About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Victim Emmett Till

The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till of Chicago was one of those revolting, chilling Deep South stories of the pre-civil rights era. Till was brutally murdered by parties known yet never convicted in a small town in Mississippi.

Young Till was visiting relatives in Money, Miss. in 1955. With a few local African-American boys, he visited a local store to buy some candy. His companions dared him to speak to Carolyn Bryant, a young woman who, with her husband, owned the store.

Accounts differ about whether Till whistled at her to made some kind of flirtatious remark, but three days later, the woman's husband and another man kidnapped Till from his uncle's house, beat and shot him and weighted down his body, which they dumped into the Tallahatchie River--a river later publicized again in a song by one-hit wonder Bobbie Gentry.

Till's uncle identified the two white men who abducted Emmett, but the all-white jury predictably found the men not guilty.

Till's mutilated remains were taken back to Chicago for burial, and an open-casket service allowed some 50,000 people to see what had happened to the boy. Emmett Till's dreadful demise infuriated the black community and sickened most decent whites. His killing is regarded as one of the important precursors that motivated the drive for equal rights for all Americans.

Victim John Kennedy Toole

Aspiring New Orleans writer John Kennedy Toole died of suicide in his early 30s, the victim of stupid, humorless publishers.

Growing up in the Crescent City, Toole did a remarkable job of soaking up the vagaries of that wonderful and unique city, and of its residents.

He attended Tulane, did a master's at Columbia in New York City and had begun work on his Ph.D. there when, in 1961, he was drafted into the Army.

Thereafter, Toole moved back in with his parents in New Orleans, did some teaching and worked at a number of odd jobs while writing a pair of novels.

He appears to have regarded his first novel as, essentially, a warm-up exercise but was very happy about his second manuscript.

But the book had a fault. It was original and brilliantly funny. It was not about celebrities, nor was its author a celebrity. Consequently, publishers didn't know what to make of it and rejected the manuscript.

Toole knew he had written something good and became so despondent that he took his own life in 1969 by carbon monoxide in a car.

Toole's mother was still determined that the book should be published and considered her son an unappreciated genius, rejected by dunces.

Famous writer Walker Percy was teaching at Loyola in 1976. Mrs. Toole tried phoning him, then went to his office with manuscript in hand. With reluctance, Percy agreed to give it a look.

What he found amazed him: one of the funniest books ever written, with a protagonist unique in all literature. The main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, was a lazy, supercilious slob, yet so endearingly out of place in the modern world as to be fascinating.

Toole's grasp of the New Orleans patois was just about perfect, as well. Percy saw to it that the book got published, and, as so often has happened in the history of publishing, the book, "A Confederacy of Dunces," was a huge success. It won Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981 and sold well all over the world. Truly it stands as one of the best works of comic fiction ever--as as a monument to the dubious judgment of book publishers.

Victim Vicki Van Meter

A victim of having tried to do too much while still a child was Victoria "Vicki Van Meter of Meadville,Pennsylvania. She was the youngest pilot to fly across the continental United States.

This feat was accomplished in a Cessna light aircraft in 1993; Van Meter, then age 11, accompanied by a flight instructor, crossed the nation with the young girl at the controls, going from Maine to California--quite an accomplishment for a sixth grader.

Much celebrity-style publicity followed this flight, and in 1994, she flew another Cessna from Maine to Scotland.

After finishing college as a criminal justice major, she spent a tour in the Peace Corps in Moldova, then became an insurance company investigator.

Van Meter suffered from depression and took her own life by gunshot in 2008.

Victim Selene Walters

A victim, or at least an alleged victim from the near-forgotten political past is Selene Walters, who charged Ronald Reagan with raping her in 1952.

No legal actions were taken in this case, but the actress charged that Reagan, at that time president of the Screen Actors Guild, pushed his way into her apartment and forced himself on her.

Allegations of this incident appeared in the controversial 1991 book "Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography," by Kitty Kelley, who also claimed that Nancy Reagan had an affair with singer Frank Sinatra while her husband was U.S. president. (He used the baaaaaack way.)

Walters did not come forward with her charges against Reagan until 1991, when news of her allegations of rape appeared in major media. By this time or soon thereafter, Regan was beginning to sink into Alzheimers. The truth of the matter probably will never be known.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Victim Harry Whittington

Well connected lawyer and investor Harry Whittington of Texas was doing very, very well-- until he went quail hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney.

While hunting near Corpus Christi in 2006, the V.P. failed to notice Mr. Whittington as he swung around and blasted away at an escaping game bird. The shot caught Whittington in the face, neck and chest. One of the roughly 150 pellets that struck him lodged in his heart and caused a minor heart attack, although Whittington recovered.

While feeling bad for the injured lawyer, many an American could not refrain from laughing at Cheney's expense, and a truly remarkable number of spoof videos of this incident were made and put online.

Public attitudes toward the vice president were greatly polarized. Many considered him a tough, stand-up, no-nonsense guy. Others, however, found him scary--sort of a cross between Dr. Strangelove and Darth Vader.

Victim Essie Mae Washington-Williams

A victim of racial prejudice and hypocrisy is Essie Mae Washington, daughter of prominent segregationist U.S. Senator Strom Thurman of South Carolina.

Essie Mae's conception was the result of a youthful indiscretion of Thurman, then 22, and Carrie Butler, a 16-year-old servant in his family's home.

The baby was sent to Pennsylvania to be brought up by Carrie's older sister and her husband, Mary and John Washington. Essie Mae was not told the identity of her father until 1941, when she was 16. At that time she was allowed to meet him for the first of a number of irregular get-togethers.

Thurman paid for his daughter's education. Essie Mae went on to earn a master's degree and had a roughly 30-year career teaching in the Los Angeles public schools.

Essie Mae did not go public about her parentage until Thurmon's death in 2003, at age 100, when Essie Mae was 78. "Senator Strom" had been in Congress longer than any other American and along with North Carolina's Jesse Helms, was regarded as iconic figures of the Old South.

Essie Mae, who has showed remarkable forbearance about her life's secret story, in 2004 saw her name carved into the Thurman monument at the state's capitol building in Columbia, listed there among his other children.

Victim Christa Worthington

Murder victims are all to numerous in today's America, but some of them gain considerable, if temporary celebrity all the same.

Such was the case with attractive blond and blue-eyed retired New York fashion writer Christa Worthington, who in 2002 was beaten, raped and stabbed to death in her Cape Cod home. When she was found, her 2-year-old daughter was sitting beside her mother's partially clad body on the kitchen floor.

Worthington, 46, had enjoyed a successful career, writing for The New York Times, Women's Wear Daily, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmo and ELLE in addition to authoring a few books on fashion.

The victim's father, a well to do attorney, put up a substantial reward, and finally, in 2005, a local trash collector with a long criminal record, Christopher McCowen, was arrested for the crime. He was found guilty and got a life sentence.

Worthington's tragic death was the topic of a 2003 book: Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod, by Maria Flook.

