James Garner passes away at 86

James Garner at the 1963 March on Washington with Diahann Carroll

Sadness today as we learn of the passing of film and TV star James Garner.

Thousands of words will be written about his lengthy career as a TV cowboy on the 1950s western “Maverick,” and his 1970s detective series “The Rockford Files.” And rightly so. What he brought to both roles (and many others) was an undeniable star quality grounded in his rugged, athletic good looks. But the tweak that made him unusual and so universally appealing was his unexpected and disarming sense of humor and seeming lack of ego.

The Oscar nominee (for “Murphy’s Romance”) and Emmy Award winner (for “The Rockford Files”) once said, “I got into the business to put a roof over my head. I wasn’t looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working.”

Garner continued to work in his later years, most notably in 2004’s “The Notebook” opposite Gena Rowlands.  He seemed at his best when playing a somewhat flawed but human hero.

What will always stand out for me, though, in addition to the long-running TV shows and hit films, was Garner’s courage to stand up for what he believed in.

At a time when race relations were reaching critical mass, Garner was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington and often donated to liberal causes.

Jump forward almost 20 years to his role in the cross-dressing musical comedy film “Victor/Victoria,”  which featured him as a Chicago gangster and serious “man’s man” who couldn’t tell if he was falling in love with a woman or a man (played by Julie Andrews). In the early 80s, as the AIDS epidemic was coming to the forefront, lesser Hollywood leading men would have steered clear of a role where the romantic lead was possibly confused over his sexuality. Garner played the part right down the center with no reservations or pulled punches, helping to deliver one of the film’s universal truths that love is love, no matter what they look like or what sex they are.

As an “every man” in Hollywood, James Garner excelled.  But in life, he was more than that.  He was someone that every man would want to be.

RIP James Garner.

Watch the trailer to “Victor/Victoria” below.

“Lawrence of Arabia” star Peter O’Toole dead at 81

Peter O’Toole, the charismatic actor who achieved instant stardom as Lawrence of Arabia and was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, has died, his agent said Sunday. He was 81.

O’Toole died Saturday after a long illness, Steve Kenis said in a brief statement.

The family was overwhelmed “by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. … In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished,” O’Toole’s daughter Kate said in the statement.

O’Toole got his first Oscar nomination for 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” his last for “Venus” in 2006. With that he set the record for most nominations without ever winning, though he had accepted an honorary Oscar in 2003.

A reformed — but unrepentant — hell-raiser, O’Toole long suffered from ill health.

More at Yahoo News

Eileen Brennan passes away at the age of 80

Veteran actress Eileen Brennan, best known for her roles in Private Benjamin, The Sting and The Last Picture Show, has died.

Brennan passed away Sunday of bladder cancer according to reports. She was 80. Brennan received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role as tough Captain Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin opposite Goldie Hawn. She also reprised the role for the CBS TV adaptation, winning an Emmy and Golden Globe for her performance.

Brennan made her feature film debut in 1967′s Divorce American Style.

Her most memorable film roles include brothel madam Billie in George Roy Hill’s Oscar-winning 1973 film The Sting and Mrs. Peacock in 1985′s Clue.

She also appeared in Peter Bogdanovich’s classic 1971 film The Last Picture Show for which she received a best supporting actress BAFTA nomination, and his 1974 adaptation of the Henry James novella Daisy Miller.

As most Broadway music theater fans know, Brennan also created the role of “Irene Malloy” in the Jerry Herman mega-hit Hello, Dolly!

Carol Channing commented today on Brennan’s passing, saying:

“Eileen was a brilliant actress and I respected her work. I truly wish we had kept more in contact over the years,” Channing said. “As is the case in this industry, you so often lose touch with each other. She will be missed.”

RIP Eileen Brennan.


The Candi & Randy Show: Annette Funicello – A Tribute

Annette Funicello will always be known for her time on the “Mickey Mouse” club, her top 100 hits, and her iconic beach movies with Frankie Avalon.

Funicello will forever be remembered in the hearts of millions around the world.

Today The Candi and Randy Show celebrated her life, career, music and discussed Multiple Sclerosis, the disease that took such a toll on Annette’s life.

