Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Remembering Gore Vidal October 3, 1925 - July 31, 2012

Gore Vidal, born Eugene Louis Vidal, was a controversial American writer of novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays and was a true liberal intellectual.  He was known for his essays having written them in "The Nation" "Esquire" "New York Review of Books" and "The New Statesman" to name a few.

Vidal's major interest was writing about America and was an outspoken critic of our foreign policy.  He was known for bumping heads with conservatives like William Buckley, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote.  He believed that America began deteriorating in the 80's and continues its downward decline.

Vidal was born in the Cadet Hospital at West Point where his father was a first lieutenant and an aeronautics instructor at the United States Military Academy and then served as director of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce during the Roosevelt administration.  His mother did some work on Broadway as an extra.  He was raised in Washington D.C. and was around the political culture and developed his ideas through his life experiences.

Over the years, Vidal published 25 novels, two memoirs, and numerous essays.  He wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays.

He twice ran for public office and was also an occasional actor having appeared in the animated form in "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" and had a role in the movie version of his own play called "The Best Man."  He was a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

His writing includes the screenplay of "Ben-Hur" where he won an Academy Award for Best Picture.  His well known writing include "Julian" "Burr" and "Lincoln"that were historical novels and his novel "The City and the Pillar" caused outrage with conservatives.  He might best be remembered for his social novel "Myra Breckinridge"

Gore Vidal died one year ago, on July 31, 2012 from complications from pneumonia at the age of 86 at his home in Hollywood Hills, California.  At the time of his death, Vidal is considered the last of a generation of American writers who had served during World War II.

Following Gore Vidal's death, a celebration of his life took place at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (program pictured was given to John Herzig by NYC's columnist Liz Smith who spoke at his service).  The tribute to Vidal was hosted by Dick Cavett and, along with Liz Smith, other speakers included Hillary Clinton, James Earl Jones, Cybill Shepherd, Susan Sarandon, and Candice Bergen.

Gore Vidal was laid to rest by his partner for more than half a century, Howard Auster in the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C. and Vidal's grave is a few steps from a young boy he idolized in school by the name of James Trimble who was killed in World War II by a Japanese suicide bomber at the age of 19.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Remembering Sam Phillips January 5, 1923 - July 30, 2003

When most think of rock and roll, the names of Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, and numerous other rock and roll artists come to mind.  There are those names that we may have never heard of but play a major part in the history of rock and roll.

One such name is Sam Phillips.  Sam had many titles but is remembered as a record producer and executive as well as a talent scout and DJ.  What many people don't know about him is that he is the man responsible for names like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.

Sam Phillips founded Sun Studios and Sun Records in Memphis and through his company, many of the known stars of today were born.  He was a big advocate of racial equality and often recorded little known names and made them big stars.

Phillips was born on a farm in Florence, Alabama and was one of eight children.  As a child, Phillips assisted in supporting his family by picking corn and working odd jobs.  While working in the fields, Phillips was fascinated by the workers that would sing as they worked.  It is said that one day while traveling with his family to see a preacher in Dallas, they passed thru Memphis, Tennessee and happened to make it to Beale Street that, at that time, was the heart of the music scene.  He recalls that he totally fell in love with music.  During high school, Phillips conducted the school band and at that time had dreams of becoming an attorney.  Unfortunately, the great depression hit and it bankrupted his father and soon thereafter, his father died.  Phillips was forced to leave high school to support his family.  His jobs included working at a grocery store and then a funeral parlor.  While working at the funeral home, Phillips learned how to handle people tactfully in emotional situations that would soon pay off for him.

Sam Phillips then decided to spin records and work as a DJ and radio engineer for a local radio station that would become the start of Phillips successful career in the entertainment industry.  He recorded amateur talent that included the likes of BB King, Junior Parker and Howlin Wolf.  He would record them and then sell their music to major record labels.  Many authorities would say that Sam Phillips is considered to have recorded the first rock and roll record.  Sun Records produced more Rock and Roll records than any other record label during its 16 year run having produced 226 singles.  Phillips is credited with teaching Elvis Presley his knowledge that would lead him to his career with RCA Victor.  When Presley auditioned for Phillips, he had no band.  Sam Phillips put together a couple of musicians to accompany Elvis and was the start of Elvis' career.  He was also a major influence of the success of Johnny Cash.