Due to the nature of the crime, the Worthington murder got enormous media coverage, but a few years later her name has pretty much faded from public memory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hero Wesley Autrey

Note: The following group of temporary or one-shot celebrities are heroes of one kind or another. Some did heroic deeds for which they had to carefully train and prepare; others were simply in the right place at the right time and took bold action. Most put their own safety or comfort second and took personal risks in doing something deemed heroic by most of us. Many of these heroes did something physically brave. Others did things that might be described as heroically kind.

All deserve great credit. All these individuals give the rest of us hope at a time when there are far more miscreants than heroes to be reported on in the media.

New York City construction worker and father of two Wesley Autrey became known around the world as the "Subway Superman" in 2007 when he saved the life of a young man who had fallen onto the subway tracks in Manhattan.

Autrey and his girls were waiting for their train when 19-year-old Cameron Hollopeter, a film student, suffered a seizure and fell from the subway platform onto the tracks, in the path of an incoming train.

In a remarkable show of selfless courage, Autrey jumped from the platform, shoved Hollopeter between the tracks and covered the seizure victim with his own body. He later reported that his construction work had given him a pretty good idea of the clearance between the track bed and the bottom of a subway car. Happily, the clearance was just enough, and both men survived unhurt.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Autrey the city's highest civilian honor, the Bronze Medallion, and President George W. Bush presented the hero and his daughters to the nation at his January 2007 State of the Union address.

Donald Trump presented Autrey $10,000, and other funds were donated for scholarships for the two girls. In addition, Autrey got a year's free rides on the subway, which he still takes to work; a new Jeep; season New Jersey Nets tickets; and other tributes to his bravery.

Hero Guion Bluford

Retired Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford Jr. become a heroic celebrity as the first African American to go into outer space. The Philadelphia native flew four space missions while serving as a NASA Astronaut. Earlier, he flew 144 fighter missions in Vietnam.

Bluford, who holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and several other degrees, made his first Space Shuttle flight in 1983 on the Challenger. His second space flight was as a crew member of a German mission launched from Florida. The third of his space missions was aboard the Discovery, and his last such flight was in 1992.

Thereafter, Bluford left NASA and held a succession of executive posts in private industry.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hero Susan Boyle

An instant celebrity--and hero-- to plain people everywhere, and to those who have misgivings about the shallow, looks-oriented nature of television and other visual media,is Scottish singer Susan Boyle.

Boyle burst onto the media scene in April 2009 as a contestant on the show "Britain's Got Talent."

When she took the stage, the show's three judges were a study in barely contained disgust that anyone so very dowdy would dare appear before them. Shots of the audience showed youthful men and women laughing up their sleeves and rolling their eyes.

The moment when Boyle began to sing was electric. The judge who is an editor appeared about to cry, the usually sharp-tongued Simon looked genuinely amazed, and the living Barbie Doll in the middle was so surprised that she almost forgot to bend forward to allow the tv audience a better view of her cleavage.

Rarely has there been a more beautiful event in the entire history of television. The soaring notes of Boyle's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from from Les Miserables had the audience on its feet throughout, clapping wildly. Had any of the judges dared say one word critical of Boyle's performance, the audience would likely have beaten him or her senseless.

Now the unmarried, unemployed church volunteer who lives alone with her cat has her own fan club and apparently has a record deal in the works. Rare is the person who has not seen her performance.

Boyle is living proof that not always do nice guys (or gals) finish last.

Hero Ruby Bridges

People should not be called upon to be heroes at the tender age of 6, but that is exactly what happened in the case of Ruby Bridges, an African-American child living in New Orleans.

The year was 1960, and the event was the integration of that city's public schools.

The wheels of progress were set in motion in 1956 when Skelly Wright, a federal district court judge, ordered the racial integration of the city's public schools. In 1960, after the appeals process had been exhausted, the plan called for the first grade to lead the way in gradual grade by grade school integration.

A tiny, alight girl with a big smile, Ruby led the way at Frantz Elementary School, accompanied to and from school by large, determined-looking federal marshals. Parents pulled their children out of school, and for a time, Ruby was a class of one, taught by a sympathetic teacher, a Mrs. Henry, who had come from Boston.

Finally, two white children returned to the class. More followed.

The image of Ruby's courage in the face of hate-filled opposition was frozen in time by painter Norman Rockwell in a canvas he titled "The Problem We All Live With."

In adult life, Ruby worked as a travel agent. She lent her name to an educational foundation and was the subject of both a book and a movie. She and Mrs. Henry eventually met again--on the Oprah Show.

Hero Tom Burnett

Tom Burnett Jr. was just one of several heroes who on September 11, 2001, did their best to prevent terrorists who had taken over United Airlines Flight 93 from succeeding in their mission to crash the plane into a densely populated facility.

Burnett, ever a high achiever, was head of a California firm that sold medical devices. After the plane had been hijacked, Burnett was able to make four cellphone calls to his wife, and he knew about the attacks earlier that day on the World Trade Center towers.

He and a few other passengers made a desperate attempt to jump the hijackers. Although the plane went down, Burnett and the others were able to divert the plane from its intended target. Instead, it crashed in a farm field, killing all aboard. Burnett was 38.

Two other men who also took part in this heroic attempt to save Flight 93 were Todd Beamer, 32, of New Jersey, and Mark Bingham, 31, of San Francisco.

Hero Barney Clarke

Sixty-one-year-old retired Seattle dentist Dr. Barney Clarke in 1982 volunteered to be the test case for the implantation of an artificial heart.

Clarke had developed an unusual infection that weakened his heart muscle and blood flow. He was advised that he faced certain and imminent death and agreed to allow thoracic surgeon Dr. William DeVries of the University of Utah Medical Center and mecical inventor Dr. Robert Jarvik to implant the latter's Jarvik-7 heart in his chest.

This first version of the artificial heart required that tubes would have to be inserted into the patient's chest, where they would remain, his heartbeat powered by a compressor. The device, made of plastic and aluminum, was designed to take the place of the two lower heart ventricles.

The pioneering operation extended Clarke's life for 112 days, but he died following recurrent infections and several strokes.

Clarke's brave act gave medical science a start in developing a workable artificial heart and in performing other organ replacements. His operation received heavy media coverage, and his name became well known around the world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hero Yuri Gagarin

Despite being one of our Cold War foes, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was widely admired for his courage in the United States.

The handsome, smiling Gagarin in April 1962 became the first human to travel into outer space. (Some claim that the Soviets had sent someone up earlier, but that the mission or missions ended in disaster.)

Gagarin had trained at a technical school and had learned to fly before joining the Russian military. He flew MIG fighters prior to competing to be the first man in space.

His small size, 5'2", helped him win this risky honor, inasmuch as the cockpit in the spacecraft was also very small.

The Soviets' feat not only impressed Americans in general, but it lit a fire under the U.S. space prgram as well. The town where Gagarin had been born was re-named in his honor, and he became an international hero/ celebrity of the first order.

Life thereafter was not easy for him, however. He developed drinking and marital problems that very likely stemmed from his instant, overwhelming celebrity.

In 1968, Gagarin was killed when the MIG in which he was flying on a training flight crashed.

Hero Leigh Ann Hester

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester in 2005 became the first woman to receive the Silver Star since World War II for her combat actions in Iraq.