UPDATE: Frankie Avalon has released the following statement on the passing of Annette Funicello –

“We have lost one of America’s sweethearts for generations upon generations. I am fortunate enough to have been friends with Annette as well as appear in many films, TV and appearances with her. She will live on forever, I will miss her and the world will miss her.”

Happy birthday Thommie Walsh

I originally posted this on March 15, 2011.  This is an important post for me, which I’ve now shared for the past two years.  And I plan to post it every year in dear Thommie’s memory.

I think of Thommie Walsh so often I can’t tell you. Today would have been Thommie’s 63rd birthday.

Love and miss you madly, Thommie.


Thommie was a 2-time Tony Award winner, an original cast member of the ground-breaking A Chorus Line, and my dear wonderful friend.

Thommie came into my life in so many ways. As a young actor and dancer, I was forever changed by his performance in A Chorus Line. The boy who grew up near Buffalo but “couldn’t remember the name of the town” – he’d blocked it out. His work on Broadway was the stuff wide-eyed young actors or dancers like me only dreamed about. He danced in several Broadway shows – including A Chorus Line – and then graduated to director/choreographer. As Tommy Tune’s partner, he won two Tony Awards: for “A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine” and “My One And Only.”

Many, many other accomplishments and awards came Thommie’s way. Too numerous to mention.

But my favorite memory of Thommie was as my friend. In 2002, Donna McKechnie was asked to perform her developing one woman show “Inside The Music” in Los Angeles. Thommie was her director and choreographer. The theater was a small theater on a budget, so Donna asked if Thommie could stay with me. Every single day was a holiday with Thommie in the house. Having consulted on some of Donna’s earlier shows, I accompanied Thommie to rehearsals and did what I could to help. But just being around Thommie made life better and funnier and more wonderful. We became very fast friends.

He was constantly supportive of my work as a director and/or choreographer. A few years later, when I was choreographing a show off-Broadway he insisted he come to see the show. Then he made a point of meeting me for dinner at Joe Allens (famous Broadway restaurant) to talk about it. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he sat down, smiled, and simply said to me “you did good – I loved it.”

His sense of humor, his directness in any situation, everything about Thommie worked for me. I honestly loved this man. My wonderful friend.

In late 2006, however, he stopped returning phone calls. I worried something was wrong. I reached out to everyone I could. At one point – on a cold Christmas eve – I stood outside a holiday dinner in the cold on the phone with Cynthia Onrubia who had assisted him on some shows. The news was not good. I was distraught. I practically begged this woman who barely understood who I was to keep me informed as his health deteriorated.

News was slow to come over the next several months. And then, on a hot summer night, June 16, 2007, he passed away. This boy-wonder of Broadway was gone.

I’ll never forget where I was when I heard the news. I was riding in a car in Las Vegas when a friend called me and said “did you hear about Thommie?”

I held my breath in silence as long as I could. I didn’t want to know. Perhaps if I stopped breathing it wouldn’t be true.  Several heart-beats went by. Please let it be anything that didn’t manifest in my imagination. I’m dramatic – surely I’m wrong.

I wasn’t. My friend on the other end of the call was sad and silent. But the news had come.


But never forgotten. I remember Thommie’s birthday every year. March 15th – the Ides of March. From Julius Caesar – “beware the Ides of March.” Beware indeed. He used his own birthday onstage in A Chorus Line as “Bobby” or “Robert Charles Joseph Henry Mills, III” as his introduction went. Isn’t that funny?

I was honored to play his role in A Chorus Line several times and always thought of Thommie when I did. Near the end of his character’s monologue, he had a line that said “I just wanted to see if anyone would notice me.”

Boy – did the world notice Thommie.

I miss Thommie every time I think of him, which is often. His laugh, his humor, his talent, his friendship… all of it without boundaries.

I’d love to regale you with some stories I lived with him, but they may not be suitable for this post. If you knew him, you know what I mean. If you don’t, then please know I hope someday you know someone like him so you will.

