Date of Birth: 2 August 1939, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Birth Name: Wesley Earl Craven
Nicknames: Wes Craven
Wes Craven, the film director, who made his living out of scaring the wits out of people in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), earning the nickname “Sultan of Slash”; later, as audiences became cynical about the franchise-driven genre, he served up horror with an ironic tongue in cheek.
Craven’s work left the critics divided. Some reviewers denounced him as a purveyor of gore with a dazzling technique and nothing to say; others compared him to Ingmar Bergman.
Craven himself recalled, during his early career, that guests would leave dinner parties upon realising who he was. But he always had fans among younger directors who appreciated the intelligence and psychological insight he brought to low-budget film making.
He created some of the most memorable bogeymen in film, culminating, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, in the blade-taloned Freddy Krueger, a murdered child molester in a moth-eaten sweater and filthy fedora who is brought back to life via the dreams of the teenage descendants of his killers.
Made at a time when Aids was coming to public attention and the prospect of environmental Armageddon had become a topic in classrooms, the film seemed to tap into deep-seated fears.
Craven, who had a master’s degree in philosophy, became a prominent defender of the horror genre which, he argued, gives people the mental equipment to deal with a frightening world. “You’re talking about the beasts in the forest that come after you during the daytime or during the night but in a way that’s under control. So in a sense, you can own the beast,” he explained.
His films were often inspired by true stories. Nightmare was inspired by reports in the Los Angeles Times about a group of refugees who had fled the Khmer Rouge, healthy young men in their twenties, who, after fleeing to the United States, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. “They would try to stay awake, and they would describe the nightmares to their families,” Craven recalled. “Finally there would be a scream and the guy would be dead. Death by nightmare.”
The resulting film established Craven as a leading director . His producers established a franchise and went on to make several more Freddy Krueger films of varying quality, without Craven’s input, until 1995 when he released Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
By this time, as he recalled, “horror had reached one of its sort of classical, cyclical stages of ennui on the part of the audience”. So Craven decided to poke fun at the genre. New Nightmare had the actors, studio head and Craven himself being stalked by Freddy Krueger as they worked on a new instalment of the series.
Craven subverted the horror genre again with Scream (1996), the tale of a high-school student who becomes the target of a mysterious killer known as Ghostface. Full of ironic self-reference (“This is like something out of a Wes Carpenter film,” one character observes), the film was a box office hit, taking $173 million worldwide, spawning a lucrative franchise and inspiring the “Scary Movie” parodies.
Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 2 1939 to strict Baptist parents. Even though he was forbidden from going to the cinema, he claimed that his religious upbringing had shaped his talent as a film maker, encouraging him to “ask big questions about life and death”.
The character of Freddy Krueger, however, drew on an event in his own childhood when, one night, he heard a shuffling sound outside his bedroom window: “I crept over there and looked down. It was a man wearing a fedora.
“He stopped and looked up directly into my face. I backed into the shadows, listening and waiting for him to go away. But I didn’t hear anything. I went back to the window. He looked up at me again and then turned away. He walked into the door of our apartment building. I’ve never, ever been that scared in my life. I was terrified.”
Craven studied English and Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois . He later earned a master’s in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University, but it was while he was working as a humanities professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York state, that he first went to the cinema and fell in love. In 1971 he left his teaching job to work as a film editor at a post-production house in Manhattan.
After writing and directing pornographic films under pseudonyms, Craven made his debut under his own name in 1972 with the ultra-low-budget ($90,000) shocker The Last House on the Left, about a gang of psychotic killers who rape, torture and murder two teenage girls, only to meet a more horrific fate at the hands of the girls’ parents.
Marketed under the slogan, “To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie . . . only a movie . . .” the film was a grisly remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning Virgin Spring (1959) featuring sickeningly real scenes of sadism and violence. Released mostly on drive-in screens in America, the film was banned by the censors in Britain, though it has come to be seen as a classic .
His follow-up, The Hills Have Eyes, about cannibalistic mutants stalking a suburban family who have become stranded in the desert, established his reputation as a cult director, but it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that propelled him into the mainstream.
Craven’s other films included Deadly Friend (1986); The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); Shocker (1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and Red Eye (2005). In 1999 he made a rare foray outside the horror genre with Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar. His last film, in 2011, was the fourth in the Scream franchise. People were sometimes surprised to learn that Craven was not, in his words, “a Mansonite crazoid”, but a charming, humorous man whose hobby was bird-watching. When asked by an interviewer to name the thing that most terrified him, he replied “my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer”.
Date of Birth: 10 April 1932, Alexandria, Egypt
Birth Name: Michel Demitri Chalhoub
Nicknames: Omar Sharif
Omar was introduced to the international screen in one of the most dramatic star entrances of film history. This was the scene in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in which Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) first makes contact with the Arab chieftain Sherif Ali (Sharif), who will become his key ally in the desert fighting, and the latter, in a daringly protracted sequence, develops from a speck on the horizon into a towering, huge horseman, rifle at the ready.
Sharif was instantly elevated by this debut into a major box-office figure, and went on to star in a succession of big-budget films during the 1960s, most notably the contrasting blockbuster hits Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Funny Girl (1968), as perhaps the last of the “exotic” Hollywood heartthrobs in line of descent from Rudolph Valentino.
This situation, however, proved comparatively short-lived. Almost like the protagonist of a Victorian novel, Sharif was overtaken by his own success, to the extent that in order to service the debts incurred by gambling and a playboy lifestyle, he was thrown back on accepting any work that came his way, and entered a downward spiral into trivial and meretricious movies.
He was born Michel Chalhoub in Alexandria, the son of well-to-do Lebanese-Syrian Christians, Claire (nee Saada) and Joseph Chalhoub, and educated at a private school and at Cairo University. He worked briefly and reluctantly in his father’s lumber business but fell for the lure of acting, and was delighted when a friend, the director Youssef Chahine, offered him a role in the film Struggle in the Valley (1954). The female star was Faten Hamama, who was greatly taken by her leading man and in the same year became his wife, Sharif converting to Islam in the process. The marriage lasted for 20 years and the couple had a son, Tarek, who was to make a brief appearance in Doctor Zhivago in the guise of Yuri Zhivago’s childhood self.
Sharif became established as a principal figure in Egyptian cinema and also starred in the French-backed Goha (1958), which afforded him wider recognition, if only in the arthouses.
But it was his selection by the producer Sam Spiegel and the director David Leanto play Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia that proved the turning point in his career. As he later observed: “Maybe if I hadn’t made Lawrence, I would have gone on living in Cairo and had five children and lots of grandchildren.” He blamed the eventual failure of his marriage on the simple fact of his constant absences in Europe and the US.
The role of Sherif Ali was pivotal in the film’s dramatic scheme, and Sharif’s swarthy, romantic aura was played off to great effect against the blue-eyed blondness of O’Toole’s Lawrence. The two became close friends while making the film. Sharif’s performance won him Golden Globe awards as best supporting actor and most promising newcomer, as well as an Academy Award nomination, though he ruefully recalled that he had signed a contract with the studio that netted him only £8,000 for this and several subsequent appearances.
Fluent in English and French, he worked steadily for the next few years, though as an all-purpose “foreigner”, mainstream cinema never having been especially concerned about precise ethnicity. Thus he played a Spanish priest in Behold a Pale Horse (1964), the title role in a comic-strip historical extravaganza, Genghis Khan (1965), a Yugoslav partisan in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), and even, a little later, a Nazi officer, complete with blond-streaked hair, in The Night of the Generals (1967).
But it was as the Russian hero of Lean’s Doctor Zhivago that he achieved his best-remembered screen role, a brooding, magnetic presence, even if some critics felt that the performance, like the whole film, manifested a degree of shallowness.
There was no doubt about his box-office stature, though, and it was revealing that the film version of the musical Funny Girl, which in the theatre had been an unabashed vehicle for Barbra Streisand, was marketed on the basis of her co-starring with Sharif. As the shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, by whom Fanny Brice (Streisand) was enslaved, Sharif was the essence of the homme fatal, and even weighed in with a couple of song numbers. There were rumours at the time that the stars’ relationship had blossomed off-screen too, a notion that was ill received in Sharif’s native land in the light of Streisand’s pro-Israeli sympathies.
Sharif later admitted that he had briefly imagined himself in love with Streisand, and also recalled being smitten by Ava Gardner, his co-star in Mayerling (1968), in which he brought a suitable intensity to the doomed Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, and Gardner, with some incongruity, played his mother.
Mayerling was hardly a distinguished film, but was considerably superior to some others in which Sharif went on to appear, not least Che! (1969), a dully temporising Hollywood account of the life of Che Guevara, in which at one point Sharif’s Guevara is confronted by Jack Palance’s Fidel Castro with the mumbled expostulation: “Che, sometimes I just don’t understand you.”
The Last Valley (1971) and The Horsemen (1971) were poorly rated would-be spectacles. It seems significant that in the French-made thriller The Burglars (1971), Sharif was cast opposite a contemporary European box-office favourite, Jean-Paul Belmondo, but in the guise of a stereotypical scheming villain, who ends up smothered by Belmondo in a deserted silo under tons of grain, an intimation of the fate that was to befall him professionally as he appeared in increasingly obscure productions.
But there were still one or two brighter spots to come. In 1975 he reprised the role of Arnstein in the Funny Girl sequel, Funny Lady, and the previous year gave one of his most effective, because downplayed, performances, as the captain of a stricken cruise liner in Juggernaut. Of his playing in this film, the American critic Pauline Kael percipiently remarked: “He is not allowed to smile the famous smile, or even to look soulfully lovesick. He is kept rather grim.”
At this time, Sharif was perhaps more readily associated with the game of bridge than with acting. Though he took it up in adult life, he developed into a world-class player. In addition to competing in international tournaments, he wrote a syndicated column on the subject for several years for the Chicago Tribune, was the author of several books on bridge, and licensed his name to a bridge computer game.
He was also an inveterate high-stakes gambler, a regular at the casinos of Paris and elsewhere, and at the racetrack in Deauville. He maintained that claims of his philandering were ill-founded, but his lifestyle certainly encompassed heavy drinking and smoking more than 50 cigarettes a day, at least until he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1993. And the cost was high in financial terms as well.
Professionally, he drifted from one minor role to the next in a run of TV movies and mini-series, often costume dramas of one kind or another, and mostly of the sort only liable to be found at off-peak hours on the more obscure channels. He candidly told a journalist in 2003 that “for 25 years I have been making rubbish movies”.
There were, moreover, some unedifying moments in his private life. In 2003, he headbutted a policeman in a Paris casino rumpus and was subsequently fined and given a suspended jail term, tactlessly telling the press that to assault a cop was “the dream of every Frenchman”. Two years later, he slugged a parking attendant at a Beverly Hills restaurant. He was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.
But at least he had returned into the realms of serious acting by taking the leading role in the 2003 French movie Monsieur Ibrahim, in which his characterisation of an elderly Turkish Muslim shopkeeper secured him a best actor César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.
In 2006 he declared that he had abandoned gambling and even bridge in favour of family life, and described himself as semi-retired from the screen.
In the previous year he had been the recipient of a Unesco medal for contributions to world cinema and cultural diversity. Lawrence and Zhivago might by then have seemed a long way in the past, but despite or possibly even because of the intervening vicissitudes of his life, Sharif’s reputation remained undimmed.
Date of Birth: 6 February 1922, Paddington, London, UK
Birth Name: Daniel Patrick Macnee
Nicknames: Patrick Macnee
Patrick Macnee was cast to perfection as the imperturbable secret agent John Steed in the 1960s television series The Avengers, he brought etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity to the part.
The programme began as unremarkable detective fare, with the raincoated Macnee playing second fiddle to Ian Hendry’s forensic surgeon. When Hendry left after the first season, Steed was pushed to the fore and Macnee threatened with the sack unless he breathed life into the character. Steed re-emerged as a lethal dandy, sporting boutonnière, sword-cane and curly-brimmed bowler. He was indubitably a gentleman and Macnee imbued the part with plenty of his own Etonian nonchalance and jaunty eccentricity.The Avengers became an unlikely farrago of Aleister Crowley and P G Wodehouse, a mix of the surreal and the camp set in an England of village greens and stately homes that concealed murderous marriage bureaus, sinister vicars and scientists over-boiling the white heat of technology. Produced with considerable visual flair, it became synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties” and was one of the first British programmes to do well in America.
Much of its success and enduring appeal lay in its ironic subversion of the conventions of the spy genre. Steed was not averse to fisticuffs, but he had none of Bond’s sadism and he eschewed guns Macnee had experienced too much real violence during the Second World War. The programme was also novel in the status given to Steed’s female partners notably Honor Blackman as the steely Cathy Gale and Diana Rigg as the coolly kittenish Emma Peel. Brought up by women, Macnee was willing to let Steed’s leather-clad partners demonstrate their mental and physical equality. He also thrived on the playful sexual tension between the characters.
The Avengers ran between 1960 and 1969; a lame sequel made in the mid-1970s, The New Avengers, also featured Macnee, but only served to show how charming and how definitive had been his performance the first time round.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born in London on February 6 1922. His mother, a niece of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon and a rather giddy socialite, went into labour at a party and Macnee never discovered from her whether she reached hospital or if he was born in a carriage half-way down the Bayswater Road.
The rest of his childhood was no less confused. His father was a racehorse trainer, a diminutive man known as “Shrimp” Macnee whose dapper wardrobe his son later recreated for Steed. He had a taste for gin and enlivened his dinner parties by levelling a shotgun at those guests he suspected of pacifist tendencies.
Macnee’s mother took refuge in a circle of friends that included Tallulah Bankhead and the madam Mrs Meyrick, before absconding with a wealthy lesbian, Evelyn. Young Patrick was brought up by the pair and was instructed to call Evelyn “Uncle”. He managed to resist their efforts to dress him as a girl, wearing a kilt as a compromise. His father fled to India, from where he was later expelled for urinating off a balcony on to the heads of the Raj’s elite, gathered below for a race-meeting.
Evelyn financed Macnee’s education, at Summer Fields where he first acted, playing opposite Christopher Lee and then Eton. His corruption began when he was introduced to whisky by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, who had escaped into the garden with a bottle when brought in to consecrate Evelyn’s private chapel. Macnee was then expelled from Eton for running a pornography and bookmaking empire.
He trained as an actor at the Webber-Douglas school and began to get some repertory work. Cast more for his looks than talent, he was due to play his first West End lead opposite Vivien Leigh when he received his call-up papers in 1942. He served in Motor Torpedo Boats until 1946, rising to lieutenant. He caught bronchitis shortly before D-Day; while in hospital his boat and crew were destroyed in action.
Macnee made his film debut in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in 1943, and after the war landed several other small parts, appearing as a courtier in Olivier’s Hamlet and The Elusive Pimpernel. The latter starred David Niven, whom he mistakenly claimed as a cousin and who consequently found him work. Yet by now he had a family to support, and when promised better roles by the embryonic Canadian Broadcasting Corporation moved to Toronto, while his wife and children remained behind. It was a decision he later bitterly regretted.
For the next eight years Macnee drifted across North America. His breezily crisp accent brought him regular stage and television work, though he also played a sheriff in the Western series Rawhide. He continued to attract the bizarre. Once he rescued some chimpanzees from a fire at an animal trainer’s ranch; while driving them to safety, one monkey clamped its hands over his eyes, almost causing his car to plunge into a ravine. In Toronto itself for The Importance of Being Earnest, he was forced by Dame Edith Evans to strap her to a stretcher and drag her through snow 10 feet deep to her hotel.
In 1960 he returned to England, his marriage over. He decided he was too old not to have a proper job, a conclusion reached when he came home to find he had been replaced in the affections of a much younger girlfriend by a French thief and his team of huskies.
He was producing a television documentary series based on Churchill’s history of the war, The Valiant Years, when he was cast in The Avengers, having literally bumped into the producer in Piccadilly. Although he was a more competent actor than he gave himself credit for, he was content in later years to stroll through a series of unmemorable roles. He believed he might have been offered better parts had he not rejected the lead in Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth when offered it in 1970. He later played the part on Broadway.
Among his less forgettable film appearances were as a record producer in the seminal rock spoof This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and as Bond’s chauffeur in A View To A Kill (1985). He retired to Palm Springs, California, and cheerfully took well-paid cameo roles in American television series, among them the sublimely dreadful Thunder In Paradise, a vehicle for the wrestler Hulk Hogan. In 1996 he appeared in a video for the rock group Oasis.
Macnee made considerable efforts to escape the constraints of his own character and Establishment image. He felt strongly that he had been socially and sexually confused by his upbringing and schooling and found America a less repressed environment; he became an active member of a nudist colony in the mid-1970s.
Although he remained outwardly chirpy and chivalrous, he was prone to depression and guilt, particularly over his infidelities and the severe asthmatic illness of his daughter, which he saw as a punishment for deserting his family for Canada. He also fought lengthy, and ultimately successful, battles against alcohol and mounting weight.
He published a candid autobiography, Blind In One Ear, in 1988.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1922, Belgravia, London, UK
Birth Name: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
Nicknames: Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee defined the macabre for a generation of horror film enthusiasts with his chilling portrayals of Count Dracula; in a career that spanned more than half a century Lee played the sinister vampire no fewer than nine times in productions including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With his saturnine glamour and striking physique at a gaunt 6ft 4in he was a dominating physical presence with an aristocratic bearing, dark, penetrating eyes and a distinctive sepulchral voice Lee was an ideal candidate to play the bloodsucking Count. “Dracula is a very attractive character,” he insisted, “he’s so heroic erotic too. Women find him irresistible. We’d all like to be him.”
After almost 20 years of playing Dracula, Lee eventually tired of the role. He moved to the United States where he enjoyed a lucrative career in both films and made-for-television mini-series such as The Far Pavilions and Shaka Zulu. While in America, Lee resisted all offers of parts in soap operas including Dallas and Dynasty.
After decades in the film industry, Lee remained as eager as ever to take on new roles. At one point in his early seventies he appeared in 12 different films within 14 months. “I get restless and frustrated if I don’t work,” he explained. “I like a continual challenge.” In his eighties he gained a new audience, bringing sulphurous intensity to the role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings films.
Lee’s one regret, he maintained, was his decision not to become an opera singer. “I was born with the gift of a very good voice,” he said, “and I have been asked to sing in various concerts but I’m too old now.” Late in life, however, he was persuaded to lend his rich bass tones as a narrator to various heavy metal records including those of the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire. In 2010 he released an album of his own, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, followed two years later by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27 1922 in Belgravia, London, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope-Lee of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Lee’s father had fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and had later married an Italian contessa, Estelle Maria Carandini, a descendant of the Borgias whose parents had founded the first Australian opera company. Among Lee’s stories of his early life he claimed that his father was descended from a band of gypsies in Hampshire and that his mother was descended from Charlemagne.
Christopher’s parents were divorced when he was four and his mother remarried. Lee grew up in his stepfather’s house, where he was waited on by a staff of five (a butler, two footmen, a chauffeur and a cook). He attended Wagner’s in Queensgate and Summerfields, and sat for a scholarship to Eton before being sent to the more affordable Wellington College where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.
Fluent in Italian and French, in later life Lee added Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Greek to his repertoire. When his alcoholic stepfather was bankrupted in 1938 Christopher was forced to leave school at 17 in order to find work. For the next 12 months he worked as a city messenger, licking stamps and making tea for a wage of £1 a week.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee joined the RAF and was promoted to flight lieutenant. He won six campaign medals, was mentioned in despatches and received decorations from Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. He also worked for British Intelligence. “Serving in the Armed Forces was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he insisted. “I did not know how other people lived.”
After the war, Lee served with the Central Registry of War Crimes, work that took him to concentration camps including Dachau, but when he was demobbed at the age of 24, he remained undecided about which career to pursue. He toyed with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, opera singer and diplomat before his cousin (at that time the Italian ambassador to the Court of St James) suggested he try acting.
Greatly against his mother’s wishes (“Just think of all the appalling people you’ll meet!” she warned him) Lee met the Italian head of Two Cities Films, part of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, signed a seven-year contract, and joined the Rank Company of Youth (otherwise known as the Rank Charm School) in 1946. He made his film debut with a bit part in Corridor of Mirrors (1948).
A succession of “walk-on” parts ensued until, in 1951, he appeared in a speaking part as a swarthy Spanish sea captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower RN. It was one of Lee’s last films for Two Cities and when his contract ran out neither he nor the Rank Organisation were eager to renew it. Instead Lee accepted roles in a television series made in Britain but shown first in America Douglas Fairbanks Presents, appearing in some 40 half-hour productions.
After a series of military film roles in the mid-1950s, including a lieutenant in Innocents in Paris (1953), a submarine commander in The Cockleshell Heroes and a captain in That Lady (both 1955), Lee landed his first horror role for Hammer Films. He played the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a part which required him to be coated in artificial gangrene and which left him looking, in his opinion, “like a road accident”.
Described as “the first gothic horror film made by Hammer”, The Curse of Frankenstein was graphic in its depiction of large quantities of gore. The film was extremely popular and Lee, playing opposite the studio’s resident star Peter Cushing, was enormously successful as the monster. Realising that a film about Bram Stoker’s vampiric Transylvanian nobleman might prove equally successful, a Hammer executive, James Carreras, offered Lee the role of the Count in their next production, Dracula.
The film proved to be one of the seminal horror movies of the 1950s. Lee looked the part (tall and thin, as in Stoker’s novel) and imbued the character with a dynamic, feral quality that had been lacking in earlier portrayals. With his bloody fangs and bright red eyes ablaze, Lee made a frighteningly believable vampire. In contrast with Bela Lugosi’s eerie, somnambulistic count of the 1930s, Lee spoke his lines with crisp assurance and tried to portray what he described as “the essence of nobility, ferocity and sadness”.
With Cushing cast this time as the vampire hunter, Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in America) was a box-office success for Hammer and horror aficionados at the time labelled it “the greatest horror movie ever made”. Lee also regarded it as the best of the series of Dracula films which he made with Hammer. “It’s the only one I’ve done that’s any good,” he recalled. “It’s the only one that remotely resembles the book.”
With the success of his portrayal of the Count, Lee treated himself to a grey, second-hand Mercedes and became established as a horror star for the first time. He was swamped with offers of film roles and took leading parts in several films throughout the late 1950s.
In productions such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy (all 1959), Lee played characters ranging from Sir Henry Baskerville to a 2,000-year-old corpse. He later claimed that the make-up for The Mummy was so uncomfortable that he swore never to submit to special effects again. The exceptions were the essential red contact lenses for his appearances as Dracula. Lee found the lenses excruciatingly painful but, as he had worn them in the first film, continuity demanded that he wear them in all subsequent productions.
Lee continued to be in demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s, starring in more than 20 films in only six years. Although he accepted some unlikely projects (including The Terror of the Tongs and The Devil’s Daffodil, both in 1961), he was also able to make films in which he had a personal interest. He had long wanted to play the Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu and in 1965 he was offered the title role in The Face of Fu Manchu. The film was so popular that a series of four more were filmed, including Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). After roles in horror films such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull (both 1965), Lee returned to his earlier incarnation in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
He was less happy with this second film. He had become too expensive a star for the Hammer studios, and in a cost-cutting measure his scenes were kept to a minimum and remained devoid of dialogue. Lee was reduced to making a soft hissing noise which drew laughter from audiences when the film was screened. He enjoyed more success with the lead in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). Although the film was badly flawed, Lee was convincing in the title role.
After The Devil Rides Out (1968), a suspenseful adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel with Lee as an aristocrat in pursuit of devil-worshippers, he returned to the role of Dracula in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, on the understanding that he would have well-scripted dialogue. The film made more money than previous Hammer productions and Lee was persuaded to appear in the 1970 project, Scars of Dracula. But he had by this time become disenchanted with the role. He feared he was being typecast and that the quality of scriptwriting had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Nevertheless Hammer were eager to continue with Lee as their horror star and persuaded him to make two more Dracula films that year. After rapidly completing Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Magic Christian, Lee devoted himself to non-vampire roles for a period.
Later in 1970 he played Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (“so commandingly good,” reported The Sunday Telegraph, “that this must surely be the end of shabby Draculas for him”) and followed it with a tiny appearance as Artemidorus in Julius Caesar in 1971. After four more Dracula films, including a modern interpretation titled Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula the year after, Lee was increasingly unhappy with the manner in which the character was being portrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he complained, “you can’t have Dracula in a modern office block, it completely undermines the original idea.”
Taking another break from the Count, Lee appeared in one of his favourite films, The Wicker Man (1973), playing a Scots laird who practises human sacrifice in the 20th century. He then went on to play the evil one-eyed Comte de Rochefort in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) before appearing in his first Bond film as the assassin Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (also 1974). Lee was finally persuaded to make one more Dracula-style film in the 1970s, Dracula Père et Fils (1976), before giving up the role for good.
Despite his physical likeness to the Count, Lee’s affinity with his baleful character stopped there. Throughout his career he had a reputation for being a long-winded raconteur whose reminiscences tended to focus on himself. In 1976, when Lee left Britain for the US, the move prompted an acquaintance to joke that “the population of Los Angeles were dusting out their bomb shelters in anticipation of a barrage of anecdotes”. According to another account, on one occasion an actress got off an aircraft looking ashen and exhausted. Questioned about her health by airport staff, she explained that she had been seated next to Lee and that he had not stopped talking about himself during the 10-hour flight.
Through the late 1970s, Lee continued to make films at a prodigious rate, appearing in 10 in two years. He accepted roles as diverse as Captain Rameses in the science fiction film Starship Invasions (1977) and that of the head gypsy in the Second World War drama The Passage (1979).
