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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Iconic TV role: Polly Holliday

Polly Holliday's portrayal of Flo the diner waitress was one of the best character actress performances in all of television's history.

Holliday was born in a small town in Alabama and taught piano before getting into theater in Sarasota, Florida. Eventually she relocated to New York City and a year later appeared on Broadway. Then in 1976 she began appearing as big-hair sporting, cotton uniform-clad Florence Jean Castleberry, better known as Flo, on the sitcom "Alice."

This show was set in Mel's Diner, where the flirtations Flo kept the male customers in line with her barbed remarks. Her signature line was, "Well, kiss mah grits," delivered over her shoulder in a thick country accent.

Holliday left "Alice" in 1980, a year before its conclusion, to star in her own spinoff series, "Flo," which aired for little more than a year (1980-1981).

Since the days of her celebrity, Holliday has done more work on the Broadway stage, has had parts in such movies as "The Silence" and "Private Benjamin," and has appeared on a few other TV shows, such as "The Equalizer," "The Golden Girls," and "Home Improvement." For most of us, however, she will always be Flo.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Iconic TV role: Sammo Hung

Martial artist Sammo Hung is very well known in his native Hong Kong and in other parts of Asia, but his U.S. celebrity rests mainly on his performance as Sammo in the series "Martial Arts," which ran from 1998 to 2000 and which co-starred African-American comic Arsenio Hall.

The stocky Sammo was trained in the China Drama Academy, where he came to know future martial arts star Jackie Chan. Hung has appeared in many films and, like Chan,became popular with U.S. audiences by combining martial arts prowess with comedy, quite unlike so many of the martial arts biggies who seemed deadly serious at all times.

The chunky yet acrobatic Hung speaks only modest English but played his role with a self-effacing air and a big, happy grin that the American audience liked.

Iconic TV role: Arte Johnson

Arthur "Arte" Johnson is a diminutive actor whose defining roles, both on the series "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," that brought his celebrity were as Wolfgang, the cigarette-smoking, helmeted German soldier who peeped out from behind a plant, made some odd, heavily accented observation, and ended with "Verrrrry interestink," and as Tyrone F. Horneigh, lecherous dirty old man.

This comedy program ran from 1968 to 1973. In the Horneigh role, Johnson was usually shown in amorous pursuit of Ruth Buzzi, who played the hideous-looking spinster Gladys Ormphby. Horneigh, shaggy of hair and dressed flasher style in a trenchcoat, would plop down beside Ormphby on a park bench, make some absurdly suggestive remark, and end up being walloped over the head with Ormphby's purse.

After receiving his communications degree, Johnson had planned to work in advertising but instead got a small part in a production of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Then he found bit parts in such TV shows as "The Twilight Zone," Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Dr. Kildare," The Jack Benny Program," and "Bewitched."

During and after the years he spent on "Laugh-In," he did appearances on a great many other TV shows, including "I Dream of Jennie," The Andy Williams Show," "Love, American Style," "The Flip Wilson Show," The Partridge Family,and "The Dean Martin Show."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Iconic TV role: Russell Johnson

Russell Johnson has appeared in many and many a TV show but is forever identified with his "Gilligan's Island" role: "The Professor," whose actual cast name was Roy Hinckley. The show aired from 1964 to 1967, but it lives on in endless re-runs.

Johnson, the actor's real name, not a pseudonym, served in the Army Air Forces during World War II and was a combat bombadier. He studied acting after the war and had small parts in a few movies.

In 1953, he began to get TV roles in such varied shows as "Superman," "The Lone Ranger," The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," Wagon Train," The Twilight Zone," "Death Valley Days," "Hawaiian Eye," Ben Casey," "Rawhide," "77 Sunset Strip,"The Big Valley," "That Girl," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Gunsmoke," "Mannix," "Cannon," "Wonder Woman," Lou Grant," "The Jeffersons," "MacGyver," "Newhart," "Dynasty," and "Roseanne."

His celebrity, however, is derived almost exclusively from "Gilligan's Island."

Iconic TV role: Gabe Kaplan

Today, Gabe Kaplan is very well known among his fellow high-level professional poker players, but to the American TV audience, he is closely identified with his portrayal of Gabriel "Gabe" Kotter in the sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter."

This popular show, which ran from 1975 to 1979, was about an unconventional high school teacher who, only ten years out of school himself, comes back to teach at the same hard-bittin inner-city Brooklyn school where he had been a student.
His students were a motley but funny gaggle of trouble-prone youth collectively called "the Sweathogs."

Kaplan was marvelous as Kotter, but the brightest star born in this show was John Travolta in the role of Vinnie Barbarino, the greaser who got all the girls.

Kaplan had begun his show biz career doing stand-up comedy. His big break was a series of appearances on the "Johnny Carson Show," which led to his role as Kotter.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Iconic TV role: Ted Knight

Ted Knight, born Tadeusz Konopka, is the polish-American actor who found his share of celebrity in the role of the clueless anchor man on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Before reaching the level of celebrity, Knight did commercials and character acting in a few movies and in such TV shows as "The Wild, Wild West," "The Virginian," "Bonanza," The Fugitive," and "Gunsmoke."

