08 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 176 | October 8, 2010

Roaring Nineties

Our theme this week

Actors in their 90s, still going strong

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Eli Wallach
Tuesday         —   Norman Lloyd
Wednesday    —   Michael Gough
Thursday        —   Ernest Borgnine

Kirk Douglas

kirk douglas

Born December 9, 1916
Age 93

I’m a Kirk Douglas fan.  I haven’ t always been one, but the more films of his I got to see, the more I admired him.  I’m particularly fond of Ace in the Hole and Paths of Glory—two great movies, and two great performances—but he’s done strong work in many films and whenever I catch him in one that I hadn’t seen before, I’m more often than not impressed.

Douglas got his start in Amsterdam, upstate New York, the son of Russian immigrants and the brother of six sisters.  The family was poor, and Douglas (then known as Izzy Demsky) was determined to escape town and make it as an actor.  He studied drama and found work on Broadway, but before he had gotten far in his career, the war intervened.  He served in the Navy.

He got a break after the war, with the help of his friend Lauren Bacall, getting a part in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, in 1946.  For his big screen debut he played a drunken district attorney married to the richest lady in town (Barbara Stanwyck).  Douglas was effective, though the role of a weakling was unlike the strong, intense characters he came to be known for later in his career.

He continued acting in film noir.  In Out of the Past (1947), a classic of the genre starring Robert Mitchum, Douglas was impressive as gangster Whit Sterling.  In I Walk Alone (1948) he played a crooked nightclub owner; it was the first of seven movies he made with Burt Lancaster. 

Douglas earned raves and an Oscar nomination as boxer Midge Kelly in Champion (1949).  Next he played a jazz musician in the haunting Young Man with a Horn (1950), a man in love with his trumpet and married to Lauren Bacall.  Ace in the Hole (1951), directed by Billy Wilder, featured Douglas as a cynical, down-on-his-luck reporter, in a story revealing the dark heart of the news business.  Vincente Minelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) was another dark tale, this time set in Hollywood, with Douglas in an Oscar-nominated role as a film producer.

For the next decade and more, Douglas was among the top stars in the business, working often, and often in memorable performances.  He played Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956),  Doc Holliday in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and the uncorrupted French Colonel Dax in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Paths of Glory (1957).

Spartacus (1960) was one of the better sword-and-sandals epics, with Douglas in the title role, and as executive producer, the man who brought in director Stanley Kubrick after filming had already started.  Lonely Are the Brave (1962), about a modern-day cowboy, was the actor’s favorite role.  In John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964), Douglas played a patriotic Marine colonel while military plotters are on the verge of a virtual coup.

Douglas directed a couple of movies in the ’70s (Scalawag and Posse), and continued to act for several more decades, mostly on the big screen and sometimes on television.  He teamed with Lancaster one last time in 1986 for Tough Guys.  In 2003, he played the patriarch of a dysfunctional clan in the aptly titled It Runs in the Family, a film notable for uniting three generations of Douglases onscreen:  Kirk, his first wife, Diana, their son Michael and grandson Cameron.

Since the 1980s, Douglas has turned more of his attention to writing.  He’s published several memoirs, including The Ragman’s Son, in 1988, which recounted his difficult life growing up in poverty.  He has also written a few novels, and nowadays he shares his thoughts about the world on his blog.

Douglas suffered a stroke in 1996, but like the determined heroes he played on film, he persevered, regaining the ability to speak, and he used the experience to reevaluate his life.  He has married twice, and he and his current wife, Anne, have been together 56 years.

The Motion Picture Academy awarded Douglas with an Honorary Oscar in 1996, for his “50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community.”  Among the many accolades he has received, the American Film Institute presented him with its Life Achievement Award in 1991.  (His son Michael won the AFI honor in 2009.)