She was riding with her unit, the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit from Kentucky, when her squad was attacked by militants while guarding a supply convoy. The U.S. unit fought back, killing 27, wounding 6 and capturing 1. The 23-year-old Hester dispatched three with her rifle and also used grenades and a grenade launcher during the battle.

Two male members of her unit also received the same medal, presented as Camp Liberty in Iraq.

Hero Clint Hill

Clinton "Clint" Hill found his brief moment in American memory when he leaped upon the back of President John F. Kennedy's limo in Houston, TX, after the president had been shot.

A history major who served in the Army following graduation from college, Hill in 1958 joined the U.S. Secret Service. After his training, he was given the White House assignment and provided protection for both Dwight D. Eisenhower and JFK.

In this position, Hill was on the detail for the fateful Houston trip in November 1963. He rode in the car immediately behind the president's car.

When he heard the first shot and saw the president lurch forward, he ran to the trunk of the limo and jumped onto it to shield the president and first lady. Another shot or shots were fired; one hit front-seat passenger Texas Gov. John Connally in the back, wounding but not killing him.

Two cars further back in the motorcade, Secret Service agent Rufus Youngblood did essentially the same thing for V.P. Lyndon Johnson, who was not hurt.

Hill could see that Kennedy had been mortally wounded, with part of his head lying on the car seat and blood everywhere. He yelled for the driver to go quickly to the nearest hospital.

November 22, 1963 was one of America's saddest days. The president had been assassinated, but alert agent Clint Hill had done his heroic best.

Hero Mae Jemison

A remarkably accomplished woman of heroic stature is Mae Jemison, who in September 1992 became the first African-American woman to travel into outer space.

Jemison holds a chemical engineering degree from Stanford and the M.D. from Cornell. She spent 1983-1985 working in West Africa with the Peace Corps as a medical officer, after which she located in Los Angeles, where she practiced general medicine.

She reportedly speaks Japanese, Russian and Swahili in addition to her attainments in medicine and engineering, and in the late 1980s, she entered astronaut training with NASA. In 1992, she was a crew member aboard the Shuttle Endeavour.

A year later, she left NASA to found the Jemison Group, an organization that helps provide better healthcare in Africa. She has also taught environmental studies courses at Dartmouth.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hero Vivian Malone

One of the two first black students to brave hatred and mistreatment as students at the University of Alabama in the early 1960s was Mobile native Vivian Malone, now Vivian Malone Jones.

She and James Hood were successfully enrolled there in June 1963, following segregationist Gov. George Wallace's theatrical "stand" at the entrance to the university building where registration was being held. Wallace backed down in the face of overwhelming force in the persons of federalized National Guard troops.

Malone and Hood were made miserable by their classmates, although the university's administration did its best to protect their safety. Hood dropped out after a couple of months and enrolled elsewhere. Malone, however, stuck it out and in 1965, became that university's first black graduate, receiving a degree in business administration.

Hood returned to the campus many years later and in 1997, earned his doctorate in education.

Malone married a physician and worked for both the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. She died of a stroke in 2005 at age 63.

Many heroes are large and tough. She was a slender, pretty girl who dared to be a trailblazer.

Hero Dave Karnes

One of those stalwart, quiet heroes who achieve temporary, and not very widespread celebrity is ex-Marine Dave Karnes. On September 11, 2004, when TV footage of the two planes flying into the World Trade Center towers was first being shown, most of us merely recolied in stunned disbelief and horror.

Karnes, an accountant in Wilton, CT, decided he had to do something to help. He immediately left his office, drove home and put on his old Marine fatigues, grabbed a flashlight, knife, canteen and some rope, and drove at high speed with the top down in his new Porsche to the scene of the tragedy.

The top was down so that police would see his uniform and allow him past the yellow tape. Arriving on the scene, he spotted another man in Marine garb, a Sgt. Thomas, and together they began trying to find a way to get at any survivors amongst the rubble.

Working in the most dangerous possible conditions, they finally heard a voice coming from somewhere beneath them. With the help of others, the two men helped save the lives of two Port Authority police, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, who had been trapped for hours.

Karnes, of course, was just one of many heroic figures that day. And in the manner of most true heroes, he shrugged off public recognitions, saying that he was just being a Marine. There's a lot to that.

Hero Robert Lawrence

America's first African-American astronaut was Air Force Major Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. Although he never went into outer space, this Chicago-born former test pilot did research on spacecraft re-entry procedures that would be used by the Space Shuttle.

Maj. Lawrence died in 1967, the same year in which he entered the astronaut program, at Edwards Air Force Base, CA, when the Starfighter jet in which he was acting as an instructor went down. The student pilot successfully ejected.

Lawrence was a highly accomplished man, with a 1965 Ph.D. in chemistry from Ohio State at a time when African Americans were still only beginning to break the bonds of discrimination.

What made his name known to many Americans at the time lasted all too briefly for Maj. Lawrence, who was a heroic figure nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hero Greg LeNoir

A finish carpenter named Greg LeNoir was, briefly, the toast of dog lovers everywhere after saving his pet from the jaws of a shark.

The brief but heroic rescue happened in 2008 in the waters of a marina at Islamorada, FL. LeNoir and his pet rat terrier Jake were swimming when a 5-foot shark snatched the small dog in its jaws.

Some people might have headed rapidly in the other direction, but man of action LeNoir dived at the shark, punching it in the back of its head. He reported that the shark felt hard as concrete. Nevertheless, the shark released the pup, which was riddled with tooth marks, but recovered.

The story of this "dog's best friend" episode appeared just about everywhere, and both man and dog appeared with host Harry Reasoner on the CBS Early Show.

Hero Autherine Lucy

Older Americans who long have kept up with the news will likely recall this unusual name. It belongs to one of the iconic figures in the story of U.S. civil rights.

Autherine Juanita Lucy was born the daughter of an Alabama farmer. A bright child, she received a B.A. in English from all-black Miles College in her home state and then decided to apply to graduate school at the University of Alabama.

Before applying, she lined up support from the NAACP. That organization assigned her three lawyers, most prominent of whom was future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The university accepted her as a master's student in library science in 1956.Three days after she arrived on campus, riots began, lasting three days and forcing her to leave school for safety from the howling mob. The university's board of trustees ordered her not to return so that order could be restored, but this order was overruled in court. Then the board expelled her.

Lucy's experience generated a lot of sympathy elsewhere, and she had offers of a free education in Europe, which she declined.

Later that year, she moved to Texas, married the Rev. Hugh Foster, her old flame from undergraduate years, and eventually became a school teacher.

Much later, in 1992, Lucy finally got her master's in education at the University of Alabama, where by this time she was a famous and well received person.

Hero Oseola McCarthy

Oseola McCarthy is a shining example of someone who had a relatively hard, spare life, yet sacrificed in an attempt to help others to have things easier than she did.

An African-American woman from Mississippi who had to drop out of school in sixth grade to help her family earn enough money to live, she spent a long life taking in laundry. Her earlier goal had been to become a nurse.