Somehow his acting talents were a perfect fit for the hilariously shallow, inept news anchor Ted Baxter on Mary Tyler Moore's series, which ran from 1970 to 1977. His performance was a superb one-man satire directed at news anchors, whose appearance is often more important than their journalistic acumen.

Later, Knight played a cartoonist in the show "Too Close for Comfort," but his place in TV viewers' memory is mainly from his portrayal of Ted Baxter. Knight died of complications from surgery in 1986 at age 62.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Iconic TV role: Nancy Kulp

The names Nancy Kulp and Miss Jane Hathaway are forever linked like peanut butter and jelly. Miss Hathaway, secretary to banker Mr. Drysdale, was Kulp's celebrity-producing role on the hugely popular series "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1962-1971).

A journalism major in college, Kulp served in the Navy during part of World War II, then found a publicity job in Hollywood. Her name at birth was spelled Culp, but she altered the spelling so as not to conflict with fellow actor Robert Culp.

Her early movie work included roles in "Shane," "The Caddy," and "Sabrina"; and her early TV work, "I Love Lucy," "The Red Skelton Show," "The Bob Cummings Show," The Jack Benny Program," "Perry Mason," and "The Twilight Zone."

As Miss Hathaway, she was a skinny, man-hungry nose-in-the-air, uptight spinster. Her erudition and clipped accent was just the right contrast to the Clampets' untutored rural innocence. Her fluttery performance when in the presence of the muscular Jethro Clampet was especially hilarious.

Later, she appeared in such shows as "Sanford and Son" and "The Brian Keith Show." In the 1980s, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress. At age 67, she came out openly as lesbian.

Kulp died of cancer in 1991 at age 69.

Iconic TV role: Jane Leeves

Viewers who recall the name Jane Leeves doubtless connect her at once with her role as Daphne Moon on the excellent comedic series "Frasier."

Moon was born in England and did modeling and ballet before getting into film and TV. Her start in movies came in "Monty Python's Meaning of Life."

She had parts on the "Benny Hill Show," "Murphy Brown," and "Seinfeld" prior to landing her plum role as the fair Daphne. "Frasier" ran from 1993 to 2004 and was one of television's best-ever sitcoms. It was both beautifully written and beautifully performed.

In 2000, Leeves' chirpy character became romantically linked with Frasier's brother, Niles.

Since "Frasier," she has appeared on Broadway in "Cabaret" and has had a guest role on "Desperate Housewives."

Iconic TV role: Al Lewis

Born Albert Meister in Brooklyn, Al Lewis worked in vaudeville, burlesque, and Broadway and had small parts in TV shows before landing the job that brought him his celebrity: Grandpa Munster on "The Munsters." That zany show ran from 1964 to 1966, and then went into re-runs.

Lewis's prominent honker and wide, goofy smile made him look just right for his Grandpa role in the goofily ghoulish Munster family.

His pre-Munster comedic TV work included appearances on "The Phil Silvers Show" and "Car 54, Where Are You?"

Lewis also did some radio work, owned a Greenwich Village restaurant, and dabbled in politics. He died in 2006 three years after having had bypass surgery.

Iconic TV role: Larry Linville

Actor Larry Linville found his perfect role in 1972 in one of television's greatest comedy series, "M.A.S.H." Somehow he was picture perfect as disagreeable surgeon Maj. Frank Burns, butt of many jibes from the show's two stars.

This role was used by the show's writer to satirize some aspects of military life. Linville filled this role until 1977, when he left to pursue other interests and was replaced by a new Major, stuffy but able Boston brahmin Charles Emerson Winchester.

Linville had studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and first worked in live theater doing Shakespeare and appearing on Broadway and elsewhere.

His initial appearance on TV was in "Judd for the Defense." He also had appearances in such shows as "Mannix,"Mission Impossible," "The F.B.I.," "Bonanza," "Night Court," and "Murder, She Wrote," usually playing a bad guy.

Some of Linville's funniest scenes on "M.A.S.H." involved his seamy, illicit romance with W.A.C. officer Hotlips Houlihan. Always the pair would be found out and embarrassed by the show's central character, Dr. Hawkeye Pierce.

At age 60, Linville had surgery that removed a part of a lung. Two years later, in 2000, he died of cancer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Iconic TV role: Katherine MacGregor

Katherine MacGregor's one and only TV role accounts for her modest claim to celebrity. This role was the conniving and hateful Harriet Oleson on the enormously popular 1974-1982 series "Little House on the Prairie."

Harriet was the gossipy, trouble-making wife of Nels Oleson, the much kinder owner of the local general store, Oleson's Mercantile, and mother of the dreadful child Nellie Oleson.

The actress who played Harriet, however, is by all accounts a clean-liver and a nice person. After the show's close, she gave up television for live theatre.

Iconic TV role: Maureen McCormick

Longtime TV viewers doubtless will associate the name of this actress with her role as Marcia Brady, eldest sister on the 1969-1974 sitcom "The Brady Bunch."

This character's upbeat, peppy personality made her very popular with the teeny-bopper set during those years.

McCormick's start in show biz came as a child acting in TV commercials. From there, she got small parts on such shows as "Bewitched," "I Dream of Jeannie," and "My Three Sons."