He was also a major investor in the Holiday Inn franchise and amassed a fortune.

Sam Phillips was a member of the first group of musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was the first ever non-performer to be inducted.  He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame as well as the Blues Hall of Fame and was a recipient of the Grammy Trustees Award for his lifetime achievement.

Sam has been portrayed in several movies including the 1979 film, "Elvis", 2005 film, "Walk the Line"and the 1989 movie, "Great Balls of Fire"

Sam Phillips died of respiratory failure on July 30, 2003 at the age of 80.  Coincidentally, he died one day before the original Sun Studio was designated a national landmark.

Sam Phillips funeral was held on August 7, 2003 in the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in Memphis (funeral program pictured).  Among his honorary pallbearers were Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.  It was said of Phillips "He was a man of vision and principle-both social and aesthetic-who by dint of personality sought to overcome the ingrained prejudice of his time and place.  He always said "if you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything."

A favorite of Sam Phillips were the words of Bob Dylan's Forever Young that were printed in his funeral program.

Sam Phillips rests in the Garden of Trees Mausoleum in Memphis Park Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Remembering Cass Elliot September 19, 1941 - July 29, 1974

One of the most popular sounds of the 60's came from a group of two men and two women known as "The Mamas & The Papas"  The voice that was prominent in the group was that of Ellen Naomi Cohen who is most remembered as Mama Cass Elliot.

Elliot was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  She took the name of "Cass" in high school from the actress Peggy Cass.  Her family soon moved to Alexandria, Virginia and her younger sister, Leah" was also a talented singer and member of the "Coyote Sisters" Cass took the last name Elliot in memory of a friend who had died. While attending George Washington High School, she took an interest in acting and her first performance was in a school production "The Boy Friend"

She left high school before graduating and moved to New York City to further an acting career.  She earned a role in "The Music Man" but lost a part in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" by the one and only Barbra Streisand in 1962.

While in New York City, to earn a living, Elliot worked as an attendant in a cloakroom at "The Showplace" in Greenwich Village.  She then moved to Washington D.C. to attend American University where she began to pursue a singing career.  She performed with groups like "The Triumvirate" that would become known as "The Big 3" and soon known as "Cass Elliot and The Big 3"  When the "Big 3" broke up, one of the members John Doherty joined "The New Journeymen.  The New Journeymen consisted of John Phillips and wife Michelle and Doherty.  Doherty convinced Phillips that they should recruit Elliot into the group and the rest is history.

Now that "The Journeymen had two women in the group, they decided they needed a name change.  It was Mama Cass Elliot that came up with the name "Mamas and Papas"  Elliot was considered the most charismatic of the group.  Her distinct voice was a huge factor in their success.  Among their "memorable" hits were "Monday Monday" "Words of Love" "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and of course, my favorite "California Dreamin"  The Mamas & Papas performed until their final album was released in 1971.

Cass Elliot pursued her solo career until her performance in the Circus Maximus theatre in Las Vegas when apparently because of a crash diet, changed her voice.  It became very weak and the result left her   image a disaster.  She got bad press and it was later learned that she had used heroin prior to going on stage.    The result was that Elliot fought severe depression.

She continued to appear on television specials and variety shows.  She was a guest host on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and "The Julie Andrews Hour" among others.  She sang the jingle for Hardee's Hamburgers and continued her acting career as well. She had a feature role in the film "Pufnstuf"  Her successful music career blossomed once again.  In her personal life, she would give birth to her daughter.

One evening while her career was back on top, Elliot was performing at the London Palladium to two weeks of sold out crowds and telephoned her friend, Michelle Phillips on July 28, 1974,  excited because of her new found success and every night standing ovations.  After their conversation, Elliot retired for the evening.  During the night, she suffered from an apparent heart attack and died in her sleep at the age of 32.  There was speculation that she had choked on a ham sandwich but was later said to be a rumor.

Nearly 400 people attended Cass Elliot's funeral in the Hollywood Memorial Park that included her mother and Michelle Phillips.  Following her funeral, she was laid to rest in Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.

