Friday, December 26, 2014

Remembering Those Who Passed in 2014 – Part 1

It seems that I just wrote this column for 2013 a few months ago – Amazing how quickly time passes, and with it so many who influenced us and left their imprint on the world …

January ~
Russell Johnson
You may not remember the name but if you’re over the age of 40 you will probably remember “The Professor” on Gilligan’s Island – Russell Johnson.
Johnson was born on November 10, 1924 in Pennsylvania.  After high school he served as a second lieutenant and flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theatre during World War II as a bombardier aboard a B-24 Liberator.

After the war, Johnson studied acting at the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood and began his acting career in 1952, taking movie roles that were mainly in westerns. He played opposite Audie Murphy, (a personal friend), Ronald Reagan, William Shatner, and June Allison. Johnson then moved into the science fiction television genre appearing in The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes. 

From 1964 to 1967, Johnson played the part of Professor Roy Hinkley, an amazing inventor who sailed into fame aboard the S.S. Minnow to Gilligan’s Island. (Although Johnson’s character was great at building inventions; he could not, as Johnson once pointed out, fix the hole in the boat.) After the show ended, Johnson appeared in The Big Valley, Lassie,

That Girl, and Gunsmoke. In the 1980s he made regular appearances on the TV show Dallas and the soap opera Santa Barbara.
Russell Johnson died on January 16 of kidney failure at his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington. He was 89 years old.

Ruth Duccini
The last of the original female Munchkins from the movie, The Wizard of Oz died in January. Ruth Robinson Duccini was born in Rush City, Minnesota on July 23, 1918. Duccini was cast in the movie after arriving in California with a troupe of dwarfs. She later met her husband, Fred Duccini while working at MGM.

Duccini told reporters that she was proudest of her work at the Douglas Aircraft Factory during WWII. Because of her size, she could fit into tight places and became one of the thousands of Rosie the Riveters who worked at defense plants around the country. Duccini went on to act in the 1981 movie, Under the Rainbow and Memories of Oz in 2001.

Duccini died on January 16 in Las Vegas from natural causes. She was 95 years old. She is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Prescot, Arizona. (Only one Munchkin remains; Jerry Maren who played a member of the Lollipop Gang. On January 24, 2015, he will turn 95 years old.)

February ~
Shirley Temple
Although she did many things during her adult life including a stint as a U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Representative at the United Nations General Assembly; Shirley Temple Black was best known as the perky child with the blond curls who could sing and dance her way into your heart.

Born April 23, 1928, Shirley Temple began acting when she was three-years-old. She was Hollywood’s number one box office star from 1935 through 1938 with Curly Top, Bright Eyes and Heidi. She was considered “the nation’s greatest weapon against the Depression.” Once she became a teen, her film popularity waned and by 1950 she had retired from the industry – at the age of 22.

Temple married for the first time in 1945 and had a daughter, but divorced in 1949 and regained her maiden name. Then in 1950, she met Charles Alden Black, a WWII Navy intelligence officer and a well-to-do California resident. The couple had two children and had been married for 54 years until Mr. Black’s death in 2005.

Temple Black began her diplomatic career in 1969 as a representative at a United Nations General Assembly session. She served a U.S. Ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976 and as the first and only female U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992. She also served on several boards including the Walt Disney Company, Bank of America and the National Wildlife federation.

Shirley Temple Black died on February 10 at her home in Woodside, California. She was 85-years-old. Her remains were cremated and her ashes given to her family.

Harold Ramis
Here was a man who could make us laugh with his acting and his writing. Harold Ramis wrote some of the most popular comedies of all time: Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and National Lampoon’s Animal House, to name a few.

Harold Ramis was born on November 21, 1944 in Chicago. After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri he returned to Chicago and began writing for local newspapers, but comedy was in his blood and soon he was writing joke for Playboy Magazine.

He began studying with Second City’s Improv comedy troupe. He left for a while and was replaced by John Belushi. Ramis returned and by 1974 he, Belushi, Bill Murray, Joe Flaherty, Gilda Radner and Christopher Guest were starring in The National Lampoon Show. Ramis went on to become head writer for SCTV from 1976 to 1979. During this time, he wrote National Lampoon’s Animal House. The film became the highest grossing comedy ever, bringing in over $141-million.

Ramis was known for his tongue-in-cheek view of corporate America. His love of Improv remained a part of his movies, which included his close friends and writing buddies, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Ramis wrote, directed and/or performed in over thirty films.

Harold Ramis died on February 24 in Chicago of complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He was 69.

March ~
David Brenner
He was known as the pioneer of observational comedy – humor based on everyday events. But David Brenner not only did stand-up comedy, he wrote, produced or directed over 100 TV documentaries.

