Friday, July 31, 2015

RIP Roddy Piper

'Rowdy' Roddy Piper Dies at 61 From Cardiac Arrest

By Staff

Wrestling legend "Rowdy" Roddy Piper has died at the age of 61... TMZ Sports has learned.

Piper -- born Roderick George Toombs -- died from cardiac arrest in his sleep at his home in Hollywood at around noon Friday.

Piper was a wrestling icon -- one of the biggest stars in the WWE back in the '80s, and even wrestled in "Wrestlemania I" back in 1985 ... squaring off against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.

Roddy's rep tells us, "I am devastated at this news.  Rod was a good friend as well as a client and one of the most generous, sincere and authentic people I have ever known. This is a true loss to us all."

Piper had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2006, but last November he said he was cancer free.  A family source tells us he was "cancer free" at the time of his death.

A family member tells us, "Our family is saddened by the sudden passing of our father and beloved husband, Roderick Toombs aka Rowdy Roddy Piper."

Roddy was admitted into the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2005 and was one of the top 50 villains in the history of the WWE . 

Piper had a long relationship with WWE -- last wrestling back in 2008 ... but appeared on various WWE shows up until 2014.

Roddy is survived by his wife Kitty and their 4 kids -- including 3 daughters and son Colton who's pursuing a career in professional wrestling.

The death is especially shocking considering we just spoke to him on Friday and asked his opinion about the Hulk Hogan scandal.

PIPER, Roddy (Roderick George Toombs)
Born: 4/17/1954, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Died: 7/31/2015, Hollywood, California, U.S.A.

Roddy Piper’s westerns – actor:
Zorro (TV) – 1990, 1991 (Bishop, Will Adams)
Walker, Texas Ranger (TV) – 1998 (Cody 'The Crusader' Conway)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

RIP Antony Holland

Local theatre legend Antony Holland dies at 95

The Georgia Straight
By Janet Smith
July 30, 2015

Antony Holland, Canada's oldest living actor, founder of Studio 58, and a massive local-theatre pioneer, died on Wednesday (July 29) at 95, according to the Langara acting school's Facebook page.

 It reported he "passed away earlier today at Nanaimo General Hospital. At this time we are awaiting details. Once more information is known we will share with all of you. For now, all of us at Studio 58 are deeply saddened by this news and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family." Studio 58 also updated its cover photo to a shot of an exhilarated Holland receiving the Order of Canada in 2014.

 Holland had distinguished himself during the Second World War by organizing theatre productions with his fellow soldiers (including during the North African campaign). His famous personal quote on IMDB is "I'm a really good actor, but I'm a terrible soldier." Later, he had a flourishing postwar career acting, directing, and teaching at Britain's famous Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. But in 1957, he moved to Canada with a different dream. He once told the Straight, “I loved gardening and I thought I’d come and grow vegetables and sell them.”

Fortunately for us, he didn't just remain a green thumb.

 Soon after coming here, he founded an innovative theatre school at a Maple Ridge prison, the Haney Correctional Institute, in 1960.(“You’d be locked in the gym to rehearse, and you’d suddenly need a prop or something, so you’d have to go to the door and get a guard to double-unlock the door," he once recalled to the Straight.) In 1965 he launched the first theatre-arts program at Vancouver City College, which would evolve into Studio 58 (now at Langara campus). Holland retired from his post heading the program in 1984.

 He once told the Straight: “Somebody had laid down ground rules for this program which consisted of a couple of acting classes a week, and then they were going to farm the students out to other departments like psychology and business administration and physical education. And I realized that’s not going to equip somebody to be an actor, and so I went to the administration and said: ‘This program is for the birds. My mandate is to give them the skills so they can earn their living, not go on to university.’ ” Holland designed a more practical curriculum, which included dance and musical training, and hired theatre professionals as part-time instructors. Although enrollment was initially small—he accepted all five students who applied into the first class—the program now receives hundreds of applications from around North America and has produced some of the city and country's finest actors. The school is gearing up for its 50th anniversary this fall.

 Some of his most well known roles included an appearance as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at Studio 58 in 2008 and as King Lear there in 2005. At the 2008 show, he played other characters as well. The production was, almost unimaginably, what he dubbed "Free-Fall Shakespeare”: each night of the performance at the Langara theatre, the audience would help choose which actors would play which characters, and in performer-director Holland’s case, that meant the crowd could decide whether he’d be Old Gobbo, the Duke of Venice, or Shylock.

 Receiving the Jessie award for his acclaimed role in Tuesdays With Morrie at the Arts Club in 2006, he quipped, "My advice to everyone is if you spend 70 years in the theatre you may get the part you really want."