Mama Cass Eilliot was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Remembering Bob Hope May 29, 1903 - July 27, 2003

Leslie Townes Hope was born near London, England and immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio.  His father was a stonemason and his mother, a cleaning lady and an aspiring opera singer.  He was the fifth of seven sons.  Word has it that he changed his name to Bob in grade school because he was teased for the name Leslie.

Bob Hope would become the most honored entertainer and the entertainer with the longest running contract with a single network (NBC) for 61 years.

Bob Hope could do it all. He was a vaudevillian, comedian, singer, dancer, author, athlete and appeared on Broadway, movies, television, radio, and even on the golf course.  He is, of course, mostly recognized for his longtime commitment to the military having entertained the troops for over 40 years.  He made 57 tours for the USO between 1942-88.  The United States Congress made him the first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces signed by President Bill Clinton.

Hope appeared in over 70 films including a series of "Road" movies that also included his friend, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.  He hosted the Academy Awards fourteen times and was the author of fourteen books. He also previously was a minority share owner of his hometown baseball team, the Cleveland Indians.

He got his start in the entertainment industry at the age of 12 when he earned pocket change by "busking" on a streetcar.  He entered dancing and amateur talent contests (as Lester Hope) and once won a contest for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin.  When working as a butcher's assistant, he aspired to become an entertainer and prepared himself by taking dance lessons.  Silent film comedian, Fatty Arbuckle is said to have been an important part of getting Hope his start.  It all started on stage and then he moved into radio in 1934 and finally television in the 50's.

His first film was comedy called "Going Spanish." He then joined Paramount Pictures and starred with W.C. Fields in "The Big Broadcast" that featured his trademark song "Thanks for the Memory."

Other films include "My Favorite Brunette" "Road to Singapore"and "The Road to Hong Kong." His final film was "Cancel My Reservation" in 1972.

Over the years, Hope did many television specials and was one of the first entertainers to use "cue cards." His Christmas specials, in particular, were very popular and some were filmed in war areas like Vietnam.  His 90th birthday special won an "Emmy Award."  His final television special was "Laughing With the Presidents" and Hope made a brief appearance on the 50th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1997.  His final television appearance was on a K Mart commercial.

In his personal life, Bob Hope was an avid golfer and founded the "Bob Hope Classic" in 1960 and the classic made history in 1995 when Hope teed up with three US Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

He was very passionate about "Fight For Sight" having raised and donated $100,000 to establish the Bob Hope Fight for Sight Fund.

He celebrated his 100th birthday on May 29, 2003.

Two months after his 100th birthday on July 27, 2003, Bob Hope died in his home in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles.  Supposedly, when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, Hope told his wife, Dolores, "surprise me."

Bob Hope was buried in a private funeral mass (attended by about 150 family members and friends) at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church that was held at dawn and followed by a procession to the San Fernando Mission Cemetery where he was laid to rest.

A month later on August 27, 2003 a memorial mass was held in the St. Charles Borromeo Church (funeral program pictured) that included eulogies by Senator Diane Feinstein, General Richard Myers and television writer Larry Gelbert.  He said of Hope "like the best of his breed, Bob knew life without laughter is life without parole.  And the ability to provide laughter was forever at the tip of his fingers-to say nothing of his tongue."

Later that evening, another tribute to Hope was held at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences that included tributes by Phyllis Diller (items photographed belonged to her and now part of the Famous Endings collection) as well as comments by Angela Lansbury, Tom Selleck, Tony Orlando, and Larry King to name a few. The program (pictured) includes Hope's own words "I consider myself a pretty lucky guy. I've been blessed with a loving and understanding wife, a wonderful family, good friends and the ability to make people laugh. (All I have to do is demonstrate my golf swing) But I think that the luckiest break I've had in my life is to be an American.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Remembering Frank Inn May 8, 1916 - July 27, 2002

As most of you will soon realize, I enjoy learning the stories of both the lives and deaths of the famous and the not so famous.

One of my favorite stories ever is about a man by the name of Elias Freeman, better known as Frank Inn.

Elias Freeman was born in Camby, Indiana to a Quaker family and his father was a pastor.  He decided at the age of 17 to change his name to Frank Inn and claim his fame in Hollywood.  He arrived there and got a job sweeping streets along with other tasks for about $29.00/week.  The story goes that he was the victim of a car crash at the age of 19 in Hollywood and was actually pronounced dead.  When an attendant was taking him to the morgue, he noticed a sign of life and rushed him back to the emergency room.  Amazingly, he survived the accident but was left in a wheelchair and had severe physical difficulty.