McCarthy lived very modestly and made a habit of always saving some of what she earned. In 1995, she donated $150,000 of her $280,000 life savings to be used to fund scholarships at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Compared to some gifts given to universities, the amount was relatively modest, but for someone who all her life had made so little money, it was stunning.

For her heroic act, she became a temporary American celebrity whose name kept coming back up as she received one award after another, including the Presidential Citizens Medal presented to her in 1995 by President Bill Clinton.

Before she died in 1999, surely she derived some satisfaction to seeing herself referred to in the media as Oseola McCarthy, washerwoman and philanthropist.

Hero James Meredith

An important though reluctant hero is James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first black student enrolled at the University of Mississippi.

Meredith came from a small town in Mississippi and was part Choctaw. Having spent nine years in the Air Force, he returned to his home state and two years later attempted to gain acceptance in that state's flagship university.

Meredith was physically prevented from doing so, inasmuch as the state's authorities chose to ignore a Supreme Court ruling. Federal marshals and National Guard troops were sent in, and a large-scale riot took place, leaving two people dead and 78 officers and troops injured. The integration of that university was successful, however, and Meredith graduated in 1963. Five years thereafter, he received his law degree at Columbia University.

Having already risked his life to attend college in the Deep South, he led a 1966 protest march from Memphis, TN, to Jackson, MS, and was shot, although he was patched up and completed the march.

After all this, it is ironic that Meredith became increasingly conservative and even worked on the staff of North Carolina's Senator Jesse Helms, a man not known for his liberal views on race. Even so, Meredith is regarded as a vrey brave man and one of the early heroes in the civil rights movement in America.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hero Charles Moose

As police chief of Montgomery County, MD, Charles Moose became a celebrated figure in 2002 when he was point-man for press relations during the search for the Beltway Snipers, who eventually were responsible for 13 shootings and 10 murders near the nation's capital.

Moose, 49 at the time of the investigation, held a history degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. in criminology and urban studies from Portland State University.

He previously had been on the Portland, OR, police force for 27 years, part of that time as chief. During the search for the killers, Moose occasionally became frustrated and feisty with the media as the task force he helped direct tracked down John Allen Muhammad and his young accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.

Moose's star dimmed somewhat, however, when news came out that he had begun work on a book about the case--while the search was ongoing--and reportedly had received a $170,000 advance for it. Also, Moose started his own consulting firm for crisis management after the arrests had been made. The book deal's timing was

contrary to regulations and brought about his resignation as police chief. In 2006, Moose joined the police department in Honolulu.

Hero Sally Ride

A hero of substantial importance is Sally Kristen Ride, America's first female astronaut to reach outer space.

Always a high achiever, Ride was a tennis star at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, then went on for a master's and Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University. She entered the NASA program in 1978 and became a member of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew in 1983. As such, she became a major role model for American girls.

Ride began teaching physics as a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, in 1989, and since 2001 she has been CEO of her own company, Sally Ride Science, which focuses on science education for girls.

Hero Deloris Wilson

One of those very, very quiet heroes is Deloris Wilson, a high school librarian in West Monroe, LA.

Wilson's minor and certainly temporary celebrity came when she bravely resisted the forces of the academic dark side (the school's administration, of course) and refused to remove four books from circulation. Administrators were, apparently, afraid the students would find out about...gasp, sex, as that was the topic of the books in question. Later told to remove from the shelves all books having content dealing with sex, she began, as a protest, to pull many classics and even the Bible.

Authorities so often want to save everyone else from themselves. Wilson's case brought to mind an earlier such incident when members of the U.S. Congress ordered the Library of Congress to get rid of a list of offending books, which included "Make it With Madmoiselle." Turns out that was actually a book of sewing patterns. The LOC was also directed to get rid of the braille edition of Playboy magazine--that is, until librarians patiently explained that the only thing in braille was the verbal content.

Wilson entered a formal complaint in her matter, and the ACLU of Louisiana represented her. The books were returned to the shelves, Wilson kept her job, and a settlement was reached.

Hero Marian Morris

In Arkadelphia, AR, in 2006, retired nurse Marian Morris became a minor hero and temporary celebrity, at least to animal fanciers. Her unlikely good deed was saving the life of an apparently drowned chicken, Boo Boo by name, by mouth-to-beak resuscitation.

She reported blowing into the unfortunate critter's beak and seeing its eyes pop open, then shut again. She repeated the unsavory procedure, and Boo Boo was placed in a box in the sunshine. Thereupon, Morris' sister-in-law began reading from the Bible--about Lazarus returning from the dead. So did Boo Boo, who ended up not on the dinner table, but on the Leno Show.

A year earlier, roughly the same thing had happened in Collbran, CO, where Eugene Safken combined mouth-to-beak with swinging the victim around by its feet until the chicken revived and lived to cackle again.

Mouth-to-snout stories also have surfaced. In 2005, Salem, MA, firefighter Richard LeBlanc saved Pixie the terrier in this manner after pulling her from her burning home. Also, in 2009, Prince the poodle was revived after having been hit by a car. Enjoying temporary celebrity this time was neighbor Timothy Dehning.

Such heroics come with a very high yuck factor, of course, but they are heroic just the same.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hero Richard Phillips

A very lucky hero is Captain Richard Phillips, 53, freed from Somali pirates in April 2009.

He is lucky because his story might very well have turned out less well, and he surely is heroic in that he offered himself as hostage to save his 19-man crew on board the container ship Maersk Alabama, which had been boarded by four Somali pirates.

Earlier in his adulthood, Phillips was a cabbie in Boston. Then he attended and in 1979 graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Capt. Pillips was held hostage by three of the pirates in a small craft secured by a line to the USS Bainbridge, which had come to the rescue. (One of the pirates had surrendered by this time.) At one point during his long ordeal, Phillips jumped from the 28-foot lifeboat and tried to swim to safety, but was re-captured.

Negotiations were making little headway, and three Navy SEAL snipers aboard thee Bainbridge fired simultaneously after they observed a pirate aiming his AK-47 at the Captain's back. All three pirates were killed. The Maersk Alabama then continued its voyage to Kenya.

Hero Rosa Parks

An iconic figure in the story of the struggle for civil rights for African Americans was Rosa Parks, who became known to America because in 1955 she refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, AL, bus to make room for a white passenger.

At that time, some bus seats were labeled for whites, others for blacks. Parks was seated in what then was termed the "colored" section when a white passenger got on the bus and the driver asked her to move further back. She refused and was arrested.

The otherwise mild-mannered Parks, a seamstress by trade, was convicted of disorderly conduct but had struck an important symbolic blow for equal rights.

It was her small protest that brought Martin Luther King and other civil rights figures to Montgomery, as well as sparking a yearlong bus boycott by Montgomery blacks. Her act was also influential in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1956 ruling that outlawed segregated seating on public transportation.

Parks received many honors, yet in 1994, she was mugged and robbed, ironically, by a fellow African American. Parks died in 2005.

Hero Daniel Santos

One of those legitimate heroes whose moment in the camera's glare is brief is New Yorker Daniel Santos, who, on his way home from work, dove 130 feet into the Hudson River to save a woman who was attempting suicide.

