with Satchmo). I leaned over and told her I remembered her as the Fairy Godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.She smiled and chirped thank you. Her voice had gone and she could hardly speak, just like my grandmother. A few months later there was a huge article in the NY Times about her battle with her sons over money and how she might have to sell her Oscar for Gentlemen's Agreement.

The world where one movie critic could reach millions of people through the Today Show--as Crist did--is vanishing. I can't think of one journalist as influential as she was or Rex Reed or Pauline Kael. The net has made everyone a critic and as Andy Warhol said, each will be as famous as Brad Pitt or Alexander Woolcott or Dorothy Parker for 15 minutes.

The co-author of Hairspray, the costume designer of Anything Goes, the lady who played Lucy's near-sighted neighbor, the guy who did the voice for Aquaman and the one who did the voice for the robot in Lost in Space. They've all gone and I want to note their passing. They were a part of our lives and deserve notice. Attention must be paid.

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