In the 1980s, Lee combined his film career with a return to television, appearing in mini-series including Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) and The Far Pavilions (1984). In 1985 he suffered a heart attack, returned to London and underwent heart surgery. Instead of seeing this as a signal to retire, Lee was back at work within a year and had returned to the horror genre for the dreadful The Howling II (1986), subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf in America.
Although Lee continued to work prolifically throughout his life, he never again enjoyed the same success as when playing Dracula. He made some fatuous comedies in the mid-1980s such as Rosebud Beach Hotel (1985) and Jocks (1986), and continued into the 1990s with a starring role in the spoof horror film Gremlins II The New Batch.
He starred in the title role of Jinnah soon after the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan in 1997, and was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002). He returned to the same role in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and was the wizard Saruman in two of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (2001-2002), in two of his Hobbit series (2012-14) and in various video games.
With Uma Thurman, Lee was due to appear as a retired surgeon in The 11th, a film about the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to be shot this autumn.
Reflecting near the end of his life about the role of Dracula, Lee said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about me in that role. It had never been played properly before that. With me it was all about the power of suggestion to make the unbelievable believable.”
He published two volumes of autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1977) reissued as Lord of Misrule (1997) and was appointed CBE in 2001. He was knighted in 2009 and made a fellow of Bafta in 2011.
Date of Birth: 26 March 1931, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Birth Name: Leonard Simon Nimoy
Nicknames: Leonard Nimoy
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83. He did not simply play Mr Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek he was synonymous with him, even after taking on other parts and branching out into directing and photography.
Star Trek began life on television, running for three series between 1966 and 1969, and later spawned numerous spin-offs, including a run of films of varying quality, two of which (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from 1984, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from 1986) Nimoy directed. “I’m very proud of having been connected with the show,” he wrote in 1975. “I felt that it dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
In front of the camera, as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, he captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
Once seen, Spock was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixieish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at synagogue.
He would later title his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock. “I was trying to illuminate the actor’s process in creating a character. I talked about the fact that I grew up in Boston and Spock did not. My parents were Russian immigrants; Spock’s were not. I’m an actor who portrays this character.” He conceded, though, that the title had been a mistake and had given the erroneous impression that he was trying to shrug off his best-known role. He made amends by calling the 1995 follow-up I Am Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Max, a barber, and Dora, and showed an interest in acting from a young age (though his father tried to persuade him to take up the accordion instead). He studied drama at Boston College and began to get small parts in theatre, film and television. At 20 he was cast in the lead role of a young boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, and discovered a kind of sanctuary in the prosthetics he was required to wear. “I found a home behind that makeup,” he wrote in I Am Not Spock. “I was much more confident and comfortable than I would have been, had I been told I was to play ‘a handsome young man’.”
Nimoy did military service from 1953 to 1955, during which time one of his duties was producing army talent shows. He continued acting after leaving the army and in the early 1960s began teaching acting classes, while also starring in guest roles on television series including Bonanza, Rawhide and The Twilight Zone. He established his own acting studio where he taught for three years.
Nimoy auditioned for an earlier Gene Roddenberry project, and when Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought of him for the role of Spock. “I thought it would be a challenge,” Nimoy said. “As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up.”
After 79 episodes across three series, the NBC network cancelled the show because of its low ratings. Nimoy went straight into another regular gig a role on the light-hearted spy series Mission: Impossible and then began studying photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He would later publish photographic studies including Shekhina (2002), a celebration of spirituality and sexuality in Judaism, and The Full Body Project (2007), focused on unorthodox female body sizes.
His acting work in the 1970s included a chilling performance in Philip Kaufman’s intelligent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the revived or “rebooted” franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
If Nimoy never escaped association with Spock, it was not for want of trying. He wrote seven poetry collections, released several albums and established himself as a successful and varied director. Alongside his two Star Trek movies, he directed himself in a TV movie version of the one-man play Vincent (1981), about the life of Van Gogh. He scored an international box-office hit with 3 Men and a Baby (1987). He also made the drama The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, as well as two disappointing comedies, Funny About Love (1990) and Holy Matrimony (1994).
Date of Birth: 19 June 1921, Marseille, France
Birth Name: Louis Robert Gendre
Nicknames: Louis Jourdan
For audiences in the 1940s and 50s, Louis Jourdan’s incredible good looks and mellifluous Gallic purr seemed to sum up everything that was sexy and enticing about Frenchmen. As a result, he became the most sought-after French actor since Charles Boyer. Though perhaps this hampered him, stymying opportunities to extend his dramatic range, any actor who was constantly in demand by both French studios and Hollywood producers had a lot to be grateful for.
When Jourdan played the consummate bon vivant in Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (1958), he became an international celebrity. The film, which co-starred Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron, won nine Oscars, including best picture. Though the best-known of its Lerner and Loewe numbers was Chevalier’s Thank Heaven for Little Girls, the title song went to Jourdan. He later widened the breadth of his work, and in old age was still one of the most handsome men on the screen, even if the films themselves seldom matched the fineness of his looks.
He was born in Marseilles, one of the three sons of Henri Gendre, a hotelier who organised the Cannes film festival after the second world war, and Yvonne, from whose maiden name, Jourdan, Louis took his stage name. The family followed Henri’s work, which accounted for the ease with which he was later able to perform overseas. He was educated in France, Turkey and Britain, where he learned to speak perfect English with an accent that he was clever enough to realise he should keep superbly French.
Jourdan, who knew from early on that he was going to be an actor, studied under René Simon in Paris. Admired for his dramatic talent and a certain polish that no one could readily explain, he was cast in his film debut, Le Corsaire (1939), which starred Boyer, though the outbreak of the second world war prevented its completion. He went on to appear in L’Arlésienne (1942) before his career was interrupted by the Nazi occupation of France.
His father was arrested by the Gestapo, and Louis and his two brothers were active members of the resistance, whose work for the underground meant that he had to stay away from the studios. But it also resulted in his becoming a favourite of the resurgent French postwar film industry. At a time when many had worked on films that had served to help Marshal Pétain’s propaganda campaign and stars such as Chevalier were being accused of collaboration – it was easy to promote a star who had actively worked against the Nazis.
In 1946, Jourdan married Berthe Frédérique (known as Quique) and went to Los Angeles, having been persuaded by the movie mogul David O Selznick that he would be able to make more of himself in Hollywood than he ever could in Paris. He shone in his first American film, The Paradine Case (1947), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck. This was followed by Max Ophüls’s masterly Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), based on the story by Stefan Zweig. Jourdan played the debonair, womanising pianist with whom Joan Fontaine falls hopelessly and tragically in love. He invested the performance with a vulnerability that saved his character from being simply caddish.
In Minnelli’s 1949 film of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, he starred as the lover of the adulterous anti-heroine, played by Jennifer Jones. He returned to France for Rue de l’Estrapade (1953) and La Mariée Est Trop Belle (The Bride Is Too Beautiful, released with the title Her Bridal Night, 1956), the latter with Brigitte Bardot, while in Italy he appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), its title referring to the Trevi fountain in Rome. His image as the light romantic lead was burnished in that film, and his status as such was sealed by Gigi, which made him the No 1 pin-up of sophisticated American women.
He had a similar role in Can-Can (1960), which starred Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Chevalier. There followed continental roles in Hollywood productions: as a playboy in The VIPs (1963) and a fashion designer in Made in Paris (1966).
He had made his Broadway debut, playing a repressed gay man embarking on marriage, in an adaptation of André Gide’s The Immoralist, in 1954. The production co-starred Geraldine Page and James Dean, before Dean’s movie breakthrough. The following year, Jourdan returned to the New York stage in Tonight in Samarkand. He soon let it be known that he wanted more serious film roles and was not getting enough of them. In 1961 he took the lead in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Comte de Monte Cristo and, in 1975, he appeared in a British TV movie production of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, this time playing De Villefort to Richard Chamberlain’s Count. Two years later, he was D’Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask on TV, again opposite Chamberlain.
He played Dracula in a 1977 BBC TV adaptation and an Afghan prince in the James Bond adventure Octopussy (1983), but few of his later roles showed the range of his talents. Certainly, Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) were not the sort of movies that the Gigi star would want to be remembered for. In the mid-80s he returned to Gigi, this time in Chevalier’s role, for a touring show; he replied to the criticism that he lip-synched songs by saying: “If I sang them live, the fragile little voice I have would go.”
Jourdan’s final film appearance came as a suave villain in Peter Yates’s caper about a rare bottle of wine, Year of the Comet (1992). In 2010 he was appointed to the Légion d’Honneur.
Date of Birth: 9 May 1932, Old Windsor, Berkshire, UK
Birth Name: Geraldine McKeown
Nicknames: Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan, could purr like a kitten, snap like a viper and, like Shakespeare’s Bottom, roar you as gently as any sucking dove. She was a brilliant, distinctive and decisive performer with a particular expertise in high comedy whose career incorporated West End comedy, Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, and a cult television following in EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia.
She was also notable on television as a controversial Miss Marple in a series of edgy, incongruously outspoken Agatha Christie adaptations (2004-09). Inheriting a role that had already been inhabited at least three times “definitively” by Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson she made of the deceptively cosy detective a character both steely and skittish, with a hint of lust about her, too.
This new Miss Marple was an open-minded woman of the world, with a back story that touched on a thwarted love affair with a married man who had been killed in the first world war. Familiar thrillers were given new plot twists, and there was even the odd sapphic embrace. For all her ingenuity and faun-like fluttering, McEwan was really no more successful in the part than was Julia McKenzie, her very different successor.
Although she was not easily confused with Maggie Smith, she often tracked her stylish contemporary, succeeding her in Peter Shaffer roles (in The Private Ear and The Public Eye in 1963, and in Lettice and Lovage in 1988) and rivalling Smith as both Millamant and Lady Wishfort in Congreve’s masterpiece The Way of the World in 1969 and 1995.
And a decade after Smith won her Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, McEwan scored a great success in the same role on television in 1978; Muriel Spark said that McEwan was her favourite Miss Brodie in a cluster that also included Vanessa Redgrave and Anna Massey.
McEwan was born in Old Windsor, where her father, Donald McKeown, was a printers’ compositor who ran the local branch of the Labour party in a Tory stronghold; her mother, Nora (nee Burns), was working-class Irish. Geraldine was always a shy and private girl who found her voice, she said, when she stood up in school and read a poem.
She had won a scholarship to Windsor county school, but she felt out of place until she found refuge in the Windsor Rep at the Theatre Royal, where she played an attendant fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1946. Leaving school, she joined the Windsor company for two years in 1949, meeting there her life-long companion, Hugh Cruttwell, a former teacher turned stage manager, 14 years her senior, whom she married in 1953, and who became a much-loved and influential principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1965.
Without any formal training, McEwan went straight from Windsor to the West End, making her debut at the Vaudeville theatre in 1951 in Who Goes There? by John Deighton, followed by an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse… at the Comedy in 1952 and with Dirk Bogarde in Summertime, a light comedy by Ugo Betti, at the Apollo in 1955.
Summertime was directed by Peter Hall and had a chaotic pre-West End tour, Bogarde’s fans mobbing the stage door every night and in effect driving him away from the theatre for good; McEwan told Bogarde’s biographer, John Coldstream, how he was both deeply encouraging to her and deeply conflicted over his heartthrob star status.
Within a year she made her Stratford debut as the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost and played opposite Olivier in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, replacing Joan Plowright as Jean Rice when the play moved from the Royal Court to the Palace. Like Ian Holm and Diana Rigg, she was a key agent of change in the transition from the summer Stratford festival playing Olivia, Marina and Hero in the 1958 season to Peter Hall’s new Royal Shakespeare Company; at Stratford in 1961, she played Beatrice to Christopher Plummer’s Benedick and Ophelia to Ian Bannen’s Hamlet.
Kittenish and playful, with a wonderful gift for suggesting hurt innocence with an air of enchanted distraction, she was a superb Lady Teazle in a 1962 Haymarket production of The School for Scandal, also starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, that went to Broadway in early 1963, her New York debut.
She returned to tour in the first, disastrous, production of Joe Orton’s Loot, with Kenneth Williams, in 1965, and then joined Olivier’s National at the Old Vic, where parts over the next five years included Raymonde Chandebise in Jacques Charon’s landmark production of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Alice in Strindberg’s Dance of Death (with Olivier and Robert Stephens), Queen Anne in Brecht’s Edward II, Victoria (“a needle-sharp gold digger” said one reviewer) in Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty, Millamant and Vittoria Corombona in The White Devil.
Back in the West End, she formed a classy quartet, alongside Pat Heywood, Albert Finney and Denholm Elliott, in Peter Nichols’s Chez Nous at the Globe (1974), and gave a delightful impression of a well-trained, coquettish poodle as the leisured whore in Noël Coward’s broken-backed adaptation of Feydeau, Look After Lulu, at Chichester and the Haymarket.
In the 1980s, she made sporadic appearances at the National, now on the South Bank, winning two Evening Standard awards for her fresh and youthful Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals (“Men are all Bavarians,” she exclaimed on exiting, creating a brand new malapropism for “barbarians”) and her hilariously acidulous Lady Wishfort; and was a founder member of Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury theatre.
In the latter part of her stage career, she seemed to cut loose in ever more adventurous directions, perhaps through her friendship with Kenneth Branagh, who had become very close to Cruttwell while studying at Rada. She was a surprise casting as the mother of a lycanthropic psychotic, played by Will Patton, in Sam Shepard’s merciless domestic drama, A Lie of the Mind, at the Royal Court in 1987. And in 1988 she directed As You Like It for Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company, Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.
She then directed Christopher Hampton’s underrated Treats at the Hampstead theatre and, in 1998, formed a fantastical nonagenarian double act with Richard Briers in a Royal Court revival, directed by Simon McBurney, of Ionesco’s tragic farce, The Chairs, her grey hair bunched on one side like superannuated candy floss.
The following year, she was a brilliant but controversial Judith Bliss in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, directed as a piece of Gothic absurdism at the Savoy by Declan Donnellan; McEwan tiptoed through the thunderclaps and lightning like a glinting harridan, a tipsy bacchanalian with a waspish lust and highly cultivated lack of concern (“My husband’s not dead; he’s upstairs.”)
Other television successes included playing Jeanette Winterson’s mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990) and Carrie’s War (2004), while her occasional movie appearances included Tony Richardson’s The Adventures of Tom Jones (1975), two of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations – Henry V (1989) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) – as well as Robin, Prince of Thieves (1991), Peter Mullan’s devastating critique of an Irish Catholic education, The Magdalene Sisters (2002), in which she played cruel, cold-hearted Sister Bridget, and Vanity Fair (2005).
She was rumoured to have turned down both the OBE and a damehood, but never confirmed this.
Date of Birth: 6 June 1032, Coventry, UK
Birth Name: Billie Honor Whitelaw
Nicknames: Billie Whitelaw
“I could have easily have become a nun, or a prostitute, or both,” said Billie Whitelaw, who has died aged 82. Instead, she claimed that acting had allowed her to use both these sides of herself in a career that included theatre, films, television and a special place in the affection and inspiration of Samuel Beckett.
By the time the playwright died in 1989, Whitelaw had established herself not only as one of his favourite interpreters, if not the favourite, but also as one of his trusted confidantes.
Her voice had as big an effect on Beckett as that of the Irish actor Patrick Magee. When he saw her in his work Play in a National Theatre production at the Old Vic in 1964 occupying one of three urns alongside Rosemary Harris and Robert Stephens he determined to write especially for her.
The result was Not I, a 16-minute monologue for a jabbering mouth picked out in a dark void. Although Jessica Tandy played the first performances in New York in 1972, Whitelaw’s pell-mell, pent-up words of a lifetime were a sensation at the Royal Court theatre in London the following year. She called the experience “the most telling event of my professional life”.
Beckett then directed her in the premiere of Footfalls (1976), a rapt dialogue for a woman and her unseen mother; also in a revival of Happy Days (1979) in which the post-nuclear Winnie is seen buried up to her waist, then her neck both at the Royal Court. When Winnie sang her love song to the waltz of The Merry Widow, she did so just as Beckett had sung it to her, in a frail and quavering voice.
Rockaby, which Whitelaw first performed in New York in 1981, and in the following year at the National in London, was an entirely submerged Winnie, a gaunt human relic in a black dress covered in jet sequins, rocking herself to oblivion while listening to a recording of her own voice.
One of the attractions of Whitelaw for Beckett was her intellectual innocence. There was no attempt to justify the work. She performed what he wrote and became, much to her own surprise, a lecturer on the American college circuit, though she only ever talked about the plays she knew and had appeared in. “Like many men,” she said, “the older he got the more attractive he became at least as seen through a woman’s eyes.”
Billie Whitelaw was born in Coventry, on a housing estate owned by the General Electric Company, to Perceval, an electrician, and Frances (nee Williams). A shadowy “Uncle Len” lived in the same house, with Billie’s mother and her elder sister, Constance. In her autobiography, Billie Whitelaw...Who He? (1995), Whitelaw said that she always had two men in her life: two fathers, then husband and lover, later husband and son.
Her parents came from Liverpool, where Billie lived at the start of the second world war before the family moved to Bradford in 1941. There she went to Thornton grammar school and the Grange grammar school for girls.
In 1943 she was sent to the Bradford Civic Playhouse, then run by JB Priestley and the formidable Esme Church, in an attempt to rectify her stutter. She was soon playing children’s roles on the radio, and met Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl at the BBC in Manchester.
When Billie was 16, Littlewood asked her to join her acting group, but her parents would not let her. Instead, she joined Harry Hanson’s company in Leeds in 1948 and played in repertory theatres in Dewsbury, New Brighton and Oxford, where she worked with Peter Hall and Maggie Smith. She became one of the most familiar faces on television drama in the next two decades, usually cast as a battling working-class figure in either kitchen-sink dramas or what she called “trouble up at t’mill” plays.
Through John Dexter, who directed her in England, Our England (1962), a West End revue by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, she came to the attention of Laurence Olivier, and she joined his illustrious first company at the National in 1963, sharing a dressing room with Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith and Geraldine McEwan. Her time there included playing Desdemona to Olivier’s Othello.
Kenneth Tynan dubbed her “a female version of Albert Finney” (with whom she had a brief affair and longer friendship), and she had all those qualities of freshness, vitality and sensuality typical of the new postwar, beyond-London generation of actors on stage and screen. An unforced, gritty realism was complemented, in her case, with a natural voluptuousness.
For the Royal Shakespeare Company she appeared in John Barton’s 1980 epic ten-play cycle The Greeks as a grieving Andromache and the goddess Athene, sliding down on a cloud of dry ice, and in Peter Nichols’s mordantly brilliant Passion Play (1981) a favourite project in which her adulterous alter ego was Eileen Atkins. In 1983, she returned to the National as Hetty Mann, dipsomaniac wife of the novelist Heinrich Mann, in Christopher Hampton’s brilliant account of wartime European literary émigrés in Tinsel Town, Tales from Hollywood; the cast list included the movie stars Johnny Weissmuller, Chico and Harpo Marx, Greta Garbo, and dramatists Ödön von Horváth and Bertolt Brecht, but Whitelaw upstaged them all by entering a party bearing a birthday cake and wearing just a white mini-pinny.
Her last stage appearance apart from her unceasing cycle of Beckett solo shows and readings came in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Young Vic (1986), where she was a full-on slatternly Martha opposite Patrick Stewart’s intimidated, bespectacled George. In her autobiography she recounts how she was mysteriously struck by stage fright and struggled to complete the run.
She married the actor Peter Vaughan, nine years her senior, in 1952, and started a relationship with the writer and critic Robert Muller as the marriage failed; it ended in divorce in 1966. The following year she married Muller, and they had a son, Matthew.
Whitelaw’s film career was patchy; she made a more consistent mark on television, starting as a maid in an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1952) and as Mary Dixon, daughter of the police constable played by Jack Warner in the first series of Dixon of Dock Green (1955). She took the role of Countess Ilona in two episodes of Supernatural (1977), written by Muller, and her TV work continued until the start of the new century.
Film appearances included Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972); The Omen (1976), as the chilling nanny Mrs Baylock; The Krays (1990), as Violet, the mother of the East End gangster brothers; and the police comedy Hot Fuzz (2007). She was at her vibrant, blowzy best in two early films with Finney, Charlie Bubbles (1967) and Gumshoe (1971). In 1991 she was appointed CBE.
Whitelaw divided her time between a flat in Hampstead and a cottage in Suffolk, and never quite believed her luck: “When I wake up at dawn, and that grey cloud of work anxiety is there, I only have to get up and open the window to feel so free and happy that I think I’m going to go off pop.”
Date of Birth: 26 April 1947, Oldham, Lancashire, UK
Birth Name: Alan Clarke
Nicknames: Warren Clarke
Warren Clarke was one of Britain’s most recognisable and versatile actors, but was best known for his role as the splenetic Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe, the BBC television series based on the books by Reginald Hill.
Clarke may have been no casting director’s idea of a dreamboat, but his pugnacious features were perfectly suited to the part of the relentlessly insensitive, politically incorrect Yorkshire copper who made life difficult not only for the criminal fraternity but also for his young sidekick, the liberal, university-educated policeman Peter Pascoe (played by Colin Buchanan).
Dalziel’s abrasiveness and contempt for the pieties of the modern age made him one of the most distinctive fictional detectives on the small screen. Yet after he had played the part for five years during which he became a household name Clarke considered giving up the role, partly because he felt that the BBC was uneasy about the character: “You can’t have a series about policemen without showing them swearing occasionally,” he reflected, “but there was actually some bureaucrat at the BBC who wouldn’t allow me to say 'pillock’, even though I pointed out that Shakespeare used the word in King Lear.”
In the event, he decided to stay on, making a total of 61 episodes between 1996 and 2007.
Clarke’s own views, one suspects, were not that far removed from those of his alter ego: “I remember my parents telling me that the local bobby would give me a clip round the earhole if I didn’t behave. But nobody can smack anybody round the head now. What’s wrong with a quick clip round the earhole? In my day the local bobby was someone to be respected, but not any more.”
He was born Alan Clarke at Oldham, Lancashire, on April 26 1947, the son of a stained-glass maker and a secretary. His parents were keen filmgoers, and regularly took him to the cinema. “Saturday evenings we’d go and see a double feature,” he recalled. “I remember it being so amazing looking up at the big screen and I was totally seduced by it.”
His early ambition to become an actor did not impress the headmaster of his secondary modern school in Manchester, who told Alan to choose a more sensible career, such as plumbing; Alan, in magnificent anticipation of his role as Dalziel, told his headmaster to “sod off”. With the support of his parents, he left school at 15 and became a runner at the Manchester Evening News, where he was known as Nobby. Meanwhile he gained experience in amateur dramatics, and decided to change his first name to Warren (because a girlfriend had a crush on Warren Beatty).
Late in life he would recall: “I thought about being a star, very briefly, when I was 16, but after about a year of being in weekly rep, I lost interest in the idea of stardom and just got on with being a jobbing actor.”
He got his first break in a radio play for BBC Manchester, and his first significant television roles came in Coronation Street (first as Kenny Pickup, then as Gary Bailey). Then, in 1971, he secured a film part, as the vicious thug Dim, wearing red lipstick and a bowler hat, in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, starring Malcolm McDowell. Some 40 years later Clarke was in a Birmingham pub when he was approached by several young men who had just watched the film: “They tried to get a bit tough with me. I said, 'Look lads, 40 years ago I would have given you a bit of what you’re trying to give me, but at my age I can’t be arsed.’ ”
During the 1970s Clarke honed his skills on the stage, appearing in a multitude of plays including works by Shakespeare, Anthony Shaffer, Molière, Ibsen and Robert Bolt. After a gap of some 30 years, he would return to the boards playing Winston Churchill in Three Days in May (2011), about Britain facing the prospect of a Nazi invasion.
At the same time he was making his reputation on the small screen, in shows such as Softly Softly: Task Force (1973); Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974), a miniseries in which he played the young Winston Churchill; Our Mutual Friend (1976), as Bradley Headstone; The Onedin Line (1978); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979); and Shelley (1980-82). In 1984, in one of television’s most successful ventures, The Jewel in the Crown, Clarke appeared very much against character as the openly gay Corporal “Sophie” Dixon, and played the role superbly.
His television work continued (Bergerac, Blackadder, Wish Me Luck among many others), but in the late 1980s Clarke considered abandoning his profession because he felt he was not making enough money even though he was then filming opposite Haydn Gwynne in the television drama Nice Work. “In those days,” he later explained in an interview, “the BBC didn’t pay you until you had done the first studio recording, so I had been working on the show for two months without any money. I went to the cashpoint, put my card in the machine and it spat it out.”
His bank refused to extend his overdraft, and the BBC advanced him £350; but he was forced to scrounge money from the rest of the cast: “ A few months later, I noticed that my wife wasn’t wearing her engagement ring. I asked her where it was and she explained it was being repaired.” It was only later that he discovered she had sold it to pay bills.
Thereafter, however, Clarke was rarely out of work. His television credits included The Manageress (1989-90); Gone to the Dogs (1991); Sleepers (1991); Gone to Seed (1992); The Secret Agent (1992); The House of Windsor (1994); The Locksmith (1997); Down to Earth (2000-1), with Pauline Quirke, about a couple faced with bankruptcy who decide to move out of London to run a smallholding in Devon; and Bleak House (2005), in which he played Lawrence Boythorn. He made a number of appearances on the big screen; Clint Eastwood cast him as a Russian spy in Firefox (1982).
More recently Clarke had appeared in the BBC drama The Invisibles (2008) and the Channel 4 trilogy Red Riding (2009). The last role he completed before his death was as Charles Poldark in the BBC’s revival of the 1970s television drama Poldark.