Santos' act of courage was especially commendable inasmuch as he is a self-confessed poor swimmer. Santos, 21 at the time, was a volunteer firefighter and just a year earlier had pulled a man to safety from a burning building.

The plunge from the Westchester-Rockland bridge stunned Santos, but broke no bones. Both he and the jumper, Maria Capozza, were fished out of the water by the dockmaster of a nearly boat club.

The interviews and hoopla, plus a trip to Disney World, soon ended. His employer disapproved of the time he had been away from work, and Santos quit his job, then turned to drink. Months went by before he got his life back on track. Sometimes heroism doesn't come easily.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hero Lenny Skutnik

A truly brave man of action is Lenny Skutnik, who was on his way home from his office job in the Congressional Budget Office in Washington when he stopped at the site of a plane that had just gone down in the icy Potomac River.

Air Florida Flight 90 went down in January 1982 just after takeoff, and people were bobbing about in the ice-clogged water. Some passengers and crew had been rescued by helicopter, but one, 22-year-old flight attendant Priscilla Tirado, was too numb to hold onto the line dropped by a rescue chopper.

Without regard for his own safety, Skutnik left the gaping crowd, removed his shoes and overcoa, and dived into the river after her, succeeding in bringing her back to shore.

As is the case with many real heroes, Skutnik downplayed his brave act, saying it was purely instinctive. And like most modest people who choose not to promote themselves, he has entirely disappeared from public view, receding into the privacy he apparently prefers.

A man like that should never have to buy his own drinks.

Hero Curtis Sliwa

As a young man, Polish-Italian American Curtis Sliwa worked as a night manager at a McDonald's in a rough section of the Bronx. Crime there was rampant, and Sliwa, who had gained some self-defense skills, took it upon himself to do something about it.

In 1979 he formed a 13-member patrol group that he dubbed The Magnificent 13. The group's name was soon changed to the Guardian Angels. The group's members patrolled the mean streets, unarmed, wearing a white t-shirt and red beret. Soon they became a familiar sight in New York City, especially after dark around the city's restaurants.

Sliwa, a born promoter, pulled numerous publicity stunts and fake heroics to gain recognition for the organization. Even so, the group gained not only recognition, but admiration. A few years later, Sliwa formed a Guardian Angels patrol in Buffalo, NY, as well. From there, the reach of the Angels has spread.

Now "chapters" of this organization, 5,000 members strong, are reportedly operating in around nine nations in major cities and small towns.

Sliwa was attacked twice by the New York Mob. In the second attack, thought to have been made in retaliation for Sliwa's comments critical of Mob boss John Gotti, Sliwa was shot three times but survived.

Both before and after this second attack, Sliwa was a New York City radio talk-show host. He is of conservative bent and also has served as guest host for fellow right-wing talk-show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

A more recent offshoot of Sliwa's efforts are the CyberAngels, whose assignment is to patrol the Internet.

Hero Ashley Smith

Twenty-six-year-old Ashley Copeland Smith, who had plenty of personal troubles of her own, became a heroic figure in a most unusual way on the night of March 13, 2005.

In that morning's wee hours, she went out to buy cigarettes. When she returned to her apartment, a young black man who had just committed four murders and one rape forced his way into her apartment.

Ashley initially was bound and gagged with tape, but soon the man wanted to talk. He indicated to her that all he wanted was a place to hide and to regain some normalcy for a little while.

Smith read to him from the Bible and from the inspirational book The Purpose Driven Life, then prayed with the fugitive, Brian Nichols. She also made him blueberry pancakes. Somehow, she gained his trust.

Nichols told her he felt that he was already dead, but she convinced him that by a miracle, he had been sent to her so he could help him change his life. She told him he should surrender to police and devote his life in prison to bringing religion to other inmates. In return, he told her he thought maybe she was an angel sent to help him.

Nichols allowed her to leave the apartment, surely knowing that she would call 911, which she did. Nichols went quietly when police arrived.

Adding to this already amazing story was the fact that in 2001, Smith's husband had been stabbed to death. Thereafter, she had begun using drugs and had gotten into a fair amount of trouble.

Also, adding to the story's happy ending, Smith eventually received $70,000 of reward money associated with Nichols' capture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hero Chesley Sullenberger

Longtime airline pilot "Sully" Sullenberger became an instant celebrity of the most heroic kind in January 2009 when he made a successful emergency landing in New York's Hudson River, saving all 155 people on board.

His US Airways flight took off from LaGuardia Airport, destination, Charlotte, N.C.
About one minuet underway, the plane collided with a flock of geese, knocking out both engines, one of which caught fire. Having no power, Capt. Sullenberger knew he had to ditch in the river.

He brought the plane down smoothly, and doors were opened immediately. Passengers clamored out onto the wings, and a few fell into the 41-degree water. TV news crews in Manhattan, some of whom had watched the landing,rushed to cover the story. A ferry, the Thomas Jefferson, came alongside and threw lines and vests to those in the water.

In the end, all aboard were safely brought ashore. Capt. Sullenberger was the last out of the plane, having combed the cabin--twice--to be certain no on remained aboard.

Sullenberger appeared modest about his heroic accomplishment, although some said his safe water landing under such conditions was an aviation first.

The scholarly looking pilot, a member of Mensa who holds two master's degrees, had been flying airliners since 1980 and prior to that, flew fighter jets during his Air Force years.

Heroes Hugh Thompson and Lawrence Colburn

On March 16, 1968, Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and gunner Lawrence Colburn were faced with a remarkable dilemma. With crew chief Glenn Andreotta, soon to be deceased, they were scouting the location of enemy troops, accompanied by two helicopter gunships.

When the three men noticed a lot of bodies that appeared to be civilians at a Vietnamese village, Thompson landed to have a look around. He was sickened by what he saw.

When the three asked U.S. troops what was going on, the answers made it clear that the slaughter of unarmed civilians would continue. Thompson directed the copters' crews to train their machine guns on the out-of-control U.S. platoon with orders to shoot if the slaughter continued. Thompson and crew saved 10 or 11 injured Vietnamese, but as many as 500 had already been killed.

Much to the Army's discredit, a classic coverup was the response to the reports filed by the helicopter crew. Later, former member of the company that had done the killings sent a leter about the My Lai massacre to President Richard Nixon and other government leaders. Most of these "leaders" chose to look the other way, continuing the whitewash.

Then journalist Seymour Hersh brought out a blockbuster story, with photos, and a proper investigation finally began.

A total of 14 officers eventually were charged, but only Lt. William Calley was convicted-- of murder. His sentence was life in prison, but he actually served little more than four months. His superior officer, Capt. Ernest Medina, got off totally.

The shameful episode helped anti-war forces to gain support and thus helped shorten American involvement in this unfortunate war. My Lai was one of the Army's darkest days.

Thompson worked as a Veterans Administration counselor and died of cancer in 2006. The video clip that follows shows Colburn revisiting the scene many years later.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hero Pat Tillman

Lifetime high-achiever Pat Tillman died a hero, yet not exactly in a heroic way.