David Norris Brenner was born on February 4, 1936 to Jewish parents in Philadelphia. His father was a vaudeville comedian and Brenner followed in his footsteps when he began at the Improv in 1969.

He debuted on The Tonight Show in 1971 and continued to appear on the show over 150 times; Johnny Carson’s most frequent guest. Brenner also sat in the host’s chair 75 times between 1975 and 1984. In 1986, Brenner was given his own late-night talk show, but it lasted only one season.

Brenner had also headed up the documentary divisions for Westinghouse Broadcasting and Metromedia, writing, producing or directing 115 documentaries for television. He also write five books: Soft Pretzels With Mustard (1983), Revenge is the Best Exercise (1984), Nobody Ever Sees You Eat Tuna Fish (1986), If God Wanted Us to Travel... (1990), and I Think There's a Terrorist in My Soup: How to Survive Personal and World Problems with Laughter—Seriously (2003).

David Brenner died on March 15 at his home in Manhattan from cancer. He was 78. His final request was for $100 in small bills to be placed in his left sock "just in case tipping is recommended where I'm going."

Jeremiah Denton, Jr.
Jeremiah Denton, Jr. – It’s a name few of us recognize. But this was the first man to confirm that American POW’s were being subjected to horrendous abuse and torture in Vietnam.

Denton was born on July 15, 1924. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943 and graduated three years later. He was credited with developing the “Haystack Concept” strategy during the Cold War. This tactic provided a way to conceal aircraft carriers from radar by mixing them in with commercial ships.

Denton served as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War, commanding Attack Squadron  VA-75. Then on July 18, 1965 Commander Denton was leading 28 planes on a bombing mission when his plane was shot down over the city of Thanh Hoa. Denton and his navigator/bombardier, Lieutenant Bill Tschudy were taken prisoner by the North Vietnam.

Denton and Tschudy were held for eight years – four in solitary confinement. Then in 1966, Denton was forced to take part in a television press conference to supposedly show how American POWs were being treated. During that interview, Denton repeatedly blinked his eyes using Morse code to spell out T-O-R-T-U-R-E. This was the first time that officials were able to confirm that Americans were being abused by the North Vietnamese.

On February 12, 1973, Denton and Tschudy were both released along with other American POWs during Operation Homecoming. In 1974, Denton became the commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College and worked at the college until 1977 when he retired with the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1980, Denton ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate and won. He ran again in 1986 but lost his re-election bid.

Jeremiah Denton, Jr. died on March 28 from a heart ailment in Virginia Beach. He was 89-years-old. Denton is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
April ~
Mickey Rooney
A lifelong actor, he began performing before he was two-years-old with a career that spanned over 80 years. Mickey Rooney acted in Vaudeville, radio, Broadway, film and television making him one of the most popular celebrities of the 20th century.
Mickey Rooney was born Joseph Yule, Jr. on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were both Vaudeville actors and Rooney became part of his parents act when he was 17-months–old. His first appearance in a film was in 1926 and the following year played the lead in the first Mickey McGuire film. It was during this time that he took the stage name of Mickey Rooney.

In 1937, Rooney played the part of Andy Hardy in A Family Affair, which led to another 20 films starring the character. He appeared with Judy Garland in Babes in Arms in 1939 and they went on to do several films together. Rooney also acted in dramas; his first was with Spencer Tracy in Boys Town in 1938 for which he won a Juvenile Academy Award.

As he became older, Rooney also acted in movies with Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.  When his box office star began to fade, Rooney appeared in four television shows from 1954 to 1993.

Rooney was also known for his many marriages, eight in all. In 2011, Rooney filed elder abuse charges against his stepson Christopher Aber, and appeared before the Senate to speak out about senior abuse and what needs to be done.

Mickey Rooney died during his sleep on April 6 at the home of his son, Mark Rooney in Studio City, California. He was 93-years-old. Rooney is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Kevin Sharp
He was a country singer, a motivational speaker and a cancer survivor who lost his fight in 2014. Kevin Grant Sharp was born on December 10, 1970 in Redding California. He dreamed of becoming a singer when he grew up. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and given little chance of surviving. Sharp underwent radiation treatments, which caused his hair to fall out and never grow back.

During this time, Sharp met record producer David Foster through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes to children and teens with life-threatening illnesses. After two years of treatments his cancer went into remission, and Sharp created a demo tape, which he sent to Foster.

By November 1996, Sharp released his debut album, Measure of a Man. His first hit, Nobody Knows went to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and stayed there for four weeks. Two other songs from the album, She’s Sure Taking It Well and If You Love Somebody both made it into the Top 5 Country Singles.

In 1997, Sharp was named New Touring Artist of the Year by the Country Music Association and nominated for the Top Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. He also became a spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and received the foundation’s Wish Granter of the Year award.