Warren Clarke died in his sleep after a short illness.
Date of Birth: 1 August, 1930, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago
Birth Name: Geoffrey Richard Holder
Nicknames: Geoffrey Holder
Geoffrey Holder, the Tony-winning actor, dancer and choreographer known to millions as Baron Samedi in Bond movie Live and Let Die.
Born in Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, Holder was also a composer, a designer and a celebrated painter.
He will be best remembered to many as the cackling Voodoo villain who dogged Roger Moore's footsteps in his first outing as secret agent James Bond.
His other films included 1982 musical Annie, in which he played Punjab.
Often cast in exotic roles, he played a tribal chieftain in 1967 film Doctor Dolittle and a sorceror in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).
More recently, his distinctive bass voice was heard narrating Tim Burton's 2005 film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Holder, one of four children, was taught to dance by his older brother Boscoe, joining his dance company at the age of seven.
He became director of the company in the late 1940s after Boscoe moved to London, before moving to the US in 1954.
Holder made his Broadway debut that same year in House of Flowers, a Caribbean-themed musical in which he first played Baron Samedi.
A top-hatted spirit of death in Haitian Voodoo culture, the character made full use of the actor's imposing physique and physical dexterity.
Holder went on to appear in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot and in the Tony Award-winning production of The Wiz, an all-black version of The Wizard of Oz.
Date of Birth: 9 October 1923, St. Budeaux, Plymouth, UK
Birth Name: Donald Alfred Sinden
Nicknames: Donald Sinden
Sir Donald Sinden was variously described as “orotund and declamatory”, “magnificently resonant” and “a complete ham”; his talents, admittedly, owed little to method acting, but made him one of the best and most recognisable comedy actors on the circuit.
In a career which spanned 50 years of film and theatre Sinden, to his lasting irritation, became best-known for his work in television, a medium he deplored. But his establishment English demeanour provided perfect casting for comedies exploiting cultural or class differences.
He became a household name when he starred with Elaine Stritch in the LWT sitcom Two’s Company (1975-79), in which he played the feisty American grande dame’s inept English butler. He later repeated his success in the Thames Television sitcom Never the Twain (1981-91), in which he played an upper-crust antique dealer forced into business with a downmarket rival (played by Windsor Davies).
His success on television meant that Sinden’s other achievements, in the film and theatre world, were often overlooked.
During the 1950s, he immersed himself in cinema work, appearing in more than 20 films, including The Cruel Sea (1953), in which he shared top-billing with Jack Hawkins, and Mogambo (1954), a huge safari epic in which Sinden received fourth billing after Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, as Kelly’s cuckolded gorilla-hunting husband.
When the British film industry stalled in the 1960s, Sinden’s film career stalled with it. By the end of that decade, however, he had secured a place for himself at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gave critically acclaimed performances in leading roles including as the Duke of York in The Wars of the Roses (1963), opposite Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret; Lord Foppington in The Relapse (1967); and as King Lear (for which he won the 1977 Evening Standard Award for Best Actor). In 1979 he played the title role in Othello, directed by Ronald Eyre, becoming the last “blacked-up” white actor to play the role for the RSC.
The theatre was always Sinden’s true home, and in the 1980s his passionate interest in its history led to the establishment of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. Another great passion was English church architecture, his encyclopedic knowledge of which led to both a television series, The English Country Church, in 1988, and a book on the subject. “My grandfather was an architect,” Sinden explained, “and it was he who told me always to look up. That’s where all the best things are in churches.”
By the 1980s Sinden was firmly established as a television celebrity, a position consolidated by the regular appearances of a Sinden puppet on ITV’s satirical Spitting Image. The puppet represented Sinden as a grotesque parody of “the actor’s actor” posturing theatrically and endlessly pleading for a knighthood.
Sinden was not amused by the caricature. “When have I ever suggested I wanted a knighthood?” he asked. “I don’t watch the programme because I don’t find it in the least funny.” He would accept a well-deserved knighthood in 1997.
Donald Sinden was born in Plymouth on October 9 1923. He suffered constantly from asthma as a child and as a result missed most of his schooling. “I not only did not pass an examination,” he recalled, “I never took one.” At 16 he became an apprentice joiner to a Hove firm which manufactured revolving doors. “I earned 6s 6d a week,” he said, “and enjoyed it enormously.”
Sinden claimed that he had no aspirations towards acting until he was 18. “My cousin Frank was called up for the RAF,” he remembered. “He asked me if I’d do his part in an amateur production at Brighton Little Theatre.” Donald was talent-spotted by Charles Smith, who organised the Mobile Entertainments Southern Area company (known as MESA), a local version of the wartime entertainments service Ensa. “Of course I thought he wanted me because I was miraculous,” Sinden remembered, “but I know now it was because it was wartime and he couldn’t get anyone else.”
Rejected by the Navy because of his poor health, Sinden joined Charles Smith’s company in 1941. “I stayed an actor because I was awfully interested in girls,” Sinden explained. “Actresses were a lot better looking than joiners.” After four years with MESA he spent six months in Leicester with a repertory company and two terms at the Webber Douglas School of Dramatic Art.
Donald Sinden joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon for the 1946-47 season. In October 1947 he made his West End debut as Aumerle in Richard II, and in 1948 joined the Bristol Old Vic. He left Bristol to appear as Arthur Townsend in The Heiress, an adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square. Sinden had nine lines and appeared in all 644 performances of the show.
In 1952 he was noticed by the film director Charles Frend while playing the Brazilian Manuel Del Vega in Red Letter Day. “Charles Frend spotted me,” Sinden remembered. “He said he’d always wanted to meet a blue-eyed Brazilian.”
The following year Sinden joined the Rank Organisation and was offered the part of Lieutenant Lockhart in The Cruel Sea, for which he had to spend an uncomfortable 12 weeks filming at sea.
He recalled his time in Africa filming Mogambo as the least enjoyable of his career, largely because of its director, John Ford, whom Sinden described as “the most dislikable man I ever met”. He was particularly irritated by Ford’s peremptory direction techniques: “On one occasion he had Clark Gable backing towards a cliff. Ford kept shouting 'Further back!’ and Gable just disappeared over the edge. We found him stuck in a tree 15ft below.”
After playing Tony Benskin, a womanising medical student in Doctor in the House (1954), Sinden began to find himself being typecast in comic roles. He played Benskin and characters like him for the next eight years.
When the British film industry began to falter in the early Sixties, Sinden’s film career ended. “It was a bad time for me,” he said. “I was 40, married with two children and no work at all.” His first attempts at a return to the theatre were unsuccessful. He was turned down after Peter Hall had made him audition for the RSC. Sinden later described Hall as a “pipsqueak”.
However, after their initial differences Sinden joined the company and appeared in The Wars of the Roses, an epic amalgam of the relevant Shakespeare history plays, put together by Hall and John Barton, which lasted more than 10 hours and won ecstatic reviews.
Sinden went on to make a name for himself as a comedian and farceur. He appeared as Robert Danvers in There’s a Girl in My Soup at the Aldwych in 1966, and won Best Actor awards for his appearances in the Ray Cooney farces Not Now, Darling (1967), Two into One (1984) and Out of Order (1990). In 1976 he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award for his performance on Broadway as Arthur Wicksteed in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus.
In 1989 Sinden was offered the opportunity to play his long-time hero Oscar Wilde, whose work had always fascinated him, in John Gay’s one-man show Diversions and Delights. In 1942, at a poetry club reading, Sinden had met Lord Alfred Douglas and had been one of the few mourners at his funeral. Thirty years later, when Wilde’s London home was being demolished, Sinden bought the fireplace for his own house in Hampstead.
Sinden continued to perform well into his eighties. From 2001 to 2007 he played Sir Joseph Channing in BBC Television’s legal drama Judge John Deed (starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove), and he recently appeared in the Gideon Fell mysteries on Radio 4.
Donald Sinden published two volumes of autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs (1982) and Laughter in the Second Act (1985).
He was appointed CBE in 1979.
Date of Birth: 13 September 1939, Detroit, Michigan, US
Birth Name: Richard Dawson Kiel
Nicknames: Richard Kiel
Richard Kiel, the actor, who was the orthodontically-challenged Jaws, the indestructible Bond villain who terrorised audiences in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979).
Standing at a shade under 7ft 2in, Kiel’s natural presence was further enhanced by the set of stainless steel teeth which gave the character his nickname. “The character we have in mind is going to have teeth like tools, maybe like a shark. They’ll be made out of steel and he’ll kill people with them,” the Bond producer Cubby Broccoli told him. Several enemies and, in the final scene of The Spy Who Loved Me, a shark, met their ends at the hands of Jaws, who usually managed a sinister smile before biting his victims to death.
Originally Broccoli contemplated having Jaws bumped off by the shark; and until the film was test-screened, even Kiel did not know whether his character had survived. “They had shot the ending both ways and I didn’t know what version they were going to use,” he recalled.
When the film was finished, the two versions were tested on people who worked in the studio, and there was little doubt which ending they preferred: “At the end there was such a long time after I went into the shark-tank that I thought, 'I guess that’s the end of me’,” Kiel said. “Then, all of a sudden they cut to the surface of the ocean and Jaws popped up the audience just screamed and hollered and laughed and applauded. That was the defining moment, the moment that I finally made it big in the movies.”
The character proved such a hit that Broccoli gave him a reprieve and, unusually for a Bond baddie, Jaws was brought back for a second outing.
In the follow-up picture, Moonraker, however, Jaws became something approaching a comedy figure, and developed an implausible ability to survive any event unscathed. Audiences saw him fall several thousand feet from an aeroplane without a parachute, only to land safely on a trapeze net in a circus tent. Another time he crashed through a building on top of a runaway cable car but survived without a scratch. He also gained a girlfriend roughly half his size and eventually abandoned the villain, Sir Hugo Drax, to become Bond’s ally.
The metal-mouthed monster was last seen waving weedily at Bond from the bridge of a doomed space station as he and his tiny, bespectacled girlfriend set off on a happy, but presumably short, future together. The scene furnished Kiel with the only words he uttered in either movie: “Well, here’s to us.”
Richard Dawson Kiel was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 13 1939. He took a variety of jobs in his youth, working as a cemetery plot salesman and nightclub bouncer, before being offered minor parts on American television in the late 1950s. His towering height and distinctive features were the result of the condition acromegaly, when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone, and ensured that he was rarely out of work playing a variety of freaks and aliens in programmes including The Twilight Zone and The Monkees. He also featured in the prehistoric B-Movie Eegah (1962) and showed some depth with a sensitive turn in The Human Duplicators (1964). Other credits included bit parts in the Jerry Lewis comedy The Nutty Professor and alongside Elvis Presley in Roustabout.
When he was first approached by Cubby Broccoli for the part of Jaws, he was initially hesitant about toothing up. He wanted to break away from rent-a-monster parts and play as he put it “regular henchman or villain roles”. It was Kiel who seems to have persuaded Broccoli to make Jaws a more sympathetic character in Moonraker: “If I was to play this role, I told him I’d want to give this character who kills people with his teeth a human side to make him more interesting, maybe have him be persevering and frustrated, so he wouldn’t become boring. A guy killing people with his teeth could easily become over the top.” But it was, of course, his over-the-top quality that made Jaws such a hit.
Kiel complained that the teeth he had to wear for the part were so uncomfortable they made him feel sick, and he could tolerate them only for short periods of time. “They were made out of chromium steel and they went up in the roof of my mouth and caused a little bit of gagging, so it was kind of difficult,” he admitted. “But it gave me a stoic expression, trying to keep from throwing up.”
After Moonraker Kiel’s career nosedived to the extent that on one occasion friends took out a full-page advertisement in Variety magazine, to let the film world know he was still alive.
But he went on to appear in a number of other films, among them Pale Rider (1985), Happy Gilmore (1996) and Inspector Gadget (1999), and appeared regularly on television. In between the Bond films, in 1978, he had been offered the role of the Incredible Hulk on television, but was dropped after two days in the studio for not being bulky enough in favour of the body builder Lou Ferrigno.
For some time Kiel struggled with alcoholism and, following a serious car accident in 1992, was forced to use a buggy or walking sticks to manoeuvre himself. In later years he set up a production company, became a born-again Christian, and wrote books, including an autobiography, Making It Big In The Movies (2002).
But he remained most popular for playing Jaws, and as acting work dried up he supplemented his income with appearances at comic book and film conventions, signing autographs for Bond fans.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1951, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Robin McLaurin Williams
Nicknames: Robin Williams
Robin Williams, who has died aged 63, was one of America’s most versatile and successful comedy actors; brilliant at improvisation and mimicry, he made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, while on screen he was able to portray anyone from a post-menopausal grande dame (Mrs Doubtfire) to a psychopathic killer (One Hour Photo).
Stardom came in the early 1970s after he had taken a cameo role as Mork, an extraterrestrial in the television sitcom Happy Days. Williams’s eccentric, largely improvised performance was a huge hit and spawned a spin-off sitcom, Mork & Mindy, in which Mork lands on Earth and ends up sharing an apartment with the quintessential girl next door. The series which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1982, and arrived in Britain in 1979 showcased the frenzied energy and amazing facility with voices and faces which he would later use in his films. Mork & Mindy eventually reached an audience of 60 million.
After making his screen debut in Robert Altman’s ill-fated 1980 version of Popeye, Williams’s breakthrough came in 1987, when he played Adrian Cronauer, a motormouth DJ who gets up the noses of the top brass in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).
He delivered an Academy Award-winning performance as a psychologist battling his own emotional demons in Good Will Hunting (1997), and won several Oscar nominations including one for his performance in 1993 as Mrs Doubtfire, the ex-husband who infiltrates himself back into the bosom of the family by disguising himself as a middle-aged Scottish nanny.
Hollywood directors sometimes found it difficult to harness Williams’s talents to a script and a storyline strong enough to take him. There were memorable flops, among them The Survivors (1983), Club Paradise (1986), Toys (1992), Patch Adams (1998), Jakob The Liar (1999) and Bicentennial Man (1999). But he won Oscar nominations for his roles as the mildly anarchic teacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and as the deranged tramp who leads Jeff Bridges towards personal redemption in The Fisher King (1991).
His critics often complained that Williams’s characters were all the same: cuddly, waifish innocents with a mawkish need to ingratiate themselves with their audience. And there was, admittedly, something curiously sexless about his performances. One American columnist described his appearance as the owner of a gay club in The Birdcage (1996) as akin to “a hirsute construction worker halfway through a sex change operation who can’t afford to finish the job”. Of his performance as a psychologist in Awakenings (1990), one critic observed: “This is another of Robin Williams’s benevolent eunuch roles.” He certainly never got anywhere near a screen clinch.
Yet Williams proved he could play it straight; and he could play it nasty, too. In later life he revealed a darker, more interesting side to his acting. In Insomnia (2002) he put in a masterly performance as a sociopathic killer on the run from Al Pacino’s LAPD cop in the frozen wastes of Alaska. In One Hour Photo (2002) he was chilling as a photo lab technician who becomes obsessed with a family whose films he develops. And in The Night Listener (2006) he played a radio show host who realises that he has developed a friendship with a child who may not exist.
Williams first made his name on the stand-up comedy circuit, and the versatility which was so evident in his later career would have come as no surprise to those familiar with the virtuoso free-fall improvisation of his stage routines. One critic wondered whether the star of such sickly-sweet offerings as Jack (1996) or What Dreams May Come (1998) could be “the same Robin Williams who used to spend two hours on stage pretending to be a penis”.
An only child, Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21 1951 in Chicago. His mother was a former model, his father an executive with Ford. The family moved several times during his childhood, at one point living in a house with 40 rooms.
Williams was often portrayed as a lonely child who tried to use humour to build friendships and avoid being picked on. Perhaps, he once joked, it was “because my mother was a Christian Dior Scientist... I was not only picked on physically but intellectually people used to kick copies of George Sand in my face.” But he denied being the class clown, and claimed that he got into acting in his final year at Redwood High School simply “to get laid”.
After leaving school, and a brief spell studying political science, Williams won a place at the Juilliard Academy in New York to study drama. There he demonstrated such extraordinary gifts for improvisation and mimicry that his tutors advised him to concentrate on comedy. He became good friends with his fellow student Christopher Reeve, and the two remained close until Reeve’s death in 2004, nine years after the riding accident that had left him paralysed from the neck down. Their relationship demonstrated the loyal, decent side of Williams’s character. When Reeve’s medical insurance ran out, Williams picked up the tab for many of the bills; then, after Reeve’s widow, Dana, died in 2006, he provided practical and financial support for their 14-year-old son.
After two years at the Juilliard, Williams moved to San Francisco, where he worked in restaurants by day and on the comedy circuit by night until his lucky break on Happy Days. The live stand-up comedy circuit remained a consistent thread throughout his career, and he sometimes turned up unannounced at San Francisco clubs just to get up on stage and start “riffing” — a great way to “peel off any pretence”, as he put it.
In his films and television performances, Williams often ad-libbed his own dialogue. The story goes that his television scriptwriters on Mork & Mindy got so fed up that they took to sending blank pages down to the set, inscribed “Robin Williams does his thing”.
For some reason his stand-up routine did not go down so well on the other side of the Atlantic. “I went to a club in Windsor and I just died,” he recalled. “It was the worst night of my life. A friend was watching and laughing his ass off because all you could hear was the clink of glasses.”
In 1978 Williams married his first wife, Valerie Velardi, a former dancer; but as a result of life in the fast lane he had become addicted to cocaine (“God’s way of telling you you’ve made too much money”, as he remarked). In the early 1980s his marriage fell apart and he started to make bad career moves, choosing films that bombed. But the death from a drugs overdose in 1982 of his friend the actor John Belushi, just hours after Williams had been with him, led Williams to rethink his own lifestyle. He went into rehab and sobered up.
The critical success of Good Morning, Vietnam was followed by a voice role as the Genie in Disney’s cartoon Aladdin (1992), in which left in the studio with a microphone Williams spun off into imitations of everyone from Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to Carol Channing. Disney ended up with 30 hours of his improvisations, to which the animation was adapted later to synch with his voice-over. What started as a small cameo role eventually stole the show and helped make Aladdin the biggest earner in Disney’s history. By the time of Mrs Doubtfire in 1993 Williams was one of the biggest box office draws in the world.
In August 2008 Williams announced a 26-city stand-up comedy tour entitled Weapons of Self-Destruction. Though he explained that the tour was his last chance to have fun at the expense of George W Bush, the title could just as well have applied to himself. In 2006 he had gone into rehab for alcoholism, and in 2008 his second wife, Marsha Garces, whom he had married in 1986 and who had become his producer, filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Williams’s many other film credits include Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), in which he played the adult Peter Pan, and Flubber (1997), in which he was an absent-minded professor who invents a miraculous flying green gloop. He starred in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson (1984); appeared in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997); and played Theodore Roosevelt in the three Night at the Museum movies, the last of which is currently in post-production. He also played President Eisenhower in The Butler (2013).
An avid video games player, and a fan of professional road cycling and Rugby Union, Williams owned a vineyard in the Napa Valley, California, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including Comic Relief. In addition to his Oscar award and nominations, he won six Golden Globes, two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards and three Grammy awards.
He belonged to the Episcopal Church (“Catholic Lite same rituals, half the guilt”), and was philosophical about death. “In your fifties, loss is a thing you live with a lot,” he told an interviewer . “Pretty soon friends will be checking out from natural causes. It’s the grim rapper, he’s comin’.”
Robin Williams, who had recently been suffering from depression, died at his San Francisco Bay home in an apparent suicide.
Date of Birth: 2 February 2 1925, Detroit, Michigan, US
Birth Name: Elaine Stritch
Elaine Stritch, the American actress, who has died aged 89, was the femme formidable of Broadway, famous for her foghorn voice and deadpan comic timing, and notorious for her filthy temper and “cut-the-crap” frankness; but like many who adopt an abrasive outer shell, underneath there beat a softer heart.
Brassy, skyscraper tall and with a voice once described as “like a corncrake wading through Bourbon on the rocks”, Elaine Stritch was a natural scene-stealer. Not strikingly beautiful, though with wondrously long and shapely legs, there was no one quite like her in showbusiness.
In Britain, where she scored an instant hit as Mimi Paragon, the cruise ship hostess in Noël Coward’s Sail Away, she became everyone’s favourite American actress. She will be best remembered for the long-running 1970s BBC sitcom, Two’s Company, in which she played a rich, demanding American in London, opposite Donald Sinden as Robert, her plummy-voiced butler.
But it was on the Broadway stage that she began her career and where she continued to perform on and off for six decades in comedies and musical drama. She understudied Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam; and brought the house down in Pal Joey singing Zip in the famous 1946 revival. Stephen Sondheim gave her one of his greatest songs, Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch, in Company, in which she played beady-eyed lush Joanne in the original 1970 production. One reviewer noted that “she can race through the gears from a savage purr to an air-raid siren howl in five seconds without ever losing a note of the melody”.
Elaine Stritch partied with as much energy as she performed. She knocked it back with such dedicated topers as Judy Garland and Jackie Gleason. “Elaine, I never thought I’d say this, but goodnight!” said Judy Garland as she made an 8am exit from one marathon session. She dated John F Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and even Rock Hudson, for whom she ditched Ben Gazzara a “bum rap”, she confessed.
The diva of the put-down, Elaine Stritch never learned the art of turning the other cheek. She always had the last word. “I’m sorry about what I said to you earlier today,” an interviewer heard her tell an assistant. “I meant every word.”
Yet underneath this spiky carapace there lurked a more fragile personality, at once addicted to, yet terrified of, performing a woman who fought a long-running battle with the bottle which nearly destroyed her altogether.
The youngest of three daughters, Elaine Stritch was born on February 2 1925 into an upper-middle-class Roman Catholic family in suburban Detroit. Her uncle Samuel was Cardinal Stritch of Chicago; her father a senior executive in Ford Motors. She was educated at a convent where “you daren’t speak in the lavatory and you bathed in your nightgown”.
Her more conventional elder sisters left school and got married, but Elaine’s tastes tended towards the bohemian. As a teenager she accompanied the family’s black maid, Carrie, to “Black and Tan” clubs, where she became familiar with “down and dirty” blues such as I Want a Long Time Daddy, which she sang without understanding the lyrics. She tasted her first whisky sour aged 13 and wanted more.
Her father sent her, aged 17, to New York, where she lived in a convent and studied acting at the New School in Manhattan. A contemporary of Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis and Marlon Brando, she made her student stage debut as a tiger. She “dated” Brando nothing more. When, after a night on the town, he took her back to his place, went to the bathroom, and reappeared in his pyjamas, the teenage Elaine Stritch shot straight back to the convent. “I kissed like a crazy woman,” she recalled. “But I was a virgin until I was 30. Somebody’d touch my breast, and I’d think I was pregnant.”
She was immediately successful. In 1945 she played the parlourmaid in The Private Life of the Master Race and, in 1946, Pamela Brewster in Loco and Miss Crowder in Made in Heaven. After Three Indelicate Ladies and The Little Foxes, she appeared in the review Angel in the Wings singing “Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo...”. In 1949 she played the part of Joan Farrell in Yes, M’Lord. Having kicked her heels as an understudy to Ethel Merman in the Broadway production of Call Me Madam, she left a show-stopping role in Pal Joey to do the Merman part on tour to enthusiastic reviews.
After that she starred in shows by Irving Berlin, Noël Coward, Stephen Sondheim and Edward Albee, and was directed by such figures as Erwin Piscator, George Abbott, Harold Clurman and Hal Prince. Coward called her “Stritchie” and, after rescuing her from the flop musical Goldilocks (1958), gave her the lead in Sail Away, in which she sang Why Do the Wrong People Travel?
In his diaries, Coward saw her more vulnerable side: “Poor darling Stritch with all her talents is almost completely confused about everything. She is an ardent Catholic and never stops saying f*** and Jesus Christ. She is also kind, touching and loyal and, fortunately, devoted to me.” After “the Master’s” death, she attended his memorial service wearing a bright red blazer, and mistook Yehudi Menuhin for a busker friend of Coward’s.
Elaine Stritch began her film career inauspiciously with Scarlet Hour (1956). After attending a matinee, Richard Burton told her: “Halfway through your last number I almost had an orgasm.” “Almost?” she shrieked reprovingly. She contributed compelling performances to the 1957 remake of A Farewell to Arms, and Providence (1970). In 1971 she was offered a contract by 20th Century Fox but turned it down, not wishing to be typecast as the new Eve Arden the wisecracking girlfriend who never gets her man. Later she appeared in such films as September (1988) and Cocoon (1990),
On television, Elaine Stritch starred in the 1948 domestic comedy Growing Paynes, the short-lived 1960 sitcom My Sister Eileen, and co-starred as the star’s mother in The Ellen Burstyn Show (1986). She was a member of the supporting comedy troupe on the 1949 show Jack Carter and Company, a comic switchboard operator on the 1956 variety series Washington Square, and Peter Falk’s secretary in The Trials of O’Brien (1965).
Coward brought her to London in 1962 in Sail Away, and she returned in 1972 with Sondheim’s Company, winning more ecstatic reviews. She remained in London for several years, making her second home in the Savoy Hotel. Of her barnstorming performance in Tennessee Williams’s Small Craft Warnings, one reviewer described her “bashing through the play like a truck driver in a garage full of Minis”. “I love asking the way in London,” she told an interviewer. “A man actually left his shop to show me where to go. I thought 'I’m not that attractive and I don’t look like a hooker, so what’s in it for him?’ I finally realised he was simply good-mannered.”