The five featured performers of the week aren’t the only nonagenarian actors still around.  Not to say that this completes the list, but here are a few others (some better known for TV work): Harry Morgan (High Noon, M*A*S*H), age 95; Frank Cady (Ace in the Hole, Green Acres), 95; Herbert Lom (“Pink Panther” films), 93; Allan Arbus (M*A*S*H), 92; Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (77 Sunset Strip), 91; Al Molinaro (Happy Days), 91; Alan Young (Mister Ed), 90.  And as I mentioned Monday, Mickey Rooney celebrated his 90th in September.

By now you may be saying, Hey, aren’t there some other living Oscar winners who are over 90?

Indeed, there are.  Three, in fact.  We’ll get to them—and other women actors—next week.

Ace in the Hole (1951)
Billy Wilder, director
Walter Newman, Lesser Samuels, Billy Wilder, writers
Charles B. Lang Jr., director of photography
Kirk Douglas as Charles Tatum


Paths of Glory (1957)
Stanley Kubrick, director
Humphrey Cobb (novel); Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson (screenplay); writers
Georg Krause, cinematographer
Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax

 MAD About Movies on Paths of Glory here.

Spartacus (1960)
Stanley Kubrick, director
Howard Fast (novel), Dalton Trumbo (screenplay); writers
Russell Metty, director of photography
Kirk Douglas as Spartacus

Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
Kirk Douglas:  “Of all the movies I have made, this is my favorite.”


Interview, Part 1

Quote of note
“Don’t worry.  Some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other’s guts.”
—Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 07 Oct 2010 @ 10:46 PM

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 07 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 175 | October 7, 2010

Roaring Nineties

Our theme this week

Actors in their 90s, still going strong

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Eli Wallach
Tuesday         —   Norman Lloyd
Wednesday    —   Michael Gough

Ernest Borgnine

ernest borgnine

Born January 24, 1917
Age 93

Another day, another character actor.  I’d say we have a trend.

Ernest Borgnine is a first-generation American, born in Connecticut to Italian immigrants.  He served in the Navy for ten years, until the end of World War II.  At his mother’s suggestion he sought a career on stage, and he found theater work in Virginia and on Broadway.  He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, and he got his first big break with From Here to Eternity in 1953, playing the staff sergeant known as Fatso who pulls a switchblade on Maggio (Frank Sinatra) during a bar fight.    He continued playing the heavy the next couple of years, in the westerns Johnny Guitar and Vera Cruz, both 1954, and in John Sturges’s classic Bad Day at Black Rock, in 1955.

Borgnine’s stout build and round face had him pegged for character parts, but in Marty he was perfectly cast as the lead.  Marty is a butcher in the Bronx living with his mother, destined to be a lifelong bachelor.  “Sooner or later,” he says, “there comes a point in a man’s life when he’s gotta face some facts, and one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it.”  Then one night he meets a schoolteacher name Clara.  Things change.  It’s a touching story about an everyman, and it’s a gem of a movie.  To the surprise of some, this small film, adapted from television, won great acclaim and was a hit at the box office.  It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and four Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1955.  Against stiff competition—Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, James Dean, and James Cagney—Borgnine took home the Best Actor statuette.

Borgnine continued in starring roles for a few more years:  The Catered Affair (1956), The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956), The Vikings (1958), and Man on a String (1960).  For four years during the 1960s, he starred as Lt. Commander Quinton McHale on the popular sitcom McHale’s Navy.  Some of his films of the time were Barabbas (1961), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Ice Station Zebra (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), Willard (1971), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Borgnine’s days as a movie star were short-lived, and he reverted to character roles and TV parts in later decades.  He costarred on Airwolf in the ’80s and had a recurring role on The Single Guy in the ’90s.  He is the voice of Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants.  At age 92, he earned his third Emmy nomination, for a guest appearance on ER in 2009.

Borgnine shows no signs of slowing down.  His next film, Red, is due out this month, on the 15th.  (This past weekend, he appeared with Red costar Morgan Freeman in an inexplicable skit on the often inexplicable Saturday Night Live.)  Borgnine has four more movies in the pipeline.

Borgnine has had five wives (one of them Ethel Merman, for a month).  He and his current wife, Tova, have been married since 1973.

