Wed, May 23, 2018 05:59 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
Four legends gone from American cinema

Katherine Hepburn
In a little under a month, the landscape of cinema has changed. Most moviegoers will not even notice what has happened. Three classic film stars passed and those of us who grew up either going to their movies or watching them as they came to network television will surely miss them.

Almost a month ago, Gregory Peck died at 87. He was one of the best actors of his generation. He began his film career in 1942’s Days of Glory. From 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird to 1978’s The Boys From Brazil, Peck was a consummate actor who was always believable. Boys gave Peck the chance to play against type because he always seemed to play the strong hero. The film gave him a chance to be the villain and boy was he the best. Peck played Dr. Josef Mengele, the man who was responsible for experimenting on people during World War II.

Perhaps his best role was Atticus Finch in Mockingbird, the American Film Institute recently named Finch as the number one hero in movie history. He starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound with Ingrid Bergman, in The Snows of Kilimanjaro with Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner and How the West Was Won with Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. As you can see, West showcased a veritable who’s who. With Peck’s death, one of the greatest classic actors has been taken from us. Sadly, in the last few years, Peck has been unable to star in many films. In 1998, Peck was Father Mapple in a made for television movie from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. This was the interesting since Peck had played Captain Ahab in the 1956 classic.

Katherine Hepburn, who died on June 29, was one of those actresses who was noticeable just from her voice. There are not many who could not tell you who she was simply by listening to that distinctive voice. The acting wasn’t bad either. Who can forget 1951’s The African Queen? How about 1981’s On Golden Pond? Sadly, Hepburn was never considered a glamour girl like Marilyn Monroe, however, she is still thought of at once when asked who is the greatest actress of all time. Her name is spoken in the same vein as Grace Kelly, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Jayne Mansfield. All four actresses were contemporaries and were huge box office draws in their day.

Hepburn started her career in A Bill of Divorcement in 1932. Her last movie was a made-for-television film entitled One Christmas. She received her first Oscar nomination for The Philadelphia Story. She was the star of the broadway version as well as the film. Her co-stars were Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. She won her fourth Oscar for On Golden Pond with Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda. Her last film was a brief appearance in Love Affair making her film career span 62 years, quite an accomplishment.

Although most would not consider Buddy Ebsen, who died this week, a classic film star, he certainly was a classic television star. Who can forget Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies. Although many critics didn’t like the show, the series attracted an average of 60 million viewers from 1962-1971 and was one of the top ten shows on television when it left the air. Ebsen was the straight man for the show and was great. When Disney was looking for a Davy Crockett, someone suggested Ebsen. However, Disney had already chosen Fess Parker to be Davy, but they hired Ebsen to be the sidekick, George Russell. The television film created a sensation, and the film was taken to the big screen. Because of the movie, many little boys bought coon skin hats and sang the “Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

A fact that many people don’t know is that Ebsen was the original Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. There are no remnants of the film, that I have heard of anyway, that contain Ebsen playing the Tin Man. Sadly, Ebsen was allergic to the aluminum makeup used to create the Tin Man. His allergy was so severe it placed him in the hospital. He was replaced by Jack Haley.

Perhaps his best known role after Clampett was Barnaby Jones. Ebsen said he didn’t think the show would be a hit because there were already so many detective shows on television. However, Ebsen’s popularity certainly helped the show maintain a top ten status until it went off the air in 1980.

Buddy Hackett passed away last week. Hackett was a comic and an actor who began his career in the late 1940’s and became famous starring in a series entitled Stanley. His costars were a young Carol Burnett and had Woody Allen and Neil Simon as writers. He starred in Music Man, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Love Bug and voice work for The Little Mermaid. Hackett was at his best as a stand up comic. His comedy was family oriented.

It is not commonly known that Hackett was asked to replace Curly Howard in the Three Stooges in 1946. However, Hackett chose to turn down the part. If he had taken the part, it is possible we wouldn’t have had the fun-loving comic many of us saw on his frequent stints on the Tonight Show.

Buddy Hackett
All four stars will be missed.

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