Tillman, 5'11" and 200 pounds, was of pretty nearly perfect physique, with granite features to match. He had been a football standout and honor student at Arizona State University and was playing safety for the Arizona Cardinals at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

Wanting to serve his country, he gave up a $3.6 football contract for the life of a $18,000 a year soldier. With his brother Kevin, a baseball standout, he enlisted in the Army and went through parachute school and Ranger training.

The brothers fought in Iraq, after which Pat was assigned to a unit in Afghanistan.

On a patrol in April 2004 near the Pakistani border, his unit ran into trouble. Exactly what happened is unclear, but Tillman and an Afghani soldier were killed and two other Rangers were wounded.

Tillman's appearance was such that he made the perfect "poster boy" for the Rangers. Army brass, or perhaps their civilian higher-ups, gave the media misleading information, saying that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire.

Later, it came to light that the official version had been a pack of lies, done for PR and/ or recruiting value. Instead, he had been killed accidentally by "friendly fire" from other U.S. troops.

Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and a Purple Heart and was promoted to Corporal from Specialist. Also, the Cardinals and Arizona State retired his jersey numbers.

Hero Felix Vasquez

One of those eveyday-guy heroes who suddenly make the news for an act of heroism, then imediately fade back into general obscurity is New York City Housing Authority employee Felix Vasquez.

Vasquez was in the right place at the right time to catch a three-week-old baby dropped from a third-floor window of a burning apartment building in the Bronx.

He noted that the little boy did not appear to be breathing and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which was sucessful.

Vasquez appeared on a number of news shows, and the city awarded him a Bronze Medallion for his heroic acts.

One-time movie icon Jaye Davidson

Note: Major movie stars--people such as Marilyn Monroe, Julia Roberts, Clark Gable or George Clooney--are mega-celebrities with many highly acclaimed motion pictures to their credit.

Some other actors, although they might have appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, have had but one major, iconic movie success with which they are always identified. Examples follow of this second type of movie celebrity.

Recalling the remarkable acting job done by Linda Hunt a few years earlier in The Year of Living Dangerously, Jaye Davidson (born in California as Alfred Amey) won Best Supporting Actor at the 1993 Academy Awards for portraying a transgendered woman in the English/Irish movie The Crying Game (1992).

In this film about the IRA in Northern Ireland, Davidson plays the role of Dil, love interest of an IRA member. This suspenseful movie is also a really, really unusual love story.

After 1992, Davidson was in a handful of other far less acclaimed movies but by the end of the 1990s gave up acting to work in the London fashion business.

One-time movie icon Linda Hunt

New Jersey-born Linda Hunt had her first role in Popeye (1980), but her great success was in the 1982 movie The Year of Living Dangerously.

Hunt's remarkable portrayal of Billy Kwan, a male Chinese-Australian photographer, won her the 1983 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She became the first person ever to win this award for playing someone of the opposite gender.

Hunt played in other films thereafter, and on such TV shows as The Practice and Without a race, but to date, her role as Billy Kwan remains her only huge success.

One-time movie icon Haing S. Ngor

Cambodian surgeon and gynecologist Haing Ngor, a man having had no prior acting experience, won the 1985 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of real-life journalist Dith Pran in the powerful film The Killing Fields.

This movie was about the untold hundreds of thousands of Cambodians killed and dumped in mass graves in the mid to late 1970s by the lunatic Khmer Rouge regime in that unfortunate nation. Ngor himself had been held in a Khmer Rouge concentration camp but in 1980 made his way to the United States.

Ngor appeared in a few more films, but his one great movie was Killing Fields.

He was murdered by gunshot in 1966, apparently by a gang in Los Angeles' Chinatown district.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One-time movie icon Mary Badham

Art restorer Mary Badham was, in the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird, "Scout" (Jean Louise Finch) when she was 10.

The little girl from Alabama had never worked in movies prior to that time but did a fine job and became a lifelong friend of star Gregory Peck, who played her father, lawyer Atticus Finch in this excellent, powerful film that had an important social message regarding race relations.

Badham had a few minor roles thereafter but soon left acting.

One-time movie icon James Baskett

In a time of near-total racial segregation, song and dance man James Baskett was spotted by Walt Disney himself and picked for the role of Uncle Remus in Song of the South (1946).

Baskett had come to the Disney studios to try out for a voice-only part but ended up not only doing the voice of Br'er Fox, but with a starring role that radiated great warmth. His genial, kindly look and merry style of singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah made him enormously popular.

Baskett very likely would have done more movie work had he not died young of heart problems--at age 44 in 1948. He was given a special honorary Oscar for the iconic role he played.

One-time movie icon Linda Blair

Missouri-born Linda Blair found her role as Regan in the great 1973 horror film The Exorcist to be easy as spitting up pea soup.

She had first worked as a model and had appeared in TV commercials prior to being cast as a young girl who had been possessed by evil. Blair flung her pre-pubescent body around with demonic fury, confounding the best efforts of a Catholic priest and scaring the heck out of audiences.

The 1977 sequel did as poorly as the original did well, probably harming Blair's career.

Between the two Exorcist films, she was in Airport and in 1981, she had a leading role in Hell Night. With spoof specialist Leslie Nielsen, she poked fun at the very film that made her a celebrity in Repossessed (1990).

Blair did a modest amount of TV work, with appearances on such shows as Murder, She Wrote; MacGyver; Married With Children; and Perry Mason.

For most of us, however, she will always be the wild-eyed, unpredictably demonic Regan in that bedroom in Georgetown.

One-time movie icon Ben Chapman

It is a rare thing for an actor to play an iconic role without having to say anything or even show his or her face, yet that was the case with Ben Chapman.

Like so many people in show business, Chapman was born in California. He was a decorated Marine in the Korean conflict and worked in real estate for most of his civilian career.

Chapman, 6'5" tall, had found a few small roles in films, including one in a Ma and Pa Kettle movie, before he landed (no pun intended) the part of the Creature, or Gill-Man, in the 1954 horror film The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Wearing a rubber suit that zipped in the back, he was appropriately scary in this 3-D movie set in the Amazon, especially when he nabbed the pretty girl.

Chapman returned to real estate sales, in Hawaii, and died in 2008 at age 79.

One-time movie icon Tim Curry

For most movie goers, Tim Curry and Dr. Frank N. Furter are practically synonymous.

Curry, born in England, broke into show biz as a cast member of the wild and crazy musical Hair, in 1968.

His iconic celebrity with U.S. audiences came a few years later with his envelope-pushing, completely outrageous performance as a mad scientist/transvestite in America's greatest cult movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

Curry has done well in legitimate theater, with a role in Tom Stoppard's Travesties, as Mozart in Amadeus, as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance and as King Arthur in Spamalot.

His TV work has been limited, but includes the part of Shakespeare in an English series about the great wordsmith and a role on the sitcom Will & Grace.

He has appeared in other movies, such as Annie, It, and The Three Musketeers, recorded three albums, and has done an enormous amount of voice acting. Still, his one truly iconic performance was as the mega-strange Dr. Furter.

Monday, April 13, 2009

One-time movie icon Robert Englund

Imposing California-born actor of Swedish heritage Robert Englund has been in quite a list of movies, but his celebrity comes mainly from having played Freddy Krueger, the teenager-murdering villain in the Nightmare on Elm Street movie series, which began in 1984.