By now she had triumphantly shed the title of the “oldest virgin on Broadway”, having lost her virginity aged 30 to the Fifties film star Gig Young, to whom she was briefly engaged before ditching him for Ben Gazzara. This was fortunate, as Young went on to experiment with LSD and ended up shooting his fourth wife and himself. Less percipient was her decision to get rid of Gazzara when she unwisely fell in love with Rock Hudson well known in green room circles as a rampant homosexual.
Eventually, in 1973 and aged 47, she met and married John Bay, her co-star in Small Craft Warnings. When they got engaged, Elaine Stritch called home to ask her father whether she should bring her fiancé home to see if he approved of him. “No, just marry him,” came the reply. “Don’t let him get away.” The marriage lasted a happy 10 years, until Bay died of cancer.
Since her early years Elaine Stritch had suffered from stage fright and, when prayers did not do the trick, she quelled her nerves with alcohol. By the late 1970s her opening gambit at every watering hole was “I’d like four martinis and a floor plan”. Sacked from shows and thrown out of clubs, she failed to stop drinking even after she became diabetic. But after suffering a severe attack in the hallway of a New York hotel (from which she was saved only because a passing waiter happened to be carrying a Pepsi), she went on the wagon and never touched another drop.
In 2002 she made a triumphant return on Broadway in her one-woman retrospective of her career, Elaine Stritch At Liberty, co-written with John Lahr, which played to sell-out audiences at London’s Old Vic the following year. “There’s good news and bad news,” she told her audience. “The good: I have a sensational acceptance speech for a Tony. The bad: I’ve had it for 45 years.” In a typical Stritchian postscript, when she really did make the speech after being awarded a Tony for her performance, it was so long that the orchestra cut her off in mid-flow. Afterwards she gave an angry, tearful press conference. The show also won her the Drama Desk award for best solo performance and a nomination for the Olivier Award for her performance at the Old Vic.
In 2003 she was made a “Living Landmark” of New York City for her contributions to Broadway, and in 2010-11 she appeared in a Broadway revival of A Little Light Music. She was the subject of a documentary film, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, released earlier this year.
Date of Birth: February 5 1940, Chur, Swiss Canton, Graubünden, Switzerland
Birth Name: Hans Rudolf Giger
Nicknames: HR Giger
HR Giger, was a painter, sculptor and set designer and the man responsible for the nightmarish, teeth-snapping, acid-dripping creature in the film Alien.
Set in a nearish-future, Alien tells the story of a relentless and apparently unkillable life form that terrorises Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. Vaguely humanoid, with a prominent, armoured skeleton, vicious dual sets of jaws and slashing tail, the hellish creature captivated audiences and helped make Ridley Scott’s picture both a critical and box-office success. As the director himself noted, Giger’s creature was “one of the best all-time monsters”. In its absence, he suggested, “I’ve got a nice, very well-acted, beautifully art-directed movie, but I ain’t got that f------ heart-stopping son of a b----.”
Yet it was not just the alien that Giger designed he fleshed out the creature’s life-cycle (which involved it forcefully implanting itself in host bodies) and developed for it a crepuscular, disturbingly erotic environment that fused elements of the natural and the mechanical. Blending elements of Surrealist and Futurist art, Giger’s world soon became instantly recognisable. It turned out that such representations were deeply rooted in his upbringing.
Hans Rudolf Giger was born on February 5 1940 in Chur in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden. By the time he was 12 he was studying the works of Salvador Dali and Hieronymus Bosch with a sort of fascinated horror. “I was terrified,” he said. “I connected them with World War II atrocities.” He was long gripped by nightmares.
His father, a chemist, tried to steer Hans away from art towards a more stable profession. Yet his mother, Melli, encouraged him. In 1962 Giger moved to Zurich to study Industrial Design. After graduating he found that his work, and its obsession with sex and death, was not always appreciated. One gallery owner, hosting a Giger exhibition, reported having to begin each day by wiping the spittle of disgusted patrons from his window. Nor did Giger alleviate local suspicion by dressing always in black and working only at night. But it was precisely his fascination with the occult, and in particular the fictional Necronomicon, or “book of the dead”, described in the work of HP Lovecraft, that propelled him into the big time.In 1977 Giger’s first collection of drawings, also titled Necronomicon, was published. It found its way into the hands of Ridley Scott, who seized upon one fantastical sketch, Necronom IV, as the model for his new film’s alien. Fox Studios was not so keen on the phallic, fetishised image, but Giger was eventually hired influencing the entire look and feel of the film. As a result he won, with others, the Oscar for best special effects in 1980.
Yet it was not the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Hollywood. Giger was not asked to work on the film’s sequel, Aliens (1986). And when he did contribute to films, such as Poltergeist II, he hated his designs being modified. But he had a clear brand. When producers were casting around for someone to create a sexy yet lethal humanoid alien, called Sil, in Species (1995) they knew where to turn. “We realised that he [Giger] had been drawing Sil for basically his entire career,” noted the director Roger Donaldson. “Anybody else we hired would probably have just gone to take a look at his books.”
Beyond film, Giger was also famed for his album covers. His artwork for the Dead Kennedys’ album Frankenchrist led to the band’s singer being arrested for obscenity, but Giger’s vision of an impaled Debbie Harry on her 1981 album Koo Koo fared better, making a list of the best 100 album covers of all time.
Generally, however, his work did not win the admiration of mainstream critics. Undaunted, in 1998 he bought a chateau in Gruyeres and set up his own museum. But it proved expensive to run. He himself lived in far more modest circumstances, with every available surface covered by his drawings. Even after the success of the Alien films, he declared that what he most feared were his debts.
Date of Birth: October 26 1942, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK
Birth Name: Robert William Hoskins
Nicknames: Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins, the actor, who has died aged 71, was hailed as the original tough guy of British film, but once described himself as “short, fat and bald, the only actor who had to diet and wear lifts to play Mussolini”.
His cuboid frame, villainous features and Cockney accent fitted him for a series of roles which he described as “animals, thugs and heavies”. These included the gangland boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (1980) and the violent minder George in Mona Lisa (1986), a portrayal that earned him an Oscar nomination. Hoskins won critical success in both films, mainly for his ability to exude menace while suggesting the vulnerability beneath the violent surface of his characters.
Ultimately it was Hoskins’s versatility and eye for a good part that made him a star. He played Arthur Parker in Dennis Potter’s innovative and hugely successful Pennies from Heaven (1978); Nathan Detroit in the National Theatre’s first musical Guys and Dolls (1981); and cameo parts such as the police chief in The Honorary Consul (1983) and Robert de Niro’s plumbing partner in Brazil (1985).
Like his friend Michael Caine, Hoskins was one of the few British actors to become equally successful in Hollywood. Films such as The Cotton Club (1984), Sweet Liberty (1986) and the box office smash Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) consolidated his position as a British actor who could make the transition to the United States. A contributing factor in his American success may have been that Hoskins was one of a small minority of British actors able to produce a convincing American accent.
Robert William Hoskins was born on October 26 1942 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, but grew up in Finsbury Park, north London. His father was a clerk for the Pickfords removal firm, his mother a school cook. At Stroud Green secondary modern school, his dyslexia meant that he was often written off as stupid.
During his adolescence, the beatings he endured in street fights toughened him up, and a knife wound across the bridge of his nose left him with a hollow between the eyes. A life in the gangs beckoned he was once taken to meet the Kray twins who ran London’s underworld in the 1950s but he dreamed of becoming an actor.
Hoskins had never been formally trained, and was always proud that he had never attended a single acting lesson. Instead, on leaving school in 1959, he took on a series of temporary jobs, including as a merchant seaman in the Norwegian navy, a banana-picker on a kibbutz, camel-herder in Syria and porter at Covent Garden market.
In 1969, after an abortive attempt at going into accounting with his father, Hoskins claimed that he “fell sideways into acting by mistake”. While waiting in a pub with a friend who wanted to audition for the Unity Theatre, Hoskins was mistaken for the next candidate. “I was too pissed to argue,” he recalled, “so I got on stage and acted my socks off.” He was offered the lead in The Feather Pluckers, and at the play’s first night was signed up by an agent.
Hoskins spent the next 12 months in repertory, building up a reputation as an actor who was content to do anything, including fire-eating and running headlong at brick walls. “In those days we just passed round the hat,” he recalled. “I had a wife and kid to support on that, and so I wasn’t going to say no to anything that was for the good of the show.”
In 1975 he was offered his first television role, as an illiterate truck driver, in the BBC’s adult literacy programme On the Move. The programme established him as a “screen natural”, and attracted a wide following and an almost cult status. After his television appearance, offers of work on stage and screen doubled. One critic described Hoskins as having “cornered the market in the cheeky Cockney chappie”.
In 1980 The Long Good Friday established Hoskins as a global star. The film was enormously successful in the US, but Hoskins was angered by the fact that his speeches were dubbed into “stage Cockney”.
“They thought the Yanks wouldn’t be able to understand me”, he complained. “In the film I end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke.”
In 1981 Hoskins starred in the National Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. It was the Theatre’s first attempt at a musical and was a major critical and box office success. As in Pennies from Heaven, Hoskins’s charismatic performance carried him over any deficiencies in his singing and dancing. “The choreographer convinced me I looked like Fred Astaire,” he remembered, “but I really looked like a little hippopotamus shaking its hooves.” Critics described Hoskins’s “animal appeal” and “considerable panache”. They began to compare him with Edward G Robinson and George Raft, and to call him “the Cockney Cagney”.
In 1983 Hoskins was miscast in The Honorary Consul, with Michael Caine, and gave an embarrassing performance as a South American police chief. Despite this setback, however, he received an early morning call from Francis Ford Coppola asking him if he would appear in Coppola’s next film. Hoskins thought it was a joke and shouted down the line: “It’s three o’clock in the morning and you’ve just woken up my kid, you bastard” before hanging up.
Coppola called back later and signed Hoskins as the nightclub owner in The Cotton Club (1984).
In Heart Condition (1990) Hoskins played a bigoted white policeman kept alive by a heart transplant from a black donor. He went on to make Mermaids (also 1990), a comedy in which he starred opposite Cher . In Hook (1991), a live-action version of Peter Pan with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, Hoskins played the fusspot Mr Smee.
Although largely self-educated, Hoskins co-wrote and directed the feature film The Raggedy Rawney (1988), a gipsy story set in central Europe, which was reckoned an ambitious failure and had only a limited distribution. On television he won critical approval for his portrayal of the Italian dictator in Mussolini: the Decline and Fall of Il Duce (1985); while his appearance in The Street in 2009 earned him the accolade of Best Actor at the International Emmy Awards of 2010.
In 2012, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Bob Hoskins announced that he was retiring from acting.
Date of Birth: 23 September 1920, Brooklyn, New York, US
Birth Name: Joseph Yule Jr
Nicknames: Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney was an icon of American youth and energy who was as prolific in his marriages as he was on screen
Mickey, was in the Thirties and for much of the Forties the very image of how Americans liked to think of themselves brash, energetic and eternally young.
As a child star and later a teenager, he epitomised American get-up-and-go, with a cheeky, cocksure arrogance that won him a wide following, especially in the United States. Though he never got an Oscar for his work, in 1938 he shared a special award with Deanna Durbin “for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement”. In keeping with their stature, the awards were pint-size Oscars.
Diminutive but pugnacious, Rooney managed to look like an adolescent until well into maturity. He was still playing Andy Hardy, the chirpy judge’s son which was his most famous role, until the late Forties, when he was nearly 30.
Like many young players renowned in their teens, however, Rooney found difficulty in landing suitable adult roles. He continued to work and was, indeed, prolific into his seventies and at the age of 90 he filmed a cameo for The Muppets (2011), but the parts were seldom challenging and many of his films barely received a cinema release even in America.
He became better known for his private life than for his work. A prodigious earner at the peak of his popularity, he amassed some $12 million but kept none of it. Most of it went in back taxes and to pay alimony to his many wives (he had eight, of whom the first, Ava Gardner, was the best known). By 1962, he was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Drink at one time was also a problem but it disappeared in remarkable circumstances. As he recounted it, he was dining in a Los Angeles restaurant when up stepped a heavenly messenger with bright golden hair. “God loves you,” the angel said. From that moment Mickey Rooney was a born-again Christian and mended his ways. None of his fellow diners saw the angel.
Mickey Rooney’s real name was Joe Yule Jr. He was born in Brooklyn on September 23 1920, the son of vaudeville performers Joe Yule and Nell Carter, who divorced when he was seven. He joined the act almost from the cradle and, at the age of only 15 months, appeared on stage as a midget, dressed in a tuxedo and sporting a huge rubber cigar. At six, he was a movie actor, making his screen debut (again as a midget) in Not to Be Trusted (1926).
His real screen career began when his mother saw an advertisement placed by the cartoonist Fontaine Fox, who was looking for a child to impersonate his comic strip character Mickey McGuire. Fox took a shine to the boy and he got the job, appearing in some 80 episodes between 1926 and 1932, when the series was wound up. In fact, he was so closely identified with the part that his mother wanted him to adopt the name Mickey McGuire professionally. Fox refused so he became Mickey Rooney instead.
In his early years Rooney worked for a number of studios and was eventually placed under contract by MGM because David O Selznick thought he would be ideal to play Clark Gable as a boy in the film Manhattan Melodrama (1934). MGM guaranteed him 40 weeks’ work a year but reserved the right to loan him out to other studios.
One such arrangement, with Warner Bros, resulted in the best performance of Rooney’s career, as the mischievous Puck in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Barely 15 at the time, he was perfect casting impish and with a gurgling laugh that might be construed as innocent or knowing; it was hard to tell.
At MGM, his career took off in 1937 when he first played Andy Hardy, son of Lionel Barrymore’s Judge Hardy in A Family Affair. Planned only as a programme filler, based on a minor Broadway play, it became an unexpected hit and exhibitors begged MGM for a sequel. In the end, the series ran to 15 episodes over the next 10 years, with one ill-judged afterthought in 1958, Andy Hardy Comes Home. Lewis Stone replaced Barrymore as the judge after the first film.
Rooney appeared in much else besides, often opposite the equally youthful Judy Garland. In such films as Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937); Babes in Arms (1939); Strike Up the Band (1940); Babes on Broadway (1942); and several of the Andy Hardy series, they became the most popular team in movies. He also played a juvenile delinquent opposite Spencer Tracy’s priest in Boys’ Town (1938) and its 1941 sequel Men of Boys’ Town and took the title role in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939).
The success of these films and especially of the Andy Hardy pictures was good for Rooney’s image but bad for his ego. Increasingly bumptious and swollen-headed, he was the only actor on record to have come to blows with MGM’s feared studio boss Louis B Mayer. Rooney wanted the rights to do the Andy Hardy series on radio as well and lost his temper when Mayer said no. Rooney got a hike in salary out of the fracas, but Andy Hardy was never broadcast.
During the war, Rooney served in the Jeep Theatre, entertaining more than 2,000,000 troops, but was unable to recover his popularity in peacetime. Summer Holiday (1948), a musical version of Ah Wilderness!, proved a dismal failure, while nobody had anything good to say of Words and Music (also 1948), in which he played lyricist Lorenz Hart to Tom Drake’s Richard Rodgers. What attracted particular criticism was that the script ignored Hart’s homosexuality, portraying him as a red-blooded American male.
Rooney’s subsequent film career was mostly a catalogue of further disappointments. Especially regrettable was his bucktoothed Japanese photographer in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and his contribution to Stanley Kramer’s leaden comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
Against these and many equally as bad, can be set only occasional high points, such as Baby Face Nelson (1957), in which he was cast against type as a Tommy gun-wielding gangster; Pulp (1972), again as a gangster, this time inviting Michael Caine to write his memoirs, and The Black Stallion (1979), for which he received an Academy Award nomination (but did not win) in his supporting role as a horse trainer.
In 1983 he was presented with a second Oscar honouring his lifetime’s work. By the end of his career he had appeared in several hundred films.
He enjoyed a big stage hit in 1979 with a nostalgic tribute to vaudeville called Sugar Babies opposite the dancer Ann Miller. It ran for five years on and off Broadway but failed to translate successfully to London.
In 2003 Rooney and his eighth wife Jan Chamberlin began an association with Rainbow Puppet Productions, providing voices for some of the company’s films. Four years later, in 2007, Rooney made a debut in British pantomime as Baron Hardup in Cinderella at the Sunderland Empire, a role he reprised in the subsequent two years at Bristol and Milton Keynes.
In 2011, as well as his role in The Muppets, he appeared in an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, recalling how his dead father had appeared to him one night at a low point in his career telling him not to give up.
Rooney published two volumes of autobiography, of which the second, Life Is Too Short (1992), was conspicuously ungallant about such former movie queens as Norma Shearer and Betty Grable.
Mickey Rooney married first Ava Gardner; secondly Betty Jane Rase; thirdly Martha Vickers; fourthly Elaine Mahnken (all the marriages were dissolved). He married, fifthly, Barbara Thomason (who was shot dead by her lover in what may have been a double suicide pact); sixthly Margie Lang; seventhly Carolyn Hockett (both dissolved); and eighthly Jan Chamberlin, who survives him. He had seven children.
Date of Birth: 14 September 1914, Salzburg, Austria
Birth Name: Maria Franziska von Trapp
Nicknames: Maria von Trapp
Maria von Trapp, was the last of the original Trapp Family Singers, whose story of musical success and subsequent flight from Austria during the Nazi regime in the late 1930s was the inspiration for the Broadway show and hugely successful 1965 film, The Sound of Music.
The Von Trapps were an aristocratic Austrian family headed by the decorated naval officer Baron Georg von Trapp and his wife, Agathe. In the wake of Baroness von Trapp’s death in 1922 the family moved to a villa in Aigen in the suburbs of Salzburg. and Maria Augusta Kutschera a young postulent a woman preparing for a nun’s life from the nearby Nonnberg Abbey, was appointed as tutor to the seven Von Trapp children. She was to become the Baron’s second wife (played in the film by Julie Andrews.)
In the mid-1930s the family’s finances were made precarious by the Baron’s investment in a bank which would later fail. Hardened circumstances caused the Von Trapps to stage paid choral concerts (previously a family hobby) with Maria Von Trapp singing second soprano in the choir.
With the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, Baron von Trapp was offered a commission in the German Navy. An ardent anti-Nazi he refused and decided to flee the country with his entire family. Not, as Hollywood immortalised their journey, overnight across the Alps to Switzerland but by train to Italy in broad daylight before taking a passage to America.
Maria Franziska Gobertina von Trapp was born on September 14th 1914, in Salzburg the third child of Georg and Agathe Von Trapp. Since personal telegrammes were not permitted to be sent to those serving in the military, her father learnt of the birth by a message from his wife in pre-arranged code: “S.M.S Maria arrived”.
Music was an integral part of her family’s life. “My father played the violin and the accordion, and I adored him I wanted to learn all the instruments that he played,” recalled Maria von Trapp late in life (she would play the accordion for the rest of her life).
In The Sound of Music, Maria von Trapp was portrayed as the character “Louisa” by the Canadian actress Heather Menzies-Urich (in her debut role). On the film’s release, Maria and her siblings were surprised by the level of dramatic licence taken in bringing their story to the screen. “We were all pretty shocked at how they portrayed our father, he was so completely different. He always looked after us a lot, especially after our mother died,” said Maria von Trapp. “You have to separate yourself from all that, and you have to get used to it. It is something you simply cannot avoid.”
On settling in America, the family, continued to perform choral concerts and opened a ski lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Here Maria was to play the accordion and teach Austrian dance, with her half-sister Rosmarie, one of three children by Georg von Trapp’s second marriage. Maria von Trapp became a US citizen in 1948 and in the mid-1950s worked alongside her step mother as a lay missionary in Papua New Guinea.
In the summer of 2008 she visited her childhood home in Salzburg, on the eve of the villa opening as a hotel. Staying in the house for the first time since the 1930s she found herself haunted by memories.
“Our whole life is in here, in this house,” she recalled as she walked its corridors. “Especially here in the stairwell, where we always used to slide down the railings.”
Date of Birth: 23 July 1967, Fairport, US
Birth Name: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Nicknames: Philip Hoffman
In a little over two decades Hoffman carved out a reputation for delivering strident performances that led to the New York Times describing him as the “greatest character actor of our time”. For many years he stood out in supporting roles from a louche playboy in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley to a lovesick high school teacher in Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour.
In 2005, however, he took the title role in Bennett Miller’s Capote, a biopic of the waspish author Truman Capote. As the notoriously tart chronicler of high rollers and transient killers, Hoffman caught the writer’s murky DNA, showcasing his talent for manipulation but also his latent insecurity. “Playing Capote took a lot of concentration,” Hoffman stated, “I prepared for four and a half months. I read and listened to his voice and watched videos of him on TV. Sometimes being an actor is like being some kind of detective where you’re on the search for a secret that will unlock the character. With Capote, the part required me to be a little unbalanced.” The performance was to win him that year’s Academy Award for Best Actor.
His appearance and in particular his weight remained a fall-back feature of most journalistic profiles. Hoffman’s wry approach to the veiled criticisms was reminscent of Cyrano de Bergerac’s parry to nasal put-downs. “A lot of people describe me as chubby, which seems so easy, so first-choice,” he said. “Or stocky. Fair-skinned. Tow-headed. There are so many other choices. How about dense? I mean, I’m a thick kind of guy. But I’m never described in attractive ways. I’m waiting for somebody to say I’m at least cute. But nobody has.”
He was instictively comfortable working with many of America’s cinematic auteurs. In particular, his collaborations with the director Paul Thomas Anderson provided many of his most distinctive roles. In Magnolia (1999) he provided warmth and heart as a kindly male nurse tending to a dying millionnaire to an otherwise bleak palette of human disarray and in The Master (2012) he held forth as a magnetically-charasmatic leader of a quasi-religious cult (a figure loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard). Likewise Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers, Charlie Kauffman and David Mamet all drew idiosyncratic and memorable performances.
A dedication to the art of acting was to remain the one constant in a career that otherwise defied categorisation (he embraced drama, comedy and thrillers with equal zeal). “Acting is so difficult for me that, unless the work is of a certain stature in my mind, unless I reach the expectations I have of myself, I’m unhappy,” he said. “If you’re doing it well, if you’re concentrating the way you need to, if your will and your concentration and imagination and emotional life are all in tune, concentrated and working together in that role, that is just like lugging weights upstairs with your head. And I don’t think that should get any easier.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman was born on July 23 1967 in Fairport, a picturesque town on the Erie Canal in New York state. His mother, the former Marilyn Loucks, was a lawyer and civil rights activist and his father, Gordon, was a businessman.
Philip was first drawn to drama at Fairport High School, and when he was 17 attended a state-run summer school for the arts. After graduating he moved to New York City to pursue professional training, attending classes at a summer programme run by the Manhattan theatre, Circle in the Square, and finally graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Drama.
While at NYU, Hoffman teamed up for the first time with Bennett Miller, who would later direct him in Capote, to launch a drama company, the Bullstoi Ensemble. Though its principals were undoubtedly talented, the Ensemble was notoriously short-lived, and after leaving NYU Hoffman entered rehab to tackle alcohol and drug problems. He then embarked on the classic career path of the hopeful actor, taking odd jobs, such as stacking supermarket shelves, while auditioning and hoping for his big break.
That break took some years to arrive. However, in 1992 he won his first major role in Scent of a Woman, which starred Al Pacino as a blind man whose lust for life (and the opposite sex), is only heightened by his “disability”. Hoffman played a boorish, treacherous friend of the student who is recruited to assist Pacino’s character.
More often, however, his pudgy frame seemed to recommend him to casting directors for roles that required self-doubt, self-loathing even. It was with just such a part that he made his leap into the big time.
Paul Thomas Anderson, the director, who had spotted Hoffman in Scent of a Woman, cast him as a boom operator, Scotty, in his epic recounting of pornographic film making in the 1970s, Boogie Nights (1997). The part marked Hoffman out as an actor of range but, typically, his reward was to be cast in formulaic fayre, such as Flawless (1999) a buddy movie with Robert De Niro.
Hoffman flourished in such illustrious company, and repeated the trick of stealing scenes from more established actors in The Talented Mr Ripley. Meryl Streep was among a gathering band of admirers, describing his performance as “fearless”.
Long a favourite of indie directors, Hoffman's rising star was confirmed in such films as The Big Lebowski (1998) and Almost Famous (2000). But the next five years, while providing steady work, did not see him find many great roles. It was with Capote (2005) that his mesmeric ability to metamorphise began to emerge. He lost weight and shifted the timbre of his voice, inhabiting the part completely without descending to simple mimicry.
He next shone in an unlikely role in Doubt (2008), that of a Catholic priest who may, or may not, have abused one of his pupils. The whole conceit of the film demanded that the audience remain undecided, and thus rested on the strength of Hoffman’s performance.
His ability to turn his hand to almost any role was displayed again in Jack Goes Boating (2010), his directorial debut, and also his first romantic role.
A long, inventive and daring career seemed to stretch before him, but in what turned out to be his last years he mostly starred in the mainstream features such as the Hunger Games series that he had always dotted between the expressive, idea-driven parts in which he truly excelled.
Other films included: Cold Mountain (2003); Mission Impossible III (2006); Charlie Wilson’s War (2007); Synecdoche, New York (2008); Moneyball (2011) and, most recently, A Most Wanted Man (2014).
It was a sign of his talent, however, that many viewed Hoffman as an even better actor on stage than on screen. Perhaps his best performance came in 2012, in the Broadway revival of Death of A Salesman, for which he received his third Tony award nomination.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who announced last year that he was once again struggling with addiction, is reported to have been found dead in his apartment, possibly of a drug overdose.