 Holland also had a storied TV and movie career, in everything from McCabe & Mrs. Miller to The Accused to Battlestar Galactica. He said of appearing on film opposite Katharine Hepburn “I got panicked for the first time in my life. I thought, ‘I had that woman’s portrait on my wall when I was 12'."

 More recently he lived on Gabriola Island, where he established a new company at the Gabriola Theatre Centre.

 He held a Lifetime Equity membership, membership in the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, and many Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards and lifetime achievement awards; there is also a scholarship at Studio 58 in his honour.

 Holland had celebrated his 95th birthday by acting in Nanaimo in March in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.

Born: 3/28/1920, Tiverton, Devon, England, U.K.
Died: 7/29/2015, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

Antony Holland’s westerns – actor:
McCabe & Mrs. Miller – 1971 (Hollander)
The Grey Fox – 1982 (judge)

Friday, July 24, 2015

RIP E.L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow Dies at 84; Literary Time Traveler Stirred Past Into Fiction

The New York Times
By Bruce Weber
July 21, 2015

E. L. Doctorow, a leading figure in contemporary American letters whose popular, critically admired and award-winning novels — including “Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate” and “The March” — situated fictional characters in recognizable historical contexts, among identifiable historical figures and often within unconventional narrative forms, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 84 and lived in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, N.Y.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, his son, Richard, said.

The author of a dozen novels, three volumes of short fiction and a stage drama, as well as essays and commentary on literature and politics, Mr. Doctorow was widely lauded for the originality, versatility and audacity of his imagination.

Subtly subversive in his fiction — less so in his left-wing political writing — he consistently upended expectations with a cocktail of fiction and fact, remixed in book after book; with clever and substantive manipulations of popular genres like the Western and the detective story; and with his myriad storytelling strategies. Deploying, in different books, the unreliable narrator, the stream-of-consciousness narrator, the omniscient narrator and multiple narrators, Mr. Doctorow was one of contemporary fiction’s most restless experimenters.

In “World’s Fair” (1985), for example, a book that hews closely to Mr. Doctorow’s autobiography and that he once described as “a portrait of the artist as a very young boy” (but also as “the illusion of a memoir”), he depicts the experience of a Depression-era child of the Bronx and his awakening to the ideas of America and of a complicated world. Ending at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, the book tilts irresistibly toward the technological future of the country and the artistic future of the man.

The narrator is looking back on his childhood, but the conventionality of the narration is undermined in two ways. For one thing, the man’s relatives get their own first-person chapters and inject their own memories, a strategy that adds depth and luster to the portrait of the time and place. For another, his own narration is offered in the present tense, as if the preadolescent character were telling an unfolding tale, though with the perspective and vocabulary of an adult. His opening recollection — or is it a contemporaneous report? — is of wetting the bed:

“Startled awake by the ammoniated mists, I am roused in one instant from glutinous sleep to grieving awareness; I have done it again. My soaked thighs sting. I cry. I call Mama, knowing I must endure her harsh reaction, get through that, to be rescued. My crib is on the east wall of their room. Their bed is on the south wall. ‘Mama!’ From her bed she hushes me.”

Beginning with his third novel, “The Book of Daniel” (1971), an ostensible memoir by the son of infamous accused traitors — their story mirrors that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as Russian spies in 1953 — Mr. Doctorow turned out a stream of literary inventions. His protagonists lived in the seeming thrall of history but their tales, for the convenience — or, better, the purpose — of fiction, depicted alterations in accepted versions of the past. Not that he undermined the grand scheme of things; his interest was not of the what-if-things-had-gone-differently variety. Rather, a good part of Mr. Doctorow’s achievement was in illustrating how the past informs the present, and how the present has evolved from the past.

Works With a ‘Double Vision’

In the book that made him famous, “Ragtime” (1975), set in and around New York as America hurtled toward involvement in World War I, the war arrives on schedule, but the actions of the many characters, both fictional and nonfictional (including the escape artist Harry Houdini, the anarchist philosopher Emma Goldman and the novelist Theodore Dreiser) were largely invented. Sometimes this was for droll effect — at one point Freud and Jung, visiting New York at the same time, take an amusement park boat ride together through the tunnel of love — and sometimes for the sake of narrative drama and thematic impact. Written in a declarative, confident voice with an often dryly arch tone mocking its presumed omniscience, the novel seemed to both lay claim to authoritative historical perspective and undermine it with winking commentary.

Houdini, Mr. Doctorow writes, “was passionately in love with his ancient mother whom he had installed in his brownstone home on West 113th Street.”