In recent decades, around 50% of marriages end in divorce, so the Brady Bunch story of two families coming together as one was relevant to many viewers, young and old.

The part of Marcia Brady gave McCormick her share of celebrity, but after that show's close, she made appearances on "Happy Days," "Love Boat," "Fantasy Island" and a few other programs, plus playing small parts in a few less than stellar movies.

Unable to repeat her Brady Bunch success, McCormick developed a variety of unfortunate personal problems.

Iconic TV role: John McGinley

TV viewers know actor John C. McGinley from his iconic role as Dr. Perry Cox, the acid-tongued attending physician who picks on the medical residents in the series "Scrubs."

McGinley was born in New York City and after majoring in acting, began getting supporting roles in movies and on a variety of TV shows. His movie credits include "Sweet Liberty," "Platoon," "Wall Street," Highlander II," and "Car 54, Where Are You?"

Among his early television appearances were "Spenser: For Hire," "Frasier," and "The Practice."

Dr. Cox is a solidly built mesomorph who loves dominating the show's main character, played by Zach Braff, a much smaller man whom Cox usually addresses as "Alice" or "Sally." In turn, Cox himself is picked on by the hospital's still larger janitor and also by their boss, the hospital's wizened chief of medicine.

Viewers enjoy the comedic gruffness of the Dr. Cox character and enjoy his biting remarks and his continual marital problems.

In real life, McGinley and his wife have a child born with Down's Syndrome, which understandably has become this actor's favorite cause as a fundraiser.

Iconic T

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iconic TV role: Eddie Mekka

Eddie Mekka, born Rudolph Mekjian, is tightly identified with his youthful portrayal of Carmine Ragusa, a.k.a. The Big Ragu, on the blue-collar sitcom "Laverne & Shirley." His character was a husky amateur boxer/dancer who was tough but funny and always cheerful.

Mekka, whose ancestors were Armenian, played Carmine from 1976 to 1983, when the show ended.

Post-"Laverne & Shirley" appearances on other TV shows include "Fantasy Island," "The Love Boat,"Family Matters," Guiding Light," and "The Suite Life of Jack and Cody." He has also had minor roles in a few movies and has performed in musical theatre. A highlight of his work in theatre was his portrayal of Groucho Marx in "An Evening with Groucho."


Iconic TV role: Elaine Miles

Oregon-born Elaine Miles, whose people were Nez Perce and Cayuse, grew up on an Oregon reservation as a Umatilla and was entirely innocent of acting experience when she took her mother to audition for a role in the innovative show "Northern Exposure." When the show's planners saw Elaine, they knew it would be she, not her mom, who would portray Marilyn Whirlwind on that program.

Her mother also joined the cast, as Ed Chigliak's aunt, but it was Elaine whose talent really shone. The Marilyn character was a woman of few words, but many insights. She provided a stark contrast to the show's main character, a manic, big-city physician new to Alaska and its laid-back ways.

The chunky, chubby-cheeked Marilyn gave the term "laid back' a whole new, expanded meaning. The TV audience liked her shy smile and wry observations.

Since "Northern Exposure" she has done stand-up comedy work and has had parts in a few less than important movies.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Iconic TV role: Richard Moll

Imposing at 6'8" and with head shaved bald, actor Richard Moll entered the realm of iconic TV celebrity in 1984 as Nostradamus "Bull" Shannon on the sitcom "Night court," which ran until 1992. This character was of the gentle giant variety.

The show took place in a Manhattan courtroom presided over by a zany amateur magician judge. The real comic star of this show was John Larroquette, who played the far less than ethical, womanizing lawyer Dan Fielding, but the next most compelling role was that of Bull, the deep-voiced court bailiff.

Moll's big break as a character actor came on "Happy Days." He also appeared on "Laverne and Shirley," "Mork and Mindy," Alice," "How the West Was Won," Fantasy Island," "The A-Team," and other shows. In addition, he has had parts in a number of fairly regrettable movies.

Iconic TV role: Erin Moran

Cute, cheerful looking Erin Moran's iconic TV character was Joanie Cunningham. In this role, she first appeared in the sitcom "Happy Days" as the kid sister of Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard. This show ran from 1974 to 1983. She left "Happy Days" in 1982 to star in a spinoff, "Joanie Loves Chachi," which didn't do nearly as well. Moran returned to "Happy Days" in 1983 after her new show was cancelled.

Moran first appeared as a child in TV commercials, then in the show "Daktari." She also made appearances on "Death Valley Days," "Family Affair," "The F.B.I.," "My Three Sons, "Gunsmoke," "The Waltons," and various other shows.

Iconic TV role: Wenceslao Moreno

You'd have to be a geezer or geezerette to remember this one, and darn few oldsters would remember this fellow's name. More, however, would recall the name of the characgter he played: Senor Wences, the Spanish comic ventriloquist who charmed America on the long-ago "Ed Sullivan Show."

His best-remembered character was Johnny, a rudimentary face drawn on Senor Wences' hand in a way that allowed Johnny to "speak" when Wences moved his thumb.