Englund's first movie role was in the 1974 movie Buster and Billie. He found a niche in horror films, by far the best-known of which have been those in which he played the fearsome Freddy.

Perhaps his next best role was in Phantom of the Opera, in 1989.

One-time movie icon Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, daughter of celebrity couple Eddie Fisher the singer and Debbie Reynolds the actress, began her movie career in Shampoo (1975)but became a true movie icon in the Star Wars film series--in the starring role of Princess Leia.

Since that time, her best movie roles have been a small part in The Blues Brothers (1980) and as a member of the primary supporting cast of When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Fisher also got plaudits for her novel Postcards from the Edge, in 1987.

She has combined her movie and writing know-how to become a Hollywood specialist in improving screenplays.

Fisher had a brief marriage in the early 1980s to singer Paul Simon and was once engaged to comedian Dan Aykroyd.

One-time movie icon Louise Fletcher

Thus far, at least, actress Louise Fletcher's one truly iconic role was as the hapless Nurse Mildred Ratched, nemesis of delightfully crazy Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Fletcher has been in a long list of movies since that time, incluuding Exorcist II: The Heretic two years after Cuckoo's Nest, and has had TV appearances on Picket Fences and other shows.

Despite this substantial body of work, most movie fans will forever remember her as Nurse Ratched, the role for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress.

One-time movie icon Karen Lynn Gorney

The year was 1977. The character was Stephanie Mangano, and the film, Saturday Night Fever, which made John Travolta a star and at the same time, provided celebrity to his dance partner, played with willow-like grace by Karen Lynn Gorney.

Gorney is the daughter of song writer Jay Gorney and grew up in Beverly Hills, CA. She was a regular on the soap opera All My Children in the early 1970s and also has three albums to her credit as a singer.

Since Saturday Night Fever, however, her movie and TV roles have been relatively small ones.

One-time movie icon Jennifer Grey

Born into show biz, pretty dancer Jennifer Grey had her moment in the celebrity sun as Baby Houseman in the 1987 blockbuster movie Dirty Dancing, the movie that also propelled Patrick Swayze into stardom.

The movie revolved around Baby's coming of sexual age at a summer resort in the Catskills, tutored by the young but worldly dance instructor played by the rugged Swayze.

Grey has appeared in plenty of other movies and TV shows, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Cotton Club and the TV series Friends, but Dirty Dancing made her celebrity.

She is the daughter of actor/dancer Joel Grey. In her big film, she had quite a honker but looked just fine with it. Thereafter, she had a nose job, which might well have been a mistake. She still looked pretty, of course, only less distinctive.

Dirty Dancing's memory lives at though it was yesterday at Virginia's Mountain Lake Resort, where it was filmed, and its broader public memory was extended by a 2004 re-make, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, made with new and younger stars. Even so, the remake is yet another proof that it is really, really hard to improve on a fine original.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

One-time movie icon Mark Hamill

Ask any kid to identify Mark Hamill, and his or her ready reply will be Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars movies.

Hamill's celebrity-producing success came close to the very beginning of his show-biz career. His fortune was made when he was picked for the part of Luke in the 1977 George Lucas blockbuster movie that captivated a whole generation.

He also played Luke in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), having recovered from a 1977 automobile wreck that required facial surgery.

Hamill has scored no more big successes in the movies, but he has found plenty of work as a voice actor for movies, TV and video games, and he has enjoyed some success on Broadway, as well.

For all his accomplishments, most movie goers' mental image of Hamill is of the lithe young Luke, wielding his light sabre and playing off Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and the two starring robots as he combats Darth Vader and the forces of the Dark Side.

One-time movie icon Jan Handzlik

Now a big-time Los Angeles lawyer who specializes in white collar crime and commercial litigation, Jan Handzlik was literally a one-movie actor--in his early youth.

His role was that of Patrick Dennis (as a boy) in the marvelous film Auntie Mame, in 1958. In this movie, the orphaned lad goes to live with his comically eccentric, wealthy aunt, Mame Dennis, played with zany charm by actress Rosalind Russell. In the movie, Patrick reappears as a young adult, played by actor Roger Smith.

Handzlik made a couple of television appearances but never returned to the big screen.

One-time movie iicon Richard Kiel

Actor Richard Kiel is practically synonymous with Jaws, the ultra-menacing character he played in three James Bond films: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979) and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2004).

At nearly 7'2"", Kiel certainly stands out. His performances as Jaws are ingrained in American memory due to his great size and the razor-like "dentures" he had to wear in this role. The metal teeth, which he reports made him gag when he wore them, supposedly allowed him to chew through pretty much anything--with fatal results.

Like Oddjob, Jaws was "too big to fail," and to defeat him, the wily Mr. Bond had to resort to electric shock, but Jaws just kept coming back.

Kiel has appeared in a lot of other roles as a giant, and he has dressed up as Bigfoot in a special for National Geographic. He also owns a film production company.

Ironically, he is married to a woman who is only 5'1" tall, and this movie villain is actually a devout Christian.

One-time movie icon George Lazenby

Handsome, imposing former model George Lazenby's iconic role was as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Although not the best of all the Bond films, the story was arguably the best of all the Bond books.

Lazenby, born in New South Wales, Australia, became Bond upon the retirement from that role of the first and finest of the several Bonds, Sean Connery. When you are number two, you try harder, and, although he had a very tough act to follow, Lazenby looked the part and acted well enough that his backers wanted him to play in future Bond movies.

Lazenby, in an act of remarkable overconfidence, decided that the role would limit him as an actor, and Connery returned for the next Bond film.

Lazenby appeared in a few less than memorable karate movies, and his second biggest success was in Kentucky Fried Movie in 1977. He has appeared in quite a few more recent movies, but none of these roles made much impact on furthering his fame or career.

In 2008, Lazenby and his second wife, tennis star Pam Shriver, divorced.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

One-time movie icon Janet Leigh

"A boy's best friend is his mother," remarked nut case Norman Bates in the chilling movie Psycho. That seemingly innocent remark spelled trouble for the character of embezzler Marion Crane, played by actress Janet Leigh.

A real-life California girl, Leigh dropped out of college to go into movies. Since her first role, in 1947, she was in many a movie--some of them quite good, yet the one role that made her an iconic figure in movies' history was the one in Psycho. The shower-scene murder of Leigh's character was truly a classic.

The plot of Psycho, as directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, was the stuff of pop-psych legend. Motel owner Norman Bates has murdered his mother, then "becomes" his dead mother in his less lucid moments. Mom's mummified corpse is kept in the cellar of the spooky-looking old family home near the motel. The movie was full of suspense if ever one was.

Leigh went on to work in other films, most notably Touch of Evil and The Manchurian Candidate, both in the early 1960s. She also worked twice with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis.

The glamorous Leigh, married four times, died at age 77 in 2004.

One-time movie icon Hattie McDaniel

It seems somewhat odd to include African-American actress Hattie McDainel in this collection, inasmuch as she was in roughly 300 movies, but her one stellar role--the one that cemented her celebrity with U.S. movie goers--was Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939).