Borgnine will be honored by the Screen Actors Guild with a Life Achievement Award to be presented in January.  (SAG’s choice of Borgnine drew some criticism because of the actor’s conservative politics.  He’s had a penchant for making inflamatory comments at times.)  In announcing the award, SAG president Ken Howard had this to say about Borgnine’s legacy:

Whether portraying brutish villains, sympathetic everymen, complex leaders or hapless heroes, Ernest Borgnine has brought a boundless energy which, at 93, is still a hallmark of his remarkably busy life and career.  It is with that same joyous spirit that we salute his impressive body of work and his steadfast generosity.

Marty (1955)
Delbert Mann, director
Paddy Chayefsky, writer
Joseph LaShelle, cinematographer
Ernest Borgnine, Esther Minciotti


Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
John Sturges, director
Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire, Howard Breslin, writers
William C. Mellor, cinematograher
Ernest Borgnine, Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan

Quote of note
:  What do you wanna do tonight?
Marty:  I dunno, Angie.  What do you wanna do?
—Angie (Joe Mantell), Marty Pilletti (Ernest Borgnine), Marty (1955)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 06 Oct 2010 @ 07:56 AM

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 06 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 174 | October 6, 2010

Roaring Nineties

Our theme this week

Actors in their 90s, still going strong

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Eli Wallach
Tuesday         —   Norman Lloyd

Michael Gough

michael gough_3

Born November 23, 1917
Age 92

The son of British parents, Michael Gough was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Gough (pronounced “Goff”) began acting on the London stage in the late 1930s, and continued to work in theater for most of his career.  A noted favorite among his performances was King Lear in 1974.  In 1979, he won the Tony for Best Actor, for Bedroom Farce, and was nominated again, in 1988, for Breaking the Code.

Since the late 1940s, Gough has worked in television and film as well, rolling up more than 170 credits over the years.  Primarily a character actor, Gough’s screen work has been an eclectic mix of the serious and schlock.  Among films in the former category are Anna Karenina (1948), the Ealing Studios satire The Man in the White Suit (1951), the Disney adventure The Sword and the Rose (1953), Richard III (1953), Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter’s The Go-Between (winner of top honors at Cannes for 1971), Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972), The Dresser (1983), Out of Africa (1985), and as Henry van der Luyden in The Age of Innocence (1993).  Gough has collected a few checks doing British horror films too, chewing the scenery in a host of scarefests that include Dracula (1958), Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), and Black Zoo (1963).

Fifty years into his career, Gough first performed the part he is best known for today—Alfred Pennyworth, butler to Bruce Wayne—a role he has played four times, in Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997).  Tim Burton, director of three of the Batman films, has cast Gough three times since, for Sleepy Hollow (1999), Corpse Bride (2005), and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Gough’s televison work over the years includes roles in Pride and Prejudice, The Search for the Nile, Doctor Who (in “The Celestial Toymaker” serial), and as Sir Anthony Eden in Suez 1956

The Making of “Batman Returns” (1992)
Michael Gough as Alfred


Wittgenstein (1993)
Derek Jarman, director
Ken Butler, Terry Eagleton, Derek Jarman, writers
James Wellend, cinematographer
Michael Gough (Bertrand Russell), Karl Johnson (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)
Arthur Crabtree, director
Herman Cohen, writer
Desmond Dickinson, cinematographer
Michael Gough as Edmond Bancroft, the thriller writer who hypnotizes his assistant to commit crimes

Quote of note
Alfred:  May I help you, Master Grayson?
Dick:  How come this is the only locked door in this museum?  What do you have back here?
Alfred:  Master Wayne’s dead wives.
—Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough), Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell), Batman Forever (1995)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 05 Oct 2010 @ 09:52 PM

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 05 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 173 | October 5, 2010

Roaring Nineties

Our theme this week

Actors in their 90s, still going strong

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Eli Wallach

Norman Lloyd

norman lloyd_2

Born November 8, 1914
Age 95

Who is Norman Lloyd?  Well, if you don’t know Norman Lloyd, you should know Norman Lloyd.  Because he is the history of our industry up to now.