Date of Birth: 8 February 1944, Islington, North London, UK
Birth Name: Roger Llyod-Pack
Roger Lloyd-Pack, the actor, who has died aged 69, will forever be associated with the slow-witted Peckham road sweeper Trigger, whom he played in the much-loved television series Only Fools and Horses.
As one of the regulars at the Nag’s Head pub, Trigger provided an immeasurably dim foil to the wit and wisdom of wheeler-dealer Del Boy (David Jason), used-car salesman Boycie (John Challis), landlord Mike (Kenneth MacDonald) and Del Boy’s younger brother, Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst).
The character was involved both in one of the series’ best running jokes, and its greatest slapstick moment. In the latter, he accompanies Del Boy on a mission to pick up a couple of “modern euro-birds”, only for Del Boy to fall through the bar after a waiter, unnoticed, lifts the hatch. In the former, Trigger persistently refers to Rodney as “Dave”. Even on the announcement of Rodney’s engagement, to Cassandra, Trigger raises a glass “to Cassandra and Dave”. When she discloses that she is pregnant, he suggests that the couple call the baby “Rodney, after Dave”.
Born with what he described as “an old man’s face”, Lloyd-Pack had to wait until his 40s to find success as an actor; once he found it with Trigger, however, the role would not leave him be. Such was his identification with the road-sweeper that passers-by, even policemen, would shout out “Wotcher Trig?” at him in the street. In conversation, he said, strangers assumed he was very thick. He described the role as “like an albatross in one way. If something becomes mega, like Fools, you’ve had it. I’ll never escape Trigger, I’ve learnt to live with that.”
But the role (which he nearly abandoned after two series, until his agent told he would be “mad”) provided him with a measure of financial security and also ensured that he did not have to worry about finding work again. Though he never subsequently secured the golden roles of Lear or Shylock, to which he aspired, he was sought after for smaller, plum Shakespearean parts, such as Buckingham (in Richard III) or Sir Andrew Aguecheek (in Twelfth Night).
Not that he was above playing a pantomime dame, or signing on to the Harry Potter franchise. Acting, he said, was “a silly job, in a way, especially when you get older. It’s just dressing up, playing at being someone else. It’s rather lovely, too, but it’s hardly life and death.”
Roger Lloyd-Pack was born on February 8 1944 in north London. His father, Charles Pack, had grown up a working-class lad in the East End before turning to acting and, in the 1930s, adding Lloyd to his surname. Roger’s mother, Ulrike, was an Austrian-Jewish emigrée who had fled the Nazis.
Roger was educated at St David’s (“a snobby little prep school run by a sadistic couple”) and Bedales, where he “coasted”. He did not shine at Geography (securing just nine per cent in his O-level), but did begin acting, eventually auditioning for Rada. After training there, however, he found jobs hard to come by.
In part he put this down to his looks. “It took a while for all my features to fall into place,” he said. “I didn’t come into my own as an actor until I was 40. I was not easy to cast.” He found bit parts in series such as The Avengers, The Protectors and Dixon of Dock Green, but spent much of his time drifting in rep waiting, with increasingly little confidence, for his big break.
In the mid-1970s his career got a boost when the director Bill Gaskill invited him to join the Joint Stock Theatre Company, which pioneered the idea of using collaborative workshops to inspire new material from playwrights such as David Hare and Caryl Churchill. But it was not until 1981, with the advent of Only Fools and Horses, that he secured his future as an actor. He was signed up after being spotted by the series’ producer, Ray Butt, while in a play alongside Billy Murray, who was being considered for the Del Boy role.
The series ran for a decade, with the character of Trigger appearing in nearly every episode and acquiring something approaching cult status, notably for moments of inadvertent wisdom that pierced the fog of idiocy. On one occasion, Trigger prompts a philosophical debate by revealing that he has used the same broom to sweep streets for 20 years. When asked his secret, he reveals that he has lovingly maintained it, replacing the head 17 times and the handle 14 times.
In interviews Lloyd-Pack was frank, sometimes disarmingly so, about the nature of his/Trigger’s rather peculiar brand of celebrity. He was also frank about the travails of his personal life, in particular the mental health difficulties faced by his eldest daughter, Emily.
Emily Lloyd, who was born when Lloyd-Pack was 26, was catapulted to Hollywood stardom while still in her teens after appearing in the film Wish You Were Here (1987). A decade in Hollywood followed, but she was increasingly afflicted by mental health problems. In an interview last year, Lloyd-Pack said that watching his daughter struggle with her condition was “absolutely heart-rending and painful”.
He was also forthright about the possibility that, having left his first marriage, to the actress Sheila Ball, when Emily was only two, he had somehow contributed to his daughter’s later difficulties. “I feel very sad about that,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t have a second chance. Forming good, trusting relationships with your children involves being with them when they’re very small and holding them. You can’t replace it. The thing you most want in your life when you’re little is for both your parents to love each other. If not, it can be the beginning of all your problems.”
Roger Lloyd-Pack, who died of cancer, was also clear-sighted about death, upon which, he said, even before his diagnosis, he reflected every day. A keen cyclist, recycler, and campaigner for Left-wing causes, he revealed he would like to buried in “a cardboard coffin”. As for his obituaries: “I don’t really care what [they] say, so long as they are fair. I know I will be best remembered for Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, but I hope all my other work will be acknowledged, too.”
His television credits included Spyder’s Web; Moving; The Bill; The Old Guys; and The Vicar of Dibley. Film credits included The Naked Civil Servant; 1984; Wilt; Interview with the Vampire; Vanity Fair; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Date of Birth: 12 September, 1973, Glendale, California, US
Birth Name: Paul Willam Walker IV
Nicknames: Paul Walker
Paul Walker was one of the actors who helped make the Fast & Furious film franchise so successful.
Walker rode the Fast & Furious franchise to stardom, featuring in all but one of the six action blockbusters, beginning with the first film, in 2001. The blond-haired, blue-eyed Los Angeles-native brought California-surfer good-looks and an easy, warm charm to the street-racing series. Walker did some of his own driving in the films, though the insurers prevented him from doing as much as he would have liked. He said it was the driving and working with the stuntmen that he enjoyed most.
The son of a fashion model, Cheryl, and a sewer contractor, Paul, Walker grew up in a working class Mormon household in Glendale, California, the oldest of five children. His mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler and he was a child model by the age of two. He said his early induction to showbusiness wasn't to start him on a career path, but as simply a way to help provide for the family.
He made his big-screen debut as a 13-year-old in the 1986 slasher-comedy Monster in the Closet, and after a string of television roles, including small parts in Who's the Boss and Charles in Charge, he drifted away from acting for a while, but was then tracked down by a casting director with a long memory who gave him a role in the television series Touched by an Angel. He also had a recurring part in the soap The Young and the Restless
His returned to films in the 1998 comedy Meet the Deedles and had supporting roles in Pleasantville, Varsity Blues (as a young quarterback – "I got to play the meathead jock that I hated in high school," he recalled), Flags of Our Fathers and the 1999 teen comedy She's All That. His performance in the 2000 psychological thriller The Skulls, which explored the conspiracy theories surrounding Yale's Skull and Bones student society, caught the eye of producer Neal H Moritz despite the film's poor critical reception.
Moritz then cast him alongside Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. Adapted from a Vibe magazine article, "Racer X", about underground street racing, the film became an unexpected hit. Walker's undercover police officer, Brian O'Conner, is ordered to infiltrate a ring of illegal street racers suspected of stealing electronic equipment and finds himself drawn to their adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle.
Walker, a self-styled "gearhead", had taken part in street races, and he used some his fee for the first film to import a Nissan Skyline R34 sports car, the model he drives in the 2003 sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, in which he starred without Diesel. He wasn't in the third instalment, but the pair were reunited for the fourth film, known simply as Fast and Furious (2009). It became the biggest hit in the series and the producers stuck with the formula for Fast 5 (2011) and Fast and Furious 6 (2013), each successive film garnering bigger box-office grosses. The most recent has made nearly £491.7 million worldwide so far.
Walker starred in other films between Fast & Furious outings, including the crime thriller Running Scared, the Antarctic adventure Eight Below and the heist film Takers, in which a gang of young criminals carry out a series of minutely planned bank jobs to bankroll their expensive lifestyle. Although he didn't make as much of an impact beyond the franchise, he continually drew praise from his co-stars and directors as a kind-hearted and eager collaborator. "Your humble spirit was felt from the start," Ludacris, one of his co-stars, said on Twitter. "Wherever you blessed your presence you always left a mark, we were like brothers."
In 2006 he was cast by Clint Eastwood in Flags of our Fathers as one of the six US Marines who famously raised the American flag at Iwo Jima during the Second World War. The seventh Fast & Furious instalment began shooting in September, with a release planned for next July. The film's production was on break with more shooting to be done, which producers said would go ahead despite Walker's death.
Walker also stars in the forthcoming Hurricane Katrina drama Hours, due to appear later this month. He plays a father stranded with his newborn daughter in a New Orleans hospital in what Walker described as "a passion project". Reading the script, he said, "I just wanted to believe that if I was faced with a similar situation, I would see it through the same way. You want to believe you have the make-up to do what it would take to keep this baby going." He is also in Brick Mansions, a remake of the French action film District B13, due for release next year.
Walker and Rebecca McBrain, a former girlfriend, had a daughter who lived with her mother in Hawaii for 13 years and then moved to California in 2011 to live with Walker.
Roger Rodas, who died with Walker, was a financial adviser and the CEO of Walker's company Always Evolving; the pair met through their shared passion for cars. Another passion for Walker was martial arts, and he held a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was also interested in marine biology, and made a series for the National Geographic Channel, Expedition Great White, in which he helped tag great white sharks off the coast of Mexico.
Date of Birth: 2 August 1932, Connemara, Ireland
Birth Name: Seamus Peter O’Toole
Nicknames: Peter O’Toole
Peter O'Toole, the Irish-born actor was one of the most charismatic, unpredictable, eccentric and individualistic players of his generation.
Hailed both as a classicist and as an exponent of post-war realism in the new British drama, he seemed destined for greatness on the stage until David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) turned him into a film star.
It was one of the most spectacular screen breakthroughs of the post-war years. Though his screen debut was in Kidnapped (1960), he had till Lawrence made little impression. Although Lawrence was presented as an heroic figure, Robert Bolt’s screenplay did not avoid the more debatable aspects of his life, including his sexuality. There is a revealing moment when he first dons Arab clothes and performs a little dance almost as if he were a woman in disguise. Moviegoers twigged instantly that this would be no ordinary portrayal.
Tall, lean, blue-eyed, watchful, whimsical and by middle age, so emaciated that his friends feared for his health O’Toole seemed regularly to veer close to self destruction. A self-confessed lover of sleaze, he once said: “I can’t stand light; I hate weather; my idea of heaven is moving from one smoke-filled room to another.”
When Laurence Olivier chose him in 1973 to inaugurate the National Theatre at the Old Vic in the title role of Hamlet, it was because O’Toole seemed like Britain’s next great actor. But the status of an Olivier, a Redgrave or a Gielgud always eluded him or perhaps he it.
Though he became a greatly popular player, he did not stay with Olivier’s new National Theatre Company and went on to divide his career between stage and screen. The success of Lawrence of Arabia led to a flood of screen offers in meaty parts that contemporary actors envied. These included two aspects of King Henry II, first in Becket (1964), based on Jean Anouilh’s account of his troubled relations with Thomas à Becket, and secondly in The Lion in Winter (1968), James Goldman’s play about the ageing king’s dispute with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Though Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar as Eleanor, the conflict was even-handed and the two performers were equally riveting.
His acting ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. It could be subtle, reserved, sensitive and deeply affecting. It could also be loud, self-regarding, mannered and imitative of the worst of the 19th-century barnstormers.
Among the more ridiculous was the Macbeth he played at the Old Vic in 1980. It was an attempt to restore the fortunes of that playhouse after the National Theatre had left it in 1976. Contradicting the advice he had given as Hamlet to the players at the same theatre under Olivier’s direction 17 years earlier, he sawed the air with his hands, tore passions to tatters, and ranted until the audience laughed in his face.
Undismayed, he joined in, especially when he heard one night, as he descended the staircase after dispatching Duncan, the siren of an ambulance passing the theatre. “I was dripping with blood. The ambulance howled as it went up the Waterloo Road. I got the giggles. So did the audience. It was bloody marvellous.”
Nonetheless, the production, disowned by fellow members of the Old Vic board, broke records in London and in the provinces. “I just wanted a crack at Macbeth on the principle of getting the worst over first. In the history of the British theatre, only three actors have pulled it off: Macready, Garrick, and Wolfit and now me. I enjoyed every second.”
Among his more sublime performances was that of the dazed and lonely protagonist journalist in Keith Waterhouse’s Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (Apollo, 1989; revived 1999), reminiscing, ruminating, urinating, swaying, and stranded overnight in a London pub with a plastic carrier bag of liquor.O’Toole, himself an experienced alcoholic, long since reformed, brought so much authenticity, poise and painful sincerity to the performance that many play-goers could not believe he was acting.
He loved the excitement and uncertainty of the theatre. “If I hadn’t become an actor I probably would have become a criminal,” he said once. “I’m a very physical actor. I use everything toes, teeth, ears, everything. I don’t simply mean physical in the sense of movement and vigour. I find myself remembering the shape of a scene by how I’m standing, what I’m doing.”
Having achieved immediate recognition as TE Lawrence, the desert adventurer opposite Omar Sharif, he observed: “Stardom is insidious. It creeps up through the toes. You don’t realise what’s happening until it reaches your nut. That’s when it becomes dangerous.”
His scores of screen roles at this time included Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1965), an angel in John Huston’s The Bible (1966), and a musical remake of Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969) opposite Petula Clark. Though he was Oscar-nominated for that role, the film as a whole was an embarrassment, and he should have taken note that Rex Harrison and Richard Burton had turned it down before him.
In 1972 he appeared in another musical, Man of La Mancha, opposite Sophia Loren, in which he played Don Quixote. These two films were temporary diversions he was wise not to repeat. Fortunately, in the same year (1972) he gave one of his best performances in the lead role in Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class, as a berserk British baronet who imagines himself to be Jesus Christ one minute and Jack the Ripper the next.
The son of an Irish bookmaker, Seamus Peter O’Toole was born at Connemara, Co Galway, on August 2 1932. The family moved to England when O’Toole was a boy. The young Peter left school at 14, and moved with his parents to Yorkshire.
He worked variously as a copy boy and reporter on the Yorkshire Evening News, as a jazz band drummer, and as a vacuum cleaner salesman. He first acted professionally at the Civic Theatre, Leeds, in 1949.
After National Service as a signalman in the Royal Navy, he saw Michael Redgrave’s King Lear at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1953; it was this that resolved him to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He hitch-hiked to London and won an audition and a scholarship.
He joined the Bristol Old Vic, where between 1955 and 1958 he acted 73 parts, notably Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger (1957), John Tanner in Man and Superman, the title part in Hamlet and Peter Shirley in Shaw’s Major Barbara, in which he made his first London appearance (Old Vic, 1956).
His first West End part came in another Bristol transfer, this time as Uncle Gustave in the Swiss musical comedy Oh, My Papa! (Garrick, 1957).
It was, however, as the cynical Cockney Pete Bamforth, who befriended a Japanese captive in Willis Hall’s wartime jungle drama The Long and the Short and the Tall (Royal Court, 1959, and New, now Albery), that O’Toole first won wide critical acclaim.
Of that performance Kenneth Tynan wrote: “To convey violence beneath banter, and a soured embarrassed goodness beneath both, is not the simplest task for a young player, yet Mr O’Toole achieved it without sweating a drop.”
At Stratford-upon-Avon in The Merchant of Venice his dashing young Shylock, a nouveau riche mercantile adventurer with social pretensions, was much admired, as were his playful Petruchio (opposite the 52-year-old Peggy Ashcroft) in The Taming of the Shrew and his powerful and thrilling Thersites in Troilus and Cressida.
Back in the West End in the title part of Brecht’s Baal (Phoenix, 1963) his acting soared above the play so impressively that one of Brecht’s biographers, Martin Esslin, dubbed O’Toole “the greatest potential force among all English-speaking actors”.
After the disappointment of his acceptable but uninspiring Hamlet at the launch of the National Theatre Company, he played one of his favourite types of character, the self-destructive hero, in David Mercer’s Ride a Cock Horse (Piccadilly, 1965), agonising over relationships with three women.
The following year, back in Ireland, he played Capt Boyle in O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, and three years after that he was back in Dublin again as John Tanner in Shaw’s Man and Superman, one of his favourite parts which he had played at Bristol 11 years earlier and which he played yet again in the West End (Haymarket, 1982).
At Dublin’s Abbey in 1969 his scarecrow Vladimir in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot came in what The Daily Telegraph at the time called “the Chaplin tradition: baggy trousers, battered bowler, clownish, absentmindedly surveying the audience as if it were infinity”. He later acted the part at Nottingham Playhouse.
Returning to his training ground, the Bristol Old Vic, in 1973, he took the title role in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, “shuffling, weary, pale and unprofiteering… one of the best things O’Toole ever did”, according to one critic. He also played King Magnus “indolent, elegant, condescending” in Shaw’s The Apple Cart, a role which he repeated in the West End (Haymarket, 1986).
When he led, in 1978, a tour of North America as Uncle Vanya, he also added Coward’s Present Laughter to his repertoire. As the flamboyant matinée idol, Garry Essendine, O’Toole used his own mannered and sometimes irritating self-indulgence with authority.
Following the fiasco of his Macbeth for Prospect Productions at the ailing Old Vic two years later, his mercurial Professor Higgins in Shaw’s Pygmalion (Shaftesbury, 1984) was warmly approved for its zest, rhythm, tonal variety, and tender eccentricity. It was seen on Broadway three years later.
In 1991 his ideas about the older Jimmy Porter in Osborne’s new play Déjà Vu clashed with the author’s at rehearsal and the Liverpool production was cancelled.
One of his better screen performances in the 1970s came in Clive Donner’s thriller for television Rogue Male (1976). O’Toole was engaging and, when it mattered, moving, as the resourceful but desperate hero, a British sportsman and would-be assassin of Hitler who, ruthlessly hunted down by Nazis, is forced to live like an animal.
The following year he acted in the dubious Roman epic Caligula, described by Variety magazine as “an anthology of sexual aberrations in which incest is the only face-saving relationship”.
In the uncommercial but intriguing film The Stuntman (1980), he was entirely at home as an impatient and overbearing director on a crazed film project which seemed to make sense only to him. O’Toole, who was again Oscar-nominated, later admitted that he had based his performance on the martinet David Lean, who had directed him in Lawrence of Arabia.
Less impressive were his outings in such schlock as Powerplay (1978), Strumpet City (1980), Supergirl (1984) and Buried Alive (1984).
His performance in Neil Jordan’s big budget Hollywood comedy High Spirits (1988), about a family who move into a haunted house, was nothing if not ebullient; he extracted more humour than the rest of the cast from a weak script in what became one of the turkeys of the year.
It is fitting that his swansong was on the West End stage, which he loved and dominated like no other. Keith Waterhouse’s Our Song provided him with another Bernard-like character or at least that was how he played the hard-drinking advertising man infatuated with a younger woman.
Even those critics who professed to a sense of déjà vu were not inclined to complain about it, but rather revelled in another chance to see O’Toole running the entire gamut of his physical and vocal range. “The exhilarating theatrical swagger of his performance is matched by a real depth of emotion,” said the Telegraph. The play was a sell-out success.
The year 1992 also saw the publication of the first volume of his autobiography, Loitering With Intent. Besides committing to record his own account of a life rich in myth and hyperbole, O’Toole revealed a genuine writing talent whose promise is sadly cut short.
Having been denied as best actor Oscar many times, in 2003 O’Toole received a special honorary award, effectively for his lifetime’s work. He joked about this when, in 2006, he received yet another best-actor nomination, playing a 70-year-old roué in Venus, who romances his best friend’s grand-niece. The lifetime’s recognition, he quipped, had been premature because there was life in the old dog yet.
Date of Birth: 23 September 1923, Tuscumbia, Alabama, US
Birth Name: Margaret Williams
Nicknames: Margaret Pellegrini
Margaret Pellegrini played a flower pot Munchkin and one of the “sleepy head” kids in the MGM classic The Wizard of Oz (1939).
At the time of filming, Margaret was 15 years old and only 3ft 5in tall, and did not attend high school because her mother feared that she would be bullied by the other pupils. “I was not big enough to partake in school activities,” Margaret later recalled. “Midgets were used as the school mascot in those days. I knew people who did that and felt like they were being treated not like a human being but like a rag doll.”
She was born Margaret Williams on September 23 1923 at Tuscumbia, Alabama. When she was 13 she met members of Henry Kramer’s Midgets at the Tennessee State Fair, where she was handing out free samples of crisps. They asked her if she had thought about showbusiness and made a note of her name and address. Two years later she was contacted by an agent in Hollywood, and she boarded a train for California.
The filming of Munchkin Land took about eight weeks to complete. “All the Munchkin sets were built on sound stage 27 at MGM,” she said. “I stayed at the Culver City hotel close to the studio lot.” She was paid £31.16 a week “Toto the dog made more money than me,” she declared. £77.91“Toto made a week, so he had a better agent than I did!”
Of the movie’s star, Judy Garland, Margaret recalled: “[She] wasn’t a big star when she made the movie. MGM had originally wanted Shirley Temple, but her studio, 20th Century Fox, wouldn’t let her go. Judy was a typical teenager on the set, and would sit on the Yellow Brick Road and talk with me and some of the others instead of going to school.”
When the film premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1939, Margaret was working at the World Trade Fair in San Francisco with two of her fellow Munchkins, and she signed autographs for days on end after the organisers had erected enormous banners with the legend: “Meet the stars from Oz”.
Margaret then had a part alongside Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck in Meet John Doe (1941) and in Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (also 1941), starring Johnny Weissmuller. In the same year she married William Pellegrini, a prizefighter, and gave up acting while she brought up their son and daughter.
She tried to resume her career in 1971, appearing in Johnny Got His Gun, with Timothy Bottoms, but no further parts were forthcoming, and she gave up acting for good. She took a number of jobs, including working as a Santa’s helper at a Chicago department store and running a hot dog stand.
On the 50th anniversary of the making of The Wizard of Oz she toured the United States with other surviving Munchkins, and throughout the 1990s appeared at numerous festivals celebrating the film.
She remained in touch with her fellow Munchkins. “It was so uplifting for me,” she said. Walking on to the set of Oz was the first time I had seen so many people like me. In those days we were called 'midgets’; now it’s a much more politically correct 'people of restricted growth’. Whatever the term, the name-calling was there as I was growing up, and I grew to ignore it. But back in 1939 as a teenager I stood side by side with dozens of people who didn’t point or name-call. I cried with joy, and from that day on I was happy to be called Munchkin.”
There are now only two surviving Munchkins from the original 124: Jerry Maren, who is 93, and 95-year-old Ruth Duccini.
Date of Birth: 12 April 1914, Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, UK
Birth Name: Gilbert Gil Taylor
Nicknames: Gilbert Taylor
The British cinematographer Gilbert Taylor was best known for his camerawork on the first Star Wars movie (1977). Though its special effects and set designs somewhat stole his thunder, it was Taylor who set the visual tone of George Lucas's six-part space opera.
Taylor said ”I wanted to give it a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science-fiction genre," Taylor declared. "I wanted Star Wars to have clarity because I don't think space is out of focus … I thought the look of the film should be absolutely clean … But George Lucas saw it differently … For example, he asked to set up one shot on the robots with a 300mm camera lens and the sand and sky of the Tunisian desert just meshed together. I told him it wouldn't work, but he said that was the way he wanted to do the entire film, all diffused." Fortunately for everyone, this creative difference was resolved by 20th Century Fox executives, who backed Taylor's approach.
Back in Britain at Elstree studios, Taylor found John Barry's sets, particularly the Death Star, were all black and grey, with little opportunity for lighting at all. "My work was a matter of chopping holes in the walls and working the lighting into the sets, and this resulted in a 'cut-out' system of panel lighting using quartz lamps that we could put in the walls, ceiling and floors. This lighting approach allowed George to shoot in almost any direction without extensive relighting, which gave him more freedom."
Despite his Star Wars fame, Taylor was a master of black-and-white cinematography. Witness the splendour of Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (both 1964) and Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965). Of this, Polanski wrote: "As I saw it, the only person who could do justice to our black-and-white picture was Gil Taylor, whose photography on Dr Strangelove had deeply impressed me."
Gilbert, sometimes credited as Gil Taylor was born in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire. The son of a prosperous builder, he was expected to join the family business, but his mother was perceptive enough to persuade his father to let him take a camera-assistant job.
At 15, he worked as assistant on the last two silent films made at Gainsborough studios, in London. He soon went to Elstree studios, to the north of the city, where he was clapper loader on Alfred Hitchcock's Number Seventeen (1932). More significantly, he was assistant and camera operator to Freddie Young on Herbert Wilcox's Nell Gwyn (1934) and Paul Czinner's Escape Me Never (1935).
Taylor's apprenticeship was interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war, when he joined the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve, his primary mission being to photograph the targets of nocturnal raids over Germany after the bombs were dropped. "This was requested by Winston Churchill, and my material was delivered to 10 Downing Street for him to view. On the opening of the second front, I took a small operational unit of cameramen to cover every kind of news story, including the liberation of the concentration camps and the signing of the armistice."