McDaniel was a true pioneer among black entertainers during the long years of racial segregation. She came from Kansas and made her show-biz start in her dad's minstrel show. She both wrote and recorded songs during the 1920s and had her first movie role in 1932.

Because of the era's rampant discrimination,the only film roles she could get were as either a cook or a maid, yet she got work, saved her money and became quite well to do.

She achieved a number of firsts in show business, as well. She was the first black singer on radio, the first of her race to have a radio comedy show (Beulah), the first black actor to win an Academy Award (for her role in Gone with the Wind), and the first black Academy Award recipient commemorated with a U.S. postage stamp (in 2006).

McDaniel's two most vocal and active supporters among her white co-actors were Clark Gable and Bette Davis.

McDaniel's second most acclaimed performance was probably as Queenie in Show Boat (1936).

She died at age 57 in 1952 and since that time has been much honored.

One-time movie icon Michael Meyers

Family doctor Michael Meyers had his one fling in the movies with the role of actress Ali McGraw's brother in the 1969 movie Goodbye, Columbus, which also starred Richard Benjamin.

The movie's director had noticed Meyers, who was serving as an usher at a wedding. Young Meyers turned out to be perfect as the large, pleasantly hovering hovering Jewish jock in this fine film.

Meyers had no desire to try out for further roles and used his one-time film income to pay medical school expenses.

This Michael Meyers, by the way, is not the Mike Meyers of Saturday Night Live fame.

One-time movie icon Anthony Perkins

Think Anthony Perkins, and you automatically think Norman Bates, Perkins' stellar role in Alfred Hitchcock's chilling 1960 movie Psycho.

Perkins had earlier roles in such films a The Actress (1953), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Matchmaker (1958), but his celebrity came from the fine acting job he did as the insane motel keeper in Psycho.

Psycho's success was such that two sequels and a prequel were made; all starred Perkins.

Perkins acted in quite a lot of other films after Psycho, but no other role came close to generating the attention he had received in his 1960 smash hit. Perkins became more popular in Europe than in the United States.

A bisexual, Perkins died of AIDS at age 60 in 1992.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

One-time movie icon Paul Reubens

Paul Reubens, born Paul Reubenfeld, has made his celebrity mark in ways both good and not so good. His more positive celebrity came by way of his hit movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), in which he played the title role.

Reubens worked up his Pee-wee persona in the 1970s while doing improv with the comedy troupe The Groundlings. He appeared in The Blues Brothers (1980), had a couple more small parts in films,and in 1981 appeared in LA's club Roxy. But his big break was the Big Aventure movie in 1985. Other small roles have followed since that time.

The Pee-wee Herman character was small, slight, dweebish, shy and naive in an elfin way. Children identified with him; many adults found him slightly creepy.

Reubens' ability to charm the small fry earned him his own Saturday morning TV show in 1986: Pee-wee's Playhouse.

It was following the close of that show that, while visiting his parents in Sarasota, Florida, Reubens attended an X-rated triple feature at an adult theater. Undercover cops there arrested him and he was charged with indecent exposure for playing with himself during one of the shows. Reubens issued denials bu pled no contest and paid a small fine.

In 2002, he again was arrested, this time on child pornography charges. Police searched his home and found a collection of erotica that Reubens said he considered art. He was allowed to plead to a lesser obscenity charge.

Some people still find him creepy, but Hollywood is a very forgiving place.

One-time movie icon Richard Roundtree

Richard Roundtree, now a quietly dignified looking middle aged man, was a real tough guy in his one iconic movie role: detective John Shaft in the 1971 movie Shaft and its two sequels.

A sizeable former football player and male model, Roundtree was well cast as the tough-talking, hard-fighting Shaft. The movie was adapted from the novel Shaft, written by ex-New York Times editor Ernest Tidyman. Gordon Parks was director, and the music was by Isaac Hayes and J.J. Johnson. The movie's themesong won the 1972 Academy Award for best original song.

A big success at the box office, the movie was set in New York City amid turf battles between black and Mafiosi forces of that city's underworld.

In a 2000 remake of Shaft, Roundtree played the title character's uncle. In the late 1970s, Roundtree had a role in the TV miniseries Roots. He also had a short-lived role on the TV series Desperate Housewives, and he has appeared in many other movies, most of them of the easily forgetable sort.

One-time movie icon Harold Sakata

Toshiyuki "Harold" Sakata's powerful physique and intimidating glare took him to success in weight lifting, professional wrestling and, finally, to celebrity in his role as Oddjob in the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Sakata, of Japanese ancestry, was born in Hawaii. He trained as a bodybuilder, winning the title Mr. Hawaii, and as a weightlifter, winning silver in the 1948 Olympics. He turned to wrestling, first calling himself Mr. Sakata, the Human Tank, then Tosh Togo. The name Togo was borrowed from a famous Japanese admiral.

In his mid 40s, Sakata was chosen to play the role of Oddjob, the near-invincible bodyguard/caddy/ chauffeur/ killer employed by James Bond's villainous nemesis Auric Goldfinger. Oddjob's catchiest way of dispatching his victims was by spinning his steel-brimmed bowler hat like a Frisbee, decapitating the unlucky target.

In the end, of course, Bond gets the better of Oddjob--by electrocution.

Sakata capitalized on his role as Oddjob in cough-medicine ads, and an Oddjob bobble-head doll was marketed, as well. He appeared, fierce looking as ever, in other films and guested on a number of TV shows. Sakata, said to have been kind and gentle in real life, died of cancer in 1982.

Monday, April 6, 2009

One-time movie icon Chaim Topol

Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who sometimes works under the single name Topol, has been in quite a number of movies, but his one iconic hit was the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof.

In this story, set in pre-revolutionary Russia, Topol played the role of Teyve, a milkman and father of several daughters whose modernist tendencies threaten tradition. The greater threat is that the Jewish population of Teyve's village, Anatevka, are made to abandon their homes and relocate.

Topol had the perfect appearance and the perfect voice for this role of a lifetime. The other great Teyve, on Broadway in 1964, was actor Zero Mostel.

Two later movie roles for Topol were in the early 1980s: as Doctor Zarkov in Flash Gordon (1980) and Milos Columbo in the James bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981). Since 1971, he has played Teyve on many a theater stage.

One-time movie icon Sonya Wilde

Sonya Wilde's big claim to celebrity was her starring role in the 1960 movie I Passed For White.

The screenplay was based on a novel by Mary Hastings Bradley, better known for her books about Africa,her war reporting during WW II for Collier's magazine, and her mystery and travel books and stories.

The main character was Reba Lee, a beautiful, accomplished Chicago girl who was African American, but who had very light skin. She moves to New York City, meets and marries a wealthy young man played by the dashing James Franciscus. He, and the other people in her new life, are not aware of her racial background.

At this time in U.S. history, segregation reigned. When her background is revealed, the couple divorce and Reba moves back to Chicago.

The story would make present-day audiences' skin crawl; hence the movie is not often mentioned. Nevertheless, Sonya Wilde did a fine job in this role, though it was her one big movie hit. She also appeared in two 1961 episodes of the TV show Perry Mason.