Except there will never be another Thommie Walsh. Ever. And my eyes tear up with joy and sadness every time I know that.

Thommie – how very lucky am I to have known you. I miss you still. I always will.

Thommie once advised me if you were going to steal, steal from the best. So, to steal a phrase from Thommie – “love you madly – always.”

Broadway’s Tony Stevens passes away at 63

The Broadway theater mourns the passing of Tony Stevens, who passed away today at the age of 63.

Tony Stevens performed in nine Broadway shows from Hello Dolly to Seesaw. Movie choreography includes “The Great Gatsby” with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with Bert Reynolds, “She’s Having a Baby” with Kevin Bacon, “Johnny Dangerously” with Michael Keaton and “Where the Boys Are” with Lisa Hartman.

Creator of the workshop that became A Chorus Line, his Broadway choreographer credits include: Gower Champion’s Rockabye Hamlet and Annie Get Your Gun, he was Assistant Choreographer on Chicago (Fosse original production), Perfect Frank, Wind in the Willows with Nathan Lane.

His television choreography credits include specials for Mary Tyler Moore, Cheryl Ladd, Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary, and the People’s Choice Awards. Tony’s regional choreography credits include over 10 original shows and 30 revivals.

Among his favorite director and choreographer credits are for the National tours of Dreamgirls 1997 and 1998, and the 20th Anniversary Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Off-Broadway Tony choreographed Zombie Prom, The Body Shop, and directed and choreographed Sheba. He has also directed and choreographed for famous nightclub acts such as Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Dolly Parton, Liza Minelli, Bette Midler, Debbie Shapiro, and Jane Powell. He is also proud to have choreographed for Gene Kelly.

Tony received a Lucille Lortel nomination for best choreography, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, recreated Bob Fosse’s original choreography for Chita; A Dancers Life on Broadway, staged numbers for Martin Short and Nathan Lane on “LATE NIGHT with David Letterman,” and was recently developing the new musical La Familglia.

I knew Tony as a member of the Broadway theater community.  He had a gift of being able to talk to everyone.  He knew his stuff and his work showed it.  He was warm, gifted, talented and funny.  He made everyone around him better.

After years of dancing in the light, he is the light.

He will be missed.  Gone too soon.

Creator of “Gilligan’s Island” and “Brady Bunch” passes away

Sherwood Schwartz, the television genius who created “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island” — and wrote the theme songs for BOTH shows — has passed away.

Schwartz won an Emmy for his work as a writer on “The Red Skelton Show.”

Schwartz also served as a script supervisor on “My Favorite Martian” and as a writer and producer of “Harper Valley PTA.”

Great niece Robin Randall says Sherwood Schwartz died at 4 a.m. Tuesday surrounded by his family. He was 94.

James Arness of Gunsmoke dies

James Arness, the 6-foot-6 actor who towered over the television landscape for two decades as righteous Dodge City lawman Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke,” died Friday. He was 88.

The actor died in his sleep at his home in Brentwood, Calif., according to his business manager, Ginny Fazer.

Arness’ official website posted a letter from Arness on Friday that he wrote with the intention that it be posted posthumously: “I had a wonderful life and was blessed with some many loving people and great friends,” he said.

“I wanted to take this time to thank all of you for the many years of being a fan of Gunsmoke, The Thing, How the West Was Won and all the other fun projects I was lucky enough to have been allowed to be a part of. I had the privilege of working with so many great actors over the years.”

The actor was 32 when friend John Wayne declined the lead role in “Gunsmoke” and recommended Arness instead. Afraid of being typecast, Arness initially rejected it.
“Go ahead and take it, Jim,” Wayne urged him. “You’re too big for pictures. Guys like Gregory Peck and I don’t want a big lug like you towering over us. Make your mark in television.”

“Gunsmoke” went on to become the longest-running dramatic series in network history until NBC’s “Law & Order” tied in 2010. Arness’ 20-year prime-time run as the marshal was tied only in recent times, by Kelsey Grammer’s 20 years as Frasier Crane from 1984 to 2004 on “Cheers” and then on “Frasier.”

I grew up with Gunsmoke running forever.

For more about his life click here.