After the war, Taylor returned to studio work as camera operator on two Boulting Brothers pictures, Fame Is the Spur and Brighton Rock (both 1947), for which he did some second-unit photography. This impressed John and Roy Boulting, especially his work on a deep-focus dream sequence in the former. As a result the producer-director twins gave Taylor his first job as director of photography on The Guinea Pig (1948), followed by Seven Days to Noon (1950).
It was then that Taylor started using bounced or reflected light. The indirect lighting of a subject or background gave the films a more naturalistic look, in contrast to the glossier direct light used by most of his contemporaries. This method was particularly effective in the realistic monochrome pictures directed by J Lee Thompson: The Weak and the Wicked (1954) a women-in-prison drama Yield to the Night (1956) with Diana Dors, without makeup, awaiting execution Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957) dowdy Yvonne Mitchell waiting for her philandering husband to return and No Trees in the Street (1959), set in a pre-second world war London slum.
In contrast, also for Thompson, was Ice Cold in Alex (1958), much of it shot in Libya, brilliantly capturing the heat and dust of the desert, as John Mills and company battle to get an ambulance to Alexandria after the fall of Tobruk in 1942.
Away from gritty realism, but still using black and white, Taylor linked up with Lester for two groundbreaking pop musicals, It's Trad, Dad! (1962) and the Beatlemaniacal A Hard Day's Night.
"Dick's enthusiasm for music and film-making blended in mad unison appealed to my mental and physical state at the time," Taylor commented. "When the Beatles came of age, I was given a poor script by Dick, who said we basically had to make it up as we went along. The only thing set was the music; the rest we had to invent daily! The raw quality of the shoot was there onscreen." A Hard Day's Night was shot documentary-style in several real locations, much of it with multiple cameras.
In the same year Dr Strangelove gave Taylor fresh challenges. "Strangelove was at the time a unique experience because the lighting was to be incorporated in the sets, with little or no other light used," Taylor explained. This strategy is exemplified by the elaborate scenes set in the war room, designed by Ken Adam, with a gleaming, black Formica floor and a wide circular table lit by a ring of overhead fluorescent fixtures.
When Taylor was asked to shoot Repulsion, he turned down the chance to make the James Bond movie Thunderball. "Our first day's shooting left me amazed and a bit perturbed by Gil Taylor's way of doing things," Polanski wrote in his autobiography. "He mostly used reflected light bounced off the ceiling or walls and never consulted a light meter. As the rushes were shown, however, he possessed such an unerring eye that his exposures were invariably perfect. We differed on only one point: Gil disliked a wide-angle lens for close-ups of Catherine Deneuve, a device I needed in order to convey her mental disintegration. 'I hate doing this to a beautiful woman,' he used to mutter."
Nevertheless, Deneuve looks extremely beautiful in many sequences, despite Taylor shooting much of the film with a handheld Arriflex with a very wide lens, as did her sister Françoise Dorléac in Polanski's Cul-De-Sac (1966), also with Taylor, whose third and last film with Polanski was Macbeth (1971). Although shot in colour, it is as near to black and white as possible, with its grey, misty landscape.
When Hitchcock invited Taylor to be his director of photography on his penultimate film, Frenzy (1972), he had no recollection of the 18-year-old clapper loader who had worked for him exactly 40 years previously. "Hitchcock never looked through the camera," recalled Taylor. "He would give me a list of shots and ask: 'Can we do this today?' I had to persuade him to go to rushes after nearly four weeks."
Taylor gave Richard Donner's The Omen (1976) a diffused, dreamlike look, which won him the British Society of Cinematographers award. After Star Wars, Taylor, who never made a film in Hollywood, went on various locations for Meetings with Remarkable Men (Afghanistan, 1979), Dracula (Cornwall, 1979), Escape to Athena (Greece, 1979), Flash Gordon (Scotland, 1980) and Green Ice (Mexico and New York, 1981), though the movies were not worth travelling any distance to see.
Taylor retired from films in 1994, but continued to shoot commercials for a few years. Most of his retirement was spent painting and farming, but he still got a kick out of being contacted by Star Wars fans for his autograph.
In 2001, Taylor, who made his home on the Isle of Wight, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the British Society of Cinematographers, and an international award by the American Society of Cinematographers in 2006.
Date of Birth: 3 September 1932, Los Angeles, US
Birth Name: Verla Eileen Regina Brennan
Nicknames: Eileen Brennan
Eileen Brennan, the American actress was best known for her role as the tough-talking Army captain Doreen Lewis in the 1980 film comedy Private Benjamin, in which she starred alongside Goldie Hawn.
As tormentor-in-chief to Goldie Hawn’s high society recruit, Eileen Brennan earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, and when she reprised the role in a television sitcom adapted from the film, she won two further awards, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Guest roles on such television shows as Murder, She Wrote; thirtysomething; Taxi; and Will & Grace (in which she played an over-the-top acting coach) earned her six more Emmy nominations.
On film she made a brief appearance as the crazy Cat Lady in the horror film Jeepers Creepers in 2001. Her last big screen appearance was in the 2011 comedy film Naked Run.
Her role in Private Benjamin led to a lasting friendship with Goldie Hawn. In 1982, a couple of years after they had made the film, the two women had dinner in Venice, California. As they left the restaurant, Eileen Brennan was struck by a car, in an accident which smashed her legs, broke bones on the left side of her face, and shattered her left eye socket. She later recalled seething with rage at what had happened: “I was no saint. I was angry, and anger is a powerful emotion. It increased my determination not to go under, to get well.”
She took three years off work to recover, but became addicted to painkillers, and eventually entered the Betty Ford clinic to cure her dependency. She later received treatment for breast cancer.
Ten years after the accident Eileen Brennan said she was glad she had been hit by the car. “You learn from powerful things,” she said in 1992. “Initially, there’s enormous anger, but your priorities get shifted around.”
The daughter of a doctor of Irish descent, Verla Eileen Regina Brennan was born on September 3 1932 in Los Angeles. Her mother had acted in silent films. Educated in convent schools, she went on to study at Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
Her first major role on the New York stage was in Little Mary Sunshine, a musical that earned her the 1960 Obie award for best actress. In 1964 she played Irene Malloy in the original production of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. In Hollywood the director Peter Bogdanovich cast her as a weary waitress who inherits the café where she works in The Last Picture Show (1971).
Her other films included The Sting (receiving excellent reviews as the brothel madam with a heart of gold); The Cheap Detective; Clue and Divorce American Style. On television her versatility led to appearances in All in the Family; McMillan & Wife; Kojak; The Love Boat; Mad About You; and 7th Heaven.
As well as being cast as the gruff Capt Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin, Eileen Brennan applied her perfect sense of comic timing to several other sharp-tongued film roles including that of the aloof and world-weary Mrs Peacock in Clue (1985), and the cruel orphanage superintendent Miss Bannister in The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988).
Date of Birth: 2 January 1932, Purley, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Richard Thorp
Richard Thorp starred as Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, but became better known to millions of television viewers as Alan Turner, the landlord of The Woolpack in the Yorkshire-based soap Emmerdale.
Alan Turner joined the series as a farm manager in March 1982, and went on to become its longest-running character. Inept, boozy and bullying, he ran through a series of lovers, wives and secretaries; but in later years, after becoming landlord of The Woolpack, he sobered up and, by the time of Thorp’s death, had become a pillar of the community “like the village war memorial”, as he put it.
Thorp recalled that when he first joined, the plot lines were very different from those of later episodes: “I remember one story, and it ran for about five episodes. It was all what Seth was doing to Amos’s rhubarb. We didn’t have to go to bed with anybody or get jolly with our mothers, we just put a few slugs on a chap’s rhubarb. I enjoyed that more because everybody knew the characters more back then rather than who they were sleeping with and who was gay and who wasn’t.”
Thorp’s character was central to a number of pivotal plots, including one in which his daughter Steph (played by Lorraine Chase) tried to bump him off by pushing him down the stairs, before keeping him drugged to the eyeballs in a B&B in order to get her hands on his money.
When he first joined Emmerdale, Thorp, a fit 50 year-old, was something of a pin-up for women of a certain age, but by the mid-1990s he had ballooned to 18 stone and had become, in his own words, “less a national heart-throb and more the local heart attack”. In consequence his character became more marginal, and he admitted finding it frustrating not to be given decent storylines. In 2010 he said: “I recently asked the scriptwriters if I could get a juicy love interest, but they said that given my age, they would have to dig someone up!”
But he admitted that he could not afford to retire because he needed the cash to pay three ex-wives.
Richard Thorp was born on January 2 1932 at Purley, Surrey, and got his first film role in Robert Jordan Hill’s 1949 comedy thriller Melody in the Dark. His breakthrough part was that of Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay in The Dam Busters, which he landed after applying for a more minor role because he bore a physical resemblance to the real Maudslay, who had died during the operation.
Thorp appeared in several more feature films, including The Barretts Of Wimpole Street (1957), but later confessed that he had been too lazy to pursue a career in Hollywood, and in any case preferred working in television soaps because they guaranteed a regular income.
Before joining Emmerdale, Thorp was best known as Dr John Rennie in the ITV hospital soap, Emergency Ward 10, which he joined in 1957. Often described by tabloids as “the nation’s heart-throb” who was a regular on the show for 10 years and became so popular with its mainly female audience that its producers employed two secretaries purely to deal with his fan mail.
Thorp continued to work despite ill health. In 1994, after starring on This Is Your Life, he had a serious heart attack and was in intensive care for three days. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukaemia. Although the cancer did not develop, he continued to live with it. In 2009 he took a break from Emmerdale to have knee replacement surgery.
Richard Thorp’s three marriages ended in divorce, and in the 1960s he was briefly (though secretly) engaged to Babs Beverley of the Beverley Sisters.
Date of Birth: 16 July 1946, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
Birth Name: Richard LeParmentier
Richard LeParmentier was an American character actor but in the 1970s moved to Britain, where he was cast as a young space station commander who is almost choked to death by Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film (1977).
Although LeParmentier appeared in more than 50 films and television series, it was the modest role of Admiral Motti, commander of the Death Star space station, who foolishly mocks Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways” and “sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion”, for which he became best known.
Darth Vader (played by David Prowse) finds Motti’s lack of faith disturbing, and starts crushing his windpipe using the “Force” (a powerful form of telepathy), choking the young commander, but allowing him to live.
Devotees of the Star Wars canon have acclaimed “a brilliantly understated piece of cinema that showcased the true power of the Dark Side while highlighting the Empire’s main weakness over-confidence”. The scene remains a favourite with fans and has even spawned an online craze known as “Vadering”.
LeParmentier’s role may have been modest but it was also crucial. It was his character’s reckless act of defiance in standing up to Darth Vader that prompted the Rebel Alliance’s strike on the Death Star.
“I did the choking effect by flexing muscles in my neck,” LeParmentier recalled. “It’s one of the most famous Star Wars scenes and it’s the most parodied one too. Eddie Izzard does a bit on it in one of his routines.”
In 1988 LeParmentier played Lieutenant Santino in the animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) a role that furnished him with the celebrated line: “Now that’s what I call one seriously disturbed toon” and found steady work as an actor on British television.
During the 1980s and 1990s he was also a television screenwriter, scripting episodes of Boon and The Bill for ITV.
Richard LeParmentier was born on July 16 1946 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but moved to Britain in 1974, settling in Bath. He appeared in the David Essex rock film Stardust (1974), and with James Caan in the futuristic Rollerball (1975). But it was a week’s work at Elstree Studios in 1976, in between playing bit parts on British television, that changed his life when he shot his scene as Motti in Star Wars.
“I thought the film was going to be a success as soon as I read the script, despite the fact people were laughing at us as we shot the thing,” LeParmentier recalled. Walter Murch, a friend of the film’s director George Lucas, explained that people thought it was laughable “because they couldn’t see the vision behind it. It was in pieces. It’s just that once you see the vision, then it all makes sense.”
For more than 30 years LeParmentier was a fixture at Star Wars conventions all over the world, often signing pictures of himself sporting his Imperial Officer uniform while being choked by Darth Vader’s “Force”. His role of Motti, although the briefest of episodes in a 40-year acting career, occupied most of his official website.
One section of the site called “Motti’s hotties” featured a series of photos of LeParmentier posing with female fans, one of whom wore a bored expression and a shirt emblazoned “porn star”. Interviewed on the site, LeParmentier said he would prefer to be known as a writer first and as Admiral Motti second. “But you can’t deny being part of [one of] the most popular and influential films of all time,” he explained.
In the 13th James Bond film Octopussy (1983), LeParmentier played an American aide.
While appearing as a reporter in Superman II (1980) he met the British actress Sarah Douglas, who was cast as the Kryptonian supervillain Ursa. They married the following year, but divorced in 1984.
Date of Birth: 31 July 1947, Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, UK
Birth Name: Richard Griffiths
Richard Griffiths was one of Britain’s most recognisable actors, deploying his girth and equally sizeable talent to great effect on television, on stage, and on the big screen.
He was memorable in a host of different genres, with a range and subtlety that belied his giant physique. A natural in Shakespeare’s comic roles, notably Falstaff, he later captured the imagination of young filmgoers with his performances as the hideous Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter series. But it was, perhaps oddly, for his portrayal of two sexual predators that he was best-loved.
As Uncle Monty in Withnail and I (1987) he erupted, cheeks lightly rouged, into the bedroom of his nephew’s terrified flatmate, declaring that “I mean to have you, boy, even if it must be burglary.” Like the film’s other stars, Paul McGann and Richard E Grant, Griffiths would have such memorable snippets of dialogue quoted at him by legions of fans for the rest of his career. (“They’re all a bit silly about it, and they quote stuff and expect me to know it. I find that very odd.”)
Almost two decades later he played Hector, an inspirational teacher who fondles his pupils while giving them lifts home on his motorcycle, in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (2004). The play was a smash hit in London, and went on to repeat the success on Broadway. Like Withnail it contained some lines that left audiences helpless with laughter (notably when one boy sighs: “I’m a Jew ... I’m small ... I’m homosexual ... and I live in Sheffield ... I’m f---ed.”) A large part of its appeal, however was what its director Nicholas Hytner called Griffiths’s “masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation”.
Griffiths was always at pains to insist that Hector is not a paedophile the boys in the play are all over 18. “I’d feed all paedophiles into a tree-shredder,” he told interviewers. “One minute with a tree shredder. Anything left the police can have.” And he was almost as intemperate with audience members who forgot to turn off their mobile phones. At least three times he interrupted the play in mid-performance, threatening to walk off.
Griffiths became so associated with gay roles that many assumed he was gay himself. “Look, I’m just acting,” he said. In fact he was married and declared a pronounced preference for women of a fuller figure. “I could never understand the attraction of Bette Davis. I always preferred Jane Russell.” Moreover, not only was he not gay, it turned out that he had started life so skinny that he required medical treatment.
Richard Griffiths was born on July 31 1947 in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire. His father, Thomas, was a steelworker who also fought for money in pubs and, like his mother, the former Jane Denmark, was deaf-mute. Only two of the couple’s five children survived: two were stillborn and one, a longed-for daughter, died days after birth. The poverty, Griffiths said later, was “Dickensian”, with the unusual twist that, as he communicated with his parents by sign language, and the family had no television or radio, Richard’s childhood home was largely silent.
He ran away frequently but always came back to his parents because “I was sort of responsible for them. From the age of four I would help with the shopping. They would sign and I would translate to the shopkeeper.” As a result, he complained, “I have a lifelong loathing of shopping.”
He was also skinny as a boy, so skinny in fact that aged eight he was given treatment on his pituitary gland. His metabolism slowed and he gained 60 per cent of his body weight within a year. He was picked on at school but, owing to his new-found heft, coupled with a temper that he retained throughout his life (“I think I get it from my father. He was a very aggressive man”), he was more than able to hold his own. “I was the biggest. I once attacked two kids because they threw an apple core at me and it hit me in the face and everyone laughed and that was what really made me angry, being laughed at. So I pursued them round the school and beat them up. I was so angry. It was the best fight I ever had.”
He left St Bede’s school at 15 and applied for “a poxy job in a warehouse” only to find himself one of 300 hopefuls; so he returned to full-time education at Stockton and Billingham College. Taken by a teacher to see his first professional theatre production at 17, when he was in the audience of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Griffiths found himself spellbound.
He applied to do a drama course at the Northern College of Music in Manchester, which did not go down well at home. “In Teesside at the time ... if you said you wanted to be an actor it meant you had to be put to death. I had to keep the acting secret from my Dad. He raged at its pooffery when he found out.”
His first major role was in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the college’s drama society. When the student playing the governor of Massachusetts fell ill, Griffiths, promoted from a minor role, found himself overawed. “But I learnt it and did it.”
Like the principal characters in Withnail and I, Griffiths’s years as an aspiring actor were hard. But he soon realised that the weight he struggled with was a theatrical asset. Early in his career he was playing the Griffin in Alice in Wonderland when the actor playing the Mock Turtle turned to him and said: “Now listen to me, lad, you are very, very useful. You’ll never be out of a job.”
In the mid-1970s Griffiths was spotted by Trevor Nunn, then the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director, and moved to live in Stratford. He rose through the roster of roles, eventually playing Bottom and Trinculo as well as Volpone and Henry VIII.
Still, it was a precarious life, and the best financial rewards came from advertising. Griffiths appeared in a series of television ads for Holsten lager, then in 1979 was asked to go to America for three days to film a series of ads for BMW. But Nunn would not give him the time off from the RSC and Griffiths lost out, a blow he never forgot. “That would have meant never having to worry about overheads again, and I could have devoted my life to interesting theatrical projects.” Instead, he would have wait until the Harry Potter films (from 2001) to achieve real financial security despite its subsequent success, Withnail and I was a flop at the box office.
Griffiths appeared in many other films, from Gandhi (1982) to Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991), and also became well known to viewers of Pie in the Sky as Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe, a food-loving policeman who longs to retire from the force and set up his own restaurant. The light-hearted drama ran for five series on BBC1 from 1994.
Despite his success, Griffiths was not averse to moaning about the lot of the actor. It was a trait, he admitted, that drove his wife, Heather Gibson, an Irish actress whom he met in 1973 in a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, “nuts”.
His most enduring concern, however, was with his size. His bountiful proportions may have come in useful in securing work, but there were complications elsewhere. Armrests on seats were a particular bugbear. And while he felt that the business of moving about and acting provided some sort of veil to his shape, posing for still photographs left him uncomfortably exposed. “I don’t like the way I look so I don’t like being photographed. I become defensive.” Being asked to appear naked, as his co-stars were in a production of Equus (2007), was never an issue. “Thank goodness it’s not me being naked. I wouldn’t inflict my naked body on any paying audience.”
“Everybody my age should be issued with a 2lb fresh salmon,” he told an interviewer before the play opened. “If you see someone young, beautiful and happy, you should slap them as hard as you can with it. When they ask, 'Why did you do that?’, you say, 'Because, you lucky young bastard, you don’t know how fortunate you are.’ And they don’t...”
Date of Birth: 8 April 1943, London, UK
Birth Name: James Herbert
James Herbert, the author sold more than 50 million horror novels, a tally bettered in the genre only by his friend Stephen King; Herbert wrote 23 books but was always rather to his frustration best known for his first two, The Rats (1974) and The Fog (1975).The Rats, a gory tale about mutant rodents taking over the country, was finished in nine months when Herbert was 28 and working as an art director in the same advertising company as Salman Rushdie. Herbert recalled making “loads of money” at the time but finding the job too easy: “I just decided to write a book, and it all poured out of me.”
The book did not meet with universal approval. Martin Amis, in the guise of “Henry Tilney” in the Observer, was the first to review it. “By page 20,” he wrote, “the rats are slurping the sleeping baby after the brave bow-wow has fought to the death to protect its charge. Enough to make a rodent retch, undeniably and enough to make any human pitch the book aside.”
The Sunday Times’s critic thought differently, calling The Rats “brilliant”; but when Herbert went into his local WH Smith’s and asked if they had the book, they replied no, and nor were they likely to. Such opprobrium inevitably heightened its appeal, and word quickly went around among teenagers that it was gripping stuff. Before long the book had sold more than a million copies.
Despite the commercial success of The Rats and his later novels, Herbert remained dissatisfied with his literary status, feeling that the “literary snobs” should take him more seriously. “I’ve always suffered from being labelled a horror writer just because I didn’t go to university, just because I still talk in my natural voice, just because I’m not as articulate as Martin Amis. We like to kid ourselves that we’re in an equal society, but we’re not.”
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Herbert referred to a men’s style magazine’s recommended reading list of 20th-century novels that one should read by the age of 30: alongside books by Joyce, Salinger and Heller was The Rats, by James Herbert. He also pointed out that his fourth novel, Fluke (1977), had found its way on to the GCSE syllabus, and that a professor at an American university had written to him to say that he was analysing the Herbert oeuvre.
“I know I’m good,” he said, “and I know I write well.” Of the explicit violence Amis affected to deplore, Herbert explained that “it flowed naturally from the pen. But I also wanted to show what it was really like to have your leg chewed by a mutant creature. I was very much against the Tom and Jerry and John Wayne types of violence where no one is ever really hurt, and Indians are killed without any suggestion that they may be husbands and fathers, and perhaps keep a dog back in the tepee.”
Herbert maintained that his books were moral works about redemption, “packed with metaphor and subtext”. But he did not deem them suitable reading matter for his own daughters until they were 15 (the books were banned from their school, so they couldn’t read them there either). “There are certain key scenes which are graphic,” Herbert admitted, “but I prefer to think of them as spiritual. It’s never wham, bam thank you ma’am unless it’s a subsidiary character.”
James Herbert was born on April 8 1943 in east London, just around the corner from the Krays. “Ours was the only Catholic household in the street,” he recalled. “All the rest were Jewish.” His parents ran a fruit stall in Bethnal Green market. His mother continued doing so into her seventies, and consistently turned down her son’s offers of a comfortable retirement in Sussex. At 75, she sat her GCSE in English. The day she passed, she filed for a divorce from her hard-drinking, gambling husband, but she continued to cook dinner for him once a week; someone would take it round to him on a bus.
At the age of 10, James followed his brother John on a scholarship to St Aloysius, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Highgate. John went on to become a “very, very middle-class” Lloyd’s broker. James progressed to Hornsey College of Art, and from there got a job in a small advertising agency, using the name of a better qualified friend (Denis Barker) for his interview. Before long, “Barker” had progressed to become group head in a larger agency, Charles Barker.
The idea for The Rats, Herbert explained, came from a line in Dracula in which a lunatic says he has seen 1,000 rats with red eyes staring up from the lawns. “I put that image together with my own experience of rats not fear of them, but loathing from growing up in the East End of London.” At the back of his house there had been some stables where the market traders dumped rotting fruit and vegetables. It was alive with rats.
Herbert wrote the book during evenings and weekends. Written in manuscript in purple felt tip pen, with barely a crossing out, he needed only one draft and then asked his wife to type it up a system he stuck to for subsequent novels. He had five rejection slips before he found a publisher, eventually selling it to New English Library for an advance payment of £150 and a royalty of five per cent.
After The Rats, Herbert wrote his books at the rate of roughly one a year until the turn of the century: The Fog (1975); The Survivor (1976); Fluke (1977); The Spear (1978); Lair (1979); The Dark (1980); The Jonah (1981); Shrine (1983); Domain (1984); Moon (1985); The Magic Cottage (1986); Sepulchre (1987); Haunted (1988); Creed (1990); Portent (1992); The City (1993); The Ghosts of Sleath (1993); ’48 (1996); Others (1999); Once (2001); Nobody True (2003); The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006); and Ash (2012).
Four of his novels The Rats, The Survivor, Fluke and Haunted were made into films; The Magic Cottage was dramatised for Radio 4; and The Secret of Crickley Hall was adapted for television by BBC One.
He was appointed OBE in 2010.
In 1979 Herbert was ordered to pay damages to the author Trevor Ravenscroft after Mr Justice Brightman ruled in the High Court that in The Spear an improbable story of neo-Nazi terrorism in England Herbert had copied from Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny. “He did so to give his novel a backbone of truth with the least possible labour to himself,” said the judge, adding: “One must not underestimate the commercial attraction of the rubbish I have attempted to describe.”
For his later novels, Herbert tended towards supernatural plots. “The great advantage of my field is that you can always go way over the top if you’re in danger of getting bored,” he said. He claimed to have torn the horror genre from the grip of the bourgeoisie and “upper-middle-class writers like Dennis Wheatley”: “I made horror accessible by writing about working-class characters.”
Herbert lived in Sussex, with unbroken views of the South Downs. He aimed to be in his study by 10am and write until one, then from 2pm until six. Shrewd and cautious with his money, he was a member of Lloyd’s until 1991, when he withdrew.
“I worry about the many things that could happen to the people I love,” he said. “The books are full of that neurosis and I guess people tune into that. I have a dread of sounding pretentious and try not to talk too much about what I do.”
Date of Birth: 7 June, 1942, East sussex, UK
Birth Name: Patricia Bysshe Shelley
Nicknames: Pat Derby
Pat Derby was an Englishwoman who became an expert handler for some of the biggest animal celebrities on screen, from Lassie to Flipper; after a career working for Walt Disney, among others, she rebelled against what she called the “horrifying” cruelty of the industry.
As well as the famous collies on Lassie and dolphins on Flipper, Pat Derby worked with large American black bears for the series Gentle Ben and in 1975 handled a cougar for a car advertisement in which a skimpily-clad Farrah Fawcett was required to cosy up to the big cat.
Unlike many trainers of the period, her methods centred around “positive reinforcement”, rather than physical coercion. The advertisement, for example, ended on a shot of the snarling cougar perched above a billboard bearing the company logo. “I got him to twitch his tail by tickling it from behind the sign,” she later recalled.
