Thursday, January 31, 2013

When Time Ran Out...

From time to time in The Underworld, I'll refer to a little club (which exists solely in my head) made up of actors and actresses who served time in a 1970s disaster movie (I also include 1980, since those were usually filmed in '79.)  This was a period in which audiences couldn't get enough of watching stars in peril!  These people, whether I like, love or loathe them, have a special distinction in my heart due to their participation in a genre I have been obsessed with my whole life.  This past year, we lost a fair number of folks who had membership in this club and so, because of my affection for them and for my love of "In Memorium" tributes, I'm going to do a brief (and belated) recap of them as we send them off to that big burning high-rise or disabled plane in the sky!

Chief among those we lost last year, in this or any other category, is Ernest Borgnine.  An Oscar-winner for 1955's Marty, that was only one of many, many compelling and fascinating roles that he played in his sixty-year career.  From Here to Eternity (1953) and The Catered Affair (1956) spring to mind, but still only scratch the surface.  Seen below in my favorite shot of him from The Poseidon Adventure (1972), in which he gave a brawny, blustery performance, as well as the far less successful 1980 film When Time Ran Out..., he also starred in the 1977 Irwin Allen TV-movie Fire!  He was ninety-five when renal failure claimed him.
Gary Collins started his film career in 1962 with the Charlton Heston comedy The Pigeon Who Took Rome, later segueing to TV on The Sixth Sense and as the host of Hour Magazine as well as The Miss America Pageant.  (He's something of a hero in my house for having taken part in some disastrously wretched production numbers during the 1985 pageant, the one in which Vanessa Williams was declared the winner!)  In 1970, he played the calm, professional flight engineer in Airport, surveying the damage caused by a mad bomber and (amusingly) informing pilot Dean Martin of some of the passengers "puking."  Married for forty-five years to former Miss America-turned-actress Mary Ann Mobley, he died of natural causes at the age of seventy-four.
Charles Durning's screen career (apart from one 1953 TV appearance) began in earnest in the early '60s.  He emerged as a powerful character actor, adept at both comedy and drama (and even musicals!)  He was twice Oscar-nominated, for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), losing to Louis Gossett Jr in An Officer and a Gentleman, and To Be or Not to Be (1983), losing that time to Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment.  He also scored four Golden Globe nominations, winning the final time for the 1990 miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts.  In 1975, he played the captain of the ill-fated dirigible The Hindenburg.  He died of natural causes at the age of eighty-nine, but was still working steadily and will have two films released this year!
Alex Karras made his mark on the football field as a defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions before turning to acting in the late '60s.  He had a role in the blockbuster Mel Brooks western spoof Blazing Saddles (1974) and later became a familiar face on TV as the father of Webster (1983 - 1989.)  His wife and costar on Webster was Susan Clark (a disaster club member in her own right for her work in Airport 1975.)  In 1980's When Time Ran Out..., Karras played an oil rigger and part-time cockfighting aficionado who is confronted with a tidal wave caused by the eruption of a nearby volcano.  He died of kidney failure at age seventy-seven and, sadly, had been suffering from dementia, possibly caused by all those head injuries he incurred on the football field.
Jack Klugman became a household name thanks to his role on The Odd Couple (1970 - 1975) with Tony Randall and later Quincy, M.E. (1976 - 1983.)  he'd been working on TV and in movies since the early '50s, however, having costarred in 12 Angry Men (1957) and I Could Go On Singing (1963) with Judy Garland.  Nominated ten times for the Emmy, he won once for a guest role on The Defenders in 1964 and twice for The Odd Couple.  He also won a Golden Globe for The Odd Couple, losing a previous nomination to Carroll O'Connor for All in the Family.  In 1976, Klugman played a gambler, deep in debt to a loan shark, who has everything riding on a championship football game in Two Minute Warning.  However, a crazed sniper ensures that the outcome of the game will never be known and that more than a few lives are lost in the bargain.  Klugman died of prostate cancer at age ninety.
Sylvia Kristel may be a surprising person to find in the club, not to mention being dead in the first place!  Many of us think of her as the young, sexually liberated star of all those softcore Emmanuelle movies of the 1970s and beyond.  The Dutch actress, who also starred in a sultry 1981 version of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover with Nicholas Clay, was taken from us far too early at only age sixty from cancer.  In 1979, Kristel was the slit-skirted chief stewardess of The Concorde: Airport '79, opposite pilots Alain Delon and George Kennedy.
This completes the members of the disaster club as far as I am aware.  However, there are a couple of honorable mentions, folks that took part in a 1970s disaster movie made for television.  Here we bid farewell to James Farentino, who starred in 1974's The Elevator (I'm not making this up!) about a disparate group of folks trapped in a broken elevator 32 stories up within a high rise.  His costars (apart from Don Stroud who's seen with him here) include disaster stalwarts such as Roddy McDowall, Carol Lynley, Arlene Golonka and Miss Myrna Loy!  At age seventy-three, Farentino died of complications from a broken hip.
Larry Hagman will forever be immortalized as the star of two very different television series.  He was the befuddled, exasperated astronaut Major Tony Nelson opposite Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie (1965 - 1970) and then the cunning, slick oil magnate J.R. Ewing on Dallas (1978 - 1991.)  In between those, he starred in the 1974 TV-movie Hurricane as the husband of Jessica Walter, both trapped at sea in their pleasure boat during the title event.  He also had a small role as a doctor in the 1976 big-screen disaster spoof The Big Bus. Hagman was eighty-one when he died of complications for the treatment of throat cancer.
Finally, Deborah Raffin, the star of one of our recently profiled howlers Once is Not Enough (1975) passed away all too soon last year of leukemia.  She was only fifty-nine.  In 1978, she starred in the telefim Ski Lift to Death along with Don Johnson, Charles Frank, Howard Duff and Veronica Hamel.  The story concerned a disabled lift that threatened to plunge a variety of skiers to their deaths at any given moment.  We salute these departed performers who faced a wide variety of disasters (and, in some cases, sharp-tongued critics!) during their acting careers.


NotFelixUnger said...

Please, a little love for "Condominium" with Dan Haggerty and Barbara Eden. When has a hurricane ever exposed a chest like Dan Haggerty's?

The TV movie [mini-series, I think] was shot circa 1979 and released in 1980.

I love all the folks mentioned but "Condominium" deserves, at least, a little love.

Otherwise, thanks for the memories!
I love "Concorde: Airport 79" and "The Elevator."

Regarding James Farentino, he did an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" where he tried to seduce a VERY old Vera Miles whom he is certain is only around his age. [Awesome episode.] I always thought he was so sexy.

NotFelixUnger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Poseidon3 said...

But, darlin', this post is a tribute to deceased actors who worked in disaster movies. Dan and Barbara are still with us and I don't think anyone from Condominium passed away in 2012... I'd love to see it again, though. I caught it when it aired all those years ago and read the novel it was based on about five or six years back.

NotFelixUnger said...

Oops. My bad. Vodka goggles and all.

joel65913 said...

Nice tribute. I was especially sorry to see Charles Durning and Jack Klugman leave us.

Durning no matter the part always exuded that warm quality that made his presence in a film a welcome one and added something to the film no matter how good or bad it was.

Conversely the abrasive quality Jack Klugman always had about him strangely had the almost the same effect. He always imparted a feeling of good heartedness under the gruffness and frustration particularly on the Odd Couple.