His second most popular character was Pedro, who was a head in a small box. Wences would throw his voice to simulate a voice with a foreign accent coming from inside the box. Wences would look at the box and ask, "S'awright"? He then would open the box's lid, and a grumpy voice from within would answer loudly, "S'awright."

Wences, who usually performed in a tux, would also juggle and while doing so, carry on conversations with the ever-critical Johnny. He was on Ed Sullivan's program 48 times during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Wences died in 1999 at the remarkable age of 103.

Iconic TV role: Megan Mullally

People who watched the sitcom "Will & Grace" (1998-2006) will surely recall the squeaky voiced, manically zany character Karen Walker, ably played by Megan Mullally. In that role, she was the wealthy, hyper-eccentric pal of the male and female leads.

When that show closed, Mullally had her own program, "The Megan Mullally Show," for about a year. More recently, she has appeared in Broadway shows, has done some singing, and has appeared in a few movies.

Prior to "Will & Grace," she made appearances on such shows as "Murder, She Wrote," "Wings," Seinfeld," and "Frasier." Her celebrity, though, derives from her role as Karen. It would be hard to forget a voice like that.

Iconic TV role: Leonard Nimoy

Actor/vocal recording artist/photographer Leonard Nimoy has done many, many things in show biz, but clearly his defining role has been as the part-Vulcan, part human Mr. Spock on "Star Trek," which ran from 1966 to 1969 and lives on in re-runs.

NImoy's parents immigrated to America from Russia; he was born in Boston. Nimoy served in the Army in the early to mid 1950s, after which he landed his first TV role on "Sea Hunt." Prior to "Star Trek," he appeared in a great many movies and shows. He has also appeared in live theater and has done TV commercial work, yet he has remained profitably tied to his role as the rational, emotion-free Spock.

Iconic TV role: Bebe Neuwirth

Beatrice "Bebe" Neuwirth is closely associated in public memory with her portrayal of the tight-lipped, slightly neurotic, uber-feminist psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Sternin, wife and later ex-wife of fellow psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on "Cheers" and its equally popular spinoff, "Frasier."

"Cheers" ran from 1986 to 1993 and "Frasier" from 1994 to 2003.

Neuwirth trained in dance and attended the Juilliard School. She has appeared on Broadway and has done other TV appearances, including "Simon & Simon," "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," "Law and Order," and "Will & Grace," but owes her celebrity to the testy Lilith.

Iconic TV role: David Newell

Americans who were children at the right time or had children of their own then might recall David Newell from his role as Mr. McFeeley, the avuncular speedy delivery man on the kiddie show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

The show itself began on Canadian TV in 1963 and moved to the USA in 1967. Its appeal gave the program great staying power; it ran until 2001 and became the longest-running PBS program ever, thanks mainly to the genuine kindliness of its star, Fred Rogers, who also was a Presbyterian minister.

Newell originally signed onto the show as its PR representative and prop man. Then he found his way in front of the camera and played his role for three decades. His character appeared dressed in what looked similar to an old-fashioned Western Union uniform. Newell outlasted Mr. Rogers, who died of cancer at age 74 in 2003.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Iconic TV role: Don Novello

The name Don Novello might have slipped considerably from public recall, but not so his character name: Father Guido Sarduci.

The good Father had his start at a San Francisco nightclub in 1973 and appeared in 1975 on "The Smothers Brothers Show," but it was "Saturday Night Live" that made him iconic.

Novello had worked as an advertising copywriter in the 1960s before making his first appearance with the Smothers Brothers in 1965. He was originally hired as a writer by "Saturday Night Live" but began making appearances on the show.

The Sarduci character was dressed in clerical garb, with a black fedora hat and sporting a thick mustache. He was presented as the gossip columnist and rock and roll critic for the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore. Holding a cigarette in the European manner, Father Sarduci made strange, un-priestly observations in a thick Italian accent. On the occasion of Novello's visit to the Vatican in 1981, dressed as Father Sarduci, he was arrested for impersonating a priest, but released.

Although his celebrity derives almost entirely from his "Saturday Night Live" segments as Father Sarduci, buttressed by appearances as Sarduci on the various late-night talk shows, Novello also wrote a series of letters to well known people, signing them Laslo Toth. (The real Laslo Toth had damaged the Michelangelo' statue the Pieta in Rome.) The humor in these letters came largely from the unsuspecting responses Novello got in reply, which he published in three books.

Novello had a small role in the film "The Godfather: Part III."

Iconic TV roel: Louis Nye

Son of Yiddish-speaking Russian Jewish parents, Louis Nye (born Louis Neistat) was born in Connecticut, grew up to do some radio work, serve in the Army in World War II, and work in the very early days of live television.

Nye, who pronounced his first name as "Louie," had parts on "The Jack Benny Show" and "The Jimmy Durante Show" before really hitting his stride in a recurring role on "The Steve Allen Show" (1956-1961). We geezers who remember him on that program recall best his portrayal of Gordon Hathaway, Manhattan snob. Few of us had actually met a Manhattan snob at that time, of course, but we delighted in the way he would look right into the camera lens in a wonderfully self-satisfied way and let fly with a lilting, "Hi-ho, Stevarino. My name is Gordon Hathaway, and I'm from Manhattan." It was this portrayal that brought him celebrity.