Yet Pat Derby eventually became alarmed by the “dark side” of the Hollywood animal industry. “I went into that occupation with the feeling that if people earn their living off animals, they must love them a lot,” she said. “But it was really horrifying to me when I saw how even little dogs who worked on films had to live.” She once walked out on Disney while filming Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour after a bear cub was forced to endure hours of retakes under hot studio lights.
In 1976 she published The Lady and Her Tiger, which served both as an autobiography and an exposé of the inhumane handling techniques practised by some of her colleagues. The book won an American Library Association Award, but it also put an end to her career in show business.
Finding herself persona non grata, Derby became a campaigner and, in 1984, co-founded the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) with her partner Ed Stewart. After acquiring 30 acres of land in Galt, outside Sacramento in California, they populated it with four-legged refugees from cruel owners and the entertainment world.
Among its first inhabitants were a jaguar, several lions and bears, as well as an African elephant, known as No 71, rescued from an estate in Florida. As the couple achieved public notice with their campaigns against cruelty in the circus industry, numbers at the sanctuary expanded. “It was like Noah’s Ark,” Stewart recalled. “They just kept coming.” Today, PAWS has three Californian sanctuaries, including the 2,300-acre ARK 2000 in San Andreas.
The second of two children, Patricia Bysshe Shelley was born on June 7 1942 in East Sussex. Her father, who claimed the great Romantic poet as an ancestor, died when Pat was 12. She left formal education three years later, moving to New York on her own to try her luck as a dancer and actress. She enrolled at Columbia University but subsequently dropped out and moved to the West Coast, where she found a job at a nightclub in San Francisco.
There, in 1964, she met Ted Derby, a fellow performer who was also an animal trainer. They married and together set up a roadside zoo, also using the animals in film and television. When the marriage broke down in the mid-1970s, however, the couple were forced to divide up their menagerie.
It was while filming the car commercial for the Mercury-Lincoln Cougar that she met Stewart, then employed in advertising for the car company. The pair relocated to California and set up their first animal sanctuary, at Howling Wolf Lodge in Leggett. During this period Stewart became a vocal advocate for animal rights, making his influence felt at the California State Legislature and the Department of Fish and Game. Six years later PAWS was established at Galt to raise awareness of cruelty in the entertainment industry, to ensure high standards of care for animals bred in captivity, and to create a safe environment for the shelter of rescued or retired wildlife.
Their first legislative success came the following year. Pat Derby soon rose to prominence as a spokesperson for animal welfare, appearing on such shows as Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Animal Planet, The Today Show and CBS Evening News. Working alongside Stewart, she pioneered a “non-dominance” technique in the safe handling of elephants, and served with several state committees, advising on elephant welfare. Throughout her life, she remained acutely conscious of the inherent shortcomings of raising wild animals in captivity: “You can never replace the wild. You can only make the prison as comfortable as possible.”
Work on the ARK 2000 began in May 2002. It is now the only sanctuary in America to house bull elephants. In 2012 Pat Derby and Stewart received the Lily Award, presented by the Voice For the Animals Foundation, “for their extraordinary and heroic work”. An elephant at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya has been named “Pat Derby” in her honour.
Date of Birth: 20 August 1916, Raton, New Mexico, US
Birth Name: Petro Vlahos
Petro Vlahos, developed the blue- and green-screen technique that made memorable visual effects possible on films such as Mary Poppins and Ben Hur.
While others had grappled before with so-called “composite photography”, overlaying shots of separately-filmed actors on background sets, the results were never totally convincing, with actors often appearing to glow in a halo of light that spoiled the effect.
Vlahos moved the process forward, first for the spectacular chariot race in William Wyler’s 1959 remake of the epic Ben Hur, and later for the charming penguin dance in the Disney musical Mary Poppins (1964). For the song Jolly Holiday, Walt Disney had decided that one of the choruses should be sung by animated penguins dressed as waiters.
Although Disney had spent £164,205.72 buying the rights to Vlahos’s blue-screen process “chicken feed”, he called the money technicians had to accommodate the animation with live footage that had already been shot, which meant major revisions. That did not prevent Vlahos working with the Disney studio on The Love Bug (1969) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), both of which also relied on special effects.
The techniques that Vlahos perfected in such pictures were applied in many subsequent science-fiction and fantasy films, including the first Star Wars trilogy between 1977 and 1983. Unfortunately, shooting for some of the special effects in Star Wars took place during the hottest British summer for many years. The blue-screen process required giant arc lights, making the sets stiflingly hot: electricians fainted, and the actor playing Chewbacca, clad in a body suit of angora wool and yak hair, collapsed from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Vlahos and his collaborators won an Academy Award for their composite processes in 1965, and with his son, Paul, he shared another Oscar in 1995 for the blue-screen advances made by Ultimatte, the company he founded in 1976.
His original concepts and innovations have been enhanced and expanded over the years, making possible entirely seamless composites which preserve fine details such as hair, smoke, mist, motion blur and shadows while automatically suppressing “blue spill” (whereby light from the blue screen behind washes across the foreground subject).
Refinements of Vlahos’s pioneering technique were used to make many of the blockbuster films of the 1990s, notably Titanic (1997), in which scenes that had hitherto been too dangerous, expensive or difficult to film were finally possible.
Special effects triumphs in contemporary films like Avatar (2009), in which blue-skinned Na’vi dwell among floating mountains, and Life of Pi (2012), in which the tiger, the ocean, and sometimes even the boy Pi himself are digital creations, also derive from Vlahos’s work.
Petro Vlahos was born on August 20 1916 at Raton, New Mexico. After graduating in Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1941, he became a designer at Douglas Aircraft during the Second World War.
After working as a radar engineer at Bell Laboratories, he joined the Motion Picture Research Council, spending six months devising a complex laboratory process that separated blues, greens and reds before recombining them. The result his patented “colour-difference system travelling matte scheme” created the breathtaking visual effects in Ben-Hur .
Having minimised the unwanted “halo” side-effect that had dogged earlier attempts, he modified the technique to work on green screens as well as blue.
On television, technology based on Vlahos’s work was regularly seen in episodes of Doctor Who, and made it possible for weather presenters to point at sun and rain symbols that only their viewers can see.
In all Vlahos held more than 35 patents for film-related gadgetry, and in 1978 received an Emmy for his work.
Date of Birth: 7 September 1914, Leytonstone, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Stuart Freeborne
His imagination and talent were central to the success of such pictures. For example 2001’s famous “Dawn of Man” sequence was only possible because of Freeborn’s pioneering work on ape suits. Though his techniques were new, the results were so polished that some viewers were convinced that the apes must be real. Meanwhile for George Lucas, the director of Star Wars, Freeborn created a cast of intergalactic monsters and heroes from the bloated reptilian villain Jabba the Hutt to the pint-size chartreuse Jedi, Yoda, which appealed to audiences every bit as much, if not more, than their human counterparts.
Yoda appears in the second of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), as tutor and mentor to the aspiring Jedi warrior, Luke Skywalker. Freeborn’s effects served to create an emotionally convincing character, and each of Yoda’s gnomic, grammatically-tortured musings was accompanied by expressive head-cocking, ear-twitching, lip-pursing and eye-rolling. The character, whose features Freeborn modelled on his own (with a dash of Albert Einstein thrown in for good measure) has become something of a cult figure.
The Empire Strikes Back combined old-school puppetry with animatronics that would come to dominate special effects thereafter. Animatronics would themselves be largely superseded by computer-generated images, such as those used in the recent Star Wars trilogy (1999-2005). Shot 20 years after the first three movies, the new films’ impressive but somewhat soulless effects had many critics longing for the characterful wizardry of the originals. For Freeborn’s ability to bestow the spark of life was acquired not at the computer screen, but at the mirror of the house in which he grew up, where he endlessly practised transforming the only model available himself.
Stuart Freeborn was born in Leytonstone, east London, on September 7th 1914, and grew up in Beckenham, Kent. His father was an insurance broker and keen that Stuart should follow in his footsteps. The boy had other ideas, and made himself up into a host of characters from Mr Hyde-like fiends to trilby-sporting, matchstick-chewing sleuths. He photographed the results and fired off the pictures to film studios, to no avail.
According to Nick Maley, a make-up artist who later worked alongside Freeborn, the aspiring special-effects man got his break as a 21-year-old by passing himself off in Beckenham as the Emperor Haile Selassie. Initially the impersonation was rewarded only with a police interview, but as the story spread, Denham Studios, headed by Alexander Korda, offered Freeborn a job.
He began on Wings of the Morning (1937), starring Annabella and Henry Fonda, and followed it with Victoria the Great (also 1937) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). During the war he trained with the RAF but was forced to truncate his service owing to haemophilia. Instead he worked on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).
It was not until Green For Danger (1946) that he got his first on-screen credit, and two years later his career took-off with Oliver Twist. Required to transform Alec Guinness into Fagin, Freeborn produced two versions of the character for screen testing. One was subtle, one grotesquely exaggerated. Director David Lean put the tests to a vote, and the latter version won the day. “So that’s the way I had to do it, never mind how over the top it was,” Freeborn recalled. In New York, the hook-nosed villain was denounced as anti-Semitic and Oliver Twist was not shown there until 1951.
The controversy upset Freeborn, but his talent was no longer in doubt. He worked on several films a year, including, in 1957, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Again working with Lean, Freeborn flew out to Sri Lanka where, travelling one day to the set, he was in a car accident that killed all the vehicle’s other occupants. Thrown into the jungle, he lay semi-conscious, unnoticed by rescuers for several hours. After he was spotted he spent four months recuperating in hospital.
He transformed Peter Sellers into three characters in Dr Strangelove (1964) and four years later the director of that film, Stanley Kubrick, hired him again to mastermind the opening sequence of 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968).
The prologue captures the moment that, under the shadow of the unflinching monolith, apes learn how to use tools, a leap in intelligence prefiguring the rise of man. Freeborn’s genius was to craft lightweight foam skins for the headpieces of the ape suits that perfectly reflected the expressions of the mime artists inside them. The apes’ lips drew back to reveal teeth underneath. In each ape mouth, the tongue was operated by the actor’s own. Weaving the bodysuits from yak, horse and human hair, was simple by comparison. It was time-consuming, however, as in many parts of the costume each hair had to be punched into foam latex with a needle. Freeborn would deploy similar techniques to create the hirsute Wookie hero, Chewbacca, in Star Wars.
Also in the 1970s, Freeborn worked on the devilish Omen (1976) and the action-hero film Superman (1978). It was he who came up with the idea of parting Christopher Reeve’s hair one way when he was playing his shy alter ego Clark Kent, and the other when he was sporting his superhero’s cape. Before shooting, Freeborn also played a part in relieving Gene Hackman, cast as the villain Lex Luthor, of his treasured moustache.
Richard Donner, director of Superman, wanted Hackman cleanshaven for the part. So he asked Freeborn to make him up with “the greatest moustache you’ve ever done”, and then had a meeting with Hackman. Donner told the actor: “Do me a favour. The moustache has to go. You take off your moustache and I’ll take off mine.” Reluctantly, Hackman allowed Freeborn to shave him. Once the razor had done its work, Donner peeled off his appendage.
Freeborn continued to work until 1990. His last project was the television film Max and Helen. In 1984 he was nominated for a BAFTA for his work on Return of the Jedi.
Date of Birth: 25 August 1947, Leipzig, Germany.
Birth Name: Peter Gilmore
James Onedin, the protagonist of the long-running BBC television series The Onedin Line, gained his splendid name from a sea nymph. After the programme's creator, Cyril Abraham, had read about mythological figure Ondine, he transposed the "e", thus making her a man. And what a man: Peter Gilmore, who played Onedin in 91 episodes from 1971 to 1980, had tousled hair, flinty eyes, hollow cheeks, mutton-chop sideburns racing across his cheek, lips pulled severely down, chin thrust indomitably forward to face down the brewing gale.
The sea captain did not so much talk as emit salty barks that brooked no demur. In 1972, while filming, Gilmore was buzzed by speedboats from the Royal Naval College. Still in character as Onedin, he yelled irascibly at the tyro sailors: "Taxpayers' money! Where are your guns? What use would you be if the Russians came?"
Like Horatio Nelson, Francis Drake and to a lesser extent the early 70s prime minister Edward Heath, the very cut of Gilmore's jib suggested that the British if only in prime-time costume dramas still ruled the waves. For many, Gilmore's name conjures up the stirring Adagio from Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus that was used on the opening credits. Madly and marvellously, Onedin set up a shipping line with sailing vessels in late-19th century Liverpool at a time when steamships were taking over the seaways.
By series two, his business model had seen off the sceptics but his wife, Anne, had died in childbirth. That plot twist was partly explained by the fact that the actor who played her, Anne Stallybrass, had decided to return to the theatre.
To honour his dead wife's memory, Onedin added a steamship to his fleet called the Anne Onedin and then allowed Kate Nelligan (as a coal-merchant's eligible daughter) and Caroline Harris (as a 20-something worldly wise widow) to vie for his affections. He spurned both, marrying his daughter's governess, Letty Gaunt, who died of diphtheria. By the eighth and last series, Onedin was married to a third wife, Margarita Juarez, and had become a grandfather.
Before Howards' Way, The Onedin Line was the BBC's nautical franchise: Abraham wrote five novels loosely based on his television scripts, while Gilmore was frequently asked to launch ships and was also bombarded with fan mail and advice from veteran sailors. He parlayed fame into reviving a former career as a singer, releasing in 1974 an album of sailor shanties called Songs of the Sea and in 1977 another called Peter Gilmore Sings Gently.
He regretted that he became too typecast as Onedin to get other lead roles. In 1978 he starred opposite Doug McLure in the film Warlords of Atlantis as an archaeologist searching for the fabled underwater city who ends up battling a giant octopus and other sea monsters.
Gilmore was born in the German city of Leipzig. At the age of six, he moved to Nunthorpe, near Middlesbrough, where he was raised by relatives, later attending the Friends' school in Great Ayton, north Yorkshire. From the age of 14 he worked in a factory, but later studied at Rada. While undertaking national service in 1950 he discovered a talent for singing and after his discharge joined singing groups who performed all over the country.
During the 1950s and 60s he became a stalwart of British stage musicals, appearing in several largely unsuccessful shows, including one called Hooray for Daisy! in which he was the chief human in a drama about a pantomime cow. He even released a single in 1960 as a spin-off from his performance in Follow That Girl, Susan Hampshire's only foray into musicals. In 1958 he appeared on the pop programme Cool for Cats, where he met the actor Una Stubbs, then one of the Dougie Squires Dancers, who were weekly tasked with interpreting hit songs in movement. The couple were married from 1958 until 1969.
His success at this time in British and US TV commercials led him to be cast in comedies, with 11 appearances in Carry On films, two of which Carry On Jack (1963) and Carry On Cleo (1964) gave him early nautical roles. In 1970 he married Jan Waters, with whom he starred in both stage and television productions of The Beggar's Opera, he playing the highwayman Captain Macheath.
The Onedin Line brought Gilmore the fame that had eluded him. In 1976, he and Jan divorced and he started living with Stallybrass, whom he married in 1987. In 1984 a new generation of viewers saw Gilmore as Brazen, the security chief of a distant human colony called Frontios in Doctor Who's 21st series. Brazen died heroically while helping the Doctor escape. Gilmore made his last stage appearance in 1987 in Michael Frayn's Noises Off and his last screen one in the 1996 television movie On Dangerous Ground.
Date of Birth: 30 October 1935, Hampstead, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Michael Robert Winner
Nicknames: Michael Winner
Michael Winner, supplied interviewers with a list of more than 30 films he had directed, not always including the early travelogue This Is Belgium (1956), mostly shot in East Grinstead. But his enduring work was himself a bravura creation of movies, television, journalism, the law courts and a catchphrase, ''Calm down, dear", from an exasperating series of television commercials.
He was born in London, the only child of George and Helen Winner, who were of Russian and Polish extraction respectively. His builder father made enough money propping up blitzed houses to invest in London property. The profits funded his wife's gambling, which, her son complained, so distracted "Mumsie" that he was never paid due attention. She left him in the bedroom with the mink coats of guests who came to his barmitzvah only to play poker with her.
A boarder at St Christopher school, a Quaker establishment in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, Winner was an attention seeker from start to expulsion. According to his school reports he was "spoilt" with a "craving for power which he is trying to achieve by the use of his money". He also earned a "reputation of being movie mad" after he pinned handwritten reviews on the noticeboard.
When the publisher Paul Hamlyn addressed the school, Winner, then 14, asked for copies of all his film books and phoned him, reversing the charges, until they were sent. He then approached British studios, claiming to write for Hamlyn, and when that scam was found out, turned his acquaintance with a child actor into an article for the Kensington Post in 1950. It became a regular, syndicated showbiz column: he was not paid, but the seats were free and he had the undivided attention of Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye. That became a permanent part of his persona – the enfant terrible among the stars.
For his father, he studied law and economics at Downing College, Cambridge, and also edited the Varsity newspaper. He persuaded the owner of the Rex cinema in Cambridge to apply to the local council to approve a showing of The Wild One, banned by the censor because of its violence. The stunt attracted nationwide interest.
After university, television companies turned Winner down for a directors' course, so he wrote for both TV and film, and was a gossip columnist of sorts. He hired a Rolls-Royce and was, said a fellow writer, "a master at gathering banal quotes from silly girls down to the last burp". He invented a debutante, Venetia Crust, a fiction for which he was eventually exposed (later he used the name of her "father", Arnold, for movie credits).
Winner's father loaned him £1,500 for his first film, money soon recouped as Some Like It Cool (1962) filled a gap in the market for a comedy in a nudist camp. It was among several films he confected in the early 1960s. None demonstrated his maxim "create your own material to get a better class of employment", but they did end a period in which he sacked secretaries rather than have them know that he had no deals going.
Winner shared a new blokey humour emerging in post-Brylcreem Britain: after directing Billy Fury in Play It Cool (1962) and accurately reproducing bedsitter-land in West 11 (1963), he made The System (1964); You Must Be Joking! (1965) for which he blew up a car in Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour and told police he had no idea who was in charge; The Jokers (1966); and I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname (1967), with Oliver Reed and Orson Welles.
Winner extended his boy-genius phase by phoning reference books on his 30th birthday to tell them he was 29, knowing entries would not be changed for three years. He went on the road to make Hannibal Brooks (1969), a comedy lumbering through 200 locations, working again with Reed, and The Games (1969), about an Olympic marathon.
"I was looking for something that would keep us employed," he said of his move to Hollywood. "You don't have that much choice." Rejecting The French Connection as a project, he began with the westerns Lawman (1971), shot in Spain with rubber cacti, and Chato's Land (1972).
His real metier turned out to be primitive violence. Winner despised analysis, but it is significant that he directed testosterone fuelled revenge fantasies during the years when his by then widowed mother (a "nice, little, white-haired lady … She was a killer") sold paintings and antiques left to Winner to fund her casino losses, and set 11 firms of solicitors on him.
Winner mentioned to the actor Charles Bronson the idea of a man "justified" by the rape and murder of his womenfolk to shoot muggers, which led to Winner directing Death Wish (1974), and two sequels. He also directed coarse versions of The Big Sleep (with Robert Mitchum, 1978) and The Wicked Lady (1983 – he saw the original 20 times for Margaret Lockwood's bosom). All of these, as Bronson remarked, were abusively hard on women. In 1993 Winner converted Helen Zahavi's novel Dirty Weekend into a fantasy of a female exterminating angel, but it hardly evened the score (nor squared with his claim that his favourite film was Bambi).
Critics disliked a pleasureless tension gripping his films, whether it be The Nightcomers (1971), a prequel to The Turn of the Screw; Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976); or Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval (1989). Winner was always quick to challenge the press he taped his interviews either directly or through legal action (he gave away the damages). Papers would get a warning from the company, Scimitar Films, he ran with John Fraser: back at school, Winner had paid Fraser two shillings a week to clean his room and make his beds, and sixpence for washing up.
In 1984 he set up the Police Memorial Trust in response to the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Several years later he proposed a naff memorial to officers killed in the course of duty, featuring snarling alsatians (the Queen suggested their mouths be shut).
He began to describe films as a hobby, since he had sufficient millions for Learjet rides, a garage of cars that he drove Mr Toadishly and the slow repurchase of the rest of the Holland Park house in one flat of which his family had lived. The restored mansion, Woodland House, the former home of the Victorian artist Sir Luke Fildes, has more than 40 rooms and housed his valuable collection of artwork for children's books, including EH Shepard's drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh. He also collected the artwork of Donald McGill, master of the ribald, big‑bosomed seaside postcard.
A succession of young women shared evenings among his antiques, but did not live on the premises, where more regular companions included five full-time cleaners and herds of soft toys. On more solitary evenings he cut and glued table mats, and said obituarists would describe him as a "table-mat maker", adding "film‑maker" if there were space.
Eventually, he re-encountered Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, whom he had met in 1957 when she was a teenage ballet dancer; they were engaged in 2007, and married in 2011. He had intended to leave his house to the nation, but put it up for sale for £60m just before his marriage. He also auctioned much of his art collection, but swore this was not to repay £9m he had borrowed for little luxuries, including the hire of helicopters. He did not part with his autograph album of star signatures, or the teddy bears.
"I ate cornflakes on my own," he replied to questions about his swinging life when he was young and slender, although it was never all that he ate, and certainly not after the Sunday Times encouraged him into restaurant reviewing for his Winner's Dinners columns (published in book form in 1999). These were less about digestion than self-definition: several famous eateries banned him for his bullying.
His "calm down" catchphrase in the telly ads he directed and appeared in (once in drag) for the Esure insurance company displaced his own excitability and fluster on to (female) others. Esure sold a million policies during his era, before replacing him with a stop-motion-animated mouse. By then the ''calm down'' line had developed its own career David Cameron was heavily criticised when, during prime minister's questions in 2011, he directed it against the Labour MP Angela Eagle. Winner himself had been a fervent supporter of Margaret Thatcher, before a Blairite conversion.
He retired from his restaurant column in December 2012. His last years had been a tribulation involving a near-fatal bacterial infection from oysters, MRSA and liver disease.
Date of Birth: 19 September 1941, Milan, Italy.
Birth Name: Maria Angela Melato
Nicknames: Mariangela Melato
Melato was born in Milan and studied at the Milan Theatre Academy. A striking, blonde actress, she began her stage career in the early 1960s and rose to fame after delivering powerful performances for a number of notable Italian stage directors such as Dario Fo, Luchino Visconti and Luca Ronconi.
Her cinematic debut came in 1969 with Pupi Avati's Thomas e gli indemoniati and Melato would continue to deliver memorable performances in the 1970s and grew to become a highly respected leading lady of many acclaimed and award-winning Italian films. Her memorable early film roles include the school teacher in Nino Manfredi's comedy Between Miracles (1971) and the female leads in Elio Petri's The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971) and Vittorio De Sica's Lo chiameremo Andrea (We'll Call Him Andrew, 1972).
Melato received much praise for her role as Giancarlo Giannini's Milanese mistress in The Seduction of Mimi (1972), directed by Lina Wertmüller. This was to be the start of a very successful working relationship with Wertmüller, who also cast Melato and Giannini as the leads in her next film, Love and Anarchy (1973), in which Melato played an anarchic prostitute. The popular duo of Melato and Giannini were then paired in a third film by Wertmüller; Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (1974). Melato's critically acclaimed comedic performance in this film as a spoiled, unsympathetic aristocrat is one of her most internationally known roles.
For the remainder of the 1970s, Melato worked with some Europe's most renowned directors, including Claude Chabrol in Nada (1974), Elio Petri in Todo modo (1976) and Luigi Comencini in Il gatto (1978). She also worked on television; playing the role of Princess Bithiah, in the miniseries Moses the Lawgiver (1974), which was also released in a theatrical version.
After attaining international success with many of her films, Melato attempted to make a career for herself in America as well. She played one of her most famous parts with a supporting role as villainess General Kala in Flash Gordon (1980). She also played the female lead opposite Ryan O'Neal in the comedy So Fine (1981).
However, she failed to attain the same success that she had in Italy and quickly went back to her native country, where she went on to act in a number of comedies and dramas. She also reunited with Lina Wertmüller for the film Summer Night, with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes and Scent of Basil (1986) but gradually appeared in fewer films, and did more theatre roles, such as the lead in The Miracle Worker.
Date of Birth: 14 April 1929, Bloomsbury, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Gerald Alexander Anderson
Nicknames: Gerry Anderson
Gerry Anderson, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was the main mover behind a number of puppet series commissioned by Lew Grade's Independent Television Corporation. They made the company a fortune from the space age: perhaps the best known was Thunderbirds (1965-66), and among the others were Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Stingray (1964) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68).
Anderson embarked on Thunderbirds in 1964. For Grade, international sales particularly into the US market – were a key concern. So Thunderbirds focused on the Tracy brothers, with first names borrowed from the US astronauts Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Gordon Cooper. Enormously popular in its time, the series is still being repeated today.
Scott and the others were members of International Rescue, based on a south Pacific Island, set up, in a nod to the Bonanza western series, by their father, former astronaut Jeff Tracy. Thus did the brothers, with their motto "Thunderbirds are go!", fight fires in mines and villains in Monte Carlo, rescue solarnauts from the sun, quench blazing gasfields and take on the evil of The Hood, a villainous mastermind operating from a Malaysian jungle temple over some 32 episodes. The British featured with aristo blonde bombshell Lady Penelope (voiced by, and modelled on, Anderson's then wife Sylvia Thamm) and Parker, Cockney butler-cum-chauffeur of Penelope's 21st-century Rolls-Royce, FAB 1.