Although he survived, he could no longer do his job.  He was left handicapped and had to decide what he was going to do with the rest of his life.  As a child, he helped his family on the farm and enjoyed training his pets.  It came to his mind that perhaps he could further his knowledge of training animals. His daughter said that he had a telepathic communication with animals.

His animal training career spanned more than 50 years and is responsible for the training of many animal celebrities along with Frank's wife, Juanita.  His first professional work was assistant to the training of "Skippy" the dog who played Asta in the "Thin Man" movie series.  He also assisted the famous animal trainer Rudd Weather wax in the training of "Pal" better known as Lassie.   Inn finally decided he could make it on his own and started his own animal training company as an independent trainer.

Inn trained "Orangey" the cat who appeared in several films including "Rhubarb" "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "The Diary of Anne Frank; the famous pig "Arnold Ziffel" from the popular television sitcom "Green Acres" "Tramp" the dog from "My Three Sons"  and numerous others that included chimps and other critters that appeared in shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Frank also appeared in the films having played a security guard in "Mooch Goes to Hollywood" a cook in "Hawmps"

and as himself in "Benji the Hunted"

It is said that over the years, Frank had saved hundreds of animals from euthanasia.  He would regularly support the various animals shelters with money to help his furry friends.  At one time, it is said, that Frank and his assistants were supporting 1000 animals at the cost of $400/day.  One day, while taking a donation into a shelter, he spotted a "mutt" in a cage.  The dog was a combination of poodle, cocker spaniel, and terrier.  It seemed like love at first sight when he asked the person running the shelter if he could take the animal home.  Frank had a new friend named "Higgins"that would become his lifelong partner.  He began training "Higgins" and realized how smart the dog was.  To make a long story short, "Higgins" first appeared as the dog in the "Petticoat Junction" show during the 1960's.  "Higgins" also became one of the most famous animal celebrities in history and appeared in feature films including "Mooch Goes To Hollywood" and of course "Benji"  (incidentally the other Benji films were "Higgins" offspring.)  You would assume from the name that Higgins was a male.  Not true!

When Orangey, Arnold and Higgins died.  Frank had them cremated and the plan was that Frank wanted them in the casket with him when he died.  I have heard conflicting reports that it didn't happen and that Frank's daughter now has them.  I don't know the truth.

I do know that when Higgins died, Frank had a funeral for her.  It was attended by the Hollywood writer Stephen Cox who provided me with Higgins funeral program that includes Frank's writing of "The Saga of Benji" (Higgins's funeral program pictured)

Frank joined his loving companions on July 27, 2002 at the age of 86.  Frank's funeral was held at the Shepherd of the Hills Christian Church at Porter Ranch on August 5, 2002.  His funeral program (pictured) includes a photograph of Frank & Higgins and Frank's own words in a poem he wrote called "No Handicaps in Heaven"

   I dreamed I was in Heaven and many who'd been handicaps were there.  Everyone was healthy and happy, because nobody was in a wheelchair.  There's no handicaps in Heaven and there's no cross there to bear.  Since every soul is perfect, there's just no need for a wheelchair.  Wheelchairs, canes, crutches and pain had been forever left behind.  The beauty I saw everywhere because there were not any souls blind.  Many handicaps are neglected in life but our Lord loves their soul.  He takes the souls from the broken bodies then He makes then whole.  In Heaven God provides all the needs for us to enjoy our life anew.  We'll all have a beautiful life forever with pleasant things to do.  You know when Jesus died on the Cross, He died and forgave all sin.  Heaven's Door is always open for those who open their heart to Him.  Frank Inn

Frank now rests in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)

God Bless Frank Inn!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Remembering Randy Pausch October 23, 1960 - July 25, 2008

I was never a big fan of "youtube" until one day a person told me that I really must see a video called "The Last Lecture."  I decided to check it out and I must say, "I was blown away"

For those not familiar with "The Last Lecture" it took place at Carnegie Mellon University when a professor of computer science and human-computer interaction by the name of Randy Pausch decided to deliver his thoughts about life.  You see, Randy Pausch was battling pancreatic cancer.  He had discovered that he had a few months of good health left and decided to make the best of it.  On September 18, 2007, Pausch gave his lecture titled, "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" It became a youtube sensation.  The lecture then resulted in a book "The Last Lecture" that became a New York Times Bestseller and published in 35 languages.