Thereafter, Nye did guest spots on many other shows, including "The Ann Southern Show," "The Munsters," "Fantasy Island," "Laverne and Shirley," "The Cosby Show," and "Happy Days." He also was in a number of B-movies and recorded a few comedy albums.

Nye died of lung cancer in 2005 at age 92. Nye is shown below as straight man to Steve Martin's dry cleaning "healer."

Iconic TV role: Hugh O'Brian

Rugged Hugh O'Brian is one of those numerous actors whose credits are as long as your arm, but his celebrity is tightly tied to his title role in TV's "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," which appeared from 1955 to 1961. Many regard this show as the earliest "adult Western," in the sense that it was primarily intended for a grownup audience.

O'Brian was one of those Western heroes born back East--in his case, Rochester, NY. He served in the Marines in World War II and after the war, moved to Los Angeles, where he soon landed the part of Earp. In this role, he burnished the public perception of the real Wyatt Earp, who, unlike O'Brian, was not always Mr. Nice Guy.

O'Brian appeared on many other shows: "Playhouse 90," "The Virginian," "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," "Perry Mason," "Charlie's Angels," "Police Story," "Fantasy Island," and a long list of others. His list of movie credits is also impressive, but in the public mind, he will firmly remain as Wyatt Earp, frontier lawman.

Iconic TV role: Masi Oka

The most likable character on the way-out-there TV series "Heroes" is Tokyo-born Masi Oka, who plays the role of Hiro Nakamura, a lad who can travel through time.

He plays this character with great charm-- boyish and shy, yet longing to be a true hero so as to save the world from the bad guys. His is an essentially comic role, for which he affects a high-pitched voice and a wide-eyed, innocent look. He has held this role from 2006 to the present (early 2010).

"Heroes" is more or less a comic book brought to life on television.

Masi Oka moved to the Untied States as a small boy, and as he grew older, he developed interests in movie special effects and computer programming. He has self-reported his IQ as 189, well within the genius category.

His acting credits include appearances on "Dharma and Greg," "Scrubs," and a number of other shows and films. His computer special effects work is impressive, including contributions to "Mighty Joe Young,"three of the "Star Wars" movies, and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest."

Clearly this young fellow is capable of many more fine accomplishments, but his celebrity comes almost entirely from playing Hiro.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iconic TV role: Alice Pearce

What fun to have gained a measure of celebrity by playing a mean-spirited busybody. Alice Pearce did this in the role of nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on the sitcom "Bewitched."

Her job was to see the magic performed by her neighbor Samantha, a witch played by lovely Elizabeth Montgomery, then try like heck to get her husband or others to believe her, which they never did. She took this role in 1964 and held it until her death from ovarian cancer in 1966. She was replaced on the show by actures Sandra Gould.

The rubber-faced comedienne had worked standup comedy and had appeared on Broadway in her early years in show biz. Her list of TV credits was long, including small parts on
"Kraft Television Theatre," "Hallmark Hall of Fame," "The Twilight Zone,"
"The Ann Southern Show," "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," "The Donna Reed Show," and "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour."

Iconic TV role: Rhea Perlman

Rhea Perlman, wife of actor Danny DeVito, owes her celebrity to having played waitress Carla Tortelli on the excellent sitcom "Cheers."

The edge with which she performed this abrasive, in-your-face, acid-tongued role won her four Emmy awards, and she appeared on every episode of this show, which ran from 1982 to 1993.

Perlman has also appeared on such shows as "Matlock," "Ally McBeal," and "Frasier," and she had a recurring part on "Taxi." But to TV audiences of a certain age, she is tightly identified with the role of Carla, putting customers in their place and swapping jibes with the other regulars in the bar Cheers, "where everybody knows your name."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Iconic TV role: Sendhil Ramamurthy

Sendhil Ramamurthy, whose parents immigrated to the United States from India, had made his mark with his role as scientist Mohinder Suresh on the series "Heroes."

The Suresh character is a geneticist who interacts with other characters who possess unique abilities to fly, pass through walls, alter time, etc.

Ramamurthy was a pre-med major before he decided on a acting career.

He has also appeared in "Grey's Anatomy" and a couple of other shows and movies.

Iconic TV role: George Reeves

Actor George Reeves died in 1959, but older Americans will remember him as early TV's Superman.

Reeves served in the Army during World War II and was a Golden Gloves and Olympic boxer before turning to acting as a career.

His first acting job, however, was as a child-- a bit part in the movie "Gone With the Wind." He also had small parts in "From Here to Eternity" and "Samson and Delilah."

Large and solid, although not so much so as today's weightlifters, Reeves landed the role of Superman,the "man of steel," which he played from 1951 until 1958. His acting might have been a trifle wooden, but kids familiar with the Superman comic books loved the show, and Reeves.

Reeves was quite a man with the ladies as well, and rumors circulated that his death was somehow caused by an affair he had had with a married woman. Others say he died by his own hand. Either way, he was killed by a single pistol shot to the head at close range.

After the "Superman" show ended, Reeves had little success with getting other good roles.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Iconic TV role: Michael Richards

The man who played a unique supporting roles in all of television history is Michael Richards, who was Cosmo Kramer on the acclaimed sitcom "Seinfeld"(1989-1998).