“In fact,” he continues, “Sigmund Freud had just arrived in America to give a series of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and so Houdini was destined to be, with Al Jolson, the last of the great shameless mother lovers, a 19th-century movement that included such men as Poe, John Brown, Lincoln and James McNeill Whistler. Of course Freud’s immediate reception in America was not auspicious. A few professional alienists understood his importance, but to most of the public he appeared as some kind of German sexologist, an exponent of free love who used big words to talk about dirty things. At least a decade would have to pass before Freud would have his revenge and see his ideas begin to destroy sex in America forever.”

Woven into the rollicking narrative of “Ragtime” are the dawn of the movies and the roots of the American labor movement, tabloid journalism and women’s rights. The central plot involves the violent retribution taken by a black musician against a society that has left him without redress for his heinous victimization. The events described never took place (Mr. Doctorow borrowed the plot from a 19th-century novel by the German writer Heinrich von Kleist, who based his tale on a 16th-century news event), but they contribute to Mr. Doctorow’s foreshadowing of racial conflict as one of the great cultural themes of 20th-century American life.

In “Billy Bathgate,” a Depression-era Bronx teenager is seduced by the pleasures of lawlessness when he is engaged as an errand boy by the gangster Dutch Schultz, who is about to go on trial for tax evasion. The novel is not an allegory but, published in 1989, as the “greed is good” decade of the 1980s came to a close, it makes plain that Schultz’s corrupt entrepreneurism is of a piece with the avaricious manipulations of white-collar financiers, forerunners of a Wall Street run amok.

“The distinguished characteristic of E. L. Doctorow’s work is its double vision,” the critic Peter S. Prescott wrote in Newsweek in 1984. “In each of his books he experiments with the forms of fiction, working for effects that others haven’t already achieved; in each he develops a tone, a structure and a texture that he hasn’t used before. At the same time, he’s a deeply traditional writer, reworking American history, American literary archetypes, even exhausted subliterary genres. It’s an astonishing performance, really.”

Most of Mr. Doctorow’s historical explorations involved New York and its environs, including “Loon Lake” (1980), the tale of a 1930s drifter who comes upon a kind of otherworldly kingdom, a private retreat in the Adirondacks; “Lives of the Poets” (1984), a novella and six stories that collectively depict the mind of a writer who has, during the 1970s, succumbed to midlife ennui; and “The Waterworks” (1994), a dark mystery set in Manhattan in the 1870s, involving a journalist who vanishes and an evil scientist.

More recently, in “City of God” (2000), Mr. Doctorow wrote about three characters — a writer, a rabbi and a priest — and the search for faith in a cacophonous and especially hazardous age, using contemporary Manhattan as a backdrop. And in “Homer and Langley” (2009), he created a tour of 20th-century history from the perspective of a blind man, Homer Collyer, a highly fictionalized rendering of one of two eccentric brothers living on upper Fifth Avenue who became notorious after their deaths for their obsessive hoarding.

Indeed, much of his oeuvre describes a fictional history, more or less, of 20th-century America in general and New York in particular.

“Someone said to me once that my books can be arranged in rough chronological order to indicate one man’s sense of 120 years of American life,” Mr. Doctorow said on the publication of “City of God.” “In this book, it seems I’ve finally caught up to the present.”

“The March” (2005) was Mr. Doctorow’s farthest reach back into history, and it also expanded his geographical reach, populating the destructive and decisive Civil War campaign of General William T. Sherman — the capture of Atlanta and the so-called march to the sea — with a plethora of characters. Black and white, wealthy and wanting, military and civilian, sympathetic and repugnant, they are a veritable representation of the American people.

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (also won by “Billy Bathgate”) and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction (also won by “Ragtime” and “Billy Bathgate”), a finalist for the National Book Award (won by “World’s Fair”) and the Pulitzer Prize, “The March” was widely recognized as a signature book, treated by critics as the climactic work of a career.

Perhaps the most telling review came from John Updike, who was prominent among a noisy minority of critics who generally found Mr. Doctorow’s tinkering with history misleading if not an outright violation of the tenets of narrative literature. Updike held “Ragtime” in especial disdain.

“It smacked of playing with helpless dead puppets, and turned the historical novel into a gravity-free, faintly sadistic game,” he wrote in The New Yorker, going on to dismiss several other Doctorow books before granting their author a reprieve.

“His splendid new novel, ‘The March,’ pretty well cures my Doctorow problem,” Updike wrote, adding, “The novel shares with ‘Ragtime’ a texture of terse episodes and dialogue shorn, in avant-garde fashion, of quotation marks, but has little of the older book’s distancing jazz, its impudent, mocking shuffle of facts; it celebrates its epic war with the stirring music of a brass marching band heard from afar, then loud and up close, and finally receding over the horizon.