The pre-ITV world of the early 50s had been one of puppets such as Muffin the Mule and the Flowerpot Men, a mirror for a Britain on extremely visible strings. Rocket men, on BBC radio, Radio Luxembourg and in the Eagle comic, meant Dan Dare and Jet Morgan recycled Biggles and Battle of Britain pilots. After Anderson, they were destined for the galactic dole queue, just as Eagle's demise was hastened by the arrival of Anderson spin-offs such as TV Century 21 (1965-71). "Everything we did," Anderson told his biographers Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn, in What Made Thunderbirds Go! (2002), "was in an endeavour to sell to America," and Grade spectacularly achieved that with Fireball XL5, a US network sale to NBC. Thunderbirds, shown across the world and more than a dozen times on British TV, is the show that defines the Anderson achievement, yet never attracted a US network.
There was also the merchandising, for all the hit Anderson series, but spectacularly for Thunderbirds. While listening to the Royal Netherlands Air Force's rendition of the theme tune, the consumer could contemplate the purchase of the Dinky Toy FAB 1. There was a (very) minor hit record for Fireball XL5 and, beyond toys, wrote Chris Bentley in The Complete Gerry Anderson (2003), there were "clothing, toiletries, crockery, bedding, soft furnishings, ornaments, stationery, confectionery and baked beans".
Grade and Anderson's collaboration began in 1960, in the wake of the latter's western series for children, Four Feather Falls. Anderson proposed Supercar, featuring just before astronauts took off a test pilot hero from Arizona, Mike Mercury. Grade slashed Anderson's projected budget by a third, commissioned 39 episodes, and sold the series to the US, where it was a huge hit. That year, Anderson married Sylvia, beginning their tempestuous creative partnership.
Two years later, as Fireball XL5 was going to NBC, Grade's Associated Television (ATV) purchased Anderson's company, Anderson Provis Films (APF). The deal enriched Anderson, and left him, Grade aside, in creative control. In October 1964 Stingray, with Captain Troy Tempest of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, battling, among others, Titan, ruler of Titanica, waded ashore on ITV and netted ITC millions worldwide. After Thunderbirds came Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and then Joe 90 (1968), which was erratically broadcast or not around the ITV network.
However, the moment seemed to have passed: television appeared clogged up with Anderson's Supermarionation puppets. Two Thunderbird movies had flopped; the tide was ebbing.
Anderson was born in London, the younger son of Deborah and Joseph Abrahams. Joseph's parents were Jews from eastern Europe. Deborah Leonoff's background mixed Jewish and Cornish roots. Their vituperative marriage gave Anderson an unhappy childhood. His father was a socialist, increasingly debt-ridden and trapped in low-paid jobs. The family gravitated from Willesden Green to penury in Kilburn, and then on to Neasden. In the face of the commonplace antisemitism of the times, mother and son, prevailing over Joseph, had the family surname changed to Anderson.
Gerry was educated at Kingsgate infants school in Kilburn and Braintcroft junior and senior schools in Neasden. Puppetry did not feature indeed, he preferred knitting. Escape was provided in the front stalls at the Kilburn State and Grange cinemas, facing each other across the Kilburn high road. He won a scholarship to Willesden county secondary school and became a chain smoker. The death of his Mosquito pilot brother, Lionel, on active service in 1944 devastated the family. Anderson enrolled at the local polytechnic, flirted with a career in architecture, and developed an aptitude for plaster modelling, which triggered dermatitis.
Then a friend invited him to the Pathé laboratories at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, and Anderson the moviegoer became intrigued by film. At the end of the war he became a trainee at the Colonial Film Unit, before joining Gainsborough Pictures as an assistant editor. Work on two bodice rippers, Caravan (1946) and Jassy (1947), and a thriller, Snowbound (1948), was followed by a posting as an RAF radio operator. By 1950, he was a freelance dubbing editor. The films included The Clouded Yellow (1950) with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons, Appointment in London (1953) with Dirk Bogarde, A Prize of Gold (1955) with Richard Widmark and Mai Zetterling, and Devil Girl from Mars (1954). It was a journeyman's career path, in a then declining industry.
In the mid-50s, commercial TV arrived. Anderson and Arthur Provis, a camera operator, set up Pentagon Films, whose recruits included Sylvia as a secretary. After Pentagon went bust came APF, which struggled until commissioned to produce a 52-part, 15-minute puppet series, The Adventures of Twizzle (1957-58). This was followed by Torchy the Battery Boy (1959-60). The wild west was big on late 50s British TV, via shows such as Wagon Train and Wells Fargo. APF came up with Four Feather Falls. Nicholas Parsons voiced, and Michael Holliday sang, Sheriff Tex Tucker. Bought by Granada, the programme debuted on ITV in February 1960. Tucker, his English-accented horse Rocky (Kenneth Connor), his dog Dusty and Pedro the villainous bandit rode into British children's teatime to be followed by Supercar.
In 1960 Anderson had produced and directed the B-movie Crossroads to Crime. At the other end of the decade, alongside a late and ill-starred puppet-live action series The Secret Service (1969), he produced the science fiction movie Doppelgänger. The live action TV series UFO (1970), The Protectors (1972-74) and Space 1999 (1975-78) followed. None greatly prospered.
In 1975, financially battered, and in the era before video sales, Anderson sold off his share of APF royalties. That year, too, he and Sylvia separated. Soon his relationship with ATV, in decline since the late 60s, ended. Anderson's finances were collapsing; his career reached its nadir before signs of revival in the 80s.
From the 1990s onwards the work of Anderson and the group of gifted puppeteers and film-makers he had worked with in 1960s Slough was rediscovered. There were conventions, live shows and repeat showings. Anderson developed other projects, but nothing really compared with those strange times and the mystery of Supermarionation, credited from the later episodes of Supercar.
Not that there was a mystery: it was the product, as the 60s advanced, of increasingly sophisticated and expensive technique. Just as the Wizard of Oz turned out to be a man behind a curtain, so Supermarionation merely combined the words "super", "marionette" and "animation". "It didn't mean," Anderson told Archer and Hearn, "anything other than that."
He was appointed an MBE in 2001. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second, and a son from his third.
Date of Birth: 28 February 1923, Highland Falls, New York, US
Birth Name: Charles Edward Durning
Nicknames: Charles Durning
Charles Durning first grabbed audience attention as the crooked Lieutenant Snyder in The Sting (1973). He makes an explosive appearance, tearing down an alley after the slick grifter played by Robert Redford, and repeatedly lurches out of the shadows throughout the rest of the film. Durning had only a handful of scenes, and over the next 40 years would seldom be granted more screen time in 200-odd film and TV roles. Nevertheless, his jowly face, with its boxer's nose and sly eyes, grew increasingly familiar, and his name in the opening titles usually promised good things ahead. His heavyset frame meant he was often cast as tough guys, but he later assumed more jovial roles, portraying Father Christmas several times.
His first Oscar nomination came for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), an ebullient musical about the southern hospitality offered at a brothel called the Chicken Ranch. Durning plays the slippery Texan governor who must decide whether to close down the establishment. His evasive nature is captured in a magical song-and-dance routine: "I love to dance a little sidestep," he sings. "Now they see me, now they don't …"
Durning's second Oscar nomination was for playing another character uneasy with his authority – the nougat-loving Gestapo chief Colonel Erhardt in To Be Or Not to Be (1983), Mel Brooks's remake of Ernst Lubitsch's classic about a Polish theatre company's attempt to outsmart the Nazis. Durning has some of the funniest scenes in the film. He barks commands at a hapless captain (Christopher Lloyd), then blames him when his plans backfire. Making doe eyes at Anne Bancroft, he tells her: "Consider yourself in the arms of the Gestapo." It is a broad comic role in a film that balances farce with tragedy.
Durning knew first-hand the horrors of war. Born in Highland Falls, New York state, he grew up near the military academy at West Point. His mother, Louise, laundered the clothes of the cadets there. His father, James, was badly injured in the first world war. Charles joined the army aged 17 and took part in the D-day landing aged 21. In a Memorial Day speech in 2007, he recalled: "I was the second man off my barge, and the first and third man got killed." Shot in the hip shortly afterwards, he spent months in hospital, then fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He received the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
Durning was a boxer, ice-cream seller and dance instructor before establishing himself as an actor. He cut his teeth in Shakespearean productions staged by Joe Papp and, in 1972, won a Drama Desk award for his performance in That Championship Season on Broadway.
By then, he had played his first film roles. In Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! (1970), he is the slobbish superintendent who shows off an unsanitary apartment to a prospective tenant (played by Durning's friend Robert De Niro, who recommended him for the part). He re-teamed with De Palma for Sisters (later Blood Sisters, 1973) and The Fury (1978); in the latter, he is the director of a research facility judging psychic ability, and supervises a female patient who unlocks his own troubling secrets. That decade he also took police roles in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and the TV series The Cop and the Kid (1975-76).
In Tootsie (1982), he was the wealthy widower Les Nichols, who falls hopelessly in love with the TV star Dorothy Michaels, not knowing that behind the drag makeup is the luckless actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), who is infatuated with Les's daughter. Les's pursuit of Dorothy is full of funny moments – when he squeezes on to a garden swing with her at his ranch, it creaks under his weight but it touches on pathos, too, particularly when Les speaks of his wife, and when he makes his move on Dorothy with an excruciating proposal.
With his physical bulk and commanding presence, Durning was perfectly cast as the tyrannical tycoon Big Daddy in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway in 1990, for which he won a Tony award. He also looked at home as Chief Brandon in the box-office hit Dick Tracy (1990). Regrettably, fewer saw one of his best performances, in The Music of Chance (1993), based on Paul Auster's novel. He played Bill Flower, a former accountant who believes he has the Midas touch. Flower and a fellow millionaire host a card game and when their opponent (James Spader) cannot settle his debts, they make him and his friend build a wailing wall from 10,000 bricks. Durning was never creepier, seldom more sadistic.
In the Coen brothers' comedy The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), he was the bigwig who, in a boardroom meeting, runs the length of a conference table and throws himself out of the window. "We cast Durning on the idea that a fat person falling 40 floors is a lot funnier than a thin person falling 40 floors," said Joel Coen. "Charles actually used to be a dancer and all that stuff he does at the beginning where he gets up and digs his heel and shakes the tension out of his body was all Charles. He choreographed all his movements."
In O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), another Coen brothers' production, he was the cantankerous Mississippi governor Pappy O'Daniel, whose re-election campaign is boosted by a trio of convicts turned musicians, the Soggy Bottom Boys. Pappy joins them on stage for a rousing version of You Are My Sunshine.
That year, Durning starred in two comedy films written by David Mamet Lakeboat, and State and Main and appeared on stage in New Jersey in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. There was little to distinguish his subsequent films such as Kinky Killers (2007), a nasty piece of work, but he evidently relished voicing Peter Griffin's mean-spirited stepfather in the animated TV series Family Guy.
He remained bracingly prolific and kept a straightforward approach. "Of course, I'm often not the top dog," he told Playbill in 2000, "but sometimes it's better not to be top dog, because you last longer.
Date of Birth: 10 December 1957, Chicago, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Michael Clarke Duncan
Nicknames: Big Mike
Michael Clarke Duncan was the American actor best known for his film roles as a gentle giant.
Every character actor who has ever been typecast dreams of a role that will transcend the cliches of his image. For Michael Clarke Duncan, who has died aged 54 of complications from a heart attack suffered in July, that breakout role also drew on the hidden truth of his own personality, and the results were spectacular.
Duncan was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor in The Green Mile (1999), the film of the Stephen King story in which he plays John Coffey, a gentle giant with extraordinary powers, on death row for raping and killing two young girls. The film's climax, when Coffey, innocent of the crimes but having punished the real killer and an evil guard, goes to the electric chair telling Tom Hanks not to put a hood over his head because he is scared of the dark, left few dry eyes in any audience.
Born in Chicago, Duncan, 6ft 5in and usually weighing about 20 stone, was himself a gentle giant. His father left when he was six, and his mother Jean's reluctance to allow him to play American football led to his deciding he wanted to become an actor instead.
He played basketball at Kankakee (Illinois) Community College, but when his mother became ill, he dropped out of his communications studies at Alcorn State University, a historically black university in Mississippi. After returning home, he supported his mother and sister, Judy, by digging ditches for a gas company and working as a bouncer at night.
He moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, again working as a bouncer before getting into the "private security" trade. He had acted as a bodyguard for such entertainment figures as Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and LL Cool J before breaking into films in 1995 with a bit part in the Ice Cube vehicle Friday. His early film roles, including Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998), saw him typecast as bouncers and bodyguards, often billed as Michael "Big Mike" Duncan. He gave up his day job as a real bodyguard for good in 1997, when the rapper The Notorious BIG was murdered on the first day Duncan was assigned to him.
Duncan's break came following a part in Armageddon (1998) alongside Bruce Willis, who recommended him to director Frank Darabont for The Green Mile. He went on to work with Willis in three more films: two comedies – Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (1999) and The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and the noirish blockbuster Sin City (2005).
Although he never found another role with the impact of John Coffey, Duncan remained in demand with substantial parts in blockbusters such as Planet of the Apes (2001), The Scorpion King (2002) and perhaps his best later work as The Kingpin, in Daredevil (2003). To play the comic-book villain he went from weighing less than 20 stone to more than 23.
His career blossomed, as his look made him easily cast for supporting roles in films and frequent guest parts in television series, and his resonant baritone voice made him a popular choice for animation voice-overs, in films such as Cats & Dogs (2001), George of the Jungle 2 (2003), Dinotopia (2005) and Kung Fu Panda (2008). He starred in the comedy The Slammin' Salmon (2009), as a boxer turned restaurant-owner who stages a competition between his waiters to pay off a debt to Japanese gangsters, and was the villain, Erlik, in the straight-to-video Cross (2011), a supernatural action film that also featured Vinnie Jones as a Viking named Gunnar transplanted to the present.
In 2010 Duncan undertook something of a reprise of his Coffey role in Redemption Road, as a man with a secret who brings home an alcoholic for his father's funeral. His last television role was a recurring part in the crime series Finder.
In 2009 Duncan converted to vegetarianism. The following year, he met his fiancee, the Rev Omarosa Manigault, in the aisles of a Whole Foods supermarket in Los Angeles. Manigault, a considerable presence in "reality" television, made her name as a controversial participant in the American version of The Apprentice with Donald Trump, and feuded with Piers Morgan in The Celebrity Apprentice.
In May this year, Duncan made a film for the animal-rights group Peta, talking about his conversion to a vegan lifestyle, and how he had thrown away £3,135.13 worth of meat when he did. Two months later, he suffered a massive heart attack.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1923, North Shields, North Tyneside, England, UK
Birth Name: Tony Scott
Nicknames: Anthony Scott
A former advertising director who followed his brother Ridley (now Sir Ridley) to Hollywood, his glossy, commercial sensibility powered films such as Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days of Thunder – testosterone-filled movies described by one critic as “visual amphetamines”.
A director with little interest in ideas or morality, he created a visual sheen that lingered in the memory long after narrative and characters were forgotten. Although he was accused of vulgarity and excessive love of hardware, Scott instinctively understood the power of images and was obsessive in his quest for visual impact.
But for all the reviewing community’s artistic unease, Scott was that rarest of beasts: a British filmmaker with a blockbuster reputation. That he lived in Hollywood, collected Ferraris and Harleys and hustled through relationships, only further alienated the sensibilities of his European peers.
He had extraordinary energy, producing and directing movies, making advertisements and, with his brother “Rid”, buying and managing Shepperton studios. Often involved with 20 projects simultaneously, he relaxed by climbing mountains and running. If his films were often accused of having a shiny core where the insight or empathy might have been, no one disputed his contention that his interest lay with “people who live their life on the edge”.
Anthony David Scott was born in North Shields on July 21 1944, seven years after his brother Ridley, and educated at Stockton-on-Tees. He enjoyed painting and rugby, while the proximity of the moors encouraged a love of the wild he retained all his life. Each summer in his youth he hitchhiked to the Alps to climb.
While at grammar school, he appeared as the title character in his brother’s first short film, Boy On A Bicycle. He then studied painting at Sunderland Art School, Leeds College of Art and Design and finally, on a scholarship, the Royal College .
Realising that he was unlikely to sustain a career as a painter, he joined his brother’s fledgling television production company. Ridley recalled: “I knew he had a fondness for cars, so I told him, 'Come work with me and within a year you’ll have a Ferrari.’ And he did.”
Ridley also taught Tony the techniques of making lush, high-quality shorts and, when he left for Hollywood, passed on several gold-tinted franchises, including the Hovis advert, featuring another boy on a bicycle. While Ridley enjoyed early success with Alien and Blade Runner, Tony made thousands of commercials, evolving a singular visual style and winning awards for his work for Chanel, Marlboro and Levis.
After Ridley’s success, and that of fellow “out-of-advertising” British filmmakers such as Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and David Puttnam, it was inevitable that Tony Scott would try his luck in Hollywood.
But his first feature, the dark, moody The Hunger (1983), starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve – was almost his last. A self-consciously arty, Gothic tale of a vampire forced to find a cure for her rapidly ageing lover, the film was a self-confessed “total knock-off of Nic Roeg’s Performance”, and most memorable for a lesbian love scene between Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.
Despite sumptuous cinematography (albeit compromised by Scott’s fatal attraction to the shorthand of advertising coloured filters, exquisitely photographed smoke, fluttering curtains, shafts of light streaming through blinds), the film was mauled by the critics and Hollywood insiders. The director recalled that, after the first screening, “on my parking space my name was painted out. I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Nobody had the balls to tell me I’d been fired.”
He returned to making commercials until the producer Jerry Bruckheimer hired him to direct Top Gun (1986). Initially he couldn’t “see” the movie. “I wanted to make Apocalypse Now on an aircraft carrier. Then I got it. It’s rock-and-roll, silver jets in a bright blue sky, good-looking guys.” Taking his “look” from a Bruce Weber photograph, Scott was a self-confessed magpie he created the ultimate feel good movie in which Tom Cruise’s air force recruit tried to pass out top of the flying academy and retain the love of Kelly McGillis.
The film, described by one critic as “a sleek, pulsating paean to testosterone”, took £220.59 million at the box office, propelled Cruise to superstar status and Scott on to the Hollywood A-list.
He was rewarded with Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), a hugely successful action sequel starring Eddie Murphy’s wisecracking, rule-busting policeman which confirmed Scott as a director capable of delivering high energy drama loosely attached to a plot.
Both hits were made with Jerry Bruckheimer, who kept Scott’s less commercial instincts at bay, and when Scott made his next film without Bruckheimer, it showed. Revenge (1990) was a darker thriller, a story of adultery in Mexico starring Kevin Costner and Madeleine Stowe. It leaned towards a darker palette reminiscent of the paintings of Francis Bacon that had inspired Scott as a student and was panned.
Back in the cockpit with his usual producer and a familiar star, Days of Thunder (1991) was Top Gun in a different machine. With fighter pilots replaced by racing drivers, Cruise reprised his role as the talented but reckless young buck who has to control his emotions as much as his motor. But the movie failed to repeat his earlier success, the public evidently taking the view that there was no point in watching the same film twice.
Scott was conscious that he was being typecast as a director of blockbusters, so when he was introduced to a video store employee, unknown scriptwriter and fledgling filmmaker called Quentin Tarantino, he tried to buy the rights to True Romance and Reservoir Dogs . Tarantino refused to sell Reservoir Dogs, using the money Scott paid for True Romance to fund filming it.
But his script for True Romance, a Bonnie and Clyde-themed tale of a hooker and her lover on the run from almost everyone, was sharp edged and allowed Scott the opportunity to focus on individuals as much as action. Although it attracted a cast including Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater and, in a cameo, Samuel L Jackson, initial reactions were lukewarm though it attained cult status after the by now ludicrously hip Tarantino blessed it.
Having established his ability to handle the egos of multiple stars in a single picture, the permanently pink baseball-capped, cigar-toting Scott had little trouble attracting Hollywood’s finest to his projects. Crimson Tide (1995) starred Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington as two submariners without radio contact to base who take opposing views over whether they should launch a nuclear attack on a Russian island.
The Fan (1996), which portrayed a baseball fan stalking his hero, starred Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Wesley Snipes and Benicio Del Toro, and was followed by Enemy of the State (1998), a hi-tech thriller in which Will Smith’s hapless lawyer was forced to take on the government machine. An opportunity for the director to pay homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s paranoid classic The Conversation, what Enemy of the State lacked in originality it made up in pace and in Gene Hackman’s beautifully understated portrayal of a tired, cynical investigator.
Spy Game (2001), which had to be cut after the September 11 terrorist attacks, again examined the not always beneficent power of the state. The film portrayed retiring spymaster Robert Redford’s attempts to spring his young partner (Brad Pitt) from a Chinese jail, where he faced execution for spying, despite the refusal of his bosses to help.
Scott’s technical skills and his obsession with cinematography at the expense of narrative were again visible in Man On Fire (2004). This starred Denzel Washington as a tortured ex-CIA agent hired to protect a child in Mexico City who was, to no one’s surprise, kidnapped. Displaying all Scott’s capacity for hi-tech mayhem with hand-held camera shots and jump-cut editing, the hackneyed story bounded along furiously towards its inevitable conclusion.
Domino (2005), which starred Keira Knightley as the heiress-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey, was universally panned, as much for its woeful miscasting as for the over-exuberant editing which elbowed what little plausible narrative there was aside.
Denzel Washington also starred in two of Scott’s more recent films, The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009) and Unstoppable (2010). Latterly Scott had been producing for television as well as films.
For a director of such energy and success, Scott was a surprisingly soft-spoken man who retained his Geordie accent all his life. He indulged his love of fast cars, motorbikes and women, and his highly publicised affair with Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife and the female lead of Beverly Hills Cop II, Brigitte Nielson, put paid to his own second marriage.
Reportedly a man who needed only three hours’ sleep a night, he awoke to three cups of black coffee and a large Monte Cristo, the first of 12 each day. He was a passionate mountaineer who claimed to be never happier than when “5,000ft up on a cliff face”. An art collector of catholic tastes, he acquired works by artists ranging from Robert Rauschenberg to Guido Reni.
The Scott brothers did not suffer from sibling rivalry; rather, they worked together over Shepperton, understood their respective strengths and rejoiced at each other’s success. “Ridley makes films for posterity,” Tony once observed. “My films are more rock ’n’ roll.”
Tony Scott, who apparently committed suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles, married three times and divorced twice. His second marriage was to the BBC producer Glynis Staunton. He is survived by his third wife, Donna, and their two children.
Date of Birth: 28 September 1923, New York, US
Birth Name: William Windom
The character actor's career on television spanned seven decades, from his debut as a fiery Tybalt in a Philco Television Playhouse production of Romeo and Juliet (1949) to an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages (2004) in which he recreated the role of the unbalanced Commodore Matt Decker. Decker was first seen in one of the series's best chapters, The Doomsday Machine (1967), and it was enough to sanctify Windom in the eyes of Trekkies. The role had been written for Robert Ryan, but Windom's powerful portrayal made any possible comparisons redundant.
Among many other standout performances on television were two in the cultish Twilight Zone series, as an agitated military officer who turns out to be a doll in Five Characters in Search of an Exit (1961), and as a calm psychiatrist trying to sort out Robert Duvall's disturbed mind in Miniature (1963). Windom also had leading parts in long-running programmes such as The Farmer's Daughter (1963-66), as a widowed congressman who falls for the Swedish farm girl (Inger Stevens), governess to his children; and Murder, She Wrote (1984-96), in which he was Seth Hazlitt, the crusty old doctor, friend and confidant of the crime writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).
The former role was close to his heart because Windom's great-grandfather, of the same name, had been a Minnesota congressman and secretary of the treasury in the 19th century.
Windom was born in New York City and educated at Williams College, Massachusetts. During the second world war he served as a paratrooper, and after it enrolled in the new American University in Biarritz, France. It was there that he started acting, and he continued on his return to the US. Windom made his Broadway debut in 1947 in roles of various sizes in an American Repertory Theatre season that included Shakespeare's Henry VIII, Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman (as young Erhart Borkman), Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, Barrie's What Every Woman Knows, and Alice in Wonderland (as the White Rabbit). In 1956, Windom showed a flair for comedy in a revival of Noël Coward's Fallen Angels.
When already 13 years into his long career in television, Windom made his big-screen debut in one of his best films, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), in which he played the smirking prosecutor who knows that he just has to play the race card to win against Gregory Peck, defending a black man charged with the rape of a white woman.
Further unsympathetic roles followed: an alcoholic whose sister (Joan Caulfield) is being wooed by a cattle rancher (Robert Taylor) in Guns of Wyoming (1963); a closeted, married gay man in The Detective (1968); a sleazy movie producer in The Angry Breed (also 1968); and Deborah Kerr's cuckold husband in The Gypsy Moths (1969). In Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Windom, trying not to look foolish, played the US president questioning an English-speaking simian couple who have landed in America by spaceship. "I tend to go overboard," Windom once remarked. "I go too far and then let the director bring me back where he wants me. It's like focusing a telescope."
Few of his feature films allowed for much humour, unlike television, which gave him more leeway. My World and Welcome to It (1969-70), based on the writings and cartoons of the American humorist James Thurber, gave him the chance to play a witty, nuanced character not unlike the original author. The shortlived sitcom won Windom an Emmy award and led to his touring one-man show on Thurber.
Of the show, which Windom performed around the US and abroad for some years, the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Windom has the gift of picking the terrible plainness of living and bringing it forward to say, 'See? Here's what we are, every one of us. And do you know, we're not bad.' "