Pausch was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  After graduating from Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Md. and furthering his education by earning degrees from Brown University and Carnegie Mellon.  He taught from 1988-97 at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and during that time, as part of his education, spent sabbaticals at Walt Disney.  Pausch was a huge Disney fan beginning in his childhood and throughout his life.  When discussing life issues, he would often say that a person can live their life as an Eeyore or a Tigger. He stated " Tigger finds fun in every situation and Eeyore wallows in self-misery."

During his teaching years, Pausch developed and designed many firsts.  He received the National Science Foundation Presidential You Investigator Award along with numerous other achievements in his field.  He was the author and co-author of five books and over 70 articles.

Following the delivery of his lecture, Pausch was recognized as "Person of the Week" on ABC's World News and his lecture was viewed by over a million people during the first month of its delivery.  He appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and received admiration from the Pittsburgh Steelers.  ABC with Diane Sawyer produced an hour long show about Pausch and his Lecture.  Randy Pausch was always a Star Trek fan and was asked to film a role in Star Trek. He went to Los Angeles to shoot a scene along with a dialogue at the beginning of the film.  Time Magazine listed Randy as one of the World's Top-100 Most Influential People.

Randy Pausch succumbed to his disease on July 25, 2008 in his home in Chesapeake, Virginia in the loving presence of his wife Jai and their three children.

On September 22, 2008, Carnegie Mellon was the location of "Remembering Randy  A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Randy Pausch.  In his memorial program (pictured) a quote by Randy includes the words  "Brick walls are there for a reason: To prove how badly we want something." Those in attendance received a "Tigger" doll to remember him by. (Carnegie Mellon gave Famous Endings items pictured). Pausch rests in Chesapeake Memorial Gardens in Chesapeake City, Virginia.

Walt Disney's Magical Kingdom honored him with a plaque (pictured) with a Pausch quote located outside the Mad Tea Cups attraction that reads "Be good at something  It makes you valuable  Have something to bring to the table  Because that will  Make you more welcome."

Randy Pausch continues to be an inspiration to our world.

Remembering Carl Brashear January 19, 1931 - July 25, 2006

A little over a decade ago, I watched one of my favorite movies of all time.  It featured actor, Cuba Gooding Jr. playing the part of an African American Navy man by the name of Carl Brashear.  The name of the movie was "Men of Honor" and also featured another favorite actor of mine, Robert De Niro.  It is based on the life story of Carl M. Brashear and the difficulties he faced while proudly serving his country.

Carl Brashear was the first African American to become a U.S. Navy Master Diver.  Brashear not only was a patriot for his country but also broke down many racial barriers during that time.

Born in Tonieville, Kentucky, Carl Brashear was the sixth of eight children and born to sharecroppers.

He joined the Navy in 1948 at the age of 17.  You could call Brashear a true pioneer for several reasons.    As I mentioned above, he was the first black deep sea diver to graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving & Salvage School, the first black Master Diver and the first Navy diver in naval history to be restored to full active duty as an amputee, the result of a leg injury caused during a salvage operation.  He was the first amputee to advance to the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer and the first black man to become a Master Diver in the U.S. Navy that he held for two years (1975-77)

During his life (both personal and military) Brashear faced many challenges.  He faced hostility and racism.  Many threats occurred including the threat of being drowned because of the color of his skin.

On one occasion, Brashear was assigned to escort the presidential ship "Barbara Ann" to Rhode Island where he met President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Eisenhower gave him a small knife that said "To Carl M. Brashear. From Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957. Many thanks."

"Men of Honor" not only shows the struggles Brashear faced during his dive training but also future difficulties following an explosion that would result in the amputation of his left leg.  He was motivated by his beliefs that "it's not a sin to get knocked down; it's a sin to stay down and I ain't going to let nobody steal my dream."

Brashear retired from the Navy on April 1, 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.  He served as a civilian employee for the government in Norfolk, Virginia until his retirement in 1993.