“Reading historical fiction,” Updike went on, “we often itch, our curiosity piqued, to consult a book of straight history, to get to the facts without the fiction. But ‘The March’ stimulates little such itch; it offers an illumination, fitful and flickering, of a historic upheaval that only fiction could provide. Doctorow here appears not so much a reconstructor of history as a visionary who seeks in time past occasions for poetry.”

DOCTOROW, E.L. (Edgar Lawrence Doctorow)
Born: 1/6/1931, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Died: 7/21/2015, Manhattan, New York, U.S.A.

E.L. Doctorow’s western – screenwriter, actor:
Welcome to Hard Times – 1967 [screenwriter]
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson – 1976 (Adviser to President Grover Cleveland)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

RIP Al Checco

Al Checco, Comic Character Actor, Dies at 93

Hollywood Reporter
By Mike Barnes

He was seen on 'Batman,' 'The Munsters' and in 'The Party' and appeared in many projects with his pal Don Knotts.

 Al Checco, a comedic character actor with a familiar face and dozens of credits who often appeared onscreen with his Army buddy, the late Don Knotts, has died. He was two days shy of his 94th birthday.

 Checco died peacefully Sunday of natural causes at his home in Studio City, Ron Buccieri, a friend of the actor for many years, told The Hollywood Reporter.

 A native of Pittsburgh, Checco is known to Batman fans as one of The Penguin’s (Burgess Meredith) henchmen in a first-season installment in which the cagey bird appears to have gone straight (he hasn’t). And when the Munsters win a membership to the Mockingbird Heights Country Club in a 1965 episode, it’s Checco who’s working the bar, hanging out with Grandpa (Al Lewis).

 In the 1976 CBS telefilm Helter Skelter, Checco had perhaps his most serious role as real-life supermarket executive Leno LaBianca, who was killed with his wife in their home by the Manson Family one day after they had murdered actress Sharon Tate and five others in 1969. A carving fork used to cut the word “war” on LaBianca’s stomach was left protruding from his corpse.

 Checco met Knotts during World War II when the two enlisted men served in an Army unit that was assembled to entertain the troops on front lines throughout the Pacific. After Checco sang, Knotts followed him with a ventriloquist act.

“When the Japanese bombed us, the sirens would go off, and we’d have to stop the show, jump in our foxholes or whatever, and then come out and finish the show,” Checco recalled in an interview after Knotts died in 2006. “This went on for a number of weeks. I kept suggesting to Don that we resume the show with him going first to get it off to a good start because my song was OK, but it was nothing special. Don would say, ‘No, no, Al, what you do is good. You warm up the audience.’ Of course, he was just conning me.”

Checco later guest-starred opposite Knotts in two episodes of The Andy Griffith Show (as a bank robber in 1962’s “The Bank Job” and as a thief scheming to recover his lost loot in 1965’s “If I Had a Million Dollars”). He also worked with the nervous actor in the movies The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967) and How to Frame a Figg (1971).

 A longtime resident of Studio City, Checco appeared in such films as Hotel (1967) starring Rod Taylor, Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) and the Steve McQueen action classic Bullitt (1968) as well as in Angel in My Pocket (1969) with Griffith, Skin Game (1971), The Terminal Man (1974), Pete's Dragon (1977) and Zero to Sixty (1978).

 On television, he could be found on dozens of series, including The Phil Silvers Show, Mister Ed, Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Flying Nun, The F.B.I., Here’s Lucy, The Rockford Files, Highway to Heaven and Scrubs, his final onscreen credit, in 2004.

 Checco graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh with a degree in drama in 1946 and headed to New York, where he worked as a stage manager on Broadway before turning to acting.

 He married actress Jean Bradley in 1953. She contracted polio in Milan, Italy while starring in a touring production of Oklahoma! and died at age 28 in 1955. Bradley had just replaced lead actress Shirley Jones, who had left to film the movie version. Checco never remarried.

 According to Buccieri, Checco gave away the bulk of his fortune to his college (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) and donated his home, in his wife's name, to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

 A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 29 at Saint Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks.

Born: 7/21/1921, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Died: 7/19/2015, Studio City, California, U.S.A.

Al Checco’s westerns – actor:
Bronco (TV) – 1962 (Ken Rodney)
The Big Valley (TV) – 1969 (desk clerk)
There Was a Crooked Man – 1970 (Wheatley)
Bonanza (TV) – 1970, 1971 (Hornsby, Rufus)
Skin Game – 1971 (room clerk)
Cade’s County – 1972 (Merle)
Kung Fu (TV) – 1975 (referee)
Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang (TV) – 1982 (Floyd Wilkins)