The character Kramer was crazy as a bedbug, loose-limbed and spastic, badly dressed, and given to making spectacular entrances at his neighbor Jerry's apartment. Kramer was forever coming up with unworkable ways to get rich quick, such as his invention of a bra for men: "The Bro."

Beloved as he was for his portrayal of Kramer, Richards badly tarnished his reputation in 2006 while doing standup at Hollywood's Laugh Factory. Two African American members of the audience were heckling him, and Richards flew into a rage, using the "N-word" and also saying something about lynching. Thereafter, Richards retired from doing standup comedy.He later apologize profusely, but the damage was done.

Before landing the role that established his celebrity, he had appeared on several other shows, such as "Cheers" and "Night Court" and had been in a handful of movies.

Iconic TV role: Irene Ryan

Actress Irene Ryan, born Irene Noblette, had small parts in many movies, many of which were of the regrettable type, and appeared on such TV shows as "The Andy Williams Show," "Mister Ed," "Petticoat Junction," and "Love, American Style," yet to longtime TV viewers she will always be Granny, on the comedy series "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Her start in show biz was in a Gracie Allen-like comedy duo in vaudeville. She did radio work and toured with comedian Bob Hope as well, but she never really made her mark until 1962, when she landed the role of Granny, matriarch of the newly rich Clampetts family.

Ryan played this wizened, tiny but tough-as-nails role until the show closed in 1971.

Ryan died at 71 of a stroke in 1973 and left around $1 million to found a foundation to provide scholarships to theater students.

Iconic TV role: Katey Sagal

Like so many performers, Katey Sagal has had many a role, but her celebrity derived from playing housewife Peggy Bundy on the gross but painfully funny series "Married with Children," which ran from 1987 to 1997.

As the mom in this highly disfunctional family, Katey flounced through the role of Peggy wearing tight, dreadful outfits with spike-heel shoes. Her character was sex-starved and money crazy, yet in the end, she always stuck by her guy: loud, dopey shoe salesman Al Bundy, and also managed to copy with her satyr of a son and bimbo of a daughter.

Sagal's dad was Hollywood director Boris Sagal. She has made many, many appearances on other TV shows, including "Lost," Boston Legal,"Columbo," "CSI" and "The Ghost Whisperer," but when most people think of her, they think Peg Bundy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Iconic TV role: Jay Silverheels

Radio and TV fans of long, long ago remember "those thrilling days of yesteryear" when out of the past rode...the Lone Ranger and his "faithful Indian companion" Tonto. Every little boy in those days wanted to be like the Lone Ranger, or, failing that, at least like Tonto, who, although only a sidekick, was also brave, resolute, "trail smart" and straight shooting. Also, he wore a really cool buckskin outfit.

The part of Tonto was played by a Canadian Mohawk whose birth name was Harold J. Smith, but whose adopted stage name, Jay Silverheels, sounded far more appropriate in Hollywood or New York.

The young Mohawk went from being a gifted athlete and Golden Gloves boxer to work as a movie stunt man. Early movies in which he had small parts include "Key Largo," "Broken Arrow," and "War Arrow."

His claim on celebrity, however, derives entirely from "The Lone Ranger" TV show, which appeared from 1949 to 1957 and to a lesser extent, its radio predecessor. It was a great job, even though he was required to speak in the manner that show biz producers liked to assume Indians might speak: "See-um fresh tracks. Me track-um, Kemo Sabe," for instance.

Silverheels had small movie parts and made other TV appearances after that time, but never again had a role that re-ignited his celebrity. He died in 1980 at age 67, following a stroke.

Iconiuc TV role: Bill Saluga

Younger visitors on this blogsite will not likely recognize the name Bill Saluga, or even that of his character Raymond J. Johnson, but older individuals could hardly have forgotten his one famous comedy routine, which began with "Oh......you can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay" and ended, "but you doesn't have to call me Mr. Johnson."

Anyone who never saw Saluga do this simple act cannot possibly imagine how funny it was, even after one had seen him do it a number of times.

Saluga made slight modifications to this routine, which featured Saluga sporting an unsavory mustache, a zoot suit, a wide-brimmed black hat, a too-wide necktie and a giant, floppy pocket hanky. Usually he held a cigar, and thus adorned, he would lean back and let fly with his familiar, "Oh......you can call me Ray," etc.

It was, and is, hard to explain why so simple a comedy act could possibly be so funny, but funny it was.

Saluga, a native of Ohio, had been a founding member of the comedy group Ace Trucking Company. He had done some TV commercial work prior to introducing his Johnson character on "The David Steinberg Show" in 1972.

He appeared on quite a number of other programs, such as "Redd Fox," "Murphy Brown," "Seinfeld," Designing Women" and "Home Improvement."

Iconic TV role: McLean Stevenson

Actor McLean Stevenson, who was a cousin of political figure Adali Stevenson, found his perfect role in the great comedy series "M.A.S.H." as the bumbling commanding officer of a Korean War field hospital. He was perfectly cast for the role but eventually wanted to star in his own show. He played Col. Henry Blake from 1972 until 1975.