Following his retirement, Brashear received numerous accolades including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and an exhibit in honor of him in Nauticus, a science and maritime museum called "Dream to Dive: The Life of Master Diver Carl Brashear."

Carl Brashear died on July 25, 2006 from respiratory and heart failure at the age of 75.

Final Honors for Master Chief Carl M. Brashear took place on July 29, 2006 at 1300 in the Little Creek Amphibious Base Chapel in Norfolk, Virginia (funeral program pictured was given to Famous Endings by the Hollomon Brown Funeral Home). It was attended by over 800 family, friends, active and retired military service people in "honor of a man whose boundless determination inspired every walk of life."
During the service, it was said of Brashear "He taught people worldwide that your race, your gender, your religion, none of that makes any difference.  You can achieve your goals, you can hold accountable to your characteristics as a person not by the color of your skin."

Following his funeral service, he was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Remembering Sherman Hemsley February 1, 1938 - July 24, 2012

The character of George Jefferson was the African American version to Archie Bunker.  Both characters were television bigots.  George Jefferson was played by Sherman Hemsley on the popular CBS television sitcom "The Jeffersons" that ran from 1975-85.

Sherman Hemsley was born and raised in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by his mother who worked  in a lamp factory.  He eventually met his father at the age of 14.  He dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Air Force where he served his country for four years.  Following his military service, Hemsley went back to Philadelphia to take a job with the U.S. Post Office during the day and took his shot at acting during the night.  He began his amateur acting career by playing the character Gitlow in the 1970's Broadway play "Purlie"

Hemsley eventually left Philadelphia to pursue his career in New York City to study at the Negro Ensemble Company.  He played roles in numerous plays during that time and displayed his singing voice.  It was during his performance in "Purlie" that Norman Lear called him in 1971 to play the role of George Jefferson in his new sitcom, "All in the Family"  Hemsley and Isabel Sanford  were given supporting roles.  Soon the spin-off to All in the Family was born.  The Jeffersons proved to be one of Lear's most successful shows that ran for eleven seasons.

When "The Jeffersons" concluded, Hemsley joined the cast of NBC's "Amen" in 1986 where he played the role of "Deacon Ernest Frye" that would run for five seasons until 1991.  He was a voice actor in the puppet series "Dinosaurs" having played Bradley Richfield.

Hemsley concluded his acting career but appeared with Isabel Sanford on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and played in commercials for "The Gap" "Old Navy" and "Denny's"  He and Sanford also made a cameo appearance in "Sprung" He was inducted into the Television Academy hall of Fame in 2012.

As I mentioned earlier, Hemsley was also an accomplished musician having been a jazz keyboardist.  He released a single titled "Ain't That A Kick in the Head" followed by an album called "Dance"

Although his roles showed him as a loud boisterous man, in private, Hemsley was very shy and many would call him a recluse.  He was never married and had no children.  He often spoke of how difficult it was to play the role of George Jefferson.

In his later years, Hemsley suffered from lung cancer that would eventually end his life on July 24, 2012.  His death ended in controversy.  His burial was delayed for nearly four months waiting for the courts to allow him to be laid to rest.  A Philadelphia man claimed to be Hemsley's brother and forced the delay of his funeral arrangements at the San Jose Funeral Home. Following the legal battle, Hemsley's body was released to his business partner, Flora Enchinton.

On November 21, 2012, Sherman Hemsley's Home Going Service  (pictured) was held in the Cielo Vista Church in El Paso, Texas.  The nearly 150 people in attendance enjoyed watching some of Hemsley's humorous clips from his successful career.  El Paso Police Department Chaplain said of Hemsley "He helped us to laugh, gave us an opportunity to forget the troubles, the stresses of life."

In honor of his service to his country, Sherman Hemsley was laid to rest with military honors in the Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso, Texas.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Remembering D.W. Griffith January 22, 1875 - July 23, 1948

Motion picture legend Charlie Chaplin called him "The Teacher of us All"  Many others referred to him as "The Man Who Invented Hollywood" and "The Pioneer of Cinema"

David Wark Griffith most often referred to as D.W. Griffith was the pioneering film director and best known for his epic 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation" and a year later, another film called "Intolerance"  He was one of the first to use advanced camera techniques that was responsible for setting the stage for the feature-length film in the U.S.