—Karl Malden, in Who Is Norman Lloyd?

Born in Jersey City and raised in Brooklyn, Norman Lloyd has had a long and illustrious career spanning stage, film, and television, with a long list of credits as an actor, director, and producer.  Early on, Lloyd joined the Mercury Theater of Orson Welles–John Houseman fame.  In 1937, he played Cinna the poet in Julius Caesar, a stirring performance in a production famous for being as much Welles as Shakespeare, which was dramatized in a fine film from last year, Orson Welles and Me.

Lloyd moved west in the early 1940s to be in a Welles movie that never came to be.  But he soon made his feature film debut as Nazi spy Frank Fry in Saboteur (1942).  His Hollywood collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock would be among the most fruitful of his career.  He played a patient at the asylum in Spellbound, in 1945, and later worked as actor, director, and producer for the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  His other movie performances include The Green Years (1946), Reign of Terror (1949), Limelight (1952), Audrey Rose (1977), Dead Poets Society (1989), and The Age of Innocence (1993).  His most recent big screen performance was for the comedy-romance In Her Shoes, in 2005.  Over the years, Lloyd has appeared in many TV productions, including recurring roles in St. Elsewhere, Wiseguy, Home Fires, Seven Days, and The Practice.  In 2007, documentary filmmaker Matthew Sussman made Who Is Norman Lloyd?,which the New York Times called “a valentine to a show business legend.”  Reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz added, “But luckily this is a rare case in which the subject is, by consensus, such an accomplished man and decent fellow that the director can’t be accused of overdoing it.”

In a town famous for short marriages, Lloyd has had one of the longest.  He married his wife, Peggy, in the the summer of 1936, and 74 years later they are together still.

Dead Poets Society (1989)
Peter Weir, director
Tom Schulman, writer
John Seale, director of photography
Norman Lloyd as Mr. Nolan:  “Sit down!  I want you seated!”

Who Is Norman Lloyd? (2007)
Matthew Sussman, director
Website:  Includes a trailer and interview with Keith Olbermann

Saboteur (1942)
Alfred Hitchcock, director
Norman Lloyd as Frank Fry
Clip 1:  Trying to blow up a battleship; shooting up Radio City Music Hall
Clip 2:  Clinging to the Statue of Liberty

Me and Orson Welles (2009)
Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd
Clip 1:  “Did she get a firm grip on your monkey bar?”

Interview with Norman Lloyd
September 2000
Part 1

Quote of note
[Speaking on a stapler phone]
“Carruthers here.  I am leaving the stapler location.  I’ll be at my piano number in half an hour.  If you need me earlier, call me on my jock strap.  But please, just ring once.
—Carruthers (Norman Lloyd), The Nude Bomb (Maxwell Smart and the Nude Bomb) (1980)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 04 Oct 2010 @ 09:46 PM

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 04 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 172 | October 4, 2010

Roaring Nineties

Last Thursday I saw the new Wall Street film.  It was the day after Tony Curtis died, and I sat in the theater wondering what a young Curtis would have done with a role in a movie like that.  We can only imagine, but I bet it would have been fun to watch.

September seemed to be a busy month for saying goodbye.  Among movie people, here are some names appearing on recent obit pages:  Cammie King, Sept. 1 (actress, Gone with the Wind, voice, Bambi), age 76; Clive Donner, Sept. 6 (director, What’s New Pussycat?), 84; Glenn Shadix, Sept. 7 (actor, Beetlejuice), 58; Kevin McCarthy, Sept. 11 (actor, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), 96; Harold Gould, Sept. 11 (actor, The Sting), 86; Claude Chabrol, Sept. 12 (director, Les Cousins), 80; Irving Ravetch, Sept. 19 (writer, Hud), 89; Grace Bradley, Sept. 21 (actress, The Big Broadcast of 1938), 97; Eddie Fisher, Sept. 22 (singer, actor, BUtterfield 8), 82; Gloria Stuart, Sept. 26 (actress, The Invisible Man, Titanic), 100; Sally Menke, Sept. 28 (editor, Pulp Fiction), 56; Arthur Penn, Sept. 28 (director, Bonnie and Clyde), 88; Tony Curtis, Sept. 29 (actor, Some Like It Hot), 85.  Some big names, and some you may not recognize though you may know them by their work.