Sharp continued singing but also became a motivational speaker, telling of his battle with caner and how his dreams of being a country singer came true. In 2004, he wrote about his bout with cancer in the book, Tragedy’s Gift.

Kevin Sharp died on April 19 at his home in Fair Oaks, California from complications due to past surgeries. He was 43-years-old.

May ~
Jerry Vale
He was one of the popular crooners of the 1950s – Jerry Vale, (born Genaro Louis Vitaliano) began his career singing while shining shoes in New York City. He changed his name after high school and started landing supper club dates all around New York. Between 1955 and 1974, Vale released over 30 studio albums and had over 40 hits on the Hot 100 or Adult Contemporary charts.

Vale’s version of the Star-Spangled Banner, which was recorded in 1963, was played at sporting events around the country for years. He received a Gold Record award for this and frequently sang at Yankee Stadium games. He appeared in the movies Goodfellas, and Casino, playing himself. He also appeared on the TV series The Sopranos.
Jerry Vale died of natural causes on May 18 at his home in Palm Desert, California. He was 83-years-old. He is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cathedral City, California.

Maya Angelou
The terms poet, writer, actress and singer describe her just as well as civil rights activist, historian and public speaker do; Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St Louis.

Raised by her paternal grandmother, Marguerite learned about racial discrimination first-hand in Arkansas. She won a scholarship to the San Francisco Labor School where she studied dance and drama. A few weeks after graduating she gave birth to a son and found ways to support him while still performing and writing. In 1954, Angelou toured Europe with the opera production of Porgy and Bess. Then in 1958, she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild and began writing her memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, the book made the bestsellers list. She wrote over 30 books during her lifetime.

Angelou worked with Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King to advance the causes of Civil Rights. She served on two presidential committees, wrote and delivered the poem On the Pulse of the Morning at the inauguration of President Clinton, and penned Amazing Peace, a poem she wrote for George Bush in 2005. In 2010, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the country’s highest civilian honor.

Maya Angelou died on May 28 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86-years-old. Angelou was cremated and her ashes scattered.

June ~
Ann B. Davis
She was another child star, beginning her acting career at the age of six. Ann B. Davis and her twin sister, Harriet were born on May 5, 1926 in Schenectady, New York.  She graduated college with a degree in drama and speech, and by 1953 was appearing on ABC’s Jukebox Jury television show.

In 1955, Davis was cast as Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz, the secretary on The Bob Cummings Show where she stayed for four years: She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for two of those years. In 1960, Davis received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

During the 1960s, she appeared on The John Forsythe Show and did numerous commercials for the Ford Motor Company. Then in 1969, she landed the role she would be best remembered for… Alice Nelson, the housekeeper on The Brady Bunch TV show. 

Davis appeared on the show from 1969 through 1974 and had cameo roles in all the Brady movies. In her later years, Davis took to the stage, performing in Arsenic and Old Lace and did a world-tour of Crazy for You.

Ann B. David died on June 1 at a hospital in San Antonia, Texas after sustaining a subdural hematoma from a fall. She was 88-years-old. Davis was buried at Saint Helena’s Columbarium and Memorial Gardens in Boerne, Texas.

Casey Kasem
He spent almost 60 years on the air as a disc jockey, voice actor and radio personality. Kemal Amen “Casey” Kasem was born on April 27, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan.

Kasem did his first radio show during high school and soon after began a professional career in broadcasting. After a suggestion from a general manager, Kasem changed his radio patter and began to intermingle tidbits about the artists during their music. He began supplementing his income by hosting dance hops at local TV stations and was "discovered" by Dick Clark.

Clark hired him to co-host a daily teen show in 1964. By the mid-1960s, he was appearing in guest roles on Hawaii Five-O and Ironside. By the end of the 1960s, Kasem was working as a voice-actor, voicing one of his most popular characters – Shaggy on the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! He continued to voice Shaggy for over 40 years.

In 1970, he, along with three others, launched the weekly radio program American Top 40 – where he counted down from the #40 song of the week to #1 while mixing in dedications, trivia and history about the groups and singers. Kasem would voice the show for 18 years until 1988 when he left due to a contract dispute. Quick to bounce back, he signed a 15-million contract to host Casey’s Top 40 – a show he did for another ten years.

In 2013, it was reported that Kasem was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Due to family squabbles, which led to court orders, Kasem’s last year was controlled by fights between his wife, Jean Kasem and daughter Kerri, from his first marriage. On June 6, Kasem had to be removed from a hidden location in Washington State and taken to a hospital where he was admitted in critical but stable condition.

Casey Kasem died on June 15 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington. He was 86-years-old. Kasem reportedly had requested to be buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale but his wife had his remains shipped to Canada and then, later to Oslo, Norway where he was buried at Western Cemetery on December 16, 2014.

Next week, we’ll conclude this look back at those who passed between July and December, 2014.

Here’s wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

~ Joy