Thereafter, he starred in three ill-fated, lackluster sitcoms, the first of which was "The McLean Stevenson Show." He did guest spots on other shows, such as "Love Boat" and Different Strokes" but never again came remotely close to the kind of success he had enjoyed on "M.A.S.H."

Stevenson had begun his show-biz career in live theater and in TV commercials. He also was a comedy writer, working for "That Was the Week That Was" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Show." As he continued to become better known, he played on "That Girl" and on "The Doris Day Show" before being cast as Col. Blake, the one role that brought him celebrity.

As Henry Blake, Stevenson did a terrific job of portraying the goofy, dreamy-eyed, girl-crazy, golf club swinging C.O. When he was written out of the show at his own insistence, he was replaced by the venerable actor Harry Morgan.

Stevenson died after surgery in 1996 at age 66.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Iconic TV role: Lauren Tewes

Lauren Tewes, born Cynthia Tewes, made her mark as cruise ship director Julie McCoy on the series "Love Boat." The cute, perky actress enjoyed a long run on this show, from 1977 until 1984, at which time she and the show parted company due to her struggles with cocaine.

Other, smaller TV roles for Tewes included appearances on such shows as "Charlie's Angels," "Starsky and Hutch," "Fantasy Island,""Mike Hammer," and "The Fugitive."

Tewes still acts in live theater.

Iconic TV role: Fred Thompson

Truly unusual among celebrities is actor Fred Thompson, who has also enjoyed quite a career in politics and even ran for the U.S. presidency in 2008.

In politics, lawyer Thompson, a Republican, represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate, 1997-2001,and once served as campaign co-chair for Sen. John McCain's bid for the White House. He was active in the legal defense of George W. Bush operative Lewis "Scooter" Libby in regard to the disgraceful Plame affair. He also stood in for radio news/commentary great Paul Harvey on ABC Radio in 2006, and in 2009, had his own radio talk show.

As an actor, Thompson is known primarily for his role as New York D.A. Arthur Branch on the show "Law & Order," on which he appeared from 2002 until he resigned in 2007 to seek the presidency.Viewers liked his no-nonsense image in this role.

Thompson also has appeared in quite a few movies,including "The Hunt for Red October," "Cape Fear,"and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." Prior to his years on "Law & Order," he had appeared in other TV shows such as "Roseanne," "Matlock," and "Sex in the City."

Iconic TV role: Herve Villechaize

The late Herve Villechaize, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, owes his clebrity mainly to his role as Tattoo in the series "Fantasy Island."

Viewers who were around to watch this program have ingrained in their memories Tattoo, perched in a watchtower, shouting in his squeaky voice, "De plane, boss, de plane" as another airplane full of fantasy-seeking individuals arrived on Fantasy Island.

"De boss" was the show's star, dapper, worldly Ricardo Montalban, in the role of Mr. Rourke. It was Villechaize's insistence that he be paid as much as Montalban that resulted in his being fired from the role he had played from 1978 to 1983.

Villechaize was born in Paris to an English mother. He never knew who his biological father was, but he was adopted by his mother's second husband, a French surgeon. It is thought that his real father was Filipino.

When he was roughly 20, the tiny, less than 4-foot tall Villechaize moved to New York to seek his fortune. He taught himself English, supporting himself as an artist/photographer. He also did a little acting, and was cast in a 007 movie, "The Man with the Golden Gun," as assistant bad guy Nick Nack.

After his firing, he descended into depression and heavy drinking. After several suicide attempts, he succeeded in taking his own life with a pistol in 1993 at age 50.

Iconic TV role: Kirsten Vangsness

Currently a standout TV character actress is Kirsten Vangsness, who plays computer geek Penelope Garcia on the crime show "Criminal Minds."

Her character on this show is overweight and goofy and dresses in outfits of ferocious gaudiness. Her character's eccentricity and naive approach to personal relationships, however,is part of what makes her so popular with viewers.

Of special note is the character's flirty yet good-buddy relationship with the show's head nice guy-tough guy, African-American actor Shemar Moore in the role of Agent Morgan.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Iconic TV role: John Vivyan

Darn near forgotten today, but quite popular for a short while was debonaire John Vivyan, who played the lead in a delightful adventure show that appeared in 1959 and 1960. The show was "Mr. Lucky," and the series was based on the role of the same name played in 1943 by Cary Grant. Vivyan's appearance was pretty much that of a latter-day Cary Grant, cleft chin, tailored formal wear and all.

This show had one of the best theme songs in the history of TV, "Peter Gunn," written and performed by Henry Mancini.It may be heard in the video clip below.

The show's action took place aboard a large yacht that been fitted out as a seagoing casino, presided over by Vivyan as the yacht's "Mr. Lucky."

Mr. Lukcy's sidekick was a character called Adamo, ably played by Ross Martin, who later made a longer-lasting splash in "The Wild Wild West," in which he co-starred with Robert Conrad.

In an ear of one western after another, this show offered sophistication and glamor. Notables who had one-time parts were beautiful, blonde Yvette Mimieux, Richard Chamberlain, and a very young Jack Nicholson.