The way it is, we remember people after they’re gone (for example, here last week).  Let’s do something different this week.  Better we pay tribute while people are still around.  For example, that old familiar face who popped up a few times in the Wall Street sequel, today’s featured actor.  It’s his second big movie of the year.  Not bad for 94.

All the actors we’ll cover this week are in their 90s, still alive and kicking—and what’s more, still working, either this year or recently.

Before we get to them, notes on a few other old-timers.

Johannes Heesters — Born in 1903, the Dutch actor began his film career in 1924, and his most recent performance was in 2008.  At 106, Heesters is reported to be the oldest actor still active.

Johnny Holiday — Holiday died last year at the age of 96, working until the end.  He had a busy but brief acting career.  After a retirement of twenty-five years from tending bar, he began performing when he was 89.  (Hey, it’s never too late.)

Mickey Rooney — One of Hollywood’s all-time greats, Rooney turned 90 on September 23.  He began in movies in the silent era, and he’s been active during the past decade, with Night at the Museum in 2006, and three new films due soon.  We took a look at his career during this site’s first full week, in January.  Happy Birthday, Mickey!

Our theme this week
Actors in their 90s, still going strong

Eli Wallach

eli wallach

Born December 7, 1915
Age 94

After the war (World War II, that is), Eli Wallach worked on stage and on television, finally making his film acting debut in his forties, in Elia Kazan’s adaptation of the controversial  Baby Doll, in 1956.  More than 150 credits (per IMDb) and a half-century later, he is still working and still sharp.  Earlier this year he had a small but memorable role in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer.  This fall he’s appearing in Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps, a larger role as an aged moneyman with a twinkle in his eye and a whistle on his lips.  He can still light up the screen.

A legendary character actor, one of Hollywood’s best, Wallach had a number of key roles during the 1960s.  He played the Mexican bandit Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960), followed by his portrayal of Guido, a widowed cowboy with issues, in The Misfits (1961).  (Clark Gable’s Gay:  “What’s eatin’ you?”  Guido:  “Just life.”)  He was in John Ford’s How the West Was Won (1962), and was especially memorable in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).  Wallach played Tuco—“the Ugly”—and he later titled his autobiography The Good, the Bad and Me.

Wallach has worked continually over the years, in movies and in television.  He costarred in Steve McQueen’s last film, The Hunter, in 1980.  In The Godfather Part III (1990), he played Don Altobello, the elder Mafia boss who double-crosses his old friend Michael Corleone.  Other roles include the liquor store owner in Mystic River (2003) and onetime Howard Hughes associate Noah Dietrich in The Hoax (2006). 

In his personal life, Wallach’s wife since 1948 is actress Anne Jackson, and their 62 years together makes for one of the longest and most successful of Hollywood marriages.  Wallach was a longtime friend of Walter Cronkite, since their college days in Texas.  He is, as well, the great uncle of New York Times film critic A.O. Scott.

Wallach has earned a variety of awards for his work over the years, but never from the Motion Picture Academy.  Until now, that is.  Wallach will be presented with a well-deserved Honorary Oscar at an Academy event this November. 

Baby Doll (1956)
Elia Kazan, director
Tennessee Williams; writer
Boris Kaufman, cinematographer
Eli Wallach, Karl Malden, Caroll Baker


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Sergio Leone, director
Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Mickey Knox, writers
Tonino Delli Colli, director of photography
Eli Wallach, Al Mulock

Quote of note
“Whoever double-crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco.  Nothing!”
—Tuco (Eli Wallach), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 04 Oct 2010 @ 09:50 AM

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