Griffith was born in Crestwood, Kentucky and the son of a Confederate Army Colonel during the Civil War and then a state legislator.   His dad died when Griffith was 10 and Griffith's family was poverty stricken.  Griffith left high school to support his family and took his first job in a dry goods store.  Griffith was creative and began his career as a playwright but with little success.  He then tried acting where he would appear as an extra in a variety of plays.

He traveled to New York City and tried to sell his script to Edison Studios.  The script was rejected but Griffith earned an acting part in "Rescued from an Eagle's Nest"  He continued to refine his talents as a writer and learn the motion picture business.  He landed a job with the Biograph Company and that is where his successful career bloomed.  His first movie with Biograph was called "The Adventures of Dolly."  Biograph's main focus was on short movies and didn't agree with Griffith's interest in developing full length films.  Griffith and his group of talented actors left Biograph and formed Reliance-Majestic Studios and was later named Fine Arts Studio.  It was there that Griffith produced a film called "The Clansman" that became "The Birth of A Nation" a blockbuster, film.  It was considered one of the first feature length American films and transformed  the film industry.  Although the film was extremely controversial, it broke box office records and was enormously popular.  The film created riots in the north because of it's racial content. His next film , "Intolerance"didn't get the record response but was very successful.  Griffith would eventually create United Artists and was responsible for the careers of legendary actors and actresses including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and others.

Other works of Griffith include "Broken Blossoms" "Way Down East" "Orphans of the Storm" and "America"

Griffith was held in reverence by many in the film industry and was given a special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  He was, however, treated poorly near the end of his career.  Orson Welles said of Griffith "I have never really hated Hollywood except for its treatment of D.W. Griffith. No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man."

D.W. Griffith has five films preserved in the United States National Film Registry as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.  He has earned numerous accolades including a ten cent postage stamp, the D.W. Griffith Award "the directors guild's highest honor, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Griffith was discovered unconscious at the Knickerbocker Hotel on July 23, 1948 and died soon after.  His death was ruled a cerebral hemorrhage.  He was 73.

 A large memorial service (funeral program pictured) was held in his honor at the Hollywood Masonic Temple.  It was said of Griffith "no one was respected more, nor wanted less." Sadly, few of his colleagues attended his funeral.  He rests in the Mount Tabor Methodist Church in Centerfield, Kentucky.  The Directors Guild of America provided his monument.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Remembering Estelle Getty July 25, 1923 - July 22, 2008

The "Golden Girls" was a popular sitcom that aired from September 13, 1985 until May 9, 1992 and was centered around four older women sharing a home in Miami, Florida.  An American actress by the name of Estelle Getty played the part of (Sophia Petrillo) the mother of Dorothy (Bea Arthur) in the hysterical series.  Interestingly, in real life, Bea was one year older than Estelle. Estelle also acted in film and theatre as well as television. 

Estelle won an Emmy and Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the sitcom. During her stint on the Golden Girls, Getty wrote her autobiography titled "If I Knew Then, What I Know Now...So What? " She also used her successful career to launch an exercise video for senior citizens in 1993. 

Estelle was born Estelle Scher and was the daughter of  Jewish immigrants who worked in the glass business.  She got her start in the Yiddish Theater and then a comedienne in the Catskills borscht belt resorts and was first recognized for her role as Harvey Fierstein's mother in: Torch Song Trilogy" on Broadway.

When the Golden Girls ended, Estelle played roles in "The Golden Palace" from 1992-93 and "Empty Nest" from 1993-95.

Over the years, Getty could be seen in various roles including films like "Tootsie"and "Stuart Little" to her role as Cher's mother in "Mask".  She also played Bella Stern in "Copacabana" and "Stop!Or My Mother Will Shoot You."  On television, other appearances include Cagney & Lacy, Newhart, and Fantasy Island.

In 2000, Getty stopped making public appearances when she revealed she suffered from Parkinson's Disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimers Disease.  Doctors later discovered that she had neither of these diseases but rather suffered from a disease known as Lewy body dementia.

Estelle Getty died on July 22, 2008 in her Hollywood Boulevard home three days prior to her 85th birthday.

A great deal negative publicity took place when it was revealed that none of the other Golden Girls attended her funeral service at Hollywood Forever Chapel in Los Angeles.  Getty was laid to rest in the Jewish section of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.