Early roles for Vivyan were on "Studio One" and "The Millionaire." At one time or another, he also appeared on "77 Sunset Strip," "Rawhide," "Bat Masterson," "The Lucy Show," and somewhat more recently on "WKRP in Cincinnati" and "Simon and Simon."

The suave actor died at age 68 in 1983.

Iconic TV role: Burt Ward

Bert Ward' born Bert Gervis, found sudden celebrity in the role of Robin the Boy Wonder on the 1966-1968 series "Batman," playing opposite Adam West in the title role.

Ward was 20 when the show began. His role was one that called for athleticism but also for the uttering of naive, wooden, campy, corny comments to Batman. Since that time, Ward did many a reprise of his famous role. His more recent work in acting has never measured up to his big break in show biz.

Ward did, however, create an organization that specializes in rescuing dogs, especially the larger breeds.

Iconic TV role: Dawn Wells

From 1964 to 1967, the U.S. TV audience knew Dawn Wells as the character Mary Ann (Summers) on the outlandish sitcom "Gilligan's Island."

Wells, a brunette, was a former Miss Nevada, but on "Gilligan's Island," she played the cute girl next door role, not the role of the glamorous movie star. And she did cute very well.

Prior to the role that brought her celebrity, Wells had appeared on "Bonanza," "77 Sunset Strip," and "Maverick." After her famous role, she concentrated on musical theater and worked as a celebrity spokesperson for a number of products.

Wells also owns a company that makes clothing for the physically challenged.

Iconic TV role: George Wendt

It's the handsome guys who become the really big stars, but chubby, cheerful looking George Wendt made a place for himself on the barstool of TV history as lovable guzzler Norm Peterson on the sitcom "Cheers," from that show's start in 1982 until its end in 1993.

Having earned his college degree in the Dismal Science (economics), Wendt's unlikely next step was to join the comedy troupe Second City, where he remained from 1974 to 1980. He got his role as Norm after having done smaller parts on such shows as "Alice," "Soap," Hart to Hart," and "MASH."

On "Cheers," he played a sort of barstool Everyman, interacting with the other excellent cast members on that show. In 1995, he very briefly had his own program, "The George Wendt Show," which closed after only seven episodes.

More recently he has been on "Seinfeld," "Frasier," and "The Larry Sanders Show."

Iconic TV role: Adam West

Adam West, born William West Anderson, will always remain in the popular memory Batman and that comic book hero's mega-rich alter ego Bruce Wayne.

This actor began his career as a comedy straight-man, after which he played on a kids' show in Hawaii.

He found parts in TV westerns in a few movies prior to taking the campy role of Batman in the hit series of the same name that ran from 1966 to 1968. This TV show appealed greatly to children, but also offered comic asides (and the remarkably construcged Julie Newmar) for their parents, especially the dads.

West was so closely identified with Batman that he had trouble getting subsequent leading roles, but he appeared in smaller parts in a great number of other shows while also making appearances as the Caped Crusader. At one time, he got an offer to portray James Bond, 007, but refused the part.

Iconic TV role: David White

TV viewers who are well into middle age or even more will surely recall the hit comedy show "Bewitched," starring cute-as-a-button Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha the witch. In the role of semi-sleazy ad executive Larry Tate, boss of Samantha's hubby, Darrin, was actor David White.

White appeared as Larry Tate for the series' entire run: from 1964 to 1972. He played this role with just the right balance between being a grasping jerk yet somehow managing to remain likable.

White, who served in the Marines in World War II, also had small parts on a good many other shows, including westerns "Bonanza," "Have Gun Will Travel," and "The Virginian." In addition, he had parts on "The Untouchables," "The Twilight Zone," and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and other shows.

The versatile White also acted on Broadway. He died of a heart attack in 1990 at age 74.

Iconic TV role: Jaleel White

From 1990 to 1998,African-American child actor Jaleel White, playing the part of Steve Urkel on the sitcom "Family Matters," was known as "America's favorite nerd."

Wearing mismatched outfits that included saddle oxfords, suspenders, and "high-water pants," White rapidly became the unquestioned star of that show. His versatility was such that he also played other recurring roles on that sitcom, most notably the smooth and worldly Stefan Urquelle, anti-nerd.

An older White acted in another sitcom, "Grown-Ups," during 1999 and 2000, but his claim to public memory remains as Steve Urkel.

White was able to show his talent prior to "Family Matters" in TV commercials and in small parts in "The Jeffersons," and another show or two.

Viewers who remembered White might have recognized him in a 2007 bit part on the wonderful comedy series "Boston Legal."

Iconic TV role: Barry Williams

Barry Williams, who was born Barry William Blenkhorn, achieved his measure of celebrity in the role of eldest brother Greg Brady on the popular series "The Brady Bunch,"which ran from 1969 to 1974. During those years, he was quite the teenage heartthrob.

He was a pleasant-looking lad with a winning smile. Now he is a pleasant-looking middle aged man with a winning smile.

Prior to the role that brought him celebrity, he had appeared in a number of bit parts in such shows as "Dragnet," "That Girl," and Mission: Impossible."

Since the mid 1970s, Williams has acted in stage musicals and had a role in "General Hospital." In no way, however, has he matched the success of his role as Greg Brady.